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mission and powers,) must be a most profane and daring insult on all the acknowledged perfections of his nature.
And the inhumanity of such a conduct would, on the whole, have been equal to its impiety; for it was deceiving men in their most important interests, and persuading them to venture their whole future happiness on the power and fidelity of one, whom, on this supposition, they knew to have been an impostor, and justly to have suffered a capital punishment for his crimes.
It would have been great guilt to have given the hearts and devotions of men so wrong a turn, even though they had found magistrates ready to espouse and establish, yea, and to enforce the religion they taught. But to labour to propagate it in the midst of the most vigorous and severe opposition from them, must equally enhance the guilt and folly of the undertaking: for by this means they made themselves accessary to the ruin of thousands; and all the calamities which fell on such proselytes, or even on their remotest descendants, for the sake of Christianity, would be in a great measure chargeable on these first preachers of it. The blood of honest, yea, and (supposing them, as you must, to have been involuntarily deceived) of pious, worthy, and heroic persons, who might otherwise have been the greatest blessings to the public, would in effect be crying for vengeance against them: and the distresses of the widows and orphans, which those martyrs might leave behind them, would join to swell the account.
So that, on the whole, the guilt of those malefactors, who are from time to time the victims of public justice, even for robbery, murder, or treason, is small when compared with that which we have now been supposing. And corrupt as human nature is, it appears to me utterly improbable, that twelve men should be found, I will not say in one little nation, but even on the whole face of the earth, who could be capable of entering into so black a confederacy, on any terms whatsoever.
And now, in this view of the case, make a serious pause, and compare with it what we have just been saying of the character of the apostles of Jesus, so far as an indifferent person could conjecture it from their writings; and then say, whether you can in your hearts believe them to have been these abandoned wretches, at once the reproach and astonishment of mankind? You cannot surely believe such things of any, and much less of them, unless it shall appear they were in some peculiar circumstances of strong temptation; and what those circumstances could be, it is difficult even for imagination to conceive. But history is so far from suggesting any unthought-of fact to help our imagination on this head, that it bears strongly the contrary way; and hardly any part of my work is easier than to show,
3. That they were under no temptation to forge a story of this kind, or to publish it to the world, knowing it to be false. They could reasonably expect no gain, no reputation by it. But, on the contrary, supposing it an imposture, they must, with the most ordinary share of prudence, have foreseen infamy and ruin, as the certain consequences of attempting it.
For the grand foundation of their scheme was, that Jesus of Nazareth, who was cruci
fied at Jerusalem by the Jewish rulers, was the Son of God, and the Lord of all things. I appeal to your consciences, whether this looks at all like the contrivance of artful and designing men. evidently charging upon the princes of the country the most criminal and aggravated murder; indeed, all things considered, the most enormous act of wickedness which the sun had ever seen. They might therefore depend upon it, that these rulers would immediately employ all their art and power to confute their testimony, and to destroy their persons. Accordingly one of them was presently stoned, and another quickly after beheaded;-and most of the rest were scattered abroad into. strange cities, where they would be sure to be received with great prejudices raised against them amongst the Jews by reports from Jerusalem, and vastly strengthened by their expectations of a temporal Messiah; expectations which, as the apostles knew, by their own experience, it was exceeding difficult to root out of men's minds; expectations which would render the doctrine of Christ crucified an insuperable stumblingblock to the Jews.
Nor could they expect a much better reception amongst the Gentiles; with whom their business was to persuade them to renounce the gods of their ancestors, and to depend on a person who had died the death of a malefactor and a slave; to persuade them to forego the pompous idolatries in which they had been educated, and all the sensual indulgences with which their religion, (if it might be called a religion) was attended, to worship one invisible God through one Mediator, in the most plain and simple
manner; and to receive a set of precepts, most directly calculated to control and restrain, not only the enormities of men's actions, but the irregularities of their hearts. A most difficult undertaking ! And to engage them to this, they had no other arguments to bring, but such as were taken from the views of an invisible state of happiness or misery, of which they asserted their crucified Jesus to be the supreme disposer; who should another day dispense his blessings, or his vengeance, as the Gospel had been embraced, or rejected. Now, could it be imagined, that men would easily be persuaded, merely on the credit of their affirmation, or in compliance with their importunity, to believe things which to their prejudiced minds would appear so improbable, and to submit to impositions, to their corrupt inclinations so insupportable? And if they could not persuade them to it, what could the apostles then expect ? What, but to be insulted as fools or madmen, by one sort of people; and by another, to be persecuted with the most savage and outrageous cruelty, as blasphemers of the gods, as seducers of the people, and as disturbers of the public peace ? All which we know accordingly happened. Nay, they assure us, that their Lord had often warned.them of it; and that they themselves expected it, and thought it necessary to admonish their followers to expect it too; and it appears, that far from drawing back upon that account, as they would surely have done if they had been governed by secular motives, they became so much the more zealous and courageous, and encouraged each other to resist even to blood. Now, as this is a great evidence of the integrity and piety of their character, and thus illustrates the former head; so it serves to the purpose now immediately in view; that is, it proves how improbable it is, that any person of common sense should engage in an imposture, from which (as many have justly observed) they could, on their own principles, have nothing to expect, but ruin in this world, and dampation in the next.
When, therefore, we consider and compare their character and their circumstances, it appears utterly improbable, on various accounts, that they would have attempted in this article to impose upon the world. But suppose that, in consequence of
, some unaccountable as well as undiscoverable frenzy, they had ventured on the attempt, it is easy to show,
4. That, humanly speaking, they must quickly have perished in it, and their foolish cause must have died with them, without ever gaining any credit in the world.
One may venture to say this in general, on the principles which I before laid down; but it
appears still more evident, when we consider the nature of the fact they asserted, in conjunction with the methods they took to engage men to believe it; methods which, had the apostles been impostors, must have had the most direct tendency to ruin both their scheme and themselves.
1. Let us a little more particularly reflect on the nature of that grand fact, the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ; which, as I observed, was the great foundation of the Christian scheme, as first exhibited by the apostles. The resurrection of a dead man, and his ascension into, and abode in, the upper world, was so strange a thing, that a