See also: The Wisdom and Love of God as Shown by His Creation by Noah Webster
I asked God by a confederate soldier
Such was the condition of the human mind, such [was] the declining state of all the old religions, when, in the 750th year from the foundation of Rome, Jesus was born at Bethlehem, the paternal city of king David. His mother was a daughter of the ancient royal house of Israel, which had long ago sunk into obscurity. She had been betrothed to a carpenter of Nazareth in Galilee.
We read in the ancient history of the Jews, that one of the most zealous champions of the law, when after a struggle of many years against increasing idolatry, he had taken flight into the wilderness of Sinai, demanded of God a signal of his presence; the earth trembled, but God was not in the fearful earthquake; a tempest arose, but the blast of the storm marked not the approach of God; at length the prophet heard the low murmur of the wind, and in the still sound of the breeze the voice of God came: — So [too] he came in Jesus Christ.
While the Jews expected a warrior who should liberate Israel from the yoke of the Caesars, who should raise the throne of David above that of Augustus and the Parthians, and establish an everlasting sceptre in the hands of his people, Jesus of Nazareth, supposed to be a native of Galilee, a country which even among the Jews was held in no respect for wisdom and learning, traveled through Judea, and resorted to the temple at Jerusalem, teaching and performing works of benevolence; he paid respect to the authority of the emperor, and the rites of the temple, but set the dignity of his own doctrine above the wisdom which Moses, and which Solomon possessed; while he claimed obedience and faith, as God, he called the meanest fishermen and publicans, when they believed in him, his brethren.
The doctrine of Jesus was none other than that which was impressed by the Creator on the most ancient of the human race, “that He is, and governs all things, in such wise, that no man, even by death, escapes from the recompense of his deeds.” He announced also the important principle, that “those sacerdotal rites, which had long been permitted in indulgence to the rude infancy of nations, and to the imitation of antiquity, but whose insufficiency David and Isaiah had already felt, were now to cease, and that man should henceforth seek to acquire the favor of God by that gentleness and benevolence which He taught and practiced.” Accordingly, Jesus not only made no alteration in the political affairs of the state, but he even introduced no order of priesthood, nor any outward form of religious worship. He connected the remembrance of himself with the enjoyment of the indispensable necessaries of life. Those primitive truths alone, which, since man possesses by his organization ho means of fathoming them, as he scrutinizes the ideas of sensible things, must certainly have been otherwise implanted by God in his creature, were by him renewed, and restored to that purity in which it is necessary that they should from time to time be reinstated, and which at intervals they have received from Providence, but never in so perfect and excellent a manner, or combined with principles so universally beneficial to the human race, as through the mediation of Jesus Christ.
After he had openly testified, in the most impressive manner, that no other completion of the hopes of Israel was to be expected, but this blessing which was destined for all mankind, through the medium of their traditions and system of worship, Jesus knew what he had to suffer from the disappointed vanity, and the selfishness and ambition of the priests, and foresaw with compassion the misfortunes which their prejudices would bring upon their nation. But as Providence by the direction of events had combined in him the most striking traits of the ancient prophecies, by which the Jews might know the Savior of Israel, Jesus had no other purpose than the completion of his destination. Hereupon he was calumniously [slanderous or defamatory] accused by his nation before Pilate the Roman governor, and sacrificed by him to the factious spirit of the Jews. With greater than human fortitude, he suffered death; he rose again to life, confirmed his words, and left a world which was unworthy of his presence.
The work of the Author of mercy and love was completed; the root which he had planted, namely, the renovated doctrine of the patriarchs, in the course of a few centuries spread its shoots beyond the boundaries of the Roman empire, and, together with the veneration of his name, subsists in the most essential points even among the disciples of Mohammed; expiatory sacrifices, polytheism, and the belief in annihilation, have vanished from the greater portion of the human race; the more clearly the true nature of his doctrine is displayed to our view, when purified from the corruptions of calamitous times, the more deeply does its spirit penetrate into the foundations of society; many who have supposed themselves to be his adversaries, have labored in the accomplishment of his plan; and after Christianity, like its founder [Jesus Christ], had long suffered abuse by priest craft, every development of our sentiment for moral goodness, and every successive advancement in philosophy, gives us new feelings, and opens to us more exalted views of its true principles and inestimable worth.
