« VorigeDoorgaan »
and introduce into the place of it a fabulous tale of their own contriving? I know that we have examples of people of very low estate and little education quitting their own calling to turn preachers of religion ; but that bears no resemblance to the present case, for these persons are most, or all of them, I think, sure of what they go about; whereas the apostles, evangelists, and first founders of Christianity must, according to this account, have been impostors, and have known in their own breasts that they were so. Besides, these persons are led to what they do by the example of others in superior station, and after all do not aspire at founding a new religion, but only an unusual method of explaining or propagating the old one.
But secondly, what was it that all the apostles went about to overturn? the attachment of men to virtue and holiness? It must be allowed, whether what they wrote and preached was true or false, that the behaviour and morality which they inculcated were excellent, since all acknowledged, even those who were inclined to question the religion most, that whatever they inculcated, they required. They insisted upon the most per
. fect purity, benevolence, justice, obedience, piety. Now, what would this accomplish? Was it from a virtuous motive that they enjoined on all their followers these virtues, as they certainly did ? Such a motive excludes the supposition of imposture. In many instances the best motives may be mistaken ; but it is impossible that with these motives any one could carry on a continued deliberate plan of deceiving and cheating others. Read those passages of the epistles especially, which exhort to virtue and holiness ; with what a strain of lively earnestness and zeal the exhortations run! with what threats and denunciations they warn men from vice! with what entreaties they invite them to virtue ! how they over and over again declare and protest the worth of a life of virtue, that religion without such a life is nothing, that nothing else, that nothing besides holiness in heart, principle, and practice, would conduct themselves and their followers to salvation ! and then reflect, how we are to believe that the authors of the epistles were all the while themselves carrying on a cheat and an imposture, knowing in their hearts that what they were telling their followers was all falsehood and fable.
Thirdly, what had the apostles to gain by the scheme? did they distinguish themselves or their families? did any of them advance thereby their posterity to honors, and favors, and high states? was there any prospect or probability of such advancement? Here is an infallible rule; an impostor has always
something to get by his imposition ; he may not get it; that is another thing; he aims at some advantage to himself or friends; and thus it becomes a natural consideration and inquiry, was there interest to bias them ? Now if ever men were disinterested, the apostles were; upon all occasions they declined and reprobated the idea of taking any thing of their converts. 'I have coveted,' says St Paul in his pathetic farewell to the church of Macedonia, I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel ; nay, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my necessities, and to them that were with me.' When Simon Magus offered them money for some of their supernatural powers, • Thy money,' replied Peter, “perish with thee, because thou hast thought the gift of God may be purchased with money.' Did I make a gain of you,' says St Paul to the Corinthians, by any of them whom I sent unto you ; did Titus make a gain of you?' The apostles, it is true, had all an opportunity of making themselves masters of the fortunes of their followers; and that was when the disciples at Jerusalem, as you read in the fourth chapter of the Acts, in the height of their zeal sold their lands and houses, and brought the prices of those things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostle's feet. How did the apostles behave upon this occasion ? So far from taking advantage of the unlimited confidence of their followers to their own interest and use, they embraced the first opportunity of getting rid of their charge, only receiving the contributions of the rich, and distributing them amongst the poor, and transferring it to some men appointed for that purpose, not by themselves, but by the people at large, as you find in the sixth chapter of Acts. So that there is no pretence for charging them with seeking their own profit, or following a profession which promised gain. If it be said that they might be drawn in by the expectation of honors and advancement from the Messiah himself, under the notion which they probably in common with the other Jews entertained of the Messiah himself, I answer, they could not be so drawn in, if they knew him to be an impostor, which they must have known, if he was one, and which is the supposition we are now arguing upon ; for the question now is, what they were to gain or look for from a scheme which they knew to be founded in falsehood and deceit.
Fourthly, this is not all; the apostles and first teachers of Christianity had not only nothing to gain by the lie, supposing it to have been one, but had every thing to fear and every thing to suffer in support of it.
