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Scriptures daily, whether these things were so predicted there, as the apostles affirmed. For I am persuaded, that no wise and religious person could imagine, that God would permit an impostor to arise, in whom so great a variety of predictions, delivered by so many different persons, and in so many distant ages, should have an exact accomplishment.
When the apostles were preaching to heathens, it is indeed true, that they generally waived the argument from prophecy, because they were not so capable judges of it; but then they insist on another, which might as soon captivate their belief, and as justly vindicate it. I mean, “the miracles performed by Christ, and by those commissioned and influenced by him.” Many of these were of such a nature, as not to admit of any artifice or deceit; especially that most signal one of his resurrection from the dead, which I
may call a miracle performed by, as well as upon, Christ; because he so expressly declares, that he had himself a power to resume his life at pleasure. The apostles well knew, this was a fact of such a nature, that they who believed this, would never doubt of the rest; they therefore often single this out, and lay the whole stress of their cause upon it. This they proved to be true, by their own testimony miraculously confirmed; and in proving this, they establish Christianity on an impregnable rock. For I may safely refer it to any of you to judge, whether it is an imaginable thing, that God should raise the dead body of an impostor; especially when he had solemnly appealed to such a resurrection, as the grand proof of his mission, and had expressly fixed the very day on which it was to happen.
I persuade myself you are convinced by all this, that they who on the apostles' testimony believed, that the prophecies of the Old Testament were accomplished in Jesus, and that God bore witness to him by miracles, and raised him from the dead, had abundant reason to believe, that the doctrine which Christ taught was divine, and his Gospel a revelation from heaven. And if they had reasou to admit this conclusion, then it is plain, that we, who have such satisfactory evidence on the one hand, that the testimony of the apostles was credible, and on the other, that this was the substance of it, have reason also to admit this grand inference from it, and to embrace the Gospel as a faithful saying, and as well worthy of all acceptation. This is the thing I was attempting to prove.
And here 1 should end the argument, were it not for the confirmation it may receive from some additional considerations, which could not properly be introduced under any of the preceding heads. I add, therefore,
7. In the last place, that the truth of the Gospel has received farther, and very considerable confirmation, from what has happened in the world since it was first published.—And here I must desire you, more particularly to consider, on the one hand, what God has been doing to establish it ;-and, on the other, the methods which its enemies have been taking to destroy it.
1. Consider what God has been doing to confirm the Gospel since its first publication, and you will find it a farther evidence of its divine original.-I might here argue at large, from its surprising propagation in the world ;-- from the miraculous powers
with which not only the apostles, but succeeding preachers of the Gospel, and other converts, were endowed ;—from the accomplishment of prophecies recorded in the New Testament;—and from the preservation of the Jews as a distinct people, notwithstanding the various difficulties and persecutions through which they have passed.
I might particularly urge, in confirmation of the truth of Christianity, “the wonderful success with which it was attended, and the surprising propagation of the Gospel in the world.”
I have before endeavoured, under a former head, to show you, that the Gospel met with so favourable a reception in the world, as evidently proved, that its first publishers were capable of producing such evidence of its truth, as an imposture could not admit. But now I carry the remark farther, and assert, that, considering the circumstances of the case, it is amazing that even truth itself, under so many disadvantages, should have so illustrious a triumph; and that its wonderful success does evidently argue such an extraordinary interposition of God in its favour, as might justly be called a miraculous attestation to it.
There was not only one of a family, or two of a city taken and brought to Zion; but so did the Lord hasten it in its appointed time, that “a little one be
, . came a thousand, and a small one a strong nation.” And as the apostles themselves were honoured with very remarkable success, so this divine seed was propagated so fast in the next age, that Pliny testifies," he found the heathen temples in Achaia almost deserted;" and Tertullian afterwards boasts, " that
all places but those temples were filled with Christians; so that, were they only to withdraw, cities and provinces would be depopulated.” Nor did the Gospel only triumph thus within the boundaries of the Roman empire ; for long before Tertullian was born, Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, which seems to have been written not much above 100 years after Christ's death, declares, " that there was no nation of men, whether Greeks or barbarians, not excepting these savages, that wandered in clans from one region to another, and had no fixed habitation, who had not learned to offer prayers and thanksgivings to the Father and Maker of all, in the name of Jesus who was crucified.”
Now, how can we account for such a scene as this, but by saying, that the hand of the Lord was with the first preachers of the Gospel, and therefore such multitudes believed, and turned unto the Lord ? How had it been possible, that so small a fountain should presently have swelled into a mighty river, and even have covered the face of the earth, had it not sprung from the sanctuary of God, and been rendered thus triumphant by his Almighty arm !
Had this new religion, so directly contrary to all the prejudices of education, been contrived to soothe men's vices, to assert their errors, to defend their superstitions, or to promote their secular interest, we might easily have accounted for its prevalence in the world. Had its preachers been very profound philosophers, or polite and fashionable orators, many might have been charmed, at least for a while, to follow them; or had the princes and potentates of the earth declared themselves its patrons, and armed their legions for its defence and propagation, multitudes might have been terrified into the profession, though not a soul could, by such means, have been rationally persuaded to the belief of it. But without some such advantages as these, we can hardly conceive, how any new religion should so strangely prevail; even though it had crept into the world in its darkest ages, and most barbarous countries, and though it had been gradually proposed in the most artful manner, with the finest veil industriously drawn over every part, which might at first have given disgust to the beholder.
But you well know, that the very reverse of all this was the case here. You know, from the apparent constitution of Christianity, that the lusts and errors, the superstitions and interests of carnal men, would immediately rise up against it as a most irreconcilable enemy.
You know that the learning and wit of the Greeks, and the Romans, were early employed to overbear and ridicule it. You know, that as all the herd of heathen deities were to be discarded, the priests, who subsisted on that craft, must in interest find themselves obliged to oppose it. You know, that the princes of the earth drew the sword against it, and armed torments and death for the destruction of its followers. see that it triumphed over all, though published in ages and places of the greatest learning and refinement; and proposed, not in an ornamental and artificial manner, but with the utmost plainness: the doctrines of the cross being always avowed as its grand fundamentals, though so notorious a stumblingblock both to the Jews and Gentiles; (and the ab
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