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CHRIST A PROPHET.-PREACHING OF THE APOSTLES.
MARK xvi. 15, 16, 20.--And he saith unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach
the Gospel unto every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be sared; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And they went forth, and preached every where; the Lord working with them, and coufirming the word with signs following. Amen.
IN a former discourse, I proposed to consider the prophetical character of Christ, as displayed,
1st. In his Personal Preaching; and, 2dly. In his Preaching by his Apostles.
The former of these subjects I have accordingly considered at large. The latter I shall now examine with some attention. In the text we are presented, among other things, with a Commission, given to his Apostles, and others, to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; and with an account of the fact, that under this Commission they went forth, and preached every where. Their preaching, therefore, was a business of mere delegation, and a mere performance of a duty, enjoined by Christ. In other words, Christ preached the Gospel by their Instrumentality.
In the consideration of this subject, it will be proper to show,
1. The Fact that the Apostles actually preached the Gospel of Christ; or were inspired :
II. The Necessity of their preaching the Gospel:
1. I shall endeavour to show, that the Apostles actually preached the Gospel of Christ; or were inspired.
Many Unitarians, who have admitted that Christ himself was inspired, have, nevertheless, both questioned, and denied, the inspiration of his Apostles. As this is a subject of vast importance in the Christian scheme; it cannot but be necessary, in a system of Theology, to settle, as far as may be, just opinions concerning this subject. I shall, therefore, consider it at some length. It will be remembered, here, that we are not at issue with Infidels. The persons, with whom we contend, however unfavourable to the Scriptures their opinions on this or any other subject may seem, are yet professed believers in Divine Revelation. We are, there
, fore, at full liberty to bring whatever arguments we please from the Scriptures themselves. Nay, the Scriptures are, in the present case, peculiarly proper sources of evidence: sources to which our antagonists can make no objection. When Dr. Priestly denies what he calls the particular inspiration of the several books of the Bible, he alleges, as his warrant for this denial, that they do not pretend to any such inspiration. Whether this doctrine is true, I shall now proceed to examine. In the
1st place, The Commission, and the Fact, recorded in the text, prove that the Apostles were inspired.
In the text, the Apostles are commissioned to preach the Gospel, or good news of Salvation. In other words, they were commissioned to declare the terms, on which God will forgive sin, and restore sinners to his favour and blessing. These terms it was impossible for them to know, except by means of immediate revelation to themselves, or information from a person, to whom they were revealed. The Gospel, it is agreed by all who believe it, discloses the Will of God concerning this subject. But this will cannot be known, except by direct communication from God. The knowledge of it, therefore, must terminate, of course, in ultimate revelation. If, then, it was not revealed immediately to the Apostles, it was communicated to them, verbally, by Christ. But no power of human memory could enable them to retain such a mass of communications, for any length of time; much less for such a length of time, as intervened between their reception of them, and the publication of those writings, in which they were conveyed to the world. If we consider the numerous events in the life of Christ, which they have recorded, and still more the numerous discourses, which they have professed to recount; we must either admit, that these records are very imperfectly true, because necessarily not exact; or that the Apostles had such supernatural assistance, as to make them exact, and in this manner true. This assistance can be no other than Inspiration. The Gospel of St. Matthew was written, according to the earliest calculation, eight years after the death of Christ; that of Mark, and that of Luke, about the year 64; more than twenty years after the death of Christ; and that of John, to say the least, at a much later period. Nothing can be more evident, than that these writers could not, for such a length of time, retain by the mere natural force of memory the things, which they have recorded. Particularly is this impossibility manifest with respect to the numerous discourses, recorded by St. John; of which in so great a proportion his Gospel consists; discourses, differing from all others, ever known in the present world; strongly characteristical, and therefore fairly presumed to be genuine ; discourses, raised up by events distinctly recorded, and perfectly suited to those events; composed of questions and answers, arguments and objections, so minutely specified, as to wear the appearance of having been taken down on the spot, and at the moment, with uncommon skill and felicity. He who believes, that St. John could have remembered these things in his old age, by the mere natural force of memory, certainly can find no difficulty in admitting any proposition, because it asserts something miraculous : for no miracle involves a more absolute counteraction of the knows Vol. II.
laws of nature than that, which is involved in this supposition. Instead of being thus tenaciously retained, at the end of so many years, it is scarcely credible, that they could have been remember. ed, in the same manner, for one day.
But if the Evangelists, when professedly recording these discourses, did not record them exactly; they did not record them truly. If Christ did not say the very things, which they have asserted; their assertions are so far false; and they cannot sustain even the character, which Dr. Priestly concedes to them, of deserving the confidence of mankind as witnesses : for their testimony plainly cannot be true.
Beyond this, we know beforehand, that it is untrue: for, according to this scheme, it is not possible, that it should be true. The utmost, that can be said of it according to this scheme, is, that it may be a well meant, but must be a loose, general, and unsatisfactory account, in many, and those often important, particulars. Necessarily untrue; and every where, unless in some few prominent particulars, necessarily uncertain.
But can it be supposed, that Christ directed the Apostles to preach the Gospel in this manner? Can he be supposed to have directed them to preach it at all, if they were necessitated to preach it in this manner only? Can he, who came to publish the will of God to mankind concerning this immensely important subject, have left it to be chiefly published, under his authority, by the mere force of human memory; and mixed with human frailties and human opinions; and thus, necessarily, to have become a mass of truth and falsehood, so blended, that those who read their writings, or heard their discourses, could never be able to separate the falsehood from the truth? Does any human legislature suffer its own laws to be published in such a manner? Was Christ possessed of less wisdom, or less integrity, or less benevolence, than human Legislators ? Did God give him a commission thus to act? Or did he fail to discharge the duties of the commission, which he really received ?
