« FöregåendeFortsätt »
age perhaps since the creation of the world, was less liable to be imposed upon than this; wherein learning and all the polite arts and liberal sciences, flourished, which enlighten men's understandings, and make it a most difficult and improbable enterprize to put a cheat upon them. Policy might boast its highest perfection in the courts of Augustus and Tiberius; insomuch indeed, that they have been looked upon as the completest patterns of it ever since. The Scribes and Pharisees were in very great power and authority at Jerusalem, who were a most subtle generation of men, and the most dangerous enemies any man could have to deal with. Wickedness, which was likely to give the greatest obstruction to a pure and undefiled religion, was absolutely the fashion of the age; nor indeed was that empire ever so totally abandoned to work all manner of iniquity with greediness as at the time of the first promulgation of the Gospel. And as men were then most capable of detecting any imposture, so must they also have been very desirous to find the christian system false, which attempted to put such a curb upon licentiousness, and laid the axe to the root of all their much-beloved and long-accustomed vices. Vice would be sure to make a most eager defence, and put in its strongest plea; and no forgery could be so artfully contrived as to
escape its interested researches, when it had such a number of cunning and devoted advocates.
The pride of the philosophers, too, could not fail being piqued at the setting forth of these new and upstart doctrines: and indeed we know, that it was the professed design of the Eclectic sect of philosophers in that age, to examine every opinion, without prejudice or partiality, by whomsoever it was proposed: and the philosophers of those times were inferior to none, either in their obstinacy in adhering to their old opinions, or in their art and skill in opposing new ones. For, with the permission of the deists and atheists in our own days be it spoken, the christian religion met with its subtilest and most dangerous enemies at its first publication.
Nor was the religion of peace to be established sword in hand: it was not to take advantage of any troubles and combustions in the empire, as that of Mohammed afterwards did: but it was to recommend itself by its own intrinsi excellence and efficacy to the serious and impartial examiner. In this conjuncture of time, therefore, the Saviour of the world appears: and he appears in a mean and low condition, despised by his own people, who quickly became
as much despised themselves by all the world besides. The Prince of Peace is born in a time of settled and universal peace, when men had most leisure and opportunity to weigh and consider things; and when, by the establishment of the Roman empire in its meridian height and fullest extent, the communication between nation and nation was thoroughly free and open, and the apostles and their followers might find an easy admittance to preach the Gospel in all parts of the world; yet to be alike derided and persecuted in all! But, notwithstanding these disadvantages, Christianity soon made its way into the court of the emperor himself, where craft and luxury, and every thing that is most contrary to the purity of the Gospel, reigned unawed and uncontrolled. "A. "little one," saith God by his prophet Isaiah, "shall become a thousand, and a small one a
strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in "due time." And accordingly we find, that St. Paul could glory of his proselytes even in Cæsar's household: and his bonds in Christ were manifest throughout the whole palace, and in all other parts of Rome. And it was the boast of the primitive Christians, that they were but of yesterday, and yet filled the court, the senate-house, and every place of public resort.
Thus then did Christ, by coming at that rẻmarkable æra, prove beyond contradiction, that he had not only courage to encounter, but also power to vanquish, all the prejudices of the world, and superstitions of the people, the interests of priests and the vanity of philosophers, the pride of rulers and the malice of the Jews, all the learning of Greece, and all the power of Rome. And the Gospel, in the hands of a few persons of low parentage and education, of no learning or eloquence, of no policy or address, of no repute or authority, despised as Jews by the rest of mankind, and as the meanest and worst of Jews by the Jews themselves, approved itself to the most prejudiced minds; it stood all trials, and surmounted all impediments, that wit, and erudition, and policy, and vice, could throw in its way. And surely we may now, therefore, safely venture to pronounce that true, which neither learning, nor prejudice, nor wickedness, nor interest, with all their united efforts, could ever prove to be false.
Since then the evidence of our Saviour's coming in the fullness of time is so well founded in truth, and carries with it such incontestible marks of divine wisdom, surely they who pretend to disbelieve or doubt of it, must be more perverse than the Jews of old, more stupid than o 3
the very heathens themselves, who, blinded as they were by their lusts and prejudices, could not long resist the dazzling brightness with which it was surrounded.
And for us, who think ourselves well established in the firm belief of our Saviour's coming in due time, happy will it be for us, if we are equally established in the habitual practice of those virtues and graces, which he came to recommend.