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The officer, however, who had thus seasonably interposed, acted from his care of the public peace, with the preservation of which he was charged, and not from any favour to the apostle, or indeed any disposition to exercise either justice or humanity towards him: for he had no sooner secured his person in the fortress, than he was proceeding to examine him by torture.t
From this time to the conclusion of the history, the apostle remains in public custody of the Roman government. After escaping assassination by a fortunate discovery of the plot, and delivering himself from the influence of his enemies by an appeal to the audience of the emperor, he was sent, but not until he had suffered two years' imin-prisonment, to Rome.§ He reached Italy, after a tedious voyage, and after encountering in his passage the perils of a desperate shipwreck. But although still a prisoner, and his fate still depending, neither the various and long continued sufferings which he had undergone, nor the danger of his present situation, deterred him from persisting in preaching the religion; for the historian closes the account by telling us, that, for two years, he received all that came unto him in his own hired house, where he was permitted to dwell with a soldier that guarded him, "preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence."
This indefatigable teacher, after leaving Corinth, returned by Ephesus into Syria; and again visited Now the historian from whom we have drawn Jerusalem, and the society of Christians in that this account, in the part of his narrative which recity, which, as hath been repeatedly observed, still lates to Saint Paul, is supported by the strongest continued the centre of the mission. It suited corroborating testimony that a history can receive. not, however, with the activity of his zeal to re- We are in possession of letters written by Saint main long at Jerusalem. We find him going Paul himself upon the subject of his ministry, and thence to Antioch, and, after some stay there, either written during the period which the history traversing once more the northern provinces of comprises, or if written afterwards, reciting and Asia Minor.** This progress ended at Ephesus; referring to the transactions of that period. These in which city, the apostle continued in the daily letters, without borrowing from the history, or the exercise of his ministry two years, and until his history from them, unintentionally confirm the success, at length, excited the apprehensions of account which the history delivers, in a great vathose who were interested in the support of the riety of particulars. What belongs to our present national worship. Their clamour produced a tu- purpose is the description exhibited of the aposmult, in which he had nearly lost his life.tt Un-tle's sufferings: and the representation, given in dismayed, however, by the dangers to which he the history, of the dangers and distresses which saw himself exposed, he was driven from Ephesus he underwent, not only agrees, in general, with only to renew his labours in Greece. After pass- the language which he himself uses whenever he ing over Macedonia, he thence proceeded to his speaks of his life or ministry, but is also, in many former station at Corinth. When he had formed instances, attested by a specific correspondency of his design of returning by a direct course from time, place, and order of events. If the historian Corinth into Syria, he was compelled by a conspi- put down in his narrative, that at Philippi, the racy of the Jews, who were prepared to intercept apostle "was beaten with many stripes, cast into him on his way, to trace back his steps through prison, and there treated with rigour and indigniMacedonia to Philippi, and thence to take shipping | ty;"¶ we find him, in a letter to a neighbouring into Asia. Along the coast of Asia, he pursued church,** reminding his converts, that, "after he his voyage with all the expedition he could com- had suffered before, and was shamefully entreated mand, in order to reach Jerusalem against the at Philippi, he was bold, nevertheless, to speak feast of Pentecost $5 His reception at Jerusalem unto them (to whose city he next came) the Gos was of a piece with the usage he had experienced pel of God." If the history relate, that, at Thesfrom the Jews in other places. He had been only salonica, the house in which the apostle was a few days in that city, when the populace, insti- lodged, when he first came to that place, was asgated by some of his old opponents in Asia, who saulted by the populace, and the master of it dragattended this feast, seized him in the temple, ged before the magistrate for admitting such a forced him out of it, and were ready immediately guest within his doors; the apostle, in his letter to to have destroyed him, had not the sudden pre- the Christians of Thessalonica, calls to their resence of the Roman guard rescued him out of their membrance "how they had received the Gospel in much affliction." If the history deliver an ac
dungeon, and their feet made fast in the stocks.* | hands.*
Acts xvi. 23, 24. 33. 1 Acts xvii. 13. Acts xviii. 15. **Acts xviii. 23. II Acts xx. 1,2.
† Acts xvii. 1-5.
* Acts xxi. 27-33.
↑ Acts xxv. 9. 11.
† Acts xxii. 24. § Acts xxiv. 27. Acts xvi. 23, 24 Acts xvii. 5.
