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were attended with the most savage and cruel superstitions and sometimes even with human sacrifices.
The description given of the ancient Pagans by St. Pau in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, is strict and literally true. “They were filled with all unrighteous ness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, uncleanness, ma. liciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, with out understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affec tion, implacable, unmerciful.”
These are not the mere general declamations of a pious man against the wickedness of the times; they are faithful and exact pictures of the manners of the age, and they are fully and amply confirmed by contemporary heathen writers They are applied also to a people, highly civilized, ingenious, learned, and celebrated for their proficiency in all liberal arts and sciences. What, then, must have been the depravity of the most barbarous nations, when such were the morals of the most polite and virtuous ?
There were, it is true, among all the ancient nations, and especially among the Greeks and Romans, some wise and comparatively good men, called philosophers, who had juster notions of morality and religion than the rest of the world, and preserved themselves to a certain degree unpol. luted by the general corruption of the times. But these were few in proportion to the great bulk of mankind, and were utterly unable to produce any considerable change in the prevailing principles and manners of their countrymen. They themselves had but very imperfect and erroneous notions respecting the nature and attributes of God, the worship he required, the duties and obligations of morality, the method of God's governing the world, his design in creating mankind, the original dignity of human nature, the state of corruption and depravity into which it afterwards fell; the particular mode of divine interposition necessary for the recovery of the human race; the means of regaining the favour of their offended Maker, and the glorious end to which God intended finally to conduct them. Even with respect to those great and important doctrines above mentioned, the immortality of the soul, the reality of a future state, and the distribution of rewards and punishments hereafter, they were full of doubt, uncertainty, and hesitation : and rather ardently wished and hoped for, than confidently expected and believed, them. But even what they did know with any degree of clearness and certainty, they either would not condescend, or wanted the ability, to render plain and intelligible to the lower (5 orders of the people. They were destitute also of proper authority to enforce the virtues they recommended; they had no motives to propose powerful enough to overrule strong temptations and corrupt inclinations: their own example, instead of recommending their precepts, tended to counteract them; for it was generally (even in the very best of them) in direct opposition to their doctrines; and the detestable vices to which many of them were addicted, wholly destroyed the efficacy of what they taught.
Above all, they were destitute of those awful sanctions of religion, which are the most effectual restraints on the passions and vices of mankind, and the most powerful incentives to virtue, the rewards and punishments of a future state, which form so essential and important a part of the Christian dispensation.
There was, therefore, a plain and absolute necessity for a divine revelation, to rescue mankind from that gulf of ignorance, superstition, idolatry, wickedness, and misery, in which they were almost universally sunk; to teach them in what manner, and with what kind of external service, God might most acceptably be worshipped, and what expiation he would accept for sin; to give them a full assurance of a future state and a future judgment; to make the whole doctrine of religion clear and obvious to all capacities; to add weight and authority to the plainest precepts, and to furnish men with extraordinary and supernatural assistance, to enable them to overcome the corruptions of their nature. And since it was also plainly worthy of God, and consonant to all our ideas of his goodness, mercy, and compassion to the work of his own hands, that he should thus enlighten, and assist and direct the creatures he had made, there was evidently much ground to expect that such information and assistance would be granted; and the wisest of the ancient heathens themselves thought it most natural and agreeable to right reason to hope for something of this nature.
You may give over, says Socrates, all hopes of amending men's manners for the future, unless God be pleased to send you some other person to instruct you; and Plato declares, that whatever is right, and as it should be, in the present evil state of the world, can be so only by the particular interposition of God. Cicero has made similar declarations; and Porphyry, who was a most inveterate enemy to the Christian Religion, yet confesses, that there was wanting some universal method of delivering men's souls, which no sect of philosophy had ever yet found out.
These confessions of the great sages of antiquity, infinitely outweigh the assertions of our modern infidels, “thát human reason is fully sufficient to teach man his duty and enable him to perform it; and that, therefore, a divine revelation was perfectly needless." It is true, that, in the present times, a Deist
may have tolerably just notions of the nature and attributes of the Supreme Being, of the worship due to him, of the ground and extent of moral obligation, and even of a future state of retribution. But from whence does he derive these notions ? Not from the dictates of his own unassisted reason, but (as the philosophist Rousseau himself confesses) from those very scriptures which he despises and reviles, from the early impressions of education, from living and conversing in a Christian country, where those doctrines are publicly taught, and where, in spite of himself, he imbibes some portion of that religious knowledge which the sacred writings have every where diffused and communicated to the enemies as well as the friends of the gospel. But they who are destitute of these advantages, they who had nothing but reason to direct them, and therefore knew what reason is capable of doing, when left to itself, much better than any modern infidel (who never was, and never can be, precisely in the same predicament;) these men uniformly declare, that the mere light of nature was not competent to conduct them into the road of happiness and virtue; and that the only sure and certain guide to carry men well through this life was a divine discovery of the truth. These considerations may serve to show, that, instead of entertaining any unreasonable prejudices before hand against the possibility or probability of any divine revelation whatever, we ought, on the contrary, to be previously prepossessed in favour of it, and to be prepared and open to receive it with candour and fairness, whenever it should come supported with sufficient evidence; because, from considering the wants of man and the mercy of God, it appears highly probable that such a revelation would some time or other be vouchsafed to mankind.
