صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

a few brief and energetic words, the substance of the most lengthened arguments of its human advocates.

Would to God that I could here terminate the inquiry; but there is no period at which scepticism is not obtruding its insinuations and doubts. Infidelity follows us even into the history of the Gospel, and would persuade us that its triumphs were less owing to the arm of the Almighty, than to some causes of a secondary and human origin.

It is worthy of remark, that these causes, whatever be their force, are such as apply only to the propagation of Christianity amongst the Gentiles. They cannot in any degree. be made to account for its original and extensive success amongst the Jews. With all but the Sadducees, the immortality of the soul was an admitted principle. The holy zeal of the Christians in the cause of truth, was equalled, if not surpassed, by the obstinate pertinacity of the Scribes and Pha. risees in defence of error ; and the humble virtues of the followers of Jesus could make but little impression on those who were taught to despise the strictest and most regular observance of the

• I allude, of course, to the 15th chapter of Gibbon's “ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

weightier matters of the law, when unaccompanied by a diligent attention to fasts and ceremonies, to the washing of vessels and of hands. Again, the union and discipline of a few Galileans could produce little effect upon an established priesthood ; and the chosen people of God, from their long and frequent experience in divine communications, were the very last people in the world to be seduced by the miraculous powers ascribed to Christians, had not those powers been in reality possessed and exercised. It becomes necessary, therefore, for those who would resolve the success of Christianity into secondary causes, to shew what causes there were of this kind to promote its original reception with the Jews : and until they have accomplished this task, it is of little avail to shew the means by which they suppose it obtained its currency with the Gentiles.

But there is, in fact, a circumstance even in the application of the argument to the Gentiles which entirely robs it of its sting. I am not disposed like many who have written and spoken upon the subject, to deny that there are various secondary causes which did materially operate upon the Roman world in inducing them to lay hold on eternal life ; but I firmly maintain that these causes are such, that had the religion not been true, and had its teachers not been inspired, and had they not confirmed their words with signs following, they would have forfeited the whole of their influence, and the entire structure would have crumbled into dust.

success.

Take these causes as they stand in the pages of the historian of Rome, and consider first the zeal of the Christians. It is notorious to all that the Christians at first were confounded with the Jews, and regarded only as one of its more pestilent and pertinacious sects. Now the Gentiles had long been accustomed to view, and to view unmoved, the zeal of the Jewish sects. That the Pharisees compassed sea and land to make one proselyte, we are told by other authority besides that of Scripture; but not with much

What then could induce multitudes of the Gentiles to draw the distinction, which they did virtually draw, between the zeal of the Christian and the Pharisee, and to permit themselves to be turned by the one from Satan to serve the living God, when they had remained unconverted by the equally strenuous perseverance of the other ? Both were alike exclusive; both were alike intolerant of idolatry and condemned with unsparing severity every participation in the rites of the established religion. Whence then the difference between the effects of the two zeals? To this we can return but one answer;

х

that the multitude perceived that the zeal of the Christian was a zeal according to knowledge, and that he was thus zealously affected only in a thing which was good and true. And what could convince the Gentile of this, if not the sufferings or the miracles of the Christian (for he attempted not to establish his faith by philosophic reasoning), either of which, if admitted, will prove the certainty and divinity of his religion.

A similar inference may be drawn from the second of those causes to which the progress of the Gospel has been traced, I mean the doctrine of a future life. That the doubt and darkness which hung over the world that lies beyond the grave when examined only by the unassisted eye of reason, should make the penitent ready to embrace any system of philosophy or of faith which could put an end to the weariness and uncertainty of his conjectures; and that thousands were actually enlisted under the banner of the cross, principally because it held forth an assurance of eternal happiness in Heaven, are facts of which I am fully persuaded. But we have still to shew the reason why these men believed the assurance which Christianity held forth. Consider the Apostles and Evangelists as without inspiration and without miracles, and what was there in the assertions of these simple individuals to produce the belief of a doctrine, which the profoundest reasonings of unaided wisdom had been found too weak to establish? Why should the words of a few fishermen of Galilee bring conviction to the mind upon that immortality of the soul which the works of the most revered of the philosophers had never been able to create ? The efforts of reason had been employed for ages in a vain attempt to disseminate the doctrine of a future state. In the

In the space of a few transitory years the foolishness of the preaching of some despised and humble Jews secured for it a firm and a general reception; and it is impossible to account for this unusual readiness of belief, without supposing them to have accompanied their speech with some irresistible evidence of divine authority. Had these Christian promisers of eternal and unspeakable glory not sanctioned their promises by the demonstrations of the spirit and of power, men would have risen up from their preaching, as one did from the perusal of Plato, believing indeed whilst they listened, but ceasing to believe ere the voice of the preacher had ceased sounding in their ears. It is not then the mere doctrine, but the full assurance of a future life which Christianity conveys, that we are to reckon as one of the secondary causes of its success; and such an assurance could have been made sure to the

« السابقةمتابعة »