These are strong arguments to prove that the books actually proceeded from the authors whose names they bear (and have always borne, for there is not a particle of evidence to show that they ever went under any other); but the strict genuineness of the books is perhaps more than is necessary to the support of our proposition. For even supposing that, by reason of the silence of antiquity, or the loss of records, we knew not who were the writers of the four Gospels, yet the fact that they were received as authentic accounts of the transaction upon which the religion rested, and were received as such by Christians at or near the age of the apostles, by those whom the apostles had taught, and by societies which the apostles had founded; this fact, I say, connected with the consideration that they are corroborative of each other’s testimony, and that they are further corroborated by another contemporary history taking up the story where they had left it, and, in a narrative built upon that story, accounting for the rise and production of changes in the world, the effects of which subsist at this day; connected, moreover, with the confirmation which they receive from letters written by the apostles themselves, which both assume the same general story, and, as often as occasions lead them to do so, allude to particular parts of it; and connected also with the reflection, that if the apostles delivered any different story it is lost; (the present and no other being referred to by a series of Christian writers, down from their age to our own; being like-wise recognised in a variety of institutions, which prevailed early and universally, amongst the disciples of the religion;) and that so great a change as the oblivion of one story and the substitution of another, under such circumstances, could not have taken place: this evidence would be deemed, I apprehend, sufficient to prove concerning these books, that, whoever were the authors of them, they exhibit the story which the apostles told, and for which, consequently, they acted and they suffered.
If it be so, the religion must be true. These men could not be deceivers. By only not bearing testimony, they might have avoided all these sufferings, and have lived quietly. Would men in such circumstances pretend to have seen what they never saw; assert facts which they had no knowledge of; go about lying to teach virtue; and, though not only convinced of Christ’s being an impostor, but having seen the success of his imposture in his crucifixion, yet persist in carrying it on; and so persist, as to bring upon themselves for nothing, and with a full knowledge of the consequence, enmity and hatred, danger and death?
Of the direct historical evidence of Christianity.