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have spread in a religion, or to make new regulations in it, is not perhaps so hard, when the main and principal parts of that religion are preserved entire and unshaken; and yet even this very often cannot be accomplished without an extraordinary occurrence of circumstances, and may be attempted a thousand times without success :--but to introduce a new faith, a new way of thinking and acting, and to persuade many nations to quit the religion in which their ancestors had lived and died, which had been delivered down to them from time immemorial, to make them forsake and despise the deities which they had been accustomed to reverence and worship, this is a work of still greater difficulty. The prejudices of education, and the stubbornness of superstition, seem almost invincible; and therefore the prophet Jeremiah, when he upbraids the people for neglecting their own religion, and embracing the idolatrous worship of their neighbours, observes that their behaviour in this was not only base, and stupid, and ungrateful, but new and unparalleled. “Hath any nation changed their gods, which yet are no gods ? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit.'
But besides the resistance which superstition and the prejudices of education would form, worldly policy could not fail to discountenance such an attempt. Changes in religion very often produce changes in the state; and, according to the maxims of government, all princes and magistrates look with an evil eye upon teachers of new doctrines, as upon seditious and dangerous persons.
4. It cannot be denied to be a very strange and surprising thing, that persons whose circumstances and natural abilities were low and mean should have succeeded in so great an undertaking.
It might justly be expected of one who should perform such a thing, that he should be a victorious and virtuous
I say neglecting, rather than forsaking and rejecting. For the people of Israel and Judah, even in their worst and most idolatrous times, did never absolutely and totally renounce the true God; they worshipped false gods with and besides him. But God, who would not suffer the honour due to him alone, to be thus given to others, nor bear a rival, often resents and represents it as no better than apostacy. See the consmentators on Acts viii. 42.
prince, who should make himself both reverenced and beloved, or a philosopher remarkable for wisdom and eloquence, skilled in all the arts of persuasion, and formed by nature to insinuate himself into the favour of men. But when persons of mean extraction, of no human learning, poor, obscure, and friendless, set about it, nothing can follow but scorn and disappointment, unless the Divine assistance be added, which can give strength to weakness k, and wisdom to ignorance, and accomplish its purpose by the most unpromising means.
5. If these persons are not only of mean rank and abilities, but exposed to slander and calumny, and greatly hated by the world, there is still less prospect of success. Whosoever would command the attention, the respect, and obedience of men must stand fair in their opinion, as one who is disinterested, and who seeks their good. He who, though undeservedly, hath lost his reputation, hath losť many opportunities of doing service to mankind: what comes from him, though commendable and profitable in itself, is often suspected, slighted, and ill received. I have already showed the great hatred which the generality of the Jews and Gentiles bare towards the first Christians, and the causes and effects of that hatred. Therefore the progress of the gospel, in spite of all the lies which had been told concerning it, of all the malicious opposition which its professors underwent, can only be ascribed to the prevailing force of truth and innocence, and to the protection of the Almighty
6. The establishing of Christianity in so many nations, and amongst persons of all ranks and conditions, is an argument in favour of it. Never was there a religion which in this respect can be compared with it; for it united the Jews and Gentiles, that is, persons in many respects the most opposite; it brought over rich and poor, learned and unlearned; it spread through barbarous and savage nations,
* Mirum est quam parum acuti essent apostolorum nonnulli, sed data opera tales a Cliristo electos fuisse verisimile est ; ne dum putabant se intelligere quis esset, quidve moliretur, quidpiam ingenio suo freti, quod evangelio noceret aggrederentur ; neve possent dogmatum, quæ nunciabantur, inventores haberi. Clericus ad Joan. xiv. 7. Vido etiam Valesium ad Constant. Orat. in Eusebio, cap. ii. p. 687.
and through the most polite and wise people, and made its progress far and wide.
The apostles began with the Jews; and though they could not succeed so well as to reform the whole nation, though the bulk of them remained incorrigible till destruction overtook them, yet the harvest was by no means contemptible. Twenty years were not passed from Christ's resurrection, when St. Paul, coming to Jerusalem, was told by the disciples, Acts xxi. 20. - Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe! So mightily did the word of God prevail, even in the capital city of that disobedient people. In other nations the success was greater; and in less than forty years after Christ, an innumerable multitude of believers was found in most parts of the known world.
A religion which can thus recommend itself to all tempers, and meet with so wide an approbation, must in all probability be founded on truth, and agreeable to the dictates of reason.
