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Fables of Infidelity and Facts of Faith - Being an Examination of the Evidences of Infidelity
by Robert Patterson
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The death of this man was horrible.

The Philadelphia Presbyterian says: "There is now in Philadelphia a lady who saw Paine on his dying-bed. She informs us that Paine's physician also attended her father's family in the city of New York, where in her youth she resided, and that on one occasion whilst at their house, he proposed to her to accompany him to the Infidel's dwelling, which she did. It was a miserable hovel in what was then Raisin Street. She had often seen Paine before, a drunken profligate, wandering about the streets, from whom the children always fled in terror. On entering his room she found him stretched on his miserable bed. His visage was lean and haggard, and wore the expression of great agony. He expressed himself without reserve as to his fears of death, and repeatedly called on the name of Jesus, begging for mercy. The scene was appalling, and so deeply engraven on her mind, that nothing could obliterate it."—Philadelphia Presbyterian, March 17, 1857.

The physician's statement has been common, many years, and corresponds with the above. So do Grant Thorburn's representations agree with both. And the piece published by Rev. Jas. Inglis in his "Waymarks in the Wilderness," which has proved so distasteful to the Paineites here, substantially agrees with all the others. It is only the truthfulness of it which is so offensive. It may be of interest to state, that the facts therein named are the recollections of old Dr. McClay, a Baptist minister of known power and veracity. The fact of Paine's miserable, and cowardly, and man-forsaken end is too true. Let no one be foolhardy enough to follow them, rejecting to do it, a fourfold cord of strong testimony; nay, we may add, a stronger cord of fivefold testimony, as Paine's nurse testifies like the rest.

In the East these facts are so notorious that even Infidels disown allegiance or attachment to Paine, if they wish to be considered respectable. Some of the severest denunciations against him, which we ever heard, have been from Infidels. Indeed this is more than plain from the very fact of all the Infidels having forsaken Paine on his death-bed. Who was his doctor? A Christian. Who was his nurse? A Christian? Who were his most constant visitors and sympathizers? Thorburn, McClay, etc., Christians. They went, for mercy's sake; Infidels, having no "bowels of mercies," kept away. Carver, Jefferson, etc., were far from him in his extreme hour.

The testimony of Mons. Tronchin, a Protestant physician from Geneva, who attended Voltaire on his death-bed, was: That to see all the furies of Orestes, one only had to be present at the death of Voltaire. ("Pour voir toutes les furies d'Oreste, il n'y avait qu'a se trouver a la mort de Voltaire.") "Such a spectacle," he adds, "would benefit the young, who are in danger of losing the precious helps of religion." The Marechal de Richelieu, too, was so terrified at what he saw that he left the bedside of Voltaire, declaring that "the sight was too horrible for endurance."[62]

And these are the saints, and apostles, and heroes of Infidelity, to whose memories Infidels make orations and festivals, and whose writings are reprinted in scores of editions, not only over Christendom, but even in India, to teach mankind how to live and how to die!

Such are the lives and deaths of those who denounce the Bible as an immoral Book, and blaspheme the God of the Bible as too unholy to be reverenced or adored! "But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit." In the Free Love Institute about to be established in our vicinity, we shall have the full development of these filthy principles and practices.

Let fathers and husbands look to this matter. Especially let ungodly men set to work and devise some law of man capable of binding those who renounce the law of God, and with it all human authority. For there can be no law of man, unless there is a revealed law of God. "What right," says the Pantheist, the Fourierist, the Spiritualist, the Atheist, "what right have you to command me? Right and wrong are only matters of feeling, and your feelings are no rule to me. The will of the majority is only the law of might, and if I can evade it, or overcome it, my will is as good as theirs. Oaths are only an idle superstition; there is no judge, no judgment, no punishment for the false swearer." Take away the moral sanction of law, and the sacredness of oaths, and what basis have you left for any government, save the point of the bayonet? Take away the revealed law of God, and you leave not a vestige of any authority to any human law. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," said the immortal framers of the basis of the American Confederation, "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." It was well said. The rights of God are the only basis of the rights of man. One of the most sagacious of modern statesmen has borne his testimony to this fundamental truth—that religion is the only basis of social order—in words as trenchant as the guillotine which suggested them. "It is not," says Napoleon, "the mystery of incarnation which I perceive in religion, but the mystery of social order. It attaches to heaven an idea of equality which prevents the rich from being massacred by the poor."[63]

