« AnteriorContinuar »
ages of the world, and of the particular nation chosen out to receive the instructions of the Lord, that through them all mankind might know him. The Old Testament also contains the ancient promises of our blessed Saviour, gradually opened to the understanding of mankind in clearer and clearer terms as the period of his appearance drew nigh. They were
made from time to time through a space of 1500 years, from the age of Moses to within 400 years of our Saviour's birth.
It will be useful to notice in one view the chief prophecies that were thus delivered, because we are apt to lose sight of them as we read through the Bible, scattered as they are among the different books.
The most ancient prophecies stated, 1. That a person descended from Eve, the first woman, should punish the treachery of the Devil, who seduced her and Adam to disobe. dience.-[Genesis iii. 15.] 2. This glorious person should be descended from Abraham, [Gen. xii. 3.] Isaac, [Gen. xxvi. 4.] and Jacob, [Gen. xxxv. 11.] 3. That he would be born at Bethlehem.-[Micah v. 2.] 4. Of a Virgin of the family of David.- Isaiah vii. 14.] 5. While the second Temple was still standing.-[Malachi iii. 1.] 6. Born in mean circumstances.—[ Isaiah liii. 3.] 7. Preceded by a forerunner.-[Malachi iii. 1.] 8. That he should reign for ever upon the throne of David.-[Isaiah
ix. 6, 7.] 9. Put to death 70 weeks, or 490 years, after the decree of Artaxerxes for rebuilding the temple and city of Jerusalem.--[Daniel
ix. 25, 26.] 10. Betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, which should be given for a
potter's field.-[Zechariah xi. 12.] 11. Rejected and murdered by the Jews.- Isaiah liji.] 12. Suffering in the company of criminals.-[Ditto, liij. 9.] 13. Having a portion with the rich in his grave.- [ Ditto.] 14. His body should not be corrupted there.- [Psalms xvi. 10.] 15. But swallow up death in victory.- [Isaiah xxy. 8.] 16. And return at the last day.-[Job xix. 25.]
In the course of our examination, I have pointed out to you the exact manner in which these and other prophecies were fulfilled. Every time you look into your Bible you will perceive the close con nexion between the Old and New Testament. The truth of the Holy Scriptures will appear to you resting upon these double proofs, the prophecies of the Old Testament being proved by the exact manner in which we read that they came to pass as recorded in the New Testament. No man must attempt therefore to separate them. They stand
upon the same authority. A pious Christian will naturally take the most delight in reading the New Testament, because he there receives the blessed lessons of his Redeemer; there he reads the particulars of his life and holy ministry; and there he finds the glorious promises of salvation purchased for him by his precious blood. But he will frequently refer to the Old Testament as a treasury of prophetic wisdom ; he will refresh his memory with an account of God's great mercies in the early ages of the world, and the extraordinary plan for man's redemption, which is there revealed by his holy prophets.
Although from the Bible itself the most convincing proofs are thus derived,—and it really stands in need of no other support,—we have many other aụthorities of the time in which our Saviour lived, to confirm the truth of the Gospel history, and the particulars mentioned by the Apostles concerning the progress of his religion afterwards. The works of many heathen authors have come down to the present day, which describe several of the principal events which concern the Christian Religion. Some of these persons lived in the time of the Apostles, and agree in stating the rapid success of the Christian cause in all parts whither it first spread.* One of them in particular,+ who was Governor of a Roman province in Asia Minor, relating the amazing extent to which the new faith had been carried within seventy years after our Saviour's return to Heaven, gives the strongest evidence of their zeal and attachment to those principles, in spite of all his endeavours to put a stop to the religion, numbers as he declares having suffered death by his orders, rather than yield up their faith. I
An history of the affairs of the Jews is also in our hands, written after the destruction of Jerusalem, by Josephus, one of the professed enemies of Christianity, in which the circumstances of that dreadful siege, and the miseries of those obstinate unbelievers, are described exactly as they were foretold in former ages by Moses, and others of the prophets, as well as by Christ himself; and the same historian acknowledges the amazing increase of the Christians in his time, owing to the constant exertions of their leaders. §
The several books of the New Testament, especially the Gospels, were collected into a volume in the earliest years of the Christian Religion; and though, from the immense distance of time, none of the original manuscripts have reached our days, the pious care of learned men has preserved many copies of very great age, one of which, now publicly preserved in the University of Oxford, is upwards of 1300 years old, and contains nearly the whole of the Christian Scriptures. The most ancient copies of the several books of the New Testament, have likewise been collected from different quarters where the Christian Religion was early established. They have been sought for and discovered in many different languages; they have been carefully compared together: and it is a circumstance of the highest satisfaction to us to know, that on a comparison of upwards of 700 copies together, it was found the Scriptures contained in our English Bible were, without any material difference, exactly the same as the most ancient manuscripts.