Following Excerpt from: The life of Jesus Christ; with a history of the first propogation of the Gospel By Ezekiel Blomfield, Jesus Christ
The history of Jesus Christ, contained in the writings of the evangelists, may be proved to be credible for the following reasons.
These writings were published very near the times in which Jesus Christ, whose history they contain, is said to have lived. There are three arguments which prove this.
1. The writers of the age immediately following that in which our Lord lived, and of the subsequent ages down to our times, have mentioned the four gospels expressly by their names, have cited many passages out of them, and made numberless allusions both to facts and expressions contained in them, as unto things known and believed by all Christians, which they could not possibly have done had the gospels not been extant at the time we affirm. Farther, by the same succession of writers still remaining, it appears, that at and from the time when we suppose the gospels were published, peculiar regard was paid to them by all Christians; they believed them to contain the only authentic records of Christ’s life, and read them with the other scriptures in all their public assemblies. Hence translations of them were very early made into many different languages, some of which are still remaining. Moreover, exhortations to the people were drawn from them, every doctrine claiming belief was proved out of them, whatever was contrary to them was rejected as erroneous, they were appealed to as the standard in all the disputes which Christians had among themselves, and by arguments drawn from them they confuted heretics and false teachers. That we learn these particulars concerning the gospels from the writings of Christians does not weaken the argument in the least; because if those writings arc as ancient as is commonly believed, be their authors who they will, they necessarily prove the gospels to have been written at the time we suppose. If it is replied that the writings appealed to for the antiquity of the gospels are themselves forged, the answer is, that, being cited by the writers of the age which immediately followed them, and they again by subsequent writers, they cannot be thought forgeries, unless it is affirmed that all the books that ever were published by Christians arc such, which is evidently ridiculous and impossible. Besides, an affirmation of this kind will appear the more absurd, when it is considered the enemies of Christianity themselves bear testimony to the antiquity of the gospels, particularly Porphyry, Julian, Hierocles, and Celsus, who draw several of their objections against the Christian religion from passages of our Lord’s history contained in the gospels. The truth is, these books, being early written, and of general concernment, were eagerly sought after by all, the copies of them multiplied fist, spread far, and came into the hands both of friends and foes; which is the reason that w« have more ancient manuscript copies of the gospels still remaining, than of any other part of the sacred writings, or even of any other ancient book whatsoever.
2. The gospels were published very near the times in which Jesus is said to have lived; because the authors of the gospels call themselves his contemporaries, and affirm that they were eye and ear-witnesses of the transactions they relate, that they had a chief hand in several of them, and that all of “them had happened but a few years before they wrote. Had these things been false, as soon as the books which contained them came abroad, every reader must at once have discovered the fraud, and, by that means, the books themselves must have been universally condemned as mischievous forgeries, and altogether neglected. Whereas, it is well known that they gained universal belief, that they were translated into many different languages, and that copies of them were preserved with the greatest care by those into whose hands they came.
3. In every instance where the evangelists had occasion to mention the manners and customs of the country which was the scene of their history, they have accurately described them; and as often as their subject led them to speak of Jewish affairs; they have done it in such a manner as to shew that they were perfectly acquainted with them. But, considering how extremely fluctuating the posture of affairs ‘among the’ Jews was in that period, by reason of their intercourse with the Romans, such an exact knowledge of all the changes which happened could not possibly have entered Into the suppositions work of any recent impostor. To have acquired such know ledge, the historian must both have been on the spot, and have lived near the times that are the subjects of his history, which is what we contend for in behalf-of the evangelists.
