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But, proceed we to mark more particularly,
II. THE OBSTACLES SURMOUNTED in this rapid diffusion of Christianity.
1. The persons by whom the religion was propagated, and propagated without human aid, were feeble and unknown. For who were the first apostles of Christianity? Were they sayes of Greece and Rome, clothed with the reverence, and protected by the usages, of the nations to whom they came? Were they philosophers or augurs? Was it another Socrates, who proclaimed his intercourse with a guardian angel, and founded his doctrine upon the instructions of his celestial monitor ? Was it another Numa, who asserted his communication with the deity of some sacred fountain ?? No. The apostles were unaided, and for the most part unlearned, as well as unknown men. Of all countries which could have been selected for the origin of a religion, Judæa was the most inauspicious and improbable. The Jews were a nation despised and hated by the whole Greek and Roman world.
And what better hope had the apostles from their own countrymen, by whom the Galileans were as much despised as the nation generally
7 Benson's Hulsean Lectures. •
were by the Gentiles; and who saw the apostles, a poor, friendless, unconnected body, without education and without support, betrayed by their very dialect, going forth to condemn them for the crucifixion of Christ, to abolish all their ceremonies and privileges, and admit the heathen to an equality with them in the new religion.
Further, how do these despised apostles enter upon their hopeless errand ? Do they begin the work by gradual insinuation, by imperceptibly introducing their religion to persons of authority and talent, by entering upon long disputations, and working their way by reasonings, confutation, and human rhetoric? Do they come down into the arena of philosophic disceptation, and meet the wise, and the scribe, and the disputer of this world, upon his own territory? Just the contrary: they proceed in a way of direct authority: they renounce all the craft and policy of former teachers, and in the simplicity and openness of truth, assert the doctrines and duties of the Christian religion, and rest their whole cause on the divine aid and power.
Not only so. They had themselves no previous plan of converting the world. They had yielded to fear and pusillanimity at their Mas. VOL, I.
ter's sufferings, they were filled with misapprehensions on the spiritual nature of the gospel, they had strong prejudices against the admission of the Gentiles into the church, they cherished false expectations of a temporal, and had no preparation for a spiritual kingdom of Messiah. Their courage and fortitude were the effects of the descent of the Spirit. And their errors and prejudices were, at last, only dissipated by degrees, as new circumstances arose. It was, in fact, persecution which scattered them abroad, and led them to propose the gospel to the Gentiles. And yet these men subdued the world.
And observe, also, in their manner of preaching, their open appeal to the main facts of Christianity and the immediate power of the Holy Ghost. Read St. Peter's discourses to the Jews, and St. Paul's to the Gentiles. On what does the doctrine rest? Upon man, or upon God? Can anything be more artless, more unassuming, more evidently referring every thing to a divine operation, especially as to the resurrection of their Lord ? How strong and unbending are their demands upon their hearers' faith and obedience? How uncompromising their condemnation of polytheism and vice when addressing the heathen; and of
the pride and misinterpretation of the prophecies, when addressing the Jews? They rely on a divine operation. Even in the records of their actions they relate only a part of their wonderful successes, and those relations are often only incidental. It is obvious that events as they arose, and not human design and foresight, conducted the steps of the apostles; and that the fact of the resurrection, and their miraculous powers, not human suasion, were the strength of their discourses. And with these peaceful arms they conquer. The most unlikely persons, with the most unlikely doctrine, in the most undesigned and artless manner, convert the world. A divine interposition can alone fill up the chasm between such disproportioned means and the immense effects produced. If the resurrection of Christ were not true, if the Holy Ghost had not descended upon them, if the gifts of tongues and of healing had not been conferred, how could such a doctrine, in the hands of such men, have gained a single convert?
The conclusion of Eusebius (A.D. 270--339) seems unavoidable, “ When I consider,” he says, “ the power of this doctrine, and that
8 This may be traced throughout the Acts of the Apostles. Events of immense magnitude come out incidentally. The Epistles abound with similar discoveries by intimation.
great multitudes of men were persuaded, and numerous societies formed by the mean and illiterate disciples of Jesus; and that not in obscure and ignorant places, but in the most celebrated cities, in Rome itself, the queen of all other cities, in Alexandria, and Antioch, throughout Egypt and Lybia, Europe and Asia; and also in villages and country places, and in all nations; I am obliged and even compelled to enquire after the cause of this, and to acknowledge that they succeeded not in their great undertaking any otherwise than by DIVINE POWER surpassing all human ability, and by the co-operation of him who said unto them, Go, teach all nations."9
2. And bear in mind the additional obstacles to their enterprize which arose from the time and place of the propagation of Christianity.
The time when Christianity was promulgated, was just that which would have presented the greatest obstacles to any religion that was not protected by a divine arm. The time was one of high cultivation, of literary and philosophical enquiry, of art, science, elegance, refinement, luxury, vice. It was the period when Rome, the mistress of the nations by her arms, had become their instructress by her arts and laws. It was the polished and
9 Lardner, iv. 220.