Once in modern times, the rejectors of the Bible had opportunity to try the experiment of ruling a people on a large scale, and giving the world a specimen of an Infidel Republic. You have heard one of them here express his admiration of that government, and declare his intention to present a public vindication of it. Of course, as soon as practicable, that which they admire they will imitate, and the scenes of Paris and Lyons will be re-enacted in Louisville and Cincinnati. Our Bibles will be collected and burned on a dung-heap. Death will be declared an eternal sleep. God will be declared a fiction. Religious worship will be renounced; the Sabbath abolished; and a prostitute, crowned with garlands, will receive the adorations of the mayors and councilmen of Cincinnati and Newport. The reign of terror will commence. The guillotine shall take its place on the Fifth Street Market place. Proscription will follow proscription. Women will denounce their husbands, and children their parents, as bad citizens, and lead them to the ax; and well-dressed ladies, filled with savage ferocity, will seize the mangled bodies of their murdered countrymen between their teeth. The Licking will be choked with the bodies of men, and the Ohio dyed with their blood; and those whose infancy has sheltered them from the fire of the rabble soldiery will be bayoneted as they cling to the knees of their destroyers.[64] The common doom of man commuted for the violence of the sword, the bayonet, the sucking boat, and the guillotine, the knell of the nation tolled, and the world summoned to its execution and funeral, will need no preacher to expound the text, Where there is no vision, the people perish.

FOOTNOTES:

[38] Strauss' Life of Jesus, 64, 74, 87.

[39] Bauer's Hebrew Mythology.

[40] See Pearson on Infidelity, page 93, 40th edition; and Agassiz's Penikese lectures.

[41] Newman's Phases of Faith, 157.

[42] Carlyle's Past and Present, 307.

[43] Discourse on Religion, p. 209.

[44] Carlyle's Past and Present, p. 312.

[45] Ib. p. 37.

[46] The Soul, p. 342.

[47] Ib. p. 359.

[48] Parker's Discourses, 171, 33.

[49] Plato. Republic. Books IV. and VI., and Alcibiades II.

[50] Manners and Customs of Ancient Egyptians, Second Series, Vol. II. page 176, et passim.

[51] Juvenal, Satire XV.

[52] Diodorus Siculus, Book I.

[53] Duff's India, page 222.

[54] Tusc. Quaest. lib. 1.

[55] Seneca, Ep. 102.

[56] Parker's Discourse, 83.

[57] Turner's Anglo-Saxons, b. vii. chap. 13.

[58] Diodorus Siculus, b. xx. chap. 14.

[59] Aristotle, Polit. lib. vii. chap. 17.

[60] Horne's Introduction of the Scriptures, Vol. I. page 25.

[61] Printed repeatedly in New York newspapers, and given entire in the report of the discussion between Dr. Berg and Mr. Barker. W. S. Young, Philadelphia, 1854.

[62] The Occident, 20th August, 1874, San Francisco.

[63] Ardeches' Life of Napoleon I. 222.

[64] Horne's Introduction to the Scriptures, Vol. I. page 26, where ample references to contemporary French writers are given.



CHAPTER V.

WHO WROTE THE NEW TESTAMENT?

"The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."—2 Thess. iii. 17.

Religion rests not on dogmas, but on a number of great facts. In a previous chapter we found one of these to be, that people destitute of a revelation of God's will ever have been, and now are, ignorant, miserable, and wicked. If it were at all needful, we might go on to show that there are people in the world, who have decent clothing and comfortable houses, who work well-tilled farms and sub-soil plows, and reaping machinery, who yoke powerful streams to the mill wheel, and harness the iron horse to the market wagon, who career their floating palaces up the opposing floods, line their coasts with flocks of white-winged schooners, and show their flags on every coast of earth, who invent and make everything that man will buy, from the brass button, dear to the barbarian, to the folio of the philosopher, erect churches in all their towns, and schools in every village, who make their blacksmiths more learned than the priests of Egypt, their Sabbath scholars wiser than the philosophers of Greece, and even the criminals in their jails more decent characters than the sages, heroes, and gods of the lands without the Bible; and that these people are the people who possess a Book, which they think contains a revelation from God, teaching them how to live well; which Book they call the Bible. This is the book about which we make our present inquiry, Who wrote it?