These arguments prove that the gospels were published very near the time wherein they say our Lord lived. If so, they must be acknowledged to contain a true history of bis life. For had any thing been told of him that was not consistent with the knowledge of his countrymen then living, it was in every one’s power to have discovered and exposed the fraud. The great transactions of Christ’s life, as they stand recorded in the gospels, were of the most public nature, and what the whole inhabitants of Judea were concerned in, especially the rulers and priests. His miracles are affirmed to have been performed openly, oftentimes before crowds and in the great towns as well as in remote corners; nay, in the temple itself, under the eye of the grandees, and that during the space of four years. Persons of all ranks and of all sects are introduced, acknowledging the truth of them. His enemies, however bitter, did not deny them, but ascribed thorn to the assistance of demons. Even the chief priests and Pharisees themselves are said to have confessed to one another that he did many miracles, and that if they let him alone all men would believe on him. In some instances, the subjects of his miracles were carried before the magistrates, whose examination rendered those miracles more public and unquestionable. On one occasion, ten thousand people, and, on another, eight thousand, are said to have been miraculously fed by him, many of them must have been still alive when the gospels appeared. He was tried by the supreme council of the Jews, examined by the tetrarch of Galilee and his captains, condemned by the Roman governor, and put to death in the metropolis at. the chief religious solemnity of the Jews, before all the people who bad come up from the different quarters of the country to worship. If these and the like particulars, found in the gospels, had been fictitious, it is natural to think that the Jews, not only in their own country, but every where else, would have disclaimed the facts, both in conversation and writing, immediately upon the first appearance of the books which asserted them, when they could easily have confuted them, the persons of whom such falsehoods were told being many of them then alive; and, by so doing, might have suppressed the Christian religion at once, which most of them looked upon with abhorrence, as an impious schism, diametrically opposite to the institutions of Moses. Yet it does not appear that any of them went this way to work, neither Jew nor Gentile, in the earliest ages, attempting to fix the stain of falsehood on the evangelists, or to disprove any of the facts contained in their histories. The truth is, the gospels were permitted to go abroad every where without being called in question by any person; which could be owing to no cause whatsoever, but to the general belief which then prevailed, and to the particular persuasion of every individual capable of judging in such matters, that all the passages of the gospel history exhibited things certain and indubitable.
In the second place, the gospels are credible for this reason, that the principal facts contained in them are vouched, not only by all the Christian writers now remaining from the earliest ages down to the present time, but by the Jewish writers also, and even by the heathens themselves. For that Jesus Christ lived in Judea under the reign of the emperor Tiberius, both Tacitus, and Suetonius, and the younger Pliny testify. That he gathered disciples, was put to death in an ignominious manner by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, and that after his death he was worshipped as a god, the same authors affirm. Nor does Porphyry himself, nor Julian the emperor, nor any other of the ancient enemies of Christianity, deny these things. On the contrary, they plainly acknowledge that miracles were done by Jesus and his apostles: and, by ascribing them to the power of magic, or to the assistance of demons, which was the solution given by Christ’s enemies in his own life-time, they have left us no room U doubt of the sincerity of their acknowledgments. The writers likewise, of the Talmudic books among the Jews acknowledge the principal transactions of Christ’s life; for they durst not contradict, nor even pretend to doubt of facts so universally known. But they ridiculously imputed them to his having the true writings of the name Jehovah in his possession, which they said he stole out of the temple. In short, as Grotius has well expressed it, there is no history in the world more certain and indubitable than this, which is supported by the concurring testimony, not to say of so many men, but of so many different nations, divided indeed among themselves in other particulars, hut all agreeing in acknowledging the truth of the matters contained in the gospels.
