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Add to which, that the religious systems of those times, however ill supported by evidence, had been long established. The ancient religion of a country has always many votaries, and sometimes not the fewer, because its origin is hidden in remoteness and obscurity. Men have a natural veneration for antiquity, especially in matters of religion. What Tacitus says of the Jewish, was more applicable to the heathen establishment;
Hi ritus, quoquo modo inducti, antiquitate defenduntur.” It was also a splendid and sumptuous worship. It had its priesthood, its endowments, its temples. Statuary, painting, architecture, and music, contributed their effect to its ornament and magnificence. It abounded in festival shows and solemnities, to which the common people are greatly addicted, and which were of a nature to engage them much more than any thing of that sort among us.
These things would retain great numbers on its side by the fascination of spectacle and pomp, as well as interest many in its preservation by the advantage · which they drew from it. - “ It was moreover interwoven," as Mr Gibbon rightly represents it, “ with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or private life, with all the offices and amusements of society.” On the due celebration also of its rites, the people were taught to believe, and did believe, that the prosperity of their country in a great measure depended.
I am willing to accept the account of the matter which is given by Mr Gibbon: “ The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful :” and I would ask from which of these three classes of men were the Christian missionaries to look for protection or impunity ? Could they expect it from the people, “ whose acknowledged confidence in the public religion" they subverted from its foundation ? From the philosopher, who,
considering all religions as equally false," would of course rank theirs among the number, with the addition of regarding
them as busy and troublesome zealots ? Or from the magistrate, who, satisfied with
utility” of the subsisting religion, would not be likely to countenance a spirit of proselytism and innovation ;-a system which declared war against every other, and which, if it prevailed, must end in a total rupture of public opinion; an upstart religion, in a word, which was not content with its own authority, but must disgrace all the settled religions of the world ? It was not to be imagined that he would endure with patience, that the religion of the emperor and of the state should be calumniated and borne down by a company of superstitious and despicable Jews.
Lastly, the nature of the case affords a strong proof, that the original teachers of Christianity, in consequence of their new profession, entered upon a new and singular course of life. We may be allowed to presume, that the institution which they preached to others, they conformed to in their own persons; because this is no more than what every teacher of a new religion both does, and must do, in order to obtain either proselytes or hearers. The change which this would produce was very considerable. It is a change which we do not easily estimate, because, ourselves and all about us being 'habituated to the institution from our infancy, it is that we neither experience nor observe. After men became Christians, much of their time was spent in prayer and devotion, in religious meetings, in celebrating the eucharist, in conferences, in exhortations, in preaching, in an affectionate intercourse with one another, and correspondence with other societies. Perhaps their mode of life, in its form and habit, was not very unlike the Unitas Fratrum, or of modern Methodists. Think then what it was to become such at Corinth, at Ephesus, at Antioch, or even at Jerusalem. How new! how alien from all their former habits and ideas, and from those of every body about them! What a revolution there must have been of opinions and prejudices to bring the matter to this!
We know what the precepts of the religion are ; how pure, how benevolent, how disinterested a conduct they enjoin ; and that this purity and benevolence are extended to the very thoughts and affections, We are not, perhaps, at liberty to take for granted that the lives of the preachers of Christianity were as perfect as their lessons : but we are entitled to contend, that the observable part of their behaviour must have agreed in a great measure with the duties which they laught. There was, therefore, (which is all that we assert) a course of life pursued by them, different from that which they before led. And this is of great importance.
Men are brought to any thing almost sooner than to change their habit of life, especially when the change is either inconvenient, or made against the force of natural inclination, or with the loss of accustomed indulgences. 66 It is the most difficult of all things to convert men from vicious habits to virtuous ones, as every one may judge from what he feels in himself, as well as from what he sees in others *."
* Hartley's Essays on Man, p. 190.