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account of them to that Emperor, which, though commonly known, must be mentioned, as it is so highly important. After having spoken very favourably of their moral charcter, he adds, " That many of both sexes, and of every age and rank, were infected with this superstition;" as he thinks fit to express it : “ that it was got into the villages, as well as the cities; and that, till he begun to put the laws in execution against them, the temples of the heathen deities were almost deserted, and hardly any could be found, who would buy victims for them. It might be added, that Marcus Antoninus, who wrote a
years after Pliny, mentions the Christians as examples of a resolute and obstinate contempt of death.
“ And it is generally supposed, that they are the Galileans, whom Epictetus speaks of, as those whom practice had taught to despise the rage of their armed enemies."
I shall dismiss this head with observing, that it tends greatly to the confirmation of Christianity, that each of these celebrated and ancient Pagan writers, at the same time that they attest the existence of such a body of men professing it, inform us of those extreme persecutions which they underwent, in the very infancy of their religion. A fact also farther apparent, from the apologies addressed by the Christians to their persecutors, which, whatever imperfections may attend the manner in which some of them are written, appear to me some of the most valuable remains of antiquity, (the sacred records only excepted,) especially those of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Minutius Felix. This fundamental point is, then, abundantly made out, that there were
vast numbers of men, very quickly after the time when Jesus is said to have appeared upon earth, who professed his religion, and chose to endure the greatest extremities, rather than they would abandon it. From hence it will be easy to show,
2. That there was certainly such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified at Jerusalem, when Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor there.
It can never be imagined, that multitudes of people should take their name from Christ, and sacrifice their lives for their adherence to him, even in the same age in which he is said to have lived, if they had not been well assured there was such a person. Now, several of the authors I have mentioned, plainly assert, that the Christians were denominated from Christ; nay, Tacitus expressly adds, “ that he was put to death under Pontius Pilate, who was procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius." And it is well known, that the primitive Christian apologists often appeal to the acts of Pilate, or the memoirs of his government, (which he, according to the custom of other procurators, transmitted to Rome,) as containing an account of these transactions; and as the appeal was made to those who had the command of the public records, we may assure ourselves such testimonies were then extant. But it is a fact, which our enemies never denied; they owned it, they even gloried in it, and upbraided the Christians with it. The Jews, there. fore, in some of their earliest writings since those times, call Jesus by the ignominious name of " the man that was hanged or crucified," and his followers, the servapts of the crucified person.”
Lucian rallies them for deserting the pompous train of the heathen deities, to worship one whom he impiously calls," a crucified impostor.” Spartian, also, assures us, that the Emperor Alexander Severus entertained such high thoughts of Christ, “ that he would have admitted him into the number of his deities, and have built a temple to him, had not his Pagan subjects vigorously opposed it.” And Porphyry, though an inveterate enemy to Christianity, not only allowed there was such a person, but honoured him as a most wise and pious man, approved
66 by the gods, and taken up into heaven for his distinguished virtues.”-I might add a great deal more on this head; but it already appears as certain as ancient history can make it, and incomparably more certain than most of the facts which it has transmitted to us, that there was at the time commonly supposed, such a person as Christ, who professed himself a divine teacher, and who gathered many disciples, by whom his religion was afterwards published in the world.
3. It is also certain, that the first publishers of this religion wrote books, which contained an account of the life and doctrine of Jesus their Master, and which went by the name of those that now make up our New Testament.
The greatest adversaries of Christianity must grant, that we have books of great antiquity, written, some fourteen, others fifteen, and some sixteen hundred years ago; in which mention is made of the life of Christ, as written by many, and especially by four of his disciples, who, by way of eminence, are called Evangelists. Great pains, indeed, have been
taken to prove, that some spurious pieces were published under the names of the apostles, containing the history of these things: but surely this must imply, that it was a thing known and allowed, that the apostles did write some narrations of this kind; as counterfeit coin implies some true money, which it is designed to represent.— And I am sure, he must be very little acquainted with the ancient Ecclesiastical writers, who does not know, that the primitive Christians made a very great difference between those writings, wbich we call the canonical books of the New Testament, and others: which plainly shows, that they did not judge of writings merely by the names of their pretended authors, but inquired with an accuracy becoming the importance of those pretences. The result of this inquiry was,
, that the Four Gospels, the Acts, Thirteen Epistles of Paul, One of Peter, and One of John, were received upon such evidence, that Eusebius, a most accurate and early critic in these things, could not learn that they had ever been disputed. And afterwards, the remaining books of the New Testament, Hebrews, James, the Second of Peter, the Second and Third of John, Jude, and the Revelation, were admitted as genuine, and added to the rest; though some circumstances attending them, rendered their authority for a while a little dubious. On the whole, it is plain, the primitive Christians were so satisfied in the authority of these sacred books, that they speak of them, not only as credible and authentic, but as equal to the oracles of the Old Testament, as divinely inspired, as the words of the Spirit, as the law and organ of God, and as the rule of faith, which cannot be contradicted without great guilt; with many other expressions of the like kind, which often occur in their discourses. To which I may add, that in some of their councils, the New Testament was placed on a throne, to signify their concern, that all their controversies and actions might be determined and regulated by it.
On the whole, then, you see, that the primitive church did receive certain pieces, which bore the same titles with the books of our New Testament. Now, I think it is evident they were as capable of judging, whether a book was written by Matthew, John, or Paul, as an ancient Roman could be of determining whether Horace, Tully, or Livy, wrote those which go under their names.
And I am sure, the interest of the former was so much more concerned in the writings of the apostles, than that of the latter in the compositions of the poets, orators, or even their historians; that there is reason to believe they would take much greater care to inform themselves fully in the merits of the cause, and to avoid being imposed upon by artifice and fiction. Let me now show,
4. That the books of the New Testament have been preserved in the main, uncorrupted, to the present time, in the original language in which they were written.
This is a matter of vast importance, and, blessed be God! it is attended with proportionable evidence; an evidence in which the hand of Providence has indeed been remarkably seen; for I am confident, that there is no other ancient book in the world, which may so certainly, and so easily, be proved to be authentic.