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ye shall be betrayed both by parents and brethren, and kinsfolks and friends, and some of you shall they cause to be put to death.”*
"The time cometh, that he that killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come ye may remember that I told you of them."t
I am not entitled to argue from these passages, that Christ actually did foretell these events, and that they did accordingly come to pass, because that would be at once to assume the truth of the religion: but I am entitled to contend that one side or other of the following disjunction is true, either that the evangelists have delivered what Christ really spoke, and that the event corresponded with the prediction; or that they put the prediction into Christ's mouth, because, at the time of writing the history, the event had turned out so to be: for the only two remaining suppositions appear in the highest degree incredible, which are, either that Christ filled the minds of his followers with fears and apprehensions, without any reason or authority for what he said, and contrary to the truth of the case; or that, although Christ had never foretold any such thing, and the event would have contradicted him if he had, yet historians who lived in the age when the event was known, falsely as well as officiously ascribed these words to him.
3. Thirdly, these books abound with exhortations to patience, and with topics of comfort under distress.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us."‡
"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body-knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise us up also by Jesus, and shall present us with you-for which cause we faint not, but, though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day; for our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."§
Luke xxi. 12-16. See also xi. 49.
John xvi. 4. See also xv. 20 and xvi. 33. § 2 Cor. iv. 8, 9, 10, 14, 16, 17.
"Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." 99*
"Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions, partly whilst ye were made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions, and partly whilst ye became companions of them that were so used; for ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence which hath great recommense of reward; for ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise."t
"So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God, for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure. Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be accounted worthy of the kingdom, for which ye also suffer."
"We rejoice in hope of the glory of God; and not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope."§
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you, but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings. Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator."||
What could all these texts mean, if there was nothing in the circumstances of the times which required patience, which called for the exercise of constancy and resolution? Or will it be pretended that these exhortations (which, let it be observed, come not from one author, but from many) were put in, merely to induce a belief in after ages, that the first Christians were exposed to dangers which they were not exposed to, or underwent sufferings which they did not undergo. If these books belong to the age to which they lay claim, and in which age, whether genuine or spurious, they certainly did appear, this supposition cannot be
James v. 10, 11.
hx, 32-36. 12 Thess. i. 1-5. § Rom. v. 3, 4.
maintained for a moment; because I think it impossible to believe, that passages, which must be deemed not only unintelligible but false, by the persons into whose hands the books upon their publication were to come, should nevertheless be inserted, for the purpose of producing an effect upon remote generations. In forgeries which do not appear till many ages after that to which they pretend to belong, it is possible that some contrivance of that sort may take place; but in no others can it be attempted.
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.
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: "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 alledged, 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 publicly 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 name." The history goes on to relate," that considerable numbers accepted this proposal, and that those 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 apprised them of the danger 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 + Acts v. 41.
*Acts i. 21, 22.
† Acts xi.
increasing exigency of the service." A very short time after this, we read "that all the twelve apostles were seized and cast into prison;† 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 hands."§
Hitherto the preachers of the new religion seem to have had the common people on their side; which is assigned as the reason, why the Jewish rulers did not, at this time, think it prudent to proceed to greater extremities. It was not long, however, before the enemies of the institution found means to represent it to the people as tending to subvert their law, degrade their lawgiver, and dishonour their temple. And these insinuations were dispersed with so much success, as to induce the people to join with their superiors in the stoning of a very active member of the new community.
The death of this man was the signal of a general persecution; which raged at Jerusalem with so much fury, as to drive most** of the new converts out of the place, except the twelve apostles. The converts, thus "scattered abroad," preached the religion wherever they came; and their preaching was, in effect, the preaching of the twelve, for it
I do not know that it has eyer been insinuated, that the Christian mission, in the hands of the apostles, was a scheme for making a fortune, or for getting money. But it may nevertheless be fit to remark upon this passage of their history, how perfectly free they appear to have been from any pecuniary or interested views whatever. The most tempting opportunity, which occurred, of making a gain of their converts, was by the custody and management of the public funds, when some of the richer members, intending to contribute their fortunes to the common support of the society, sold their possessions, and laid down the prices at the apostles' feet. Yet so insensible or undesirous were they of the advantage which that confidence afforded, that, we find, they very soon disposed of the trust, by putting it into the hands, not of nominees of their own, but of stewards formally elected for the purpose by the society at large.
We may add also, that excess of generosity, which cast private property into the public stock was so far from being required by the apostles, or imposed as a law of Christianity, t at Peter reminds Ananias that he had been guilty, in his behaviour, of an officious and voluntary prevarication; for whilst, says he, thy estate remained unsold," was it not thine own? and, after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?"
Acts vi. 12.
**Acts viii. 1. "And they were all scattered abroad;" but the term "all" is not, I think, to be taken strictly, or as denoting more than the generality; in like manner as in Acts ix. 35. "And all that dwelt in Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord."