The Scriptures Are the Word of God
It often happens, that those who hear the gospel doubt whether it is really the word of God. Having been taught from infancy to regard it as a Divine revelation, and knowing no sufficient reason for rejecting it, they yield a general assent to its claims. There are times, however, when they would gladly be more fully assured that the Bible is not a cunningly devised fable. They think if that point was absolutely certain, they would at once submit to all the gospel requires.
Such doubts do not arise from any deficiency in the evidence of the Divine authority of the Scriptures; nor would they be removed by any increase of that evidence. They have their origin in the state of the heart. The most important of all the evidences of Christianity can never be properly appreciated, unless the heart be right in the sight of God. The same exhibition of truth which produces unwavering conviction in one mind, leaves another in a state of doubt or unbelief. And the same mind often passes rapidly, though rationally, from a state of scepticism to that of faith, without any change in the mere external evidence presented to it.
No amount of mere external evidence can produce genuine faith. The Israelites, who had seen a long succession of wonders in the land of Egypt, who had passed through the divided waters of the Red Sea, who were daily receiving by miracle food from heaven, who had trembled at the manifestations of the Divine majesty on Mount Sinai, within sight of that mountain made a golden calf their god. The men who saw the miracles of Christ performed almost daily in their presence, cried out, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Hence our Saviour said, that those who hear not "Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." We may confidently conclude, therefore, that those who now believe not the gospel, would not be persuaded had they seen all the miracles which Christ performed.
It is important that the attention of the doubting should be directed to the fact, that their want of faith is to be attributed to their own moral state, and not to any deficiency in the evidence of the truth. "If our gospel be hid," says the apostle, "it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them."
There is nothing in the doctrine here stated, out of analogy with our daily experience. No truth can be properly apprehended unless there is a harmony between it and the mind to which it is presented. Even abstract or speculative truths are not seen to be true, unless the understanding be duly cultivated to apprehend them. With regard to objects of taste, unless there is a power to perceive the correspondence between them and the standard of beauty, there can be no appreciation of their excellence. And still more obviously in regard to moral and religious truth, there must be a state of mind suited to their apprehension. If our moral sense were entirely destroyed by sin, we could have no perception of moral distinctions; if it is vitiated, what is true in itself and true in the view of the pure in heart, will not be true to us. A man who has no adequate sense of the evil of sin, cannot believe in the justice of God. If you awaken his conscience, he is convinced at once without the intervention of any process of proof.
No one can fail to remark, that the Bible demands immediate and implicit faith from all who read it. It may lie neglected in the study of the philosopher, or in the chest of the outcast sailor, or it may be given by a missionary yet ignorant of the language of the heathen to whom he ministers. The moment, however, it is opened, in these or any other circumstances, it utters the same calm voice: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." If this demand was confined to the educated, we might suppose it to rest on evidence which the educated only are able to appreciate; or if it was made of those only to whom the Scriptures are presented by regularly commissioned ministers, we might suppose it rested on their authority; but it is not thus confined. It is inseparable from the word itself. It is as imperative when the Bible is read by a child to a company of pagans, as when it is proclaimed in a cathedral. But if this demand of faith goes with the word wherever it goes, it must rest upon evidence contained in the word itself. The demand of faith cannot be more extensive than the exhibition of evidence. Unless, therefore, we restrict the obligation and the benefits of faith to those who are capable of appreciating the external evidence of the Bible, we must admit that it contains its own evidence.
To make the testimony of others to the truth of Christianity the ground of faith, is inadmissible, for two obvious reasons. In the first place, as already intimated, it is not sufficiently extensive. The obligation to believe rests on multitudes to whom that testimony is not addressed. In the second place, it is entirely inadequate. The great mass of men cannot be required to believe, on the testimony of the learned few, a religion which is to control their conduct in this world, and to decide their destiny in the next. Besides, learned men testify on behalf of the Koran as well as in favour of the Bible. That, therefore, cannot be an adequate ground of faith, which may be urged in support of error as well as of truth. To require the common people to be able to see why the testimony of learned Christians may safely be relied upon, while that of learned Mussulmans should be rejected, is to require of them a task as severe as the examination of the historical evidences of Christianity. There is, therefore, no way of justifying the universal, immediate, and authoritative demand which the Bible makes on our faith, except by admitting that it contains within itself the proofs of its Divine origin.
