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can be placed under the tribunal of such clusions the most painful and melancholy. evidence as it is competent to pronounce He should train his mind to all the hardihood upon. It was fortunate for those to whom of abstract and unfeeling intelligence. He Christianity (a professed communication should give up every thing to the supremafrom heaven) was first addressed, that they cy of argument, and be able to renounce, could decide upon the genuineness of the without a sigh, all the tenderest possessions communication by such familiar and every- of infancy, the moment that truth demands day principles, as the marks of truth or false- of him the sacrifice. Let it be remembered, hood in the human bearers of that commu- however, that while one species of prejunication. And it is fortunate for us that dice operates in favour of Christianity, when, after that communication has assu- another prejudice operates against it. There med the form of a historical document, we is a class of men who are repelled from the can pronounce upon the degree of credit investigation of its evidences, because in which should be attached to it, by the very their minds Christianity is allied with the same exercise of mind which we so confi- weakness of superstition; and they feel that dently engage in, when sitting in examina- they are descending when they bring down tion upon the other historical documents their attention to a subject which engrosses that have come down to us from antiquity. so much respect and admiration from the
If two historical documents possess equal vulgar. degrees of evidence, they should produce It appears to us, that the peculiar feeling Equal degrees of conviction. But if the ob- which the sacredness of the subject gives to ject of the one be to establish some fact the inquirer, is, upon the whole, unfavouraconnected with our religious faith, while the ble to the impression of the Christian arguobject of the other is to establish some fact, ment. Had the subject not been sacred, and about which we feel no other interest than had the same testimony been given to the that general curiosity which is gratified by facts that are connected with it, we are sathe solution of any question in literature, tisfied that the history of Jesus in the New this difference in the object produces a dif- Testament would have been looked upon as ference of effect in the feelings and tenden- the best supported by evidence of any hiscies of the mind. It is impossible for the tory that has come down to us. It would mind, while it inquires into the evidence of assist us in appreciating the evidence for a Christian document, to abstain from all the truth of the gospel history, if we could reference to the important conclusion of the conceive for a moment, that Jesus, instead inquiry. And this will necessarily mingle of being the founder of a new religion, had its influence with the arguments which en- been merely the founder of a new school of gage its attention. It may be of importance philosophy, and that the different histories to attend to the peculiar feelings which are which have come down to us had merely thus given to the investigation, and in how represented him as an extraordinary person, far they have affected the impression of the who had rendered himself illustriouş among Christian argument.
his countrymen by the wisdom of his sayWe know it to be the opinion of some, ings, and the beneficence of- his actions. that in this way an undue advantage has We venture to say, that had this been the been given to that argument. Instead of a case, a tenth part of the testimony which pure question of truth, it has been made a has actually been given, would have been question of sentiment; and the wishes of the enough to satisfy us. Had it been a quesheart have mingled with the exercises of tion of mere erudition, where neither a prethe understanding. There is a class of men dilection in favour of a religion, nor an anwho may feel disposed to overrate its eviden- tipathy against it could have impressed a tes, because they are anxious to give every bias in any one direction, the testimony, support and stability 10 a system, which both in weight and in quantity, would have they conceive to be most intimately connec- been looked upon as quite unexampled in led with the dearest hopes and wishes of the whole compass of ancient literature. humanity; because their imagination is To form a fair estimate of the strength carried away by the sublimity of its doc- and decisiveness of the Christian argument, trines, or their heart engaged by that amia- we should, if possible, divest ourselves of all ble morality which is so much calculated to reference to religion, and view the truth of improve and adorn the face of society. the gospel history, purely as a question of
Now we are ready to admit, that as the erudition. If at the outset of the investigahoject of the inquiry is not the character, tion we have a prejudice against the Chrisbat the truth of Christianity, the philosopher tian religion, the effect is obvious; and withshould be careful to protect his mind from out any refinement of explanation, we see the delusion of its charms. He should sepa- at once how such a prejudice must dispose rate the exercises of the understanding from us to annex suspicion and distrust to the the tendencies of the fancy or of the heart. testimony of the Christian writers. But He should be prepared to follow the light even when the prejudice is on the side of of evidence, though it may lead him to con- Christianity, the effect is unfavourable on a