Many of the writings of the earliest Christian authors after the time
* Paley's Evidencies, vol. i. cbap. 2, quoting Tacitus, Juvenal, Lucian, Epictetus, Martial, and Marcus Aurelius.
+ Pliny. Paiey, vol. i. page 46.
$ Paley, vol. i. p. 111.
of the Apostles, have also been handed down to us, who constantly refer to all the books of the New Testament as works of Divine authority, and giving us many most interesting particulars concerning their inspired authors.
The united evidence of all writers of the time when Christianity first took rise, whether friends or enemies, shows to us therefore, in the most undoubted manner, the amazing zeal and perseverance with which the Apostles and their followers maintained the religion of Christ, and carried on their divine ministry. It is proved that they underwent the greatest hardships, and submitted to the most cruel persecutions, rather than give up the great object to which they had devoted themselves; and lastly laid down their lives, as the willing martyrs to that glorious faith which they thus nobly laboured to establish.
Let us next consider that nothing but divine authority could have obtained credit for, or preserved the existence of, the new Religion. The son of a poor carpenter arises, in the midst of a populous and enlightened nation, to establish an entirely new faith. His disciples are a few ignorant fishermen and mechanics, totally incapable of themselves to gain attention for one moment to what they should teach. He and his companions were not only of the lowest and poorest class of men, but the inhabitants of Nazareth, a place held in particular contempt by the rest of the Jews. He repairs to Jerusalem, the richest and most populous city in that part of Asia. He begins at once to preach publicly in the great Temple there. He addresses his hearers with authority, telling them in direct terms he came from God. He performs the most wonderful miracles before them, to prove his divine powers, declaring, “ The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me; and the Father himself which sent me hath borne witness of me.” * He heals persons afflicted with incurable diseases, gives sight to the blind, and vigour to the cripple; restoring reason to those possessed, nay, life to the deceased, even after corruption in the grave. These acts are performed in the most open and public manner, in the face of the whole city. The former state of the persons upon whom
many of them were performed, was notorious to every body. He feeds 5000 persons at one time, and 7000 at another, with a few loaves and fishes. While the people at large are thus witnesses to his wonderful powers, he plainly tells them of his benevolent purpose ;that he comes for the general salvation of mankind ; that he is Jesus Christ, the only son of God; that he has come down from Heaven, taking upon him human nature, to instruct them in their duty, and in that nature to make atonement for their sins; and after death to rise again from the dead, as the last convincing proof that he is the Christ, and to obtain for them a glorious immortality. He foretels the exact manner of his cruel death; he refers to the ancient prophecies that had been constantly in their own possession, which gave an account so long beforehand of his coming; and as the events do come to pass one after another, which had thus been foretold, he continually reminds them of their prophecies; after being raised to life he is seen by many hundreds of those who had with their own eyes beheld him expire on the cross; he lives in the city and its neighbourhood for no less than forty days; and at length is, miraculously taken up to Heaven, in the sight of those very persons who have written the account of these events.
* Joho y. 36.
These facts are conspicuous to the whole city, and all the country round about. His disciples, people of the lowest condition, poor, forlorn, ignorant men, and generally known as such by the people, from their constant attendance upon their late Master, who had been so lately brought to a public execution; these men suddenly come forth among them, speaking every language, addressing them with irresistible force and eloquence, and performing the most extraordinary miracles in his name. They are delivered from prison by the direct interference of God; they spread themselves over the most distant countries, making converts, wherever they go, to Christ's religion. Societies of Christians are formed in all quarters ; churches are founded in countries widely distant from each other; and all this amazing success prevailing against the greatest seeming difficulties.