7. To convert nations to a strict religion, from religions which give great indulgences, and are more suitable to depraved inclinations, is a difficult thing. This was the case in the propagation of the gospel ; for the Greek and Roman Gentiles were not very ri: id in their practical notions of morality, and accounted many things to be either harmless, or small faults, which the gospel absolutely condemned; and the Jews, by their own interpretations, had made their religion compliable, and accommodated to their passions. Now when persons have been thus educated, and taught to account themselves virtuous and pious at a cheap rate, and without labour and pains; when they think that they can secure to themselves God's favour here and hereafter, and yet pursue their pleasures with little restraint, they are extremely indisposed towards a religion which requires quite another strictness in thought, word, and deed. It appears to them a severe, morose, and melancholy system, a cruel tyranny, and an
| Tórat Mopicdes, 'how many nyriads, ten thousands ;' that is, how great a number,'
heavy burden ; and there must be bright and overbearing evidence to work a thorough reformation in them.
8. The conversion of very vicious persons from sin to righteousness is still more difficult m, as experience and reason will teach, and is sometimes compared, in scripture, to a resurrection from the dead, and to changes naturally impossible. Though Christianity made its principal progress amongst well-disposed minds, yet several were won over to it, who had been remarkably wicked before; and this is a proof that there must have been very plain and -strong indications of its truth, which could overbear all the obstinate opposition of habitual vice.
9. The conversion of multitudes to a suffering state, and to a religion so little favourable as it was at that time even to our innocent inclinations, is another argument in behalf of the gospel". We all naturally love friends, relations, reputation, liberty, ease and quiet, food and raiment, and life. It is reasonable to suppose that a man will not part with all these upon no evidence that God requires it, and no security that he will reward it.
The conversion of so many, who laid down their lives for Christ, in whatsoever way we consider it, abounds with proofs of the truth of the gospel. The courage and constancy", with which the first Christians underwent all that human nature shuns and fears, is astonishing. Even women and young people suffered with unshaken resolution tortures which we cannot read without horror. There is just cause to think that God and his good Spirit enabled them to bear in this manner what they bare for his sake.
The Christian church was sometimes exposed to persecutions, which naturally and in the ordinary things must have put an end to a false religion. I know it hath been often said that persecution is not the way to
m Origen urges this argument Contr. Cels. p. 21. and in other places. * Nullo modo fieri potest
, ut quisquam tanti æstimet æquitatem et fidem, ut ejus conservandæ caussà nullum supplicium recuset, nisi iis rebus assensus sit, quæ falsæ esse non possunt. Cicero Acad. Quæst.
• In this, says Chrysostom, the Christians far surpassed the holy persons recorded in the Old Testament, none of whom is said to have rejoiced in suffering for righteousness' sake.
destroy, but rather to animate and enlarge a sect. Ill usage makes men hate doctrines which tyrannical oppressors would force upon them, and fonder of their own opinions than they were before; ill usage often gives them a religious turn of mind, weans them from a love of the world, and teaches them to place their hopes and confidence in God; and therefore the constancy with which a person endures sufferings for his religious sentiments is not a certain proof that his notions are well grounded. All this will hold true, concerning that less violent kind of persecution which extends only to banishment, imprisonment, fines, and the like. But when it proceeds so far as to take away life in a cruel manner, bare obstinacy of temper will seldom hold out; a rational conviction and a divine assistance seem necessary to support persons under so severe a trial.
It hath been also said that almost all sects have their martyrs; and true it is that men may suffer, and have suffered, for false opinions P. But the case of the first Christians is very different. They suffered in behalf of facts. They gave their testimony to signs and wonders which they had beheld with their own eyes, and on which their faith was founded ; in this they persisted, and for this they died. But no man, not even an enthusiast, will lay down his life in confirmation of facts which he knows to be false.
I have endeavoured to show that from the propagation of the gospel the truth of it may be proved, as it was foretold by the prophets, as it absolutely required the assistance of miracles, as it overcame the greatest difficulties and opposition, and as it was conducted and accomplished by persons naturally unqualified for the undertaking.
In this we may see one difference between the methods of human wisdom and of divine wisdom. Human wisdom spares no pains and industry in seeking out and applying helps and instruments proper in the ordinary course of things to bring about its designs; but divine wisdom often.
p Ut pro concepta opinione mortem quis subeat, fieri potest, quanquam et hoc rarum est; at ut quis idem faciat pro testimonio rei quam falsam esse novit, et unde nihil aut ipsi aut aliis boni sperari possit, omnibus sani judicii hominibus incredibile videtur. Grotius ad Matt. xxviii. 13.