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world, the Messiah, the Anointed of God, the Son of God, who had existed before the creation of the world, and was again to ascend to his former glory with God, after finishing the great work, for which he came into the world; what degree of enthusiasm, or madness, must that man have been worked up to who could believe all this of himself, while he was really no more than another mortal? How miserable must his phrensy have been? How confounded and broke all his faculties?
Next, let it be attended to, what suitableness there is between such a degree of distraction as this, and the whole character and conduct of the author of our religion. What single instance does he give of even common frailty, or of such imprudence as is observed at times in the conduct of the wisest men? in the conduct of even inspired men? While prophets and apostles are in Scripture represented as falling into the common weaknesses of human nature, (an argument of the truth of sacred history,) his behaviour stands wholly clear of every instance of infirmity or frailty. Where are the ragings and bellowings of enthusiasm? What signs did he give of a distempered, or overheated imagination? Is not his whole conduct a perfect pattern, of calmness, prudence, and caution? Does he not baffle the malicious and ensnaring questions of his crafty enemies by a wisdom which puts them all to silence? Are not his answers so guarded as to defeat their studied questions? Are the artful, the malicious, and the learned, more than children, or fools, before him? Is this the character of an enthusiast? Does madness thus weigh its answers? Has the brain-sick visionary any such guard over himself as to avoid the snare that is laid for him; not only to avoid the snare himself, but likewise to put to confusion, and silence his adversaries?
Let it also be considered, whether it is possible that such a system of doctrines and laws should be the production of an enthusiastic or distempered brain. A system, which has afforded the wisest of our species matter for study, examination, and admiration, ever since it has been published to the world. A set of doctrines more sublime than all that ever were taught mankind before. Discoveries, which neither sacred nor profane antiquity
had before exhibited to mankind. Solutions of the very difficulties which had put the wisdom of the ancients to a stand. Doctrines, beyond the natural reach of human reason, and yet when discovered, commending themselves to reason, and bearing the internal marks of their Divine Original. Precepts, whose purity puts the ancient legislators to shame. Laws, tending to improve human nature to its utmost perfection. A rule of life superior to all others, in its being absolutely perfect and complete, wanting nothing proper for the regulation of every passion and appetite, for the directing to the complete performance of every social and relative duty, and fixing the only acceptable way of worshipping the One Supreme. A scheme, of which it is with reason said in Scripture, that the angels desire to look into it. Are these the productions of a visionary? These the reveries of a hot-brained enthusiast? It is plain that his enemies neither thought him such, nor thought it possible to persuade the generality of the people, who conversed with him, to think so of him. For, if they could have made him pass for an enthusiastic, or phrenetic person, they certainly would have chose that as the easiest way of ridding themselves of him, and putting a stop to his scbeme.
If it can be proved, that the religion of Jesus is by no means a fraud of any kind, it will unquestionably follow, that it is not a pious fraud. But that Christianity is no fraud of any kind, is plain, not only from the excellency of its doctrines and precepts, the character of its author, and first propagators, and its express prohibition of every appearance of deceit on whatever pretence, but from the concurrence and coincidence of innumerable collateral "evidences, which by their very nature were not within the reach of huinan contrivance. The whole body of Tevelation is to be considered as one uniform scheme, reaching from the beginning to the end of the world; in which the salvation of mankind by the Messiah is the principal part, or point of view, to which all the others lead, and with which they are connected in such a manner, that the whole must stand or fall together. So that if the Christian religion be a delusion, it is evidently too great and extensive to be a delusion of human invention. That
it is no contrivance of evil spirits, is plain, from its direct tendency to promote virtue and goodness, and to banish all kinds of impiety and vice out of the world. It must therefore be a scheme of some being, or beings, superior to humanity. Which is owning it to be a Divine appointment for we have no conception of a fraud contrived by any good being of the angelic rank.