1 Thess. i. 6.
count of an insurrection at Ephesus, which had nearly cost the apostle his life; we have the apostle himself, in a letter written a short time after his departure from that city, describing his despair, and returning thanks for his deliverance.*. If the history inform us, that the apostle was expelled from Antioch in Pisidia, attempted to be stoned at Iconium, and actually stoned at Lystra; there is preserved a letter from him to a favourite convert, whom, as the same history tells us, he first met with in these parts; in which letter he appeals to that disciple's knowledge" of the persecutions which befell him at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra." If the history make the apostle, in his speech to the Ephesian elders, remind them, as one proof of the disinterestedness of his views, that, to their knowledge, he had supplied his own and the necessities of his companions by personal labour; we find the same apostle, in a letter written during his residence at Ephesus, asserting of himself, that even to that hour he laboured, working with his own hands."§
These coincidences, together with many relative to other parts of the apostle's history, and all drawn from independent sources, not only confirm the truth of the account, in the particular points as to which they are observed, but add much to the credit of the narrative in all its parts: and support the author's profession of being a contempo-it."t rary of the person whose history he writes, and, throughout a material portion of his narrative, a companion.
the Romans, in a piece very little connected with historical recitals, thus speaks: "Such as have believed and suffered death for the name of Christ, and have endured with a ready mind, and have given up their lives with all their hearts."*
Polycarp, the disciple of John (though all that remains of his works be a very short epistle,) has not left this subject unnoticed. "I exhort (says he) all of you, that ye obey the word of righteousness, and exercise all patience, which ye have seen set forth before your eyes, not only in the blessed Ignatius, and Lorimus, and Rufus, but in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself and the rest of the apostles; being confident in this, that all these have not run in vain, but in faith and righteousness; and are gone to the place that was due to them from the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not this present world, but Him who died, and was raised again by God for us."+
Ignatius, the contemporary of Polycarp, recognises the same topic, briefly indeed, but positively and precisely. "For this cause, (i. e. having felt and handled Christ's body after his resurrection, and being convinced, as Ignatius expresses it, both by his flesh and spirit,) they (i. e. Peter, and those who were present with Peter at Christ's appearance) despised death, and were found to be above
Would the reader know what a persecution in these days was, I would refer him to a circular letter, written by the church of Smyrna soon after the death of Polycarp, who, it will be remembered, had lived with Saint John; and which letter is en
What the epistles of the apostles declare of the suffering state of Christianity, the writings which remain of their companions and immediate follow-titled a relation of that bishop's martyrdom. “The ers, expressly confirm. sufferings (say they) of all the other martyrs were blessed and generous, which they underwent according to the will of God. For so it becomes us, who are more religious than others, to ascribe the power and ordering of all things unto him. And indeed who can choose but admire the greatness of their minds, and that admirable patience and love of their Master, which then appeared in them? Who, when they were so flayed with whipping, that the frame and structure of their bodies were laid open to their very inward veins and arteries, nevertheless endured it. In like manner, those who were condemned to the beasts, and kept a long time in prison, underwent many cruel torments, being forced to lie upon sharp spikes laid under their bodies, and tormented with divers other sorts of punishments; that so, if it were pos sible, the tyrant by the length of their sufferings, might have brought them to deny Christ."§
Clement, who is honourably mentioned by Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Philippians, hath left us his attestation to this point, in the following words: "Let us take (says he) the examples of our own age. Through zeal and envy, the most faithful and righteous pillars of the church have been persecuted even to the most grievous deaths. Let us set before our eyes the holy apostles, Peter, by unjust envy, underwent, not one or two, but many sufferings; till at last, being martyred, he went to the place of glory that was due unto him. For the same cause did Paul, in like manner, receive the reward of his patience. Seven times he was in bonds; he was whipt, was stoned; he preached both in the East and in the West, leaving behind him the glorious report of his faith; and so having taught the whole world righteousness, and for that end travelled even unto the utmost bounds of the West, he at last suffered martyrdom by the command of the governors, and departed out of the world, and went unto his holy place, being become a most eminent pattern of patience unto all ages. To these holy apostles were joined a very great number of others, who, having through envy undergone, in like manner, many pains and torments, have left a glorious example to us. For this, not only men, but women have been persecuted; and, having suffered very grievous and cruel punishments, have finished the course of their faith with firmness."¶ Hermas, saluted by Saint Paul in his Epistle to
*Acts xix. 2 Cor. 8-10.
† Acts xiii. 50; xiv. 5. 19. 2 Tim. iii. 10, 11.
1 Acts xx. 34.
§ 1 Cor. iv. 11, 12. Philipp. iv. 3. Clem. ad Cor. c. v, vi. Abp. Wake's Trans.
