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THE GOSPELS, HISTORICAL.
Therefore, I say, the contents of the four Gospels being such as they are, events public and extraordinary, it is difficult to conceive how these books could ever have come to be extensively believed, if, when they were first published, whether soon or late after the things related took place, they had not been accompanied and corroborated by that strong, indispensable, though unestimated and unrecorded testimony which every public event brings with it through its connexions and relations with other matters of undisputed notoriety. I am not maintaining as a general remark that a thing is proved to be true because it is believed. This only do I say, that it is hardly possible to imagine how the four Gospels could ever have obtained credit if they were not substantially true, because they are not accounts of abstract opinions, they are narrations, not of private visions and secret experiences, but of public occurrences closely affiliated with the public affairs, persons and institutions of a certain period and a certain community. Their character being thus eminently circumstantial, the fact that they have been credited, is no faint presumption that they are true—that when they were first published, they brought with them that collateral corroboration which is exceedingly powerful, although it is seldom or never defined and estimated.
However, this is a digression from our proposed course of remark. My present design is, without reference to the authority or faith of others, to exhibit as far as is possible the truth of the Christian records, that quality in them which appeals to a deeper faculty than the understanding, from internal indications
THE GOSPELS, HISTORICAL.
alone. With this view, we have now cast one hasty glance over these books, and the first thing that has arrested our notice, and furnished food for thought, is the obviously historical and public nature of their contents. From this trait we have inferred that they are either substantially true, or the most reckless fabrications ever published to the world. If the latter, then there is an entire want of art in their compo sition. No one actuated by a design to deceive, would have strung together so many details, since he would be thereby virtually collecting an untold weight of testimony to disprove the truth of his relations. I have not entertained the supposition that the authors of these books may have been self-deluded. In some particulars they may have been deceived. Whether they were or were not, remains to be seen upon a closer examination of these writings. We have looked now only at the circumstantial and public nature of the things they contain. So far as this is their character, they are inconsistent with delusion. Looking at the facts as they are given, having occurred as it is professed in the open air, at noon-day, in public places and amidst crowds, we hold that these accounts must be true in the main, or else such a want of art is evinced in their fabrication, as will show itself in their whole structure, and render it no difficult thing to settle fully their real character and claims.
THE MARKS OF HONESTY APPARENT IN THE GOSPELS.
“ So stands it, in short, with all forms of intellect, whether as directed to the finding of truth or to the fit imparting thereof ; always the characteristic of right performance is a certain spontaneity, an unconsciousness.”—Edinburgh Review.
I COME now to the consideration of another and more decisive characteristic of these writings. It is the same trait upon which we have already remarked, but more strikingly manifested, showing itself in other ways; it may be designated as Unconsciousness or Simplicity. This feature reveals itself by luminous tokens. It
appears in the most impressive manner that the authors of these books were wholly unconscious of any design to make out a case—to do anything but state facts.
In the eleventh chapter of the fourth book, entitled the Gospel according to John, we have a minute account of a most extraordinary event, the raising of a dead man, Lazarus, to life. It is represented as having taken place in a public manner. The stone which covered the mouth of the tomb is removed. Jesus calls aloud to the dead man to come forth. And he comes forth in the presence of a number of persons.
Now what does the narrative immediately proceed to inform us of? Why, that although some of the spectators were impressed and led to admit the ex
traordinary authority of Jesus, others did not believe, were not impressed, but went away and told the enemies of Jesus what had taken place! We are told with great particularity how a most astonishing event took place, and in the same breath we are informed that some of those who stood by and saw it were unconvinced. And this information is communicated without the slightest appearance of reluctance or hesitation. Not an attempt is made—not a word is introduced to explain why the miracle failed to produce upon some who witnessed it, what we should consider its inevitable effect. It cannot even be said with propriety that they confess there were some present who did not believe. The information is not wrung from them. They give it freely, without the least consciousness of the ground it might seem to furnish for doubting the reality of the event. Here, I say, is a manifestation of the unconscious fearlessness of a true and honest mind, which beams out upon me like light from Heaven. I see here that the writer thought of nothing but telling the truth, and telling it too, as a matter of course, without the least parade of frank
The facts he states may be hard to be believed, and difficult to be reconciled with one another ; still he cannot help that, and he does not even think of helping it; he gives them without hesitation, without comment, without any anxiety about the effect of the narration. Here it is that the true inspiration of these writings begins to be discernible, the inspiration of a single mind, unconscious of itself, stating the truth in the freest, simplest, most natural manner possible.
Again. In the twenty-eighth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we have an account of the resurrection of Christ himself-of his appearing alive to his friends after he had been crucified and buried. “Then,” so we read in the 16th and 17th verses, “the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain, where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted,"-doubted whether it were indeed he. The most important event in the whole history, so we are explicitly informed, was doubted by some of those who had the best opportunity of ascertaining its truth! What is this but another instance of that perfect fearlessness, that indifference to effect, which truth can only have ?*
Once more. In the twelfth chapter of John, we read that when Jesus had uttered the words, “Father, glorify thy name,' there came a voice from heaven, saying, I have glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people, therefore, that stood by and heard it, said that it thundered; others said, an angel spake to him.” What can be more manifest, than that the writer had no thought here but of stating facts? He relates a most extraordinary occurrence—the utterance of a voice from heaven, and, at the same time, without a word of explanation, tells us that the
* The conclusion of Ma thew's Gospel exhibits signs of being hurried. We may suppose that on the above-mentioned occasion there were many others present besides the eleven. It is said elsewhere, that Jesus was once seen, after his resurrection, by five hundred of the brethren. In so large a crowd there must have been some who were unable to approach him near enough to be sure that it was he.