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2 TIM. III. 16.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God."
HAD the prophet Jesus, like the impostor Mahomet, retired to the caverns of some solitary mountain, and meditating in secret upon the sacred object of his ministry come forth with a written Gospel for the instruction of mankind, the evidence for Christianity would have assumed a very different character from that which it now bears, and have become much more simple, though not more satisfactory, than it appears under the present and more complicated circumstances of the case. Had our Saviour recorded with his own infallible pen the doctrines of his holy religion and the transactions of his benevolent life-his merciful miracles and his wonderful predictions; and had he delivered the original document to his disciples at his death,
as the fountain from which all their future preaching was to be drawn, and the only oracle to which they were to refer for an illustration of the principles and a proof of the divine origin of Christianity-it would seem as if in that case nothing more would have been requisite to enable us to judge with certainty upon the truth or falsehood of the pretensions of Jesus, than this that the Apostles should have borne unequivocal testimony to the genuineness of the book and the authenticity of its contents, and confirmed that testimony by their sufferings and death. For, in that case, if from the contents of the book the author could be proved to have been a prophet of God, the inspiration of the book itself as the production of a prophet would follow as a matter of course, and all its contents become infallibly true. But it has pleased the Almighty in his wisdom, that the information we possess with regard to the actions and doctrines of our Lord, should be transmitted down to posterity in a manner which in its nature and operation is altogether different from this. It is now universally admitted that the divine Author of our religion himself wrote nothing-that nothing concerning either his preaching or his proceedings was written by others during his life, and that those memorials which we possess and revere as the veritable and sure relations of his
immediate and constant followers, were not one of them composed until a period of several years had elapsed from the death of that individual whose words and works they so minutely and regularly detail. The change which this fact makes in the proofs necessary to establish the truth and divinity of the religion of the Gospel, and the manner in which those necessary proofs have been supplied, are what I shall now proceed to lay before you, with a view of ultimately bringing into notice the inspiration of the writers of the New Testament. The several points I shall consider in their order, are, the utility of such inspiration, the manner in which its reality may be demonstrated, and the period at which such a demonstration should be introduced.
1. First of all, then, let us inquire into those reasons which made it requisite that the Apostles and Evangelists should be guided or superintended by the influence of the divine Spirit in the composition of their works.
The leading and most wonderful features of the life of Christ, and the general and most important principles of his religion, are such as could never have been obliterated from the tablets of mortal memory. However weak the mind, however young the spectator, however long his
life, he must have ceased to be or to be a man, ere he could cease to muse upon the precepts, to repeat the works, and remember the resurrection of his Lord.-That Jesus had pronounced himself to be the promised Messiah of the Jews, he that had ears to hear must have heard and could never forget.-That in confirmation of these pretensions Jesus had wrought many miracles, and none of a doubtful character or an unholy tendency, he that had eyes to see must have seen and perceived.-That neither in his private nor in his public life had his conduct or discourses been distinguished by any thing but an attention to the great ends of piety and morality, he that had a heart to understand must necessarily have comprehended; and every faculty of thought and recollection must have perished, before those important circumstances had lost their impression upon his mind. At whatever period, therefore, of the lives of the writers the several books of the New Testament were composed, as the writers (this we have already proved) were both credible witnesses in point of character, and competent witnesses in point of knowledge, those books may be fairly considered, when considered merely as human testimony, merely as the testimony of honest and observing men, to contain a faithful outline and a correct general statement of the life
and doctrines, the miracles and predictions' of Jesus.
But it so happens that the Gospels contain a great deal more than the bare outline of the proceedings and pretensions of our Lord. They are not indeed to be looked upon as the full and perfect relations of every accident which befel him, and every incident in which he participated; neither do they recount his discourses and doings in an exact and undeviating order of chronology, They expressly renounce their claims to be considered in this light, and tell us, that there are many other signs and things which Jesus did, and which are not written in their books. This then is allowed, that the Gospels are not complete histories of the founder of Christianity, and of all and each of his works. But yet in the majority of those instances in which they do enter upon any of his deeds and sayings, they take it up detail. They deal frequently in mere general expressions, but more usually relate, whatever they undertake to write upon, with minuteness and accuracy of delineation, and with the addition of all the various circumstances of time, of person, and of place. Now these circumstances of time, of person, and of place, are precisely those points in which the human memory the earliest and most commonly fails, nor can the best trained