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Tiberius, under his procurator, Pontius Pilate. We might be gratified with more testimonies of a similar description, and with more copious and minute accounts. But such a testimony is an invaluable voucher; nor is it the only one available in support of the evangelical history.
The argument from prophecy is discussed at considerable length in the eighth and ninth Lectures, and is ably treated by the Author. In these Discourses, we find ourselves interested and instructed by the successive particulars adduced, and always impressed by the grave and persuasive manner of the Lecturer. Prophecy has been a favourite subject for the lips and the pens of some men of high pretensions, who will, we hope, live long enough to see the vanity of their interpretations, and the extravagance of the folly which they have allowed to supersede the guidance of the wisdom that would have led them in right paths. From their rash conjectures and frensied glosses, the oracles of truth will be purified ; and by their failures and their follies, useful lessons will be conveyed to as many of their followers as may be undeceived, and induced to study the Bible with the sober and hallowed devotion which it claims. A Christian is doing well, who looks to the events of the times which are passing over him, with the light of revelation to aid his contemplations; and he may, by such employment, be strengthened in his belief of the Divine administration ; but it is not for him to know “the times and the seasons which the Father has put in his own power.” Fulfilled prophecy alone can avail us in proving the truth of Scripture and the Divine origin of its doctrines, because that alone can enable us to see the verification of the remote announcements. Such considerations as the following, are more valuable than entire volumes of modern vaticinatory expositions.
'-And, surely, the preservation of the Jews as a distinct people, notwithstanding their dispersion for seventeen hundred years, is a remarkable and altogether unparallelled proof of our Lord's predictions. It is not only an event in fulfilment of prophecy, but an event involving a supernatural agency; an event contrary to the uniform course of human affairs; an event, in which there is a permanent suspension of all the laws of our social being. That they should continue for so many ages scattered and dispersed, pursued and reviled, oppressed and persecuted; yet, neither worn out by this usage, nor induced by it to renounce their religion ;—that neither time nor sufferings nor custom should overcome their attachment to it; but that they should still subsist, a numerous, a distinct, a wretched people, the librarians of the very prophecies which condemn them, and the unconscious witnesses, wherever they rove, of the truth of the Scriptures; has something in it so prodigious, as to conclude and shut up the proof of prophetical inspiration. And, when connected with our Lord's repeated prediction of the very judicial blindness under which we behold them suffering, it constitutes an irresistible evidence of the truth of Christianity.
The whole of this series of prophecies, indeed, as to the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews, is so broad and unambiguous in its main features, so numerous and distinct in its details, so minute in many of its parts, combines events so utterly improbable when it was delivered, is so defined as to the time of its accomplishment, was fulfilled by persons so unlikely to concur in such transactions, is connected with so many events now fulfilling in the world, looked back to so many prophecies of the Old Testament, and looked forward to so many ages of modern history, during which it has continued to receive its accomplishment, and is so incontestably confirmed by the very attempts made to defeat it, and especially by the mysterious, and, except on the truth of the hypothesis of the Scrip. tures, the unaccountable state of the Jews before our eyes in the present day,-as to constitute altogether an evidence which has never failed to overwhelm with conviction the mind of every sincere and candid enquirer : it raises the argument in favour of Christianity to the highest point of moral demonstration. It can be explained away by no fortuitous circumstances; it admits of no evasion; it stands forth a palpable, bold, unequivocal monument of the prescience of our Lord, and of the truth of the Christian religion.' Vol. I. pp. 342–344.
The accumulated and diversified testimonies which sustain the Christian religion, are sufficient to commend to our acceptance any work or any fact whatever; and therefore, they must establish the credibility of the New Testament. It would, in every other case, but that of admitting the truth of the gospel, be regarded as utterly absurd, the highest advance which irrationality could reach, for any person having before him a proposition so supported as is that which affirms the truth of Christ's religion, or any fact so substantiated by proof as are the facts which are coincident with its origin and early progress, to assert his disbelief of it. We should take testimonies very inferior to the actual ones; we should admit them if fewer, if less powerful; in quantity and quality, we should allow them to be produced far below the amount and value of the evidences which make up so great a part of the proof of Christianity; and whatever fact or proposition they might be used to uphold, we should assent to its reality. It would not be necessary for us to examine, or even so much as know, the import of the proposition, or the relations of the fact so sustained, in order to our reception of its truth : but the nature of the proposition, or the bearings of the fact, might be of great moment in reference to our pleasure and our satisfaction, when convinced by the testimonies which we had examined. So, the nature and tendencies of the religion which the New Testament exhibits, are of great importance in the consideration of its claims. They are a valuable, and even necessary part of the argument, which a well-instructed advocate would employ, in confirmation of his primary witnesses. As the examination of the external testimonies must prccede the knowledge of the in
ternal evidences, the documents which comprise the religion must be admitted, before the design of it can be fully understood. The inquirer would be reduced to a state of great perplexity, if, on learning the nature of the religion, he should find its tendencies in opposition to the beneficent course which he would be able, in part at least, from his acquaintance with the moral wants of mankind, to expect it would take. The inquirer whose attention has been given to the New Testament, and whose examination of its external evidences has commanded his unhesitating admission of its credibility, can have no doubt to impair its full effect upon his mind, arising from its internal character. The whole of its tendencies are beneficial. It is not only calculated to promote the advantage of human creatures, but it has evidently no other aim than a good one in respect to them. It is wholly constructed for their benefit, and is directing its influence toward the accomplishment of objects that include the highest interests of the species.
