Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

were exasperated by the mutual persecutions of the Jews and Christains, and of the different Christian sects by which the city was inhabited.* The religion of Mahomet presented, in some measure, a point of union or compromise to these divided opinions. It embraced the principles which were common to them all. Each party saw in it an honourable acknowledgment of the fundamental truth of their own system. To the Pagan Arab, somewhat imbued with the sentiments and knowledge of his Jewish or Christian fellow-citizen, it offered no offensive, or very improbable theology. This recommendation procured to Mahometanism a more favourable reception at Medina, than its author had been able, by twelve years' painful endeavours, to obtain for it at Mecca. Yet, after all, the progress of the religion was inconsiderable. His missionary could only collect a congregation of forty persons.t It was not a religious, but a political association, which ultimately introduced Mahomet into Medina. Harassed, as it should seem, and disgusted by the long continuance of factions and disputes, the inhabitants of that city saw in the admission of the prophet's authority a rest from the miseries which they had suffered, and a suppression of the violence and fury which they had learned to condemn. After an embassy, therefore, composed of believers, and unbelievers, and of persons of both tribes, with whom a treaty was concluded of strict alliance and support, Mahomet made his public entry, and was received as the sovereign of Medina.

From this time, or soon after this time, the impostor changed his language and his conduct. Having now a town at his command, where to arm his party, and to head them with security, he enters upon new counsels. He now pretends that a divine commission is given him to attack the infidels, to destroy idolatry, and to set up the true faith by the sword.// An early victory over a very superior force, achieved by conduct and bravery, established the renown of his

and of his personal character. Every year after this was mark

arms,

Mod.. Univ. Hist. vol. i. p. 100. | Ib. p. 85. | Ib. I ID. p. 89.

I Vict. of Bedr, ib. p. 100.

ed by battles or assassinations. The nature and activity of Mahomet's future exertions may be estimated from the computation, that, in the nine following years of his life, he commanded his army in person in eight general engagements,* and undertook, by himself or his lieutenants, fifty military enterprises.

From this time we have nothing left to account for, but that Mahomet should collect an army, that his army should conquer, and that his religion should proceed together with his conquests. The ordinary experience of human affairs, leaves us little to wonder at, in any of these effects; and they were likewise each assisted by peculiar facilities. From all sides, the roving Arabs crowded round the standard of religion and plunder, of freedom and victory, of arms and rapine. Beside the highly painted joys of a carnal paradise, Mahomet re. warded his followers in this world with a liberal division of the spoils, and with the persons of their female captives. The condition of Arabia, occupied by small independent tribes, exposed it to the impression, and yielded to the progress, of a firm and resolute army.

After the reduction of his native peninsula, the weakness also of the Roman provinces on the north and the west, as well as the distracted state of the Persian empire on the east, facilitated the successful invasion of neighbouring countries. That Mahomet's conquests should carry his religion along with them, will excite little surprise, when we know the conditions which he proposed to the vanquished. Death or conversion was the only choice offered to idolaters. “ Strike off their heads! strike off all the ends of their fingers !! kill the idolaters, wheresoever ye shall find them!''|| To the Jews and Christians was left the somewhat milder alternative of subjection and tribute, if they persisted in their own religion, or of an equal participation in the rights and liberties, the honours and privileges, of the faithful, if they embraced the religion of their conquerors. “Ye Christian dogs, you know your option; the Koran, the tribute, or

* Mod. Univ. Hist. vol. i. s. 255.

Sale's Koran, e. viii. p. 14).

† Gibbon, vol. ix p. 255.

| 1b. c. ix. p. 149

the sword."* The corrupted state of Christianity in the seventh century, and the contentions of its sects, unhappily so fell in with men's care of their safety, or their fortunes, as to induce many to forsake its profession. Add to all which, that Mahomet's victories not only operated by the natural effect of conquest, but that they were constantly represented, both to his friends and enemies, as divine declarations in his favour. Success was evidence. Prosperity carried with it, not only influence, but proof. “ Ye have already (says he, after the battle of Bedr) had a miracle shown you, in two armies which attacked each other; one army fought for God's true religion, but the other were infidels." Again ; “ Ye slew not those who were slain at Bedr, but God slew them.-If ye desire a decision of the matter between us, now hath a decision come unto you."!

