« PreviousContinue »
of spectres leave the body in the grave. And, although the body of Christ might be removed by fraud, and for the purposes of fraud, yet without any such intention, and by sincere but deluded men, (which is the representation of the apostolic character we are now examining,) no such attempt could be made. The presence and the absence of the dead body are alike inconsistent with the hypothesis of enthusiasm : for, if present, it must have cured their enthusiasm at once; if absent, fraud, not enthusiasm, must have carried it away.
But further, if we admit, upon the concurrent testimony of all the histories, so much of the account as states that the religion of Jesus was set up at Jerusalem, and set up with asserting, in the very place in which he had been buried, and a few days after he had been buried, his resurrection out of the grave, it is evident that, if his body could have been found, the Jews would have produced it, as the shortest and completest answer possible to the whole story. The attempt of the apostles could not have survived this refutation a moment. If we also admit, upon the authority of St. Matthew, that the Jews were advertised of the expectation of Christ's followers, and that they had taken due precaution in consequence of this notice, and that the body was in marked and public custody, the observation receives more force still. For notwithstanding their precaution, and although thus prepared and forewarned, when the story of the resurrection of Christ came forth, as it immediately did ; when it was publicly asserted by his disciples, and made the ground and basis of their preaching in his name, and collecting followers to his religion, the Jews had not the body to produce, but were obliged to meet the testimony of the apostles by an answer not containing indeed any impossibility in itself, but absolutely inconsistent with the supposition of their integrity; that is, in other words, inconsistent with the supposition which would resolve their conduct into enthusiasm.
The Propagation of Christianity.
In this argument, the first consideration is the fact; in what degree, within what time, and to what extent, Christianity actually was propagated.
The accounts of the matter, which can be collected from our books, are as follow: A few days after Christ's disappearance out of the world, we find an assembly of disciples at Jerusalem, to the number of “ about one hundred and twenty;"* which hundred and twenty
» were, probably, a little association of believers, met together, not merely as believers in Christ, but as personally connected with the apostles, and with one another. Whatever was the number of believers then in Jerusalem, we have no reason to be surprised that so small a company should assemble : for there is no proof that the followers of Christ were yet formed into a society; that the society was reduced into any order ; that it was at this time even understood that a new religion (in the sense which that term conveys to us) was to be set up in the world, or how the professors of that religion were to be distinguished from the rest of mankind. The death of Christ had left, we may suppose, the generality of his disciples in great doubt, both as to what they were to do, and concerning what was to follow.
* Acts i. 15.
This meeting was holden, as we have already said, a few days after Christ's ascension : for ten days after that event was the day of Pentecost, when, as our history relates,* upon a signal display of Divine agency attending the persons of the apostles, there were added to the society “about three thousand souls.”+ But here it is not, I think, to be taken, that these three thousand were all converted by this single miracle ; but rather that many, who before were believers in Christ, became now professors of Christianity; that is to say, when they found that a religion was to be established, a society formed and set up in the name of Christ, governed by his laws, avowing their belief in his mission, united amongst themselves, and separated from the rest of the world, by visible distinctions ; in pursuance of their former conviction, and by virtue of what they had heard and seen and known of Christ's history, they publicly became members of it.
We read in the fourth chapter of the Acts, that, soon after this, o the number of the men,” i. e. the society openly professing their belief in Christ, “ was about five thousand.” So that here is an increase of two thousand within a very short time. And it is probable that there were many, both now and afterwards, who, although they believed in Christ, did not think it necessary to join themselves to this society; or who waited to see what was likely to become of it. Gamaliel, whose advice to the Jewish council is recorded Acts v. 34, appears to have been of this description ; perhaps Nicodemus, and perhaps also Joseph of Arimathea. This class of men, their character and their rank, are likewise pointed out by St. John, in the twelfth chapter of his Gospel : “ Nevertheless among the chief
+ Acts ii. 41.
| Verse 4.
* Acts ii. 1.
rulers also many believed on him ; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue : for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Persons such as these might admit the miracles of Christ, without being immediately convinced that they were under obligation to make a public profession of Christianity, at the risk of all that was dear to them in life, and even of life itself. *
Christianity, however, proceeded to increase in Jerusalem by a progress equally rapid with its first success; for, in the next chapter of our history,t we read that "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” And this enlargement of the new society appears in the first verse of the succeeding chapter, wherein we are told, that, “when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected;"I and afterwards, in the same chapter, it is declared expressly, that “the number of the disciples
* “ Beside those who professed, and those who rejected and opposed Christianity, there were, in all probability; multitudes between both, neither perfect Christians, nor yet unbelievers. They had a favourable opinion of the Gospel, but worldly considerations made them unwilling to own it. There were many circumstances which inclined them to think that Christianity was a divine revelation, but there were many inconveniences which attended the open profession of it ; and they could not find in themselves courage enough to bear them to disoblige their friends and family, to ruin their fortunes, to lose their reputation, their liberty, and their life, for the sake of the new religion. Therefore they were willing to hope, that if they endeavoured to observe the great principles of morality, which Christ had represented as the principal part, the sum and substance of religion ; if they thought honourably of the Gospel ; if they offered no injury to the Christians ; if they did them all the services that they could safely perform ; they were willing to hope that God would accept this, and that He would excuse and forgive the rest.” Jortin's Dis. on the Christ. Rel. p. 91. ed. 4. + Acts v. 14.
† Acts vi. I.
multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and that a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
This I call the first period in the propagation of Christianity. It commences with the ascension of Christ, and extends, as may be collected from incidental notes of time,* to something more than one year after that event. During which term, the preaching of Christianity, so far as our documents inform us, was confined to the single city of Jerusalem. And how did it succeed there? The first assembly which we meet with of Christ's disciples, and that a few days after his removal from the world, consisted of “one hundred and twenty." About a week after this, “ three thousand were added in one day;" and the number of Christians, publicly baptized, and publicly associating together, was very soon increased to “five thousand.” « Multitudes both of men and women continued to be added ;" “ disciples multiplied greatly,” and “many of the Jewish priesthood, as well as others, became obedient to the faith ; and this within a space of less than two years from the commencement of the institution.
By reason of a persecution raised against the church at Jerusalem, the converts were driven from that city, and dispersed throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.t Wherever they came, they brought their religion with them : for our historian informs us, that
they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” The effect of this preaching comes afterwards to be noticed, where the historian is led, in the course of his narrative, to observe, that then (i. e. about three years posterior to this) $ “the churches
* Vide Pearson's Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 7. Benson's History of Christ, book i. p. 148. + Acts viii. J.
I Verse 4.
ỹ Benson, book i. p. 207.