« PoprzedniaDalej »
certain as it is at present'. The difficulty (if any) is in tracing them from thence upwards to the time of their publication. Yet this we are enabled to do, (if not so fully as could be wished, yet still satisfactorily) by what remains of a chain of writers, extending to Barnabas", who was the companion of St. Paul.
It is true indeed, as Bishop Stillingfleet has remarked, that “ antiquity is most defective in the time immediately after the Apostles *. And this has not escaped the notice also of one who seldom omits any thing to the prejudice of Christianity. “The historical monuments of the three first centuries of ecclesiastical antiquity (says Gibbon) are neither very numerous, nor very prolix. From the end of the acts of the Apostles, to the time when the first apology of Justin Martyr was presented, there intervened a dark and doubtful period of four score years +." What is intended to be insinuated here, I do not ex
4 Vindication of some passages in chapters xv. and xvi. Miscellaneous Works, vol. ii. p. 597.
actly perceive. It cannot have been that the Gospels were forged at that time, because the difficulties involved in the supposition, of their having been forged at any time are infinitely
which can arise from the admission of their genuineness. For it cannot be disputed that the Christian religion commenced at that period; nor that it originated with Jesus and his Apostles. Now this event was not of an ordinary kind, nor of slight importance. It is not credible but that some account must have been given of it. Yet there is no trace of any other account having ever existed, than that of which we are in possession'. Either, therefore, the authors of our present Gospels must have contrived not only to impose upon the world a fraudulent history of what were then very recent and very public transactions, and also to obliterate all memory, or records, (if there were any) of the real and genuine facts; or chance must have assisted them in this last respect, in a manner surpassing belief. But the supposition of their having intentionally destroyed any authentic memorials of our
our Lord's life and doctrines, is utterly inconsistent with the character of their own narratives, which bear upon the face of them no marks of art or contrivance whatever ; but are in every page of them conspicuous for qualities the very reverse of these. If then there remains no ground upon which the fidelity of the Evangelists as historians can be impeached, we must needs conclude that Jesus did (at the least) by the performance of miracles prove himself to have been divinely commissioned to reveal religious truth to mankind. Now this admission excludes all possibility of error being imputed to him. Whatever exposition therefore of the Scriptures of the Old Testament concerning himself he gave to his disciples, must have been infallibly true: whether we may be able at this time to ascertain what it was or not. He
have shewn their application to himself in a primary and literal sense, from Hebrew copies which no longer exist. And he must have been acquainted with the meaning of the original writings with a degree of accuracy, which none of their translators have probably ever possessed: as the differences in their translations sufficiently evince. Or he
explained them in a secondary or allegorical sense, according to some certain rules with which we are not acquainted: for the Jews are said to have had such rules of interpretation. This is noticed by an able writer in the beginning of the last century, Dr. Jenkin. He says, " We
may depend upon it, that the Apostles and other Disciples, who had such demonstrative evidence for the conviction of unbelievers, by a constant power of miracles, would never make use of any arguments to the Jews from the Old Testament but such as they well knew their adversaries could never be able to disprove or deny. For there were then certain methods of interpretation, as we learn from Josephus, which are now lost, and they disputed from acknowledged maxims and rules: the only difference and matter of dispute, was in the application of them to their particular case: however our ignorance of things, then generally known, may now make it difficult to reconcile some texts of the New Testament, with those of the Old from whence they were cited'.” One thing at
1 The Reasonableness and Certainty of the Christian Religion, vol. ii. p. 320.
least is clear, that Jesus expounded them in a manner that was satisfactory and convincing to his disciples, and ought not reasonably therefore to be otherwise to us. that exposition was beyond all doubt founded the assertion of the Evangelists, that the different prophecies of the Old Testament did relate to and were fulfilled by him!.
Still as we must deal with the Scriptures as we have them, it is desirable to clear up as far as possible, whatever difficulties they may present to us.
That the double sense of prophecy is one of them, cannot be dissembled. It appears not only to have furnished weapons to the enemies of Revelation: but even to have embarrassed some of its ablest defenders. Bishop Warburton censures Grotius in the strongest manner, for having “ endeavoured throughout his whole comment on the Prophets, to find a double sense even in those direct prophecies which relate to Jesus: and to turn the primary sense upon the affairs of
“ The interpretations of obscure places of Scripture, which without question the Apostles taught the primitive Christians, are wholly lost; there remains no certainty scarce of any one.”—Chillingworth's Religion of Protestants, &c. p. 50.