« PreviousContinue »
However, to fatisfy the incredulity even of unreasonable men, we shall further proceed to demonftrate the truth of fuch tranfactions in the history of our bleffed Lord and Saviour as have been deemed the most exceptionable. Now we are told in the Gospel, that when Jefus was born in Bethlehem, the wife men faw a STAR in the east, which went before them, and conducted them to the place where the infant lay.
There are fome, perhaps, who will abfolutely deny, that there ever was such a star: but let any one judge how little the evangelist must raise his own credit, and advance his master's intereft by setting out with an apparent falfehood, which all the world could have difproved. But we read in Pliny, that, at the fame time AUGUSTUS being then the chief prefident of the sports that were celebrated in honour to Venus Genitrix at Rome, there appeared a comet, or blazing ftar in the heavens; for fo they called all uncommon and extraordinary stars: whereupon, the college of priests, on account of the fingular and peculiar marks of it, past this judgment that it did not prognosticate, as most do, either war, peftilence, or famine, but the falvation of mankind.-And CHEREMON, the ftoic philofopher, being likewise of opinion, that this star presaged some future happiness; and finding that his gods drooped at its appearance, travelled into Judea, with fome other astrologers, to find out the true God.-CHALCIDIUS too, the platonist, fays, in direct terms, that the Chaldeans made this obfervation, that it foretold the fudden appearance of God upon earth, in order to pour down the dew of his heavenly benediction on all mankind.
Now, upon the enquiry of the wife men, HEROD was refolutely bent on the murder of all the children in Bethlehem, and the parts adjacent, who were two years old and under, taking it for granted, that by fuch a procedure, he should destroy that child among the reft, which the ftar referred to. In this barbarous and inhuman action he fpared not even his own child. Upon which account MACROVOL. IH. X
BIUS records this pointed turn of Auguftus, "that he had rather "be Herod's hog than his fon."
The next difficulty that occurs to us, is this, that CHRIST should be born of a VIRGIN. But fince God had foretold it, who should prevent its coming to pass? And who can queftion his power, when he is fully affured of his will? But this prophecy was so very remarkable, that SIMON MAGUS, not to be thought in any respect inferior to Jefus, affured his difciples, that he was the son of a virgin; a thing which the bleffed Jefus never published of himself. Moreover, we read, that the temple of peace fell down to the ground, that very day at Rome, at the foundation whereof, the ORACLE OF APOLLO being confulted by the Romans, the anfwer was; THAT IT SHOULD STAND TILL A VIRGIN SHOULD BE "WITH CHILD, AND HAVE A SON," which they mifconftrued for the promise of an eternal duration.
As to ST. JOHN BAPTIST, our Lord's harbinger and herald; his holy life, his exalted piety, his doctrine and his death, are all recorded in JOSEPHUS's hiftory much to the fame purpofe as they are in our evangelists. If we look into the life of our most gracious Saviour we shall find it one continued feries of benevolent miracles: and this confideration that all his actions were defcribed and published with so many particular circumftances, the least of which could no ways be contested, should alone be fufficient to strengthen and confirm our faith. For which reason, we shall now proceed to his death.
"From the fixth hour unto the ninth hour there was darkness "over all the earth;" that is, at noon-day. If any one doubts of this fact, PHLEGON, Adrian's freed-man, the most exact and curious chronologer of his time, hath obferved, that there was an unnatural eclipse of the fun, attended with a violent earthquake, in the eighteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, in which our Lord and Saviour was crucified. And EUSEBIUS affures us, that he has
met with the fame obfervation in fome of the Heathen hiftorians. LUCIAN alfo, one of the priests of Antioch, refers the judges "You will find it who condemned him to their own annals. "recorded, fays he, that in Pilate's time an unnatural darkness "covered the earth at mid-day, and the fun withdrew his light, "as if afhamed to fee his Maker fuffer."-Now concerning the earthquake that immediately enfued, Phlegon before-mentioned fpeaks of it in much the fame terms as our Evangelifts do, and afcribes it to the eclipfe. Now, fince accidents like thefe fo very seldom happen, and fince these are allowed to fall out in one and the fame year, and about the fame time, they cannot rationally be supposed to be any other than those our authors treat of. In a word, the vail of the temple was rent in twain:-As to the giving credit to, or difbelieving this affertion, there required no more than a journey to the place to be fully convinced. But Jofephus speaking of the ill omens that portended the destruction of the Jews, takes particular notice of this as one.
