OBSERVATIONS ON THE FACTS AND EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY, AND THE OBJECTIONS OF INFIDELS.
CHAPTER I General observations.
§1. I suppose it will be acknowledged by the deists, that the Christian religion is the most rational and pure that ever was established in any society of men; and that they will except only themselves, as serving God in a manner more according to his will, than the christian manner. But can any believe that God has so wholly thrown away mankind, that there never yet has been a society of men that have rightly paid respect to their Creator?
It is easily proved that the highest end and happiness of man is to view God’s excellency, to love him, and receive expressions of his love. This love, including all those other affections which depend upon, and are necessarily connected with it, we express in worship. The highest end of society among men, therefore, must be, to assist and join with each other in this employment. But how comes it to pass, that this end of society was never yet obtained among deists? Where was ever any social worship statedly performed by them. And were they disposed socially to express their love and honour, which way would they go about it? They have nothing from God to direct them. Doubtless there would be perpetual dissensions about it, unless they were disposed to fall in with the Christian model. We may be convinced, therefore, that revelation is necessary to right social worship.
§ 2. There never was any religion but that which we profess, and those formed from it, that pretended to inform us of the nature of God, that there is but one God; how the world came into being, and how God governs it. What other religion discovered God’s great designs; what is his will, and how he should be served? declared the reward of obedience and punishment of disobedience; the nature of man’s happiness, and the end for which he was made? that gave us good moral rules; told us what will become of the world hereafter; explained how we came to be sinful and miserable, and how we may escape sin and misery? gave an account of the great revolutions of the world, and the successions of God’s works in the universe; and where his true worshippers have been, and what has befallen them; or informed us how the world came to apostatize from the true worship of God? Christianity is the only religion that ever pretended that there should a time come, when it should be the religion of the world in general.
§ 3. The Jewish religion, as at present professed, most certainly differs from what reason evidently declares to be the essence of religion. It does not state aright the highest end and happiness of man, his chief business and greatest misery, and the true worship of God. Undoubtedly the Messiah was to come to advance the best interest and true happiness of mankind, which certainly consist in what the gospel declares our Jesus advanced, and not in what the Jews expect the Messiah will do.
§ 4. I think it certain, that seeing the miracles of Christ were done, for three years and a half, so publicly all over Judea; and seeing there was such violent opposition there, so soon after, against the Christians; if the matters of fact had been false, they would have been denied by the Jews generally; and if this had been the case, we should have known it. The Jews afterwards would much more have denied them; which it is evident they did not. If they had, they would have been also denied by the heathens who wrote against the Christians. But they were not denied. It is impossible that the whole world should have turned Christian, in three hundred years after the facts were so publicly done, if they had been generally false. If the Jews had denied the matters of fact at first, they would undoubtedly have denied them at this day, seeing they are so tenacious of the traditions of their fathers. Christ’s resurrection was openly published within a few days after his death, on the day of Pentecost. It is undoubted, that the number of the Christians increased every where exceedingly from that time; so that a considerable alteration was speedily made by it in the face of the world. Whether the matters of fact were written or no, they were universally talked of. The conversion of the Roman empire to the Christian religion, was the most remarkable thing that ever happened among the nations of the world; and it would be unaccountable that it should have happened upon the story of a few obscure men, without inquiring into the matters related.
§ 5. I am convinced of the necessity of a revelation, considering how negligent, dull, and careless about a future happiness, I should be, if I was left to discover that happiness by unassisted reason: especially if there were no revelation at all, about what is pleasing to God; how he accepts our services; after what manner he loves his servants; how he will pardon sin, &c.
§ 6. It is certain that Jesus Christ had none of the advantages of education, to get learning and knowledge; and it is also certain, that every where in his speeches, he showed an uncommon insight into things, a great knowledge of the true nature of virtue and morality, and what was most acceptable to God, vastly beyond the rest of the nation take scribes and Pharisees and all. And how did he come by it? how did he get it at Nazareth? Those who have not an education in these days, may get much by books, which are so common: but books of learning were not to be had then. Yea, it is evident that he knew vastly more than any of the philosophers and wise men in the whole world, by those rational descriptions which he gave of God and his attributes; of his government and providence; and of man’s nature, business, end, and happiness; of what is pleasing to God; of the immortality of the soul, and a future state. How knew he, so exactly, truths perhaps demonstrable by reason, but never found out before? &c.
