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Such was the conduct of the personage whose life we examine. Whether we suppose that he had been in Egypt, for the purpose of acquiring the talents necessary to his views, or that he had always resided at Nazareth, Jesus was not ignorant of the dispositions of his countrymen. As he knew how much predictions were indispensably requisite to work upon the minds of the Jews, he made choice of a prophet and a forerunner in the person of his cousin John Baptist. The latter, evidently in concert with Jesus, preached repentance, baptized on the banks of the Jordan, and announced the coming of a personage greater than himself. He said to those who gave ear to him, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance : but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire."
Jesus accordingly repaired to John on purpose to arrange matters with him, and to receive baptism from bis hands. According to the report of St. Matthew, John, at first, made some difficulty, affirming, that so far from being worthy to baptize Jesus, it was from him that he himself ought to receive baptism. At last, however, he yielded to the orders of Christ, and admi. nistered to him the sacrament of which the innocent son of God could not stand in need. *
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Ancredible are here adduced in proof of incredible things. Almost all impostors who have fabricated religions, have announced incredibilities to mankind. They have afterwards fabricated miracles in proof of those incredibilities. not (they said) comprehend what I tell you ; but I will clearly prove that I tell the truth, by doing things that you cannot comprehend.” Truth is simple and evident; the marvellous is ever to be suspected. Nature is always true to herself; she acts by invarying laws. To say that God perfornis miracles, is to say that he contradicts himself, and violates the laws which he has prescribed to nature; it is to say, that he renders useless human reason, of which he is the author.
There is reason to believe, that in this interview the two kinsmen settled their plans, and took the necessary measures for making them succeed. They both had ambition, and shared the mission between them :-St. John yielded the first character to Jesus, whom he judged better qualified to play it with success, and contented himself with being his precursor, preaching in the desert, beating up for followers, and preparing the ways for him--all in consequence of a prophecy of Isaiah, who had said,“ Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God"-an obscure and vague prediction, in which, however, Christians believe they see clearly designed the Messiah and his holy precursor.
The arrangemeuts being once settled by our two missionaries, John took care to tell those who came to to hear him, that, to pacify Heaven, it was tiine to repent;* that the arrival of the Messiah was not far off; and that he had seen him. The sermons of John having made considerable noise, the priests of Jerusalem, vigilant as to what might interest religion, and wishing to be informed of his views, and acquainted with his person, they dispatched emissaries after him ; these men put some questions to him, and asked if he was the Christ, or Elias, or a prophet. John answered, that he was none of these. But when he was asked by what authority he baptized and preached, he declared, that he was the forerunner of the Messiah. This proceeding of the priests only tended to give
* St. Matthew, chap. iii. 14. The Jews were in the use of baptizing all the proselytes they made. Baptism was, according to them, a regeneration, calculated to render the baptized quite a new man, in so far as to be then entitled to marry his own mother. But John and Jesus wished to baptize, or regenerate, the Jews themselves, pretending that regeneration was as necessary for thein as for the proselytes. See Bernard in Nouvelles de la Republ. des Lettres, tome. 31. page 566.
The ceremony of baptism was practised in the mysieries of Mythias, and those initiated were therehy regenerated. Mythias was also a mediator. Though Christian divines consider bape tism necessary to salvation, we find Paul would not suffer the Corinthians to be baptized. We also learn that he circumcised Timothy.—Christianity Unveiled, p. 114.
* T he superstitious wan, if he be wicked, gives himself up to crime with remorse ; but his religion quickly furnishes him with the means of getting rid of it. His life is generally a long series of error and grief; of sin and expiation. Still he frequently commits crimes of greater magnitude in order to expiate the foriner. Destitute of any permanent ideas of morality, he accustoms himself to look on nothing as a crime, but that which the ministers and interpreters of heaven forbid him to commit. He thus considers actions of the blackest dye, which are held out to him as agreeable to God, as the means of effacing his transgressions. History affords numerous examples of fanatics expiating, by the most atrocious persecutions, their adulteries, infamy, unjust wars, and usurpations ; and, to wash away their iniquities, bathe themselves in the blood of those superstitious beings, whose infatuation made them martyrs.
+ It was an opinion received by several Jews, that Elias must coine before the Messiah. A great number of Christians believe also, in our days, that the coming of Elias ought to precede the advent of Jesus Christ, in order to judge the world. See the sentiments of the fathers on the return of Elias. It is also the opinion of the Jansenists at this day, who, like the first Christians, have their heads filled with fanatical and woeful jdeas of the near end of the world.
but he has not cleared him of accusations brought against his birth, which are quite as weighty.
Celsus, a celebrated physician, who lived in the second century of Christianity, and who had carefully collected all which had been published against Christ, asserts that he was the fruit of adultery. Origen, in his work against Celsus, has preserved this accusation, but he has not transmitted the proofs on which it was founded. Unbelievers, however, have endeavoured to supply them, and found the opinion of Celsus on what follows :
First. From the testimony of St. Matthew himself, it is most certain that Joseph was very much dissatisfied with the pregnancy of his wife, in which he had no part. He formed the design of quitting her secretly, and without noise; a resolution from which he was diverted by an angel, or dream, or perhaps reflection, which always passes among Jews for the effect of an inspiration from on high. It appears, however, that this design of Joseph had transpired, and was afterwards turned into a matter of reproach against Jesus. But St. Luke, more prudent than St. Matthew, has not ventured to mention either the ill humour of Jou seph, or the good-natured conduct he followed. Neither do we find, though he formed this resolution as to his wife's amour, that this easy man again appeared on the stage from the time Jesus entered on it. We are no where informed of his death, and it is obvious that he never afterwards beheld his putative son with an eye of kindness.* When, at thirty years
* St. Epiphanius, lib. i. 10. of Heresie, assures us, that Joseph was very old at the time of his marriage with the virgin ; and adds, that he was a widower, and father of six children by
of age, Jesus and his mother went to the wedding at Cana, there is no mention of Joseph. If we admit, with St. Luke, the history of Jesus's dispute with the doctors in the temple of Jerusalem, we will find a new proof of the indifference which reigned between the pretended father and supposed son: they met at the end of three days, and deigned not to interchange a word.
Secondly. If to these presumptions are joined testimonies more positive, and a high antiquity, which confirm the suspicions entertained concerning the birth of Jesus, we will obtain proofs that must convince every unprejudiced person. The Emperor Julian, as well as Celsus, who both had carefully examined all the writings existing in their time, for and against the Christian religion and its author, represent the mother of Jesus as a prostitute, living by her debaucheries, and turned off by her betrothed. From the beginning of Chris. tianity, the sect of Antidicomarites regarded Jesus as a bastard. In the works of the Jews, he is treated as an adulterous child; and, almost in our days, Helvidius, a learned Protestant critic, as well as several others, have maintained, not only that Jesus was the fruit of a criminal intercourse, but also that Mary, repudiated by Joseph, had other children by different hus. bands. Besides, this supposed virgin did not want a reason for forsaking Joseph, and flying into Egypt with her son. A prevailing tradition among the Jews states,
his first wife. According to the proto-gospel ascribed to St. James the Young, the good man had much difficulty in prevailing on himself to espouse Mary, whose age intimidated him;
but the high priest convinced him, finding perhaps that Joseph was the man most conformable to his views. Codex. Apocryph. N. T. tome i. p. 88, &c. This seems to insinuate a sacerdotal intrigue.