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ON THE EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY IN GENERAL.
THE evidences of the Christian religion are commonly viewed as of two kinds, external and internal. The former are the credentials which attest a Divine messenger; the latter consist in the nature of the message itself, its harmony with the purified reason and conscience, and the influence it exerts where it is heartily received. Some, however, have condemned all appeal to internal evidence, as mere rationalism, and opposed to the humility of faith; since it would subject a Divine message to the verdict of our fallible and darkened reason; while others have extolled it, to the exclusion of all external proofs whatever. If a revelation be true, and in harmony with the deep instincts of our being, it must shine, they conceive, by its own light. A spiritual self-evidence will be spread around it, like a halo of glory. If it contradict essential truth, and the voice of pure reason, no outward signs and wonders can justify us in accepting it as Divine. To receive it passively, in such a case, would be to sacrifice our reason and conscience on the altar of a blind superstition.
When Paley wrote his treatise, a material philosophy prevailed; and hence, perhaps, the appeal to historical evidence became doubly important. The writer himself partook, in a large measure, of the spirit of his age, and was thus led to dwell on external proofs, almost to the exclusion of others, and without any attempt to define accurately the relation between them. But now a different school of philosophy is very prevalent among the more learned opposers of the Christian faith. The tendency of their writings is to erect reason alone into a full and sufficient guide, in contrast to all positive and supernatural revelation. It is desirable, then, not only to sketch briefly those various kinds of evidence which attest the truth of Christianity, but also to explain the limits of these two kinds of proof, and how far they are really contrasted with each other.
A true revelation is a message from God himself, the Almighty and the All-wise, in contrast with all mere conjectures, inventions, and reasonings of weak and fallible
Its first ground must, therefore, be the existence of
God, the Creator and Lord of the universe. Its next is the contrast between God and man, with the possibility of intercourse between them. Now our simplest conceptions of the Divine nature include the attributes of power, wisdom, and goodness. Whatever, then, attests the presence of superhuman power, supernatural wisdom, and Divine goodness, will be a proof that God, and not man, is the true author of the attendant message. And hence may arise the distinction of Miraculous, Prophetic, and Moral Evidence.
This arrangement, however, is practically imperfect for several reasons; but chiefly, because all these Divine attributes must really concur in every part of the message. Another distinction seems preferable, depending on the actual form of the revelation, and the faculty or state of mind to which the evidence appeals. Christianity professes to be a message to sinful creatures, designed to raise them from a state of moral ignorance and blindness to that purity of heart and mind, whereby they can see God, and know even as they are known. Some of its evidences, then, appeal simply to the understanding, and the consciousness of a superhuman power. Others appeal to the faculty of moral discernment, which still survives in
the natural conscience. Others, again, are addressed to those spiritual faculties, and that power of discerning holy truth, which is the fruit of the message itself, wherever its healing influence has been received. Hence the whole may be ranked under three main divisions: External or Historical, Intermediate or Moral, and Internal or Spiritual; as it is addressed to the senses and natural understanding, to the universal conscience, and to the purified reason and regenerate spirit of the true Christian.
The External Evidence, again, is of three kinds. parts are direct and immediate, in the miracles of Christ and his apostles; some retrospective, in the connexion of Christianity with the miracles and prophecies of the Old Testament; and some are prospective or progressive, in the first triumphs of the gospel, its historical influence on the destinies of mankind, and the fulfilment of prophecy since the days of our Lord. The Moral Evidence is also threefold. It consists mainly in the nature of the moral precepts of the New Testament, in the character and example
of Christ himself, and in the features of truth, love, and wisdom in the apostles, evangelists, and first disciples. The Internal Evidence is still more various and extensive. There is, first, an Experimental Evidence, in the harmony of the gospel with the wants of the human conscience and heart; a Social Evidence, in the practical institutions of the church, or of Christian society; the Scriptural or Biblical Evidence, drawn from the wisdom and harmony in the whole code of revealed truth; and finally, the Spiritual Evidence, which contemplates the gospel in its inmost and deepest character, as a revelation of the name, the attributes, and the counsels of the Most High.
I. The Direct Evidence is founded on the miracles of our Lord and of his apostles. Its principle is stated briefly in those words of Nicodemus :`" Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do those miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." Its force depends chiefly on the marks of Divine power, but partly on the evidences of Divine wisdom and goodness, which these miracles supply to us. They are proofs that the gospel is Divine, not simply as miracles, but as miracles of a peculiar kind; and are linked closely with the very substance of the message, in the completed atonement, the promise of a resurrection from the dead, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, to purify and renew the souls of men.
