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deemer, to the former a sore offence, and to the latter a tale of foolishness; and involving all who embraced it in the loss of temporal advantage, and in a path of almost unexampled mortification, self-denial, and suffering; the religion of Christ and his apostles extended itself, in primitive times, with irresistible rapidity and force. Thousands were converted by the preaching of Peter, on the day of Pentecost. Soon afterwards, multitudes were added to the church, of both men and women Acts v, 14. From Jerusalem the new religion spread through Samaria and Syria, and churches were presently gathered in numerous parts of Lesser Asia and Greece. In the reign of Nero, (A.D. 65) "great multitudes" of Christians (as we are expressly informed by Tacitus) were discovered at Rome; and Pliny, when writing to Trajan, (A.D. 107) from his government in Bithynia, describes "the contagion of this superstition" as seizing the lesser towns as well as the cities; as spreading among persons of both sexes, of all ages, and of every rank and as producing the neglect of the temples, and the intermission of the ceremonies of idolatry.* Africa, Spain,
* The celebrated letter of Pliny the Younger to Trajan, on the subject of the Christians in Bithynia, is as follows:-"Health.-It is my usual custom, sir, to refer all things, of which I harbour any doubts, to you. For who can better direct my judgment in its hesitation, or instruct my understanding in its ignorance? I never had the fortune to be present at any examination of Christians, before I came into this province. I am therefore at a loss to determine what is the usual object either of inquiry or of punishment, and to what length either of them is to be carried. It has also been with me a question very problematical,-whether any distinction should be made between the young and the old, the tender and the robust;-whether any room should be given for repentance, or the guilt of Christianity once incurred is not to be expiated by the most unequivocal retraction:-whether the name itself, abstracted from any flagitiousness of conduct, or the crimes connected with the name, be the object of punishment. In the mean time this has been my method, with respect to those who were brought before me as Christians. I asked them, whether they were Christians: if they pleaded guilty, I interrogated them twice afresh, with a menace of capital punishment. In case of obstinate perseverance, I ordered them to be executed. For of this I had no doubt, whatever was the nature of their religion, that a sullen and obstinate inflexibility called for the vengeance of the magistrates. Some were infected with the same madness, whom, on account of their privilege of citizenship, I reserved to be sent to Rome, to be referred to your tribunal. In the course of this business, informations pouring in, as is usual when they are encouraged, more cases occurred. An anonymous libel was exhibited, with a catalogue of names of persons, who yet declared, that they were not Christians then, nor ever had been; and they repeated after me an invocation of the gods and of your image, which, for this purpose, I had ordered to be brought with the
Gaul, Germany, and Britain, gradually fell under the influence of revealed truth; and at last, at an early period of the fourth century, Christianity was become the generally-adopted and established religion of the whole Roman Empire.
Now, these undisputed facts afford a highly satisfactory confirmation of the whole preceding series of evidences. It must, I think, be plain to every candid and reflecting mind, that so ready and extensive a reception of Christianity, at a period of time when all the circumstances of the life and death of Jesus were recent, and in the face of natural and moral difficulties apparently insurmountable, could by no means have taken place, had not the history on which the religion was founded been true-had not the miracles of Christ and his apostles been real.
images of the deities: They performed sacred rites with wine and frankincense, and execrated Christ,-none of which things, I am told, a real Christian can ever be compelled to do. On this account I dismissed them. Others, named by an informer, first affirmed, and then denied, the charge of Christianity; declaring that they had been Christians, but had ceased to be so, some three years ago, others still longer, some even twenty years ago. All of them worshipped your image, and the statues of the gods, and also execrated Christ. And this was the account which they gave of the nature of the religion they once had professed, whether it deserves the name of crime or error,—namely— that they were accustomed on a stated day to meet before daylight, and to repeat among themselves a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath, with an obligation of not committing any wickedness; but, on the contrary, of abstaining from thefts, robberies, and adulteries;-also, of not violating their promise, or denying a pledge;-after which it was their custom to separate, and to meet again at a promiscuous harmless meal, from which last practice they however desisted, after the publication of my edict, in which, agreeably to your orders, I forbade any societies of that sort. On which account I judged it the more necessary to inquire, by torture, from two females, who were said to be deaconnesses, what is the real truth. But nothing could I collect, except a depraved and excessive superstition. Deferring therefore any further investigation, I determined to consult you. For the number of culprits is so great, as to call for serious consultation. Many persons are informed against, of every age and of both sexes, and more still will be in the same situation. The contagion of the superstition hath spread not only through cities, but even through villages and the country. Not that I think it impossible to check and to correct it. The success of my endeavours hitherto forbids such desponding thoughts: for the temples, once almost desolate, begin to be frequented, and the sacred solemnities, which had long been intermitted, are now attended afresh; and the sacrificial victims are now sold every where, which once could scarcely find a purchaser. Whence I conclude, that many might be reclaimed, were the hope of impunity, on repentance, absolutely confirmed:" lib. x, ep. 97,
Thus numerous and satisfactory are the evidences which establish the fidelity of the apostles and evangelists, and which prove that the miraculous history of the New Testament is a true history. On a review of our whole argument, we may observe, first, that the apparent improbability of the Christian miracles is in great measure removed by the consideration of their perfect suitableness to a highly probable end; and, secondly, that we may confidently believe in their reality, for the following reasons-because two of the historians, by whom they were narrated, were eye-witnesses of the facts, and the two others, companions of eye-witnesses-because the Gospels contain the harmonious testimony of four cotemporary, yet independent, writers; the history detailed in the book of Acts being also verified by its undesigned coincidence with the Epistles of Paul-because the histories contained in the New Testament severally display, in the circumstantiality and naturalness of the narrative, and in the many candid statements made by their authors, the unquestionable marks of truthbecause the accounts given in the New Testament, of a multitude of civil and historical circumstances, are confirmed by the testimony of Josephus, and of heathen writers-because the miraculous part of its history was (probably) stated by Josephus, was recorded in the Acta Pilati, and was even allowed to be true by the Jewish heathen enemies of our religion-because the many and original witnesses of the Christian miracles (particularly the apostles) were no enthusiasts, and could not be deceived respecting such plain and palpable facts-because their known sentiments on the subject of lying, their established moral character, and their disinterested devotion to the cause of righteousness, (evinced by their willing sufferings, and sealed by their deaths) plainly show that they could not be deceiversbecause, while they bore testimony to the miracles of Christ, the apostles were enabled to work miracles themselves, as is evinced by the appeal of Paul to the Corinthians-and because, lastly, unless we admit the truth of the Gospel history, we cannot account for the very extensive diffusion (in the face of powerful obstructions, and in opposition to all prevalent systems and habits) of early Christianity.
