Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

then, that in less than three hundred years Christianity had been made known and received as true, by the majority of the Roman empire ; for if Constantine's conversion originated in policy, his subjects in ust have been converted before he found it prudent to adopt their faith. IIere then is the fact, and, as a philosopker 1 ask for an adequate cause; I seek it not froin the scriptures, although if I find it there I shall not reject it on that account, but I look to other religions, and enquire if they have met with the same success, and by the same means? The principal one that presents itself is the religion of Mahomet-its spread was exceedingly rapid ; but I find it was accomplished by force and the sword; that all the nations whom the prophet and his adherents subdued, were compelled to embrace his religion, or were either extirpated or reduced to the most abject slavery.

Again, I look to Gibbon, to an enemy, for information, whether during the three hundred years in which Christianity

obtained such myriads of converts, similar means were re'sorted to ? and he tells me, vol. iii. p. 265, “ that it gently

insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigour from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the capitol.” It is true that Gibbon has endeavoured to counteract this assertion, by imputing to Christians less justifiable means of promoting their cause ; but if those charges are examined, they will be found, in general, only applicable to those who lived after the conversion of Constantine; and it is only to the time previous to bis conversion, to which I refer-to a period when, whatever might be their inclination, it must be clear they never had possessed the means of making converts by force or conquest. So far from this being the case, Mr. Gibbon tells us, that they were placed in circumstances the most unfavourable that the human mind can conceive for bringing over converts to their party; whilst the religion which Christianity opposed had every thing connected with it that could indulge the pas.sions, fascinate the fancy, and gratify the avarice and ambition of its adherents. It allowed the most unlimited licentiousness, had the popular voice in its favour, and opened a way to all the honours and emoluments of the state-while (says Gibbon, (vol. ii. 289)," it was the first but arduous duty of a Christian to preserve himself pure and undefiled from the practice of idolatry. The religion of the nations was not merely a spe.. culative doctrine, professed in the schools or preached in the temples-the innumerable deities and rites of polytheism wer closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or plea.

sure, of public or private life ; and it seemed impossible to es. cape the observance of them, without at the same time renouncing the commerce of mankind, and all the offices and amusements of society. (290) " The Christian, who with pious horror avoided the abomination of the circús, or the theatre, found himself encompassed with infernal snares in every convivial entertainment."- Page 382, he says, " The religious policy of the ancient world seems to have assumed a more stern and intolerant character to oppose the progress of Christianity, about fourscore years after the death of Christ. His innocent disciples were punished with death by the sentence of a pro-consul of the most amiable and philosophic character, and according to the laws of an emperor distinguished by the wisdom and justice of his general administration. The apologies which were repeatedly addressed to the successors of Trajan are filled with the most pathetic complaints, that the Christians who obeyed the dictates, and solicited the liberty of conscience, were alone, among all the subjects of the Roman empire, excluded from the common benefits of their auspicious government.” Page 383, he accounts for this peculiar severity towards Christians as follows -“ It has already been observed, that the religious concord of the world was principally supported by the implicit assent and reverence which the nations of antiquity expres sed for their respective traditions and ceremonies ; it might therefore be expected that they would unite with indignation against any sect or people which should separate itself from the communion of mankind, and claiming the exclusive possession of divine knowledge, should disdain every form of religion, as impious and idolatrous, but their own.'

The reason assigned is very natural, and it is equally reasonable to suppose, that a people uniting, against any sect," and possessing the power of the secular arm, would use it with vigour to persecute and destroy the ad herents of that sect; and if a pro-consul of an amiable and philosophic character could sentence to death (and that according to the laws of an emperor distinguished by wisdom and justice) the professors of Christianity, it is no less natural to expect that less amiable, wise, and just magistrates, would act with greater severity; therefore, this reason which Gibbon has as. signed, will save me the trouble of transcribing those cruel instances of persecution which he himself has recorded ; for if we had not one account handed down to us respecting it, this would be sufficient to prove that they were numerous, fre. quent, bloody, and severe; and that the ruling powers, as well as the prejudices of the people, would oppose such a bar to the reception of Christianity, as, to make it impossible to suc

[ocr errors]

ceed by any ordinary or merely human means. But if we add to this the extreme difficulty of multiplying books, owing to the art of printing being then unknown--the danger to which the writers or vendors exposed themselves-the various languages into which they must have been translated—the difficulty of spreading this religion by books seems insuperable.

The only way then by which it could have been propagated must have been as the scriptures say it was, by public and private teaching; but how was this to be accomplished amidst all the difficulties and dangers before enumerated ? How were the first teachers to find opportunity or ability to learn all the different lan, guages of the known world ? and if not acquainted with them, how could they convey their opinions to others? But if the apostles were impostors, and their followers had not possessed the most substantial evidence of the truths they taught, let any man shew me, upon a just survey of the human mind, what stimulus could they have had to undertake the herculean and dangerous task, even admitting that it came within the compass of human power to accomplish. Many are the secondary causes assigned by Gibbon for the spread of Christianity, but none of them are adequate to explain these difficulties; and the causes I have enumerated from his work against it, are so many and so powerful, as compleatly to refute all he has said on the contrary side.

