« ZurückWeiter »
First, the conversion of the world, considered as a change of men's religious principles, effected merely by the power of persuasion, supposes that every convert was convinced of the absurdity of his former faith, and brought to see that the religion now offered to him was rational and well founded.. But this was a task too arduous for the weak instruments employed; for unless they were assisted by God, they had the prodigious labour to undergo of learning the languages of all the nations, whether barbarous ar civilized, to which they went, before they could discourse to them, either of the ancient belief, or of the new faith which they came to offer to them. This itself was an obstacle which must have absolutely marred their design ; and therefore this single consideration demonstrates, that, in prevailing with multitudes in all countries ta change their religious belief, the Apostles were inspired by God with the gift of tongues; as the gospel records affirm. Allowing, however, that by any means you please to fancy these men attained the knowledge of all the languages in such perfection, that they could speak them ftuently ; yet to instil knowledge effectually into the minds of the people
was a work of immense labour, requiring frequent and particular application to each individual. If so, how can we suppose twelve men sufficient for the conversion of nations! Were they capable of addressing all the individuals of those vast multitudes, who in the different countries of Europe, Asia and Africa were brought to serve the living God by their ministry? No, such particular addresses were impossible ; and therefore the conversion of the Gentiles could not be produced by them. An event so stupendous must have been accomplished by means more effectual ; means capable of swaying great numbers at once ; namely undeniable miracles wrought openly in proof of the doctrines which the Apostles taught. Indeed the natural means of argument and persuasion must have been altogether inadequate to the effect. Mankind were too much attached to their religions to relinquish them upon the first offer of a new faith. This was the case not only with the Jews, but with all the idolatrous 'nations, to whom the Apostles offered the doctrines of the gospel. The religions in the belief of which they were educated,' were considered by theny as of divine authority. Besides, these religions
conspired with their passions, were connected with their interest, and they were contirmed in the belief of them by the influence of authority and example. The religions of the learned were nothing but the systems of philosophy which they adopted. The peculiar tenets of these systems, they adopted with the same strength of faith wherewith Christians.now-a-days embrace their several creeds and confessions, and they defended them with the same intemperate warmth.
Here 1 then were obstacles which the Apostles were; of themselves, too weak to surmount. The ignorant would not attend to discourses which flatly contradicted their favourite notions, and robbed them of their pleasures : the philosophers would detest a. religion which overturned their several systems at once, discovered their ignorance, mortified their pride, and ruined their credit. Certain, therefore, it is that the sermons of the Apostles, which made the heathens renounce their religion, must have been accompanied with a divine power before which all opposition vanished. Such is the declaration of St. Paul; “ The weapons of our warfare are not carnal “ but mighty through God to the pulling down
“of strongs holds. Casting down imagina" tions and every high thing that exalteth it" self against the knowledge of God, and “ bringing into captivity every thought to the “ obedience of Christ.”
Secondly, the conversion of the world being attended with a thorough reformation of manners in the heathens who obeyed the gospel, is likewise a demonstration that in spreading Christianity the Apostles were expressly assisted by God. To persuade the wicked to amend their lives, included many impossibilities. The manners of men in those days were beyond measure corrupt. The picture which the Apostle Paul has drawn of them in the first chapter of his Epistle. to the Romans, however shocking, is but too just. The vices to which they were addicted were the effects of lusts and passions rendered unconquerable by long habits of indulgence. In the commission of many acts of wickedness they were authorized by the laws and discipline of their country. Some of the most pernicious vices were permitted them by the opinion of their philosophers. To persuade great numbers of mankind in such circumstances, to forsake their vices, that is, to act contrary to nature, to
habit, to example, to interest, and to pleasure, what human eloquence was sufficient? Or if human eloquence were sufficient to persuade them, whence, I pray, were the converts to derive the power of thoroughly changing, or at least of subduing their passions, or of altering the whole bent and current of their nature? Whence the power of becoming pious, just, charitable, chaste, temperate, meek, humble, heavenly-minded, amid an infinity of powerful temptations; and after having been unjust, uncharitable, intemperate, proud and worldlyminded to a high degree? The heathen converts themselves looked upon the sudden and surprising change of manners, wrought on thousands of the most profligate, as something miraculous. By the consent, therefore, of all prudent men, it were ridiculous to the last de gree, to suppose that the Apostles, by means merely human, produced this great change in the manners of multitudes, formerly enslaved to their lusts, and sold under sin.
There is another fact, which, were it not more immediately connected with a subject foreign in some degree from this, would deserve attention in the present question, namely, that the wonderful success of the gospel was an