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gion, because it may be owing to other causes than the justice of its claims. A religion may spread, not indeed rapidly, as the Christian did, but gradually, through its adaptation to the opinions, prejudices, inclinations, and worldly interests of men; great effects may be produced in the course of time by the united influence of artifice and authority, when there is a predisposition to yield to them. We can account in this manner for the progress of idolatry in the heathen world, and for its progress in the Christian church during ages of ignorance. A religion may be rapidly and extensively propagated by force. We have an example in that of Mahomet, which diffused itself in a short time over several countries in the East. The case is very different when a religion suceeeds without any external advantages; when it succeeds in the face of strong and continued opposition ; when it succeeds although it be contrary to the opinions, prejudices, inclinations, and worldly interests of those who are prevailed upon to embrace it; and we can account for the fact only upon the hypothesis that it was accompanied with overwhelming evidence, and patronized by the Governor of the world.
I had occasion in another lecture to point out the repugnance of the Christian religion to all the principles by which men are determined in their choice, and I need not go over the same ground again. It was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks. Each of these classes found something in it which was irreconcileable to their preconceived opinions. a stumbling-block to the Jews, because it proclaimed a suffering Messiah, a spiritual kingdom, and the admission of the Gentiles to the same privileges with the peculiar people. It was foolishness to the Greeks, because, setting aside their learned speculations and their splendid superstitions, it called upon them to aeknowledge a God unknown to their ancestors, and a Mediator of whom they had never heard before, and to yield an unhesitating assent to doctrines new, strange, and inexplicable by the principles of philosophy. It is evident that when Jesus Christ published this religion to his contemporaries, he intended it to be the religion of mankind. He intended that it should supersede all other religions, and be the rule of faith and practice in every country and in every age of the world. By what means was this design to be accomplished ? We know of one religion which was propagated by the sword; but unlike Mahomet, in this as in every other part of his character, our Lord made no use of carnal weapons to disseminate his religion, and positively disclaimed them: “ My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews : but now is my kingdom not from hence."* He would have none to become his disciples but from conviction and choice. But where should he find persons properly qualified to publish and recommend his religion? What influence did he possess over the wise, the learned, and the eloquent, to prevail upon them to devote their time and talents to the service of his gospel? With such persons he had no connexion. They stood aloof from him during his short ministry in Judea; and although by any other man they would have been deemed the fittest instruments, and he would have been anxious to engage them in his cause, Jesus used no means to secure their assistance, and does not appear to have wished for it. From motives which are inexplicable upon the principles of human policy, he took such associates, I might say, as first presented themselves; or rather, he studiously selected those whom every other person would have rejected as being destitute of the necessary qualifications, fishermen and tax-gatherers, without learning, without reputation, without friends, men whose appearance was ungainly, whose manners were unpolished, and who, instead of drawing attention to their doctrine by the arts of oratory,
John xviii. 36
would render it still more revolting by the rudeness of their speech. Yet these were chosen to announce a religion sublime in its doctrines, but opposed to the prejudices of all classes ; pure in its precepts, but for that reason unacceptable to a licentious age; a religion which aimed at universal dominion, and required the priest, the philosopher, and the statesman to bow to its authority, and become its lowly disciples. In this procedure there is something extraordinary. That Jesus Christ was a wise man, his religion shows; but in this instance, according to the maxims of worldly prudence, he seemed not to display his usual wisdom. There is only one way of accounting for his conduct, and that is, by supposing the truth of his claim to be the messenger of the living God. This being admitted, we must believe that he was certain of success; that he calculated upon it, not from the fitness of the instruments, but from the supernatural power which would be exerted; and that he chose persons so incompetent in themselves for the express purpose of making that power manifest, and furnishing a decisive evidence that his religion was divine. His conduct was the reverse of that of an impostor. He knew that he had truth upon his side, and was sure that it would prevail.
