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is offered in its defence. Now, who would not think the better of a cause for being thus attacked ? At first you know, that the professors, and
especially the preachers of the gospel, were severely persecuted. In every city bonds and imprisonments awaited them. As soon as ever the apostles began to preach Jesus and his resurrection, the Jewish rulers laid hold on them, and having confined and scourged them, strictly prohibited their speaking any more in that name. A little while after, Stephen was murdered, and afterwards James, and some other of the apostles. Now, certainly such a conduct did evidently show a consciousness, that they were not able to answer the apostles, and to support their own cause by the fair methods of reason and argument; to which, so far as the history informs us, they made no pretence; but attempted to bear them down by dint of authority, and to silence them by brutal force.
The time would fail me, should I attempt particularly to show, how these uprighteous methods were pursued in succeeding ages, and distant countries. The savage cruelties of Nero to these innocent and holy men were such, as raised the pity even of their enemies. Yet this was one of the least extensive and destructive of the ten general persecutions, which arose in the Roman Empire, besides several others in the neighbouring countries, of which ecclesiastical history informs us. enemies of the Gospel added falsehood and slander to their inhumanities. They endeavoured to murder the reputation of the Christians, as well as their persons, and were not ashamed to represent them as haters of the whole human species, for no imaginable
reason, but because they would not associate themselves in their idolatrous worship, but with regard to charity and truth, were strongly bearing their testimony against it. Nay, they charged them with human sacrifices, incest, idolatry, and all the crimes for which themselves, and their foolish gods, were indeed justly detestable; but from which the Christians knew how to vindicate themselves, highly to their own honour, and to the everlasting reproach of these malignant and pestilent accusers. And they have not failed to do it in many noble apologies, which, through the divine providence, are transmitted to us, and are incomparably the most valuable of any ancient uninspired writings.
Such were the infamous and scandalous methods, by which the Gospel was opposed in the earliest ages of the Church; and I cannot forbear adding, “ that the measures more lately taken to subvert it, especially amongst ourselves, seem to me rather to reflect a glory upon it." Its unhappy enemies have been told again and again, that we put the proof of it on plain fact. They themselves do not, and cannot deny, that it prevailed early in the world, as we have shown at large. There must have been some man, or body of men, who first introduced it. They generally confess, that Christ and his apostles were the persons;
and these apostles, (on whose testimony what we know of Christ chiefly depends,) must have been enthusiasts, or impostors, if their testimony was false. Now, which of these schemes will the unbeliever take? It seems that the Deists of the present age fix on neither, as being secretly conscious they can support neither; but they content themselves with cavilling at same circumstances attending the Revelation, without daring to encounter its grand evidence; that is, they have been laboriously attempting to prove it to be improbable, or absurd, to suppose that to have been, which, nevertheless, plainly appears to have been fact.
One most weakly and sophistically pretends to prove, in defiance of the common sense of mankind, that the light of nature is a perfect rule, and, therefore, that all revelation is needless, and indeed impossible. Another disguises the miracles of Christ, by false and foolish representations of them, and then sets himself to ridicule them as idle tales. And a third takes a great deal of fruitless pains to show, that some prophecies referred to in the New Testament are capable of another sense, different from that in which the apostles have taken them. These things have been set in a very artful and fallacious light by persons, whose names will be perhaps transmitted to posterity, with the infamous glory of having been leaders in the cause of infidelity; but not a man of them undertakes directly to answer what has been said to ascertain the grand fact. Nay, they generally take no more notice of the positive evidence by which it is even demonstrated, than if they had never heard it proposed; though they cavil at incidental passages in those books in which it is most clearly stated. And as for what they have urged, though perhaps some, who before were weary of Christianity, may have taken occasion from their writings to reject it; and others, for want of consulting the answers to them, may have been unwarily ensnared; yet the examination of these points has
been greatly for the honour and vindication of the truth, which seems, on this occasion, to have been set in a clearer and stronger light than ever, at least in these later ages.
The cause of Christianity has greatly gained by debate, and the Gospel comes like fine gold out of the furnace, which the more it is tried, the more it is approved. I own, the defenders of the Gospel have appeared with very different degrees of ability for the work; nor could it be otherwise amongst such numbers of them. But, on the whole, though the patrons of infidelity have been masters of some wit, humour, and address, as well as of a moderate share of learning; and generally much more than a moderate share of assurance; yet, so great is the force of truth, that (unless we may except those writers who have unhappily called for the aid of the civil magistrate in the controversy,) I cannot recollect, that I have seen any defence of the Gospel, which has not, on the whole, been sufficient to establish it, notwithstanding all the sophistical arguments of its most subtile antagonists.
This is an observation, which is continually gaining new strength, as new assaults are made upon the Gospel. And I cannot forbear saying, that, as if it were by a kind of judicial infatuation, some who have distinguished themselves in the wretched cause of infidelity, have been permitted to fall into such gross misrepresentations, such senseless inconsistencies, and such palpable falsehoods, and, in a word, into such a various and malignant superfluity of naughtiness; that, to a wise and pious mind, they must appear like those venemous creatures, which are said to carry an antidote in their bowels against their own poison. A virtuous and well-bred Deist must turn away from some modern pieces of this kind with scorn and abhorrence; and a Christian might almost be tempted to wish, that the books, with all their scandals about them, might be transmitted to posterity, lest when they came to live, like the writings of some of the ancient heathens, only in those of their learned and pious answerers, it should hardly be credited, that ever the enemies of the Gospel, in such an enlightened age, should be capable of so much impiety and folly.
Thus I have given you a brief view of the chief arguments in proof of Christianity; and the sum of the whole is this :
The gospel is probable in theory: as considering the nature of God, and the circumstances of mankind, there was reason to hope a revelation might be given ; and if any were given, we should naturally
apprehend its internal evidence would be such as that of the Gospel is, and its external such as it is
said to be. But it is also true in fact, for Christianity was early professed, as it was first introduced by Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and doctrines were published by his immediate attendants; whose books are picserved still in their original language, and in the main are faithfully translated into our own. So that the books of the New Testament, now in your hands, may be depended upon, as written by the persons whose names they bear. And admitting this, the truth of the Gospel follows by a train of very easy consequences; for the authors certainly knew the truth of the facts they relate; and considering what