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SECT. XVIII. The excellency of the Christian religion farther proved from the excellency of its Teacher.
THE third thing wherein we said the Christian religion exceeds
all other religions that are, or can be imagined, is the manner in which it was
delivered and propagated: in the consideration of which particular, the first thing
112offers itself is the Author of this doctrine. The authors of the
Grecian wisdom and knowledge themselves confessed, that they alleged scarce any
thing for certainty, because truth was sunk, as it were, to the bottom of a well;334334 It was a saying of Democritus,
“That truth lay at the bottom of a well,”
as we find in Tully’s Academical Questions, and in other writers. and the mind as dim-sighted, in regard to divine things, as the eyes of an owl
in the sun-shine.335335 See Aristotle’s Metaphysics, book ii. chap. 1. “As the eyes
of a bat are dazzled at the light in the day-time, so is the understanding in
our soul confounded at the plainest things in the world.” Beside, there was hardly any of them, but was addicted
to some particular vice:336336 Socrates is most commended, by the consent of all; yet Cyril, in his sixth
book against Julian, sets before us, in the words of Porphyry, the high degree
of anger he discovered in his words and sayings. some were flatterers of princes,337337 Plato and Aristippus. others devoted to
the embraces of harlots,338338 Zeno, the chief of the stoics, was addicted to the love of men; and Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Aristippus, and almost all
of them, to the love
of women; witness Athenæus’s books, xii. and xiii. Laërtius and Lactantius. Theognis
mentions it of himself in many places. others to snarling impudence,339339 Whence they were called Cynics. and one great argument of the envy and hatred they all had against
one another is, their quarrelling about words or things of no moment;340340 This is well observed by Timon Phliasius:
“O wretched mortals, nought but sin and flesh,
Always deceiv’d with words and fierce contests;
Vain men, like empty bladders, puff ’d with wind.”
And again, “Sharp contest walks about with mighty noise;
Sister of mortal hatred and confusion;
Till, wandering to and fro, at last she fix
Herself in human breasts, and raise their hopes.”
And again, “Who has enflam’d them with such deadly strife? The noisy multitude, who silence hate,
From whom the plague of tattle has its rise.”
You will find these verses in Clemens, Strom. v. in Eusebius, at the end of his Preparation, and in Theodoret’s second discourse. and as good an argument of their coldness and indifferency in the worship of God is, that they who believed that there was really but one God, did 113yet lay him aside, and paid divine worship to others, whom they believed to be no gods; making that only the rule of their religion which was publicly received.341341 Xenophon, in his sixth Memorab. recites the oracle by which the gods are commanded to be worshipped according to the laws of every city. Here we may repeat the words of Seneca, before quoted out of Augustine; after which Augustine adds these: “He worshipped that which he blamed; he did that which he condemned; and that which he found fault with, he paid adoration to.” According to what Plato says, in his Timæus, and other places; and Porphyry in that place of Eusebius’s Preparat. book iv. ch. 8. that it is dangerous to speak the truth, in divine matters, before the vulgar. The fear a which danger, both in the Greek and Latin, and barbarian philosophers, prevailed over the sincere profession of the truth; which thing alone is sufficient to hinder any one from thinking that such men were to be followed in every thing. Justin Martyr, in his exhortation to the Greeks, observes this of Plato. And as for the reward of piety, they could affirm nothing for certain; as appears from the last dispute of Socrates, a little before his