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tus, who writes thirty years after the ascension, mentions this superstition, as he calls it, being repressed for awhile by persecution; then breaking out again, not only in Judea, where it began, but in the very city of Rome itself. But the most memorable testimony to our purpose is a letter from Pliny, the governor of Bythinia, to the Roman governor, requesting his advice how to treat this new sect. Their number,' says he,
makes it worthy of advice ; for many of every age and order, and of both sexes, are accused of maintaining this religion ; for the infection of it has spread, not only in cities, but in villages, and many places. The temples,' says he, of their gods have been deserted, the sacred rites intermitted, and nothing can we find to offer in sacrifice.' This same governor wrote about seventy years after Christ's ascension. Upon this evidence, the fact itself, of the rapid progress and propagation of Christianity may be depended upon. The circumstances under which Christianity was propagated remain yet to be considered. One reflection, however, is striking; that a handful of men, of no learning, mean in character, obscure and friendless wanderers, should prevail on such numbers to turn from a loose religion to a strict one, from vice to virtue, from indulgence to selfdenial; should persuade them to quit the religion in which they had been educated and were at ease, to forego the enjoyment also of worldly pleasures and convenience, to give up ample fortunes, and oblige their dearest friends and relations to leave their country, to offend rulers and magistrates, to suffer all kinds of temporal evils, and in many cases even the loss of life, and this among Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, savage nations and polished people; that they should do this without having any proof to offer of the truth of what they taught, is altogether incredible. Human nature is undoubtedly the same in every age and in every country; to suppose therefore, that thousands, and tens of thousands, should do then, what no man in his senses would do now, is to set aside every rule of reason and probability.
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known to
you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
. Having given some account of the first preaching and spreading of Christianity in the world, and shown from infallible testimony, that the credit it gained, and the progress it made, was rapid and extensive, we will now proceed to consider the circumstances under which the religion was propagated, with a view to prove that its success, under these circumstances, can fairly be attributed to nothing but its truth.
Christianity, in our way of considering it, is a history; for it would be received or rejected, according as those to whom it was proposed thought the history of Christ's life and miracles to be true or false. It will be our business, therefore, to note the circumstances which principally distinguish true history from false, supposing the last to have obtained some credit in the world ; and then to observe how these circumstances are applicable to the history of Christianity as contained in the gospel, and published in the very country and days of the apostles and early teachers of the religion.
Now the first important circumstance to be looked for in the history is, that the account be published at or near the time in which the thing related is said to have happened. A celebrated Roman historian, of great reputation for truth and exactness, describes in his history of Rome several prodigies and miracles which attended the first foundation and early ages of that city ; but these accounts, notwithstanding the character and abilities of the author, are universally suspected, because those prodigies confessedly happened, some two, others three, and all some centuries before the writer's own time; so that we see the writer of the history could know little or nothing more of the matter than we do. Whatever, therefore, be the integrity of the historian, a very slender deference is due to history so circumstanced ; in like manner, was an author of this time of day to publish the original history of one of our Saxon kings, few probably would pay much regard to it; whereas, was the same man to publish a history of the last reign, every one would pay it implicit credit. Of such consequence it is, that the original account of the fact be published near the time in which it is said to happen. Now we are assured that this is the case with the history and first propagation of Christianity. There is some difference amongst learned men in the account of the dates of the gospels and epistles ; but by the best accounts, they were within thirty years after Christ's ascension ; St Matthew's gospel probably within nine. As they were most of them written by persons who were present at the transactions they relate, their dates could not be long after; and even if some years had passed after they had happened, it was not so long after, but that many who had it in their power to detect the fraud and falsehood, if there was any, were still living.
St Paul, in the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, says that Christ after his resurrection was seen of about five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some are fallen asleep. All those who did remain, remained to contradict the assertion if it was not true. I believe it will be impossible to produce so fair, so sublime an appeal to living witnesses in any thing which is not founded in truth. But to return to the authority of the New Testament, especially the epistles, suppose the religion to be already preached and known in the world; the preaching, therefore, and the publishing of Christianity, and of the facts upon which it depends, must have commenced some time before the books were written, and consequently very soon after Christ's death. We are told by Tacitus, a heathen writer of great credit, and a stranger, or rather an enemy, indeed, to Christianity, that Christianity began in Judea, that it had spread as far as Rome, that there were Christians there in great numbers. Tacitus relates this about thirty years after Christ's crucifixion ; if this religion therefore could have spread so far, and converted such numbers, within thirty years after Christ's death, it must have been begun and set forward presently after his death ; and this is the testimony of a heathen.