§ 7. That Christ was really dead, appears from many considerations. It is very unreasonable to imagine, that he feigned himself dead; for what reason had he to think that he should have success, if he did? or to expect they would take him down before he was quite dead? Or, if he had had such a design, it was impossible that he should act his part so accurately, as not to be discovered or suspected. Besides, if he was not dead when they took him down from the cross, he was very near it; and no doubt but his grievous wounds, the loss of blood, and fasting so long, would have extinguished his life before the third day. And if then he only rose out of a swoon, how came he perfectly sound at once? Doubtless, his hands and feet were much torn by bearing his weight so long on iron spikes driven through them. And if he rose from the dead in no supernatural sense, whither did he go when he rose? What became of him? We have no account of his dying again; nor was he yet to be found after a few weeks.
§ 8. If Christianity was not true, it would never afford so much matter for rational and penetrating minds to be exercised upon. If it were false, such minds would find it empty, and it would be a force upon the intellect to be set upon meditating upon that which has no other order, foundation, and mutual dependence to be discovered in its parts, than what is accidental. A strong and piercing mind would feel itself exceedingly bound and hindered. But in fact, there is the like liberty in the study of Christianity, and as much improvement of the mind, as in the study of natural philosophy, or any study whatsoever; yea, a great deal more. And whatever may be said about Mahometan divinity, I cannot be convinced but that a mind that has the faculty and habit of clear and distinct reasoning, would find nothing but chains, fetters, and confusion, if it should pretend to fix its reason upon it.
§ 9. Seeing the beauty of the corporeal world consists chiefly in representing spiritual beauties, and the beauties of minds are infinitely the greatest; we therefore may conclude, that God, when he created the world, showed his own perfection and beauties far the most charmingly and clearly, in the spiritual part of the world. But seeing spiritual beauty consists principally in virtue and holiness; and seeing there is so little of this beauty to be seen now on earth; hence we may fairly conclude, that there has been a great fall and defection in this part of the spiritual world, from its primitive beauty and charms.
Corollary. Seeing this is so agreeable to the account that the Christian religion gives of the matter; and seeing it is evident, from many arguments, that God intends not to give over man as lost, but has a merciful intention of restoring him to his primitive beauty; and seeing we are told this, and the manner of it, in the christian religion alone; and seeing the account is so rational; it is a great confirmation of the truth of Christianity.
§ 10. It is a convincing argument for the truth of the Christian religion, and that it stands upon a most sure basis, that none have ever yet been able to prove it false, though there have been many men of all sorts, many fine wits and men of great learning, that have spent themselves, and ransacked the world, for arguments against it, and this for many ages.
§ 11. It is exceedingly improbable, that it should ever enter into the head of any mortal, to invent such a strange system of visions, as that of the Revelation of St. John, of which he himself could give no account of the meaning or design, and did not pretend to it. What design could he have in it? But, if he had a design, the frame of the vision is not a whit like a random invention, without any view or design as to interpretation.
§ 12. It does not seem to me at all likely, that any person among the Jews, so long ago, should have so perfect a knowledge of nature, and the secret springs of human affections, as to be able to feign any thing so perfectly and exquisitely agreeable to nature, as the incidents in Joseph’s history, and the other histories of the Bible; particularly the history of Genesis.
§ 13. Such kind of miracles as healing the sick, the blind, the deaf, dumb, lame, &c.; and creating bread and flesh, and turning water into wine, are greater, than those that are so much more pompous, as causing universal darkness, dividing the sea, the shaking and burning of mount Sinai, &c. The healing of the sick and distracted, do more especially manifest divine power, for this cause, that we have reason to conclude mankind especially are subject to God’s providence, and that their health and the exercise of their reason, are alone in his hands, and that it is not in the power of any evil spirit to give them and take them at his pleasure, however great power he may be supposed to have over the inanimate creatures.