It may not be easy, or perhaps possible, to give any adequate exhibition of the nature of this proof to those who profess not to see it. Enough, however, may be said to show that it is a rational and adequate ground for implicit confidence. Every work bears the impress of its maker. Even among men, it is hard for one man successfully to counterfeit the work of another. Is it wonderful, then, that the works of God should bear the inimitable impress of their Author? Do not the heavens declare his glory? Does not the mechanism of an insect as clearly evince the workmanship of God? Why then should it be deemed incredible that his word should contain inherent evidence of its Divine origin? If the Bible be the work of God, it must contain the impress of his character, and thereby evince itself to be Divine.
It may be objected, that we are not competent to judge of this evidence. If it requires so much cultivation of the intellect to judge of the excellence of human productions, and so accurate an acquaintance with the character of their authors, in order to decide on the genuineness of such productions, who can pretend to a knowledge of God which shall enable him to judge what is, or what is not, worthy of his hand? This would be a fatal objection, if the internal evidence of the Scriptures consisted in their intellectual excellence. It loses its force, however, when it is remembered that this excellence is, in a great measure, moral, and that goodness carries with it its own evidence. To appreciate evidence of this kind requires no great degree of knowledge or refinement. It requires merely right moral feelings. Where these exist, the evidence that goodness is goodness is immediate and irresistible. It is not because the Bible is written with more than human skill, and that its discrimination of character or its eloquence is beyond the powers of man, that we believe it to be Divine. These are matters of which the mass of men are incompetent judges. The evidence in question is suited to the apprehension of the humblest child of God. It is partly negative and partly positive. It consists, in the first place, in the absence of everything incompatible with a Divine origin. There is nothing inconsistent with reason, and there is nothing inconsistent with goodness. Did the Scriptures contain anything contrary to reason or to right moral feeling, belief in their Divine origin would be impossible. Such a belief would involve the ascription of folly or sin to its Author. There is more in this negative evidence than we are apt to imagine. It cannot be urged on behalf of any other book but the Bible, claiming a Divine origin. An impassable gulf is thus placed between the Scriptures and all apocryphal writings. The claims of the latter are, in every instance, disproved by the fact that they contain statements which cannot be true. It is, however, the positive internal evidence of a Divine origin, which gives power and authority to the claims of the Bible. This evidence consists mainly in its perfect holiness, in the correspondence between all its statements respecting God, man, redemption, and a future state, and all our own right judgments, reasonable apprehensions, and personal experience. When the mind is enlightened to see this holiness; when it perceives how exactly the rule of duty prescribed in the word of God agrees with that enforced by conscience; how the account which it gives of human nature coincides with human experience; how fully it meets our whole case; when it feels how powerfully the truths there presented operate to purify, console, and sustain the soul--the belief of the Scriptures is a necessary consequence. The idea that such a book is a lie and a forgery, involves a contradiction. The human mind is so constituted that it cannot refuse its assent to evidence, when clearly perceived. We cannot withhold our confidence from a man whose moral excellence is plainly, variously, and constantly manifested. We cannot see and feel his goodness, and yet believe him to be an imposter or deceiver. In like manner, we cannot see the excellence of the Scriptures, and yet believe them to be one enormous falsehood. The Bible claims to be the word of God; it speaks in his name, it assumes his authority. How can these claims be false and yet the Bible be so holy? How can falsehood be an element of perfect excellence? The only possible way of shaking our confidence in the competent testimony of a man is to show that he is not a good man. If his goodness is admitted, confidence in his word cannot be withheld, and especially when all he says finds its confirmation in our own experience, and commends itself to our conscience and judgment. Thus also it is impossible that we should discern the excellence of the Scriptures, and feel their correspondence with our experience and necessities, and yet suppose them to be untrue.
When the woman of Samaria reported to her townsmen that Jesus had told her all that ever she did, many of them believed. But after they had themselves listened to his instructions, they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." No Christian can be surprised at this declaration, or think the faith in Christ, founded upon what he said, either irrational or enthusiastic. We can well believe that there was such an ineffable manifestation of goodness in the Redeemer's countenance, manner, and doctrines, as to conciliate entire confidence. Those who were rightly affected could not fail to believe all he said; that he was the Christ, that he came to seek and save them that are lost, to lay down his life for his sheep, and to give himself a ransom for many. Can we doubt that the goodness of the Saviour, the elevation, holiness, and power of his instructions, their correspondence with our own nature, experience, and wants, would of themselves constitute an adequate ground of faith? All this we have. This every man has who reads the Bible. There the Saviour stands in the majesty of unapproachable excellence. He utters in every hearing ear the words of eternal life; declares his origin, his mission, the design of his advent and death; offers pardon and eternal life to those who come unto God through him. There is the most perfect accordance between his claims and his conduct; between his doctrines and what we know and what we need. To disbelieve him is to believe him to be a deceiver; and to believe this is to disbelieve our own perceptions; for we know what goodness is, and we know that goodness cannot deceive, that God cannot lie.