The fact being utterly undeniable, that these blessings are found among the people who possess the Bible, and only among them, we at once, and summarily, dismiss the arrogant falsehood presented to prevent any inquiry about the Book, namely, that "Christianity is just like any other superstition, and its sacred books like the impositions of Chinese, Indian, or Mohammedan impostors. They, too, are religious, and have their sacred books, which they believe to be divine." A profound generalization indeed! Is a peach-tree just like a horse-chestnut, or a scrub-oak, or a honey-locust? They are all trees, and have leaves on them. The Bible is just as like the Yi King, or the Vedas, or the Koran, as a Christian American is like a Chinaman, a Turk, or a Hindoo. But it is too absurd to begin any discussion with these learned Thebans of the relative merits of the Bible as compared with the Vedas, and the Chinese Classics, of which they have never read a single page. Let them stick to what they pretend to know.

The Bible is a great fact in the world's history, known alike to the prince and the peasant, the simple and the sage. It is perused with pleasure by the child, and pondered with patience by the philosopher. Its psalms are caroled on the school green, cheer the chamber of sickness, and are chanted by the mother over her cradle, by the orphan over the tomb. Here, thousands of miles away from the land of its birth, in a world undiscovered for centuries after it was finished, in a language unknown alike at Athens and Jerusalem, it rules as lovingly and as powerfully as in its native soil. To show that its power is not derived from race or clime, it converts the Sandwich Islands into a civilized nation, and transforms the New Zealand cannibal into a British shipowner, the Indian warrior into an American editor, and the Negro slave into the President of a free African Republic. It has inspired the Caffirs of Africa to build telegraphs, and to print associated press dispatches in their newspapers; while the Zulus, one of whom would have converted Bishop Colenso from Christianity, if he had been a Christian, are importing steel plows by hundreds every year. It has captured the enemy's fortresses, and turned his guns. Lord Chesterfield's parlor, where an infidel club met to sneer at religion, is now a vestry, where the prayers of the penitent are offered to Christ. Gibbon's house, at Lake Lemon, is now a hotel; one room of which is devoted to the sale of Bibles. Voltaire's printing press, from which he issued his infidel tracts, has been appropriated to printing the Word of God.[65] It does not look as if it had finished its course and ceased from its triumphs. Translated into the hundred and fifty languages spoken by nine hundred millions of men, carried by ten thousand heralds to every corner of the globe, sustained by the cheerful contributions and fervent prayers of hundreds of thousands of ardent disciples, it is still going forth conquering and to conquer. Is there any other book so generally read, so greatly loved, so zealously propagated, so widely diffused, so uniform in its results, and so powerful and blessed in its influences? Do you know any? If you can not name any book, no, nor any thousand books, which in these respects equal the Bible—then it stands out clear and distinct, and separate from all other authorship; and with an increased emphasis comes our question, Who wrote it?

With all these palpable facts in view, to come to the examination of this question as if we knew nothing about them, or as if knowing them well, we cared nothing at all about them, and were determined to deny them their natural influence in begetting within us a very strong presumption in favor of its divine origin, were to declare that our heads and hearts were alike closed against light and love. But to enter on this inquiry into the origin of the Book which has produced such results, with a preconceived opinion that it must be a forgery, and an imposition, the fruit of a depraved heart, and a lying tongue, implies so much home-born deceit that, till the heart capable of such a prejudice be completely changed, no reasoning can have any solid fulcrum of truth or goodness to rest on. It is sheer folly to talk of one's being wholly unprejudiced in such an inquiry. No man ever was, or could be so. As his sympathies are toward goodness and virtue, and the happiness of mankind, or toward pride and deceit, and selfishness and savageness, so will his prejudices be for or against the Bible.

On looking at the Bible, we find it composed of a number of separate treatises, written by different writers, at various times; some parts fifteen hundred years before the others. We find, also, that it treats of the very beginning of the world, before man was made, and of other matters of which we have no other authentic history to compare with it. Again, we find portions which treat of events connected in a thousand places with the affairs of the Roman Empire, of which we have several credible histories. Now, there are two modes of investigation open to us, the dogmatic and the inductive. We may take either. We may construct for ourselves, from the most flimsy suppositions, a metaphysical balloon, inflated with self-conceit into the rotundity of a cosmogony, according to which, in our opinion, the world should have been made, and we may paint it over with the figures of the various animals and noble savages which ought to have sprung up out of its fornea, and we may stripe its history to suit our notions of the progress of such a world, and soaring high into the clouds, after a little preliminary amusement in the discovery of eternal red-hot fire-mists, and condensing comets, and so forth, we may come down upon the summit of some of this earth's mountains, say Ararat, and take a survey of the Bible process of world-making. Finding that the Creator of the world had to make his materials—a business in which no other world-maker ever did engage—and, further, that God's plan of making it by no means corresponds to our patent process and that the article is not at all like what we intend to produce when we go into the business, and that it does not work according to our expectations, we can denounce the whole as a very mean affair, and the Book which describes it as not worth reading. If one wants some new subject for merriment, and does not mind making a fool of himself, and is not to be terrified by old-fashioned notions about God Almighty, and is perfectly confident that God can tell him nothing that he does not know better already, and merely wants to see whether he is not trying to pass off old fables upon wide-awake people for facts—this dogmatic plan will suit him.

On the other hand, if one is tolerably convinced that he does not know everything, not much of the world he lives in, less of its history, and nothing at all about the best way of making it, and that when it needs mending it will not be sent to his workshop; that he knows nothing about what happened before he was born unless what other people tell him, and that, though men do err, yet all men are not liars, that all the blessings of education, civilization, law and liberty, from the penny primer to the Constitution of the United States, came to him solely through the channel of abundant, reliable testimony; that the only way in which he can ever know anything beyond his eyesight with certainty, is to gather testimony about it, and compare the evidence, and inquire into the character of the witnesses; that when one has done so, he becomes so satisfied of the truth of the report that he would rather risk his life upon it than upon the certainty of any mathematical problem, or of any scientific truth, whatever—that ninety-nine out of every hundred citizens of the United States are a thousand times more certain that the Yankees whipped the British in 1776, declared the Colonies free and independent States, and made Washington President, than they ever will be that all bodies attract each other directly as their mass, and inversely as the squares of their distances, that the sum of the angles of any triangle is equal to two right angles, or that the earth is nearer the sun in winter than in summer—and that certainty about the Bible history is just as attainable, and just as reliable, as certainty about American history, if he will seek it in the same way—and if he is really desirous to know how this Book was written, which alone in the world teaches men how to obtain peace with God, how to live well, and how to die with a firm and joyful hope of a resurrection to life eternal, and what part of it is easiest to prove either true or false—then he will take the inductive mode. He will begin at the present time, and trace the history up to the times in which the Book was written. He will ascertain what he can about that part of it which was last written—the New Testament—and begin with that part of it which lies nearest him—the Epistles.

By the comparison of the documents themselves, with all kinds of history and monuments which throw light on the period, he will try to ascertain whether they are genuine or not. And from one well-ascertained position he will proceed to another, until he has traversed the whole ground of the genuineness of the writings, the truth of the story, and the divine authority of the doctrine.

This is my plan of investigation; one thing at a time, and the nearest first. It is not worth while to inquire whether it be inspired by God, if it be really a forgery of impostors; nor whether the gospel story is worthy of credit, if the only book which contains it be a religious novel of the third or fourth century. We dismiss then the questions of the inspiration, or even the truth of the New Testament, till we have ascertained its authors. We take up the Book, and find that it purports to be a relation of the planting of the Church of Christ, of its laws and ordinances, and of the life, death and resurrection of its Founder, written by eight of his companions, at various periods and places, toward the close of the first century. There is a general opinion among all Christians that the Book was composed then, and by these persons. We want to know why they think so? In short, is it a genuine book, or merely a collection of myths with the apostles' names appended to them by some lying monks? Is it a fact, or a forgery?

In any historical inquiry, we want some fixed point of time from which to take our departure; and in this case we want to know if there is any period of antiquity in which undeniably this Book was in existence, and received as genuine by Christian societies. For I will not suppose my readers as ignorant as some of those Infidels who allege that it was made by the Bible Society. It used to be the fashion with those of them who pretended to learning, to affirm that it was made by the Council of Laodicea, in A. D. 364; because, in order to guard the churches against spurious epistles and gospels, that Council published a list of those which the apostles did actually write, which thenceforth were generally bound in one volume.

