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question being a true narrative ; and there may be some parti. culars connected with the appearance of the performance itself, which might strengthen this probability. We may not be able to discover in the story itself any inducement which the man could have in publishing it, if it were mainly and substantially false. We might see an expression of honesty, which it is in the power of written language, as well as of spoken language, to convey. We might see that there was nothing monstrous or improbable in the narrative itself. And, without enumerating every particular calculated to give it the impression of truth, we may, in the progress of our inquiries, have ascertained, that copies of this manuscript were to be found in many places, and in different parts of the world, proving, by the evidence of its diffusion, the general esteem in which it was held by the readers of past ages. This gives us the testimony of these readers to the value of the performance; and as we are supposing it is a history, and not a work of imagination, it could only be valued on the principle of the information which was laid be. fore them being true. In this way a solitary document, transmitted to us from a remote antiquity, might gain credit in the world, though it had been lost sight of for many ages, and only brought to light by the revival of a literary spirit, which had lain dormant during a long period of history.
We can further suppose, that in the progress of these researches, another manuscript was discovered, having the same characters, and possessing the sam.e separate and original marks of truth with the former. If they both touched upon the same period of history, and gave testimony to the same events, it is plain that a stronger evidence for the truth of these events would be afforded, than what it was in the power of either of the testimonies taken separately to supply. The separate circumstances which gave a distinct credibility to each of the testimo. nies are added together, and give a so much higher credibility to those points of information upon which they deliver a common testimony. This is the case when the testimonies carry
in them the appearance of being independent of one another. And even when the one is derived from the other, it still affords an accession to the evidence; because the author of the subse. quent testimony gives us the distinct assertion, that he believed in the truth of the original testimony.
The evidence may be strengthened still farther, by the accession of a third manuscript, and a third testimony. All the sepa. rate circumstances which confer credibility upon any one document, even though it stands alone and unsupported by any other, combine themsselves into a much stronger body of evi. dence, when we have obtained the concurrence of several. If, even in the case of a single narrative, a probability lies on the side of its being true, from the multitude and diffusion of copies, and from the air of truth and honesty discernible in the composition itself, the probability is heightened by the coincidence of several narratives, all of them possessing the same claims upon our belief. If it be improbable that one should be written for the purpose of imposing a falsehood upon the world, it is still more improbable that many should be written, all of them conspiring to the same perverse and unnatural object. No one can doubt, at least, that of the multitude of written testimonies which have come down to us, the true must greatly preponderate over the false ; and that the deceitful principle, though it exists sometimes, could never operate to such an ex.. tent, as to carry any great or general imposititon in the face of all the documents which are before us. The supposition must be extended much farther than we have yet carried it, before we reach the degree of evidence and of testimony, of which, on many points of ancient history, we are at this moment in actual possession. Many documents have been collected, professing to be written at different times, and by men of different countries. In this way a great body of ancient literature has been formed, from which we can collect many points of evidence, too tedious to enumerate. Do we find the express concurrence of several authors to the same piece of history ? Do we find, what is still more impressive, events formally announced in one narrative, not told over again, but implied and proceeded upon as true in another ? Do we find the succession of history, through a series of ages, supported in a way that is natural and consistent ? Do we find those compositions which profess a higher antiquity, appealed to by those which profess a lower ? These, and a number of other points, which meet every scholar who betakes himself to the actual investigation, give a most warm and living character of reality to the history of past times. There is a perversity of mind which may resist all this. There is no end to the fancies of scepticism. We may plead in vain the number of written testimonies, their artless coincidence, and the perfect undesignedness of manner by which they often supply the circumstances that serve both to guide and satisfy the inquirer, and to throw light and support upon one another. The infidel will still have something, behind which he can entrench himself; and his last supposition, monstrous and unnatural as it is, may be, that the whole of written history is a laborious fabrication, sustained for many ages, and concurred in by many individuals, with no other purpose than to enjoy the anticipated blunders of the men of future times, whom they had combined with so much dexterity to bewilder and lead astray.
