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"The first condition of success is, that in striving honestly ourselves, we honestly acknowledge the striving of our neighbour; that with a Will unwearied in seeking Truth, we have a Sense open for it, wheresoever and howsoever it may arise."-Edinburgh Review.
ALL denominations of Christians appeal to the Christian Records to determine what Christianity is. Here we are all united. But so numerous and discordant, so narrow and unworthy are our representations of the religion, which we insist to have come from Heaven, that serious doubts have arisen as to the possibility of knowing what the scriptures really do teach, and the worth of their meaning, even were it ascertained. In the confusion of opinions doubt has become denial; and whatever outward conformity may appear, it is not to be concealed that numbers of intelligent and not ill-disposed men are all but fixed in the conviction, that the Christian scriptures, like the creeds and dogmas which they have occasioned, are the offspring of ignorance, delusion or fraud, and that the study of them is labour thrown away.
And yet, amidst "the discordant voices of wrangling theologians," tones of a celestial melody have fallen on the ears of the most heedless, and through the clouds of doubt, raised by contending sects, traits of truth have beamed out from the New Testament, so bright and significant as to be recognised at the slightest glance
even by the most distrustful. The wisdom and benevolence of the precepts of Jesus Christ, the conspicuous excellence of his character, and the pacific spirit of his religion, are topics of commendation with friends and foes, so that, after all, there are very few indeed who are so ignorant or skeptical, as not to entertain a certain feeling of respect for Christianity and the Christian Scriptures.
But this feeling of respect is vague and barren. It is found to co-exist with an utter rejection, secret or openly avowed, of all the historical details of the sacred history. The worth of the precepts of Jesus may be conceded, and even insisted upon with considerable warmth, and yet nothing be admitted concerning the particulars of his life beyond the simple fact of his existence.
Observing this state of things, and conscious of the need of a distinct, satisfactory, personal faith, I have felt a simple and strong curiosity to know, first of all, what the Histories of the life of Christ are, what they really contain; to ascertain, if I may, their precise character and claims. What are the four Gospels? Are they mere collections of legends, compositions .n which historical fictions are mixed up with a few choice grains of moral truth? Or, are they honest and authentic histories, relations of real events, of things that actually took place as they are represented, containing, it may be, some misstatements here and there, with regard to a few, subordinate particulars, but substantially true and accurate, and in the highest degree worthy of confidence and credit?
This fundamental question can never be fully settled but by a careful and critical examination of the Gospels themselves. We must study them fearlessly and thoroughly, if we would know what they contain, and
whether their contents be true. Accordingly, in all my endeavours to discover their real character, I have tried to forget the statements and interpretations of others, all those interpretations, at least, which are disputed. I have wished to put out of view all that is said and written about the authority and meaning of these remarkable writings, and to read them, as nearly as possible, with the freshness and freedom with which they would be read by one who should now open them for the first time. But it is not possible nor desirable, nor have I attempted, to throw off the influence of authority altogether. He must be deficient in sensibility for the truth, who takes up these books, desirous to know their contents, without a feeling of awe inspired by the thought of the respect in which they have been held for ages. The veneration, so long and widely felt for them, furnishes in their favour a presumption, to which it would vitiate all our investigations to refuse great weight. There must be some powerful element of truth in that which has taken so large and strong a hold upon the human mind. The Gospels must be approached therefore with a sentiment of respect, produced, not only by those obvious and acknowledged features of truth to which I have referred, but also by the fact that they are circulated and honoured throughout all Christendom, and through the vicissitudes of centuries, have maintained a high place in the esteem of the world. He who does not recognise the claim which they thus prefer to a serious and respectful consideration, lacks sympathy with the great brotherhood of his race; and must be destitute of that sensibility which is an indispensable qualification to the perception of moral and religious truth.
This inquiry into the character and contents of the Christian records is of commanding and universal inter
est. If men have spent their lives in the study of the changes of the globe, the aspects of the heavens, or the mysteries of an insect, a plant, or a stone, we may well deem it worth our time and toil to investigate these books. To say the very least, their existence is among the most curious phenomena of our condition. But besides, they are vitally connected with the history and interests of our nature, with its deepest wants, its highest happiness, its most sacred hopes. There are questions concerning his own being and prospects, which arise sooner or later in the heart of every man. They cannot be suppressed, and we know not how much the Christian scriptures may aid in their solution. No thoughtful mind will question the interest and importance of the present inquiry.
In attempting the study of the four Gospels, with the motives, and in the manner above-mentioned, I have arrived at some results, which, to my own mind, are satisfactory and most interesting. In addition to those general evidences of truth, manifest to all, I have discovered others, not so obvious, but far more definite and decisive. They have become so abundant, as I have proceeded, that I do not believe there is any work of nature or art, more copiously impressed with the signs of reality, than the accounts of the life of Christ are with the characteristics of true and faithful histories. If truth is apparent in the simplest case, then is it completely, irresistibly manifest here. Some of these characteristics it is my design to exhibit in the present work. They consist for the most part of those unintentional, unconscious coincidences, which belong only to truth, nature, reality, and which, when once fully apprehended, produce a conviction of truth that no candid and well-disposed mind can resist.
The general argument is in substance a familiar one,
and so are some of the illustrations presented in the following pages. But a considerable portion of the internal evidence here detailed is new; I am not aware that it has ever before been adduced or observed. If so, then how truly undesigned must these signs of truth be, which have remained so long unnoticed! Had they been intended by the authors of the Gospels to produce an appearance of truth, they would have been more conspicuously arrayed.
But many of the coincidences, which I am to trace in the course of this work, may be objected to as imaginary and fanciful. "Your observations are all very well, quite ingenious," (so my readers may be pleased to say,)" but these traits of truth, these curious correspondences that you note, are, perhaps, your own inventions, and not discoveries. You do not find, but make: how do we know but that your suggestions are the merest conjectures, having an existence in your own mind only, and without the least foundation in the Gospels themselves?" In reply to this query, I do not pretend to say that I have not been led in some instances to mistake a mere fancy for a veritable token of truth. But if cases of this description occur in these pages, they may be pointed out and shown to be such. Is the fanciful not to be distinguished from the true? But this is not all. While every department of inquiry, and religion especially, is to be vigilantly guarded against the intrusion of wild conjectures and random guesses; in all investigations, scientific, philosophical, and historical, suggestions may be made, which, strictly speaking, perhaps, must be denominated conjectural; and yet which, carefully weighed, are found to be so fully authorised, nay, so distinctly demanded by the acknowledged circumstances of the case, that we cannot deny them the force of the soundest logical deductions. Very