Before that time, the four Gospels were always bound in one volume and called "The Gospel." The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles universally and undoubtedly known to be written by Paul, to the churches of Thessalonica, Galatia, Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and to Philemon, a well-known resident of that city, and those to Timothy and Titus, missionaries of world-wide celebrity, the First General Epistle of Peter, and the First General Epistle of John, which were at once widely circulated to check prevailing heresies—were bound in another volume and called "The Apostle." The Epistle to the Hebrews, being general, and anonymous, i. e., not bearing the name of any particular church, or person, to whom anybody who merely looked at it could refer for proof of its genuineness, as in the case of the other Epistles—was not so soon known by the European churches to be written by Paul. The General Epistles of James, Jude, and the Second General Epistle of Peter, lying under the same difficulty, and besides being very disagreeable to easy-going Christians, from their sharp rebukes of hypocrisy, and the Second and Third Epistles of John, from their brevity, and the Revelation of John, being one of the last written of all the books of the New Testament, and the most mysterious—were not so generally known beyond the churches where the originals were deposited, until the other two collections had been formed. They were accordingly kept as separate books, and sometimes bound up in a third volume of apostolical writings. Besides these, at the time of the Council of Laodicea, and for a long time before, other books, written by Barnabas, Clement, Polycarp, and other companions and disciples of the apostles, and forged gospels and epistles attributed by heretics to the apostles, were circulated through the churches, and read by Christians. The Council of Laodicea did, what many learned men had done before them; it investigated the evidence upon which any of these books was attributed to an apostle; and finding evidence to satisfy them, that the Gospel written by Luke had the sanction of the Apostle Paul, that the Gospel of Mark was revised by the Apostle Peter, that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written by Paul, and the other Epistles by John, Jude, James, and Peter, respectively, and not finding evidence to satisfy them about the Revelation of John, they expressed their opinion, and the grounds of it, for the information of the world.[66] Into these reasons we will hereafter inquire, for our faith in Holy Scripture does not rest on their canons. We are not now asking what they thought, but what they did; and we find that they did criticise certain books, reported to be written by the apostles of Jesus Christ some three hundred years before, approve some, and reject others as spurious, and publish a list of those they thought genuine. Infidels admit this, and on the strength of it long asserted that the Council of Laodicea made the New Testament. At length they became ashamed of the stupid absurdity of alleging that men could criticise the claims, and catalogue the names of books before they were written; and they now shift back the writing—or the authentication of the New Testament—for they are not quite sure which, though the majority incline to the former—to the Emperor Constantine, and the Council of Nice which met in the year 325. Why they have fixed on the Council of Nice is more than I can tell. They might as well say the Council of Trent, or the Westminster Assembly, either of which had just as much to do with the Canon of Scripture. However, on some vague hearsay that the Council of Nice and the Emperor Constantine made the Bible, hundreds in this city are now risking the salvation of their souls.

We have in this assertion, nevertheless, as many facts admitted as will serve our present purpose. There did exist, then, undeniably, in the year 325, large numbers of Christian churches in the Roman Empire, sufficiently numerous to make it politic, in the opinion of Infidels, for a candidate for the empire to profess Christianity; sufficiently powerful to secure his success, notwithstanding the desperate struggles of the heathen party; and sufficiently religious, or if you like superstitious, to make it politic for an emperor and his politicians to give up the senate, the court, the camp, the chase, and the theater, and weary themselves with long prayers, and longer speeches, of preachers about Bible religion. Now that is certainly a remarkable fact, and all the more remarkable if we inquire, How came it so? For these men, preachers, prince, and people, were brought up to worship Jupiter and the thirty thousand gods of Olympus, after the heathen fashion, and to leave the care of religion to heathen priests, who never troubled their heads about books or doctrines after they had offered their sacrifices. In all the records of the world there is no instance of a general council of heathen priests to settle the religion of their people. How happens it then that the human race has of a sudden waked up to such a strange sense of the folly of idolatry and the value of religion? The Council of Nice, and the Emperor Constantine, and his counselors, making a Bible is a proof of a wonderful revolution in the world's religion; a phenomenon far more surprising than if the Secretaries of State, and the Senate, and President Grant should leave the Capital to post off to London, to attend the meetings of a Methodist Conference, assembled to make a hymn book. Now what is the cause of this remarkable conversion of prince, priests, and people? How did they all get religion? How did they get it so suddenly? How did they get so much of it?