This expectation was realized. The religion preached by publicans and fishermen attracted attention, and was embraced by many of all ranks in Judea, and in other countries. We have the testimony of Tacitus to its extensive propagation even in the days of the apostles, about thirty years after the crucifixion ; for he informs us that in the reign of Nero there was ingens multitudo, a great multitude of Christians in Rome, many of whom were cruelly put to death by that merciless tyrant.* This testimony is valuable, because it shows in how short a space Christianity had passed from the distant province of Judea to Rome, and with what success it was attended in the capital of the world. We learn from the younger Pliny, who presided over the province of Bithynia in the beginning of the second century, that in that country the gospel could boast of numerous disciples. The superstition, as he calls it, had seized not only cities, but smaller towns and villages; and till he began to use severities against the Christians, the heathen temples were almost deserted, and those who sold victims for sacrifice could hardly find purchasers.f These are testimonies of heathens who could have no interest in magnifying the number of the Christians. We may add to them the testimony of Justin Martyr, about thirty years after Pliny, which, although it should be admitted to be somewhat hyperbolical, asserts the substantial fact, that the new religion was widely diffused : “ There is not a nation, either of Greeks or barbarians, or of any other name, in which prayer and thanksgiving are not offered up to the Father and Maker of all things, in the name of the crucified Jesus.”'! I subjoin the words of Tertullian, in his Liber Apologeticus, who flourished in the latter part of the same century. Addressing the Roman magistrates, he says, “We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place ; your cities, garrisons, and free towns; your camp, senate, and forum; we have left nothing empty but your temples.” It is unnecessary to produce passages from other writers to the same effect. It is an historical fact, that Christianity, without any external aid, did make its way in the face of obloquy and persecution, of all the opposition which it encountered from the reasonings of philosophers, and from the edicts and the penalties of civil governments. It was like a ship propelled in its course by an invisible power, although wind and current are against it. The more it was oppressed, the more it grew. Blood was shed, but it proved a seed from which there sprung up a new race of martyrs and confessors. The struggle was prolonged nearly three hundred years, but truth prevailed,
Annal. lib. xv. cap. 44.
† Plin. Ep.x. 97, 98.
# Just. Mar. Dial.cum. Tryphon. p. 341. and the religion of the man whom his countrymen rejected, was established in all the provinces of the Roman empire.
As the fact cannot be explained upon the principles of reason and experience; as it is a fact which has no parallel in the moral history of mankind, we are led to inquire into it, and to discover, if we can, an adequate cause. Since it cannot be doubted that men in former times had the same understanding and the same feelings which they have now, it would be absurd to imagine that they would submit to the new religion, with all the foreseen consequences of embracing it, unless such evidence had been presented as fully satisfied them that its claim to a divine origin was well founded. Of this evidence the resurrection of its author was an essential part, because he had himself foretold it; and as it was necessary for the vindication of his character from the aspersions thrown upon it, if he had not risen from the grave, not a single person would have admitted his pretensions. His immediate followers would have known that he was an impostor, and would not have exposed themselves to sufferings and death, in order to immortalize a man who had so grossly deceived them. No motive can be conceived which would have induced them to engage in the office of propagating his religion. They must have seen at once, from its nature, that as it was false its success was impossible; and, consequently, they could have no hope of gaining fame, or wealth, or power, by the attempt. The cause was desperate, as their leader had perished, and his promises of supernatural assistance had utterly failed. The apostles, too, when they entered upon their labours, were convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead; but it was necessary that they should convince others of the fact, and if they had not been able to establish it by satisfactory evidence, they would have addressed Jews and Gentiles in vain. The circumstances in which their testimony was delivered, the manifest absence of any sinister motive to which it might be imputed, their contidence, and the consistency which they maintained in the severest trials, might have rendered it worthy of credit in the opinion of some persons of reflection; but to mankind in general, more unquestionable evidence would be necessary; because there was not merely a simple fact to be proved, but a fact involving the most serious consequences, as all who admitted its truth were bound to embrace and maintain the new religion, through good report and bad report, in life and in death. In such a case I do not see that less would have sufficed than miraculous evidence, than the exhibition of such signs, the performance of such works, as demonstrated that the persons who proclaimed the truth of Christianity and the resurrection of its founder, were the ministers and messengers of God. Miracles are the operation of Omnipotence; and if miracles were wrought in favour of revelation, the question is decided. The success of the gospel, notwithstanding the opposition which it had to encounter, is a proof that it was accompanied with supernatural evidence by which incredulity was subdued. To a reflecting mind, this short statement by one of the evangelists will appear to be true, because it is the only statement which accounts for the success of the apostles : “ And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.'
* Mark xvi. 20.
EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
Argument from Success of the Gospel, continued-Examination of Gibbon's five secondary
Causes, Internal Evidences of Revelation : Its Doctrines concerning God, the Origin of Evil, the Atonement, the Immortality of Man, and future Retribution; The Purity and Universality of its moral Code; The Character of Christ; and the Harmony of its PartsThe Effects of Christianity.
