« PreviousContinue »
“ And when they had called the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his sake.” For let me ask in the name of common sense, from what this cheerfulness and this joy could have proceeded, but from the satisfaction of their consciences, and the expectation of a future reward, for performing what they knew to be their duty to God? Is it possible that any one, except his mind is insane, can be cheerful for being punished and afflicted for the avowing of that which he knows to be altogether an unprofitable false hood? What reward, if they knew that the story of the resurrection of their Master was a falsehood (and whether it was one or not they. indisputably must have known) could they have expected as a recompense for the troubles they underwent?
We must observe it also to be improbable in the extreme, that such men as the apostles, who were fishermen and publicans, who were
unlearned * and ignorant men," could have conceived so compen.
* Acts iv. 13.
dious and so great a design as the introducing a new religion, to overturn and extirpate every other in the world. They were men of no natural courage, which we should exped to find in the contrivers of such a scheme, but were rather of an irresolute temper. They themselves mention their desertion of their Master, their denial of him, and their flight from him in the hour of distress. It is not to be conceived, with reason on our side, that any thing but the conciousness of truth, and a reliance on heaven flowing from that, could have supported them in this matter. For if what they asserted had been a falsehood, they must naturally have expected, by a strange concurrence, that earth and hell, and hea. ven, would have combined against them. They must have expected the bitterest persecution from the chief priests and rulers of the Jews, for they ac. cused them of the most treacherous hypocrisy, and of the most flagrant murder. They must have expected that the lusts and passions of men, which they wished to subdue or to check, would have combated against them for the publication of their doctrines.—They must have expected that God himself would have poured his severest vengeance on them, for their continued invocation of him to witness a.. daring lie.
How is it possible, if the apostles were impostors, if what they declared was a falsehood, that they could so soon have introduced their doctrines into the world? In this the hand of heaven evidently appears: The rapid progress of Christianity is itself a miracle. Immediately after the inspiration of the apostles on the day of pentecost, upon the preaching of Peter, three thousand persons were convinced by his reasoning, and hecame Christians. " And the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.”* Soon after “ A great company of priests were obedient unto the faith.”+ And not a great while after, there were myriads of Jews who believed. « Thou seest, brother, how many thousands (uupiádés myriads) of Jews
* Acts 2 ; 41.
† Acts, vi. 7. The Epistles written to several churches plainly prove that there were congregations of Christians in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Colosse, Thessalonica, Phillippi, Laodicea, Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Crete, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, and many other places. Vide Doddridge's Ser
on the Evidences of Christianity allowed to be genuine" in the “ Protestant System,” vol. 2d page 416.
there are which believe.”! And here I expect that the reader, who may not yet be convinced of the truth of Christianity, will urge that this kind of evidence does not avail with him, as he does not admit the credibility of the witnesses. Such an evasion, however, will profit him nothing. For we can prove not only from the sacred writings, but from Heathen authors, that Christianity prevailed upon the apostles preaching it, over a considerable part of the globe, as the fruitful Nile sometimes spreads over Egypt. Tacitus || says, that in Nero's days (who became emperor twenty years after the death of Christ) there was a great multitude of Christians at Rome, who were burnt at the
Acts xxi, 20.
of the Christians who were seized upon the conflagration of Rome, Igitur primo correpti fatebantur, deinde, indicio eorum, multitudo ingens, haud perinde in crimine incendii, quam odio humani generis, conjuncti funt. It is reasonable therefore to suppose that the number of Chris. tians in the city was extremely considerable, as many would glory in contessing themselves to be such, though they were sensible of the immediate
perseeution which would attend the acknowledgement of their faith. The Roman author tells us that there was a great multitude seized, who did not confess it. Vide Anual. 15. chap. xliv.
time the city was set on fire. Suetonius * also ment tions the increase of Christianity, in his life of the same emperor. And Pliny,t in a letter to the emperor Trajan, writes that the enquiry which had been entered upon in order to persecute those who believed in Christianity, had extended to persons of all ranks and ages and of both sexes: and that it was not confined to the cities only, but had spread its infection (as he is pleased to call it) to the country villages. Lucian I says, that in the time of the emperor Commodus, Pontus was filled with Epicureans and Christians. It is to be observed that Christianity was thus early diffused over the Roman empire, notwithstanding the violent persecutions which opposed it; which arose, among other causes, from a maxim || which always prevailed with the Romans, that it was dangerous and subversive of the state to admit of any innovation in religion. Christianity increased with the greatest rapidity in the Roman empire, though it was thought
* Vide Suetonius in Nerone, cap. xvi.
+ Vide Pliny's letter to the Empe.or Trajan, on the progress of Christianity.
Vide Lucian in Alexandro. cap. xvi. li Vide Livi Histo. lib. 39. cap. xvi. and Valerius Maximus, lib. 1. cap. iii.