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the testimony of Suetonius, as to the actual punishment of the Christians by Nero; and with the account given by Tacitus of the species of punishment which they were made to undergo; I think it sufficiently probable, that these were the executions to which the poet refers.
These things, as hath already been observed, took place within thirty-one years after Christ's death, that is, according to the course of nature, in the life-time, probably, of some of the apostles, and certainly in the life-lime of those who were converted by the apostles, or who were converted in their time. If then the founder of the religion was put to death in the execution of his design; if the first race of converts to the religion, many of them, suffered the greatest extremities for their profession; it is hardly credible, that those who came between the two, who were companions of the author of the institution during his life, and the teachers and propagators of the institution afier his death, could go about their undertaking with ease and safety.
The testimony of the younger Pliny belongs to a later period; for although he was contemporary with Tacitus and Suetonius, yet his account does not, like theirs, go back to the transactions of Nero's reign, but is confined to the affairs of his own time. His celebrated letter to Trajan was written about seventy years after Christ's death; and the information to be drawn from it, so far as it is connected with our argument, relates principally to two points; first, to the number of Christians in Bythynia and Pontus, which was so considerable as to induce the govern or of these provinces to speak of them in the following terms: “Multi, omnis ætatis, utriusque sexus etiam—enim civitates tantum, sed vicos etiam et agros, superstitionis istius contagio pervagata est.”
"There are many
every age and of both sexes ; nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but smaller towns also, and the open country." Great exertions must have been used by the preachers of Christianity to produce this state of things within this time. Secondly, to a point which hath been aiready noticed, and which I think of importance to be observed, namely, the sufferings to which Christians were exposa ed, without any public persecution being denounced against them by sovereign authority. For, from Pliny's doubt how he was to act, his silence concerning any subsisting law upon the subject, bis requesting the emperor's rescript, and the emperor, agreeably to his request, propounding
rule for his direction, without reference to any prior rute, it may be inferred, that there was, at that time, no public edict against the Christians in force. Yet from this same cpistle of Pliny it appears, so that accusations, trials, and examinations were, and had been, going on against them, in the provinces over which he presided; that schedules were delivered by anonymous informers, containing the names of persons who were suspected of holding or of favouring the religion; that, in consequence of these informations, many had been apprehended, of whoin some boldly avowed their profession, and died in the cause; others denied that they were Christians; others acknowledging that they had once been Christians, declared that they had long ceased to be such." All which demonstrates that the profession of Christianity was at that time (in that country at least) attended with fear and danger; and yet this took place without any edict from the Roman sovereign, commanding or authorising the persecution of Christians. This observation is farther confirmed by a rescript of Adrian to Minucius Fundanus, the proconsul of Asia :* from which rescript it appears, that the custom of the people of Asia was to proceed against the Christians with tumult and uproar. This disorderly practice, I say, is recognized in the edict, because the emperor enjoins, that, for the future, if the Christians were guilty they should be legally brought to trial, and not be pursued by importunity and clamour.
Martial wrote a few years before the younger Pliny; and as his manner was, made the sufferings of ihe Christians the subject of his ridicule.f Nothing however could show the notoriety of the fact with more certainty than this does. Martial's testimony, as well indeed as Pliny's, goes also to. another point, viz. that the deaths of these men were martyrdoms in the strictest sense, that is to say, were so voluntary, that it was in their power, at the time of pronouncing the sentence, to have averted the execution, by consenting to join in heathen sacrifices.
The constancy, and by consequence the sufferings, of the Christians of this period, is also referred to by Epictea
*Lard. Heath. Test. v. II. p. 110.
+In matutina nuper spectatus arena
tus, who imputes their intrepidity to madness, or to a kind of fashion or habit; and about fifty years afterwards, boy Marcus Aurelius, who ascribes it to obstinacy. “Is it possible
6 (Epictetus asks) that a man may arrive at this temper, and become indifferent to those things, from madness or from habit, as the Galileans ?* 6 Let this preparation of the mind (to die) arise from its own judgment, and not from obstinacy, like the Christians.”
There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing to be orig
inal 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.
OF the primitive condition of Christianity, only a distant and general view can be acquired from heathen writers. It is in our own books that the detail and interior of the transaction must be sought for. And this is nothing different from what might be expected. Who would write the history of Christianity but a Christian? Who was likely to record the travels, sufferings, labours, or successes of the apostles, but one of their own number, or of their followers? Now these books come up in their accounts to the full extent of the proposition which we maintain. We have four histories of Jesus Christ. We have a history taking up the narrative from his death, and carrying an account of the propagation of the religion, and some of the most eminent persons engaged in it, for a space of nearly thirty years. We have, what some may think still more original, a collection of letters, written by certain principal agents in the business, upon the business, and in the midst of their concern and connexion with it. And we have these wri. tings severally attesting the point which we contend for, viz. the sufferings of the witnesses of the history, and attesting it in every variety of form in which it can be conceived to appear; directly and indirectly, expressly and incidentally, by assertion, recital, and allusion, by varratives. of facts, and by arguments and discourses built upon these
*Epic, I. iv. c. 7. +Marc. Aur, Med. L. xi. c. 3.
facts, either referring to them, or necessarily presupposing them.
I remark this variety, because in examining ancient records, or indeed any species of testimony, it is, in my opinion, of the greatest importance to attend to the information or grounds of argument which are casually and undesignedly disclosed; forasmuch as this species of proof is, of all others, the least liable to be corrupted by fraud or misrepresentation.
I may be allowed therefore, in the inquiry which is now before us, to suggest some conclusion of this sort as preparatory to more direct testimony.
1. Our books relate, that Jesus Christ, the founder of the religion, was, in consequence of his undertaking, put to death, as a malefactor, at Jerusalem. This point at least will be granted, because it is no more than what Tacitus has recorded. They then proceed to tell us, that the re
gion was, notwithstanding, set forth at the same city of Jerusalem, propagated from thence throughout Judea, and afterwards preached in other parts of the Roman Empire. These points also are fully confirmed by Tacitus, who in. forms us, that the religion, after a short check, broke out again in the country where it took its rise ; that it not only spread throughout Judea, but had reached Rome; and that it had there great multitudes of converts: and all this within thirty years after its commencement. Now these facts, afford a strong inference in behalf of the proposition which we maintain. What could the disciples of Christ expect for themselves, when they saw their Master put to death? Could they hope to escape the dangers in which he had perished ? If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you, was the warning of common sense. With this example before their eyes, they could not be without a full sense of the peril of their future enterprize.
2. Secondly, all the bistories agree in representing Christ as foretelling the persecution of his followers.
“ Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations for my pame's sake."*
“When affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended."'1
66 They shall lay hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake; and
*M..tt. xxiv. 9.
+Mark iv, 17. See also s. 30.