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public opinion, and headed all the great public movements of the community. What tremendous resistance they were capable of making to the advancement of Christianity; how bitterly they replied to those claims which pronounced the dissolution of their priesthood and the termination of their authority; and with what deadly concert they persecuted its blessed Author, thinking they had put also his gospel, when they had put his person to the cross, I need not remind you.
We turn to the priests of the Gentiles. The enterprise of the apostles was directly at war with their dignities, their influence, and their gains. What resistance they were capable of making, is obvious from a consideration of the extensive establishment, the high official dignity, the wealth, the political influence, and the superstitious veneration attached, in the first "The years of Christianity, to a heathen priesthood. religion of the nations," says Gibbon, "was not merely a speculative doctrine, professed in the schools or preached in the temples. The innumerable deities and rites of polytheism were closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or of private life; and it seemed impossible to escape the observance of them, without at the same time renouncing the commerce of mankind. The impor tant transactions of peace and war were prepared or concluded by solemn sacrifices, in which the magistrate, the senator, and the soldier were obliged to par ticipate." The Roman senate was always held in a temple or consecrated place. Before commencing
business, every senator performed an act of homage to the gods of the nation. The several colleges of the sacerdotal order in the single city of Rome; the fifteen pontiffs, the fifteen augurs, the fifteen keepers of the sybilline books, the six vestals, the seven epuli, the flamens, the confraternities of the Salians and Lupercalians, etc., furnish an idea of the strong establishment of the priesthood in an empire that embraced the known world. The dignity of their sacred character was protected as well by the laws as the manners of the country. "Their robes of purple, chariots of state, and sumptuous entertainments, attracted the admiration of the people; and they received from the consecrated lands and public revenue an ample stipend, which liberally supported the splendor of the priesthood, and all the expenses of the religious worship of the state." The great men of Rome, after their consulships and military triumphs, aspired to the place of pontiff or of augur. Cicero confesses that the latter was the supreme object of his wishes. Pliny was animated with a similar ambition. Tacitus the historian, after his prætorship, was a member of the sacerdotal order. The fifteen priests, composing the college of pontiffs, were distinguished as the companions of their sovereign. And as an evidence of what accommodations paganism must have had in Rome in the days of her glory, the number of its temples and chapels remaining in the three hundred and eightieth year after the birth of Christ, when for more than three centuries Christianity had been thinning the ranks of its votaries, and
for sixty years had been the established religion of the empire, was four hundred and twenty-four.* In connection with all this organization and deep rooted power of heathenism, consider its various tribes of subordinate agents and interested allies—the diviners, augurs, and managers of oracles, with all the attendants and assistants belonging to the temples of a countless variety of idols; the trades whose craft was sustained by the patronage of image-worship, such as statuaries, shrine-mongers, sacrifice-sellers, incensemerchants: consider the great festivals and games by which heathenism flattered the dispositions of the people, and enlisted all classes and all countries in its support the Circensian and other grand exhibitions among the Romans, the Pythian, Nemean, Isthmian, and Olympic games, celebrated with great pomp and splendor in almost every Grecian city of Europe and Asia-the pride of the people, the delight of all the lovers of pleasure or of fame, intimately associated with and specially patronized by the religion of idols, and therefore directly attacked by all the efforts of Christianity: then say, what must have been the immense force in which the several priesthoods of all heathen nations were capable of uniting among themselves, and with the priests of the Jews, in the common cause of crushing a religion by whose doctrines none of them could be tolerated. That with all their various contingents they did unite, consenting in this one object, if in little else, of smothering Christianity in her cradle or of drowning her in the blood of her * Gibbon, vol. 4, ch. 28.
disciples, all history assures us.
How she survived.
their efforts-how the fishermen of Galilee could have overcome their whole array without the help of God, is a problem which infidelity only shows its own weakness by attempting to solve.
4. But the authority of the magistrate was united with the influence of heathen and Jewish priesthoods in zealous hostility to the gospel. In all countries, the support of the religion of the state was the duty of the magistrate. Toleration, among the most civilized heathens, much as it has been eulogized by infidels, allowed of no religion that would not permit entire communion on the part of its followers in the worship appointed by the state. On this condition it countenanced the utmost latitude of belief and practice.* But to refuse conformity with the national rites, and worship to the national gods, was an unpardonable offence not only to the gods, but to the civil authority. This it was that excited so much wonder among the Gentiles, and nerved the secular arm with such deadly offence against the disciples of Christ. "Keep yourselves from idols," was a precept that met the pagan Greek and Roman, whenever he beheld a Christian. "What can be the reason," said a Roman prefect to an Alexandrian bishop, "why
"The Athenian notion of toleration is well described by Socrates, and much resembles the opinion on that subject that many entertain even in our own times. 'It appears to me,' says Socrates, 'that the Athenians do not greatly care what sentiments a man holds, provided he keeps them to himself; but if he attempts to instruct others, then they are indignant."" Douglas on Errors, etc., p. 212.
you may not still adore that God of yours, supposing him to be a God, in conjunction with our gods?" "We worship no other God," was the Christian's answer; a declaration which from the sword of a heathen magistrate could have no forbearance, and being everywhere received as a characteristic principle of the gospel, called out the whole power of the civil governments of the Gentiles to unite with their priesthoods in its destruction.
5. To these associated powers were added the prejudices and passions of all the people. These, among the Gentiles, were powerful, not only in favor of their own idolatries, but especially in aversion to a religion originating among Jews; still more to a religion advocated by Jews who were despised and persecuted by their own despised countrymen; and yet a great deal more to a religion so spiritual and holy, so utterly at war with vice and idolatry, as that of the gospel.
See, in the epistle to the Romans, a picture from the pencil of a master, of the fierce passions, the vicious debasements, which universally characterized the gentile nations in the days of St. Paul. with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who, knowing the judg*Euseb. Hist. Eccl. b. 7, ch. 11.