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34 They Appealed to their own Miracles. [Ess. 11. manifest, that a deep sense of the importance of truth was one principal characteristic of his followers. The personal virtue of the apostles is indeed indisputable; they were engaged in propagating the strictest code of morality which had ever been heard of in the world; and they were thus engaged, under sanctions and motives of unspeakable weight and moment. More especially, it was a doctrine explicitly recognized among them, that Satan was the father of lies, and that liars were exposed to eternal punishment in the world to come: see John viii, 44: Rev. xxii, 15.
The veracity of the apostles may also be justly measured by their disinterestedness. They sought no temporal advantages; they pursued no outward emoluments; they engaged in a career fraught with inconveniences, dangers, labours, and sorrows; they gave up all that was naturally dear to them, and sacrificed their pleasures, their comforts, and their worldly hopes, to the welfare of mankind and to the service of a crucified Redeemer. Their cause was the cause of righteousness, and in the support of that holy cause they exposed themselves, without reserve, to "cruel mockings and scourgings," to "the spoiling of their goods," to "bonds and imprisonments,” and, finally, to the violent infliction of death itself.
Since, then, the original witnesses of the Christian miracles were of so sober and cautious a character, and were placed under such circumstances, with respect to the miracles, that they could not be deceived: and since their acknowledged virtue and disinterestedness afford the most satisfactory evidence that they could not be deceivers, I know not how the impartial inquirer can escape from the conclusion, that the story which they told is true.
VII. The earliest preachers of the Gospel were enabled, through divine assistance, to confirm their
[Ess. II. Early Diffusion of Christianity.
declarations respecting Christ by the miracles which they wrought themselves. "They went forth," says the evangelist Mark, "and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word, with signs following:" ch. xvi, 20. The numerous instances which confirm this declaration, and which are recorded in the book of Acts, cannot be here adduced with propriety, since the credibility of that book is in part the subject of our discussion; but we may safely call in the testimony of the apostle Paul, who, in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, expressly appeals to "the signs of an apostle,” “the signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds," which he had wrought in the presence of the very persons whom he was then addressing: 2 Cor. xii, 12. On another occasion, he gives the Corinthian Christians directions respecting the right use of that miraculous gift of tongues which they themselves enjoyed: 1 Cor. xiv. Had Paul spoken to the Corinthians only of the miracles which he had wrought among the Ephesians, we might have hesitated in admitting his testimony; but, when we find him appealing to the Corinthians as eye-witnesses of his works; when we observe him, moreover, familiarly adverting, in his written communications with them, to their own supernatural endowments, and when we take into account that this apostle was neither a fool nor a madman-we cannot with any reason deny the position, that the earliest propagators of Christianity were gifted with miraculous powers.
VIII. Lastly, let us notice the astonishing propagation and prevalence of early Christianity. Absolutely opposed as it was to the prejudices of the Jews, and to the systems and habits of the Gentiles; offering, in the history of a crucified Redeemer, to the former a sore offence, and to the latter a tale of foolishness ; and involving all who embraced it in the loss of tem
Early Diffusion of Christianity. [Ess. II.
poral advantage, and in a path of almost unexampled mortification, self-denial, and suffering; the religion of Christ and his apostles extended itself, in primitive times, with irresistible rapidity and force. Thousands were converted by the preaching of Peter, on the day of Pentecost. Soon afterwards, multitudes were added to the church, of both men and women: Acts v, 14. From Jerusalem the new religion spread through Samaria and Syria, and churches were presently gathered in numerous parts of Lesser Asia and Greece. In the reign of Nero, (A.D. 65) "great multitudes" of Christians (as we are expressly informed by Tacitus) were discovered at Rome; and Pliny, when writing to Trajan, (A.D. 107) from his government in Bithynia, describes "the contagion of this superstition" as seizing the lesser towns as well as the cities; as spreading among persons of both sexes, of all ages, and of every rank and as producing the neglect, of the temples, and the intermission of the ceremonies of idolatry.9
9 The celebrated letter of Pliny the Younger to Trajan, on the subject of the Christians in Bithynia is as follows:-"Health.-It is my usual custom, Sir, to refer all things, of which I harbour any doubts, to you. For who can better direct my judgment in its hesitation, or instruct my understanding in its ignorance? I never had the fortune to be present at any examination of Christians, before I came into this province. I am therefore at a loss to determine what is the usual object either of inquiry or of punishment, and to what length either of them is to be carried. It has also been with me a question very problematical,—whether any distinction should be made between the young and the old, the tender and the robust ;-whether any room should be given for repentance, or the guilt of Christianity once incurred is not to be expiated by the most unequivocal retraction; whether the name itself, abstracted from any flagitiousness of conduct, or the crimes connected with the name, be the object of punishment. In the mean time this has been my method, with respect to those who were brought before me as Christians. I asked them, whether they were Christians: if they pleaded guilty, I interrogated them twice afresh, with a menace of capital punishment. In case of obstinate perseverance, I ordered them to be executed. For of this I had no doubt, whatever was the nature of their religion, that a sullen
Early Diffusion of Christianity.
