« PreviousContinue »
There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing to be original witnesses of the Christian miracles, passed their lives in tabours, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of those accounts ; and that they also submitted, from the same motives, to new rules of conduct.
The account of the treatment of the religion, and of the exertions of its first preachers, as stated in our Scriptures (not in a professed history of persecutions, or in the connected manner in which I am about to recite it, but dispersedly and occasionally, in the course of a mixed general history, which circumstance alone negatives the supposition of any fraudulent design), is the following :- 66 That the Founder of Christianity, from the commencement of his ministry to the time of his violent death, employed himself wholly in publishing the institution in Judea and Galilee'; that, in order to assist him in this purpose, he made choice out of the number of his followers, of twelve persons, who might accompany him as he travelled from place to place; that, except a short absence upon a journey, in which he sent them, two by two, to announce his mission, and one, of a few days, when they went before him to Jerusalem, these persons were statedly and constantly attending upon him ; that they were with him at Jerusalem when he was apprehended and put to death; and that they were commissioned by him, when his own ministry was concluded, to publish his Gospel, and collect disciples to it from all countries of the world.” The account then proceeds to state, That, a few days after his departure, these persons,
with some of his relations, and some who had regularly frequented their society, assembled at Jerusalem ; that, considering the office of preaching the religion as now devolved upon them, and one of their number having deserted the cause, and, repenting of his perfidy, having destroyed himself, they proceeded to elect another into his place, and that they were careful to make their election out of the number of those who had accompanied their Master from the first to the last, in order, as they alleged, that he might be a witness, together with themselves, of the principal facts which they were about to produce and relate concerning him *; that they began their work at Jerusalem, by publickly asserting that this Jesus, whom the rulers and inhabitants of that place had so lately crucified, was, in truth, the person in whom all their prophecies and long expectations terminated ; that he had been sent amongst them by God; and that he was appointed by God the future judge of the human species ; that all who were solicitous to secure to themselves happiness after death, ought to receive him as such, and to make profession of their belief, by being baptized in his namet.” The history goes on to relate, “ that considerable numbers accepted this proposal, and that they who did so, formed amongst themselves a strict union and society *; that, the attention of the Jewish government being soon drawn upon them, two of the principal persons of the twelve, and who also had lived most intimately and constantly with the Founder of the religion, were seized as they were discoursing to the people in the temple; that, after being kept all night in prison, they were brought the next day before an assembly, composed of the chief persons of the Jewish magistracy and priesthood; that this assembly, after some consultation, found nothing, at that time, better to be done towards suppressing the growth of the sect, than to threaten their prisoners with punishment if they persisted ; that these men, after expressing, in decent but firm language, the obligation under which they considered themselves to be, to declare what they knew, “ to speak the things which they had seen and heard,” returned from the council, and reported what had passed to their companions ; that this report, whilst it apprized them of the dan
of their situation and undertaking, had no other effect upon their conduct, than to produce in them a general resolution to persevere, and an earnest prayer to God to furnish them with assistance, and to inspire them with fortitude, proportioned to the increasing exigency of the service*.” A very short time after this, we read “ that all the twelve apostles were seized and cast into prison t; that being brought a second time before the Jewish Sanhedrim, they were upbraided with their disobedience to the injunction which had been laid upon them, and beaten for their contumacy; that, being charged once more to desist, they were suffered to depart; that however they neither quitted Jerusalem, nor ceased from preaching, both daily in the temple, and from house to house; and that the twelve considered themselves as so entirely and exclusively devoted to this office, that they now transferred what may be called the temporal affairs of the society to other handsg.”
* Acts, iv.
+ Acts, v. 18.
I Ac+s, v. 42.
§ I do not know that it has ever been insinuated, that the Cbristiän mission, in the hands of the apostles, was a scheme for making a fortune, or for getting money. But it may never.