« AnteriorContinuar »
scure birth and mean occupation of Jesus, in a distant and despised country; his high pretensions to be the Jewish Messiah, without any assumption of kingly power, universally deemed to be most essential to that character; his claim to a kingdom, though not of this world, and to the power of raising the dead and judging the world, when he had nothing but the certain prospect of a violent death before him; his undertaking to overthrow all the religions of the heathen world, firmly attached as the several nations were to them, - religions which had kept their ground, from time immemorial, notwithstanding a long period now boasted of as the most enlightened of any till the present; when there had not been from the beginning of the world an example of any nations voluntarily changing their religion; his holding out to his disciples nothing but persecution in this world and happiness in another; his having no secrets; his discovering no anxiety about the evidences of his divine mission, joined with his calm good sense, his exalted piety, his general benevolence, and the strong affection he always showed to his friends and followers; let all these circumstances, I say, be considered, and, without attending to his miracles and his success, it must surely be thought impossible that this man could have been an impostor, and meant to deceive the world. This internal evidence added to external, on which I have already enlarged, viz. from miracles and prophecy, must be abundantly sufficient to satisfy any reasonable and candid inquirer, with respect to the truth of Christianity, and of revealed religion in general. $ # #
Thus have I given a sketch of the history of Jesus, from which we may form a just idea of his real character; and let those who are best acquainted with human nature say, whether it does not bear every mark of true greatness, even exceeding any that ever existed before or since. Jesus appears to have been free from every human weakness, and to have been actuated by every sentiment that is justly entitled to the
denomination of great; as being remote from common attainments, and arising from the greatest comprehension of mind which is only acquired by just and enlarged views of things, respecting alike God and man, this life and another.
To persons of sufficient knowledge and candid reflection, this consideration affords satisfactory proof of the truth of Christianity. The Evangelists were not men who were capable of devising such a character as this, or of inventing a series of actions and discourses indicating such a character. It is a great unique, of which they could not have formed any conception.” And if such, indeed, was the character of Jesus, the question to the philosophical inquirer is, How could it have been formed ! For so remarkable an effect must have had an adequate cause. The answer is obvious. It could only have arisen from the firmest persuasion, in the mind of Jesus, of a divine mission, and consequently, of a great future reward, which would abundantly overbalance all the sufferings of this life.
* “What sweetness, what purity in his manners : What an affecting gracefulness in his delivery ! What sublimity in his maxims What profound wisdom in his discourses What presence of mind, what subtilty, what truth in his replies How great the command over his passions ! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live, and so die, without weakness, and without ostentation ? Where could Jesus learn, among his competitors, that pure and sublime morality, of which he only hath given us both precept and example * Shall we suppose the Evangelic History a mere fiction Such a supposition, in fact, only shifts the difficulty without obviating it. It is more inconceivable that a number of persons should agree to write such a history, than that one only should surnish the subject of it. The Jewish authors were incapable of the diction, and strangers to the morality contained in the Gospel, the marks of whose truth are so striking and inimitable, that the inventor would be a more astonishing character than the hero.”—Rousseau's Letter to the Archbishop
of Paris, 1763, p. 63.
THE SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY A PROOF OF
I would farther observe, that this state of things affords a strong presumptive proof of the truth of Christianity. The heathen religion had every advantage of antiquity, learning, and power; and yet could not prevail against the new religion, with the heavy disadvantage of having a crucified Jew for its founder. Christianity had no advantage from power, till by its own evidence only, and in opposition to every kind of power, it had prevailed so much as to make it the interest of the ruling powers to espouse it.
With respect to the conduct of Divine Providence, I would observe, that the sufferings of Christians, as well as those of Christ himself, though so great and of such long continuance, were necessary to the firm establishment of Christianity; and that this was necessary to the happiness of mankind in future ages. For, to the confirmation of their faith it was absolutely necessary, that no person, to the end of time, should ever be able to say, that Christianity had established itself in the world by means of power, of policy, or of learning; and that its evidences had not been rigorously examined at a time when every means of examination were existing, and also when both its friends aud enemies were sufficiently interested in the examination.
Now the persecution of Christians, from the very origin of their religion at Jerusalem, in the very midst of its most inveterate enemies, and for more than two centuries after this, through the whole extent of the Roman empire (the
power of which over all its subjects was by its constitution perhaps greater than any that had ever existed in the world before, or that has existed, even since); a period also that was far from being unfavorable to learning and inquiry, not preventing, but evidently promoting the spread of Christianity; is the most incontestable proof, that neither arguments, nor force, though both were exerted to the utmost, could prevail against it. On the other hand, the Christians, who had no alternative but abandoning their religion or their lives, would not certainly choose the latter without what appeared to them to be sufficient reason, and such as they had not taken up lightly, and without the most careful examination. Because we do not see that, in any other cases, men deliberately throw away their lives; and especially that they submit to long-continued torture, without cause. This was the state of things between the friends and the enemies of Christianity, while the facts were recent, capable of the most easy investigation, and the witnesses were numerous. And that they who did inquire with a proper temper of mind were really satisfied with respect to these facts, is evident from their continuing to profess themselves Christians notwithstanding all the discouragements they lay under, and by their daily making converts of others. It is of the greatest importance to observe, that the things to be examined were plain facts, with respect to which one man's understanding is just as good as that of any other. Whatever learning or genius could do was at first entirely against Christianity, because its origin was wholly with the illiterate; but at length the learned themselves, of every class, attached as they were to their respective favorite systems, were induced to abandon them in favor of a religion which, both on account of its tenets and of its founder and preachers, they had at first held in the greatest contempt. A man who can say that, in these circumstances, Christianity made its way in the world, as it is known to have done before the reign of Constantine, without its being founded on truth, must say that human nature was not the same thing then that it is now. And the man who can seriously assert this, will not be much attended to by other men. He must, in fact, believe infinitely more miracles, and of a more stupendous nature, than the Christian admits, and these both without evidence and without an object. He must be a believer in the absolute and proper infatuation of the greater part of the subjects of the Roman empire for the three first centuries: nothing less than this will account for unquestionable facts, upon his hypothesis. I must observe again, and enlarge a little upon the observation, that the things to be examined into by the friends or the enemies of Christianity, were not truths of an abstract or metaphysical nature, with respect to which any man or any number of men may form wrong judgments, and become tenaciously attached to them; but simply the truth of facts, which it requires nothing more than common sense to judge of; and likewise such an application of common sense, or understanding, as all men are continually exercising, and therefore with respect to which they are the least liable to make a mistake, and form a wrong judgment. What they had to inquire into was simply this; whether Christ, with whom many of them were personally acquainted, wrought real miracles, whether he rose from the dead, and whether the apostles and others continued to work miracles in support of his divine mission afterwards. With the truth or untruth of these facts, the apostles themselves and all their contemporaries must either have been acquainted, or might easily have satisfied themselves. They could not therefore have been imposed upon themselves with respect to the facts; nor can it be imagined that the thousands of that generation who suffered, and many of whom died, in the cause of Christianity, could have any motive to impose upon others. We do not indeed think it necessary to trouble ourselves to investigate the causes of the sentiments and conduct of single persons, or of a few persons; because their faculties may be de