Africa, Spain, Gaul, Germany, and Britain, gradually fell under the influence of revealed truth; and at last, at an early period of the fourth century, Christianity was become the generally-adopted and established religion of the whole Roman Empire.
and obstinate inflexibility called for the vengeance of the magistrates. Some were infected with the same madness, whom, on account of their privilege of citizenship, I reserved to be sent to Rome, to be referred to your tribunal. In the course of this business, informations pouring in, as is usual when they are encouraged, more cases occurred. An anonymous libel was exhibited, with a catalogue of names of persons, who yet declared, that they were not Christians then, nor ever had been ; and they repeated after me an invocation of the gods and of your image, which, for this purpose, I had ordered to be brought with the images of the deities: They performed sacred rites with wine and frankincense, and execrated Christ,-none of which things, I am told, a real Christian can ever be compelled to do. On this account I dismissed them. Others, named by an informer, first affirmed, and then denied, the charge of Christianity; declaring that they had been Christians, but had ceased to be so, some three years ago, others still longer, some even twenty years ago. All of them worshipped your image, and the statues of the gods, and also execrated Christ. And this was the account which they gave of the nature of the religion they once had professed, whether it deserves the name of crime or error,-namely-that they were accustomed on a stated day to meet before daylight, and to repeat among themselves a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath, with an obligation of not committing any wickedness;-but, on the contrary, of abstaining from thefts, robberies, and adulteries;-also, of not violating their promise, or denying a pledge;-after which it was their custom to separate, and to meet again at a promiscuous harmless meal, from which last practice they however desisted, after the publication of my edict, in which, agreeably to your orders, I forbade any societies of that sort. On which account I judged it the more necessary to inquire, by torture, from two females, who were said to be deaconesses, what is the real truth. But nothing could I collect, except a depraved and excessive superstition. Deferring therefore any further investigation, I determined to consult you. For the number of culprits is so great, as to call for serious consultation. Many persons are informed against, of every age and of both sexes; and more still will be in the same situation. The contagion of the superstition hath spread not only through cities, but even through villages and the country. Not that I think it impossible to check and to correct it. The success of my endeavours hitherto forbids such desponding thoughts for the temples, once almost desolate, begin to be frequented,
Now, these undisputed facts afford a highly satisfactory confirmation of the whole preceding series of evidences. It must, I think, be plain to every candid and reflecting mind, that so ready and extensive a reception of Christianity, at a period of time when all the circumstances of the life and death of Jesus were recent, and in the face of natural and moral difficulties apparently insurmountable, could by no means have taken place, had not the history on which the religion was founded been true-had not the miracles of Christ and his apostles been real.
Thus numerous and satisfactory are the evidences which established the fidelity of the apostles and evangelists, and which prove that the miraculous history of the New Testament is a true history. On a review of our whole argument, we may observe, first, that the apparent improbability of the Christian miracles is in great measure removed by the consideration of their perfect suitableness to a highly probable end; and, secondly, that we may confidently believe in their reality, for the following reasons—because two of the historians, by whom they were narrated, were eyewitnesses of the facts, and the two others, companions of eye-witnesses-because the Gospels contain the harmonious testimony of four cotemporary, yet independent, writers; the history detailed in the book of Acts being also verified by its undesigned coincidence with the Epistles of Paul-because the histories contained in the New Testament severally display, in the circumstantiality and naturalness of the narrative, and in the many candid statements made by their au
and the sacred solemnities, which had long been intermitted, are now attended afresh; and the sacrificial victims are now sold every where, which once could scarcely find a purchaser. Whence I conclude, that many might be reclaimed, were the hope of impunity, on repentance, absolutely confirmed: "lib. x, ep. 97.