Here then we see a religion spread over the whole civilized world by twelve illiterate men and their followers, in opposition to the power of the magistrate, the priest, and the people ; in opposition to an idolatrous religion, that had spread among all mankind, and intermingled itself with all their prejudices, their passions, interests, and inclinations, and succeeding in overturning them all without the aid of power, money, or learning. We see a religion taught to all the different people of the empire of Rome, divided into innumerable nations and languages, by men, if Christianity be not true, who knew but one language, unless they had learned them after they had commenced impostors;—but if they were capable of learning all these languages without the aid of prinitng; if they inet with such rapid success under all these formidable circumstances; how happens it that the missionaries sent to the Chinese and Indians meet with so little success ? how is it that they find such difficulty in learning a single language, when assisted by books, which printing furnishes so abundantly, when they are not only tolerated in some countries where they go, but in others are sanctioned by the ruling powers, and supported by the contributions of the wealthy of their own country?

Surely if they make but little progress under all these en

couraging circumstances, the first Christians, with all their disa advantages, must have made less. Yet Mr. Gibbon, that inveterate enemy to Christianity, is obliged to admit the fact, that they succeeded in less than fourscore years in diffusing their opinions all over the Roman empire; and in less than 300 years after the death of Christ, the adherents to these opi. nions had become so numerous, as to make it a matter of policy in the emperor of Rome to court their favour by pretending to be a convert to their faith.

Here then I pretend not to draw the fact from scripture, but from its enemy-I see an effect, and as a philosopher I look for a cause that could produce so mighty an effect--that men, knowing only one language, should communicate their minds to various nations speaking languages different to their own--that men without property or literary attainments should be able to learn these different languages--that men continually persecuted, thwarted, and opposed by tyrants, priests, power, property, and prejudice, should succeed in producing such an effect by the ordinary means and powers of man; and the farther I look, the less capable am I of assigning any adequate cause for such an effect. The only one I can assign, is that which must suppose something beyond all ordinary means, viz. that the religion was from God, and that he furnished the persons who were to communicate it with ability to speak the different languages, without the trouble of learning them --with a power of working miracles, which would sanction their claim as messengers sent by the Deity, and incline men to listen to their important message ; 'while the aid they received from the Almighty, and the certainty and importance of the truths they taught, would be sufficient to support them under every persecution, and enable them to surmount every difficulty that prejudice, ingenuity, or malice, would place in their

Here then I see a cause adequate to the effect, and the only adequate cause that can be assigned. Satisfied with my enquiry, I turn to the scriptures to see if they account for it in the same way, and to my satisfaction I find that it perfectly agrees with what reason would dictate, and tells me that the cause which I had supposed was the only adequate one that would account for such an effect, was that, by which it was produced.

Jesus never apprehended so mighty a work could be accomplished by ordinary means; he therefore says to his disciples (John xv. 26) " but when the advocate is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even that spirit of truth which goeth forth from the Father, he will bear testimony to ine;

way.

and

ye also shall hear testimony, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” Again (xv. 7, 8) " for if I go not away, the advocate will not come unto you ; but if I do go, I will send him to you; and when he is come he will reprove the world com cerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerningjustice.” And after his resurrection we find him acting on the same principle, giving them the same promise, but enjoining them not to enter on their mission till they were properly furnished for their work. Luke xxiv. 44, he says, “ 1 will send the promise of my Father upon you, and stay ye in Jerusalem till ye be endued with power from on high ;" and (Acts i. 8), it is again recorded that he said, “ye will receive power, by the coming of the holy spirit upon you, to be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the land ;" and on this advice and promise we find the apostles acted, for (Acts ii. 1) “ when the day of Pentecost was fully come, the apostles were all with one mind in the same place ;” and (verse 4)“ they were all filled with the holy spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as that spirit gave them utterance." Then, and not till then, that they were furnished with adequate means to accomplish the work, did they pretend to set about it.

Thus then these facts and effects confirm the scripture history, and the scripture history confirms the fact, and accounts for the effect by furnishing an adequate cause for it. At the same time this inference fairly follows, if the effect could not have been produced without such a cause, and if such a cause was that by which the effect was produced, then is Christianity true, and the resurrection of Jesus is confirmed beyond a doubt; as the giving this cause was in confirmation of his divine mission, and could only come from God, who would never sanction an imposture such as this by his divine interference. I am free to declare that I am perfectly satisfied with the cause assigned by the New Testament-1 can imagine none other capable of satisfying my mind ; and could only give up Christianity by denying all the facts and effects I have quoted from Gibbon, which rest upon such testimony as it is impossible to doubt. I must therefore be a Christian till any man can assign a cause more rational or adequate. · I should, and I think the grossest sceptic could not do otherwise than believe any other fact upon much more sleader evidence : but in this case, as it regards a fact which happened at so remote a period of time, it should be our business to unite all the evi. dence together, and ask if a real fact, under all the circumstances, could admit of greater evidence; or if there are not

VOL. II.

X X

« AnteriorContinuar »