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the same powers : if they be false, it was an imitation, I will not say, of what had been wrought, but of what had been reported to have been wrought by those who preceded them. That imitation should follow reality ; fiction be grafted upon truth; that, if miracles were performed at first, miracles should be pretended afterwards ; agrees so well with the ordinary course of human affairs, that we can have no great difficulty in believing it. The contrary supposition is very improbable, namely, that miracles should be pretended to by the followers of the apostles and first emissaries of the religion, when none were pretended to, either in their own persons or that of their master, by these apostles and emissaries themselves.
There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing to
have been 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 the truth of those accounts; and that they also submitted from the same motives to new rules of conduct. It once then being proved, that the first propagators of the Christian institution did exert great activity, and subject themselves to great dangers and sufferings, in consequence, and for the sake of an extraordinary, and, I think we may say, of a miraculous story of some kind or other; the next great question is, Whether the account, which our scriptures contain, be that story; that which these men delivered, and for which they acted and suffered as they did ?
This question is, in effect, no other than, whether the story which Christians have now, be the story which Christians.
had then ? And of this the following proofs may be deduced from general considerations, and from considerations prior to any inquiry into the particular reasons and testimonies by which the authority of our histories is supported.
In the first place, there exists no trace or vestige of any other story. It is not, like the death of Cyrus the great, a competition between opposite accounts, or between the credit of different historians. There is not a document, or scrap of account, either contemporary with the commencement of Christianity, or extant within many ages after that commencement, which assigns a history substantially different from ours. The remote, brief, and incidental notices of the affair, which are found in heathen writers, so far as they do go, go along with us. They bear testimony to these facts that the institution originated from Jesus ; that the founder was put to death, as a malefactor, at Jerusalem, by the authority of the Roman governour,
Pontius Pilate ; that the religion, nevertheless, spread in that city, and throughout Judæa ; and that it was propagated from thence to distant countries; that the converts were numerous ; that they suffered great hardships and injuries for their profession ; and that all this took place in the age of the world which our books have assigned. They go on further, to describe the manners of Christians, in terms perfectly conformable to the accounts extant in our books; that they were wont to assemble on a certain day; that they sang hymns to Christ as to a god ; that they bound themselves by an oath not to commit any crime, but to abstain from theft and adultery, to adhere strictly to their promises, and not to deny money deposited in their hands ;* that they worshipped him who was crucified in
* Vide Pliny's Letter.—Bonnet, in his lively way of expressing himself, says ;-" Comparing Pliny's Letter with the account in the Acts, it seems to me that I had not taken up another author, but that I was still Palestine ; that this their first law-giver had taught them that they were all brethren ; that they had a great contempt for the things of this world, and looked upon them as common ; that they flew to one another's relief ; that they cherished strong hopes of immortality ; that they despised death, and surrendered themselves to sufferings.”* This is the account of writers who viewed the subject at a great distance; who were uninformed and uninterested about it. It bears the characters of such an account upon the face of it, because it describes effects, namely, the appearance in the world of a new religion, and the conversion of great multitudes to it, without descending, in the smallest degree, to the detail of the transaction upon which it was founded, the interiour of the institution, the evidence or arguments offered by those who drew over others to it. Yet still here is no contradiction of our story; no other or different story set up against it; but so far a confirmation of it, as that, in the general points upon which the heathen account touches, it agrees with that which we find in our own books.
The same may be observed of the very few Jewish writers, of that and the adjoining period, which have come
reading the historian of that extraordinary society.” This is strong : but there is undoubtedly an affinity, and all the affinity that could be expected.
* “ It is incredible what expedition they use when any of their friends are known to be in trouble. In a word, they spare nothing upon slich an occasion ; for these miserable men have no doubt they shall be immortal, and live for ever: therefore they contemn death, and many surrender themselves to sufferings. Moreover, their first law-giver has taught them that they are all brethren, when once they have turned and renounced the gods of the Greeks, and worship this master of theirs who was crucified, and engage to live according to his laws. They have also a sovereign contempt for all the things of this world, and look upon them as common.” Lucian de Morte Peregrini, t. i. p. 565. ed. Græv.
down to us.
Whatever they omit, or whatever difficulties we may find in explaining the omission, they advance no other history of the transaction than that which we acknowledge. Josephus, who wrote his Antiquities, or History of the Jews, about sixty years after the commencement of Christianity, in a passage generally admitted as genuine, makes mention of John under the name of John the Baptist ; that he was a preacher of virtue; that he baptized his proselytes; that he was well received by the people ; that he was imprisoned and put to death by Herod; and that Herod lived in a criminal cohabitation with Herodias, his brother's wife.* In another passage, allowed by many, although not without considerable question being moved about it, we hear of “ James, the brother of him who was called Jesus, and of his being put to death.”[ In a third passage, extant in every copy that remains of Josephus's history, but the authenticity of which has nevertheless been long disputed, we have an explicit testimony to the substance of our history in these words :“ At that time lived Jesus, a wise man, if he may be called a man, for he performed many wonderful works. He was a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him many Jews and Gentiles.' This. was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the instigation of the chief men among us, had condemned him to the cross, they who before had conceived an affection for him did not cease to adhere to him ; for on the third day he appeared to them alive again, the divine prophets having foretold these and many wonderful things concerning him. And the sect of the Christians, so called from him, subsists to this time.”+ Whatever become of the controver
sy concerning the genuineness of this passage ; whether Josephus go the whole length of our history, which, if the passage be sincere, he does ; or whether he proceed only a very little way with us, which, if the passage be rejected, we confess to be the case ; still what we asserted is true, that he gives no other or different history of the subject from ours, no other or different account of the origin of the institution. And I think also that it may with great reason be contended, either that the passage is genuine, or that the silence of Josephus was designed. For, although we should lay aside the authority of our own books entirely, yet when Tacitus, who wrote not twenty, perhaps not ten, years after Josephus, in his account of a period in which Josephus was near thirty years of age, tells us, that a vast multitude of Christians were condemned at Rome ; that they derived their denomination from Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was put to death, as a criminal, by the Procurator Pontius Pilate; that the superstition had spread not only over Judea, the source of the evil, but had reached Rome also: when Suetonius, an historian contemporary with Tacitus, relates, that, in the time of Claudius, the Jews were making disturbances at Rome, Chrestus being their leader; and that, during the reign of Nero, the Christians were punished ; under both which emperours Josephus lived :-when Pliny, who wrote his celebrated epistle not more than thirty years after the publication of Josephus's history, found the Christians in such numbers in the province of Bithynia as to draw from him a complaint, that the contagion had seized cities, towns, and villages, and had so seized them as to produce a general desertion of the publick rites; and when, as hath already been observed, there is no reason for imagining that the Christians were more numerous in Bithynia than in many other parts of the Roman empire: it cannot, I should