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To see what force there is in these questions, permit me to lay before you a slight sketch of the trials, to which Christianity has been exposed from the improved reason of ancient and modern times, and of the effect, which those trials appear to have had on the credit and reception of that Religion.
I. Jesus preached the Gospel in the reign of Tiberius: that is, in a time of profound peace, when arts and letters were generally diffused through the Roman empire; and in Judea, at that time a Roman province. So far was this thing from being done in a cornera !
This religion, on its first appearance in the world, had therefore to encounter two sorts of men, well qualified, and not less disposed, to give it a severe examination; I mean, the learned Jews, on the one hand, and the rean soning GENTILES, on the other. Yet it
prevailed against all the efforts of both.
It was, first, proposed to the Jews, and its pretensions were to be tried by the correspondence of its principles and history to the doctrine and predictions of their sacred books. That vastly the greater part of the Jewish nation resisted the evidence of that appeal, is well known: but that great numbers did not, and, of these, that some, at least, were of principal note for their rank, and knowledge in the scriptures, is equally certain and allowed; with this further concession, that the evidence, whatever it was, prevailed over the most inveterate prejudices, that ever possessed any people, and the most alarming difficulties and discouragements, to whieh human nature can be exposed. Let the fact, then, be considered, with all its circumstances, on both sides. And as to the merit of the argument, we are well able to judge of it. The sacred writings of the Jews, to which the appeal lay, are in all hands: and with what triumphant superiority the followers of Jesus reasoned from them, we see, in their numerous works, still extant, and especially in those of the great Apostle, St. Paul. So that, if all the scriptural learning, and all the bigotry of Judaism, could not stop the progress of Christianity, as we know it did
a Acts xxvi. 26.
may fairly be presumed, that the way of inquiry was not unfavourable to the new religion, and that truth and reason were on that side. But
2. From the Jews, let us turn to the GENTILES, at that time flourishing in arts and let
ters. To them was the Gospel preached by the Apostles, and especially by their Apostle, St. Paul, through the whole extent of the Roman empire; and not without success in the head quarters of Gentilism, in the chief towns of Asia, in Greece, at Athens, and even at Rome itself.
The pride of Gentile wisdom, indeed, kept its professors, for some time, from taking more than a superficial notice of the new religion. But its rapid progress among the people, joined to its declared purpose of prescribing to the general faith of mankind, broke through this real or affected indifference, rouzed, at length, the attention of the great and wise, and provoked the zeal of both to shew itself in every mode of opposition. The great persecuted, and the wise reasoned: and this latter species of hostility (the more alarming of the two, if Christianity had been an imposture) was carried on with vigour, and without intermission (whatever intervals there might be of the former) through several successive ages. The four Gospels, and the other authentic documents of our religion, were now in all hands, when this lettered war commenced against Christianity, and continued, till Paganism was utterly overthrown and subdued. Many adversaries of the Christian name engaged in this unequal contest : but the most distinguished are, Celsus, in the second century; PORPHYRY, in the third; and JULIAN, in the fourth: all of them, eminent philosophers; and the last of this great triumvirate, an imperial one. The two first wrote with all freedom, because against a persecuted, and on the side of the predominant, religion ; and the third had the whole power of the state in his own hands.
The works of these great chieftains of infidelity, it must be owned, are not extant in their proper
form. But Celsus is almost entire in Origen; a great part of Julian may be seen in Cyril; and considerable fragments of Porphyry's work have been preserved in Jerom and other old writers.
Ye do not expect me to produce, on this occasion, the substance of what these three philosophers have said against the Christian cause. Any that will, may see it in the original authors, just mentioned, or in many modern collections, that have been made out of them. It may be enough to say, that those, who give themselves this trouble, will find much abuse and misrepresentation, and some argument: but the last so weak, and inconclu
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sive, that one cannot wonder much at what Chrysostom tells us, “That the early books, “ written against Christianity, soon fell into a “ general contempt; that they perished almost “as fast as they appeared ; and that, if they “ still subsisted any where, it was, because
they had been preserved by the Christians « themselves b."
But, setting aside, for the present, the inerits of the question, the fact, we know, is, that all the efforts of Greek and Roman philosophy were not successful: that the church was soon filled with its professors, even before the empire became Christian: and that this great event itself happened within little more than three centuries from the birth of Christ. So mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed, notwithstanding the severity, with which its pretensions were tried.
5 Τοστός εςι των υπ' αυτών γεγραμμένων ο γέλως, ώςε αφανισθηναι και τα βιβλία πάλαι, και άμα το δειχθήναι, και απολέσθαι τα πολλά. Ει δε σε τι και ευρεθείη διασωθέν, παρά Χριστιανούς τετο σωζόμενον εύροι τις αν.
P. 539. Ed. Bened. .<"The Christian religion," says the finest of our English writers, whom I need not therefore stay to name, “ made its way through paganism with an amazing pro
gress and activity. Its victories were the victories of reason, unassisted by the force of human power, and as gentle as the triumphs of light over darkness."