The Infidel gives no answer, except to tell us[67] that the austerity, purity, and zeal of the first Christians, their good discipline, their belief in the resurrection of the body and the general judgment, and their persuasion that Christ and his apostles wrought miracles, had made a great many converts. This is just as if I inquired how a great fire originated, and you should tell me that it burned fast because it was very hot. What I want to know is, how it happened that these licentious Greeks, and Romans, and Asiatics, became austere and pure; how these frivolous philosophers suddenly became so zealous about religion; what implanted the belief of the resurrection of the body and of the judgment to come in the skeptical minds of these heathen scoffers; and how did the pagans of Italy, Egypt, Spain, Germany, Britain, come to believe in the miracles of one who lived hundreds of years before, and thousands of miles away, or to care a straw whether the written accounts of them were true or false? According to the Infidel account, the Council of Nice, and the Emperor Constantine's Bible-making, is a most extraordinary business—a phenomenon without any natural cause, and they will allow no supernatural—a greater miracle than any recorded in the Bible.

If we inquire, however, of the parties attending that Council, what the state of the case is, we shall learn that they believed—whether truly or erroneously we are not now inquiring—but they believed, that a teacher sent from God, had appeared in Palestine two hundred and ninety years before, and had taught this religion which they had embraced; had performed wonderful miracles, such as opening the eyes of the blind, healing lepers, and raising the dead; that he had been put to death by the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, had risen again from the dead, had spoken to hundreds of people, and had gone out and in among them for six weeks after his resurrection; that he had ascended up through the air, to heaven, in the sight of numbers of witnesses, and had promised that he would come again in the clouds of heaven, to raise the dead, and to judge every man according to his works; that before he went away he appointed twelve of his intimate companions to teach his religion to the world, giving them power to work miracles in proof of their divine commission, and requiring mankind to hear them as they would hear him; that they and their followers did so, in spite of persecutions, sufferings, and death, with so much success, that immense numbers were persuaded to give up idolatry and its filthiness, and to profess Christianity and its holiness, and to brave the fury of the heathen mob, and the vengeance of the Roman law; that a difference of opinion having arisen among them as to whether this teacher was an angel from heaven, or God, whether they should pray and sing psalms to Him, as Athanasius and his party believed, or only give Him some lesser honor as Arius and his party believed, and this difference making all the difference between idolatry on the one hand, and impiety on the other, and so involving their everlasting salvation or damnation, they had embraced the first opportunity after the cessation of persecution, and the accession of the first Christian Emperor, to assemble three hundred and eighteen of their most learned clergymen, of both sides, and from all countries between Spain and Persia, to discuss these solemn questions; and that, through the whole of the discussions, both sides appealed to the writings of the apostles, as being then well known, and of unquestioned authority with every one who held the Christian name. These facts, being utterly indisputable, are acknowledged by all persons, Infidel or Christian, at all acquainted with history.[68]

Here, then, we have the books of the New Testament at the Council of Nice well known to the whole world; and the Council, so far from giving any authority to them, bowing to theirs—both Arian and Orthodox with one consent acknowledging that the whole Christian world received them as the writings of the apostles of Christ. There were venerable men of fourscore and ten at that Council; if these books had been first introduced in their lifetime, they must have known it. There were men there whose parents had heard the Scriptures read in church from their childhood, and so could not be imposed upon with a new Bible. The New Testament could not be less than three generations old, else one or other of the disputants would have exposed the novelty of its introduction, from his own information. The Council of Nice, then, did not make the New Testament. It was a book well known, ancient, and of undoubted authority among all Christians, ages before that Council. The existence of the New Testament Scriptures, then, ages before the Council of Nice, is a great fact.

We next take up the assertions, propounded with a show of learning, that the books of the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, were not in use, and were not known till the third century; that they are not the productions of contemporary writers; that the alleged ocular testimony or proximity in point of time of the sacred historians to the events recorded is mere assumption, originating in the titles which Biblical books bear in our canon; that we stand here (in the gospel history), upon purely mythical and poetical ground; and that the Gospels and Epistles are a gradually formed collection of myths, having little or no historic reality. So Strauss, Eichorn, De Wette, and their disciples here, attempt to set aside the New Testament. In plain English, it is a collection of forgeries.

