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ON THE PRINCIPLES OF HISTORICAL EVIDENCE, AND THEIR APPLICATION TO THE QUESTION OF THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY.
Were a verbal communication to come to us from a person at a distance, there are two ways in which we inight try to satisfy ourselves, that this was a true communication, and that there was no imposition in the affair. We might either sit in examination upon the substance of the message ; and then from what We knew of the person from whom it professed to come, judge whether it was probable that such a message would be sent by him; or we may sit in examination upon the credibility of the messengers.
It is evident, that in carrying on the first examination, we might be subject to very great uncertainty. The professed author of the communication in question may live at such a distance from us, that we may never have it in our power to verify his message by any personal conversation with him. We may be so far ignorant of his character and designs, as to be unqualified to judge of the kind of communication that should proceed from him. To estimate aright the probable authenticity of the message from what we know of its author, would require an acquaintance with his plans, and views, and circumstances, of which we may not be in possession. We may bring the greatest degree of sagacity to this investigation ; but then the highest sagacity is of no avail, when there is an insufficiency of data. Our ingenuity may be unbounded; but then we may want the materials. The principle which we assume may be untrue in itself, and therefore may be fallacious: in its application.
Thus, we may derive very little light from our first argument. But there is still a second in reserve, the credibility of the messengers. We may be no judges of the kind of communication which is natural, or likely to proceed from a person with whom we are but imperfectly acquainted ; but we may be very competent judges of the degree of faith that is to be reposed in the bearers of that communication. We may know and appreciate the natural signs of veracity. There is a tone and a manner characteristic of honesty, which may be both intelligible and convincing. There may be a concurrence of several messengers. There may be their substantial agreement. There may be the total want of any thing like concert or collusion among them. There may be their determined and unanimous perseverance, in spite of all the incredulity and all the opposition which they meet with. The subject of the commu
By nication may be most unpalatable to us ; and we may to
be so unreasonable, as to wreak our unpleasant feel
ings upon the bearers of it. In this way, they may ht
not only have no earthly interest to deceive us, but have the strongest inducement possible to abstain from 'insisting upon that message which they were
charged to deliver. Last of all, as the conclusive ay
seal of their authenticity, they may all agree in giving ti
us a watchword, which we previously knew could be sil,
given by none but their master; and which none but this messengers could ever obtain the possession of. che
In this way, unfruitful as all our efforts may have be
been upon the first subject of examination, we may in derive from the second the most decisive evidence,
that the message in question is a real message, and was actually transmitted to us by its professed
Now, this consideration applies in all its parts to al
a message from God. The argument for the truth Te of this message resolves itself into the same two
topics of examination. We may sit in judgment upon the subject of the message; or we may sit in
judgment upon the credibility of its bearers. 23
The first forms a great part of that argument for the truth of the Christian religion, which comes under
the head of its internal evidences. The substance of 1
message is neither more nor less, than that particular scheme of the divine economy which is revealed to us in the New Testament; and the point of inquiry is, whether this scheme be consistent with that knowledge of God and his attributes which we are previously in possession of ?
It appears to many, that no effectual argument can
be founded upon this consideration, because they do not count themselves enough acquainted with the designs or character of the being from whom the message professes to have come. Were the author of the message some distant and unknown individual of our own species, we would scarcely be entitled to found an argument upon any comparison of ours, betwixt the import of the message and the character of the individual, even though we had our general experience of human nature to help us in the speculation. Now, of the invisible God, we have no experience whatever. We are still further removed from all direct and personal observation of him or of his counsels. Whether we think of the eternity of his government, or the mighty range of its influence over the wide departments of nature and providence, he stands at such a distance from us, as to make the management of his empire a subject inaccessible to all our faculties.
It is evident, however, that this does not apply to the second topic of examination. The bearers of the message were beings like ourselves ; and we can apply our safe and certain experience of man to their conduct and testimony. We may know too little of God, to found any argument upon the coincidence which we conceive to exist between the subject of the message and our previous conceptions of its author. But we may know enough of man to pronounce upon the credibility of the messengers. Had they the manner and physiognomy of honest men ? Was their testimony resisted, and did they persevere in it? Had they any interest in fabricating the message ; or did they suffer in consequence of this perseverance ? Did