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Ess. 11.) Probability of the Christian Miracles. 19 the difficulty of which he is sensible, in admitting the truth of a miraculous history?
Before, however, we proceed to discuss this question, it may be proper to observe, that the improbability of the Christian miracles may, by the superficial observer, be very easily overrated. Though miraculous interruptions of the regular order of nature must ever of necessity differ, in one point of view, from usual experience—as such events would otherwise be no longer miracles--it is nevertheless consistent with all experience, with the whole known course of nature and providence-that God should adapt his means to his end. If then we allow that one great end which God, in the whole of his moral dispensations, has in view, is the virtue and happiness of his creatures; if, further, when we reflect on the gross moral darkness which overspread the world before the coming of Christ, we cannot but admit that, in order to this end, a clear external revelation of the divine will was desirable and even necessary; and if, lastly, we confess that miracles were a fit and proper test (beyond any other indeed which we are able to conceive) by which the divine authority of such revelation might be tried and determined ;-we cannot refuse to acknowledge that, under these particular circumstances, the miraculous events recorded in the New Testament were far from being really improbable; that, on the contrary, they truly coincided with the analogy of God's moral government, and, therefore, with the experience of mankind, in the most comprehensive sense of those expressions.
Having considered this point, we shall be the more ready to listen to the evidences which may be brought forward, to prove the absolute credibility of the apostles and evangelists; and, if we find these evidences strong, various, and harmonious, and therefore satis20
The Evangelists Eye-witnesses, fc. [Ess. II. factory, our natural reluctance against the belief of supernatural events will, I trust, (as far as relates to the present case) be entirely subdued, and will yield to a full and settled persuasion, that the history of the New Testament is true. I may now proceed concisely to state those evidences, in the order which strikes me as the most clear and natural.
I. “That which was from the beginning," says the apostle John, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked
and our hands have handled, of the Word of life.... that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you:" 1 John i, 1, 3. The doctrines which the apostles promulgated had been imparted to them by the very lips of their divine Master, and of the wonderful events which they commemorated, in their preaching or in their writing, they had themselves been eye-witnesses. Among the writers of the historical parts of the New Testament, Matthew and John were actually present when the greater part occurred of those circumstances which form the subject of their narrations; and Luke writes as an eye- and ear-witness in that simple, yet highly descriptive, history-the book of Acts. This circumstance invests their testimony with a peculiar efficacy and value, and gives rise to a feeling of satisfaction respecting the authenticity of their narratives, similar to that which must ever attach (for example) to the perusal of Xenophon's Anabasis, of Cæsar's Commentaries, and of Lord Clarendon's Memoirs. Nor is it a much lower degree of confidence which we may justly feel in perusing the Gospels of Mark and Luke, since it was from apostles and eyewitnesses that these authors derived that “perfect understanding of all things from the very first,” by which they were so well prepared for the office of evangelists: see Luke i, 1-4.
Ess. II.) Their Testimony Harmonious,
21 II. In the Gospels we possess, in the second place, the harmonious testimony of four cotemporary, yet independent, historians to the same facts. Numerous indeed are the circumstances connected with the birth, life, discourses, death, and resurrection, of Jesus, of which we find corresponding details in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The greater part of these circumstances are also narrated by Mark ; and John, who wrote some time after the other evangelists, while he furnishes the addition of some facts and of many large discourses, explicitly confirms the general history, as well as many of the minor particulars, related by his predecessors. Between the Gospel of John and the three preceding Gospels, there may, moreover, be observed a variety of incidental accordances, which afford a conclusive evidence of the veracity of the respective historians. To mention a single example, among the many instances so ably stated by Paley; the first three evangelists, in describing our Lord's prayer
and agony in the garden, advert to his earnest supplication, that “this cup might pass” from him; and Matthew adds his words, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done:” ch. xxvi, 42. John is silent on this point of the history; but in describing the scene which immediately followed, he relates in perfect, though apparently undesigned, analogy with the account given by the other evangelists of the preceding circumstances, that, when Peter would have defended Jesus on the approach of his enemies, our Lord (whose mind must have continued to dwell on the same pious sentiment) expressed himself as follows: Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?"ch, xviii, 11: see Paley's Ev., vol. ii, ch. 4.
But, accordant and harmonious as are the testimo
[Ess. II. nies borne by the four evangelists to the facts of the Gospel history, they proceed from separate and independent witnesses, as is satisfactorily evinced by the apparent differences which exist among their several narrations of certain minor circumstances. These differences are just such as would naturally arise in the true relations made by four credible persons, of the same series of facts; and, while they may be generally accounted for, on the principle that the different parts of the same scene were impressed with different degrees of force on the respective witnesses — that some things were uppermost in the mind of one witness, and others in that of another-they afford an incontrovertible evidence that the narrators did not borrow their statements from one another, but that every one told his tale according to his own apprehension of the circumstances which he related. Thus, then, is the authenticity of the four Gospel histories manifested by a striking, natural, and characteristic, variety, in the midst of a very comprehensive harmony.
I have already found occasion to notice, as affording an evidence of the genuineness of the Epistles of Paul, and of the book of Acts, the coincidences subsisting between the history and the letters. These coincidences are largely unfolded by Paley, in his admirable work, entitled the Horæ Paulinæ. They are numerous and diversified, and, however latent to the superficial reader, when once observed, are singularly pertinent and striking. It may now be remarked that this obviously undesigned, yet curious and perfect, adaptation between these respective parts of the New Testament, affords a conclusive evidence, not only of the genuineness of those writings, but of the fidelity of that sacred historian, who has detailed with so much vigour and simplicity the proceedings of the infant
23 church of Christ, and more particularly the life and travels of the apostle Paul.
III. Although, from the harmony of the historians of the New Testament, considered in connexion with them singly, we shall find that they severally contain
6 Between the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul there subsists a number of coincidences, of a marked and obvious character. Those, however, which form the principal subject of the Hore Pauline are, in general, so latent and oblique, that they could not have been designed, and are to be regarded as the natural consequence, and therefore, the sure indications, of the genuineness and independence of these writings, and of the truth of the statements which they contain. The following examples will elucidate my meaning :
In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle thus expresses himself: “ We are come as far as you also in preaching the Gospel of Christ: ......
... having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you, according to our rule, abundantly to preach the Gospel in the regions beyond you :" X, 14-16. In this passage it is plainly, yet very indirectly, indicated, that Corinth was the extremity of the apostle's European travels hitherto. Now, this oblique hint, arising so naturally in the course of Paul's epistolary communication with the Corinthians, is in perfect accordance with the history contained in the Acts of the Apostles, of the only journey which he had made into Europe, previously to the writing of this Epistle : for, in describing that journey, the author of the Acts informs us that, after passing through Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens, the apostle finally arrived at Corinth, where he stopped ; and from whence, after a residence of a year and a half, he sailed back into Syria : see Acts xvi, xvii, xviii.
In the ninth chapter of the Acts we read, that Paul was suddenly converted, when on his way to Damascus. The whole description must be familiar to the reader, and need not here be quoted. Now, in his Epistle to the Galatians, we find him thus adverting to this remarkable event : “ When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen ; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood, neither went I up to Jerusalem, to them that were apostles before me, but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus :" i, 15-17. “ In this quotation from the Epistle," says Paley, “I desire it to be remarked, how incidentally it appears, that the affair passed at Damascus. In what may be called the direct part of the account, no mention is made of the place of his conversion at all: a casual expression at the end, and an expression brought in for a different purpose, alone fixes it to have been at Damascus: “I returned again to