Page images
PDF
EPUB

and regarded as the first of mankind. They were numerous; and they had all the countenance of authority, and all the influence of public opinion in their favour that their hearts could wish. Their system was more palatable than the pure unbending maxims of Christianity. But what was their success in propagating their tenets, and reforming the world? Who were ever more eloquent than these men ? Have greater energies ever been displayed by the human mind, than in the ingenuity of their speculations, in the charms of their composition, and the beauty of their style? They had the western world for many ages to themselves. One generation of philosophers had an opportunity of improving on another, and of extending widely the united influence of speaking and writing to accomplish their purpose. But when the apostles appeared, what fruit of their labour was to be found? Where, O Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, shall we see the reformation which your philosophy has produced? We have read of a change in the life of Polemo, and a few individuals besides; but we look for greater things. Paul did more than this by the very first sermon he preached at Athens, while your brethren mocked and ridiculed the preacher. Tell us what nation we shall find imbued with philosophic morality? Why are you silent? Tell us then, what city ? Alas! we cannot find one single society of men, who say, “ The philosophers taught us to reject the idolatry of our country, and to adore the one true God.” I am ready to think I must be wrong. I search again; but my search is fruitless. I can hardly believe that the gardens of Academus, the Stoa, and the Peripatetic walks, bring forth so little fruit: -but I am compelled.

From viewing the toilsome but barren labours of the philosophers, I turn to the men of Galilee, and see societies formed in every place, and multitudes casting away their idols with contempt, and renouncing every idolatrous and immoral practice, and every impure disposition, and prostrating themselves with humble adoration before Jehovah. My astonishment increases; and I cannot refrain from crying out, “ Here is the finger of God!" Come hither ye votaries of Socrates and his fellows, and survey the different effects of the sentiments of your sages, and of the preaching of Christ crucified by his chosen witnesses. Account for it, if you can.

SECTION VII.

Christianity could have had no Success, if it had not

been true.

Let us suppose this to be the year 1780; and that twelve men of untainted morals and apparent piety were to appear at Paris, and declare publicly in a solemn manner, “ A remarkable person has been for upwards of three years preaching through the whole of France, and very frequently in this capital; he healed the sick, and raised the dead to life, he fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and he commanded all men to listen to him as sent by God to be the Saviour of the world. About two months ago the rulers in church and state, with the concurrence and approbation of the body of the people, conspired against him and put him to death. Hearing he would rise again on the third day they appointed a guard to the sepulchre; but he rose according to the prediction, as the guards can testify. We saw him many times after his resurrection, and were present when he ascended to heaven. He has commissioned us to testify these things to the world; and as a proof of this has enabled us to speak languages which we never learned, and to work miracles like his own.” Were they further to tell the people, “ Your rulers have committed a heinous crime in putting him to death; the former religion of the country is now to cease, and with it the influence and authority of the priesthood; and all are bound to receive our testimony on pain of the divine displeasure.” What effect would such declaration have ?

As all are accused, all will be desirous to vindicate themselves from the charge. The most effectual way will be to demonstrate the falsehood of the testimony. In addition to the common motive, the civil rulers will justly consider that the accusation has a tendency to bring their government into reproach; and besides, that it will weaken their authority among such as embrace the new system; for they will be considered as the murderers of a prophet, nay, of one who called himself the Son of God. The ecclesiastical dignitaries have additional reason for exerting themselves, for their very existence depends on the falsehood of the testimony. Their authority, their rank in society, their wealth, all is gone, if what these men say be true. In such circumstances, will not every possible means be used to detect the falsehood? Will not the matter be searched to the bottom, and every scheme adopted which human ingenuity, quickened by having all at stake, can employ, in order to find out the truth? Is it possible that in such circumstances imposture can escape detection? They have all the power of the country in their hands; and will they not employ it to discover the cheat? and discovered it must and easily can be, as reference has been made to so many persons, places, times, and occasions. The twelve men have nothing to oppose to all this but the truth of their testimony; for they are without connexions, without influence, and without authority. Who can suppose it possible for an imposture in such circumstances to succeed?

