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An INTRODUCTORY SERMON on the EvideNCIS
of the Gospel.
ACTS xxvi, 16, 19.
I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister
and a witness both of those things which thou hast seen, and of those in which I will appear unto thee, delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thec ;
Paul, in the preceding verses, declares before Agrippa the time and manner of his conversion to the faith of Christ, and the extraordinary circumstances which attended it. And, in the words now read, he subjoins an account of the commission, which he received from Christ, to preach his gospel among the Jews, and especially among the Gentiles.
The singular method, which Jesus took to convince Paul of the truth of the gospel, was not out of partial favor to him, for surely he had done nothing to recomVol. III.
mend himself, but rather out of a general benevolence to mankind; for this man was a chosen vessel-a suit. able instrument to convey Christ's name among them. Jesus miraculously appeared to him to make him a minister of the gospel, and a witness of those facts by which its truth is supported. And having furnished him for his work, Jesus sent him forth to publish the doctrines, and display the evidences of the gospel among the peuple of the Jews, and among the Heathen na. tions.
The words teach us, that “the Apostle Paul was a notable and illustrious instrument in spreading the knowledge and confirming the truth of the religion of Christ.” Such he appears from the history given of him in the Acts of the Apostles, and from the writings which he himself has left for the use of the church.
My design is to give a summary view of the evi. dences of Christianity, and particularly to illustrate the evidences derived from the conversion, preaching and writings of this eminent minister and witness.
The Christian religion does now exist, and for many ages it has existed in the world. To account for its existence, without admitting its truth, it is impossible: For it did not take place by the influence of human au. thority, or the terror of military power, but by familiar instructions and obvious miracles. The credit of it depends on these plain facts—that about eighteen hun. dred years ago, there arose in Judea an extraordinary person, called Jesus of Nazareth, who declared himself to be divinely sent into the world, as an instructor, reformer and Saviour of men—that he lived a most virtu. ous and holy life-- that he taught a religion in some respects new, in many respects more perfect than had ever been taught before, and in all respects pure and excellence that he wrought many great and astonishing miracles-that he foretold many things, humanly improbable, which were verified by events
that he suffered death by a public crucifixion, and, on the third day,
rose again, and appeared to many in different times and places, not only to single persons, but to companies, and to more than five hundred at once, and frequently to those who had most intimately known him before his death, and who consequently could not mistake another person for him—that after about forty days, he, in the presence of a large concourse of disciples, visibly ascended on high, and disappeared from the admiring spectators--that, soon after this, according to his previous promise, the disciples whom he had chosen to be the witnesses of his works and the ministers of his word, were endued with extraordinary gifts, qualifying them to go forth and proclaim his religion in the world,
If such facts as these did really exist, the religion of the gospel is indubitably true. They who disbelieve the gospel, must deny that there ever was such a man, or that he ever wrought such miracles, and died and rose again in the manner alledged.
Miracles, which are effects produced above the common powers, and in a way different from the stated course of nature, plainly discover God's immediate interposition. From the goodness and veracity of God, we may conclude, that he never will immediately in. terpose to give such credibility to a falsehood, that men, inquiring honestly, and judging rationally, must receive it as a truth.
The miracles of Christ, (admitting, for the present, the Christian history to be true) were great and numerous; and he constantly appealed to them as evidences of the divinity of his mission and doctrines. To suppose, that, in such a case, God should enable an impostor to perform these marvellous works, which are related of Jesus, is contrary to all our idcas of the divine character.
They who saw Christ heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out devils, and still the storins—they who saw him yield himself to death, and then, exactly according to his prediction, return from the grave, ascend into heaven, and shed down on his disciples the promised gifts of his spirit-especially they who felt themselves partakers of those wonderful gifts, could not doubt, but that he was, what he declared himself to be, the Son of God and the Saviour of men, and that his religion was a heavenly institution.
The disciples of Jesus, (allowing that there were such persons) were credible witnesses of these facts ; for they related them as matters which fell under their own observation. That which they saw and heard, they declared to the world. Whether they really saw the dead arise, the sick and lame restored to health and soundness, thousands fed with a few small loaves ; whether they themselves were able to work miracles and speak with divers tongues; whether Jesus, who was crucified, actually arose and appeared to them; whether they conversed with him, saw his wounds and heard his instructions; were facts in which they could not be deceived. If, then, their relation was not true, they must have intended to deceive mankind.
But it is not conceivable, that they should have such a dishonest intention : For by their testimony to the miracles and resurrection of Christ, they exposed themselves to poverty, reproach, misery and death. And it cannot be imagined, that a number of men should deliberately associate to sacrifice every thing that is dear in life, and even life itself, for the sake of imposing on the world a falsehood, which irever would do man kind or themselves any good--that they should persevere in this design after they began to feel its consequences--that they should persist in it until death that never a single man should desert the cause and discover the fraud. This would surpass all miracles.
If their design had been a fraud, it might, in the time of it, have been easily detected and suppressed.
The facts, which they relate, they declared, were done publicly and recently, and that they were known
and remembered by many then living. If there had been no such person as Jesus Christ, or if he had performed no such miracles as are ascribed to him ; no credit would have been given to their report.
The disciples of Jesus had enemies who wished to confound them. The Jewish rulers spared no pains to suppress the Christian cause. Their enmity to it would have excited them to convict the witnesses of false. hood, if they had not known that the facts asserted were indisputable. If they had discovered any fraud, they would immediately have made it public. As they never denied the facts, but only studied to evade the conclusion drawn from them, they must have been convinced, that the facts themselves were undeniable.
These witnesses have left a written testimony, which has come down to us with every desirable circumstance of credibility.
There are four men who have professedly written distinct histories of the life, ministry and works of Je. sus Christ. Two of them, Matthew and John, were his attendant disciples from the beginning to the end of his public life. The other two, Mark and Luke, were contemporary and conversant with his disciples. Four others, Peter, James, Jude and Paul, have written epistles to particular societies of Christians, or to Christians in general. In these epistles, they recognize the character, assert, or allude to the miracles, and teach the doctrines of Jesus, in substance, as they are related by the before mentioned historians. Three of these letter writers were Christ's disciples. The last was a contemporary Jew, a man of uncommon zeal, learning and ability ; much conversant in public affairs; for a while an enemy to Christianity, but afterward converted to the belief of it. So that the Christian history stands on the credit of eight different persons, most of them disciples, and all of them contemporaries of Christ. They wrote separately, on different occasions, without any appearance of concert ; and yet they all substantially