Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

sed by themselves, and calculated to answer worldly purposes, it would, like some other pretended revelations which Gamaliel mentions, be discovered, and, without any effort on the part of the Jews, would sink and come to nought. On the other hand, if it really was, what its friends pretended, a scheme of religion derived from God, containing sufficient evidence of its divine origin, and supported by the power of the Almighty, it was vain for them to oppose it; in spite of all their efforts it would prevail, and they would only add to their own guilt by plotting against the Lord and his anointed. The natural inference from which is, that, if it did succeed it was not of man but of God; and thus the success of the gospel, and even its very existence in the world, is an irrefragable evidence of its truth.

It must be confessed, that, success, abstractly speaking, is no certain proof of the excellence of any opinion. Errour and wickedness have been more prevalent, and have met with a more welcome reception, than even truth and virtue. Neither is the rapid and extensive propagation of a religion, in itself, a decisive proof of the divinity of its origin.

[ocr errors]

The Mahometan faith was as widely and instantaneously spread through the world as the Christian; and even to this day occupies a larger and more populous portion of the earth. But all we can infer from this is, that the means were adequate to the end ; the cause sufficient to produce the effect. And in the instance mentioned this sufficiency is very apparent. While Mahomet displayed the Koran in one hand he held the sword in the other; and it is no wonder that a religion supported by such powerful arguments should meet with success. The vices which it allowed, and the sensual paradise which it promised to its votaries were well calculated to gain the approbation of an effeminate and luxurious people. The period of its introduction was distinguished by the immoral lives and internal divisions of the Christians. Its

propagators were learned as well as brave, and recommended by their talents what they defended by their swords. In short the rejection of the Koran would have been more wonderful than its general reception.

But in the case of Christianity, success is a sufficient proof of its authenticity ; for no external causes did exist adequate to the effect. In the most enlightened and inquisitive age ik which the human race had yet been found to exist, twelve poor, simple, and illiterate fishermen issue forth from the land of Judea, at that time an inconsiderable province of the Roman empire, to teach a new system of religion, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth ; a man of obscure rank and station in life, whom his own countrymen had taken as a criminal and hanged on a tree; to teach a religion which had to combat the interest of priests and rulers, the science of the wise and learned the deep-rooted prejudices and immoral lives of the vulgar ; a religion whose rewards were confined to another state of being, and offered nothing at present to its disciples, but dangers and persecution. And yet so mightily did the word of God grow and prevail, that this religion, without friends, without force, without fraud, had in less than half a century ranked among its proselytes the greater part of the immense empire of Rome, and was moreover known where the name of Rome had been never heard, where the day of science and civilization had never dawned, among nations of discordant tongues, governments and religions. In all this there is evidently some

thing more than human. The only inference we can draw is, either, that, the religion of Jesus is in itself so excellent and supported by such indisputable evidence as to conquer by the force of truth, or that it was protected and carried forward by the invisible aids of the Holy Spirit, and over-ruling providence of its great authour, whose character authorizes us to infer that he will not countenance and

support an imposture.

All this appears to be naturally inferred from the words of the text, but to prove and illustrate this point more fully, the following observations will contribute ; which though some may deem unnecessary,

because most of you entertain no doubt of the truth of

your religion, will at least have these good effects. By impressing the truth of your religion more deeply on your minds, they will lead

you the more to reverence its doctrines and precepts. It will console every man to know that the religion whereon the foundation of all his hopes is built is not a cunningly devised fable which the prejudices of custom and education have taught him to receive and re

may

be defended by reasoning and argument, and is indeed the wisdom and the

ii

vere, but

VOL. II.

power of God. In short, it will prove an antidote to that poisonous system of infidelity and atheism, which some men in all ages have endeavoured to spread by argument and ridicule, but which in the present age

is

propagated by much more forcible weapons, those too of a carnal nature*.

First, then, when the gospel was proposed to mankind, they were not without religion, as was the case when the different forms of the heathen system were introduced. I mention this to shew that the ready reception which Christianity met with in all countries, did not proceed from its being the first religion offered to the world ; so that the passion for religion natural to the human mind, having no other object, led men to adopt this form in place of a better, and almost without examination. In every country, there was already a religion established by law, patronised by the rulers, and practised by the people. And what was still more unfavourable to the progress of Christianity, the heathen religions were in most places excellently adapted to the taste of the vulgar, by the magnificence of their temples, and the splendour of their cere

* Macknight's Harmony.

« ZurückWeiter »