Having thus offered to the reader a slight sketch of the evidences on which Christians build their confidence, that the miraculous history recorded in the New Testament is true, I shall detain him but a very short time longer, while I consider our second proposition, viz., that Christianity is, THEREFORE, to be received as a religion of divine origin.
We acknowledge that God created all things, and that be
established those general laws, by which the order of nature is regulated and maintained.
Miracles are supernatural infractions of those general laws and changes in that order; and, since no creature can justly be deemed to possess any inherent independent power of controverting the designs, and of interrupting the harmonious arrangements, of an omnipotent God, miracles are, when real and ascertained, to be regarded as the especial work of God himself.
Now, we have already had occasion to notice that the miracles of Christ and his apostles were of a plain and palpable description. Let it, however, be yet more particularly remarked, that they were conspicuous and very great; performed in the presence of many witnesses, and often in the midst of large public assemblies; exceedingly numerous, and, in their chaacter and nature, greatly diversified; sudden and immediate in their operation; and, in general, totally incapable of being accounted for by any subordinate or secondary cause. When Jesus Christ made the storm a calm-when the boisterous winds and long agitated waves obeyed him in an instantwhen he walked on the surface of the deep-when he restored sudden health and strength to the withered, the crippled, and the impotent, and even limbs to the maimed-when he bestowed on the man who was born blind a perfect power of vision— when he multiplied the five barley loaves, so that they became the sufficient food of many thousands of persons-when he raised to life Lazarus, who had been buried four days, and was then putrifying in the grave-when he burst asunder the bands of his own inortality, and presented himself to his followers alive from the dead-when, through the instrumentality of Peter and John, the lame man in the temple suddenly and publicly walked and leaped for joy-when the prayers of the former apostle were the means of restoring life to the deceased Tabitha-the most cautious and scrutinizing observer must have been compelled to allow, that these were no conjuror's contrivances, but real miracles, actual and indubitable infractions of the established laws of nature.
Such a conclusion respecting the miracles of Jesus Christ and his followers derives a further confirmation from the comparison of them with those signs and wonders so idly pleaded by Hume and other infidel writers, in opposition to Christianity. While the evidences which prove that the Christian miracles really took place are both numerous and clear, and while those miracles were of so plain and decisive a character as to preclude the possibility of delusion, the prodigies advanced on
the other side of the question are either such as might readily be accounted for by secondary causes, or such as are not to be believed, because we are in possession of no solid or sufficient evidence that they ever happened. The former of these characteristics attaches to the cures said to be wrought at the tomb of the Abbé de Paris; the latter, to the wonders of Pythagoras, Vespasian, and Appollonius: see Paley's Evidences, vol. i, p. 349.
To the conclusion, however, that the miracles recorded in the New Testament could be the work of God only, an objection is sometimes urged, which it may be desirable concisely to notice. It is remarked that the Egyptian magicians, who were employed by Pharaoh in opposition to Moses, and who were therefore on the side of the Lord's enemies, were enabled, by the power of evil spirits, to work miracles.
Now, for my own part, I have no great difficulty in acceding to the judgment of many able biblical critics, who explain the wonders of these magicians as the mere contrivance of expert jugglers. If, however, it be allowed that, on some peculiar occasions, and under especial control and limitation, God permits evil spirits to exercise a certain degree of miraculous power over the order of nature, such an admission will by no means affect the divine origin and authority of the Christian miracles. When we consider the benevolence of those miracles, as well as their number, variety, and greatness, it seems impossible for us to refuse to attribute them to a merciful and omnipotent Being.
That they were not produced by the power of evil spirits, we may moreover rest satisfied, for two additional reasonsfirst, because they were wrought in direct attestation of that which professed to be a revelation of the divine will, for the guidance and instruction of mankind; for it is morally impossible that the God of all truth should permit his enemies to affix to a fictitious revelation of his will the seal of miracles-of numerous, stupendous, undoubted miracles--and thus consign his reasonable creatures to inevitable and irremediable error; secondly, because they were wrought in support of a religious system, which was directed in all its parts to righteous ends; which was therefore entirely opposed, on the one hand, to the dominion of the powers of darkness, and perfectly conformed, on the other, to the moral attributes of God.
Thus, then, there appears to be nothing which can interrupt our conclusion, that God alone was the author of the Christian miracles. And, since God alone was their author, Christianity, which was attested by them, is the religion of God.