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was moreover interwoven,” as Mr. Gibbon rightly represents it, “ with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of publick or private life, with all the offices and amusements of society.” Upon the due celebration also of its rites, the people were taught to believe, and did believe, that the prosperity of their country in a great measure depended.
I am willing to accept the account of the matter which is given by Mr. Gibbon: “ The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful :” and I would ask,from which of these three classes of men, were the Christian missionaries to look for protection or impunity? Could they expect it from the people, «.whose acknowledged confidence in the publick religion” they. subverted from its foundation ? from the philosopher, who,
considering all religions as equally false,” would of course rank theirs among the number, with the addition of regarding them as busy and troublesome zealots? or from the magistrate, who, satisfied with the “utility” of the subsisting religion, would not be likely to countenance a spirit of proselytism and innovation; a system, which declared war against every other, and which, if it prevailed, must end in a total rupture of publick opinion; an upstart religion, in a word, which was not content with its own authority, but must disgrace all the settled religions of the world ? It was not to be imagined that he would endure with patience, that the religion of the emperour and of the state should be calumniated and borne down by a company of superstitious and despicable Jews.
Lastly, the nature of the case affords a strong proof, that the original teachers of Christianity, in consequence of their new profession, entered upon a new and singular course of life. We may be allowed to presume, that the institution which they preached to others, they conformed to in their own persons ; because this is no
more than what every teacher of a new religion both does, and must do, in order to obtain either proselytes or hearers. The change which this would produce was very considerable. It is a change which we do not easily estimate, because, ourselves and all about us being habituated to the institution from our infancy, it is what we neither experience nor observe. After men became Christians, much of their time was spent in prayer and devotion, in religious meet. ings, in celebrating the eucharist, in conferences, in exhortations, in preaching, in an affectionate intercourse with one another, and correspondence with other societies. Perhaps their mode of life, in its form and habit, was not very unlike the Unitas fratrum, or of modern Me. thodists. Think then what it was to become such at Corinth, at Ephesus, at Antioch, or even at Jerusalem. How new! How alien from all their former habits and ideas, and from those of every body about them! What a revolution there must have been of opinions and prejudices to bring the matter to this !
We know what the precepts of the religion are ; how pure, how benevolent, how disinterested a duct they enjoin ; and that this purity and benevolence are extended to the very thoughts and affections. We are not perhaps at liberty to take for granted, that the lives of the preachers of Christianity were as perfect as their lessons : but we is entitled to contend, that the observable part of their behaviour must have agreed in a great measure with the duties which they taught. There was, therefore, which is all that we assert, a course of life pursued by them, different from that which they before led. And this is of great importance. Men
are brought to any thing almost sooner than to change their habit of life, especially when the change is either inconvenient, or made against the force of natural inclination, or with the loss of accustomed indulgences. “It is the most difficult of all things, to convert men from vicious habits to virtuous ones, as every one may judge from what he feels in himself, as well as from what he sees in others."* It is almost like making men over again.
Left then to myself, and without any more information than a knowledge of the existence of the religion, of the general story upon which it is founded, and that no act of power, force, or authority, was concerned in its first success, I should conclude, from the very nature and exigency of the case, that the author of the religion during his life, and his immediate disciples after his death, exerted themselves in spreading and publishing the institution throughout the country in which it began, and into which it was first carried; that, in the prosecution of this purpose, they underwent the labours and troubles, which we observe the propagators of new sects to undergo ; that the attempt must necessarily have also been in a high degree dangerous ; that, from the subject of the mission, compared with the fixed opinions and prejudices of those to whom the missionaries were to address themselves, they could hardly fail of encountering strong and frequent opposition ; that, by the hand of government, as well as from the sudden fury and unbridled licence of the people, they would oftentimes experience injurious and cruel treatment; that, at any rate, they must have always had so much to fear for their personal safety, as to have passed their lives in a state of constant peril and anxiety ; and lastly, that their mode of life and conduct, visibly at least, corresponded with the in: stitution which they delivered, and, so far, was both new, and required continual self-denial.
* Ilartley's Essays on Man, p. 190.
There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing to
be original witnesses of the Christian Miracles, passed their lives in labours, dangers and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of those accounts; and that they also submitted from the same mo
tives to new rules of conduct. AFTER thus considering what was likely to happen, we are next to inquire how the transaction is represented in the several accounts that have come down to us. And this inquiry is properly preceded by the other, forasmuch as the reception of these accounts may depend in part upon the credibility of what they contain.
The obscure and distant view of Christianity, which some of the heathen writers of that age had gained, and which a few passages in their remaining works incidentally discover to us, offers itself to our notice in the first place; because, so far as this evidence goes, it is the concession of adversaries ; the source from which it is drawn is unsuspected. Under this head a quotation from Tacitus, well known to every scholar, must be inserted as deserving of particular attention. The reader will bear in mind that this passage was written about seventy years after Christ's death, and that it relates to transactions which took place about thirty years after that event. Speaking of the fire which happened at Rome in the time of Nero, and of the suspicions which were entertained that the emperour himself was concerned in causing it, the historian proceeds in his narrative and observations thus :
“ But neither these exertions, nor his largesses to the people, nor his offerings to the gods, did away the infa
mous imputation under which Nero lay, of having ordered the city to be set on fire. To put an end therefore to this report, he laid the guilt, and inflicted the most cruel punishments, upon a set of people, who were held in abhorrence for their crimes, and called by the vulgar Christians. The founder of that name was Christ, who suffered death in the reign of Tiberius, under his procurator Pontius Pilate. This pernicious superstition, thus checked for a while, broke out again ; and spread, not only over Judæa, where the evil originated, but through Rome also, whither every thing bad upon earth finds its way, and is practised. Some who confessed their sect were first seized, and afterwards by their information a vast multitude were apprehended, who were convicted, not so much of their crime of burning Rome, as of hatred to mankind. Their sufferings at their execution were aggravated by insult and mockery ; for some were disguised in the skins of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs some were crucified—and others were wrapt in pitched shirts*, and set on fire when the day closed, that they might serve as lights to illuminate the night. Nero lent his own gardens for these executions ; and exhibited at the same time a mock Circensian entertainment, being a spectator of the whole in the dress of a charioteer, sometimes mingling with the crowd on foot, and sometimes viewing the spectacles from his car. This conduct made the sufferers pitied; and though they were criminals, and deserving the severest punishment, yet they were considered as sacrificed, not so much out of a regard to the publick good, as to gratify the cruelty of one man.”
This is rather a paraphrase, but is justified by what the Scholiast upon Juvenal says-"Nero maleficos homines tedâ et papyro et cerâ supervestiebat, et sic adignem ad moveri jubebat.” Lard. Jewish and Heath. Test. vol. i. p. 359.