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MR. EVANSON'S TREATISE ON THE DISSONANCE OF
THE FOUR GENERALLY RECEIVED EVANGELISTS.
By JOSEPH PRIESTLEY, LL.D. F. R. S.
Vultus erat multa et præclara minantis.
Die aliquid dignum promiffis.
PRINTED FOR J. JOHNSON, NO. 72, ST. PAUL'S CHURCH-YARDA
NOTHING was ever more unexpected by me than that I, or, indeed, that any other perfon, should, at this day, have occafion to enter into a difcuffion of the subject of these Letters; as nothing feemed to be better established than the authenticity of almost all the canonical books of the New Teftament, no unbeliever having, of late years, hinted a fufpicion to the contrary, and every reasonable doubt having been removed by fuch laborious and candid writers as Mr. Jones, and Dr. Lardner, not to mention several others, whofe works could not be unknown to Mr. Evanfon. That fuch an in books were extant, in, or very near to, the widenes time in which the events recorded, or alluded to, in them happened, so that it was impoffible but that the truth might be known with respect to them, there is abundantly more evidence than there is of any other historical books whatever having been written, and published, in the fame circumftances. Doubts, therefore,
fore, with respect to the authenticity of the books of the New Teftament (I mean the univerfally received ones, as the four Gospels, and the greater part of the Epiftles afcribed to Paul) might justly extend to all other writings whatever, and lead to universal scepticism.
By what particular train of thought Mr. Evanfon was originally led to entertain the doubts which at length produced the work on which I here animadvert, does not appear. That it was, directly or indirectly, from any disbelief of Christianity, I have not the fmalleft fufpicion. His noble conduct in refigning a valuable church preferment, rather than recite the offices, after he had rejected the doctrines, of the established church, is an abundant proof both of his firm belief of Christianity, and of the happy influence it had upon his mind; unbelievers in general making no fcruple to adhere to any church, fo long as they can receive the emoluments of it. The caft of Mr. Evanfon's writings alfo proves, not only that he is a Christian, but that Christian literature is his favourite study, all his publications being of this kind, intended to enforce, and illuftrate, fome article of Chriftian faith or practice.
But having given more particular attention to the subject of prophecy, to which we are indebted
indebted for his excellent Letter to the bishop of Worcester, he appears to me to have overlooked, and undervalued, the evidence of is ze Christianity from teftimony; not feeming to V. have confidered the nature of it, and how its cesta. has actually operated in all ages, and must do, inferier while human nature is the fame that it now
is, and ever has been. Alfo, not being able of her to vindicate, fo well as he could wish, fome chlein.. particular paffages in the Gospels of Matthew, he pe Mark, and John, and in fome of the Epiftles of Paul, which have been urged in fupport of doctrines and practices which he justly deems to be corruptions of genuine Christianity, he may have wished to find thofe books not to be genuine, as that would be the easiest way of getting rid of the difficulty; and without confidering the external evidence of their authenticity, and not having the critical skill, or the patience, that was requifite to ascertain the true sense of those paffages, he has haftily concluded them to be fpurious productions. In a state of mind which I have supposed, nothing is easier than to find objections to any writings; and when a man has, though ever fo hastily, and incautiously, advanced any thing in public, the best of us are so much A 3