« PoprzedniaDalej »
minds was, and long had been, an indiscriminate rejection of all reports of the kind. With these sweeping conclusions, truth hath no chance. It depends upon distinction. If they would not inquire, how should they be convinced? It might be founded in truth, though they, who made no search, might not discover it.
“ Men of rank and fortune, of wit and abilities, are often found, even in Christian countries, to be surprisingly ignorant of religion, and of every thing that relates to it. Such were many of the Heathens. Their thoughts were all fixed upon
other things; upon reputation and glory, upon wealth and power, upon luxury and pleasure, upon business or learning. They thought, and they had reason to think, that the religion of their country was fable and forgery, a heap of inconsistent lies; which inclined them to suppose that other religions were no better. Hence it came to pass, that when the apostles preached the Gospel, and wrought miracles in confirmation of a doctrine every way worthy of God, many Gentiles knew little or
nothing of it, and would not take the least pains to inform themselves about it. This appears plainly from ancient history*."
I think it by no means unreasonable to suppose, that the Heathen public, especially that part which is made up of men of rank and education, were divided into two classes ; those who despised Christianity beforehand, and those who received it. In correspondency with which division of character, the writers of that
would also be of two classes ; those who were silent about Christianity, and those who were Christians. “ A good man, who attended sufficiently to the Christian affairs, would become a Christian ; after which his testimony ceased to be pagan, and became Christiant."
I must also add, that I think it sufficiently proved, that the notion of magic was resorted to by the Heathen adversaries of Christianity, in like manner as that of diabolical agency had before been by the Jews. Justin Martyr alleges this as his reason for arguing from prophecy, rather than from miracles. Origen imputes this evasion to Celsus; Jerome to Porphyry; and Lactantius to the Heathen in general. The several passages, which contain these testimonies, will be produced in the next chapter. It being difficult however to ascertain in what degree this notion prevailed, especially amongst the superior ranks of the Heathen communities, another, and I think an adequate, cause has been assigned for their infidelity. It is probable that in many cases the two causes would operate together.
* Jortin's Disc. on the Christ. Rel. p. 66. ed. 4th. + Hartley, Obe. p. 119.
That the Christian miracles are not recited, or
appealed to, by early Christian writers themselves, so fully or frequently as might have been expected.
I SHALL consider this objection, first, as it applies to the letters of the apostles, preserved in the New Testament; and secondly, as it applies to the remaining writings of other early Christians.
The epistles of the apostles are either hortatory or argumentative. So far as they were occupied in delivering lessons of duty, rules of public order, admonitions against certain prevailing corruptions, against vice, or any particular species of it, or in fortifying and encouraging the constancy of the disciples under the trials to which they were exposed, there appears to be no place or occasion for more of these references than we actually find.
So far as the epistles are argumentative, the nature of the argument which they handle, accounts for the infrequency of these allusions. These epistles were not written to prove the truth of Christianity. The subject under consideration was not that which the miracles decided, the reality of our Lord's mission; but it was that which the miracles did not decide, the nature of his person or power, the design of his advent, its effects, and of those effects the value, kind, and extent. Still I maintain, that miraculous evidence lies at the bottom of the argument. For nothing could be so preposterous as for the disciples of Jesus to dispute amongst themselves, or with others, concerning his office or character, unless they believed that he had shown, by supernatural proofs, that there was something extraordinary in both. Miraculous evidence, therefore, forming not the texture of these arguments, but the ground and substratum; if it be occasionally discerned, if it be inci