Behold! the Lord of life is dead!-But then the third day he rifeth again, according to his own prediction.-Had he said, as Mahomet did, about eight hundred years hence, I will visit you again, then he had fafely kept them in fufpence till the expiration of that term: but fince he fays, within three days I will come again, the fallacy, if it had been fuch, had foon been plainly detected. Women faw him, the incredulous felt him; he ate, drank, and conversed with them at feveral times, and for several days fucceffively. The Apoftles, though at first startled and astonished at the various incidents confequent to this tranfaction, foon preached, published, and at last sealed it with their blood. Even he whom a fimple fervant maid confounded, even he, who in his master's life-time denied him thrice in one hour, preached him, and proclaimed his refurrection in Jerufalem before the magiftrates and priests; and no persuasions, no menaces could deter him from such publication.
publication.-Had Chrift perished in the grave, what advantage could have been reaped, or expected from his lifeless corpfe? And had not Jesus been alive, whence this fudden courage, this ardent zeal, this strong and unaccountable impulfe ?-Had not our Lord fpoke in him, who would have put any truft or confidence in what he said, at least so far, as upon his bare word, to preach, publish, and feal his affirmation with their blood?
Moreover, the very objections of gainfayers ferve only to fet the truth in a fairer and more advantageous point of light. To this end the Jews pretend that his difciples ftole away his body by night, because they could not find it. But the method that was taken to fecure it fully confutes fuch a prepofterous tale. SomeHeathens gave out, that they crucified a spectre, or ghost, instead of Jesus; but this notion the Jews unanimously condemn; for: they were fcandalized at his death, and believed that he did actually fuffer. Upon which account, they commonly call him. the crucified man.
Chrift lived therefore, and lives for ever; and fent down in pur fuance of his promise to his difciples before his death the Holy Ghost upon them.-A little time after his refurrection, they received the gift of tongues, in fo fingular a manner, that the fame gift, by the impofition of their hands, defcended on many others. This is another article which obftinate and wilful men carp at, as if God Almighty could not, if he pleafed, with the fame ease bestow the gifts of many languages upon one man, as confound and divide one language into a great many, as he did in the infancy of the world, to testify his divine difpleafüre. But had it been only a matter of oftentation, as they vainly furmife; what ends could they propofe to themselves in fuch idle boafting?How. eafily, how readily had they been confuted and difproved? They were in the custody of the magiftrates and judges; why were they not examined before the people? Jerufalem was the metro
polis of the east, where could they better have detected the cheat, or forced them to a recantation?-But the certainty of the narration plainly appears from the effects of it. For the Apostles themfelves, and their difciples, though originally no more than fishermen and publicans, a tribe of ignorant illiterate men, that underftood no other language than their own, and were no great critics very probably in that; yet compofed divers books, travelled over the greatest part of the world, and preached with majefty and power to all nations. How would either the Jews or Gentiles have approved of fuch men as thefe for their orators ?-And yet fo fuccessful were they in their labours, that in lefs than forty years, the name and doctrine of the Lord Jefus was not only promulgated, but received in most parts of the habitable world. And how could they poffibly have effected this, if they had not, by fome extraordinary means, fome fupernatural affiftance, attained to the perfect knowledge of the languages? And this event was fo common, so univerfally believed, that Simon Magus before-mentioned affured his disciples, that he was the very person that defcended on the apostles in fiery tongues.
Let us now look a little into the hiftory of St. Paul. He was the difciple of Gamaliel, and was fent to Damafcus with an unlimited commiffion to perfecute the chriftians. In his journey, a fudden light fhone around him, and falling on his face to the ground, he heard a voice, faying, SAUL, SAUL, WHY PERSECUTEST THOU ME?-In a word, immediately of a Jew, he became a christian, and of a perfecutor a martyr. And if you will. not believe St. Luke in the Acts, St. Paul himfelf confirms this circumftance in feveral other places. Now, what objection can incredulity itself raise against this, except, perhaps, a bare denial? Our apostle has a very fair profpect of advancing himself, and is in great favour with the magistrates and priests: all on a fudden