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THE GOSPELS, HISTORICAL. mass of testimony. He who lays the scene of his story in a certain country, in the presence of multitudes, in the midst of public affairs and institutions, summons he knows not how many witnesses to testify to the truth of what he affirms. Every circumstance that he introduces swells the cloud of witnesses beyond all enumeration. If he relates what has no foundation in reality, he exposes himself to detection at unnumbered points, and it is impossible that he should not be instantaneously overwhelmed with the shame and ridicule which he so urgently invites. He is only spreading snares for his own feet, weaving a web in which he is sure to be caught and entangled.
It is fairly to be presumed, therefore, that the authors of the books under consideration never intended to state what was false. If they had designed to deceive-to relate what they knew was not true, they never would have been so prodigal of circumstances, so profuse in allusions to public persons, places, and events. Some caution-some apprehension of their liability to exposure would have shown itself in the manner in which they touch upon details. But we find nothing of this kind. These writings are pervadingly narrative--full of incidents. There is no trace of caution or constraint. Whether true or false, then, we cannot but conclude that they were written in good faith-that their author or authors believed them to be true. And if so, the presumption is equally strong that they are true in the main. Because although the most honest of men are liable to be deluded, yet it is wholly without example and utterly incredible that such a multitude of particulars as are
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15 recorded in these books, should be merè delusions. They may be more or less misapprehended, but they must be substantially founded in fact. Such seems to be the obvious and natural inference from the simple abundance of facts in these books, from their character so eminently circumstantial.
Or, if the force of these remarks be not felt, then one thing is very clear, that writers so unwise, so imprudent—so reckless as to go blindly on, accumulating facts, adding incident to incident, and these too of the most public character, utterly insensible to the certainty of detection, at every step made doubly sure, must evince the same want of judgment and common sense in the structure of these narratives ; and we may entertain the most confident expectation that a closer scrutiny will make the falsehood of their stories perfectly plain. If they were so foolish as thus shamelessly to fabricate such an abundance of facts, facts too of a public character, we may be sure of discovering the groundlessness of their pretensions. For although events appear to take place very much at random, and to be strung together with very little order and connexion, and individuals to speak and act from accidental and inconsistent impulses, yet every real series of circumstances of any length or number, especially if they involve the sayings and conduct of any number of individuals, or even of only one individual, have a certain consistency belonging only to Nature and Truth. In fact, in the wildest appearances of the natural world, --in the clouds when they are piled in the most irregular masses in the atmosphere, there is ever a pervading and essential harmony
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of light, and shade, and form, which the common ob-. server feels, though unconsciously, and without the perception of which the efforts of the artist are utterly fruitless. In the scenes and phenomena of the moral and intelligent world, a like coherence exists as a vital and all connecting element. It may not be easy, as I have already intimated, to show in what this keeping consists. But it is recognised and felt instantly by every intelligent and ingenuous mind. We perceive the absence of it continually in the ablest and most ingenious of the myriads of fictitious histories—of novels and romances, with which the press teems. In certain passages they always betray, even to unpractised eyes, the hand of human art, and the want of that air of truth, which though indefinable, is nevertheless real and most affecting. Nature and truth have their own marks which they impress upon every work of theirs, marks which to some extent human art may counterfeit, but which after all transcend the reach of fiction as much as the great Intelligence that upholds all objects and controls all events exceeds the mind of man. So, then, if the four Gospels are mere fictions, and the series of events related have no foundation in reality, but only in imagination, then, to the extent to which this is the case, they must be deficient in that naturalness which is the accompaniment of truth only. It is impossible that mere fabrications should be undistinguishable from facts founded in truth and nature. Especially must the difference be apparent in the case of the Christian records if they are fictitious, because they abound in facts, and are evidently put together without any apprehension
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on the part of their authors of their liability to detection. They who are so simple as to lay the scene of their fictions amidst public transactions, places, and persons, with so little perception of the risk of exposure, must betray the same want of good sense in the composition of their stories, and we may be perfectly certain that it will require no extraordinary degree of penetration to lay bare the delusion.
It is departing somewhat from the course which I have prescribed to myself, still I may be permitted to remark in this connexion, that the simple fact that these writings have obtained extensive credit, creates a very strong presumption of their substantial truth. That a thing is not proved because it has been long and generally believed, is a consideration of great importance which should never be lost sight of. Still the force with which it applies in any given instance, is determined by the nature of the subject proposed to us for our assent. If it be a mere matter of speculation-of opinion-a point upon which there is a peculiar liability to error, prejudice and delusion, authority can have but little weight. Yet, even in this case, we can hardly help believing that whatever a large mass of men have for ages credited, must have in it some portion-some basis of truth. The extensive and enduring prevalence of a certain conviction or faith, is a fact, an effect, for which some cause must exist, and there is no cause so universal as truth. Thus it is commonly said and admitted that the universality of a belief in a God and in a life to come, is one argument for these two great doctrines, a presumption, at least, of their truth. But this
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sumption is a great deal stronger when the proposi-
of the world. If there were now just published a narration of facts of a character public and remarkable, like those recorded in the New Testament, and purporting to have taken place quite recently, within a few years, in this, or in some neighbouring community, if there were no truth in them, they could not gain credit for a single moment, for their falsehood would manifest itself at once to every man, so that he who runs might read, in the entire absence of all that near and collateral evidence, which every real event carries with it in the multiplicity of its public bearings and connexions, and which does not require to be searched after, as it is impossible to be overlooked. The times, places, customs, institutions, feelings and opinions alluded to more or less distinctly, presenting none of the traces or impressions which the facts reported must have left, would by their silence immediately reveal the fraud. On the other hand, if it were pretended that the incidents now first published, had occurred a great while ago, the simple fact, that in the present state of things no signs were visible of the impression which they must have originally made, would be decisive with every man, and they never could command general credit.