Every nation to whom these Apostles proposed their new religion was then sunk in the grossest idolatry. The Greeks and Romans, the most polished nations of that age, worshipped an infinite number of deities, whose images they adored. By such people one can hardly imagine any system of religion more unlikely to be received than that which the Apostles of Christ preached to them. Instead of any attempt to overcome their prejudices, or to reconcile it to the common habits and opinions of the people, the first words they addressed to their hearers was to repent of all their sins ; to destroy all those objects of reverence which from infancy they had been accustomed to worship; to forsake all those wicked indulgences to which inclination and habit had so long and so closely attached them. They would accept of no half-consent. The only terms upon which these zealous teachers would accept of them as the servants of Christ, was a total change of all their former opinions, prejudices, customs, and pleasures; yet this Religion, by its divine authority, did make its way through every opposition ; and, in a period astonishingly short, extended itself over every civilized country in Europe.
In examining the circumstances of our Saviour's life it is only necessary to consider how such events could, with any success, be reported to happen in London, or any other great city of the present day, did they not really take place.
If a person were to pretend to perform such miracles, and were his friends, after he was put to death for thus trying to impose on the world, to spread a report of his having risen from the dead, would any number of persons be found wild enough to maintain such a story, in direct contradiction to the common sense and knowledge of the public? If, as the Jewish council declared of the disciples of Christ, these men had stolen away his body, would they, with the corpse lying before them, be frantic enough to believe he had come to life, or that without hopes of reward they would put forth such a story ? And if they did, would not one general voice of contempt and indignation at once silence such an absurd declaration, and prove the whole to be an imposition ?. Again, could they be rash enough to publish an account of miracles which every body knew to be false, or to state that at his execution a terrible earthquake shook the ground, that a wonderful darkness overspread the city of London in the open day, and that many eminent divines, who died long ago, came to life again out of their graves and walked through the streets ?
Yet such facts as these the Evangelists record; and they persevered in maintaining the truth of this story, without any possible chance of reward, in spite of all the threats and persecutions of their enemies, enduring the severest hardships and sufferings, and were executed at length, with this declaration on their lips, when a single word, acknowledging their falsehood, would have instantly saved their lives, restored them to freedom, and secured to them the reward and patronage of their unfeeling persecutors.
The enemies of Christ's Religion sought in vain for any such confession : no instance of the kind was found. They were driven to absolute silence, and the Jewish historians (especially Josephus, already referred to,) would gladly have availed themselves of the slightest ground of falsehood against them. The chief priests and scribes, who so earnestly strove to keep down the increasing reputation of the Christian faith, would have eagerly brought forward' any evidence to cast discredit on the Gospel history, but none whatever was to be found. The facts were too well known to be doubted. The numberless witnesses of Christ's miracles were still living at Jerusalem. The faith in consequence spread around on every side until it finally attained that prodigious extent at which it has now arrived.
The only false religion that has been set up with any success since the Christian faith was established, is that of the impostor Mahomet, and the comparison between them is extremely striking. The peculiar circumstances of difficulty under which the Christian revelation came into the world, and obtained so general a reception, have been just described. Mahomet, on the contrary, had every advantage of eminence, of birth, with rich and powerful connexions to support his pretensions, and himself possessing by marriage considerable wealth to maintain his purpose. His adherents were secretly employed for years in forming their plans, and concerting their schemes for establishing their new doctrines. At length he appeared to the world at the head of a powerful party, armed and prepared to enforce success at the point of the sword. The principles he taught were of all others the most likely to seduce the minds of the people of Arabia and Persia, by their attractive quality. He offered his religion to a people nationally addicted to the gratification of their passions, placing their whole delight in the grossest indulgences. They were by nature indolent; fond of ease and retirement, except when roused to warlike enterprizes, to which they were accustomed by the plundering system