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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
ranged, or they may have been subjected to such particular influences as cannot possibly be known, except perhaps to those who have attended them from their infancy, and have been acquainted with their whole history. But this can never be said of so many persons, of all descriptions, as are well known to have embraced Christianity in the very age of the apostles, except by persons whose own minds are deranged, and therefore whose objections it is to no purpose to consider, or reply to. But supposing the thousands and tens of thousands who embraced Christianity in the age of the apostles, to have been properly infatuated so as to believe that they actually saw and heard things that had no existence; the next generation had sufficient leisure and sufficient opportunity to inquire into the facts, and this most extraordinary one, of the infatuation of their predecessors, among the rest; and they were sufficiently interested so to do, when, if they embraced Christianity, they had nothing before them but the fate of preceding Christians. Yet we see that the inquiries that were made in the second generation, and all the succeeding ones, after the apostles, continually added to the number of Christians; who kept uniformly increasing, among the learned and unlearned, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, till, notwithstanding all their hardships, they, or their friends, became the more powerful part of the Roman empire. To suppose that Christianity could have propagated itself in this manner, without being founded in truth, is to suppose, as I observed before (and because it cannot be too much attended to, I mention it again) more miracles, and those of a more extraordinary nature, than are believed by Christians; miracles of which no evidence can be given, and for which no reason can be assigned. For it must be supposed that all these innumerable converts to Christianity in the early ages imagined that they had heard and seen what they never had heard or seen ; or that they had inquired into the truth of recent facts, when they had made no inquiry at all, and that
they sacrificed their ease, their liberty, their property, and many of them their lives, for a mere fancy, an illusion of the brain. Their minds mnst therefore have been under a proper and miraculous infatuation, and for no purpose but to subject them to the most grievous sufferings, and to delude mankind in all future ages.
Now, between this strange and incredible supposition, and and the truth of the gospel history, there is no medium. Admitting the facts which are related by the Evangelists, and the author of the Acts of the Apostles, every thing that has followed to the present times is easy and natural. The conversion of the first Christians, obstinate and reluctant as many of them were, the conversion of others by them, and all the subsequent events, have an adequate cause, so that without supposing any farther miracles, all things have come by a regular progress, each step of which is perfectly intelligible, to the state in which we see them to be at present. But on no other hypothesis can present appearances, what we ourselves now see, be accounted for. On the other supposition (which, if they reflect at all, must be that of all unbelievers) we see the most wonderful change in the history of the world, a revolution in the minds of men, of all nations and all descriptions, produced by supernatural delusion; that is, a great effect without any cause, that a man in his sober senses would think of alleging for it.