PROPOSITION II.-At the very time when there was a general
expectation in the world of some extraordinary personage making his appearance in it, a person called Jesus Christ did actually appear upon earth, asserting that he was the Son of God, and that he came from heaven to teach mankind true religion; and he did accordingly found a religion, which from him was called the Christian Religion, and which has been professed by great numbers of people from that time to the present.
It was necessary just to state this proposition, as the foundation of all the reasoning that is to follow: but the truth of it is so universally acknowledged, that it requires but very few words to be said in support of it.
That there was, about the time of our Saviour's birth, a general expectation spread over the eastern part of the world, that some very extraordinary person would appear in Judea, is evident both from the sacred history and from Pagan writers. St. Matthew informs us, that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, there came wise men (probably men of considerable rank and learning in their own country) from the East, saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews; for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him ?” In confirmation of this, two Roman historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, assert that there prevailed at that time, over the whole East, an ancient and fixed opinion, that there should arise out of Judea a person who should obtain dominion over the world.
That at this time, when Augustus Cæsar was Emperor of Rome, a person called Jesus Christ was actually born in Judea; that he professed to come from heaven to teach mankind true religion, and that he had a multitude of followers; the sacred historians unanimously affirm, and several heathen authors-also bear testimony to the same facts. They mention the very name of Christ, and acknowledge that he had a great number of disciples, who from him were called Christians. The Jews, though professed enemies to our religion, acknowledge these things to be true; and none even of the earliest Pagans who wrote against Christianity, ever pretend to question their reality.—These things are as certain and undeniable as ancient history, both sacred and profane, and the concurrent testimony both of friends and enemies, can posšibly make them.
PROPOSITION III.—The books of the New Testament were
written by those persons to whom they are ascribed, and contain a faithfui history of Christ and his religion: and the account there given of both, may be securely relied upon as strictly true.
The books which contain the history of Christ and of the Christian Religion, are the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. That the gospels were written by the persons whose names they bear, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there is no more reason to doubt, than that the histories which we have under the names of Xenophon, Livy, or Tacitus, were written by those authors.
A great many passages are alluded to or quoted from the Evangelists, exactly as we read them now, by a regular succession of Christian writers, from the time of the Apostles down to this hour; and at a very early period their names are mentioned as the authors of their respective gospels; which is more than can be said for any other ancient historian whatever. These books have always been considered by the whole Christian world from the Apostolic age, as containing a faithful history of their religion, and therefore they ought to be received as such; just as we allow the Koran to contain a genuine account of the Mahometan religion, and the sacred books of the Bramins to contain a true representation of the Hindoo religion.
That all the facts related in these writings, and the accounts given of every thing our Saviour said and did, ar
also strictly true, we have the most substantial grounds for believing:
For, in the first place, the writers had the very best means of information, and could not possibly be deceived themselves.
And, in the next place, they could have no conceivable inducement for imposing upon others.
St. Matthew and St. John were two of our Lord's Apostles; his constant companions and attendants throughout the whole of his ministry. They were actually present at the scenes which they describe; eye witnesses of the facts, and ear witnesses of the discourses, which they relate.
St. Mark and St. Luke, though not themselves Apostles, yet were the contemporaries and companions of Apostles, and in habits of society and friendship with those who had been present at the transactions which they record. St. Luke expressly says this in the beginning of his gospel, which opens with these words : “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us; even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye witnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee, in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been in structed.” St. Luke also being the author of the Acts of the Apostles, we have, for the writers of these five books, persons who had the most perfect knowledge of every thing they relate, either from their own personal observation, or from immediate communications with those who saw and heard every thing that passed.
They could not, therefore, be themselves deceived; nor could they have the least inducement, or the least inclination, to deceive others.
They were plain, honest, artless, unlearned men, in very humble occupations of life, and utterly incapable of inventing or carrying on such a refined and complicated system of fraud, as the Christian Religion must have been if it was not true. There are, besides, the strongest marks of fairness, candour, simplicity and truth throughout the whole of their