These assertions are absurd. In the hundred years between the death of the apostles, and the beginning of the third century, there was not time to form a mythology. The times of Trajan's persecution, and that of the philosophic Aurelius, and the busy bustling age of Severus, were not the times for such a business. Bigoted Jews would not, and could not, have made such a character as Jesus of Nazareth; and the philosophers of that day, Celsus and Porphyry, for instance, hated it when presented to them as heartily as either Strauss or Paine. There were not wanting thousands of enemies, able and willing, to expose such a forgery.

The aspect and character of the gospel narrative are totally unlike those of mythologies. Hear the verdict of one who confessedly stands at the head of the roll of oriental historians: "In no single respect—if we except the fact that it is miraculous—has that story a mythical character. It is a single story, told without variations; whereas myths are fluctuating and multiform: it is blended inextricably with the civil history of the times, which it everywhere reports with extraordinary accuracy; whereas myths distort or supersede civil history: it is full of prosaic detail, which myths studiously eschew: it abounds with practical instruction of the simplest and purest kind; whereas myths teach by allegory. Even in its miraculous element it stands to some extent in contrast with all mythologies, where the marvelous has ever a predominant character of grotesqueness which is absent from New Testament miracles. (This Strauss himself admits, Leben Jesu, 1-67.) Simple earnestness, fidelity, painstaking accuracy, pure love of truth, are the most patent characteristics of the New Testament writers, who evidently deal with facts, not with fancies, and are employed in relating a history, not in developing an idea. They write that 'we may know the certainty of the things which are most surely believed' in their day. They 'bear record of what they have seen and heard.' I know not how stronger words could have been used to prevent the notion of that plastic, growing myth which Strauss conceives to have been in apostolic times."[69]

The character of Christ exhibited in the Gospels is the contrary of that of the heroes of mythology; as contrary as holiness is to sin. The invention of such a character by any man, or by the wisest set of men who ever lived, would have been a miracle nearly as great as the existence of such a person. When the character of Christ was presented to the wisest men of the Greeks, and Romans, and Hebrews, so far from admiring him as a hero, they crucified him as an impostor, and persecuted the preachers of his gospel. There was nothing mythical in the ten persecutions; these at least were hard historical facts. Every line of examination of time, place, and circumstances proves the falsehood of the mythical theory, and establishes the truth of the gospel history.

The authenticity of the gospel history, and of the Apostolic Epistles is confirmed by the testimony of their enemies. It is a well-authenticated and undeniable fact, that, in the close of the second century, Celsus, an Epicurean philosopher, wrote a work against Christianity, entitled, "The Word of Truth," in which he quotes passages from the New Testament, and so many of them, that from the fragments of his work which remain, we could gather all the principal facts of the birth, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, if the New Testament should be lost. If Paine quotes the New Testament to ridicule it, no man can deny that such a book was in existence at the time he wrote. If he takes the pains to write a book to confute it, it is self-evident that it is in circulation, and possessed of influence. So Celsus' attempt to reply to the Gospels, and his quotations from them, are conclusive proofs that these books were generally circulated and believed, and held to be of authority at the time he wrote. Further, he shows every disposition to present every argument which could possibly damage the Christian cause. In fact, our modern Infidels have done little more than serve up his old objections. Now nothing could have served his purpose better than to prove that the records of the history of Christ were forgeries of a late date. This would have saved him all further trouble, and settled the fate of Christianity conclusively. He had every opportunity of ascertaining the fact, living, as he did, so near the times and scenes of the gospel history, and surrounded by heretics and false Christians, who would gladly have given him every information. But he never once intimates the least suspicion of such a thing—never questions the Gospels as books of history—nor denies the miracles recorded in them, but attributes them to magic.[70] Here, then, we have testimony as acceptable to an Infidel as that of Strauss or Voltaire—in fact, utterly undeniable by any man of common sense—that the New Testament was well known and generally received by Christians as authoritative, when Celsus wrote his reply to it, in the end of the second century. If it was a forgery, it was undoubtedly a forgery of old standing, if he could not detect it.