ON the history, of which the last chapter con- fects were certainly these, of which this history tains an abstract, there are a few observations sets forth the cause, and origin, and progress. It is which it may be proper to make, by way of apply-acknowledged on all hands, because it is recorded ing its testimony to the particular propositions for by other testimony than that of the Christians which we contend. themselves, that the religion began to prevail at I. Although our Scripture history leaves the that time, and in that country. It is very difgeneral account of the apostles in an early part of ficult to conceive how it could begin, or prevail at the narrative, and proceeds with the separate ac- all, without the exertions of the Founder and his count of one particular apostle, yet the informa- followers, in propagating the new persuasion. tion which it delivers so far extends to the rest, as The history now in our hands describes these exit shows the nature of the service. When we see ertions, the persons employed, the means and enone apostle suffering persecution in the discharge deavours made use of, and the labours undertaken of his commission, we shall not believe, without in the prosecution of this purpose. Again, the evidence, that the same office could, at the same treatment which the history represents the first time, be attended with ease and safety to others. propagators of the religion to have experienced, And this fair and reasonable inference is confirm- was no other than what naturally resulted from ed by the direct attestation of the letters, to which the situation in which they were confessedly we have so often referred. The writer of these placed. It is admitted that the religion was letters not only alludes, in numerous passages, to adverse, in a great degree to the reigning opinions, his own sufferings, but speaks of the rest of the and to the hopes and wishes of the nation to apostles as enduring like sufferings with himself. which it was first introduced; and that it over"I think that God hath set forth us the apostles threw, so far as it was received, the established last, as it were, appointed to death; for we are theology and worship of every other country. We made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, cannot feel much reluctance in believing that, and to men;-even unto this present hour, we when the messengers of such a system went both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are about not only publishing their opinions, but colbuffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and lecting proselytes, and forming regular societies labour, working with our own hands: being revil- of proselytes, they should meet with opposition in ed, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being their attempts, or that this opposition should somedefamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of times proceed to fatal extremities. Our history the world, and as the offscouring of all things unto details examples of this opposition, and of the sufthis day."* Add to which, that in the short ac-ferings and dangers which the emissaries of the count that is given of the other apostles in the for- religion underwent, perfectly agreeable to what mer part of the history, and within the short pe- might reasonably be expected, from the nature of riod which that account comprises, we find, first, their undertaking, compared with the character two of them seized, imprisoned, brought before the of the age and country in which it was carried on. Sanhedrim, and threatened with further punish- IV. The records before us supply evidence of ment; then, the whole number imprisoned and what formed another member of our general propobeaten; soon afterwards, one of their adherents sition, and what, as hath already been observed, stoned to death, and so hot a persecution raised is highly probable, and almost a necessary conseagainst the sect, as to drive most of them out of quence of their new profession, viz. that, together the place; a short time only succeeding, before with activity and courage in propagating the reone of the twelve was beheaded, and another sen- ligion, the primitive followers of Jesus assumed, tenced to the same fate; and all this passing in upon their conversion, a new and peculiar course the single city of Jerusalem, and within ten years of private life. Immediately after their Master after the Founder's death, and the commencement was withdrawn from them, we hear of their "conof the institution. tinuing with one accord in prayer and supplication;" of their "continuing daily with one accord in the temple;"t of "many being gathered together praying." We know what strict injunctions were laid upon the converts by their teachers. Wherever they came, the first word of their preaching was, "Repent!" We know that these injunctions obliged them to refrain from many species of licentiousness, which were not, at that time, reputed criminal. We know the rules of purity, and the maxims of benevolence, which Christians read in their books; concerning which rules, it is enough to observe, that, if they were, I will not say completely obeyed, but in any degree regarded, they would produce a system of conduct, and what is more difficult to preserve, a disposition of mind, and a regulation of affections, different from any thing to which they had hitherto been accustomed, and different from what they would see in others. The change and distinction of manners, which resulted from their new character, is perpetually referred to in the letters of their teachers. And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in Acts xii. 12.
* Acts i. 14.
+ Acts ii. 46.
II. We take no credit at present for the miraculous part of the narrative, nor do we insist upon the correctness of single passages of it. If the whole story be not a novel, a romance; the whole action a dream; if Peter and James, and Paul, and the rest of the apostles mentioned in the account, be not all imaginary persons; if their letters be not all forgeries, and, what is more, forgeries of names and characters which never existed; then is there evidence in our hands sufficient to support the only fact we contend for (and which, I repeat again, is in itself highly probable,) that the original followers of Jesus Christ exerted great endeavours to propagate his religion, and underwent great labours, dangers, and sufferings, in consequence of their undertaking.