But independent of testimony, there is a circumstance in the nature of the thing, which proves that the preaching and publishing of the gospel facts, must immediately have followed the facts themselves, as it is related to have done in the Acts of the Apostles. The preachers of Christianity, start where they would, must have set off with this story; that a person who
if you sanswer and evbegun to hold ford they lain
had demonstrated his authority by miracles had left behind him certain precepts, and tenets, and instructions, and commanded his disciples to teach them to the world. Now, had they lain by forty or fifty years, and then begun to hold forth this account, every man's answer and every man's reflection would have been, If you were commanded to teach the world in this man's name, why did you not? what have you been doing all this while ; this is the first time you have spoken of these matters; wherefore conceal it so long? A story, I say, thus circumstanced, and first set up at this distance of time, would have carried its own refutation upon the face of it.
A second material circumstance in the history is, that it be published near the place which is the scene of the transactions related ; and what makes that circumstance material is, that at a great distance from the place, an historian may relate what he pleases, and such relation may pass current, as those near can contradict little. We in England might be easily imposed upon by stories of pretended wonders in the South Sea, of cities swallowed up in Persia or China, or men of gigantic stature, or of particular forms of body, at either of the Capes; I say such stories may be credited and acquiesced in without any foundation, but I defy a man to pass off, for any continuance, an account of a city being swallowed up in any county in England, or of a race of giants, or preternaturally formed people in any part of these islands ; such stories would hardly be seriously attempted, or if attempted, would presently be exploded.
How, therefore, is it in the result with the gospel ? I desire that it may be recollected that the witnesses of Christianity did not run to a distance to put off the story, Jerusalem and Judea were the scenes of the miracles, in Jerusalem and Judea were the first christian churches established; the church at Jerusalem was the central and mother church of all the rest, whither the converts in all parts of the world sent their contributions, referred their doubts and difficulties, and with which they carried on a constant correspondence. We have the testimony of Tacitus, as observed before, a heathen and an enemy, that the christian religion began to be published in Judea. It appeared again, says he, not only throughout Judea, the origin of it, but in the city of Rome.
And Irenæus, an ancient father, who was himself a disciple of one of St John's disciples, and therefore not far removed from the fountain head, tells us that the gospel of St Matthew was written for the Jews; and it is plain indeed, from the gospel itself, that it was so, being calculated by quoting the prophecies, to convince the Jews, and taking it for granted that the reader is acquainted with the Jewish rites, customs, and ceremonies.
St James directs his epistle to the Jews, St Paul to the Hebrews, and in all the epistles argues with the Jews, and appeals to them. The churches in Palestine acknowledged and allowed all the books of the New Testament the same as other churches. Therefore the proofs and writings of Christianity were set forth upon the spot where the history and miracles are related to have passed, and are addressed to the people among whom they passed.
But what comes the closest to the circumstances of time and place is some of St Paul's epistles. Paul, writing to Corinth, a populous, learned, and flourishing city, called the light, pride, and glory of Greece, finds fault with them for the misapplication of spiritual and miraculous gifts, in one epistle; in another he tells them that the signs of apostles were wrought among them in signs and wonders and mighty deeds. Here, therefore, he publishes his epistles upon the very spot, addressed to the very people, where and amongst whom that epistle pretends that miracles had just been wrought. Now the most enthusiastic sort would forsake their founder, if he was to write these long and grave letters, full of facts which they knew to be false, appealing to miracles amongst thein, which he never wrought, and directing them to a discreet use of powers which they never had. The same thing may be said of his epistle to the Galatians, in which he appeals to their receiving of the Holy Ghost, and his own working of miracles among them.
The third great article to be looked to in the history is, whether the subject of the narrative be of importance to the person to whom it it related. If a thing be of little or no signification whether it be true or false, if no concern to the persons that see it, there is an indolence and credulity in mankind which acquiesces in most stories upon the slenderest testimony; or, perhaps also, there is a love of the marvellous which inclines people to receive them. I assert it may be as a matter of course; it is not worth while to inquire, think, or dispute about it. But let the intelligence any how affect a man's circumstances, or prospects, or condition, or conduct, or profession, and it becomes quite a different case ; you will see him bestir himself about it in good earnest, be as wary, inquisitive, and suspicious, as you please ; searching into the bottom of the story, bringing things to the fountain head, and fully satisfying himself of the grounds before he take any measure, or make up his mind