Such was precisely the situation of the Jews, when the apostles of Christ began to preach the gospel at Jerusalem. Would they not, think you, use all possible means to discredit the testimony? They would; they must; they did: for men understood, and were alive to their own interest then, as much as they are now. But what discoveries did they make? The success of the gospel, and their silence with respect to a detection of the imposture, prove that they made none. Antiquity speaks of none. The writings of the enemies of Christianity, both among Jews and pagans, contain none. Had they made any discovery, it is impossible but that it must have come down to us in various forms. The answers of the Christians to the pagans who attacked Christianity, as of Origen to Celsus, would have made mention of them, and would have contained at least an attempt at confutation. Will it be said, “when Christianity became the ruling system, every thing written against it was destroyed.” This is impossible. Though the Christian religion was established in the Roman empire, several eastern countries did not receive it as the national system; there its enemies would have found an asylum. Besides, the Jews, the most inveterate foes of the gospel, still remained; and

many of them were without its bounds. They had their books and records which could not be destroyed; nor does it appear to have been attempted. The talmuds, which were composed at a time when Christianity was the dominant religion of the empire, have come down to us. But there is no rational and consistent account of any discovery having been made by the Jewish rulers of the falsehood of the apostles' testimony for Christ.

Indeed, the success of the gospel is unaccountable, if their testimony was discovered to be false. Remember the dispute

was not about matters of opinion, to which men might have been wedded through prejudice it was a question of facts; not only reason, but the senses were to judge; and every man was fully competent to decide. To suppose that after the falsehood of the testimony was established by unquestionable proof, thousands of men who had joined in crucifying Christ would believe in him—especially when their faith would expose them to reproach, to exclusion from the synagogue and its privileges, to the hatred of their friends and countrymen, to loss of goods, to imprisonment and death-is contrary to the moral order of the universe, and contrary to all those principles by which men, whether they be good men or bad men, are influenced in their conduct. Ought we to have recourse to this, if any other motive can be adduced? There is an easy one; namely, that the testimony of the apostles was true.

SECTION VIII.

Christianity has stood its ground in spite of the weakness of

some, and the wickedness of others, who profess allegiance to Christ.

The prosperity, and almost the very existence, of a system of religion, may be supposed to depend on the wisdom and good conduct of those who stand forth for its support. Weakness or wickedness in the men who profess to be its votaries, has the most powerful tendency to ruin its character and influence. In proportion to the excellence of a religion, will be its independence on the character of its adherents, whether good or bad; and where it subsists not only without the aid of those qualities in its friends which embellish it, but in spite of those which tend to cover it with dishonour, there is reason to conclude it has an intrinsic worth and a divine origin. Such is the gospel of Christ, and its trials of this kind have been numerous and painful in every age.

How many of the friends of Christianity have been weak men! Their intentions were good, but their conduct imprudent and their measures unwise. It is no reflection on the gospel, that such men embrace it. Uprightness of heart, though united to a weak mind, conduces more to the reception of the religion of Jesus, than the most distinguished acuteness of intellect without it. By such imbecile men, when in a pro

1

minent rank in life, and especially in public stations, whether ecclesiastical or civil, how many foolish things have been done, and how many foolish speeches have been uttered, which have raised the loudest laugh of the world, and drawn forth the keenest shafts of satire, not only against these awkward friends of religion, but against religion itself.

The timid friends of the Redeemer trembled for his cause, but their fears were needless. The world might laugh at the folly of these men, but it was constrained to reverence their goodness. Besides, the principles of the gospel are not identified with the weakness of those who profess to believe it; and the faith of them that embrace it, is fixed on the sacred Scriptures, not the talents and opinions of men. Strong in its own excellence, Christianity remains unshaken, and no disciple forsakes his Master, because one of his fellow-servants shows himself unwise; it is like the great pyramid of Egypt, which continues firm on its base, and sustains no injury, though apes gambol on its top.

But the wickedness of the professed friends of Christianity, is still more injurious than their weakness. What effect the gospel produces in the hearts and lives of those who feel its influence, has been displayed in the sanctity and benevolence of millions. But some persons who make a profession of Christianity, have been among the vilest of the human race. It is needless to include in this list the mass of those who call themselves Christians, merely because they were born in a land where it was publicly professed, though they were utter strangers to its principles; or those unhallowed teachers of it who enter the temple for no other reason, but because it is the path to opulence and honour. The persons here intended have made a credible profession of Christianity, by an apparently serious attention both to its precepts and ordinances, and while in the midst of this profession, have plunged themselves into the most odious vices, or committed the most enormous crimes. Of these persons, some seem to have been hurried away in opposition to their convictions, by vile passions and appetites which gained possession of their hearts. Others still more eminent were merely acting a part; they had no regard for religion nor belief of its truth; but they put it on as a cloak to conceal the blackness within; and thus disguised, they went forth like the assassin in the night to commit deeds of such atrocity as to fill mankind with horror. From the death of Christ to the present hour, how many persons of such

« PreviousContinue »