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4. Let us next consider the concurring testimony of other witnesses. We have as yet directed your attention to the gospel narrative as furnished by a single contemporaneous historian and witness. But suppose you should unexpectedly discover in the ruins of Herculaneum three distinct writings heretofore entirely unknown, but containing the most satisfactory evidence of authenticity, and evidently written in the first century of Christianity, by three several and independent authors, each possessed of the best opportunities of knowledge; and suppose that in every one of them there should be found a history of Christ and his gospel; what an uncommon opportunity would it seem of trying the accuracy of this book of St. John. Even if these three newly discovered authors were bad men, yet, if their statements should agree with his, it would determine the accuracy of his history. But if it should appear that they were all good men, how much more complete would be their confirmation. Suppose, however, it should turn out that these three writers were not only good men, but, like St. John, disciples of Christ and ministers of his gospel, what effect would their concurrent testimony then have upon his accuracy? Would it be diminished in conclusiveness by the discovery of their Christian character? I believe that in the minds of multitudes it would, but most unjustly. Precisely the contrary should be the consequence. If four of The volume is reprinted in New York, in connection with the celebrated Hora Paulinæ, by Paley, in which the same species of argument is carried on with reference to the epistles of St.
the chief officers in Napoleon's staff had published memoirs of his life, I venture to say that the concurrence of their several statements, instead of having its evidence weakened because they were all attached to Napoleon and admitted to his domestic circle, would be greatly strengthened in your estimation by that very circumstance, inasmuch as it would insure the accuracy of their knowledge without impeaching their integrity. But some seem to suppose that the laws regulating the force of testimony are all changed, as soon as the matter of fact in question is removed from the department of profane to that of sacred history.
How much has been made of the testimony of the Roman historian Tacitus to some of the chief facts of the gospel history. It is the testimony of a heathen, and therefore supposed to be incomparably valuable. Now, suppose Tacitus the heathen had not only been persuaded of the facts he has related, but had been so deeply impressed with the belief of them as to have renounced heathenism and embraced the Christian faith, and then published the history we now possess; who does not know, that with the infidel, and with many a believer, the force of his testimony would have been greatly diminished? No reason for this can be given, except that we have a vague idea of some depreciating effect arising from the fact that a Christian in the cause of Christianity must be an interested witness. To be sure, he is interested; but is his testimony the less valuable?
A scientific man bearing testimony to a phe
nomenon in natural history is an interested witness, because he is devoted to science; but his testimony is not the less valuable. A good man bearing testimony to the character of another good man is an interested witness, because he is the friend of virtue and of all good men; but his testimony is not the less valuable. In this and no other sense were the original disciples interested witnesses. They were interested in Christianity only so far as they believed it true. Suppose them to have known it to be untrue, and you cannot imagine the least jot or tittle of interest they could have had in it. In such a case, on the contrary, the current of all their interests and prepossessions would have run directly and powerfully in opposition to Christianity. This then being the only aspect in which they can be regarded as interested, the force of their testimony, so far from being in the least impaired, is greatly enhanced by the consideration. The bare fact that any primitive writer bearing witness to events related by St. John, was not a heathen or a Jew, but a Christian, is the very thing that should be regarded as completing his testimony. Is the evidence of Tacitus, who relates such events, but remained a heathen, any thing like so strong, as if we could say, It is the evidence of Tacitus, who was a heathen, but believed those events so firmly that he became a Christian? If a man speak well to me of the virtues of a certain medicine, but does not use it himself, is his opinion half so weighty as if he were to receive it into his own vitals, and administer it in his family? Would it be reasonable, in this case, to
refuse his testimony because you might denominate him an interested witness?
I have thus enlarged upon this head, because I am going to present you with the concurrent testimony of seven ancient writers, in confirmation of the accuracy of the gospel history as given by St. John. They are writers whose testimony has this particular value, whereas once they were Jews and enemies to the gospel, they were afterwards converted to its belief and service, became Christians, and as Christians wrote, and gave every practical evidence that what they wrote they believed. Of these, three composed regular histories of the life and labors of Christ, similar in object to that of John. One of them, besides a memoir of Christ, has carried on the subsequent history of Christianity, under the name of the Acts of the Apostles. Four others composed various letters to different individuals, or bodies of Christians, in which they allude continually to events related in the narratives of the former. all these several writings are perfectly independent, each of the rest. We have them bound up in one volume, and are apt to overlook the fact that they are as independent productions as if they had never been in contact with one another. Written by various authors in widely remote countries, in all parts of the first century from its forty-first to its ninety-seventh year, in as many different styles and methods as they had writers, these productions cannot, with the least reason, be suspected of having been composed in concert. Of the competency of the knowledge of
each writer, we can have no more doubt than in the case of St. John. In each of their histories we see the same circumstantiality, the same striking internal characteristics of honesty, as we have already noticed in that of the other evangelist. Now, let us divest ourselves of the delusion so apt to arise out of the thought that they are Christian witnesses, and as if this were a question as to the truth of a history of Pythagoras by one of his disciples, and these other writers were also contemporaneous disciples of Pythagoras, let us bring them face to face and see how they agree. Here, then, we have four independent -histories of the life of Christ, all of them by his contemporaries, besides the other documents we have mentioned. Now, "it is an extraordinary and singular fact, that no history since the commencement of the world has been written by so great a number of the companions and friends of an illustrious person as that of our Saviour. One contemporary history is a rarity; two is a coincidence scarcely known; four is, so far as appears, unparalleled." We have therefore an unequalled opportunity of coming at the truth. We compare our several histories. If we find them contradictory, our confidence declines. If they bear a systematic, particular, and yet comprehensive resemblance, we must suspect collusion. But we perceive neither the contradiction nor the resemblance. We see great variety. What one relates, another sometimes leaves out. arrangement, in minuteness, and sometimes as to fact,
* Wilson's Lectures.
They differ in