We have seen that the success of Christianity in the first ages presupposes miracles, which alone could satisfy of its truth those to whom it was published. God could have rendered unbelief impossible by an immediate revelation to each individual, which would have produced the same conviction that was felt by the prophets and apostles; but he would deal with men as rational beings, by presenting such evidence as was sufficient to all who should candidly attend to it, and would leave them without excuse if they rejected his word. We find, however, that in vain were miracles wrought before the eyes of many in that age. The Jews, who had seen the wondersul works of our Saviour, crucified him, and evaded the evidence which they afforded of his divine mission, by ascribing them to demoniacal assistance. The Gentiles resisted the argument on the similar pretext of magic. It follows that those who were convinced must have got over this and other prejudices equally strong, and seen something in the miracles themselves and in the religion which they were designed to aitest, which satisfied them that the whole dispensation was from God. This effect is not to be attributed to their superior discernment; for the greater part of the converts were not distinguished for mental capacity, but were such persons as are still found among the lower classes of society, persons poor and uneducated; yet this was not the character of them all, for the gospel numbered among its friends not a few individuals of learning and elevated station. But the more we think of them and of the other class, the more we shall be convinced that divine influence upon their minds and hearts was necessary to overcome the obstacles to a cordial reception of the truth, and to make them obedient to the faith. This is account which the first preachers of Christianity give of their success, when they tell us that the spiritual weapons which they used were “mighty through God,” to bring the thoughts of men into captivity to Christ.* The influence to which I refer could not be proved, like miracles, by ocular demonstration ; but every man who fully and seriously examines the matter will be sensible that it must have been exerted; and if it be admitted that the invisible but efficacious power of God accompanied the publication of the gospel, it is no longer a question whether it was an invention of men or a revelation from heaven.
“Our curiosity," says Gibbon, “ is naturally prompted to inquire by what means the Christian faith obtained so remarkable a victory over the established religions of the earth. To this inquiry an obvious but satisfactory answer may be returned; that it was owing to the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the ruling providence of its great Author.”+ These are complimentary and insidious words; for he proceeds to point out, what he calls the secondary causes of the rapid growth of the Christian church; and they are
• 2 Cor. x. 4, 5.
| Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, chap. 15.
such as, if true, would divest our argument of its force, and leave nothing to be contemplated which might not be found in the success of any other religion.
The first cause which he assigns is “ the inflexible and intolerant zeal of the Christians." Without stopping to animadvert upon the opprobious epithets by which their zeal is characterized, we may ask every rational man whether this can be considered as an adequate cause. The zeal of a party may excite public attention, and gain some proselytes; but the more vehement it is, it is the more likely to defeat its end, by stirring up a zeal of equal vehemence in its antagonists. This zeal could, at first, be displayed only by a few, who would have been overwhelmed by the multitude of their opponents; for, if Gibbon refers to the zeal of the Christians when they had become numerous, and it was then only that it could have made an impression upon mankind, he puts the cause after the effect, and it remains to account for their previous increase. How did they grow up to such a number, that their united activity was capable of contending effectually with the formidable army of Jews and Gentiles ? Besides, it is altogether inconceivable that mere zeal would have gained men over to a religion so contrary to all their prejudices, and habits, and interests.
The second cause is," the doctrine of immortality;" but to the Jews this was no novelty, and the Gentiles cared little about it, although their philosophers made it a subject of speculation. Men gave themselves no more concern about the future state than they do at present, when, with the exception of a few, they studiously keep it as much as possible out of view. It is contrary to experience to suppose, that the doctrine of immortality had such powerful attractions as to recommend to mankind at large the religion by which it was taught. To the ambitious, the covetous, the sensual, the vicious of every description, the Christian doctrine is revolting, because the happiness which it promises is reserved for the pure alone, and to others it announces an eternity of suffering. A heaven without a hell would have been more pleasing to the age when the gospel appeared, especially if that heaven had resembled a Mahometan paradise.
He assigns, as a third cause, “ the miraculous powers which were ascribed to the primitive church,” but, at the same time, labours to prove that no such powers were possessed, and that the claim to them was founded on imposture, and supported by credulity. That, however, miracles were performed in attestation of the gospel, we have already shown; and as the fact was admitted by the most virulent enemies of the faith, Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian, it was too late for an infidel in the eighteenth century to deny it. Pretended miracles were common in the first ages, and had lost their credit; so that if those to which the Christians appealed had been of the same character, they would have injured instead of assisting their cause. If their miracles did draw attention, and produce conviction, it could only be because they were clearly distinguished from the counterfeits, and bore unequivocal marks of a supernatural origin.
The “pure and austere morals” of the Christians are mentioned as the fourth cause; but their virtues, as he represents them, were calculated to excite contempt and opposition; for they consisted in a mean-spirited repentance, a monkish abstinence from innocent pleasures, and aversion to the active duties of public life. If they were in reality distinguished by genuine virtues, whence did they originate? in what soil were they produced? They cannot be traced to the spirit of Judaism, which was superstitious and intolerant; nor to heathenism, that overflowing source of corruption of manners. Their virtues were inspired by their religion, and may well be believed to have often made an impression in its favour. The testimony of Pliny to the purity of their manners is well known. Tertullian informs us that it was common to say,