death.342342 See what we have before quoted concerning him. Mahomet, the author of that religion which has spread itself so far, abandoned himself to lust all his life long,343343 See what is said in the sixth book. which his friends themselves do not deny. Neither did he give any assurance whereby it might appear that those rewards he promised, which consisted in feasts and women, would ever really be; since they do not pretend to say that he is restored to life again in his body; so far from that, that it now lies buried in Medina. But Moses, the Hebrew lawgiver, was an excellent person: 114 however, entirely free from faults; for with great reluctance he would scarce undertake an embassy to the king of Egypt, though at the command of God;344344 Exodus iv. 2, 10, 13, 14. and he discovered some distrust of God’s promise, concerning striking water out of the rock,345345 Numbers xx. 12. as the Hebrews acknowledge. And he himself partook of scarce any of those rewards which he promised to his people by the law, being driven to and fro in desert places, by continual tumults,346346 Exodus xxxii. Numbers xi. xii. xiv. xvi. xx. xxv. and never entering the happy land.347347 Numbers xx. 12. Deut. xxxiv. 4. But Christ is described by his disciples to be without any manner of sin:348348 John viii. 40. x. 32. 2 Cor. v. 21. 1 Pet. ii. 22. Heb. iv. That his piety was commended by the oracle among the Gentiles, we shall shew in the fourth book. nor could he ever be proved to have committed any, by the testimonies of others:349349 Origen observes this in his third book against Celsus. and whatever he commanded others, he performed himself;350350 Lactantius, in the end of his Institutions, well observes, “That he not only shewed the way, but walked before in it, lest any one should dread the path of virtue on the account of its difficulty.” for he faithfully fulfilled all things that God commanded him; he was most sincere in the whole course of his life;351351 1 Peter ii. 22. he was the most patient of injuries and torments, as is evident from his punishment on the cross;352352 Matthew xxvi. 50, 52. John viii. 23. Acts viii. 32. he was so great a lover of mankind, of his enemies, even of those by whom he was led to death, that he prayed to God for them.353353 Luke xxiii. 34. And the reward that he promised to his followers, he was possessed of himself, in a most eminent manner; as is declared and proved by certain testimony. Many saw, heard, and handled him, after he 115was returned to life again:354354 John xx. 27, 28, 29. John i. Epist. i. Matt. xxviii. Mark. xvi. Luke xxiv. 1 Cor. xv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. he was taken up into heaven in the sight of twelve;355355 Mark xvi. 19. Luke xxiv. 51, 52. Acts i. 9, 10, 11. also Acts vii. 55. ix. 3, 4, 5. xxii. 6. 1 Cor. xv. 8. and that he there obtained the highest power, is manifest from hence, that he endued his disciples with a power to speak those languages which they had never learned;356356 Acts ii. 3, 4. x. 46. xix. 6. 1 Cor. xii. 10, 28, 30. xiii. 1, 8. xiv. 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 18, 19, 22, 23, 27, 39. and with other miraculous gifts,357357 Acts v viii. ix. x. xi. xiii. xiv, xvi, xix. xx. xxi. xxviii. Rom. xv. 19. 2 Cor. xii. 12. Heb. ii. 4. The truth hereof his shewn by Justin in his dispute with Trypho; by Irenæus, book ii. by Tertullian, in his apology; by Origen, in his seventh book against Celsus; by Lactantius, and others. as he promised them, when he departed from them:358358 John xiv. 12. xvii. 18. Mark xvi. 17. all which put together shew, that there is no reason to doubt of his faithfulness, or of his power to recompense us with that reward he has promised. And hence it is we collect, that this religion exceeds all others in this particular also, that the Author of it performed himself what he commanded, and was possessed of what he promised.
From the wonderful propagation of this religion.
