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the wakeful minds of Christians, in every part of the world ; and imposed on them, not only as inspired writings, but as the works of the Apostles and Evangelists, which had been received by their immediate parents and forefathers, as their sacred books, and had been handed down to them from the Apostles, from age to age ? Incredible--absurd-morally impossible! Ten thousand voices would instantly have cried out that they had never heard of such books previous to their production by the supposed impostor.
Then the only time when a forgery of such magnitude appears even possible, is between the death of the apostles and the period of the universal diffusion of the books. But St. John lived till quite the close of the first century-his own disciple, Polycarp, till beyond the middle of the second—and Irenæus, the disciple of Polycarp, to the commencement of the third; when Tertullian and a host of witnesses put the supposition of forgery quite out of the question. Can any one imagine, that during this brief period a daring falsification, such as we are considering, could have been made-a falsification which must at least have demanded a long series of ages—much obscurity-many favourable opportunities to have been attempted,
6 To A.D. 168. ? To A.D. 202.
even as to a single book out of the twentyseven, in a single community, out of the thousands which overspread, according to all testimony, the Roman empire, by the beginning of the second century!
But not only so. Christianity was planted in the midst of enemies and persecutorsChristianity raised its head amidst Judaism and Heathen idolatry-Christianity was assaulted for three hundred years by a succession of violent and cruel and unjust persecutions. Christianity was never without some false disciples in its own bosom, watchful to seize every advantage. It was morally impossible to give currency to false writings in the face of an angry, a malicious, and obstinate hostility from every quarter. It was morally impossible that any fraud should have escaped, not only discovery, but that public exposure and disgraceful defeat from all parties, which attend on a detected imposition.
But, we have specimens remaining of what false, or, rather, of what unauthentic works would be, and of the treatment they would meet with. We have productions of uninspired men, not indeed direct forgeries in the names of the apostles, but pious narratives of the acts of our Lord and his disciples. But what are they?--weak, puerile, impertinent, inconsistent, absurd, contradictory, with those very marks of spuriousness about them, from which our sacred writings are entirely free. And how were they received ? with the scorn and neglect, when piously designed, and with the abhorrence and detestation when of a worse character, with which such fabrications would be received now.
But more than this. Even the works of instruction composed by the apostolical fathers, for the use of the Churches, sufficiently prove, how utterly incapable they were of producing the inspired scriptures. Not merely the purity of their principles and their faith in our sacred books, but the capacity of their minds and their faculty of judgment, forbid such a supposition. Their simplicity of character and cast of intellect, make them invaluable, as witnesses to the broad historical facts of Christianity, for which they suffered the loss of all things, but at the same time prove them to be the last persons who could compose our sacred books, or frame long and artful documents, or prepare and support and propagate a lie.
Here I pause, and ask any candid hearer, whether on this first historical and naked fact of the Christian books being the real productions of their professed authors, any doubt can
remain. Let an objector be governed by historical testimony, and the nature of the case in this, as he uniformly is in all like instances; and let him transfer his objections, if he entertain any, from the authenticity, to the credibility or divine authority of the sacred writings; that is, from the mere external question of, who are the authors of them, to, whether their contents be true.
This is the fair and only fair course. It is thus Christians do as to the Koran of Mahomet. We quarrel not about its authenticity; but we maintain, that the work, though the genuine production of its professed author, as the Morals of Seneca are, yet affords no sufficient proofs of its being a divine revelation; we say, there are no evidences to be derived from the contents of the Koran, or from the facts accompanying its publication, of a revelation from God; we say it is a mere compilation from the Christian Scriptures, mixed up with Jewish legends and popular superstitions of Arabia, adapted to the ignorance and vices of the people for whom it was designed. This is a legitimate line of argument. We dispute not against the authenticity, but object to the other pretensions of the Mahometan record. We say the matter condemns it.
But this leads me to make a
IV. General observation, that MEN PRACTICALLY ACT ON THE SLIGHTEST GROUNDS as to the mere authenticity of writings, where the contents commend themselves to their judgment or taste.
If a literary work be discovered, after having lain hidden for ages, its authenticity is allowed, if the contents bespeak the author's mind and character. I enquire into the authenticity of the greatest Roman historian, Livy. What do I find? I am told that'he died about the fourth year of Tiberius and the twenty-first of the Christian æra? I am told he published 140 or more books of history. I see him quoted by contemporary authors. But I hear nothing of bis writings afterwards for a thousand years. The chain of testimony is broken to pieces. About 30 books, and some of those imperfect, are published at the close of the 15th century. Further portions are found in the library of Mayence. The five last books are found in the Abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland, in the year 1531. A Jesuit discovers some more at Bamberg. So lately as the year 1772 a further fragment is added. The authenticity of all these portions is admitted and acted upon by every critic in every part of Europe, slight as