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No religion was ever recorded in sacred books, by the first founders of it, and submitted at the time to the inspection and investigation of mankind, but the Christian. And against all this evidence, nothing can be alleged. There is no counter-statement, there is no other account of the rise of Christianity. The New Testament stands without a competitor.
And yet all this overpowering evidence is only the beginning of a series of proofs.
We came, next, to consider the magnificent apparatus which surrounded the DIVINE AUTHORITY of the religion contained in these authentic and credible books.
And here we, first, contemplated with admiration the MIRACLES of our Lord and his apostles. · And having proved that the facts involv. ed in each miracle, viewed abstractedly from their cause, were undeniably established by the same testimonies as supported the credibility of the narrative generally; we considered the number and variety of our Lord's mighty works, the palpable and clear suspension of the laws of nature which they exhibited, the circumstances of publicity under which they were performed, the abiding effects of them, the prophetic oracles of the former Testament which were accomplished by them, and the national usages and monuments which were, in
consequence, set up at the time, and which subsist to the present day. Such miracles, supported by such evidence-a whole nation witnesses to them—a new and holy religion set up from the first on the footing of them-interwoven indissolubly with the religion, in attestation of which those who wrought them lived and suffered and died_such miracles the world has never seen, except in the dispensation of the same revelation under Moses. The unsophisticated conclusion of the human mind, on perusing the records of them, is, that the Christian religion is of God.12
And what shall we then say of the prodigious scheme of PROPHECY fulfilled in every past age, and fulfilling now before our eyes? What shall we say of a scheme, which, beginning with the fall of man, accompanied the Jewish church in each period, and stretches on to the consummation of all things—which centered all its predictions in one divine person, the Son of God—which exhibited all the wisdom of the Almighty in the arrangement of its several parts and its growing accomplishments --which bore the stamp of a holy God in the pure and devoted piety of the prophets themselves--and which subserved the most importantends of religious instruction and consolation?
1: Lect. VII.
But why do I remind you of the prophecies in their scheme and plan, when I see their accomplishment surrounding me with wonder-when the person of the Messiah unites a thousand most extraordinary indications of prescience when Jerusalem trodden down by the Gentiles, and the Jews dispersed before our eyes, are a standing miracle—when the desolations of Nineveh and Tyre and Babylon remain to the present day-when the Arabs and Egyptians are witnesses of the prophetic inspiration—when the sketch of the division of empires in the wonderful predictions of Noah, and the mystic image of Nebuchadnezzar, is being filled up in every age-when the great apostacy of the western church strikes the heart with dismay in one view, and yet relieves it in another from the oppression, which such corruptions, if not marked out in the word of prophecy, would have produced ? And whither do not the unaccomplished parts of the great scheme lead the labouring faith of the Christian ? 13
But, my brethren, I check myself. When was there such a combination of moral proof for the truth of any one subject, as conspires to illustrate the Christian evidences ? All the wisdom and power and goodness and sovereignty of the Almighty are displayed to our obedient faith.
15 Lect. VIII. and IX.
It is not merely a stream of evidence; it is a swelling tide—a flood which bears away the vessel, and against which not a breath or whisper of solid objection can be raised. It stands alone. It bears the unequivocal impress of the majesty of the one revelation which the blessed God has vouchsafed to man.
And why should I add a word on the PROPAGATION of Christianity, and its BENEFICIAL EFFECTS, except to say, that they constitute of themselves independent proofs which nothing can invalidate; and that, when connected with the preceding, they shut up and conclude the external evidences of Christianity ? 14
Nothing can be added. So far as we can judge, the case admits of no stronger evidence. All the attributes of the Almighty, refulgent in the MIRACULOUS powers; and dispersed all around in the word of PROPHECY, as reflected in the events of the world for six thousand years; and concentrated in the PROPAGATION of the gospel; and blessing mankind daily in its BENEFICIAL EFFECTS, emblazon the Christian revelation with a glory which must burst upon every eye, and penetrate every heart which is not wilfully closed and hardened by perverseness and obduracy. And the whole evidence is sealed by the
14 Lect. X. and XI.
doctrine of the divINE INSPIRATION of the scriptures, which leaving every thing human as to the form, renders every thing infallible as to the matter of the revelation which it conveys; and thus unites the highest emanations of the wisdom and power of God with the most compassionate exercises of his condescension and grace.15
And yet the whole of these evidences form but one division of the great subject. Those arising from the intrinsic excellency of the revelation itself, and its suitableness to the state and wants of man, are yet to be considered, and will constitute a body of proof, as complete in its kind, and as powerful in its demands upon our faith, as what we have been now reviewing. But we conclude,
1. It is surely not too much to say, that on any subject of worldly prudence, such a mass of evidence would be considered as rising to a moral demonstration which no reasonable man could resist-it would be considered as an act, not so much of faith, as of commON SENSE, to follow such proofs—the man who refused so to do, would be condemned by all the rules of conduct which he is compelled to follow every day of his life. We might more reasonably ques
15 Lect. XII, and XIII.