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AND HE SAITH UNTO THEM, GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD, AND
PREACH THE GOSPEL UNTO EVERY CREATURE. HE THAT BELIEV-
MARK XVI. 15, 16, 20.
In a former Discourse I proposed to consider the prophetical character of Christ, as displayed, in his personal preaching, and in his preaching by his apostles. The former of these subjects I have accordingly considered at large; the latter I shall now examine with some attention. In the text we are presented, among other things, with a commission given to his Apostles, and others, to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature ;' and with an account of the fact, that under this commission they went forth, and preached everywhere.' Their preaching, therefore, was a business of mere delegation, and a mere performance of a duty enjoined by Christ. In other words, Christ preached the Gospel by their instrumentality.
In the consideration of this subject, it will be proper to show,
I. The fact, that the apostles actually preached the Gospel of Christ; or were inspired :
II. The necessity of their preaching the Gospel :
I. I shall endeavour to show, that the aposties actually preached the Gospel of Christ; or were inspired.
Many Unitarians, who have admitted that Christ himself was inspired, have, nevertheless, both questioned and denied the inspiration of his apostles. As this is a subject of vast importance in the Christian scheme, it cannot but be necessary in a System of Theology to settle, as far as may be, just opinions concerning this subject. I shall, therefore, consider it at some length. It will be remembered, here, that we are not at issue with infidels. The persons with whom we contend, however unfavourable to the Scriptures their opinions on this or any other subject may seem, are yet professed believers in divine Revelation. We are, therefore, at full liberty to bring whatever arguments we please from the Scriptures themselves. Nay, the Scriptures are in the present case peculiarly proper sources of evidence, sources to which our antagonists can make no objection. When Dr. Priestley denies what he calls the particular inspiration of the several books of the Bible, he alleges, as his warrant for this denial, that they do not pretend to any such inspiration. Whether this doctrine is true, I shall now proceed to examine.
1. The commission and the fact recorded in the text, prove that the apostles were inspired.
In the text, the Apostles are commissioned to preach the Gospel, or · good news' of salvation. In other words, they were commissioned to declare the terms on which God will forgive sin, and restore sinners to his favour and blessing. These terms it was impossible for them to know, except by means of immediate revelation to themselves, or information from a person to whom they were revealed. The Gospel, it is agreed by all who believe it, discloses the will of God concerning this subject. But this will cannot be known, except by direct communication from God. The knowledge of it, therefore, must terminate, of course, in ultimate revelation. If, then, it was not revealed immediately to the apostles, it was communicated to them verbally by Christ. But no power of human memory could enable them to retain such a mass
of communications, for any length of time, much less for such a length of time as intervened between their reception of them, and the publication of those writings in which they were conveyed to the world. If we consider the numerous events in the life of Christ which they have recorded, and still more the numerous discourses which they have professed to recount, we must either admit, that these records are very imperfectly true, because necessarily not exact, or that the apostles had such supernatural assistance as to make them exact, and in this manner true. Tbis assistance can be no other than inspiration. The Gospel of St. Matthew was written, according to the earliest calculation, eight years after the death of Christ; that of Mark, and that of Luke, about the more than twenty years after the death of Christ; and that of John, to say the least, at a much later period. Nothing can be more evident, than that these writers could not, for such a length of time, retain, by the mere natural force of memory, the things which they have recorded. Particularly is this impossibility manifest with respect to the numerous discourses recorded by St. John, of which in so great a proportion his Gospel consists ; discourses, differing from all others ever known in the present world, strongly characteristical, and therefore fairly presumed to be genuine; discourses, raised up by events distinctly recorded, and perfectly suited to those events, composed of questions and answers, arguments and objections, so minutely specified as to wear the appearance of having been taken down on the spot and at the moment with uncommon skill and felicity. He who believes that St. John could have remembered these things in his old age, by the mere natural force of memory, certainly can find: no difficulty in admitting any proposition because it asserts something miraculous; for no miracle involves a more absolute counteraction of the known laws of nature than that which is involved in this supposition. Instead of being thus tenaciously retained, at the end of so many years, it is scarcely credible that they could have been remembered in the same manner for one day.
But if the evangelists when professedly recording these discourses did not record them exactly, they did not record them truly. If Christ did not say the very things which they have asserted, their assertions are so far false, and they cannot
sustain even the character which Dr. Priestley concedes to them, of deserving the confidence of mankind as witnesses, for their testimony plainly cannot be true.
Beyond this, we know beforehand, that it is untrue ; for, according to this scheme, it is not possible that it should be true. The utmost that can be said of it, according to this scheme, is, that it may be a well meant, but must be a loose, general, and unsatisfactory account in many, and those often important, particulars. Necessarily untrue, and everywhere, unless in some few prominent particulars, necessarily uncertain.
But can it be supposed, that Christ directed the apostles to preach the Gospel in this manner? Can he be supposed to have directed them to preach it at all, if they were necessitated to preach it in this manner only? Can he, who came to publish the will of God to mankind concerning this immensely important subject, have left it to be chiefly published, under his authority, by the mere force of human memory, and mixed with human frailties and human opinions; and thus, necessarily, to have become a mass of truth and falsehood, so blended, that those who read their writings or heard their discourses could never be able to separate the falsehood from the truth? Does any human legislature suffer its own laws to be published in such a manner? Was Christ possessed of less wisdom, or less integrity, or less benevolence, than human legislators ? Did God give him a commission thus to act? Or did he fail to discharge the duties of the commission which he really received ?
Further : The evangelists have left all their declarations, in the form of unqualified, peremptory assertions. If, then, the assertions are not true, the authors of them are false witnesses concerning Christ. They have boldly and roundly declared that to have been said and done, which they did not know to have been said or done. This is no other than direct dishonesty, such as nothing can justify or palliate. He who directly asserts that for truth, which he does not know or believe himself to know to be true, is a liar. The apostles, therefore, instead of deserving credit as witnesses, must in this case be branded as liars, even with regard to the facts, in relating which, Dr. Priestley assures us, they are wholly to be trusted. To deserve credit in this, and to discharge the duties
even of common honesty, they ought to have told us, originally, that the facts and conversations which they were about to relate, were recorded by them in as faithful and exact a manner as was in their power; but that, as they wrote from mere memory, they could give only qualified assertions, of which, although as correct as they could make them, they could not, however, be certain. In this case, they would have discharged their duty, and deserved credit. Their writings would have then claimed the title of a revelation just as much as any other piece of honest biography, and no more. But the writers would have acted the part of honest men.
2. This doctrine is evident from a part of the same commission recorded by St. John.
• Then said Jesus unto them, Peace be unto you. As my Father has sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye rotain, they are retained.' John xx. 21-23. In this passage of Scripture,
. Christ tells his disciples, that he gives them generally the same mission which the Father had given him ; so that they were now to stand in his place, as ambassadors from God to this sinful world. That they might be qualified to discharge the duties of this mission, he gave, or as I conceive it ought to be understood, he promised, them the Holy Ghost; even as he had been 'anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with power,' to qualify him for the duties of the same mission.
That the reception of the Holy Ghost was indispensable to their entrance on their mission is evident from Luke xxiv. 49, where Christ, referring to this mission, says, 'Behold I send the promise of my Father upon you. But tarry ye in Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.' And, again, from Acts i. 4, where St. Luke informs us, that being assembled together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.' That the Holy Ghost was the promise of the Father,' or the object here promised, will not, I suppose, be questioned. If it should be, the point is unanswerably proved by the fact, that the apostles waited in Jerusalem, with scrupulous obedience to this command, and did not begin to preach the Gospel at all, till,