If it were possible to summon up to the presence of the mind the whole mass of spoken testimony, it would be found, that what was false bore a very small proportion to what was true. For many obvious reasons, the proportion of the false to the true must be also small in written testimony. Yet instances of falsehood occur in both ; and the actual ability to separate the false from the true in written history, proves that historical evi. dence has its principles and its probabilities to go upon. There may be the natural signs of dishonesty. There may be the wildness and improbability of the narrative. There may be a. total want of agreement on the part of other documents. There may be the silence of every author for ages after the pretended date of the manucript in question. There may be all these, in sufficient abundance, to convict the manuscript of forgery and falsehood. This has actually been done in several instances. The skill and discernment of the human mind upon the subject of historical evidence, have been improved by the exercise. The few cases in which sentence of condemnation has been
given, are so many testimonies to the competency of the tribunal which has sat in judgment over them, and give a stability to their verdict, when any document is approved of. It is a peculiar subject, and the men who stand at a distance from it may multiply their suspicions and their scepticism at pleasure ; but no intelligent man ever entered into the details, without feel. ing the most familiar and satisfying conviction of that credit and confidence which it is in the power of historical evidence to bestow.
Now, to apply this to the object of our present division, which is to ascertain the age of the document, and the person who is the author of it. These are points of information which may be collected from the performance itself. They may be found in the body of the composition, or they may be more formally announced in the title page—and every time that the book is referred to by its title, or the name of the author and age of the publication are announced in any other document that has come down to us, these points of information receive additional proof from the testimony of subsequent writers.
The New Testament is bound up in one volume, but we would be underrating its evidence if we regarded it only as one testimony, and that the truth of the facts recorded in it rested
upon the testimony of one historian. It is not one publication, but a collection of several publications, which are ascribed to differ. ent authors, and made their first appearance in different parts of the world. To fix the date of their
it is necessary to institute a separate inquiry for each publication; and it is the unexcepted testimony of all subseqent writers, that two of the Gospels and several of the Epistles, were written by the immediate disciples of our Saviour, and published in their lifetime. Celsus, an enemy of the Christian faith, refers to the affairs of Jesus as written by his disciples. He never thinks of disputing the fact; and from the extracts which he makes for the purpose of criticism, there can be no doubt in the mind of the reader, that it is one or other of the four Gospels to which he refers. The single testimony of Celsus may be considered as decisive of the fact, that the story of Jesus and of his life
was actually written by his disciples. Celsus writes about a hundred years after the alledged time of the publication of this story; but that it was written by the companions of this Jesus, is a fact which he never thinks of disputing. He takes it up upon the strength of its general notorlety, and the whole history of that period furnishes nothing that can attach any doubt or suspicion to this circumstance. Referring to a principle al. ready taken notice of, had it been the history of a philosopher instead of a prophet, its authenticity would have been admitted without
any formal testimony to that effect. It would have been admitted so to speak, upon the mere existence of the title-page, combined with this circumstance, that the whole course of histo. ry or tradition does not furnish us with a single fact, leading us to believe that the correctness of this title-page was ever ques. tioned. It would have been admitted, not because it was asserted by subsequent writers, but because they made no assertion upon the subject, because they never thought of converting it into a matter of discussion, and because their occasional references to the book in question would be looked upon as carrying in them a tacit acknowledgment, that it was the very same book which it professed to be at the present day. The distinct assertion of Celsus that the pieces in question were writtten by the companions of Jesus though even at the distance of a hun. dred years, is an argument in favour of their authenticity, which cannot be alleged for many of the most esteemed compositions of antiquity. It is the addition of a formal testimony to that kind of general evidence, which is founded upon the tacit or im. plied concurrence of subsequent writers, and which is held to be perfectly decisive in similar cases.
Had the pieces, which make up the New Testament, been the only documents of past times, the mere existence of a pre. tension to such an age, and to such an author, resting on their own information, would have been sustained as a certain de. gree of evidence, that the real age and the real author had been assigned to them. But we have the testimony of subsequent authors to the same effect; and it is to be remarked, that it is by far the most crowded, and the most closely sustained series of testimonies, of which we have any example in the