It makes very little difference as to the force of this kind of evidence, whether we personally saw and heard the Saviour for ourselves, or whether we read the exhibition of his character and the record of his instructions. For the evidence lies in his goodness, and in the nature of his doctrines. It is the same to us who read the Bible, as it was to those that heard the Saviour. There is therefore the same violence done to reason and duty, in our rejecting it, as was offered by those who believed not because they were not of his sheep--that is, because they were insensible to the constraining influence of the grace and truth which were in Him. Does anyone ask how we know that the Bible is not a forgery? Let him consider what such an assumption involves. It supposes either that the authors of the Bible were fools, which we can no more believe than that Newton was an idiot; or that they were wicked, which no man can believe who knows what goodness is. Wherever, therefore, the Bible goes, it carries with it evidence that is irresistible (when attended to and appreciated), that its authors were neither dupes nor deceivers.
It may be asked, If the Bible contains such clear evidence of its Divine origin, why are there so many unbelievers? To this it may be answered, that there are two things necessary in order that evidence should produce conviction. The first is, that it should be attended to; otherwise it might as well not exist. Of the many millions of people in Christendom, comparatively few give the Scriptures any serious attention. That such persons should have no effective faith, is no more a matter of surprise than that they should be ignorant of what they never learned. The second requisite for the reception of evidence is, that it should be understood, or really apprehended. If this evidence is addressed to the understanding, there must be strength of mind enough to comprehend its nature and bearing; if addressed to the moral faculty, there must be moral sensibility to appreciate it, or it will be like light shining on the eyes of the blind. The internal evidence of the Scriptures is in a great measure of this latter kind. It consists in their perfect holiness. In proportion as men are corrupt, they are blind to this kind of evidence. It may exist in all its force, and men be insensible to it. Another part of this evidence consists in the accordance between the Scriptures and the religious experience of men. Those who have not the experience, cannot see this accordance. Still another portion of the evidence is made available by the power of God in subduing sin, in purifying the affections, in diffusing peace and joy through the heart. Those who have never felt this power cannot appreciate this kind of proof. The fact, therefore, that so large a proportion of mankind have no adequate faith in the Scriptures, affords no presumption against the existence of sufficient evidence. This fact is in exact accordance with what the Bible teaches of the moral state of man.
Another objection to the view of the ground of faith given above is, that it leads to enthusiasm, and breaks down the distinction between true and false religion. Every enthusiast, it is said, thinks he sees wonderful excellence in the pretended revelations which he embraces. It is a sufficient answer to this objection, to ask, whether the scholar has less faith in the excellence of the great standards of poetry, because the writers of doggerel rhymes have had their admirers? That the sensual, selfish, and cruel character of Mohammed appears good in the eyes of a Turk, does not prove him to be an enthusiast who bows with reverence before the supreme excellence of Jesus Christ. That the pagan world saw evidence of the existence of their gods in the heavens and in the course of nature, does not make him an enthusiast who recognizes in the works of God the manifestations of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness. It is most unreasonable to assume, that we must not feel the force of truth and excellence, because others have ascribed these attributes to error and vice. It is not according to the constitution of our nature, that one man should cease to know a thing to be true or good, because others do not see it. The evidence is complete for him, though all the world reject it.
If it is asked, where the standard is? what criterion of excellence exists by which I am authorized to decide that what I call goodness is really such? the rule is given in the nature of man. We know that benevolence is better than malice, veracity than deceit, humility than pride; and, by the same rule, we Know that Christianity is better than Hinduism, and the blessed Redeemer than the Arabian impostor. No judgment can be more sure than this, no persuasion more intimate, no confidence either more firm or more rational. It is, therefore, no objection against admitting the excellence of the Scriptures to be a proof of their Divine origin, that besotted or deluded men have ascribed excellence to folly and wickedness.
The Scriptures themselves clearly teach that the faith which they demand is founded upon the authority of God, manifesting itself in them by the excellence and power of the truth which they contain. They everywhere represent faith as the effect and evidence of right moral feeling, and unbelief as the result of moral or spiritual blindness. Our Saviour said to the Jews, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." Again, "He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God." On another occasion, he said, "Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.--My sheep hear my voice." The apostle speaks to the same effect: "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God." "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." In like manner Paul says, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." And again: "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The doctrine taught in these and similar passages is, that there is in the word of God, and especially in the person and character of Jesus Christ, a clear and wonderful manifestation of the Divine glory. To this manifestation the natural man is blind, and therefore does not believe; but those who have the Spirit of God discern this glory, and therefore believe.