Four parts may be distinguished in this direct argument. The first treats of the possibility of miracles, and the likelihood of their occurrence, from our actual need of supernatural teaching. It has been briefly and ably stated by Paley, in the Introduction of this treatise.
objection of Hume, there examined, has been sifted more fully in several other works,* and perhaps with most accuracy of reasoning by Dr. Chalmers, in the opening part of his Treatise on Christian Evidence. The need of revelation, and the presumption to be drawn from it in favour of some miraculous intervention, is unfolded by Leland, Ellis, Franke, and many others, and is powerfully confirmed by the actual state of the heathen tribes of the world, down to the present day.
*See Dr. Campbell's "Dissertation on Miracles," Dr. Price on "Probable Evidence," Mr. Somerville's "Tract in Reply to the Edinburgh Review,'" and the "Criticisms," by Bishop Douglas. A few remarks will be found in Supplement A.
The second part of the argument consists in the external testimony to the miracles of the gospel, apart from the Scriptures themselves. It is derived from heathens and Jews, and the writings of the early Christians. Here the Christian religion is to be viewed in its main substance, as contained in the creed, and centering in the resurrection of Christ; and that evidence of its truth is to be unfolded which would still exist, though the New Testament had perished, or never been written. This line of thought is briefly opened by Paley, in his second chapter, and is pursued more fully by Mr. Sheppard in a separate work. has shown that there remains independent evidence, enough to convince a thoughtful mind of the Divine origin of the gospel, and to supply a firm warrant for practical faith in Christianity, even apart from all the testimony of the written word of God.
The third branch of the argument relates directly to the New Testament, to prove that its books are authentic and credible; that they are assigned to the true authors, and that these are competent and honest witnesses, who give us the real convictions of their own minds. The ninth chapter of Paley contains a summary of the evidence, admirable for compression and clearness. Still fuller details may be found in Dr. Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History a work of great learning and accuracy, now republishing in a popular form. The first volume of Horne's Introduction to the Scriptures contains also a very full collection of early testimonies. The external proofs are unfolded in Cosin, Simon, Jones, and Alexander, on the Canon of the New Testament, and in Michaelis' Introduction: the internal, in Paley's own work, the Hora Paulinæ, and in that of Professor Blunt, on the Veracity of the Gospels.
The last branch of the direct evidence consists in the application of these premised facts, to prove the truth of the Christian miracles. It may be arranged under seven distinct heads. The first is the direct proof of Christ's resurrection, the central fact of the sacred history, and the foundation of all Christian doctrine. Bishop Sherlock's Trial of the Witnesses; Townson's Evangelical History; Greswell's Forty-third Dissertation on the Gospel Harmony; and especially West's Observations on the History of the Resurrection, furnish
very full light on this branch of the evidence. Next will follow the proof of our Lord's miracles in general, on which the works of Campbell, bishop Douglas, of Farmer and Sheppard, are all valuable. The third part consists in the proof of the apostolic miracles, whether from the admissions of heathen writers, and the statements of the early Christians, or the harmony of the Acts and the Epistles compared with each other. A fourth part consists in the conversion and life of St. Paul, which claims a distinct notice, and has been powerfully stated by Lord Lyttleton, in his Observations. A fifth branch of evidence is found in the mutual dependence and harmony of these miracles. Those of our Lord include a prophecy of his own resurrection. His resurrection is linked with a prediction of the outpouring of the Spirit on the apostles; and the miraculous gifts then received are joined, in like manner, with a constant appeal to previous facts, the miracles and resurrection of Christ. A sixth proof is drawn from the Divine character of these miracles, and that clear stamp of wisdom and goodness, which makes them a contrast to all lying wonders, so that they become a direct appeal to the conscience as well as the understanding. The last branch consists in the transition from the truth of the miracles to the truth of the doctrine they attest. On this topic the works of Farmer, Penrose, Le Bas on the Christian Miracles, and the remarks in the first volume of Chalmers's Treatise, will give a full and sufficient light. The effect of time on the evidence of miracles is examined in Gregory's Letters, and Burton's Hulsean Lectures (1820). The remarks of Dr. Chalmers, on the secure and impregnable character of the historical argument, and Butler's celebrated Analogy, clear away some popular difficulties, and would form a natural close to this part of the general subject.
II. The Retrospective Evidence depends on the connexion of the gospel with earlier revelations. Its truth is mightily confirmed, when we see that it is no isolated event, but only completes and crowns a series of Divine messages, which had been attested before by direct miracles; while these earlier messages require it as their natural sequel, and it is the only key by which they can be fully explained. Here the first step consists in the credibility of the Old Testament, as containing real and genuine records of