صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

tions, that no close reasoning, unprejudiced mind can admit the truth and authenticity of them all.

It is an obvious axiom, that, in the investigation of the doctrines of Christianity, the first necessary step is to inquire into the truth and authenticity of those original writings in which they are contained : but the misfortune is, that nobody takes this important, necessary step of the inquiry, in any firm and satisfactory manner. If we examine, for instance, upon what grounds professed Christians of the present age are convinced, that the four Gospels (as they are usually called) were really written by the men whose names they bear, we are referred to the concurring, testimony of all the ecclesiastical historians and divines from the age of Constantine to ourown; and to the consent of even the most formidable adversaries of the Church, Çelsus, Por. phyry, and Julian, who all allowed the Gospels to be written by those, Apostles, and their disa ciples, to whom they are universally attributed. But, it must be observed by the way, that the consent of those early, adversaries of, Christianity, is very far from being, in any degree, a proof of the point in question. They were all much too great masters of argument not

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

to see how greatly that very concession was in their favour. And were not the author of these pages convinced, as he really is, upon better and firmer grounds, of the truth and divine authority of the revelation by Jesus Christ; and had he an inclination to prejudice the gospel in the opinion of thinking men; he cannot imagine a stronger argument than might be drawn against it, from the objectionable, contradictory passages contained in those books, on a supposition that they were all actually written by its first and most authoritative teachers : but he has no object in view, in this publication, besidesche investigation of truth, and the promotion of moral virtue and human happiness, by endeavouringto demonstrate the sure and certain grounds upon which the genuine religion of Christ is founded; which, he is persuaded, can only be effected by clearing the pure and simple seed of the divine word, not from any chaff, from any native incumbrances of its own, for it has none, but

gross, rubbish with which idolatrous superstition hath so long clogged and overwhelmed it, that not only its natural beneficial powers of vegetation remain suspended; but it is even become exceedingly difficult for mankind to

discern what it is. For this purpose, after the mature deliberation of a greater number of years than the Roman Poet thought fit to prescribe for publications of a less important kind, the author presumes to trace the abuses and corruptions of Christianity to their source; and to distinguish the truth of revealed religion from the fables of credulous superstition, in those very scriptures which have been hitherto regarded as being all of equal authority and credibility, and as containing, in common, the fundamental truths and essential doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When we consult that succession of ecclesiastical writers, to which we are referred, from the establishment of the Church by Constantine, we find they received the four Gospels, which they have transmitted to us, upon the authority of those professed Christians of the second and third centuries, whom they have thought fit to denominate orthodox; and who, rejecting all those numerous Evangelical histories which Luke informs us were written in his time, admitted and preserved these four alone, and attributed them to the authors under whose names they now appear.

This, it is apprehended, is a true, impartial state of the historical evidence, that Matthew and John the apostles, and Mark and Luke disciples of the apostolic age, were the writers of the several histories which bear their name. But this evidence, satisfactory as it hath been thought to be, is really attended with such suspicious circumstances as make it liable to much reasonable distrust; for either the orthodox religion established by the Emperor Constantine, is a blasphemous, idolatrous superstition, an apostasy from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which it has supplanted, and, of course, the Fathers of that Church of the preceding centuries, were by no means fit judges of the genuine Evangelical writings; or else the Gospel itself cannot be admitted to be true. For thus stands the

case.

II. A DIVINE Revelation, being a supernatural interposition of the Deity in human affairs, cannot, by any prudent person, be acknowledged as such upon common and merely natural evidence of any sort whatever. To gain it admission and belief at first, it must erer be attested by a display of miracus lous supernatural power, as in the case of Moses and the prophets under the Jewish Law, and of Jesus and his apostles under the Gospel ; and to all future ages, prophecy, the completed prediction of events out of the power of human sagacity to foresee, is the only supernatural testimony that can be als leged in proof of the authenticity of any Ren velation. To those, for example, of the present age, who have any doubt about the certainty of the Christian Revelation, and consequently of the truth and authenticity of those histories in which it is recorded, it cannot be of the least use to allege the miraculous acts there, and there only, related to have been performed by the first preachers of that Revelation; because those acts making a very considerable part of the narration, the author rity and credibility of the histories must be firmly established, before the miracles contained in them can reasonably be admitted as real facts. But with prophecy the case is widely, different. The testimony it adduces depends not in the least upon the veracity or credibility of the writer, but every man capable of understanding the meaning of the prediction, and of comparing it with the cor

« السابقةمتابعة »