It is in accordance with this view, that unbelief is represented as so grave a moral offence, and faith as so important a duty. Atheism is everywhere regarded as a crime, because the evidences of the existence of God are everywhere present, above us, around us, and within us. They are addressed to the moral constitution, as well as to the speculative understanding. They cannot be resisted without the same violence to moral obligations, or the authority of moral considerations, that is involved in calling virtue vice, and vice virtue. Hence, the Scriptures always speak of unbelief as a sin against God, and the special grounds of the condemnation of the world. "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father." Disbelief of the Son as revealed m the Scriptures, is an offence of the same nature as the denial of God. In both cases, supreme excellence is revealed and disregarded. Much to the same effect the Saviour says, "He that hateth me hateth my Father also." On the other hand, faith is represented as the highest act of obedience, as a moral act of the greatest worth in the sight of God. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." And our Saviour told the inquiring Jews, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." These representations cannot be reconciled with the assumption that faith is founded on external testimony, which does not address itself to our moral nature, and an assent to which has so little concern with moral character. All is plain, however, if we are required to believe in the Son because his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father, is presented to us; and to receive the Scriptures because they bear the impress of the Divine perfections. If this be the ground of faith, unbelief is indeed a crime. It is a refusal to recognize wisdom and holiness, and to acknowledge the manifested excellence of God.
This view of the ground of faith is confirmed by the effects ascribed to that grace. It works by love, it purifies the heart, it overcomes the world, it produces peace and joy. It is indeed conceivable that the conviction of truths affecting our interests, however produced, should call forth fear, sorrow, or joy, according to their nature. But it is not conceivable that belief of moral or religious truths, founded upon the testimony of others, should control our affections. A man may believe, on authority, or on merely rational grounds, that we are under a moral government, and that the law by which we are bound is holy, just, and good; but such a faith will not subdue his opposition. He may be, by argument or miracle, convinced of the existence of God; but such a faith will not produce love. Faith, therefore, cannot have the effects ascribed to it, unless it is founded on a spiritual apprehension of the truths believed.
Hence it is that faith is represented as the gift of God. The evidence, indeed, is presented to all, or there would be no obligation to believe; but men are morally blind, and therefore the eyes of their understanding must be opened that they may understand the things which are freely given to them of God. The apostle, therefore, says to his believing brethren, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth." "The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." It is here taught, as in other passages already quoted, that believers are the recipients of an influence, an unction, from the Holy One, which convinces them of the truth, makes them see and know that it is truth. Hence Paul says, his "preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power"; that the faith of his hearers might "not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." That is, that their faith might not be the effect of skilful reasoning, but of the spiritual perception and experience of the truth.
All this is confirmed by the constant practice of the inspired teachers. Though they appealed to all kinds of evidence in support of the doctrines which they taught, to signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, yet they by no means rested the obligation to believe either exclusively or mainly upon these external signs.
In many cases, faith was demanded by those inspired men, who never wrought miracles of any kind, as was the fact in the case of some of the prophets; and still more frequently it was required of those among whom no such wonders had been performed. When the Jews demanded a sign, and the Greeks wisdom, the apostles preached Christ, and him crucified, as the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation. Their constant endeavour was, by the manifestation of the truth, to commend themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And if their gospel was hid, it was hid to them that are lost.
It is, therefore, plainly the doctrine of the Scriptures themselves, that the word of God is to be believed because of the authority or command of God manifesting itself therein, in a manner analogous to the exhibition of his perfections in the works of nature. If, as Paul teaches us, the eternal power and Godhead are so clearly manifested by the things that are made, that even the heathen are without excuse; and if their unbelief is ascribed not to the want of evidence, but to their not liking to retain God in their knowledge, we need not wonder that the far clearer manifestation of the Divine perfections made in the Scripture, should be the ground of a more imperative command to believe.
It is the experience of true Christians in all ages and nations that their faith is founded on the spiritual apprehension and experience of the power of the truth. There are multitudes of such Christians, who, if asked why they believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, might find it difficult to give an answer, whose faith is nevertheless both strong and rational. They are conscious of its grounds, though they may not be able to state them. They have the witness in themselves, and know that they believe, not because others believe, or because learned men have proved certain facts which establish the truth of Christianity. They believe in Christ for the same reason that they believe in God; and they believe in God because they see his glory, and feel his authority and power.