mind that is at all scrupulous about the rec-| author, which he had rather been without, titude of its opinions. In these circumstan- because he finds it difficult to compute the ces, the mind gets suspicious of itself. It precise amount of its influence; and the feels a predilection, and becomes apprehen- consideration of this restrains him from that sive lest this predilection may have disposed clear and decided conclusion, which he it to cherish a particular conclusion, inde- would infallibly have landed in, had it been pendently of the evidences by which it is purely a secular investigation. : supported. Were it a mere speculative There is something in the very sacredness question, in which the interests of man, and of the subject, which intimidates the underthe attachments of his heart had no share, standing, and restrains it from making the he would feel greater confidence in the re- same firm and confident application of its sult of his investigation. But it is difficult faculties, which it would have felt itself to separate the moral impressions of piety, perfectly warranted to do, had it been a and it is no less difficult to calculate their question of ordinary history. Had the aposprecise influence on the exercises of the un- ties been the disciples of some eminent phiderstanding. In the complex sentiment of losopher, and the fathers of the church, their attachment and conviction, which he an- immediate successors in the office of presidnexes to the Christian religion, he finds it ing over the discipline and instruction of the difficult to say, how much is due to the ten- numerous schools which they had establishdencies of the heart, and how much is due ed, this would have given a secular complexto the pure and unmingled influence of ar- ion to the argument, which we think would gument. His very anxiety for the truth, have been more satisfying to the mind, and disposes him to overrate the circumstances have impressed upon it a closer and more which give a bias to his understanding, and familiar conviction of the history in question. through the whole process of the inquiry, We should have immediately brought it inhe feels a suspicion and an embarrassment, to comparison with the history of other phiwhich he would not have felt, had it been losophers, and could not have failed to rea question of ordinary erudition.
cognize, that, in minuteness of information, The same suspicion which he attaches to in weight and quantity of evidence, in the himself, he will be ready to attach to all concurrence of numerous and independent whom he conceives to be in similar circum- testimonies, and in the total absence of every stances. Now, every author who writes in circumstance that should dispose us to annex defence of Christianity, is supposed to be suspicion to the account which lay before a Christian; and this, in spite of every argu- us, it far surpassed any thing that had come ment to the contrary, has the actual effect down to us from antiquity. It so happens, of weakening the impression of his testimo- however, that, instead of being the history of ny. This suspicion effects, in a more re a philosopher, it is the history of a prophet. markable degree, the testimony of the first The veneration we annex to the sacredness writers on the side of Christianity. In op- of such a character, mingles with our belief position to it, you have no doubt, to allege in the truth.of his history. From a question the circumstances under which the testimo- of simple truth, it becomes a question in ny was given; the tone of sincerity which which the heart is interested ; and the subruns through the performance of the author;ject from that moment assumes a certain the concurrence of other testimonies; the holiness and mystery, which veil the strength persecutions which were sustained in ad- of the argument, and takes off from that fahering to them, and which can be accounted miliar and intimate conviction which we for on no other principle, than the power annex to the far less authenticated histories of conscience and conviction; and the utter of profane authors. impossibility of imposing a false testimony It may be further observed, that every on the world, had they even been disposed part of the Christian argument has been to do it. Still there is a lurking suspicion, made to undergo a most severe scrutiny. which often survives this strength of all The same degree of evidence which in argument, and which it is difficult to get rid questions of ordinary history commands the of, even after it has been demonstrated to easy and universal acquiescence of every be completely unreasonable. He is a Chris- inquirer, has, in the subject before us, been tian. He is one of the party. Am I an in- taken most thoroughly to pieces, and purfidel? I persist in distrusting the testimony. sued, both by friends and enemies, into all Am I a Christian? I rejoice in the strength its ramifications. The effect of this is unquesof it; but this very joy becomes matter of tionable. The genuineness and authenticity suspicion to a scrupulous inquirer. He of the profane historian, are admitted upon feels something more than the concurrence much inferior evidence to what we can adof his belief in the testimony of the writer. duce for the different pieces which make up He catches the infection of his piety and his the New Testament. And why? Because moral sentiments. In addition to the acqui- the evidence has been hitherto thought sufesence of the understanding, there is a con ficient, and the genuineness and authenticity amore feeling both in himself, and in his I have never been questioned. Not so with