WE come now to the effects of the doctrine by him delivered; which, indeed, if rightly considered, are such, that if God has any regard or care of human affairs, this doctrine cannot possibly but be thought divine. It was agreeable to Divine Providence to cause that to spread the furthest, which is in itself best. And this has happened to the Christian religion, which we ourselves see is taught all over Europe; even the further corners of the north not exempted;359359 See Adam Bremensis and Helmoldus, and the writers concerning Iceland. and no less throughout all Asia,360360 See the acts of the general councils. even in the 116islands in the sea belonging to it;361361 See Osorius in his Lusitanics. through Egypt also,362362 This appears from the acts of the general councils; from the ancient ecclesiastical histories, and particularly Eusebius, vi. 31. out of the Coptic liturgy. and Ethiopia,363363 See Franciscus Alvaresius. and some other parts of Africa,364364 See Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustin, and the acts of the African councils: especially that council which is subjoined to the works of Cyprian. and at last through America.365365 See Acosta and others, who have wrote about the affairs of America. Nor is this done now only, but was so of old; as the history of all ages testify, the books of the Christians, and the acts of synods; and at this day there is a tradition preserved amongst the barbarians, of the journeys and miracles of Thomas366366 See Abdias, book ix. Eusebius’s ecclesiastical history, book i. towards the end; and book ii. chap. 1. and the beginning of book iii. Ruffinus, book x. chap. 9. Add to these, Osorius and Linschotius, concerning the affairs of East India; and Freita concerning the empire of the Lusitanians in Asia, The sepulchre of this apostle is now to be seen in the country of Coromandel. and Andrew,367367 See Eusebius, in the beginning of his fore-mentioned third book, and Origen upon Genesis. and the other apostles. And Clemens,368368 He says, Strom. v. that Christ was known in all nations. Tertullian,369369 In his first book against the Jews. “In whom else have all nations believed, but in Christ, who lately came? In whom have all these nations believed—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and the dwellers of Mesopotamia, Armenia, Phrygia, Cappadocia; the inhabitants of Pontus, and Asia, and Pamphylia; they that dwell in Egypt, and they who live in the country of Africa, beyond Cyrene; Romans and strangers; Jews and other nations in Jerusalem; the different sorts of people in Getulia; the many countries of the Moors; all the borders of Spain; the different nations of Gaul? And those places of Britain, which the Romans could not come at, are yet subject to Christ; the Sarmatæ, and Dæci, and Germans, and Scythians; and many other obscure nations, and many provinces and islands unknown to us, so many that they cannot be reckoned. In all which places the name of Christ, who lately came, reigns.” Presently after, he shews how much larger the kingdom of Christ was in his time, that is, the end of the second century, than those of old, Nebuchadnezzar’s, Alexander’s, or the Romans: “The kingdom of Christ overspreads all places, is received every where, in all the above-named nations (he had mentioned the Babylonians, Parthians, Indians, Ethiopia, Asia, Germany, Britain, the Moors, Getulians, and Romans) it is in great esteem; he reigns every where, is adored in all places, is divided equally amongst them all.” and others, 117have observed, how far the name of Christ was famous in their times, amongst the Britons, Germans, and other distant nations.370370 Irenæus, who was ancienter than Tertullian, book. i. chap. 3. “For though there be different languages, the power of tradition is the same; neither the churches founded in Germany have any other belief, or any other tradition; nor yet those in Iberia, nor those among the Celtæ, nor those which are in the east, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those that are established in the middle of the world; but, like the sun, which God created, and is one and the same throughout the whole world, so the light, the preaching of the truth, shines every where, and enlightens all men, who are willing to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And Origen’s homily upon the ivth of Ezekiel: “The miserable Jews confess, that these things were foretold of the presence of Christ; but they are foolishly ignorant of his person, though they see what is said of him fulfilled; for when did the British land, before the coming of Christ, agree in the worship of one God? when did the country of the Moors, when did the whole world together, do so?” And Arnobius, book ii. “The powers which they saw with their eyes, and those unheard-of effects, which were openly produced, either by him, or which were proclaimed by his disciples, throughout the whole world, subdued those violent appetites, and caused nations and people, and those whose manners were very different, to consent, with one mind, to the same belief: for we might enumerate, and take into our account, those things which were done in India among the Seræ, Persians, and Medes, in Arabia, Egypt, in Asia, Syria, among the Galatians, Parthians, Phrygians, in Achaia, Macedonia, Epirus; in those islands and provinces surveyed by the east and western sun; and lastly in Rome, the mistress of the world.” And Athanasius, In his synodical epistle, which we find in Theodoret, book iv. ch. 3. mentions the Christian churches in