If, then, the truth of God contains in its own nature a revelation of Divine excellence, the sin of unbelief is a very great sin. Not to have faith in God, when clearly revealed, is the highest offence which a creature can commit against its Creator. To refuse credence to the testimony of God, when conveyed in the manner best adapted to our nature, is to renounce our allegiance to our Creator. To disregard the evidence of truth and excellence in Jesus Christ, is the highest indignity that we can show to truth and excellence. This sin is common, and therefore is commonly disregarded. Men do not easily see the turpitude of evils with which they are themselves chargeable. The faults of those who go beyond them in iniquity they are quick to discern. And therefore the man who feels no compunction at want of faith in the Son of God, will abhor him who pronounces the Redeemer a wicked imposter. He will wait for no explanation, and will listen to no excuse. The mere fact that a man, acquainted with the Scriptures, is capable of such a judgment respecting the Son of God, is proof of depravity which nothing can gainsay. Yet how little difference is there between the state of mind which would admit of such a judgment, and the state in which those are who have no faith in the declarations of Christ, who disregard his promises and warnings; who do not feel them to be true, and therefore treat them as fables. The want of faith, therefore, of which men think so lightly, will be found the most unreasonable, and perhaps the most aggravated of all their sins. It implies an insensibility to the highest kind of evidence, and involves the rejection of the greatest gift which God has ever offered to man--pardon, holiness, and eternal life.
As God has left the heathen to the unauthenticated revelation of himself in his works, and holds them responsible for their unbelief, so he might have left us to the simple revelation of himself in his word. He has been pleased, however, to confirm that word by external proofs of the most convincing character, so that we are entirely without excuse.
The testimony of the church is of itself an unanswerable argument for the truth of Christianity. The validity of this testimony does not depend upon the assumed infallibility of any class of men. It is merely the testimony of an innumerable body of witnesses, under circumstances which preclude the idea of delusion or deception. For the sake of illustration, take any particular branch of Christ's church; as, for example, the Lutheran. It now exists in Europe and America. It everywhere possesses the same version of the Scriptures, and the same confession of faith. Its testimony is, that it owes its existence, as an organized body, to Luther; to whom it ascribes the translation of the Bible, and under whose auspices it professes to have received the Augsburg Confession. It is clearly impossible that these documents could, during the present century, have been palmed upon these scattered millions of men. They all bear testimony that they received them as they now are from the hands of their fathers. As to this point, neither delusion nor deception is conceivable. In the eighteenth century we find this church scarcely less numerous than it is at present. It bore the same testimony then that it does now. With one voice it declared that their fathers possessed before them the standards of their faith.
This testimony is repeated again in the seventeenth, and again in the sixteenth century, till we come to the age of Luther. This testimony, conclusive in itself, is confirmed by all kinds of collateral evidence. Everything in the style, doctrines, and historical references of the standards of the Lutheran church, agrees with the age to which they are referred. The influence of a society holding those doctrines is traceable through the whole of the intervening period. The wars, the treaties, the literary and religious institutions of the period, to a greater or less degree, received their character from that society. Much, therefore, as men may differ as to Luther's character, as to the wisdom of his conduct, or the truth of his doctrines, no sane man has ever questioned the fact that he lived, that he translated the Scriptures, that he organized a new church, and gave his followers the Augsburg Confession.
The same series of remarks might be made in reference to the church of England. That extended and powerful body has her thirty-nine articles, her liturgy, and her homilies, which she testifies she received from the Reformers. This testimony cannot be doubted. At no period of her history could that church either deceive or have been deceived, as to that point. Her testimony, moreover, is confirmed by all collateral circumstances. The liturgy, articles, and homilies, are in every respect consistent with their reputed origin; and the whole history of England, during that period, is interwoven with the history of that church. The consequence is, no man doubts that the English Reformers lived, or that they framed the standards of doctrine and worship universally ascribed to them.
This argument, when applied to the whole Christian church, is no less conclusive. This church now exists in every quarter of the globe, and embraces many millions of disciples. Everywhere it has the same records of its faith; it is everywhere an organized society, with religious officers and ordinances. It everywhere testifies that these records and institutions were received from Christ and his apostles. That this vast society did not begin to exist during the present century, is as evident as that the world was not just made. It is no less plain that it did not begin to exist in the eighteenth, the seventeenth, the sixteenth, nor in any other century subsequent to the first in our era. In each succeeding century, we find millions of men, thousands of churches and ministers, uniting their testimony to the fact, that they received their sacred writings and institutions from their predecessors, until we come to the age of Christ himself. Did the origin of the church run back beyond the limits of authentic history, so as to leave a gap between its reputed founder and its ascertained existence, this argument would fail; an essential link would be wanting, and the whole extended chain would fall to the ground. But as this is not the case, its testimony as to the historical facts of its origin, is as irresistible as that of the church of England as to the origin of its articles and liturgy. The Christian church is traced up to the time of Christ by a mass of evidence which cannot be resisted; so that to deny that Christ lived, and that the church received from his followers the sacred writings, is not merely to reject the testimony of thousands of competent witnesses, but to deny facts which are essential to account for the subsequent history and the existing state of the world. A man might as well profess to believe in the foliage of a tree, but not in its branches and stem.