Here indeed is the great strength and stress of the christian evidence. It is certain that the founder of the christian religion suffered death upon the cross for the undertaking; it seems equally certain that the apostles and first of his followers underwent all manner of persecution, and many of them martyrdom, for their opinions. This is expressly stated in scripture. It is confirmed by corresponding accounts of heathen writers, who, being enemies to Christianity, cannot be suspected of giving false testimony in its favor, and who described the first Christians as resolutely undergoing stripes, imprisonment, and death, rather than renounce or impugn the truth of their religion; and these accounts come near to the times of the apostles, if not to their times. Add to which, that the thing itself was in the highest degree probable, and, morally speaking, certain, that the setters-up and maintainers of a religion which overthrew all other religions, diverse and irreconcileable to, or, as it were, directly against, the established tenets and prejudice of both Jews and Gentiles, should meet with opposition from the rulers and teachers of this world, who were all interested in the support of their own establishment. We know what fate and usage the first promoters of the Reformation met with, and there is all likelihood that the first publishers of Christianity would share the same. • * I think,' says St Paul, 'that God hath set forth us the apostles last as it were appointed unto death; for we are made a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men; even in this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace, and labor, working with our hands ; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat ; we are made as the filth of the world, as the offscouring of all things unto this day.' Was all this, think you, from any liking for an imposture ? for what they knew in their hearts to be a falsehood of their own contriving? The epistles, all of them, abound with exhortations to patience; some of these were written for no other purpose than to encourage their new converts to sustain the struggle they had together; 'Call to remembrance,' says the epistle to the Hebrews, the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions, partly whilst ye were made a gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions, and partly whilst ye became companions of them that were so used; for ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye had in heaven a better and enduring substance.' • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or
famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us; for I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' And they not only suffered these things, but foresaw that they should suffer them. It was what might easily enough be foreseen from the nature of the undertaking they were engaged in. Besides that, they were expressly forewarned of it from the very first by their divine master; ' And ye shall be betrayed both by parents and brethren, and kinsfolk and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death, and ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake.' Now if the fact be established, which appears to me unquestionable, that the first teachers of Christianity suffered great extremities, and some of them death in the cause, and for the sake of their religion, it carries with it the strongest possible proof of the truth of that religion. One man relates a story. It appears to me so improbable in its own nature, that I could not bring myself to believe it. Five or six others join with this man in the same agreement. This staggers, but by no means satisfies me. They protest over and over again; they declare it with every possible mark and expression of seriousness and earnestness. This also has some weight; but to come to the truth and certainty of the matter, I pretend that the relaters of this are, and treat them all as, impostors. I threaten them with imprisonment if they do not confess the truth, and retract the story. My threats have no effect; they answer they cannot but declare what they have seen and heard. I carry my threats into execution ; confine them in prison, beat them with stripes, try what hunger, or cold, or nakedness, will do. Not one of them relents; spite of all I can do, or all I threatened, they persevere in their original story. I consider that perhaps these people may be mistaken; nay, but I reflect, that is impossible ; what they relate is not opinions and notions, but matters of fact, and of such a nature that they cannot be mistaken ; what they tell us, they saw with their own eyes, and heard with their own ears; they must know the truth or falsehood of what they say ; either they are the most obstinate, deliberate impostors, or what they say, notwithstanding all its seeming improbabilities, must be true. I will make, however, a decisive experiment. I will make this short proposal to them; either disown and give up your story, or prepare to suffer death, to seal your asseveration with your blood. Some of them do so. What shall I now say? I can no longer refuse conviction.
Now this description agrees in all its points with the case of Christianity. And upon this I rest; produce me an example of any one man, since the beginning of the world, voluntarily suffering death for what he knows to be false, and I give up the cause.
If no such instance was ever heard of, I cannot see upon what grounds, or in what way, we can know right from wrong; or on what pretence we can reject the evidence of the apostles, martyrs, and first preachers of Christianity.
PROPAGATION OF CHRISTIANITY.
ROMANS X. 10.
But I say, Have they not heard? Yes, verily, their sound went into all the
earth, and their words into the ends of the world.
Tue spreading and propagation of Christianity has always been deemed a proof of its truth; because it is said that a false or fabulous religion could not, under the same circumstances, have so sped and gained credit in the world. To do the argument justice, it will be necessary just to state the fact how Christianity did really spread and make its way, though it will be necessary to take notice of the circumstances under which Christianity was practised, whether they were such as that no imposture could have made its way under the same. When this is done, you will judge for yourselves of the degree of weight and credit which the argument deserves.
The account of the preaching and spreading of Christianity must set off from the ascension of Christ into heaven; for it was from that time that the apostles were commissioned to publish and teach it to the world ; and before that time the world could not be said to know perfectly what it was.
Now a few days after Christ's ascension, we find the disciples assembled in Jerusalem to the number of one hundred and