III. The general reality of the apostolic history is strongly confirmed by the consideration, that it, in truth, does no more than assign adequate causes for effects which certainly were produced, and describe consequences naturally resulting from situations which certainly existed. The ef
1 Cor. iv. 9, et seq.
times past ye walked, according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; among whom also we had our conversation in times past, in the lust of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others."-"For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the WHEN we consider, first, the prevalency of the gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, religion at this hour; secondly, the only credible excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abomi- account which can be given of its origin, viz. the nable idolatries; wherein they think it strange activity of the Founder and his associates; thirdly, that ye run not with them to the same excess of the opposition which that activity must naturally riot." Saint Paul, in his first letter to the Co-have excited; fourthly, the fate of the Founder of rinthians, after enumerating, as his manner was, a the religion, attested by heathen writers as well catalogue of vicious characters, adds, "Such were as our own; fifthly, the testimony of the same some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanc-writers to the sufferings of Christians, either contified." In like manner, and alluding to the temporary with, or immediately succeeding, the same change of practices and sentiments, he asks original settlers of the institution; sixthly, predicthe Roman Christians, "what fruit they had in tions of the sufferings of his followers ascribed to those things, whereof they are now ashamed?"§ the Founder of the religion, which ascription The phrases which the same writer employs to alone proves, either that such predictions were de describe the moral condition of Christians, com-livered and fulfilled, or that the writers of Christ's pared with their condition before they became life were induced by the event to attribute such Christians, such as "newness of life," being "freed predictions to him; seventhly, letters now in our from sin," being "dead to sin;" "the destruction possession, written by some of the principal agents of the body of sin, that, for the future, they in the transaction, referring expressly to extreme should not serve sin;""children of light and of labours, dangers, and sufferings sustained by the day," as opposed to "children of darkness and themselves and their companions; lastly, a history of the night;"" not sleeping as others;" imply, at purporting to be written by a fellow-traveller of least, a new system of obligation, and, probably, a one of the new teachers, and, by its unsophisticanew series of conduct, commencing with their ted correspondency with letters of that person still conversion. 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 lead 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, publicly advancing an extaordinary 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 nothing 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 conquest, no revolutions, no surprising elevation of fortune, no achievements of valour, of strength, or of policy, to appeal to; no discoveries in any Chris-arts or science, no great efforts of genius or learning to produce. A Galilean peasant was announced to the world as a divine lawgiver. A young man of mean condition, of a private and simple life, and
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 emperor," 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 authorized to carry this testimony back to the age of the apostles; 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
* Eph. ii. 1-3. See also Tit. iii. 3. † 1 Pet. iv. 3, 4.
tian 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.
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 pretensions could be maintained for a moment. Every controversy and every question must presuppose these; for, how ever 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 public 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 convinced the Jews, showing 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 he, 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
Acts xviii. 28.
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 the same powers; if they be false, it was an imitation, I will not say of what had been wrought, but of what had been reported to have been wrought, by those who preceded them. That imitation should follow reality, fiction should be grafted upon truth; that, if miracles were performed at first, miracles should be pretended afterwards; agrees so well with the ordinary course of human affairs, that we can have no great difficulty in believing it. The contrary supposition is very improbable, namely, that miracles should be pretended to, by the followers of the apostles and first emissaries of the religion, when none were pretended to, either in their own persons or that of their Master, by these apostles and emissaries themselves.
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.
IT being then once proved, that the first propagators of the Christian institution did exert activity, and subject themselves to great dangers and sufferings, in consequence and for the sake of an extraordinary, and, I think, we may say, of a miraculous story of some kind or other; the next great question is, Whether the account, which our Scriptures contain, be that story; that which these men delivered, and for which they acted and suffered as they did? This question is, in effect, no other than whether the story which Christians have now, be the story which Christians had then? And the following proofs may be deduced from general considerations, and from considerations prior to any inquiry into the particular reasons and testimonies by which the authority of our histories is supported.
In the first place, there exists no trace or vestige of any other story. It is not, like the death of Cyrus the Great, a competition between opposite accounts, or between the credit of different historians. There is not a document, or scrap of account, either contemporary with the commencement of Christianity, or extant within many ages after that commencement, which assigns a history substantially different from ours. The remote, brief, and incidental notices of the affair, which are found in heathen writers, so far as they do go, go along with us. They bear testimony to these facts:-that the institution originated from Jesus; that the Founder was put to death, as a malefactor, at Jerusalem, by the authority of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate; that the religion nevertheless spread in that city, and throughout Judea; and that it was propagated thence to distant coun