This testimony of the church as to the facts on which Christianity is founded, is confirmed by all kinds of collateral evidence. The language in which the New Testament is written is precisely that which belonged to the time and place of its origin. It is the language of Jews speaking Greek, and in its peculiarities belonged to no other age or people. All the historical allusions are consistent with the known state of the world at that time. The history of the world since the advent of Christ presupposes the facts recorded in the New Testament. It is beyond a doubt, that the religion taught by a few poor men in Judea has changed the state of a large part of the world. Paganism has disappeared, a new religion been introduced; laws, customs, institutions, and manners become prevalent, and they all rest upon the facts to which the church bears her testimony.
Beyond all this, the internal character of the Scriptures is worthy of the origin ascribed to them; a character which gives the only adequate solution of the revolution which they have effected. When God said, "Let there be light," there was light. And when Jesus Christ said, "I am the light of the world," the light shone. We cannot doubt that it is light; neither can we doubt when it arose: for all before was darkness.
This testimony of the church, thus confirmed by all internal and external proofs, establishes the fact that Christ lived and died, that he founded the Christian church, and that the New Testament was received from his immediate followers. But these facts involve the truth of the gospel as a revelation from God, unless we suppose that Christ and his apostles were deceivers. The evidence against this latter assumption is as strong as the evidence of the existence of the sun. The blind, if they please, may deny that the sun exists, and none but the morally blind can resist the evidence which the New Testament affords of the moral excellence and intellectual sobriety of the sacred writers. If they were trustworthy men, men who we are bound to believe spoke the truth, then they actually possessed and exercised the miraculous powers to which they laid claim. To these powers Christ and his apostles appealed as an unanswerable proof of their Divine mission; and we cannot reject their testimony without denying their integrity.
The same course of argument which proves that the version of the Scriptures and the Augsburg confession in the possession of the Lutheran church; that the articles, liturgy, and homilies in the possession of the church of England; that the New Testament in the possession of the whole Christian world, were derived from the sources to which they are severally referred, proves with equal force, that the writings of the Old Testament, in the possession of the Jews, are the productions of the ancient prophets. Jews and Christians now have them. They had them a century ago; they had them in the time of Christ. They were then universally acknowledged by the Israelites in Judea and elsewhere. They can be historically traced up centuries before the advent of Christ. Three hundred years before that event, they were translated into the Greek language and widely disseminated. They contain the history, laws, and literature of the people of Judea, whose existence and peculiarities are as well ascertained as those of any people in the world. These writings are essential to account for the known character of that people, for it was in virtue of these sacred books they were what they were. Critics have, indeed, disputed about the particular dates of some of these productions; but no one has had the hardihood to deny that they existed centuries before the birth of Christ. This being admitted, we have a basis for another argument for the truth of Christianity, which cannot be resisted.
In these ancient writings, preserved in the hands of the open enemies of Christ, we find the advent of a Deliverer clearly predicted. Immediately after the apostacy, it was foretold that "the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head." This prediction is the germ of all the subsequent prophecies, which do but reveal its manifold meaning. Who the promised Seed was to be, and how the power of evil was by him to be destroyed, later predictions gradually revealed. It was first made known that the Redeemer should belong to the race of Shem. Then that he should be of the seed of Abraham, to whom the promise was made: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed"; then that he should be of the tribe of Judah, of whom it was foretold, that "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be." Subsequently it was revealed that he was to be of the lineage of David: "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding--the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord."
It was foretold that his advent should be preceded by that of a special messenger. "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts." The time, the manner, and the place of his birth, were all predicted. As to the time, Daniel said, "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks." As to the miraculous manner of his birth, Isaiah said, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." As to the place, Micah said, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel."
This Deliverer was to be a poor man. "Behold O daughter of Zion, thy King cometh unto thee, poor, riding upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." He was to be "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief--despised and rejected of men," and yet "Immanuel, God with us," "Jehovah our righteousness," "Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace," whose goings forth were of old, from the days of eternity.
