Page images
PDF
EPUB

confirmation, which they could not arrive at, till they were found, upon examination, to have made a suffcient progress in the knowledge of Christianity.

XIII. We must farther observe, that there was not only in those times this religious conversation among private Christians, but a constant correspondence between the churches that were established by the apostles or their successors, in the several parts of the world. If any new doctrine was started, or any fact reported of our Saviour, a strict inquiry was made among the churches, especially those planted by the apostles themselves, whether they had received any such doctrine or account of our Saviour, from the mouths of the apostles, or the tradition of those Christians, who had preceded the present members of the churches which were thus consulted. By this means, when any novelty was published, it was immediately detected and censured.

XIV. St. John, who lived so many years after our Saviour, was appealed to in these emergencies as the living oracle of the church ; and as his oral testimony lasted the first century, many liave observed that, by a particular providence of God, several of our Sa. viour's disciples, and of the early converts of his religion, lived to a very great age, that they might personally convey the truth of the gospel to those times, which were very remote from the first publication of it. Of these, besides St. John, we have a remarkable instance in Simeon, who was one of the seventy sent forth by our Saviour to publish the gospel before his crucifixion, and a near kinsman of the Lord. This venerable person, who had probably heard with his own ears our Saviour's prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, presided over the church established in that city, during the time of its memorable siege, and drew his congregation out of those dreadful and unparalleled calamities which befel his countrymen, by following the advice our Saviour had given, when they should see Jerusalem encompassed with armies, and the Roman standards, or abomination of desolation, set up. He lived till the year of our Lord 107, when he was martyred under the Emperor Traj a

SECTION VI.

1. The tradition of the apostles secured by other excellent institutions ; II. But chiefly by the writings of the Evangelists. III. The diligence of the Disciples and first Christian converts, to send

abroad these writings. IV. That the written account of our Saviour was the same with that de

livered by tradition ; V. Proved from the reception of the Gospel by those churches which

were established before it was nritten ; VI. From the uniformity of what was believed in the several churches ; VII. From a remarkable passage in Irenaus. VIII. Records which are now lost, of use to the three first centuries, for

confirming the history of our Saviour. IX. Instances of such records.

1. THUS far we see how the learned Pagans might apprise themselves from oral information of the particulars of our Saviour's history. They could hear, in every church planted in every part of the earth, the account which was there received and preserved among them, of the history of our Saviour. · They could learn the names and characters of those first missionaries that brought to them these accounts, and the miracles by which God Almighty attested their reports. But the apostles and disciples of Christ, to preserve the history of his life, and to secure their accounts of him from error and oblivion, did not only

set aside certain persons for that purpose, as has been already shown, but appropriated certain days to the commemoration of those facts which they had related concerning him. The first day of the week was, in all its returns, a perpetual memorial of his resurrection, as the devotional exercises adapted to Friday and Saturday were to denote to all ages that he was crucified on the one of those days, and that he rested in the grave on the other. You may apply the same remark to several of the annual festivals instituted by the apostles themselves, or, at farthest, by their immediate successors, in memory of the most important particulars in our Saviour's history; to which we must add the sacraments instituted by our: Lord himself, and many of those rites and ceremonies which obtained in the most early times of the church. These are to be regarded as standing marks of such facts as were delivered by those who were eye-witnesses to them, and which were contrived with great wisdom to last till time should be no more. These, without any other means, might have, in some measure, conveyed to posterity the memory of several transactions in the history of our Saviour, as they were related by his disciples. At least, the reason of these institutions, though they might be forgotten, and obscured by a long course of years, could not but be very well known by those who lived in the three first centuries, and a means of informing the inquisitive Pagans in the truth of our Saviour's history, that being the view in which I am to consider them.

II. But lest such a tradition, though guarded by so many expedients, should wear out by the length of time, the four Evangelists, within about fifty, or, as Theodoret affirms, thirty years, after our Saviour's

death, while the memory of his actions was fresh among them, consigned to writing that history, which for some years had been published only by the mouth of the apostles and disciples. The farther consideration of these holy 'penmen will fall under another part of this discourse.

III. It will be sufficient to observe here, that, in the age

which succeeded the apostles, many of their immediate disciples sent or carried in person the books of the four Evangelists, which had been written by apostles, or, at least, approved by them, to most of the churches which they had planted in the different parts of the world. This was done with so much diligence, that when Pantænus, a man of great learning and piety, had travelled into India for the propagation of Christianity, about the year of our Lord 200, he found among that remote people the Gospel of St. Matthew, which, upon his return from that country, he brought with him to Alexandria. This gospel is generally supposed to have been left in those parts by St. Bartholomew, the apostle of the Indies, who, probably, carried it with him before the writings of the three other Evangelists were published.

IV. That the history of our Saviour, as recorded by the Evangelists, was the same with that which had been before delivered by the apostles and disciples, will farther appear in the prosecution of this discourse, and may be gathered from the following considerations.

V. Had these writings differed from the sermons of the first planters of Christianity, either in history or doctrine, there is no question but they would have been rejected by those churches which they had already formed. But so consistent and uniform was the relation of the apostles, that these histories appeared to be nothing else but their traditions and oral attestations made fixed and permanent. Thus was the fame of our Saviour, which in so few years had gone through the whole earth, confirmed and perpetuated by such records, as would preserve the traditionary account of him to after ages; and rectify it, if, at any time, by passing through several generations, it might drop any part that was material, or contract any thing that was false or fictitious.

VI. Accordingly we find the same Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, who had wrought many miracles in Palestine, who was crucified, rose again, and ascended into heaven; I say, the same Jesus Christ had been preached, and was worshipped, in Germany, France, Spain, and Great-Britain, in Parthia, Media, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Phrygia, Asia, and Pamphilia, in Italy, Egypt, Afric, and beyond Cyrene, India, and Persia, and, in short, in all the islands and provinces that are visited by the rising or setting sun. The same account of our Saviour's life and doctrine was delivered by thousands of preachers, and believed in thousands of places, who all, as fast as it could be conveyed to them, received the same account in writing from the four Evangelists.

VII. Irenæus, to this purpose, very aptly remarks, that those barbarous nations, who, in his time, were not possessed of the written Gospels, and had only learned the history of our Saviour from those who had converted them to Christianity before the Gospels were written, had among them the same accounts of our Saviour, whic are to be met with in the four Evangelists. An incontestable proof of the harmony and concurrence between the holy scripture and the

« PreviousContinue »