Further; the Evangelists have left all their declarations, in the form of unqualified, peremptory assertions. If, then, the assertions are not true, the authors of them are false witnesses concerning Christ. They have boldly and roundly declared that to have been said, and done, which they did not know to have been said or done. This is no other than direct dishonesty ; such as nothing can justify, or palliate. He, who directly asserts that for truth, which he does not know, or believe himself to know to be true, is a liar. The Apostles, therefore, instead of deserving credit as witnesses, must in this case be branded as liars, even with regard to the facts, in relating which, Dr. Priestly assures us, they are wholly to be trusted. To deserve credit in this, and to discharge the duties even of common honesty, they ought to have told us, originally, that the facts and conversations, which they were about to relate, were re
In this pas
corded by them in as faithful and exact a manner, as was in their power; but that, as they wrote from mere memory, they could give
; only qualified assertions ; of which, although as correct as they could make them, they could not, however, be certain. In this case, they would have discharged their duty, and deserved credit. Their writings would have then claimed the title of a Revelation just as much, as any other piece of honest Biography; and no more. But the writers would have acted the part of honest men.
2dly. This doctrine is evident from a part of the same commission, recorded by St. John.
Then said Jesus unto them, Peace be unto you. As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose, soever sins
ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. John xx. 21–23. sage of Scripture, Christ tells his disciples, that he gives them generally the same mission, which the Father had given him; so that they were now to stand in his place, as ambassadors from God to this sinful world. That they might be qualified to discharge the duties of this mission, he gave, or as I conceive it ought to be understood, he promised, them the Holy Ghost; even as he had been anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with Power, to qualify him for the duties of the same mission.
That the reception of the Holy Ghost was indispensable to their entrance on their mission is evident from Luke xxiv. 49; where Christ, referring to this mission, says, Behold I send the promise of my Father upon you. But tarry ye in Jerusalem, until ye be endued with Power from on high. And, again, from Acts i. 4; where St. Luke informs us, that, being assembled together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. That the Holy Ghost was the promise of the Father, or the object here promised, will not, I suppose, be questioned. If it should be, the point is unanswerably proved by the fact, that the Apostles waited in Jerusalem, with scrupulous obedience to this command, and did not begin to preach the Gospel at all, till, on the day of Pentecost, they actually received the Holy Ghost in the wonderful manner, described at the beginning of the following chapter. On this occasion they became in the strict sense inspired; as I shall have opportunity to evince in the sequel.
In the last verse of this quotation, Christ declares to them, Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained : that is, Ye shall prescribe, and publish, the terms, on which the sins of the whole human race shall be remitted or retained. Now let me ask any sober man, whether he can possibly believe, that God placed this stupendous and amazing power in the hands of these men, and left them to exercise it, merely according to the dictates of their own discretion, and the
strength of their own memory? Was their understanding, or the understanding of any created being, sufficient to enable them to prescribe, and publish, the terms, obedience to which should be followed by the forgiveness of sin, and disobedience to which should prevent sin from being forgiven? Our Saviour declares, expressly, in this passage, that whose soever sins they remitted, God would remit; and whose soever sins they retained, God would retain. In other words, the very terms, which they should prescribe, as the proper foundations for the remission, or retention, of sin, would be the terms, according to which, God would remit or retain them. That this was intended in the most absolute, unqualified sense, to be fulfilled, is rendered certain by the 2d verse of the text. He that be. lieveth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Here our Saviour declares, that he who cordially believes the Gospel, preached by the Apostles, shall have eternal life; and that he, who does not thus believe this Gospel, shall not have eternal life. It will be remembered, that the Apostles alone published the Gospel to mankind. The Gospel, as published by them, therefore, is that, which is the object of belief, here referred to by Christ : for by this Gospel only do we become acquainted with the character, mission, doctrines, precepts, or even the existence, of a Saviour. Of course, the only belief, of which Christ can be supposed to speak in this passage, is the belief of the Gospel, which they have published.
On the belief of this Gospel, then, Christ has made the salvation of the whole human race absolutely to depend : that is, so far as it should be published to them. Can it be supposed, that the infinitely wise and just God, who is perfectly acquainted with the weakness of the human mind ; who perfectly knows, that many, very many, errors exist of course in the best and wisest men; who perfectly knew, that very many errors must in this very case be published by these men, if left to themselves; and that any number, even one, of those errors would prove fatal, not to one only, but to hundreds, and thousands, and millions, nay, to the whole body of the human race; unless he himself should ultimately forgive sin on terms not his own, and not accordant with the dictates of his own wisdom and righteousness? Can it be supposed, that the infinitely wise and just God committed to these frail, erring beings, the incomprehensibly important business of publishing, from their own judgment and memory, the terms, on which the sins of that and every succeeding age should be forgiven, or retained? Can he have said, that, after they had published such terms, as to them appeared the proper ones, he who believed them should be saved, and he who believed them not should be damned ?
To this conclusion, however, the scheme of those, with whom I am contending, irresistibly conducts us ; for the only alternative is, that Christ has here uttered an untruth. If those, who believe the Apostles in this case will not be saved, and those who believe not will