In the third place, the gospels are credible, because the principal facts contained in them are confirmed by monuments of great fame subsisting in every Christian country at this very day. For instance, baptism, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the rite by which, from the beginning, men have been initiated into tin: profession of Christianity, keeps up the remembrance of Christ’s having taught those sublime truths concerning the Father Almighty, the Eternal Son, and the Holy Spirit the Comforter, with which the world is now enlightened, as the gospels inform us. The Lord’s supper, celebrated frequently by all believers, prevents the memory of Christ’s death from being lost in any age or country of the world. The stated observation of the first day of the week, in honour of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, hinders that grand event from falling into oblivion. And as these monuments perpetuate the memory, so they demonstrate the truth of the facts contained in the gospel history. For if Jesus Christ neither lived, nor taught, nor wrought miracles, nor died, nor rose again from the dead, it is altogether incredible that so many men, in countries Bo widely distant, should have conspired together to perpetuate such a heap of falsehoods, by beginning the observation of those institutions of baptism, and the Lord’s supper, and the sabbath: incredible likewise, that by continuing the observation of them, they should have imposed those falsehoods upon their posterity. Nor is this all: the truth of the gospel history is demonstrated by a monument of greater fame still, namely, the sudden conversion of a great part of the world from Judaism, and from the many different forms . of heathenism, to Christianity, effected in all countries, notwithstanding the sword of the magistrate, the craft of the priests, the passions of the people, and the pride of the philosophers, were closely combined to support their several national forms of worship, and to crush the Christian faith. Had this total overthrow of all the religious then subsisting been brought to pass by the force of arms, the influence of authority, or the refinements of policy, it had been less to be wondered at. Whereas, having been accomplished by the preaching of twelve illiterate fishermen and their assistants, who were wholly destitute of the advantages of birth, learning, and fortune, and. who, by condemning the established religions of all countries, were every where looked upon as the most flagitious of men, and opposed accordingly with the utmost virulence by all, it is inconceivable how the world could be converted, if the facts recorded in the gospels were false. And what makes this monument of the truth of our Lord’s history very remarkable is, that the world was thus converted in an age justly celebrated for the height to which learning and the polite arts were carried by the Greeks and Romans, the renowned masters of the sciences. Nay, which is still more remarkable, almost the very first triumphs of the Christian religion were in the heart of Greece itself. For churches were soon planted at Corinth, at Thessalonica, and at Philip pi, as is evident from Paul’s epistles directed to the churches in these cities. Even Rome itself, the seat of wealth and empire, was not able to resist the force of truth, many of its inhabitants embracing the Christian faith. Nor was it the lower sort of people only in those cities which first became Christians. Among the early converts, we find men of the highest rank and character, such as Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus; Erastus, treasurer of Corinth; Dionysius, a member of the senate of Areopagus in Athens; nay, and the domestics of the emperor himself: all of them persons whose education qualified them to judge of an affair of this kind, and whose offices and stations rendered them conspicuous. In process of time, it was not a single person of figure in this city or that nation who obeyed the gospel, but multitudes of the wise, the learned, the noble, and the mighty, in every country, who, being all fully convinced of the truth of the gospel, and impressed with the deepest sense of Christ’s dignity, worshipped him as God, notwithstanding he had been punished with the ignominious death of a malefactor, and they themselves had been educated in the belief of other religions, to desert which they had not the smallest temptation from views of interest; but strongly the contrary, inasmuch as by becoming Christians they denied themselves many sensual gratifications which their own religions indulged them in, lost the affections of their dearest friends who persisted in their ancient errors, and exposed themselves to all manner of sufferings in their persons, reputations, and fortunes. Add to this, that although the conversion of the world was sudden, it Was not on that account unstable, or of short continuance. For the Christian religion has remained to this day in full vigour, during the course of above eighteen hundred years, notwithstanding its enemies every where strenuously attacked it both with arguments and arms. Upon the whole, monuments so remarkable still subsisting in the world loudly proclaim the truth of the gospel history, because their original cannot be accounted for on any supposition but this, that the reports contained in the gospel concerning the doctrines, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, after the strictest scrutiny which those who lived nearest to the time and place of action would make, were found to rest on proofs not to be gainsayed. And to entertain the least suspicion of the contrary is to suppose, that when the gospel was first preached all mankind in every country had renounced the common principles of sense and reason, or, in other words, were absolutely mad.
