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II.—The Hypothesis of Imposture.

REIMARUS.

The infidelity of the enemies of Christianity, which denies the supernatural and miraculous altogether, is logically more consistent than Arianism, Socinianism, and modern Unitarianism, but absolutely untenable in the premises. It resorts either to IMPOSTURE, or ENTHUSIASM, or POETICAL FICTION. These are the only possible hypotheses; which may, however, assume various modifications; and their refutation leaves us no alternative but either absolute skepticism,—which gives up the problem, and ends in nihilism and despair,—136or a return to the old and time-honored faith of the Christian Church of all ages.

The hypothesis of imposture is so revolting to moral as well as common sense, that its mere statement is its condemnation. It has never been seriously carried out, and no scholar of any decency and self-respect would now dare to profess it openly.73 How, in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an impostor—that is, a deceitful, selfish, depraved man—have invented, and consistently maintained from beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived, and successfully carried through, in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and age, a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude and sublimity, and sacrificed his own life for it?

The difficulty is not lessened by shifting the charge of fraud from Christ upon the apostles and evangelists; for they were any 137thing but designing hypocrites and deceivers, and leave upon every unsophisticated reader the irresistible impression of an artless simplicity and honesty rarely equaled and never surpassed by any writers, learned or unlearned, of ancient or modern times. What imaginable motive could have induced them to engage in such a wicked scheme, when they knew that the whole world would persecute them even to death? How could they have formed and successfully sustained a conspiracy for such a purpose, without ever falling out, or betraying themselves by some inconsistent word or act?

And who can seriously believe, for a moment, that the Christian Church for these eighteen hundred years, now embracing nearly the whole civilized world, and among them the strongest intellects and the noblest hearts, the greatest divines, philosophers, poets, orators, statesmen, and benefactors of the race, could have been duped and fooled by a Galilean carpenter or a dozen illiterate fishermen? 138Verily, this lowest form of infidelity is the grossest insult to all sound reason and sense, and to the dignity of human nature.

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