the Gospel history. Though its evidence is tion, too, and the time of its appearance, are precisely the same in kind, and vastly supe far better established, and by precisely that rior in degree to the evidence for the history kind of argument which is held decisive in of the profane writer, its evidence has been every other question of erudition. Besides questioned, and the very circumstance of its all this, we have the testiniony of at least being questioned has annexed a suspicion to five of the Christian fathers, all of whom had it. At all points of the question, there has the same, or a greater, advantage in point of been a struggle and a controversy. Every time than Tacitus, and who had a much ignorant objection, and every rash and petu- nearer and readier access to original sources lant observation, has been taken up and of information. Now, how comes it that the commented upon by the defenders of Chris- testimony of Tacitus, a distant and later histianity. There has at last been so much said torian, should yield such delight and satisfacabout it, that a general feeling of insecurity is tion to the inquirer, while all the antecedent apt to accompany the whole investigation. testimony (which, by every principle of ap
There has been so much fighting, that Chris- proved criticism, is much stronger than the tianity now is looked upon as debatable Other) should produce an impression that is ground. Other books, where the evidence comparatively languid and ineffectual? It is much inferior, but which have had the ad- is owing, in a great measure, to the principle vantage of never being questioned, are re- to which we have already alluded. There ceived as of established authority. It is is a sacredness annexed to the subject, so striking to observe the perfect confidence long as it is under the pen of fathers and with which an infidel will quote a passage evangelists, and this very sacredness takes from an ancient historian. He perhaps does away from the freedom and confidence of not overrate the credit due to him. But the argument. The moment that it is taken present him with a tabellated and compara- up by a profane author, the spell which held tive view of all the evidences that can be the understanding in some degree of restraint adduced for the gospel of Matthew, and any is dissipated. We now tread on the more profane historian, which he chooses to fix familiar ground of ordinary history; and the upon, and let each distinct evidence be dis- evidence for the truth of the Gospel appears cussed upon no other principle than the more assimilated to that evidence, which ordinary and approved principles of criti- brings home to our conviction the particucism, we assure him that the sacred history lars of the Greek and Roman story. would far outweigh the profane in the num To say that Tacitus was upon this subject ber and value of its testimonies.
a disinterested historian, is not enough to In illustration of the above remarks, we explain the preference which you give to can refer to the experience of those who have his testimony. There is no subject in which attended to this examination. We ask them the triumph of the Christian argument is .to recollect the satisfaction which they felt, more conspicuous, than the moral qualificawhen they came to those parts of the ex- tions which give credit to the testimony of amination, where the argument assumes a its witnesses. We have every possible evisecular complexion. Let us take the testi-dence, that there could be neither mistake mony of Tacitus for an example. He as- nor falsehood in their testimony: a much serts the execution of our Saviour in the greater quantity of evidence, indeed, than reign of Tiberius, and under the procurator- can actually be produced to establish the ship of Pilate; the temporary check, which credibility of any other historian. Now all this gave to his religion; its revival, and the we ask is, that where an exception to the progress it had made, not only over Judea, veracity of any historian is removed, you but to the city of Rome. Now all this is restore him to that degree of credit and inatt sted in the Annals of Tacitus. But it is Auence which he ought to have possessed, also attested in a far more direct and cir- had no such exception been made. In no cumstantial manner in the annals of another case has an exception to the credibility of an author, in a book entitled the History of the author been more triumphantly removed, Acts of the Apostles by the Evangelist than in the case of the early Christian Luke. Both of these performances carry writers; and yet, as a proof that there really on the very face of them the appearance of exists some such delusion as we have been unsuspicious and well-authenticated docu- labouring to demonstrate, though our eyes ments
. But there are several circumstances, are persectly open to the integrity of the in which the testimony of Luke possesses a Christian witnesses, there is still a disposidecided advantage over the testimony of tion to give the preference to the secular hisTacitus. He was the companion of these lorian. When Tacitus is placed by the side very apostles. He was an eye witness to of the evangelist Luke, even after the demany of the events recorded by him. He cisive argument, which establishes the credit had the advantage over the Roman historian of the latter historian has convinced the unin time and in place, and in personal know- derstanding, there remains a tendency in the ledge of many of the circumstances in his mind to annex a confidence to the account history. The genuineness of his publica- 1 of the Roman writer, which is altogether
disproportioned to the relative merits of his historical parts of the New Testament were testimony.