When a person appears, that has evidently the whole course of nature at all times subject to his command, so that he can alter it how and when he pleases, we have the greatest reason to think that person has divine authority, and that the author and upholder of nature favours him, and gives approbation to what he pretends thereby. For we know, that the course of nature is God’s established course of acting upon creatures; and we cannot think that he would give power to any evil spirit to alter it when he pleases, for evil purposes. But Christ manifestly had the course of nature so subject to his will and command.
§ 14. It would not have been proper for Christ constantly to dwell among men after his resurrection. Men would be exceedingly apt to fall into idolatry; and, because theysaw the man Christ Jesus, would be apt to direct their worship to the human nature. Therefore we are not to see the man Christ Jesus till we are perfected, and are not liable to temptation on such occasions. For this reason, probably, it was not convenient for Christ to appear in great majesty and glory when on earth, but the contrary; for this reason, Christ endeavoured to hide his transfiguration, and many other miracles, till after he was risen; and for this reason, he did not converse constantly with his disciples after his resurrection, as before. All these things were done in a manner the most wise and fit that can be imagined.
§ 15. If human reason, by any thing that has happened since the creation, be really very much corrupted; and if God is still propitious, and does not throw us off, but reserves us for that end for which he made us; it cannot be imagined that he would leave us to our reason as the only rule to guide us in that business, which is the highest end of life: for it is not to be depended upon; and yet we exceedingly need something that may be depended upon, in reference to our everlasting welfare. It does not seem to me reasonable to suppose, that if God be merciful after we have forfeited his favour, he will manifest his mercy only in some mitigations of that misery into which we have plunged ourselves, leaving us inevitably to endure the rest: but that he will quite restore us, in case of our acceptance of his offered favour.
§ 16. It seems much the most rational to suppose, that the universal law by which mankind are to be governed, should be a written law. For if that rule, by which God intends the world shall be regulated, and kept in decent and happy order, be supposed to be expressed no other way than by nature; man’s prejudices will render it, in innumerable circumstances, a most uncertain thing. For though “it must be granted, that men who are willing to transgress, may abuse written as well as unwritten laws, and expound them so as may best serve their turn upon occasion; yet it must be allowed, that, in the nature of the thing, revelation is a better guard than a bare scheme of principles without it. For men must take more pains to conquer the sense of a standing, written law, which is ready to confront them upon all occasions. They must more industriously tamper with their passions, and blind their understandings, before they can bring themselves to believe what they have a mind to believe, in contradiction to the words of an express and formal declaration of God Almighty’s will, than there can be any pretence or occasion for, when they have no more than their own thoughts and ideas to manage. These are flexible things, and a man may much more easily turn and wind them as he pleases, than he can evade a plain and positive law, which determines the kinds and measures of his duty, and threatens disobedience in such terms as require long practice and experience to make handsome salvos and distinctions to get over.”Ditton on the Resurrection And upon this account also, that it is fit in every case, when the law is made known, that also the sanctions, the rewards and punishments, should be known at the same time. But nature could never have determined these with any certainty.
§ 17. Raising the dead to life, is given in the Old Testament, as a certain proof of the authority and mission of a prophet; and that what he says is the truth. “And the woman said to Elijah, By this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.” So that if the Old Testament is the word of God, Jesus was a true prophet.