In the fourth place, the character of the evangelists, both as writers and men, renders their history credible in the highest degree. They were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, that is, of the things which they preached and wrote of, relating Scarce any thing but what they either saw, or heard, or performed themselves-. Now these being all matters obvious to sense, in judging of them, neither acuteness of genius our depth of learning were necessary; but only a sound, understanding, a faithful: memory, and organs of sense rightly disposed. Wherefore, though the evangelists were vulgar.and illiterate men, the subject of their gospels being, for the. most part, matters fallen under the cognizance of sense, and in many of which they were themselves actors, they could not possibly he mistaken in them. And as they could not themselves be deceived in the things of which they wrote, so neither can it be imagined that they had any design to deceive- the world. For it is well known that impostors always propose to themselves some reward of their fraud, riches, it .may be, or honours, or power. If so, those who think the evangelists impostors ought to shew what advantages they promised to themselves by imposing upon the world such a story as their gospels. It is well known that these men set themselves in opposition to all the religions then in being, and required the express renunciation of them under the severest penalties, and, by so doing, made all the world their enemies. Hence it came to pass, that, instead of amassing riches, or wallowing in luxury, the first Christians, but especially the ringleaders of the sect of the Nazarene’s, as they were called, the apostles and evangelists, were every where oppressed with poverty, hunger, nakedness, and wretchedness. Instead, of high offices of trust and power, the bitterest persecutions availed there in all places, and death itself in its most terrible forms. Sordid these things befall them beyond their own expectations, by reason of cross accidents thwarting well laid schemes. They knew what was to happen; their Master foretold it to them [Mat. x. 16.-28, xxiv. 9,. Luke xii. 11, John xvi. 1..4.]; and they themselves expected no other things. [Acts xx. 22..2-1, 1 Cor. iv. 9, &c] Now can it be imagined, that with the known loss of all that is dear in life, with the constant peril of death, and with the certain prospect of damnation, a number of men in their right wits should have propagated what they were sensible was a gross falsehood, and have persisted in the fraud even to death, sealing their testimony with their blood? No: this is a pitch of folly of which human nature is not capable. And therefore we must acknowledge that the evangelists, and all the first witnesses of our Lord’s miracles and doctrine, who, by the providence of God, were generally thus brought to seal their testimony with their blood, were fully persuaded of the truth of what they published in their sermons and writings. It is not to the purpose to reply that enthusiasts have suffered persecution, and even death, in support of false opinions. For although a person’s dying for his opinions does not prove their truth, it certainly proves the martyr’s persuasion of the truth of his opinions. Let this be granted in the case of the evangelists, and the controversy is at an end. For if they themselves really believed what they wrote, and could not possibly have any intention to deceive us, their gospels must doubtless be true, the things contained in them being generally matters obvious to sense, which enthusiasm could by no means discolor, and in judging of which persons of the meanest capacities could not be deceived.
In the last place, the perfect agreement subsisting between the gospels rightly understood, is a circumstance which heightens their credibility not a little. The apparent inconsistencies observable in some of the narrations, when compared, prove undeniably that the evangelists were in no combination to make up their histories and deceive the world. In many instances, these inconsistencies are of such a kind, as would lead one to believe that the subsequent historians did not compare the accounts of particular transactions which they were about to publish with those that were already abroad in the world. Each evangelist represented the matters which are the subjects of his history us his own memory, under the direction of the Spirit, suggested them to him, without considering how far they might be agreeable to the accounts of his brethren historians. At the same time, the easy and full reconciliation of these inconsistencies.,, which arises from a proper knowledge of the gospels, and of the manners and customs of antiquity, proves that the writers were directed by the sober spirit of truth.