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LECTURES

ON

ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY.

LECTURE 1.

THE SACRED HISTORY. I intend that the subject of the present, and some succeeding Lectures, shall be the Sacred History—the first branch of the theoretic part of the theological course which claims the attention of the student. This is subdivided into two parts: the first comprehends the events which preceded the Christian era; the second, those which followed. The first, in a looser way of speaking, is included under the title of Jewish History; the second is what is commonly denominated Church History, or Ecclesiastic History.—I say, in a looser way of speaking, the first is included under the title of the Jewish History; for, in strictness of speech, it compriseth several most important events, which happened long before the existence of the nation of the Jews: Such are, the creation of the world, the fall of man, the universal deluge, the dispersion of the human race, the call of Abraham, and those promises which gave to man the early hope of restoration. But as all the credible information we have on these topics is from the Jews, and intimately connected with their history, and as little or no light can be derived from the Pagan histories, or rather fables, that have a relation to ages so remote, it hath not been judged necessary to have a regard to these in the general division. It seemed more natural and commodious to allow all that part of sacred history which preceded the commencement of the Christian church, to come under the common name of Jewish.

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Need any arguments be used in order to evince that every theological student should make this, at least as far as the Biblical records bring us, a particular object of his application? In every view we can take of the subject it is suitable; in some it is even necessary. Let it be observed, that all the articles of our faith may be divided into three classes : Some may not improperly be denominated philosophical, some historical, and some prophetical. Of the first kind, the philosophical, are those which concern the divine nature and perfections; those also which concern human nature, its capacities and duties: of the second kind, the historical, are those which relate to the creation, the fall, the deluge, the Mosaic dispensation, the promises, the incarnation of the Messiah, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the mission of the apostles, and the several purposes which, by these means, it pleased the divine Providence to effectuate: of the third, or the prophetical kind, are those which regard events yet future, such as the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the human race, the general judgment, eternity, heaven, and hell. As therefore a considerable portion of the Christian faith consists in points of an historic nature, it must be of consequence for elucidating these, to be acquainted with those collateral events, if I may so express myself, which happen to be connected with any of them by the circumstances of time and place.

But this knowledge is of importance to us, not only for the illustration of the Christian doctrine, but for its confirmation also. When the religion of Christ was first promulgated throughout the world, as the difficulties it had to encounter wouid have been absolutely insurmountable, had no other than ordinary and human means been employed in its favour, it pleased God, by an extraordinary interposition of Providence, in the gift of miraculous powers, to ensure success to this great design, in defiance of all the powers of the earth combined against it. But no sooner was the strength of the opposition broken, insomuch that the friends and the enemies of Christ came, if I may so express myself, to stand on even ground, than it pleased Heaven to withdraw those supernatural aids, and leave this cause to force its way in the world by its own intrinsic and external evidence. I would not by this be understood to insinuate, that the Christian cause hath not always been under the protection of a special and over-ruling Providence. I would not be understood to signify, that any external means whatever could have given to our religion its full effect on thé hearts and consciences of men, without the internal influences of the Divine Spirit. I only mean to observe to you, what was certainly the fact, that, when matters came to be thus balanced between faith and unbelief, outward miracles and prodigies were not judged, by the Supreme Disposer of all events, to be any longer necessary for silencing gainsayers, and for reaching conviction to the understanding.

That the power of working miracles did at first accompany the publication of the gospel by the apostles, we have at this day the strongest evidence,—as from other sources, so especially from the success of their preaching, which, without this help, would be utterly unaccountable, and in direct contradiction to all the laws of probability hitherto known in the world. For, not to mention the inveterate prejudices arising from immemorial opinions and practices, as well as from mistaken interest, which the first preachers of Christianity had to encounter; not to mention the universal contempt and detestation wherein the nation to which they belonged was holden, both by the Greeks and by the Romans; not to mention the apparent ridicule and absurdity there was in exhibiting to the world, as a saviour and mediator with God, a Jew, who had been ignominiously crucified as a malefactor by a Roman procurator ;-how inconceivably unequal must have been the combat, when on the one side were power, rank, opulence, birth, learning, and art; and on the other side, weakness, dependance, poverty, obscurity, and illiterate simplicity. The success of the last, in a warfare so disproportionately matched, is an irrefragable demonstration that the work was not of man, but of God. But as the conviction we have of the reality of those events, and of the means by which they were effected, is derived to us through the channel of testimony, it behoves us to be as careful as possible, in order that the evidence may have its full effect upon us, that we be rightly informed, both as to the nature of the testimony itself, and as to the character and capacity of the witnesses. This is one consideration, which immediately affects the evidence of the Christian revelation.

Again, as the last mentioned dispensation is erected on the Mosaical, the divine origin of which it every-where presuppošeth; whatever affects the credibility of the latter, will unquestionably affect the credibility of the former ; whatever tends to subvert the basis, tends of necessity to overturn the superstructure; and, on the contrary, when once the connexion between the two establishments, the Mosaic and the Christian, is thoroughly understood, whatever tends to confirm the one, tends also, though more indirectly, to confirm the other. This reflection naturally leads us to carry our researches farther back, and endeavour, as much as possible, . to get acquainted with all those circumstances and events which can throw any light upon the scripture history.

But it may be objected, that if all this were necessary to confirm our faith in the gospel, what would be the case of the bulk of mankind, who, by reason of the time they must employ in earning a subsistence, have no leisure for such inquiries; and, by reason of the education they have received, are not in a capacity of making them? To this objection a twofold answer may be returned :— First, Such inquiries are not necessary to the man who, through want of education and of time, is incapacitated for prosecuting them. Those very wants, which unfit him for the study, are his great security that he shall have no occasion for it. The man of letters, on the contrary, whose time is much at his own disposal, is daily exposed, especially in this age and country, both from reading and from conversation, to meet with objections against revealed religion, which the other has no probability of ever hearing; and which, if he should by any accident come to hear, it is a thousand to one he does not understand. As our resources, therefore, ought to be in proportion to our needs, and as our means and methods of defence ought to be adapted to the particular ways wherein we are liable to be attacked, there is a peculiar reason which men of letters have

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