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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 taught. 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. “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.”*
It is almost like making men over again.
Left then to myself, and without any more information than a knowledge of the existence of the religion, of the general story upon which it is founded, and that no act of power, force, and authority, was concerned in its first success, I should conclude, from the very nature and exigency of the case, that the Author of the religion, during his life, and his immediate disciples after his death, exerted themselves in spreading and publishing the institution throughout the country in which it began, and into which it was first carried; that, in the prosecution of this purpose, they underwent the labours and troubles which we observe the propagators of new sects to undergo; that the attempt must necessarily have
* Hartley's Essays on Man, p. 190.
also been in a high degree dangerous ; that, from the subject of the mission, compared with the fixed opinions and prejudices of those to whom the missionaries were to address themselves, they could hardly fail of encountering strong and frequent opposition; that, by the hand of government, as well as from the sudden fury and unbridled license of the people, they would oftentimes experience injurious and cruel treatment; that, at any rate, they must have always had so much to fear for their personal safety, as to have passed their lives in a state of constant peril and anxiety; and lastly, that their mode of life and conduct, visibly at least, corresponded with the institution which they delivered, and, so far, was both new, and required continual self-denial.
There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing to be
original witnesses of the Christian miracles, passed their lives in labours, 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.
AFTER thus considering what was likely to happen, we are next to inquire how the transaction is represented in the several accounts that have come down to us. And this inquiry is properly preceded by the other, forasmuch as the reception of these accounts may depend in part on the credibility of what they contain.
The obscure and distant view of Christianity, which some of the heathen writers of that age had gained, and which a few passages in their remaining works inci
dentally discover to us, offers itself to our notice in the first place: because, so far as this evidence goes, it is
, the concession of adversaries; the source from which it is drawn is unsuspected. Under this head, a quotation from Tacitus, well known to every scholar, must be inserted, as deserving particular attention. The reader will bear in mind that this passage was written about seventy years after Christ's death, and that it relates to transactions which took place about thirty years after that event. Speaking of the fire which happened at Rome in the time of Nero, and of the suspicions which were entertained that the emperor himself was concerned in causing it, the historian proceeds in his narrative and observations thus :
“But neither these exertions, nor his largesses to the people, nor his offerings to the gods, did away the infamous imputation under which Nero lay, of having ordered the city to be set on fire. To put an end, therefore, to this report, he laid the guilt, and inflicted the most cruel punishments, upon a set of people, who were holden in abhorrence for their crimes, and called by the vulgar, Christians. The founder of that name was Christ, who suffered death in the reign of Tiberius, under his
procurator, Pontius Pilate.—This pernicious superstition, thus checked for a while, broke out again ; and spread not only over Judea, where the evil originated, but through Rome also, whither every thing bad upon the earth finds its way and is practised. Some who confessed their sect were first seized, and afterwards, by their information, a vast multitude were apprehended, who were convicted, not so much of the crime of burning Rome, as of hatred to mankind. Their sufferings at their execution were aggravated by insult and mockery; for some were disguised in the skins of
wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs ; were crucified; and others were wrapped in pitched
. shirts, * and set on fire when the day closed, that they might serve as lights to illuminate the night. Nero lent his own gardens for these executions, and exhibited at the same time a mock Circensian entertainment; being a spectator of the whole, in the dress of a charioteer, sometimes mingling with the crowd on foot, and sometimes viewing the spectacle from his
This conduct made the sufferers pitied; and though they were criminals, and deserving the severest punishments, yet they were considered as sacrificed, not so much out of a regard to the public good, as to gratify the cruelty of one man.” Our concern,
with this passage at present is only so far as it affords a presumption in support of the proposition which we maintain, concerning the activity and sufferings of the first teachers of Christianity. Now considered in this view, it proves three things: first, that the Founder of the institution was put to death 2ndly, that in the same country in which he was put to death, the religion, after a short check, broke out again and spread; 3rdly, that it so spread, as that, within thirty-four years from the author's death, a very great number of Christians (ingens eorum multitudo) were found at Rome. From which fact, the two following inferences may be fairly drawn: first, that if, in the space of thirty-four years from its commencement, the religion had spread throughout Judea, had extended itself to Rome, and there had numbered a
* This is rather a paraphrase, but is justified by what the Scholiast upon Juvenal says;
" Nero maleficos homines tæda et papyro et cera supervestiebat, et sic ad ignem admoveri jubebat.” Lardner's Jewish and Heath. Test. vol. i. p. 359.
great multitude of converts, the original teachers and missionaries of the institution could not have been idle; secondly, that when the Author of the undertaking was put to death as a malefactor for his attempt, the endeavours of his followers to establish his religion in the same country, amongst the same people, and in the same age, could not but be attended with danger.
Suetonius, a writer contemporary with Tacitus, describing the transactions of the same reign, uses these words: “Affecti suppliciis Christiani genus hominum superstitionis novæ et maleficæ.”* “The Christians, a set of men of a new and mischievous (or magical) superstition, were punished.”
Since it is not mentioned here that the burning of the city was the pretence of the punishment of the Christians, or that they were the Christians of Rome who alone suffered, it is probable that Suetonius refers to some more general persecution than the short and occasional one which Tacitus describes.
Juvenal, a writer of the same age with the two former, and intending, it should seem, to commemorate the cruelties exercised under Nero's government, has the following lines :t
“Pone Tigellinum, tæda lucebis in illa,
Et latum media sulcum deducit | arena.” "Describe Tigellinus (a creature of Nero), and you shall suffer the same punishment with those who stand burning in their own flame and smoke, their head being held
up by a stake fixed to their chin, till they make a long stream of blood and melted sulphur on the ground." If this passage were considered by itself, the subject
+ Sat. i. ver. 155. # Fossan “ deducis."
* Suet. Nero. cap. 16.