written by the disciples of our Saviour. This Let us suppose, for the sake of farther il- is very decisive evidence. But how does it lustration, that Tacitus had included some happen, that it should throw a clearer gleam more particulars in his testimony, and that, of light and satisfaction over the mind of in addition to the execution of our Saviour, the inquirer, than he had yet experienced he had asserted, in round and unqualified in the whole train of his investigation ? terms, that this said Christus had risen from Whence that disposition to underrate the. the dead, and was seen alive by some hun- antecedent testimony of the Christian wridreds of his acquaintances. Even this would ters? Talk not of theirs being an intenot have silenced altogether the cavils of rested testimony; for, in point of fact, the enemies, but it would have reclaimed many same disposition operates, after reason is an infidel; been exulted in by many a sin-convinced that the suspicion is totally uncere Christian ; and made to occupy a fore-founded. What we contend for is, that this most place in many a book upon the eviden- indifference to the testimony of the Chrisces of our religion. Are we to forget all the tian writers implies a dereliction of princiwhile, thar we are in actual possession of ples, which apply with the utmost confimuch stronger testimony ? that we have the dence to all similar inquiries. concurrence of eight or ten contemporary The effects of this same principle are perauthors, most of whom had actually seen fectly discernible in the writings of even Christ after the great event of his resurrec- our most judicious apologists. We offer no tion ? that the veracity of these authors, and reflection against the assiduous Lardner, the genuineness of their respective publi- who, in his credibility of the Gospel history, cations, are established on grounds much presents us with a collection of testimonies stronger than have ever been alleged in be- which should make every Christian proud half of Tacitus, or any ancient author of his religion. In his evidence for the auWhence this unaccountable preference of thenticity of the different pieces which make Tacitus? Upon every received principle of up the New Testament, he begins with the criticism, we are bound to annex greater con- oldest of the fathers, some of whom were fidence to the testimony of the apostles. It the intimate companions of the original is vain to recur to the imputation of its being writers. According to our view of the an interested testimony. This the apologists matter, he should have dated the commencefor Christianity undertake to disprove, and ment of his argument from a higher point, actually have disproved it, and that by a much and begun with the testimonies of these greater quantity of evidence than would be original_writers to one another. In the held persectly decisive in a question of second Epistle of Peter, there is a distinct common history. If after this there should reference made to the writings of Paul; and remain any lurking sentiment of diffidence in the Acts of the Apostles, there is a reor suspicion, it is entirely resolvable into ference made to one of the four Gospels. some such principle as I have already alluded Had Peter, instead of being an apostle, rank, to. It is to be treated as a mere feeling,-a ed only with the fathers of the church, and delusion which should not be admitted to had his epistle not been admitted into the have any influence on the convictions of the canon of scripture, this testimony of his understanding.
would have had a place in the catalogue, The principle which we have been at- and been counted peculiarly valuable, both tempting to expose, is found, in fact, to run for its precision and its antiquity. There is through every part of the argument, and to certainly nothing in the estimation he enaccompany the inquirer through all the joyed, or in the circumstances of his epistle branches of the investigation. The authen- being bound up with the other books of the ticity of the different books of the New New Testement, which ought to impair the Testament forms a very important inquiry, credit of his testimony. But in effect, his teswherein the object of the Christian Apolo- timony does make a weaker impression on gist is to prove that they were really written the mind, than a similar testimony from by their professed authors. In proof of this, Barnabas, or Clement, or Polycarp. It there is an uninterrupted series of testimony certainly ought not to do it, and there is a from the days of the apostles; and it was not delusion in the preference that is thus given to be expected, that a point so isoteric to the to the latter writers. It is in fact, another Christian society could have attracted the example of the principle which we have attention of profane authors, till the religion been so often insisting upon. What profane of Jesus, by its progress in the world, had authors are in reference to Christian authors rendered itself conspicuous. It is not then at large, the fathers of the church are in retill about eighty years after the publication ference to the original writers of the New of the different pieces, that we meet with the Testament. In contradiction to every apt-stimony of Celsus, an avowed enemy to proved principle, we prefer the distant and Christianity, and who asserts, upon the later testimony, to the testimony of writers strength of its general notoriety, that the l who carry as much evidence and legitimate
authority along with them, and who only. If it were necessary in a court of justice differ from others in being nearer the origi- to ascertain the circumstances of a certain nal source of information. We neglect and transaction which happened in a particular undervalue the evidence which the New neighbourhood, the obvious expedient would Testament itself furnishes, and rest the be to examine the agents and eye-witnesses whole of the argument upon the external of that transaction. If six or eight concurand superinduced testimony of subsequent red in giving the same testimony—if there authors.
