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THE PROPAGATION OF THE GOSPEL.
THE swift and successful progress of the gospel, which, preached by a few inconsiderable persons, overcame violent opposition, and in a short time spread itself through the world, is commonly and justly supposed to afford convincing proofs of the truth of the Christian religion ; and on that account deserves to be seriously and carefully examined.
1. The conversion of the Gentiles is a proof of the truth of our religion, if it be considered as the completion of several prophecies.
There are passages in the Old Testament applied by Christians to our Lord and to his religion, which must be confessed to have some obscurity, and to be attended with some difficulty: but there are others clear and express; and of this kind are the predictions concerning the calling of the Gentiles.
It may be objected: If the calling of the Gentiles was so clearly foretold, how could it be said in the New Testament to have been a mystery, a mystery to men and angels?
That multitudes of Gentiles should one day forsake idolatry, and be converted to the worship of God, this could scarcely be unknown, after the prophets had said so much about it; but that the Gentiles should become God's people without being made proselytes to Judaism, and that the ceremonial law should be antiquated, this was not so clearly declared as to be understood before the event explained it.
There are many places in the Old Testament b which declare that in due time there should be a conversion of the Pagan world; all nations should turn to the Lord, and
b They are collected in Fabric. Luc. Evang. p. 7. or Huet. Dem. Ev. prop. ix. cap. 146.
worship him, and his name should be great amongst the Gentiles; that true religion taught at Jerusalem should prevail over idolatry; that God should send forth his law thence, and rule over the converted nations, guiding and instructing them by his holy word, showing them their former errors, and teaching them to lead a new life; and that they who should submit to these divine precepts should also lay aside their mutual animositics, their hatred and malice, and should be remarkable for charity and universal love.
Thus speak the prophets concerning this great and happy change; and, from the manner in which they speak, we may observe that this reformation of the Gentiles should extend itself very far, that many nations were to leave their idolatrous rites, and to serve the true God; for nothing less can well be understood by these expressions :
all the ends of the earth, and the Gentiles, from the rising of the sun to his going down.'
We may observe, that therefore these prophecies cannot be supposed to have been fulfilled before the preaching of the gospel. Many Gentiles, from time to time, became proselytes to the Jewish religion : but the number of those proselytes was not considerable enough to deserve to be described in such a manner; nor were whole nations converted to the worship of the true God; unless, perhaps, the Samaritans and the Idumæans. The Idumæans embraced Judaism, being compelled to it by Hyrcanus; after which they were incorporated into the Jewish nation, and ceased to be a distinct people.
Our Lord came into the world, declared himself to be the
person foretold by the prophets, who should work this great change, and in whom the Gentiles should trust, and sent forth his disciples to make converts in all nations, promising them success through his assistance.
Thus we see the prophets and our Lord affirming that idolatry should decline, and true religion be established in its place; we see Christianity propagated by the apostles through the earth, and prevailing over heathen superstition wheresoever it appeared : we see also that this was an event
Josephus Antiq. xii. 9.
which lay out of the reach of human foresight. The prophets had no reason, from the appearance of things, to believe that such a thing should come to pass. The worship of God was then confined in a manner to the Jews ; the Jews were in danger of being, some time or other, subdued by more powerful nations, of being led away captivity, or destroyed ; they had little intercourse with other people, and were hated or despised by many of the Gentiles d; they often fell into the errors and vices of their neighbours. Upon all these accounts it seemed more probable that the time might come when the Jews should be cut off, or become idolaters, than that the Heathen should be converted by their means. And when our Lord said that the conversion of the Gentiles was at hand, idolatry was as flourishing as it had been in the time of the prophets; superstition in many places as prevailing, irreligion as general, and vice at least as triumphant as ever : the Romans, whose dominion was then very extensive, had no high opinion of the Jews: yet Christ declares that his apostles, though seemingly unequal to the undertaking, should succeed in it, and reform the corrupted world. The conversion, therefore, of the Gentiles, considered as an event which could not be foreseen by men, which always appeared improbable, and which was foretold by the prophets and by Jesus Christ o, is a just proof that Christianity
« Ημείς τοινυν ούτε χώραν δικούμεν παράλιον, ούτ' εμπορίαις χαίρομεν, ουδε ταϊς προς άλλους δια τούτων επιμιξίαις" αλλ' εισίν μεν ήμων αι πόλεις μάκραν από θαλάσσης απωκισμέναι, χώραν δε αγαθήν νεμόμενοι, τάυτην εκπονούμεν. • Nos quidem neque terram habitamus quæ mari vịcina est, neque negotiationibus gaudemus, neque earum caussâ. nobis consuetudo cum alijs gentibus est. Sed sunt urbes quidem nostræ procul a mari sitæ, nosque regionem bonam incolentes, hanc cum labore exercemus.' Josephus contr. Apion. i. 12.
