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fruit they had in those things whereof they are now ashamed ?"* The phrases which the same writer employs to describe the moral condition of Christians, compared. with their condition before they became Christians, such as “newness of life,” being“ freed from sin,” being “dead to sin” “the destruction of the body of sin, that, for the future, they should not serve sin ;” “ children of light and of the day,” as opposed to “ children of darkness and of the night;” “not sleeping as others,” imply, at least, a new system of obligation, and, probably, a new series of conduct, commencing with their conversion.
The testimony which Pliny bears to the behaviour of the new sect in his time, and which testimony comes not more than fifty years after that of St. Paul, is very applicable to the subject under consideration. The character which this writer gives of the Christians of that age, and which was drawn from a pretty accurate inquiry, because he considered their moral principles as the point in which the magistrate was interested, is as follows:-He tells the emperour, " that some of those who had relinquished the society, or who, to save themselves, pretended that they had relinquished it, affirmed that they were wont to meet together, on a stated day, before it was light, and sang among themselves alternately a hymn to Christ as a God; and to bind themselves, by an oath, not to the commission of any wickedness, but that they would not be guilty of theft or robbery, or adultery: that they would never falsify their word, or deny a pledge committed to them, when called upon to return it.”
This proves that a morality, more pure and strict than was ordinary, prevailed at that time in Christian societies. And to me it appears, that we are authorised to carry this testimony back to the age of the Apostles,
* Rom. vi. 21.
because it is not probable that the immediate hearers and disciples of Christ were more relaxed than their successors in Pliny's time, or the missionaries of the religion than those whom they taught.
There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing to be
original witnesses of the Christian Miracles, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of those accounts ; and that they also submitted from the same motives to new rules of conduct.
When we consider, first, the prevalency of the religion at this hour; secondly, the only credible account which can be given of its origin, viz. the activity of the founder and his associates ; thirdly, the opposition which that activity must naturally have excited ; fourthly, the fate of the founder of the religion, attested by heathen writers as well as our own ; fifthly, the testimony of the same writers to the sufferings of Christians, either contemporary with, or immediately succeeding, the original settlers of the institution ; sixthly, predictions of the sufferings of his followers ascribed to the founder of the religion, which ascription alone proves, either that such predictions were delivered and fulfilled, or that the writers of Christ's life were induced by the event to attribute such predictions to him ; seventhly, letters now in our possession, written by some of the principal agents in the transaction, referring expressly to extreme labours, dangers, and sufferings, sustained by themselves and their companions ; lastly, a history purport
ing to be written by a fellow traveller of one of the new teachers, and, by its unsophisticated correspondency with letters of that person still extant, proving itself to be written by some one well acquainted with the subject of the narrative, which history contains accounts of travels, persecutions, and martyrdoms, answering to what the former reasons led us to expect; when we lay together these considerations, which, taken separately, are, I think, correctly, such as I have stated them in the preceding chapters, there cannot much doubt remain upon our minds, but that a number of persons at that time appeared in the world, publickly advancing an extraordinary story, and, for the sake of propagating the belief of that story, voluntarily incurring great personal dangers, traversing seas and kingdoms, exerting great industry, and sustaining great extremities of ill usage and persecution. It is also proved, that the same persons, in consequence of their persuasion or pretended persuasion of the truth of what they asserted, entered upon a course of life in many respects new and singular.
From the clear and acknowledged parts of the case, I think it to be likewise in the highest degree probable, that the story, for which these persons voluntarily exposed themselves to the fatigues and hardships which they endured, was a miraculous story ; I mean, that they pretended to miraculous evidence of some kind or other. They had no. thing else to stand upon. The designation of the person, that is to say, that Jesus of Nazareth, rather than any other person, was the Messiah, and as such, the subject of their ministry, could only be founded upon supernatural tokens attributed to him. Here were no victories, no conquests, no revolutions, no surprising elevation of fortune, no achievements of valour, of strength, or of policy, to appeal to ; no discoveries in any art or science, no great efforts of genius or learning to produce.
A Galilean peasant was
denounced to the world as a divine lawgiver. A young man of mean condition, of a private and simple life, and who had wrought no deliverance for the Jewish nation, was declared to be their Messiah. This, without ascribing to him at the same time some proofs of his mission, (and what other but supernatural proofs could there be ?) was too absurd a claim to be either imagined, or attempted, or credited. In whatever degree, or in whatever part, the religion was argumentative, when it came to the question, “ Is the carpenter's son of Nazareth the person whom we are to receive and obey ?" there was nothing but the miracles attributed to him, by which his pretension could be maintained for a moment. Every controversy and every question must presuppose these : for, however such controversies, when they did arise, might, and naturally would, be discussed upon their own grounds of argumentation, without citing the miraculous evidence which had been asserted to attend the founder of the religion (which would have been to enter upon another, and a more general question), yet we are to bear in mind, that without previously supposing the existence or the pretence of such evidence, there could have been no place for the discussion of the argument at all. Thus, for example, whether the prophecies, which the Jews interpreted to belong to the Messiah, were, or were not, applicable to the history of Jesus of Nazareth, was a natural subject of debate in those times ; and the debate would proceed, without recurring at every turn to his miracles, because it set out with supposing these ; inasmuch as without miraculous marks and tokens, (real or pretended,) or without some such great change effected by his means in the publick condition of the country, as might have satisfied the then received interpretation of these prophecies, I do not see how the question could ever have been entertained. Apollos, we read, “ mightily convinsed
the Jews, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ;"* but unless Jesus had exhibited some distinction of his person, some proof of supernatural power, the argument from the old scriptures could have had no place. It had nothing to attach upon. A young man calling himself the Son of God, gathering a crowd about him, and delivering to them lectures of morality, could not have excited so much as a doubt among the Jews, whether he was the object in whom a long series of ancient prophecies terminated, from the completion of which they had formed such magnificent expectations, and expectations of a nature so opposite to what appeared ; I mean, no such doubt could exist when they had the whole case before them, when they saw him put to death for his officiousness, and when by his death the evidence concerning him was closed. Again, the effect of the Messiah's coming, supposing Jesus to have been him, upon Jews, upon Gentiles, upon their relation to each other, upon their acceptance with God, upon their duties and their expectations ; his nature, authority, office, and agency; were likely to become subjects of much consideration with the early votaries of the religion, and to occupy their attention and writings. I should not, however, expect, that in these disquisitions, whether preserved in the form of letters, speeches or set treatises, frequent or very direct mention of his miracles would occur. Still miraculous evidence lay at the bottom of the argument. In the primary question, miraculous pretensions, and miraculous pretensions alone, were what they had to rely upon.
That the original story was miraculous, is very fairly also inferred from the miraculous powers which were laid claim to by the Christians of succeeding ages. If the accounts of these miracles be true, it was a continuation of
* Acts xviii. 28.