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thing in the peculiarities of these sects which should render them averse to this opinion. Both would naturally have been pleased with any circumstance which would have exalted the dignity of the founder of their faith : but both these sects had their origin in the apostolic age, and had probably at that time never heard the report.
Also, if the facts related in the account of our Lord's nativity were true; viz. the appearances of angels, the star in the East, the visit of the Magi, the massacre of Bethlehem, &c. they must have excited great public attention and expectation, and could not have failed to have been noticed by contemporary writers, who nevertheless observe a total silence on the subject.
2. The miraculous conception of Jesus would no more infer his pre-existence, than the miraculous formation of our first parents, or the miraculous conception of Isaac, of Sampson, of Samuel, and of John the Baptist, would prove that these persons had an existence before they came into this world, and were beings of a superior order to the rest of mankind'.
See upon this subject Dr. Priestley's History of Early Opinions, yol. iv. book iii. chap. 20. Also the Notes, in the Improved Version of the New Testament, on the Prefaces of Matthew and Luke,
SECTION SECTION III.
TEXTS EXAMINED WHICH ARE CONCEIVED TO EX
PRESS IN THE MOST DIRECT AND UNEQUIVOCAL · TERMS THE PRE-EXISTENCE OF JESUS CHRIST.
The writers of the New Testament are commonly reckoned eight. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude. Of these writers six, viz. Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, Peter, and Jude, are generally allowed to have advanced nothing upon the subject of the preexistence, and superior nature and dignity of Jesus Christ. At least it will be admitted that, if there be any allusions in these writers to this extraordinary fact, they are so faint and obscure that, independently of the rest of the New Testament, they would not of themselves have proved, perhaps not even suggested the idea of, the pre-existence and divinity of Christ. The credit of these facts depends wholly upon the testimony of John and Paul.
Of the six writers who make no mention of the preexistence and divinity of Jesus Christ, three are professed historians of the life, the miracles, and the doctrine of Christ; and one continues his history to upwards of thirty years after our Lord's ascension; and relates many interesting particulars of the lives, the sufferings, and the doctrine of the apostles, the subjects of their preaching, the miracles which they performed, and the success of their mission. But neither the history nor the discourses of Christ, nor those of his apostles for thirty years after his ascension, contain the least hint of his pre-existent state and dignity.
But how can this total silence be explained and account
ed for, if the popular doctrine concerning the pre-existence and divinity of Christ is true ? Is it credible, or even possible, that three persons, in different places and at different times, should undertake to write the history of Christ, each meaning to communicate all that was necessary to be known, with their minds fraught with the overwhelming idea that the person whose history they were about to write was a superior Being, a great angel, the Creator of the world, or the Almighty God himself in human shape, and that the belief of this great mystery was necessary to the salvation of their readers; and yet through the whole of their narrative should abstain from mentioning or even glancing at this stupendous fact? How would a modern Arian or Trinitarian have acted in similar circumstances? Would he have left his readers under the impression which necessarily results from the perusal of the three first evan. gelical histories and that of the Acts, viz. that the founder of the christian faith was a man like to his brethren, and only distinguished from them as the greatest of the prophets of God, who had been raised from the dead and exalted to the right-hand of the Most High ?- That six of the writers of the New Testament should have obseryed such a profound silence upon a subject of which their hearts must have been so full, and with which their imagination must have been so overpowered, may well induce a considerate mind to pause, and to reflect whether this could have happened if Jesus of Nazareth were in truth a being of high, perhaps the highest order in the universe?
Athanasius, Chrysostom and others accounted for this extraordinary silence from the great prudence of the evangelists, and their unwillingness to give offence to the new converts; but this is a supposition which will not now satisfy an inquisitive mind 1.
See Dr. Priestley's History of Early Opinions, book iii. chap.4,5,6.
The evidence therefore of the pre-existence and superior dignity of Christ must rest upon the testimony of John and Paul. And if it appears that these apostles were authorized to supply the defects of their predecessors, and that their testimony to the received doctrine is clear and unequivocal, it must without doubt be admitted.
But observe, they never declare nor hint that they were authorized to teach any new doctrine concerning the person of Christ : nor do they lay down any such doctrine to be received as an article of faith. If they say any thing upon the subject, it is in an incidental way, and not as if they were introducing any strange and astonishing discovery.
It is further to be observed, that the style of these two writers is in many instances highly figurative. In the gospel of John our Lord sometimes uses metaphors of the most obscure and offensive kind, such as eating his flesh' and drinking his blood,' to express the reception of his doctrine. Chap. vi. 56. And Paul in his epistles introduces many harsh and uncommon figures, viz. "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones,' to express the union of true believers under Christ as their head. Eph. v. 30. It is therefore reasonable to expect that such writers will use figurative language concerning Christ; and it is peculiarly necessary, in reading their writings, to distinguish carefully between what is literal and what is figurative.
With regard to the apostle Paul, it is worthy of remark that little or no evidence is pretended to be produced from his larger epistles, in favour of the popular doctrine concerning the person of Christ. Few proofs are alleged from the epistle to the Romans, the two to the Corinthians, that to the Galatians, the two to the Thessalonians, or those to Timothy, Titus, or Philemon. The principal appeal is to the epistles to the Philippians and Colossians, which are figurative throughout beyond all others; and to the epistle to the Hebrews, the author of which is doubt. ful, and in which the writer indulges himself in an ingenious, but forced and fanciful analogy between the Mosaic institute and the Christian dispensation.
Is it possible to believe that this stupendous doctrine, if it were true, would be found clearly expressed in no other part of the sacred writings but in the mystical discourses of the evangelist John; in two of the obscurest epistles of Paul; and in the epistle of another unknown writer ? Surely, if it were fact that Jesus of Nazareth was truly God, or the Maker of the world in a human shape, it is a fact that would have blazed in every page of the New Testament; and would never have been mentioned by the sacred writers but with the most evident marks of astonishment and awe.
Persons who have not much attended to the subject, and who have been educated in the belief of these extraordinary doctrines, are surprised when they come to learn how few passages of Scripture can be produced in favour of the pre-existence and divinity of Jesus Christ. The truth is, that these texts, so few in number, are so often cited and repeated, and insisted upon, that they occupy a very prominent place in the memory and imagination, and are commonly thought to be much more numerous, clear and decisive, than in fact they are. Like the stars in the firmament, they dazzle the eye of the superficial spectator, and excite the ideas of number and magnitude far beyond the reality. The eye of reason, aided by philosophy, diminishes their number, deprives them of their glare, and reduces them to their true proportion 2.
* See Dr. Priestley's History of Early Opinions, vol. i. Introd. sect. 1, 2. vol iii. book iii, chap. 6, 7. Dr. Carpenter's Letters to Mr. Veysie, letter 2.