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S E R M O N VIII. The authenticity of the Christian Religion
demonstrated from the manner of its Promulgation.
JOHN XVIII. 20. ***
I SPAKE OPENLY TO THE WORLD; I EVER TAUGHT IN THE SYNAGOGUE, AND IN THE TEMPLE WHITHER THE JEWS ALWAYS RESORT, AND IN SECRET HAVE I SAID NOTHING..
T H E miracles of our blessed Saviour, such as his raising the
dead, his restoring fight to the blind, and his instantaneL ously healing the fick and the lame ; were not only too great in their nature to be counterfeited, but those cures were performed upon such objects as were universally known, and many of them such as had laboured under their grievous infirmities for many years. When this infallible physician was followed by great multitudes, he would frequently heal all that made their applications to him, were they never so many; and as such wonderful operations were too evident to be the effect of delusion, so we find the scribes and pharisees, though his most implacable adversaries have not once the temerity to call in question the truth of them ; but only took on him with an evil eye, and reproach him for the performance of such cures on the fabbath-day, And in like manner
as his actions were public, so were the doctrines which he taught, insomuch that when the high priest questioned him concerning them, he made the following intrepid reply. “I spake openly to “ the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, “ whither the Jews always resort, and in secret have I said nothing, " Why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have • “ said unto them: behold, they know what I said.” · As the fair and open manner with which the Gospel was first
promulged and propagated conveys a convincing evidence of its truth, we shall therefore take a transient view of the most material acts of our blessed Saviour and his apostles; and shall insist upon such only as were most public, and so well attested, that the greatest adversaries to the christian cause were obliged, though with reluctance, to acknowledge they were true.
It inust be confessed, indeed, that our Lord Jesus Christ has not left behind him the least account either of his life or doctrines under his own hand; but then his apostles and disciples, influenced and assisted by his holy Spirit, have transmitted to us a true and faithful narrative of both, in the Gospels, Acts, and EPISTLES : all which, collectively, are distinguished by the name or title of the New TestAMENT. And that those writings are genuine and authentic, every impartial and unprejudiced reader will not hesitate to allow, when he confiders, that the composers of them were living at the same time that the matters which they record were transacted, and were eye-witnesses themselves of their reality: And notwithstanding they were far distant from one another when they composed their respective accounts; yet they unanimously agree in every article of any moment or importance; and when they had finished them, they openly and boldly taught, and preached up the truths therein contained, whilst there were thousands living, who could prove the facts; nay, whilst their enemies were living who would gladly have embraced the least opportunity to confute them. Moreover, so zea
lous were those historians to justify the truths which they recorded,, that they fealed them with their blood, in almost all parts of the world. And we read of no other composition, no other record. whatever, though it related to the moft absolute monarchy, and though never so many potentates and princes endeavoured to establith its reputation, that was so boldly, so courageoufly defended. Their design was not like that of the generality of mankind, to flatter, and by that means to insinuate themselves into the good graces of fome powerful prince. For had Jesus been a mere man, they could have proposed no advantage to themselves in flattering him after his crucifixion : neither could they be persons who wrote for gain ; since they freely parted with all that this world holds dear ; nay, their very lives, in defence of their writings.
If we examine the style of them, we shall find it plain, easy and, familiar. Therein the divinity of Jesus Christ is peremptorily asserted; and yet the infirmities of his humanity are no ways concealed: therein are the infirmities of his humanity acknowledged ; and yet his divinity is not any ways destroyed: therein the frailties and miscarriages of the apostles themselves ; such as their too curious disposition, their ambition, and the like, are faithfully recorded; and, in a word, not the least ostentation of themselves, or pompous panegyric on their master is therein to be found. Peter, we are told, shamefully. fell, and denied his Lord no less than thrice, within the compass of a few hours. Now, why should his disciple, MARK, who composed his gospel by his direction, record his weakness and expose him ?—The sons of Zebedee, John and James, desire to fit the one on the right-hand of Jesus, and the other on his left, in his kingdom. What obligation did they lie under to publish these private miscarriages, the discovery of which might in all human probability lessen the reputation and authority of their writings ?--They acknowledge, that Jesus himself was fometimes weary, sometimes thirsty, and often in tears, all which
are common infirmities incident to human nature; yet no less strenuously do they affert him to be God, and chearfully lay down their lives in defence of his divinity. But might they not have concealed these infirmities of his without the least prejudice to the truth ?-Doubtless, they might; and any one in the common course of thinking, would imagine, that such a procedure might have highly advanced the credit of the Gospel. But they were men of deeper penetration, and were fully persuaded, that the bright rays of his godhead would thine forth with the greater lustre, even through the dark veil of his manhood. In a word, they set down every minute circumstance, such as the time, the place, the day, the hour, the town, the house; nay, the very names of the persons. concerned. Now the more particular they were, the more liable, doubtless, they were to be detected and discovered. Besides, they talk not in Judea of transactions in the Indies, but in Bethany, Bethsaida, and Jerusalem itself; they point out the very street, the gate, the pool, where such and such miracles were wrought before witnesses, who were then living ; the blind saw, the lame walked, and the dead arose, &c.—Now had they asserted a falsehood, how easily had they been detected ? What opportunities did they give their enemies to triumph over them ?-And yet among so many inveterate and enraged Pharisees ; among so many people, so ready and willing both to say and do the utmost that the most bitter malice could prompt them to ; how came it to pass, that not one should rise up in judgment against them? Since therefore spleen and ill nature are too apt to cast reflections and find fault where there is no just occasion; and since the most inveterate envy and hatred of their enemies, who lived in the places where those wonders were transacted, and at a time too, when their power and authority car.' ried all before them, could not find the minutest circumstance misrepresented, we inuft naturally conclude, that the history of the Gospel is unquestionably true, genuine, and authentick.
However, to satisfy the incredulity even of unreasonable men, we shall further proceed to demonstrate the truth of such transactions in the history of our blessed Lord and Saviour as have been deemed the most exceptionable. Now we are told in the Gospel, that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the wise men saw a Star in the east, which went before them, and conducted them to the place where the infant lay.
There are some, perhaps, who will absolutely deny, that there ever was such a star : but let any one judge how little the evangelist must raise his own credit, and advance his master's interest by setting out with an apparent falsehood, which all the world could have disproved. But we read in Pliny, that, at the same time AUGUSTUS being then the chief president of the sports that were celebrated in honour to Venus Genitrix at Rome, there appeared a comet, or blazing star in the heavens; for so they called all uncommon and extraordinary stars : whereupon, the college of priests, on account of the fingular and peculiar marks of it, past this judgment that it did not prognosticate, as most do, either war, pestilence, or famine, but the salvation of mankind.—And CHÆREMON, the stoic philosopher, being likewise of opinion, that this star presaged some future happiness; and finding that his gods drooped at its appearance, travelled into Judea, with some other astrologers, to find out the true God.-CHALCIDIUS too, the platonist, says, in direct terms, that the Chaldeans made this observation, that it foretold the sudden appearance of God upon earth, in order to pour down the dew of his heavenly benediction on all mankind.
Now, upon the enquiry of the wise men, Herod was resolutely bent on the murder of all the children in Bethlehem, and the parts adjacent, who were two years old and under, taking it for granted, that by such a procedure, he ihould destroy that child among the rest, which the star referred to. In this barbarous and inhuman action he spared not even his own child. Upon which account MACRO