§ 18. The being of God is evident by the Scriptures, and the Scriptures themselves are an evidence of their own divine authority, after the same manner as the existence of a human thinking being is evident by the motions, behaviour, and speech of a body animated by a rational mind. For we know this no otherwise, than by the consistency, harmony, and concurrence of the train of actions and sounds, and their agreement to all that we can suppose to be in a rational mind. These are a clear evidence of understanding and design, which are the original of these actions. There is that universal harmony, consent, and concurrence in the drift, such an universal appearance of a wonderful and glorious design, such stamps every where of exalted wisdom, majesty, and holiness, in matter, manner, contexture, and aim; that the evidence is the same, that the Scriptures are the word and work of a divine mind to one that is thoroughly acquainted with them as that the words and actions of an understanding man are from a rational mind. An infant, when it first comes into the world, sees persons act, and hears their voice, before it has so much comprehension as to see something of their consistence, harmony, and concurrence. It makes no distinction between their bodies, and other things; their motions and sounds, and the motions and sounds of inanimate things. But as its comprehension increases, the understanding and design begin to appear. So it is with men that are as little acquainted with the Scriptures, as infants with the actions of human bodies. They cannot see any evidence of a divine mind, as the original of it; because they have not comprehension enough to apprehend the harmony, wisdom, &c.
§ 19. Were it not for divine revelation, I am persuaded, that there is no one doctrine of that which we call natural religion, which, notwithstanding all philosophy and learning, would not be for ever involved in darkness, doubts, endless disputes, and dreadful confusion. Many things, now they are revealed, seem very plain. It is one thing, to see that a truth is exceedingly agreeable to reason, after we have had it explained to us, and have been told the reasons of it; and another, to find it out, and clearly and certainly to explain it by mere reason. It is one thing, to prove a thing after we are shown how; and another, to find it out, and prove it of ourselves.
If there never had been any revelation, I believe the world would have been full of endless disputes about the very being of a God; whether the world was from eternity or not; and whether the form and order of the world did not result from the mere nature of matter. Ten thousand different schemes there would have been about it And if it were allowed that there was a first cause of all things, there would have been endless disputes, and abundance of uncertainty, to determine what son of a thing that first cause was. Some, it may be, would have thought that it was properly an intelligent mind and a voluntary agent. Others might say, that it was some principle of things, of which we could have no kind of ideas. Some would have called it a voluntary agent; some, a principle exerting itself by a natural necessity. There might have been many schemes contrived about this, and some would like one best, and some another; and amongst those that held, that the original of all things was superior intelligence and will, there probably would have been everlasting doubts and disputes, whether there was one only, or more. Some perhaps would have said, there was but one; some that there were two; the one the principle of good, the other the principle of evil: others, that there was a society, or a world of them. And among those that held that there was but one mind, there would be abundance of uncertainty what sort of a being he was; whether he was good or evil; whether he was just or unjust; holy or wicked; gracious or cruel; or whether he was partly good, and partly evil; and how far he concerned himself with the world, after he had made it; and how far things were owing to his providence, or whether at all; how far he concerned himself with mankind; what was pleasing to him in them, and what was displeasing; or whether he cared any thing about it, whether he delighted in justice and order or not; and whether he would reward the one, and punish the other; and how, and when, and where, and to what degree. There would have been abundance of doubt and dispute concerning what this mind expected from us, and how we should behave towards him; or whether he expected we should anywise concern ourselves with him: whether we ever ought to apply ourselves to him any way; whether we ought to speak to him, as expecting that he would take any notice of us: how we should show our respect to him; whether we ought to praise and commend him in our addresses; whether we ought to ask that of him which we need; whether or no he would forgive any, after they had offended him; when they had reason to think they were forgiven, and what they should do that they might be forgiven; and whether it is ever worth the while for them that are so often offending, to try for it; whether there were not some sins so great, that God never would upon any terms forgive them, and how great they must be in order to that. Men would be exceedingly at a loss to know when they were in favour with him, and upon what terms they could be in his favour. They would be in a dreadful uncertainty about a future state; whether there be any, and, if there be, whether it is a state of rewards and punishments; and if it is, what kind of state it is, and how men are to be rewarded and punished, to what degree, and how long; whether man’s soul be eternal or not; and if it be, whether it is to remain in another world in a fixed state, or change often.