That it should be prophesied at the beginning of the world, and recorded by Moses a thousand years before the appearance of Christ, "that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head," and that Christ should be the seed of a woman, miraculously conceived without the concurrence of a male; could this have come about by human contrivance? When it is repeatedly foretold by the prophets, that Christ should come of the posterity of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of David; that he should be born at Bethlehem; that he should appear about the time of the "departure of the sceptre from Judah," that he should be "cut off, but not for himself: be pierced, be put to death with the wicked, and buried by the rich that he should be sold for thirty pieces of silver;" and all the circumstances of his death particularly pointed out; that all these, and many other predictions fulfilled in Christ, and answering to none else but him, should be found in the Scriptures preserved by the Jews, the violent opposers of Christ and his religion; let the inventors of Christianity (supposing it an invention) have been ever so cunning, they never could have modelled the whole scheme from the very beginning, so as it should answer their purpose; they could never have brought things about in such a manner as to make them suit in such a number of particulars, as will appear by running over the various evidences for our religion.
And it is notorious, that not only the weak and illiterate, but some of the wise and learned, embraced Christianity at the time when it might with ease and certainty have been discovered to be an imposture, if it really was so; that those who at first were prejudiced against it were afterwards converted to the belief of it: that numbers of those who certainly knew whether Jesus Christ was really risen from the dead or not, gave up their lives in attesta
tion, not of an opinion, but of a simple fact, concerning the truth or falsehood of which they could not have the least doubt : that the first propagators of Christianity were not to be put to silence by all the opposition they met with from all the powers of the world that though they expected nothing but persecution, imprisonment, scourging, and all kinds of abuse, in every place they went to, without any one earthly comfort to make up for their sufferings, without the least shadow of any temporal advantage; they went on, still indefatigable and unconquerable, in publishing the resurrection of Jesus. Is it conceivable that Human Nature must not have been tired out with going on day after day, and year after year, for a whole lifetime, propagating a known falsehood, by which they were to get nothing but misery in this world, and damnation hereaster?
Deplorable is the objection started here by the opposers of Christianity; That our Saviour's disciples did not see him rise. As if it were of any consequence to the certainty of his being really alive again, that no one saw him come out of his tomb. That he was certainly dead is unquestionable; he having been publickly crucified, and stabbed in the side with a spear as he hung on the cross. And that he was certainly alive again, was as unquestionable to those who conversed with him for six wecks together, after his passion, as if they had been witnesses of his rising. And that he did not show himself to the people, (who deserved no such favour,) but only chosen witnesses, is an objection as wretched as the former; the only question being, Whether the witnesses who declare that Christ was alive after bis crucifixion, are credible or not. But to proceed :
That a person of the conspicuous and extraordinary abilities of St. Paul should be drawn into such a course of extravagance as to travel thousands of miles, propagating, every where, an idle fiction of his having had a vision of Christ, and being commissioned by him to preach his religion over the world : That a man of his learning and judginent should publicly declare to the world his full persuasion of the truth of a doctrine decried by almost all the worldly-wise of those times : That he should own
himself to have been formerly in the wrong in opposing Christianity: That he should take public shame to himself before all mankind, and commit bis recantation to write ing, to stand on record as long as the world lasted. What a degree of madness or fascination must that have been which would have been equal to all these effects? But what sort of madness or fascination must that have been which could come to such a height, and not have wholly incapacitated the apostle for every thing consistent with common sense and discretion? Yet we find the works of this illustrious propagator of Christianity, considered only in a critical light, are, to say the least, equal to those of the greatest geniuses, and best reasoners of antiquity, and himself by heathen writers celebrated as a person of superior abilities. And that neither our Saviour nor his apos tles were in their own times taken for enthusiasts or phrenetics, is plain from the treatment they met with : for persecution was never, that I know of, thought a proper way of proceeding against such unhappy persons as had lost the use of their reason. That either the great apostle of the Gentiles, the other propagators of Christianity, or its glorious Author himself, were persons deficient in the use of their faculties, will appear too ludicrous to require a grave answer, if it be only remembered, that it is the very character of madness to start from one reverie to another, and to be incapable of all regularity or steadiness of design. For a number of persons to be possessed with the same species of madness, that they should act in concert, and carry on a complicated and stupendous scheme for a long course of years; that they should do what all the learned and wise never could do; that they should out-wit the whole world, or rather, that they should reform and improve the world ; to allege the probability of all this, would be insulting the common sense of mankind.
Nor has the supposition of the apostles' being wilful impostors, any more hold of reason or probability, than that of their being enthusiasts or lunatics. For it is evident, as already observed, that the religion they have established in the world is no scheme for imposing upon mankind, por at all calculated to deceive. Christianity,