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solute necessity, not only of embracing Christianity, but also of renouncing all idol-worship, being insisted on immediately, and in the strongest terms, though it must make the Gospel appear the most singular and unsociable religion that had ever been taught in the world.)
Had one of the wits, or politicians, of these ages seen the apostles, and a few other plain men, who had been educated amongst the lowest of the people, as most of the first teachers of Christianity were, going out armed with nothing but faith, truth, and goodness, to encounter the power of princes, the bigotry of priests, the learning of philosophers, the rage of the populace, and the prejudice of all; how would he have derided the attempt, and said, with Sanballat, What will these feeble Jews do? But had he seen the event, surely he must have owned, with the Egyptian Magi, in a far less illustrious miracle, that it was the finger of God, and might have justly fallen on his face, even amongst those whom he had insulted, with an humble acknowledge ment that God was in them of a truth.
I might here farther urge “those miracles which were wrought in confirmation of the Christian doctrine, for a considerable time after the death of the apostles.” The most signal, and best attested of these, was the dispossession of devils; whom God seems to have permitted to rage with an unusual violence about those times, that his Son's triumph over them might be so much the more remarkable, and that the old serpent might be taken in his own craftiness. I doubt not but many
have heard, that more than two hundred years after the
death of Christ, some of the most celebrated defenders of the Gospel, which the church has in any age produced, I mean Tertullian, and Minutius Felix, do not only challenge any of their heathen enemies and persecutors, to bring them a demoniac, engaging at the hazard of their lives, to oblige the evil spirit, in the name, and by the authority of Christ, to quit his possession; but do also appeal to it as a fact publicly known, that those who were agitated by such spirits, stood terrified and amazed in the presence of a Christian, and that their pretended gods were compelled then to confess themselves devils.
I waive the testimonies of some later writers of the Christian church, lest the credulity of their temper, joined with the circumstances attending some of the facts they record, should furnish out objections against their testimony; though I think we cannot, without great injustice to the character of the learned and pious Augustine, suspect the truth of some amazing facts of this kind, which he has attested, as of his own personal and certain knowledge.
Nor must I on this occasion forget to mention “the accomplishment of several prophecies, recorded in the New Testament," as a farther confirmation given by God to the Gospel.
The most eminent and signal instance under this head, is that of our Lord's prediction concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, as it is recorded by St. Matthew in his 24th chapter. The tragical history of it is most circumstantially described by Josephus, a Jewish priest, who was an eye-witness of it; and the description he has given of this sad calamity, so exactly corresponds to the prophecy, that one would have thought, had we not known the contrary, that it had been written by a Christian, on purpose to illustrate it.
And one can never enough admire that series of amazing providences, by which the author was preserved from most imminent danger, that he might leave us that invaluable treasure which his writings contain.
We have no need of any farther evidence than we find in him, of the exact accomplishment of what was prophesied concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. But our Lord had also foretold the long continued desolation of their temple; and I cannot forbear reminding you of the awful sanction which was given to that part of the prediction ; for it is well known that a heathen historian has assured us, that when Julian the apostate, in deliberate contempt of that prediction, solemnly and resolutely undertook to rebuild it, his impious design was miraculously frustrated again and again, and the workmen consumed by globes of fire, which broke out from the foundations.
The prediction of St. Paul concerning the man of sin, and the apostacy of the latter times, is also well worthy of our remark. And though a great deal of the book of Revelation be still concealed under a dark veil, yet the division of the Roman empire into ten kingdoms, the usurpation, persecutions, and idolatry of the Romish church, and the long duration of the papal power, with several other extraordinary events, which no human prudence could have foreseen, and which have happened
long since the publication of that book, are so clearly foretold there, that I cannot but look on that part of Scripture as an invaluable treasure; and think it not at all improbable, that the more visible accomplishment of some of its other prophecies may be a great means of reviving the Christian cause, which is at present so much on the decline.
“ The preservation of the Jews as a distinct people,” is another particular under this head, which well deserves our attentive regard.
It is plain they are vastly numerous, notwithstanding all the slaughter and destruction of this people, in former and in later ages. They are dispersed in various most distant nations, and particularly in those parts of the world where Christianity is professed. And though they are exposed to great hatred and contempt, on account of their different faith, and in most places subjected to civil incapacities, if not to unchristian severities; yet they are still most obstinately tenacious of their religion; which is the more wonderful, as their fathers were so prone to apostatize from it; and as most of them seem to be utter strangers, either to piety or humanity, and pour the greatest contempt on the moral precepts of their own law, while they are so attached to the ceremonial institutions of it, troublesome and inconvenient as they are. Now, seriously reflect, what an evident hand of providence is here; that, by their dispersion, preservation, and adherence to their religion, it should come to pass, that Christians should daily see the accomplishment of many remarkable prophecies concerning this people; and that we should always have amongst us, such a crowd of unexceptionable witnesses to the truth of those ancient Hebrew records, on which so much of the evidence of the Gospel depends. Records, which are many of them so full to the purpose for which we allege them, that, as a celebrated writer very well observes, “ had the whole body of the Jewish nation been converted to Christianity, men would certainly have thought, they had been forged by Christians, and have looked upon them, with the prophecies of the Sybils, as made many years after the events they pretend to foretell.” And, to add no more here, the preservation of the Jews as a distinct people, evidently leaves room for the accomplishment of those Old and New Testament promises, which relate to their national conversion and restoration; whereas that would be impossible in itself, or at least impossible to be known, if they were promiscuously blended with other people. On the whole, it is such a scene in the conduct of Providence, as I am well assured cannot be paralleled in the history of any other nation on earth, and affords a most obvious and important argument in favour of the Gospel.
Thus has Christianity been farther confirmed, since its first publication, by what God has done to establish it. It only remains, that we consider,
2. What confirmation it receives from the methods which its enemies have taken to destroy it.- And these have generally been, either persecution or falsehood, or cavilling at some particulars in the Revelation, without entering into the grand argument on which it is built, and fairly debating what