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admits the latter. But the adoption of a contrary opinion is pregnant with absurdities and natural im. possibilities; with the mention of a few of which I shall close this letter.
He, who denies the resurrection of Jesus Christ, must believe,—That twelve poor fishermen and tentmakers, without power, and (all except Paul) without human learning, were able to deceive the wise, the learned, the prudent; and to lay their plot so deep, that neither their
cotemporaries, nor any succeeding generation, should be able to detect and expose the cheat.
– That those very persons who but a few hours before were trembling with timidity and fear, whose want of courage (even according to their own account) overcame their fidelity, and caused them to forsake their master in his greatest extremity, notwithstanding their various professions, nay, protestations, of inviolable attachment and zeal; being so terrified with apprehensions that they dare not acknowledge themselves to be his disciples, but secreted themselves by day for fear of the Jews;_yet that these timid, irresolute creatures should all at once not only form the plan, but execute the bold, hazardous, and useless undertaking of conquering the guards, forcing the sepulchre, and carrying off the body of their crucified Lord,
- That men thus rash and desperate, engaged in an enterprise of so much danger, an enterprise which therefore required all possible expedition and despatch, should waste time in unaccountable niceties, and ceremonies (such as divesting the body of its burial-clothes, disposing them in separate parcels, &c.) which could be of no manner of use; but evidently exposed them to the danger of being surprised by the guards, and taken into custody.
-That these timid, yet desperate men, who cona stituted a company of the greatest impostors that ever existed in the world, and who, therefore, must necessarily be the worst men that ever were, did, notwithstanding, furnish mankind with the most comprehensive and exact system of morality extant, teach such rules of living as were infinitely superior to any of the productions of Greek or Roman philosophers, and though their whole business was only to promote and disseminate falsehood and deception, yet denounced the severest eternal punishments upon all who indulged in such wicked practices.
—That these impostors, having themselves no correct notions of God, should notwithstanding impart the most rational and becoming opinions respecting him to the rest of mankind; and, by no other prin. ciples than those of delusion and irreligion, kindle a flame of desire in the breasts of thousands to serve and worship God.
-That they took far more pains to expose themselves to all the world, as the most abandoned sinners that ever came into it (for that they should deceive themselves so as to believe Jesus was seen ten distinct times after his resurrection, when he was not seen at all, cannot be imagined), than they need have done to establish the best reputation among their cotemporaries, and procure an immortal fame in all succeeding ages.
- That these impostors, after spending their lives in promulgating falsehood, died, not to testify their belief in a speculative doctrine respecting which they might be deluded by others, or self-deluded; but in attestation of a pretended fact, while they knew it was no fact; and all this under the strongest declarations of devotedness to God, and of adoration to their risen Saviour, who, they pretended, was now sitting in heaven to receive them 62. Hence
you will perceive that, as a general denial of revelation leads to numerous gross absurdities, of which a few were detailed in my first letter, so a denial of individual topics of revealed truth brings each its appropriate and dependent string of difficulties. He who denies the truth of Scripture prophecy must admit that things have occurred, although there was an infinitely great probability against their occurrence. He who disbelieves the miracles recorded in Scripture, must believe in other miracles. And he who denies the particular miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in consequence involves himself in the particular class of absurdities to which I have just adverted : besides which he voluntarily excludes himself from the only strong consolation a rational creature can possess at the hour of death, that which flows from a full persuasion of the resurrection to eternal life. “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” said Jesus Christ: “ whosoever believeth in me shall not die eternally 63." and his own resurrection fully establishes the truth of this consolatory declaration. But the proud philosophist who rejects this doctrine, so suited to the wishes and the wants of man, not only places bimself below the Christian, but below the Indian, in point of prospects of futurity. The poor untutored, despised Indian
62 Acts, vii. 59.
« Thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog shall bear him company." While many of those who pity the stupidity of the Indian, and sneer at the credulity of the Christian, live and die under the embasing conviction that at death themselves and their dogs will be alike extinct, alike free from responsibility, alike unconscious of all around them, alike excluded from pleasure, alike liberated from pain 64!
I am, &c. 63 Jobn, xi. 25, 26.
64 It was a common assertion of Diderot, that between him and his dog “ il n'y avoit de différence que habit.”
and its Triumph over Persecution ; also from the Pile
Theology. The two topics I have selected for discussion in this letter might each furnish matter for a volume; and the argument, if judiciously handled, would rather gain strength, than become weakened, by such dilation. I mean, however, in either case to present you with a mere outline of the argument, and leave you to give colour and force to the former, by your acquaintance with the history of the first four centuries of the Church, and to the latter, by a careful perusal of the Holy Scriptures.
Our reasoning is simple, and rests upon the principles of Natural Religion. God will aid that which is good, and check that which is bad, in so far that each shall be rendered subservient to a higher good: hence it is agreeable to Divine Providence to give the most rapid and extensive diffusion, independently of secular concurrence, to that which is, in itself and its tendencies, best: and hence it will follow, since God has regard to human affairs, and since the Christian Religion cannot be good if it be not true, or could not gain ground as it did in opposition to earthly power and unassisted by heavenly power, that it is what it professes to be, and is therefore divine.
It is, I believe, an undeniable fact, that before the end of the second century Christianity had been more widely disseminated over the face of the earth, than any one religion, true or false, Heathenism, in all its varieties of dismal shades, had been thickening for thousands of years, until “ darkness covered the lands, and gross darkness the people.” But as the natural sun chases away darkness from whole regions, with analogous rapidity did the “ Sun of Righteousness"
dispel the moral gloom which every where prevailed. Thus Irenæus affirms that, in his time, not only those who dwelt near Palestine, but the Egyptians, the Libyans, the Celts, the Germans, &c. had one belief : nay, says he, the preaching of the truth shines every where, and enlightens all men who are willing to come to the knowledge of the truth!” CLEMENS ALEXANDRINUS again affirms that, in his time,“ Christ was known in all nations.” And, that I may not needlessly multiply quotations, let me, once for all, cite TERTULLIAN3. “ In whom else have all nations believed, but in Christ, who lately came? In whom have all these nations believed ? i. e. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, Armenia, Phrygia, Cappadocia; the inhabitants of Pontus, and Asia, and Pamphylia ; they that dwell in Egypt, and they who live in Africa, beyond Cyrene; Romans, and strangers; Jews, and other nations in Jerusalem; the various sorts of people in Getulea; the many countries of the Moors; all the borders of Spain; the different nations of Gaul; and those parts of Britain which the Romans could not reach, even they are subject to Christ; the Sarmatæ also, and Daci, the Germans and Scythians; and many other obscure nations, with many provinces and islands scarcely known to us: in all these the name of Christ, lately as he came, reigns.” Presently after, this distinguished apologist shows how much larger the kingdom of Christ was, even in his time (the end of the second century), than any of the
1 Iren. lib. i. o. 3.
2 Strom. V. 3 Cont. Jud. lib. 1. The following is the reluctant testimony of Gibbon, Hist. Rom. Empire, ix. 244. “ The progress of Christianity was one hundred and twenty at the Ascension (Acts, i. 15), soon after three thousand (o. ii. 41), then five thousand, and in little less than two years after the Ascension to great multitudes at Jerusalem only. Mahomet was three years silently occupied in making fourteen converts, and they of his own family; and proceeded so slow at Mecca, that in the seventh year only eighty-three men and eigbteen women retired to Ethiopia--and he had no established religion at Mecca to contend with."