Every man would plead for the lawfulness of this or that practice, just as suited his fancy, and agreed with his interest and appetites; and there would be room for a great deal of uncertainty and difference of opinion among those that were most speculative and impartial. There would be uncertainty, in a multitude of instances, what was just, and what unjust. It would be very uncertain how far self-interest should govern men, and how far love to our neighbour; how far revenge would be right, and whether or no a man might hate his neighbour, and for what causes: what degree of passion and ambition was justifiable and laudable: what sensual enjoyments were lawful, and what not: how far we ought to honour, respect, and submit to our parents, and other superiors: how far it would be lawful to dissemble and deceive. It seems to me, there would be infinite confusion in these things; and that there would hardly be any such thing as conscience in the world.
The world has had a great deal of experience of the necessity of a revelation; we may see it in all ages, that have been without a revelation. In what gross darkness and brutal stupidity have such places, in these matters, always been overwhelmed! and how many, and how great and foolish mistakes, and what endless uncertainty and differences of opinion, have there been among the most learned and philosophical! Yet there never was a real trial how it would be with mankind in this respect, without having any thing from revelation. I believe that most of those parts of natural religion, that were held by the heathens before Christ, were owing to tradition from those of their forefathers who had the light of revelation. And many of those being most evidently agreeable to reason, were more easily upheld and propagated. Many of their wise men who had influence and rule over them, saw their rectitude and agreeableness to reason better than others. Some of them travelled much, and those things which appeared most agreeable to their reason, they transplanted to their own country. Judea was a sort of light among the nations, though they did not know it. The practice and principles of that country kept the neighbouring nations in remembrance of traditions, which they had from their forefathers; and so kept them from degenerating so much as otherwise they would have done. In fact, the philosophers had the foundation of most of their truths, from the ancients, or from the Phœnicians, or what they picked up here and there of the relics of revelation.
How came all the heathen nations to agree in the custom of sacrificing? The light of nature did not teach it them; without doubt they had it from tradition; and therefore, it needs not seem strange, that what of natural religion they had amongst them, came the same way. I am persuaded, that mankind would have been like a herd of beasts, with respect to their knowledge in all important truths, if there never had been any such thing as revelation in the world; and that they never would have risen out of their brutality. We see, that those who live at the greatest distance from revelation, are far the most brutish. The heathens in America, and in some of the utmost parts of Asia and Africa, are far more barbarous than those who formerly lived in Rome, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Chaldea. Their traditions are more worn out, and they are more distant from places enlightened with revelation. The Chinese, descended probably from the subjects of Noah, that holy man, have held more by tradition from him, than other nations, and so have been a more civilized people. The increase of learning and philosophy in the Christian world, is owing to revelation. The doctrine of revealed religion are the foundation of all useful and excellent knowledge. The word of God leads barbarous nations into the way of using their understandings. It brings their minds into a way of reflecting and abstracted reasoning; and delivers from uncertainly in the first principles, such as, the being of God, the dependence of all things upon him, being subject to his influence and providence, and being ordered by his wisdom. Such principles as these are the basis of all true philosophy, as appears more and more as philosophy improves. Revelation delivers mankind from that distraction and confusion, which discourages all attempts to improve in knowledge. Revelation actually gives men a most rational account of religion and morality, and the highest philosophy, and all the greatest things that belong to learning concerning God, the world, human nature, spirits, providence, time, and eternity. Revelation not only gives us the foundation and first principles of all learning, but it gives us the end, the only end, that would be sufficient to move man to the pursuit.
Revelation redeems nations from a vicious, sinful, and brutish way of living, which will effectually keep out learning. It is therefore unreasonable to suppose, that philosophy might supply the defect of revelation. Knowledge is easy to us that understand by revelation; but we do not know what brutes we should have been, if there never had been any revelation.
§ 20. As Moses was so intimately conversant with God, and so continually under the divine conduct, it cannot be thought, that when he wrote the history of the creation and fall of man, and the history of the church from the creation, he should not be under the divine direction in such an affair.
§ 21. It is certainly necessary, that in the word of God, we should have a history of the life of Christ, of his incarnation, his death, his resurrection, and ascension, and his actions, and of the instructions he gave the world.
