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chooses means in all appearance unsuitable, and yet in re ality the most effectual; which conduct of Providence St. Paul thus describes: God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.?
This great event our Lord probably had in view, when he said to his disciples; He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.' We cannot name any miracle wrought by any apostle which in any sense can be said to surpass the miracles wrought by Christ, except the conversion of the Gentile world, which, when we consider the difficulties attending it, and the opposition made to it, and the wonderful works wrought to accomplish it, and the happy effects and consequences of it, may well be considered as a more illustrious evidence of God's power, wisdom, and goodness, than even our Saviour's miracles of casting out devils, healing the sick, and raising the dead.
I have taken notice of the causes which in the ordinary course of things should have stopped the progress of Christianity. If every thing had been against it, and nothing for it, it must have perished at its birth. Let us therefore consider, on the other hand, what there was to help its progress, and to recommend it to mankind; and here we shall find at the same time new proofs of its divine original, since every thing that contributed to its establishment is a testimony of its excellence.
1. First then the prophecies concerning the calling of the Gentiles, and the miracles wrought by the Christians, were a sufficient recommendation of the gospel to all seri
We have Origen's testimony, that many, besides St. Paul and Cornelius, were called to Christianity in a miraculous manner. Contr. Cels. p. 35. And Grotius cites it, and approves it, on Luke xiv. 23. Tertullian De Anim. 47. says the same; as also Eusebius, Jerom, and Sozomen. See Eusebius vi. 5. and Remarks on Eccl. Hist. Origen's Testimony concerning Miracles,' &c.
ous, inquisitive, and ingenious minds. But these evidences have been already considered.
2. Another thing which might reconcile the learned Gentiles to Christianity, was a resemblance and conformity, greater or less, between the theological doctrines of revealed religion and the opinions of some or other of the wiser Gentiles in various ages and places, amongst whom are found evident traces of the doctrines of one God and Father of all, of a Mediator, of the original beauty and perfection of the creation, of the fall of men and angels, of a restitution to an happier state, of the conflagration of the world, of the soul's immortality, of future rewards and punishments".
3. Christianity had likewise this advantage, that its precepts were for the most part agreeable to the doctrines. which some of the best Pagan authors had delivered.
The Gentiles, though in their searches after wisdom and knowledge they had fallen into many errors, yet had dis
Namely, one supreme God.
The Platonic Trinity, of which the first is rò Ev, ''Ayatov, One, most simple, and absolutely good and perfect; the next Nous or Aoyos, Wisdom, Reason, the Word, who is the doupyès, the maker of all; thirdly Tx, the universal Soul or Spirit, pervading all things.
Seneca's words, though they seem only to express so many names, or ways of considering God, are singular and remarkable.-Quisquis formator universi fuit, sive ille Deus est potens omnium, sive incorporalis Ratio, ingentium operum artifex, sive divinus Spiritus, per omnia, maxima, minima, æquali intentione diffusus.'-Indeed he adds, sive Fatum, &c.' Consol. ad Helv. 8.
The doctrine of a Mediator, son of the Deity, one, or more, who conveyed blessings from God to men, and recommended men to the favour of God.
The doctrine of an evil Dæmon, who, though very powerful, was inferior to the good Deity, and should be abolished by him.
The doctrine of three states of the world, that all was created fair and good in its kind, that there has been a fall and impairing of this original goodness, and that there shall be a restitution of things to their antient beauty and perfection.
Proofs of these tenets may be found in Cudworth Intell. Syst. p. 222, 3. Hyde Relig. Vet. Pers. Ramsay's Dissert. subjoined to the Travels of Cyrus. Vitringa in Isai. xlv. p. 496. Jos. Mede, b. iii. ch. iii. p. 626. and Comment. in Apocal. p. 475. More in his Theological Works. Prideaux Lett. to the Deists, sect. 7. Fabricius De Ver. Rel. Christ. c. viii. p. 312. Huet. Alnet. Quæst. p. 290, &c.; not to mention many others.
covered many excellent truths; and if a judicious collection had been made of the useful doctrines which some or other of them in various times and places had taught, a system of morality might have been drawn up which would bear no small resemblance to the dictates of the gospel. And this doubtless was a great advantage to Christianity, that the New Testament alone should contain in it every valuable truth which different persons at different times by a sober use of reason had discovered, without the errors which they had blended with those truths.
4. At the time when the gospel was first preached, there was a great number of Gentiles, who were proselytes to the Jewish religion so far, that they worshipped the God
* Αἱ μεγάλαι φύσεις καὶ γυμναὶ παθῶν ἐυστοχοῦσί πως περὶ τὴν da, Great minds and free from perturbations have an happy sagacity in discovering truth,' says Clemens Alex. strom. ii. p. 482. speaking of Plato. The favourable opinion which many Christians entertained of this philosopher gave rise to a pretty fiction mentioned by Anastasius Antiochenus, and Nicetas, that when Christ descended into Hades to preach the gospel to the dead, the first who believed in him, and was converted, was Plato.