was no appearance of collusion among A great deal of all this is owing to the them—if they had the manner and aspect manner in which the defence of Christianity of creditable men-above all, if this testimobas been conducted by its friends and sup- ny were made public, and not a single indiporters. They have given too much into vidual, from the numerous spectators of the the suspicions of the opposite party. They transaction alluded to, step forward to falsify have yielded their minds to the infection of it, then, we apprehend, the proof would be their skepticism, and maintained, through looked upon as complete. Other witnesses the whole process, a caution and a delicacy might be summoned from a distance to give which they often carry to a degree that is in their testimony, not of what they saw, excessive; and by which, in fact, they have but of what they heard upon the subject; done injustice to their own arguments. but their concurrence, though a happy Sorne of them begin with the testimony of enough circumstance, would never be lookTacitus as a first principle, and pursue the ed upon as any material addition to the eviinvestigation upwards, as if the evidence dence already brought forward. Another that we collect from the annals of the Ro- court of justice might be held in a distant man historian were stronger than that of country, and years after the death of the orithe Christian writers who fourished nearer ginal witnesses. It might have occasion to the scene of the investigation, and whose verify the same transaction, and for this credibility can be established on grounds purpose might call in the only evidence which are altogether independent of his which it was capable of collecting—the tes testimony. In this way, they come at last timony of men who lived after the transacto the credibility of the New Testament tion in question, and at a great distance from writers, but by a lengthened and circuitous the place where it happened. There would procedure. The reader feels as if the argu- be no hesitation, in ordinary cases, about ment were diluted at every step in the pro- the relative value of the two testimonies; cess of derivation, and his faith in the Gos- and the record of the first court could be pel history is much weaker than his faith appealed to by posterity as by far the more in histories that are far less authenticated. valuable document, and far more decisive Bring Tacitus and the New Testament to an of the point in controversy. Now, what we immediate comparison, and subject them complain of, is, that in the instance before both to the touchstone of ordinary and re- us this principle is reversed. The report of ceived principles, and it will be found that hearsay witnesses is held in higher estimathe latter leaves the former out of sight in tion than the report of the original agents all the marks, and characters, and evidences and spectators. The most implicit credit is of an authentic history. The truth of the given to the testimony of the distant and Gospel stands on a much firmer and more later historians, and the testimony of the independent footing, than many of its de riginal witnesses is received with as fenders would dare to give us any concep- much distrust as if they carried the marks tion of. They want that boldness of argu- of villany and imposture upon their forement which the merits of the question heads. The genuineness of the first record Enutle them to assume. They ought to can be established by a much greater weight bintain a more decided front to their ad- and variety of evidence, than the genuineFersaries, and tell them, that, in the New ness of the second. Yet all the suspicion Testament itself—in the concurrence of its that we feel upon this subject annexes to numerous, and distant, and independent the former ; and the apostles and evangelauthors—in the uncontradicted authority ists, with every evidence in their favour which it has maintained from the earliest which it is in the power of testimony to kuspes of the church-in the total inability furnish, are, in fact, degraded from the place of the bitterest adversaries of our religion which they ought to occupy among the acLo impeach its credibility-in the genuine credited historians of past times. characters of hullesty and fairness which it The above observations may help to precarries on the very face of it; that in these, pare the inquirer for forming a just and imand in every thing else, which can give va- partial estimate of the merits of the Chrislidity to the written history of past times, tian testimony. His great object should be there is a weight and a splendour of evi-to guard against every bias of the underdence, which the testimony of Tacitus can- standing. The general idea is, that a prenot confirm, and which the absence of that dilection in favour of Christianity may lead lesumony could not have diminished. him to overrate the argument. We believe