The Redeemer thus predicted was to appear in the character of a Prophet, or Divine Teacher. "The Lord thy God," said Moses, "will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken." "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles." "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." "In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel."
He was also to be a Priest. "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." "He shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne."
The regal character of this Redeemer is set forth in many parts of the prophetic writings. "I have anointed," said God in reference to the Messiah, "my king on my holy hill of Zion." "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; the sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness. Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness, therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder." "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever."
The characteristics of this kingdom of the Messiah were also clearly predicted. It was to be a spiritual, in distinction from the external and ceremonial character of the former dispensation. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, etc. I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." Hence, the effusion of the Holy Spirit is so constantly mentioned as attending the advent of the promised Redeemer. "In that day I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy," etc.
Again, this kingdom was not to be confined to the Jews, but was to include all the world. As early as in the book of Genesis, it was declared that the obedience of all nations should be yielded to Shiloh, and that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in Abraham and his seed. God promised the Messiah the heathen for his inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for his possession. "It shall come to pass in the last days," saith Isaiah, "that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." "It is a light thing," said God, "that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." "In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek." "I saw in the night visions," said Daniel, "and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." Its progress, however, was to be gradual. The stone cut out of the mountains, without hands, was to break in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold, that is, all other kingdoms, and become a great mountain and fill the whole earth.
Though the prophets describe in such strong language the excellence, glory, and triumph of this Redeemer, they did not the less distinctly predict his rejection, sufferings, and death. "Lord, who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; he is despised and rejected of men, we hid as it were our faces from him, he was despised and we esteemed him not." "To him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship." The people whom he came to redeem, it was foretold, would not only reject him, but betray and sell him for thirty pieces of silver. "If ye think good, give my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them." He was to be grievously persecuted and put to death. "He was," said the prophet, "taken from prison and from judgment" (cut off by an oppressive judgment), "and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death." Even the manner and circumstances of his death were minutely foretold. "The assembly of the wicked enclose me: they pierce my hands and my feet. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." He was not, however, to continue under the power of death. "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption."
The consequences of the rejection of the Messiah to the Jewish people were also predicted with great distinctness. The children of Israel, it is said, shall abide many days without a king, without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without teraphim. Afterwards shall the children of Israel return and seek the Lord and his goodness in the latter days. Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved. Of the rebellious portion of the nation it was said, "The Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from one end of the earth to the other" "and among those nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest" "And thou shalt become an astonishment and proverb, and a by-word among all nations, whither the Lord shall lead thee." Though thus scattered and afflicted, they were not to be utterly destroyed; for God promised, saying, "When they are in the land of their enemies I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God." It was, moreover, predicted, that after a long dispersion they should be brought to acknowledge their crucified King. "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born." This same prophet foretold, that after the people had rejected and betrayed the Good Shepherd, they should be given up to the oppression of their enemies, the greater portion should be destroyed, but the residue, after longsuffering, should be restored.
This representation of the prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures, respecting Christ and his kingdom, is in the highest degree inadequate. It would be impossible to give a full exhibition of the subject, without unfolding the whole Old Testament economy. It is not in detached predictions merely that the former dispensation was prophetic. In its main design it was prefigurative and preparatory. It had indeed its immediate purpose to answer, in preserving the Israelites a distinct people, in sustaining the true religion, and in exhibiting the Divine perfections in God's government of the church. But all this was subordinate to its grand purpose of preparing that people and the world for the advent of Christ, and to be a shadowy representation of the glories of the new dispensation, for the double purpose of affording an object of faith and hope to those then living, and that the new economy might be better understood, more firmly believed, and more extensively embraced. Detached passages from such a scheme of history and prophecy are like the scattered ruins of an ancient temple. To form a just judgment, the plan must be viewed as a whole as well as in its details. It could then be seen, that the history of the Jews was the history of the lineage of Christ; the whole sacrificial ritual, a prefiguration of the Lamb of God who was to bear the sin of the world; that the tabernacle and the temple, with their complicated services, were types of things spiritual and heavenly; that the prophets, who were the teachers and correctors of the people, were sent, not merely, nor principally, to foretell temporal deliverances, but mainly to keep the eyes of the people directed upward and onward to the great Deliverer and to the final redemption. Detached passages can give no adequate conception of this stupendous scheme of preparation and prophecy, running through thousands of years, and its thousand lines all tending to one common centre--the cross of Christ.