Spain, Britain, Gaul, Italy, Dalmatia, Mysia, Macedonia, Greece, Africa, Sardinia, Cyprus, Crete, Pamphylia, Lysia, Isauria, Egypt, Libya, Pontus, and Cappadocia. And Theodoret, in his eighth discourse against the Greeks, speaks thus concerning the apostles: “When they were conversant in the body, they went about, sometimes to one sort, and sometimes to another; sometimes they discoursed to the Romans, sometimes to the Spaniards, and sometimes to the Celtans; but after, they returned to him that sent them: all enjoyed their labours without exception; not only the Romans and they that love the Roman yoke, and were subject to their government, but also the Persians, and Scythians, and Massagetæ, and Sauromatæ, and Indians, and Ethiopians; and, to speak in one word, the borders of the whole world.” And again, in his ninth book, amongst the converted nations he reckons the Persians, the Massagetæ, the Tibareni, the Hyrcani, the Caspians, and Scythians. Jerom, in the epitaph of Nepotian, reckons among the Christians, the Indians, Persians, Goths, Egyptians, Bessians, and the people clothed with skins: in his epistle to Læta, he reckons up the Indians, Persians, Ephiopians, Armenians, Huns, Scythians, and Getans: and, in his dialogue between an Orthodox man and a Luciferian, he mentions the Britons, Gauls, the east, the people of India, the Iberians, the Celtiberians, and the Ethiopians. And Chrysostom, in his sixth homily upon 1 Cor. says, “If they were not worthy to be believed in what they said, how should their writings have spread all over barbarous countries, even to the Indians, and those countries beyond the sea?” And again, in his last homily upon Pentecost: “The Holy Spirit descended in the shape of tongues, divided its doctrine among the several climates of the world; and by this gift of tongues, as it were by a particular commission, made known to every one the limits of that command and doctrine that was committed to him.” And again, in his famous oration concerning Christ’s being God: “We must say then, that a mere man could not, in so short a time, have overspread the world, both sea and land; nor have so called men to such things, who were withheld by evil customs, nay, possessed with wickedness; yet he was sufficient to deliver mankind from all these, not only Romans, but also Persians, and all barbarous nations.” See also what follows, which is highly worth reading. What religion is there that can can compare 118with it for the extent of its possession? If you answer, heathenism; that, indeed, has but one name, but is not one 119religion: for they do not all worship the same thing; for some worship the stars, others the elements, others beasts, others things that have no existence; neither are they governed by the same law, nor under one common master. The Jews, indeed, though very much scattered, are but one nation; however, their religion has received no remarkable increase since Christ: nay, their own law is made more known by the Christians than by themselves. Mahometanism is settled in very many countries, but not alone; for the Christian religion is cultivated in those same countries, and in some places by a greater number: whereas, on the contrary, there are no Mahometans to be found in many parts where the Christian religion is.
Considering the weakness and simplicity of those who taught it in the first ages.
We come next to examine in what manner the Christian religion made such a progress, that in this particular also it may be compared with others. We see most men are disposed to comply with the examples of kings and rulers, especially if they he obliged to it by law, or compelled by force. To these the religions of the pagans, and that of the Mahometans, owe their increase. But they who first taught the Christian religion were not only men without authority, but of low fortune, fishers, tent-makers, and the like: and yet, by the industry of these men, that doctrine, within thirty years, or thereabouts, spread not only through all parts of the Roman empire, but as far as the Parthians and Indians.371371 Rom. xv. 19. And not only in the very beginning, but, for almost three hundred years, by the industry of private persons, without any threats, without any enticements, nay, opposed as much as possible by the power of those who were in authority, this religion was propagated so far, that it possessed the greatest part of the Roman empire, before Constantine professed Christianity.372372 Tertullian said in his time, apology ii. “We are but of yesterday, and have filled all places belonging to you, your cities, islands, castles, towns, councils, your very camps, tribes, companies, the palace, senate and forum; we have left you only your temples.” They among the 120Greeks, who delivered precepts of morality, at the same time rendered themselves acceptable by other arts; as the Platonics, by the study of geometry; the peripatetics, by the history of plants and animals; the stoics, by logical subtilty: the Pythagoreans, by the knowledge of numbers and harmony. Many of them were endued with admirable eloquence, as Plato, Xenophon, and Theophrastus. But the first teachers of Christianity had no such art: their speech was very plain, without any enticements:373373 This was wisely observed by Chrysostom, on 1 Cor. i. 17. and by Theodorot, after the words now quoted. they declared only the precepts, promises, and threats in bare words; wherefore, since they had not in themselves any power, answerable to such a progress, we must of necessity allow that they were attended with miracles; or that the secret influence of God favoured their undertaking; or both.
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