The conformity of Philosophy and Christianity in many things hath been showed by several of the antient Fathers, particularly by Clemens Alexandrinus, and by Eusebius in Præp. Evang. I shall only cite Lactantius; Docemus nullam sectam fuisse tam deviam, nec philosophorum quenquam tam inanem, qui non videret aliquid ex vero.Quod si extitisset aliquis, qui veritatem sparsam per singulos, per sectasque diffusam colligeret in unum, ac redigeret in corpus, is profecto non dissentiret a nobis.' Inst. vii. 7. See Grotius de Ver. C. R. iv. 12. The philosophers all prepared the way, though undesignedly, for the gospel, by exposing and overturning the popular and fabulous religions. Epicu reism itself, though of all schemes the remotest from Christianity, yet in some things agreed with it, as;
1. In recommending temperance and sobriety. See Lucretius ii. 14. &c. Juvenal;
Quantum, Epicure, tibi parvis suffecit in hortis! Seneca does justice to Epicurus on this head many times.
2. In supposing that this world would one day perish. Lucret. ii.
3. In despising and exposing the poetical, popular, and civil religio of the Gentiles. The impostor Alexander, says Lucian, was upon good terms with the Platonics, Stoics, and Pythagoreans, but mortally hated the Epicureans and Christians, and therefore gave out that Pontus swarmed with atheists and Christians, and that the people ought to drive them away with stones, if they expected to have the God propitious. And when he celebrated initiations of his own contrivance, on the first day of the ceremonies, proclamation was made: If any Atheist,
of Israel, and renounced the follies and vices of Paganism ". Most of these persons were well disposed to receive the gospel, and were converted by the apostles. They of whom our Saviour says, that the Pharisees made them twofold more the children of hell than themselves, seem to have been the other sort of proselytes, who received circumcision and the whole law of Moses.
5. Another cause of the progress of Christianity was the importance of the truths contained in the gospel. The apostles, when they had prepared men to believe and obey them, by giving sufficient proofs of their mission, proposed to them the Christian religion as the only way by which they could hope to avoid extreme misery in the world to come, and to obtain everlasting happiness. A day of judgment, when every one should receive according to his works, a resurrection to eternal life or condemnation, werę the motives by which they pressed repentance and obedience.
6. Another thing which contributed to the propagation of the gospel was the amiable character of the apostles and
Christian, or Epicurean, comes to pry into the secret rites, let him be gone. But ye who believe the God, approach, and be initiated, and happiness attend you! Then they cleared the place and he began, saying, Out with the Christians! to which all the multitude answered, Out with the Epicureans ! καὶ ἐν μὲν τη πρώτη, πρόῤῥησις ἦν τοιάυτη· εἴ τις ἄθεος, ἢ Χριστιανὸς ἢ Επικούρειος, ήκει κατάσκοπος τῶν ὀργίων φευγέτω· οἱ δὲ πιστεύοντες τῷ θεῷ, τελείσθωσαν τύχῃ τῇ ἀγαθῇ. Εἶτ' ευθὺς ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐξέλασις ἐγίγνετο· καὶ ὁ μὲν ἡγεῖτο, λέγων, Έξω Χριστια νούς· τὸ δὲ πλῆθος ἀπαν ἐπεφθέγγετο, Εξω Επικουρείους. Lucian Alex.
The reasons for which this juggler turned out the Epicureans and Christians are plain enough; but Dodwell supposes that Alexander was afraid lest the Christians should break the spell, and drive away the evil spirit. Diss. Cypr. x. 30.
Arnobius, 1. iii. p. 103. says that some Pagans wanted not only to have the Scriptures destroyed, but also the philosophical works of Cicero. 'Tis probable enough. Cum sciam esse non paucos, qui aversentur et fugiant libros de hoc ejus-cumque alios audiam mussitare indignanter, et dicere, oportere statui per Senatum, aboleantur ut hæc scripta, quibus Christiana religio comprobetur, et vetustatis opprimatur auctoritas, &c.' It is certain, and might easily be proved, that Pagan authors have been at least as free in censuring and ridiculing their poetical and popular religion as any of the antient Christian writers. The Fathers therefore took no liberty in this, which had not been long and generally allowed.
" See Mede b. i. disc. 3..
of the Christians of that age. The disciples of the Lord were examples of fervent zeal for the welfare of mankind, of an inoffensive behaviour, of disinterestedness and selfdenial, of indefatigable industry, of the most extensive charity, of patience and courage and constancy, and of a regular practice of all that they taught. The first Christians resembled their teachers in these good qualities; and it was no small advantage to them, in their apologies for themselves and for their religion, to be able to appeal boldly to their innocence and integrity ".
That we may have a right sense of this, we should consider what it was to be a Christian in those days, lest we be deceived by the vulgar use of the word, and by the notion which we at present entertain about it.
To be a good Christian at that time was to be an example of well-tried virtue, of true wisdom, and of consummate fortitude; for he surely deserves the name of a great and a good man, who serves God, and is a friend to mankind, and receives the most ungrateful returns from the world, and endures them with a calm and composed mind, who dares look scorn and infamy and death in the face, who can stand forth unmoved and patiently bear to be derided as a fool and an idiot, to be pointed out for a madman and an enthusiast, to be reviled as an atheist and an enemy to all righteousness, to be punished as a robber and a murderer. He who can pass through these trials is a conqueror indeed; and what the world calls courage, scarcely deserves that name when compared to this behaviour.
This constant and pious greatness of soul under the most afflicting circumstances was one of the means by which Christianity was propagated. The example of a
However, we should not carry the notion of the sanctity of the old Christians too high; that they had their defects appears plainly from the Epistles of the Apostles and of Clemens Romanus.
**Quem neque pauperies, neque mors, neque vincula terrent; Responsare cupidinibus, contemnere honores
y Duris ut ilex tonsa bipennibus,