Mr. Wilson's eighth Lecture treats of this subject, the tendencies of Christianity; and fully establishes its excellence on the ground of its superior adaptation to promote human happiness, the entire good of man, the highest temporal and spiritual wel• fare of individuals and nations. It is to be remarked, in reference to this discussion, that the New Testament comprises no system of civil legislation. Whatever its tendencies may be, the influence of Christianity is exerted personally, and acts on the social system, by the preparation which it gives to individuals to qualify them for the relations which they sustain in the community. It is not strictly in accordance with the justice of the case, or with the soundness of the argument, to ask, as the Author does, p. 188, “What are oaths without Christianity as their
basis?' It is obvious, that oaths are held sacred by many who do not profess Christianity. We should not claim as one of the exclusive advantages of Christianity, the sanctity which renders an oath valid, nor maintain, that truth could be elicited only by the force of Christian solemnities. The tendency of Christian principles is, no doubt, to ensure the most sacred and inviolable regard to truth; but it would be assuming too much to assert, that only by means of Christian oaths could the administration of justice be safe and efficient. But there is another passage in this Lecture, which still more largely shews the importance of discussing the tendencies of Christianity apart from the bias of political associations, and of viewing them in immediate relation to its principles. If the tendencies of principles be innate, and be uniformly of good direction, and the scope in which they actually operate be limited, the real effects being but few, it must naturally be supposed, that the limitation of the advantages is the consequence of some counteracting cause. Mr. Wilson notices
at p. 190, "The hinderances which impede the full effects of the Christian religion.'
Are they not the hostility of some, and the neglect of others ? Is not the enmity of the human heart to the main doctrines and precepts of Revelation, a principal barrier against its progress ? Does not also indifference and apathy to these peculiarities, disincline man from entertaining the religion ? Besides these obstacles, do not the vices of its false adherents, and the crimes and hypocrisy of its pretended friends, form another formidable impediment,- to which must be added, the various imperfections and errors of sincere Christians themselves? Then take in the more public obstacles presented by corruptions of the Christian doctrines introduced into churches,--the contagion of heresy,—the vices and unfaithfulness of many of the ministers and professed teachers of Christianity; to say nothing of the apostacies in the East and West, which have left little of Christianity in those quarters, except the name. The persecutions directed, from time to time, against the sincere disciples of the religion, must be added ; as well as the fearful neglect, with regard to religious influence, of which princes and legislators have too frequently been guilty. Then the judicial infatuation permitted by Almighty God, in punishment of infidelity and obstinate resistance to duty, must be considered. And, lastly, the great spiritual adversary, who either deceiveth the nations, or walketh about, as a rouring lion seeking whom he may devour.'
Unquestionably, these are among the causes which have impeded the advancement of pure religion', and which have checked and counteracted very powerfully and extensively its beneficent tendencies. But there are omissions in this enumeration of hinderances, copious as it is; and we should probably not find ourselves in agreement with the Author, in the mode of understanding and explaining some of those which he mentions. What is that fearful neglect, with regard to religious influence, of which princes and legislators have too frequently been guilty ? Christianity, Mr. Wilson describes as ' a practical thing', and which therefore can only have its proper seat in the individual.' Is it, then, of princes and legislators who were truly subjects of the religion, in the sense, and with all the essentials which Mr. Wilson includes in his notion of the Christian faith, that he is speaking; or is it only to princes and legislators, apart from personal considerations, that he is attributing 'fearful neglect ? But if the latter, can he imagine that they who are void of the religion, who are sensible to nothing of its design or consequences, whose understandings have none of its light, and whose hearts feel none of its power, should do otherwise than neglect it? Would he have the tendencies of religion to be seen in those who have no religion ? Mr. Wilson would not say of persons who were not impelled to the obedience which a Christian owes to God, by the power of the invisible and spiritual objects which a Christian's faith apprehends, that we should look to them for examples of the influence of religion. But, while they are of this character, what difference can their station or their name possibly make ? Bolingbroke was a legislator and a minister of state; but what would it be short of folly to expect from a haughty infidel, the humble and holy graces which spring from the belief of the Gospel ? and what but the last of mockeries could it be, to ascribe to the author of the Schism Bill, an identity of interest or feeling with the religion of the New Testament? Charles the Second was a bad prince and a profligate, though designated ' our
most religious king': religious influence was quite remote from the personal habits and conduct of that royal patron of vice. He may be charged with the neglect of religion, and with more than this, with the contempt of religion ; but, as religion is a practical thing, and can only have its proper seat in the individual, the influence of it is not to be looked for, where the principles of it do not exist. How, then, are we to understand the allegation, that princes and legislators have too frequently been guilty of fearfully neglecting religion? We are able to understand it in no other sense, than that persons in these high stations have been without religion. Is another meaning intended to be conveyed, and are we to construe the Author's language as importing, that princes and legislators have neglected to employ political power and instruments to support the dogmas and customs of a national religion ? But, if they did not believe the religion, why should they have supported it in any form ? And if they did believe it, the only proper manifestation of its influence would have been seen in the effects which its principles would have personally produced in them, apart from all coercive measures. Princes and legislators have figured much more as intolerant and persecuting, than as practically religious in their character and proceedings.
Among the hinderances, then, which have impeded the progress of the Christian religion, and which have been a prime cause of its obscurations and depressions, we cannot but reckon the secular alliances which have been so extensively associated with the external profession of it. It is neither to be concealed nor disguised, that the worst of evils, pride in the most disgusting and haughtiest of its bearings, the spirit of the world in its most sordid inclinations, and cruelties bitter and remorseless, have, in secular priesthoods, patronized and abetted by princes and legislators, contrasted with the meekness, the purity, and the charity of Christian churches and Christian teachers. Mr. Wilson truly remarks of the hinderances which he enumerates, that they do
not arise from the Gospel itself; that they do not belong to • Christianity.' Nor are the secularities which we assign as inimical to the true religion, any part of Christianity. Who that reads the Gospels, and forms his notion of the religion of Jesus