The argument from prophecy in support of the truth of Christianity, therefore, can be appreciated by those only who will candidly study the whole system. Still, enough has been presented to show, that it is impossible to account for the correspondence between the prophecies of the Old Testament and the events recorded in the New, upon any other assumption than that of Divine inspiration. We have seen that it was predicted, centuries before the advent of Christ, that a great Deliverer should arise, to be born of the tribe of Judah, and of the family of David, and at the village of Bethlehem; that he should be a poor and humble man, and yet worthy of the highest reverence paid to God; that he should be a Teacher, Priest, and King; that he should be rejected by his own people, persecuted, and put to death; that he should rise again from the dead; that the Spirit of God should be poured out upon his followers, giving them holiness, wisdom, and courage; that true religion, no longer confined to the Jews, should be extended to the Gentiles, and, in despite of all opposition, should continue, triumph, and ultimately cover the earth; that the Jews who rejected the Messiah should be cast off and scattered, and yet preserved--like a river in the ocean, divided but not dissipated, a standing miracle, a fact without a parallel or analogy. Here, then, is the whole history of Christ and his kingdom, written centuries before his advent. A history full of apparent inconsistencies; a history not written in one age or by one man, but in different ages and by different men, each adding some new fact or characteristic, yet all combining to form one consistent, though apparently contradictory, whole.
Admitting then, what no one denies, the antiquity of the Jewish Scriptures, there is no escape from the conclusion, that they were written by Divine inspiration, and that Jesus Christ, to whom they so plainly refer, is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. To suppose that Christ, knowing these ancient prophecies, set himself, without Divine commission, to act in accordance with them, is to suppose impossibilities. It is to suppose that Jesus Christ was a bad man, which no man, who reads the New Testament, can believe, any more than he can believe that the sun is the blackness of darkness. It is to suppose him to have had a control over the actions of others which no imposter could exert. Many of the most important predictions in reference to Christ were fulfilled by the acts of his enemies. Did Christ instigate the treachery of Judas, or prompt the priests to pay the traitor thirty pieces of silver? Did he plot with Pilate for his own condemnation? Or so arrange that he should die by a Roman, instead of a Jewish, mode of capital infliction? Did he induce the soldiers to part his garments, and cast lots upon his vesture, or stipulate with them that none of his bones should be broken? By what possible contrivance could the two great predicted events, of the final destruction of the Jewish polity and the consequent dispersion of the Jews, on the one hand, and the rapid propagation of the new religion among the Gentiles, on the other, have been brought to pass? These events were predieted, their occurrence was beyond the scope of contrivance or imposture. There is no rational answer to this argument from prophecy. The testimony of the Scriptures to the Messiahship of Jesus Christ, is the testimony of God. "Search the Scriptures," said our Saviour himself; "for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me."
God, then, has been pleased to hedge up the way to infidelity. Men must do violence to all their usual modes of argument; they must believe moral impossibilities and irreconcilable contradictions; and, above all, they must harden their hearts to the excellence of the Saviour, before they can intelligently become infidels.
This exposition of the grounds of faith is made in order to show that unbelief is a sin; and to justify the awful declaration of Christ, "He that believeth not shall be damned." Men flatter themselves that they are not responsible for their faith. Belief being involuntary, cannot, it is said, be a matter of praise or blame. This false opinion arises from confounding things very different in their nature. Faith differs according to its object, and the nature of the evidence on which it is founded. A man believes that two and two are four, or that Napoleon died in St. Helena, and is neither morally better nor worse for such a faith. Disbelief, in such cases, would indicate insanity, not moral aberration. But no man can believe that virtue is vice, or vice virtue, without being to the last degree depraved. No man can disbelieve in God, especially under the light of revelation, without thereby showing that he is destitute of all right moral and religious sentiments. And no man can disbelieve the record which God has given of his Son, without being blind to the glory of God and the moral excellence of the Saviour, without rejecting the appropriate testimony of God, conveyed in a manner which proves it to be his testimony.
It is in vain, therefore, for any man to hope that he can be innocently destitute of faith in God, or of faith in Jesus Christ. If the external world retains such an impression of the hand of God, as to leave those without excuse who refuse to regard it as his work, surely those who refuse to acknowledge the excellence of his word and the glory of his Son, will not be held guiltless. The evidence which has convinced millions is before their eyes, and should convince them. Instead, therefore, of apologizing for their want of faith, and complaining of the weakness of the evidence, to which nothing but neglect or blindness can render them insensible, let them confess their guilt in not believing, and humble themselves before God, and pray that he would open their eyes to see the excellence of his word. They should dismiss their cavils, and be assured, that if the Bible does not win their faith by its milder glories, it will one day reveal itself by its terrors, to their awakened consciences, to be indeed the word of God.