e Rutilius, who lived when, to his sorrow, these declarations were fulfilled, says;
Atque utinam nunquam Judæa subacta fuisset
Pompeii bellis, imperioque Titi.
Itiner. 395. Seneca had said the same of the Jews; 'victi victoribus leges dederunt,' apud August. De Civ. Dei, vi. 11. But Rutilius by his Jews means the Christians, whom he durst not openly abuse,
is a divine revelation, and that the Spirit of God, who so long before declared its swift and extensive progress, assisted in its establishment.
2. The propagation of Christianity is a proof of its truth, because it could never have made its way in the world without the assistance of miracles f.
Not many years after Christ's death, we find great numbers of Christians amongst the Jews and Gentiles. We cannot account for their conversion merely from the love of novelty, from superstition and enthusiasm, from the promises and threats contained in the gospel, from the purity of its morality, from the good lives and patient sufferings of the disciples of Christ. We must of necessity suppose that miracles were wrought to convince them; and that for the following reasons:
The apostles, when they began to preach the gospel >, declared that Jesus Christ had done many mighty works, and was risen from the dead, and had sent them to convert the world, and had given them a power to work miracles in proof of their mission.
By declaring this they were under a necessity of working miracles, or of losing credit among all men. wrought no miracles, they confuted themselves, and could never have made any considerable number of disciples. Since therefore it appears that they pretended to have received the holy Spirit, to speak languages which they had never learned, to perform many miraculous works, and to confer the same gifts upon believers,—and since they prevailed on multitudes of all nations, ranks, ages, and employments, to forsake the religions in which they were educated, and to embrace Christianity,--the conversion of so many persons is a proof that the apostles were undoubtedly endued with power from on high.
St. Paul planted and preached the gospel at Corinth, no obscure place in some remote corner of the world, but a city great and populous, flourishing in trade, wealth, and learning, filled with orators and philosophers, advantageously
f Origen uses this argument Contr. Cels. p. 30.
8 Mohammed, prudently enough, always professed that he had no power to work miracles.
situated in Greece, and called the light, and pride, and glory of Greece.
To these Corinthians he writes two epistles : in the first he blames them for some faults which they had committed, amongst which this is particularly mentioned, that they had not always made the best and most discreet use 'of spiritual and miraculous gifts : he directs them how to exercise these gifts; and he tells them that charity, that is, the love of our fellow-creatures, and a study to promote peace, happiness, and virtue amongst men, is a more excellent thing than any miraculous power whatsoever: which, by the way, is not the language of an enthusiast.
In his next epistle, he commends the respect and obe. dience which they had paid to him; and to convince some of them still further that he deserved such regard, he reminds them of the miracles which he had wrought amongst them: 'I ought to have been commended of you; for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.
Now, if the Corinthians had really no such preternatural gifts, and if St. Paul had never wrought any miracles amongst them, it is impossible to think that they would have retained any regard to him and to his doctrine. If we think so, we must suppose them to have been persons who lived in a polite country, and had not the sense of savages; men who had nothing of men besides the outward shape and resemblance; men of a different kind from any that the world ever saw before or since: for the most enthusiastic sect would forsake their founder and teacher, if he should write them long and grave epistles, full of matters of fact, which they all knew to be false h, appealing to miracles which he had never wrought, and directing them to a discreet use of powers which themselves
3. To establish a new religion, even amongst a few persons, or in one single nation, is a thing in itself exceedingly difficult. To reform some corruptions which may
b. Non sani esse hominis non sanus juret Orestes,