« PoprzedniaDalej »
and what we are taught by revelation, is complete. In both our knowledge is partial and imperfect: but in both it extends far enough for all the purposes of our present being and our future hopes. But the very fact that we can clearly discern, even in the present world, that there is much whose existence is certain, though it lies beyond the reach of our faculties to penetrate it, is sufficient to convince us, that those faculties will be hereafter further developed, and enabled to comprehend the essences of things, which at present are totally concealed from our understandings. And if such is the state in which we actually find ourselves with regard to this life, is it wonderful that a similar obscurity should prevail with regard to another? Would it not be far more astonishing, if the Almighty had afforded us clearer perceptions of the world to come, than he has thought fit to accord us of that which now is ?
The first thing which calls for our notice, is the fact of our Lord's first advent.
66 Almost every thing in our religion (says the late excellent Bishop Horne) is historical.” When I consider how just this observation is, it seems strange that so many writers, and even
very good ones, should labour to undervalue what they call historical belief; and to treat it as something quite different from what the Scriptures recognise under the term faith. I own that I cannot perceive the soundness or the utility of this distinction. That a mere formal declaration of assent to the truth of Christianity, without suffering it to have any influence over our lives, is not Scriptural faith, I readily admit. But neither is such conduct consistent with a sincere and conscientious belief of it. Nor can it be denied, that Christians unhappily deduce very different creeds and very different doctrines from the same Scriptures; but still, whatever be their creed or their doctrines, and whether they have much or no effect upon their conduct, the Christian revelation is strictly historical; and our belief in it must be founded in our conviction of the veracity of those who have handed it down to us.
But although it is undoubtedly a matter of history, it is discriminated from all other histories by circumstances altogether peculiar and important. And first by that which our services, at this time particularly, force upon our attention ; that it is a history of events
foretold. That the Old Testament, from the beginning to the end of it, abounds with predictions, more or less clear and positive, of the advent of the Messiah, is not disputed. It is true that the Jews, to whom they were given, do not understand them as we do. But they agree with us (which is most material) that they are prophecies of the coming of such a person as him in whom we believe they were accomplished. That these Scriptures were in being for many centuries before the appearance of our Saviour, and were always substantially the same as they are now, is also another point that cannot be disputed. And that a prophetical character had constantly been ascribed to them, and had been widely circulated, is evident; because we have it from Roman Historians of the highest credit, that “ there had prevailed all over the east, an ancient and uniform opinion, founded
upon the writings of the priesthood, that out of Judea would go forth a race of men, to extend their dominion over the rest of the world.” The only use that I
Suetonius and Tacitus, as quoted by Paley in his Evidences, Vol. I. p. 22.
would now make of this passage is to prove, that those parts of the Old Testament, which we consider to be prophetical, were always so considered. And when we reflect
their number, and the variety of minute particulars which they contain; all of which (to say
the least) may, without any very forced construction, be applied to the person and the history of Jesus Christ, it raises a very strong presumption, that they have rightly been so applied. But when we consider the great body of evidence that we have, of the genuineness and authenticity of the New Testament; and what, upon the lowest estimation, it proves the Author of our religion to have been, how can we refuse our credit to him, when we are told, that he expounded to his disciples, from Moses and all the Prophets, the things concerning himself, and consequently, that all those events which, we are assured by the Evangelists, happened to fulfil certain predictions, rest upon his own authority, and were derived by those writers immediately from himself?
It may seem, at first sight, very extraordinary that so many of the Jews, who were familiar with these prophecies, should, notwith
standing his numerous miracles, have been unconvinced by his declaration, that he was the person to whom they referred, and in whom they terminated. This has not escaped the notice of a late celebrated historian ; who has observed, in his peculiar manner,
that “in contradiction to every known principle of the human mind, that singular people seem to have yielded a stronger and more ready assent to the traditions of their remote ancestors, than to the evidence of their own senses. But he has omitted to add, in order to account for this, (though he could not have been ignorant of it) that this their character and conduct, is itself the subject of prophecy from Moses to Isaiah. Insomuch that this incredulity of the Jews, in our Saviour's Messiahship, is in fact one of the strongest arguments of its truth: as their general belief in him would not have been a fulfilment, but a contradiction of their Scriptures. And their
And their very existence at this time, and under their present circumstances, is a powerful corroboration both of the Mosaic and of the Christian dispensations.
Gibbon's Decline and Fall, chapter 15.