If God expects that we shall receive any New Testament at all, we must suppose that God’s providence would be concerned in this matter. God took this care with respect to the books of the Old Testament, that no books should be received by the Jewish church, and delivered down in the canon of the Old Testament, but what were his word, and owned by Christ. We may therefore conclude, that he would still take the same care of his church, with respect to the New Testament.
§ 22. It seems to me an unaccountable dulness, that when intelligent men read David’s Psalms, and other prayers and songs of the Old Testament, they are not at once convinced, that the Jews had the true worship and communion of the one great and holy God; and that no other nation upon earth had them. It seems as clear as the sun at noon-day; and so indeed from all the histories and prophecies of the Old Testament.
§ 23. We need not wonder at all, that God should so often reveal himself by prophets and miracles, to the Israelitish nation, and that now we should see nothing of this nature; for this way of revealing himself is not at all suitable to the present state of the church. The church was then confined to one particular nation, that God chose on purpose to make them the receptacle of his revelation, and the conveyancer of it to the rest of the world. And I can think of no other way that it could be done with any tolerable convenience, but by a chosen peculiar nation, that should alone be God’s people, and have the true religion among them. Therefore, it was highly convenient and necessary, that there should be such a manner of communication with such a nation. It was also necessary, in the first transition of this revelation from the Jews to the world, as it was in the apostles’ times, that the world receiving this revelation from them, might see God still revealing himself; and so might receive it from God, in the same manner as they received it. But that God should now reveal himself after that manner to his church, is no way necessary, nor at all suitable to the gospel state of the church, which is not any particular enclosure, but is dispersed through the whole world. How is it practicable that God should treat with the church now, in such a way as he did with that peculiar nation? Besides, if it were practicable, it would be very inexpedient; for, what need of new revelations to the end of the world? Is it not better that God should give the world a book, that should be the summary of his will, to which all nations in all ages may resort? Prophecy and miracles are nothing without charity; like the shadow without the substance: and seeing the substance is come, what need the shadow should be continued? Seeing the end is come, it would be impertinent still to continue the means. The church now enjoys that glory, in comparison with which all the glory of prophecy and miracles, even those of that extraordinary prophet Moses, is no glory at all, 2 Cor. 3. 10.
§ 24. If there be any such thing needful, or at all proper and suitable, that God should reveal himself to mankind; it is perhaps impossible that he should do it in any other way, or with any other kind of evidence, than he has done it. No kind of miracle can be thought of, that would be more evidential, than those by which Christianity has been confirmed.
§ 25. It is no argument against the reality of the incarnation of Jesus Christ whereby God became the same person with a man that there is nothing else like it any where to be seen; because it was evidently God’s design to show his wisdom, by doing a thing that was, and for ever would have been, far beyond the thoughts of any creatures. Man’s fall was God’s opportunity to show how far his contrivance and wisdom was beyond that of all creatures.
§ 26. It was often prophesied among the children of Israel, that the gods of the nations round about should perish from off the earth; and that they should cease to be acknowledged and worshipped: but that the worship and acknowledgment of their God should remain for ever, and should, in due time, take place of those others. Jer. 10. 11. “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.” This came to pass by means of the Christian religion. It is Christ’s appearing, and the preaching of his doctrine in the world, that has been the means of it all. It is by means of these that the Mahometan parts of the world came to acknowledge the One God: and it is by these means, that even the deists come to it. Again, it has been only by means of Jesus Christ’s appearing and teaching, that the world ever came to have any clear, distinct, and rational notions about a future state; notions every way agreeable to reason.
It is a confirmation that God designed the Christian religion should succeed the Jewish; that, speedily after the introduction of the christian religion, God, in his providence, by the destruction of the temple, and dispersion of the Jewish nation, made that religion impracticable. It was prophesied of old, that God should be acknowledged and worshipped by other nations, and that other nations were to be God’s people. Therefore there was a religion to succeed the Jewish, very different as to external worship; because the Jewish religion was not fitted for more than a single nation; nor is it practicable by the world in general. But the Christian religion is exceedingly fitted for universal practice.