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CREDIBILITY OF THE GOSPEL HISTORY.
In the last two lectures our attention was occupied with the authenticity and integrity of the New Testament. A body of proof was presented, of such variety and conclusiveness as should cause us to feel, that in taking these important points for granted in our subsequent course, we assume nothing which every candid mind should not acknowledge to have been satisfactorily established. You will allow me, therefore, to treat the books of the New Testament as needing no further argument to prove that they were written in the age to which they are ascribed, and by the authors whose names they bear.
But it should be remembered, that a book may be authentic and yet not credible. It may have been written indeed by the reputed author, and yet its narrative may not be worthy of confidence. This, I say, is a possible case. Examples illustrating it are not numerous. So generally do authentic histories prove to be true, that when we have ascertained a book to have been composed by the individual whose name is on it, we have a strong presumptive argument for the truth of all the conspicuous and important features in its narrative. But inasmuch as these two things are not always associated, an
important question remains to be determined before we can open the New Testament as the book of the life and religion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and worthy of entire reliance as an account of what was done and taught by himself and his apostles. Does the New Testament contain a true history of events connected with the ministry of Jesus and his primitive disciples, so that we may receive as historically accurate whatever is related therein? This refers to what is usually called the CREDIBILITY OF THE GOSPEL HISTORY, and expresses the subject of our present lecture.
But lest the bearing of my remarks should not be distinctly understood, I will endeavor to state the subject still more precisely. Observe, then, it is not the inspiration of the gospel history, or that it was written by holy men as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, that we are now to prove; nor that it contains a revelation from God; nor that its doctrines. are true; nor that any of its facts were miraculous: these are subjects which it would be premature to introduce at present. All at which we now aim, is to furnish conclusive evidence that the gospel history is true, in the same sense as Marshall's Life of Washington is true-that what it relates, as matter of fact, is worthy of entire reliance as matter of fact, independently of all inferences or doctrines with which it may be connected.
How do we prove the credibility of the gospel history? I answer, precisely as you would ascertain the credibility of any other history. Though,
as in the case of authenticity, we are ready to produce a variety and an abundance of evidence far exceeding what the best established and the most unquestionable books of ancient profane history can pretend to, still, the nature of the evidence is the same in one case as in the other. The fact that one history is called sacred, and another profane; that in one book the actions of a holy and extraordinary philanthropist named Jesus are related, and in another the actions of a wicked and extraordinary man-slayer named Cæsar, occasions not the least difference in the nature of the evidence by which the credibility of both must be ascertained.
Here it would be perfectly safe and reasonable to rest the question of credibility upon the proof arrived at in the last lecture. Although it does not follow, in all cases, that to prove a book authentic, is to prove it credible also with regard to its principal events; yet, in the case before us, the fact that the books of the New Testament were written in the first century of Christianity, and by the apostles and original disciples of Christ, is complete evidence that in respect to the main events of the gospel history they are true. If one should write a romance, calling it the memoir of some well-known and distinguished personage, and publish it, not as grave, credible biography, but under the character of a novel, the authenticity of the work would have no connection with its truth. But should he issue a book professing to be the true biography of Washington; should he vouch in every way for its truth, and stake
his reputation upon its accuracy, in the midst of a generation familiar with the life of that noble man, and still containing some who were his companions and the eye-witnesses of many of his deeds, it would be reasonably inferred, that unless the author were an idiot or a madman, his work must be correct, at least in the great mass of its statements and in all its conspicuous events. He must be aware that, under such circumstances, no important narrative without truth could escape detection. The fact, therefore, that he has published, in the midst of this generation, what he expects to be received as a correct biography of Washington, is sufficient warrant that, however inaccurate it may be in minute details, and however deficient in many respects of good writing and useful history, we may safely receive its principal narratives. Such a thing cannot be produced as a book published in the age in which its events are said to have occurred, and among the people to whose minds those events are said to have been familiar-a book which its author gravely avowed and defended as true and accurate, and yet which, in its principal narratives, in its prominent characters and occurrences, was not in accordance with fact. Men have too much sense, if not too much honesty, to attempt such a Quixotic adventure; especially when character and worldly interests are committed by the falsehood. But there is no book to which this remark is so applicable as the New Testament. Not only was it published in the age in which the events related are asserted to have oc
curred, and among the people to whom they are said to have been notorious, but in an age and among a people awake to the whole subject of its history, determined to sift its correctness to the uttermost, capable of the severest scrutiny, and anxious to take advantage of the smallest inaccuracy. This the writers were perfectly aware of. They must have known that in the brevity of the history, in the fewness of its principal facts, in the great prominence and notoriety of each, in the few persons to whom they belong as their leading agents, in the few places and the confined region in which they are said to have occurred, and in the brief space of time within which they were all embraced, their adversaries possessed advantages for investigation which nothing but bold and plain truth could confront, and no fiction could possibly elude. That in the face of all these advantages, they did publish, and stake their characters and lives upon the correctness of their narratives, is a full warrant that they published truth. This argument can only be escaped by charging the writers of the New Testament with a degree of idiocy or madness, which the eminent wisdom and excellence of their works prove to have been impossible. I venture to say, that should the same argument be alleged with equal force in behalf of any other ancient book of history, its credibility as to the main events related would be considered, independently of any other evidence, as placed beyond a reasonable suspicion.
Here, then, we might proceed to open the New