Many more passages might be collected out of the Koran to the same effect. But they are unnecessary. The success of Mahometanism during this, and indeed, every future period of its history, bears so little resemblance to the early propagation of Christianity, that no inference whatever can justly be drawn from it to the prejudice of the Christian argument. For, what are we comparing ? A Galilean peasant accompanied by a few fishermen, with a conqueror at the head of his army. We compare Jesus without force, without power, without support, without one external circumstance of at. traction or influence, prevailing against the prejudices, the learning, the hierarchy, of his country: against the ancient religious opinions, the pompous religious rites, the philosophy, the wisdom, the authority of the Roman empire, in the most polished and enlightened period of its existence ; with Mahomet making his way amongst Arabs; collecting followers in the midst of conquests and triumphs, in the darkest ages and countries of the world, and when success in arms not only operated by that command of men's wills and persons which attends prosperous undertakings, but was considered as a * Gibbon, rol, ix. p. 337. † Sale's Koran, c. jii. Pp 36

Ib, c. Tüï. p. 141.

sure testimony of divine approbation. That multitudes, persuaded by this argument, should join the train of a victorious chief; ihat still greater multitudes should, without any argument, bow down before irresistible power ; is a conduct in which we cannot see much to surprise us; in which we can see nothing that resembles the causes by which the establishment of Christianity was effected.

The success, therefore, of Mahometanism, stands not in the way of this important conclusion ; that

the propagation of Christianity, in the manner and . under the circumstances in which it was propaga.

ted, is a unique in the history of the species. A Jewish peasant overthrew the religion of the world.

I have, nevertheless, placed the prevalency of the religion amongst the auxiliary arguments of its truth ; because, whether it had prevailed or not, or whether its prevalency can or cannot be accounted for, the direct argument remains still. It is still true that a great number of men upon the spot, personally connected with the history and with the author of the religion, were induced by what they heard, and saw, and knew, not only to change their former opinions, but to give up their time, and sacrifice their ease, to traverse seas and kingdoms without rest and without weariness, to commit themselves to extreme dangers, to undertake incessant toils, to undergo grievous sufferings, and all this, solely in consequence, and in support, of their belief of facts, which, if true, establish the truth of the religion, which, if false, they must llave known to be so.

PART III.

A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF SOME POPULAR

OBJECTIONS.

CHAPTER I. The discrepancies between the several Gospels. I KNOW not a more rash or unphilosophical con. duct of the understanding, than to reject the substance of a story, by reason of some diversity in the circumstances with which it is related. The usual character of human testimony is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of justice teaches. When accounts of a transaction come from the mouths of different witnesses, it is seldom that it is not possible to pick out apparent or real inconsistencies between them. These inconsistencies are studiously displayed by an adverse pleader, but oftentimes with little impression upon the minds of ths judges. On the contrary, a close and minute agreement induces the suspicion of confederacy and fraud. When written histories touch upon the same scenes of action, the comparison almost always affords ground for á like reflection. Numerous, and sometimes important, variations present themselves ; not seldom also, absolute and final contradictions ; yet neither one nor the other, are deemed sufficient to shake the credibility of the main fact. The embassy of the Jews to deprecate the execu. tion of Claudian's order to place his statue in their temple, Philo places in harvest, Josephus in seedtime ; both contemporary writers. No reader is led by this inconsistency to doubt, whether such an embassy was sent, or whether such an order was given. Our own history supplies examples of the same kind. In the account of the Marquis of Argyll's death, in the reign of Charles the Second, we have a very remarkable contradiction. Lord Cla. rendon relates that he was condemned to be hanged, which was performed the same day; on the con

« ZurückWeiter »