But we will go back a step farther, and prove the antiquity of the New Testament by the testimony of another enemy, two generations older than Celsus. The celebrated heretic, Marcion, lived in the beginning of the second century, when he had the best opportunity of discovering a forgery in the writings of the New Testament, if any such existed; he was excommunicated by the Church, and being greatly enraged thereat, had every disposition to say the worst he could about it. He traveled all the way from Sinope on the Black Sea, to Rome, and through Galatia, Bithynia, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy, the countries where the apostles preached, and the churches to which they wrote, but never found any one to suggest the idea of a forgery to him. He affirmed that the Gospel of Matthew, the Epistle to the Hebrews, those of James and Peter, and the whole of the Old Testament, were books only for Jews, and published a new and altered edition of the Gospel of Luke, and ten Epistles of Paul, for the use of his sect.[71] We have thus the most undoubted evidence, even the testimony of an enemy, that these books were in existence, and generally received as apostolical and authoritative by Christians, at the beginning of the second century, or within twenty years of the last of the apostles, and by the churches to which they had preached and written.

The only remaining conceivable cavil against the genuineness of the books of the New Testament is: "That they bear internal evidence of being collections of fragments written by different persons—and are probably merely traditions committed to writing by various unknown writers, and afterward collected and issued to the churches under the names of the apostles, for the sake of greater authority." This theory being received as gospel by several learned men, has furnished matter for lengthy discussions as to the sources of the four Gospels. Translated into English, it amounts to this, that Brown, Smith, and Jones wrote out a number of essays and anecdotes, and persuaded the churches of Ephesus, Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, and the rest, to receive them as the writings of their ministers, who had lived for years, or were then living, among them; and on the strength of that notion of their being the writings of the apostles, to govern their whole lives by these essays, and lay down their lives and peril their souls' salvation on the truth of these anecdotes. As though they could not tell whether such documents were forgeries or not!

It is almost incredible how ignorant dreaming book-worms are of the common business of life. Most of my readers will laugh at the idea of a serious answer to such a quibble. Nevertheless, for the sake of those whose inexperience may be abused by the authority of learned names, I will show them that the primitive Christians, supposing them able to read, could know whether their ministers did really write the books and letters which they received from them.

If you go into the Citizens' Bank, you will find a large folio volume lying on the counter, and on looking at it you will see that it is filled with men's names, in their own handwriting, and that no two of them are exactly alike. Every person who has any business to transact with the bank is requested to write his name in the book; and when his check comes afterward for payment, the clerk can tell at a glance if the signature is the same as that of which he has a single specimen. If there has been no opportunity for him to become personally acquainted with the bank, as in case of a foreigner newly arrived, he brings letters of introduction from some well-known mutual friend, or is accompanied by some respectable citizen, who attests his identity. Business men have no difficulty whatever in ascertaining the genuineness of documents. It is only when people want to dispute Holy Scripture that they give up common sense.

Holy Scripture was known to be the genuine writing of the apostles, just in the same way as any other writing was known to be genuine; only the churches who received the writings of the apostles had ten thousand times better security against forgery than any bank in the Union. In one of the first letters Paul writes to the churches—the second letter to the Thessalonians—to whom he had been preaching only a few weeks before, sent from Athens, distant only some two days' journey, full of allusions to their affairs, commands how to conduct themselves in the business of their workshops, as well as in the devotions of the church, and explanations of some misunderstood parts of a former letter sent by the hand of a mutual friend—he formally gives them his signature, for the purpose of future reference, and comparison of any document which might purport to come from him, with that specimen of his autograph. He gives not the name merely, but his apostolic benediction also, in his own handwriting: The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. It shows the heart of an apostle of Christ; but what concerns the present question is the remark, which every business man will in a moment appreciate, how immensely the addition of these two lines adds to the security against forgery. It is a very hard thing to forge a signature, but give a business man two lines of any man's writing besides that, and he is perfectly secure against imposition.[72]

The churches to which the Epistles were written, and to which the Gospels were delivered, consisted largely of business men, of merchants and traders, tent makers and coppersmiths, city chamberlains, and officers of Caesar's household, and the like. Does any one think such men could not tell the handwriting of their minister, who had lived among them for years; or that men who were risking their lives for the instructions he wrote them, would care less about the genuineness of the documents, than you do about the genuineness of a ten dollar check? I am not as long in this city as Paul was in Ephesus, nor one fourth of the time that John lived there, yet I defy all the advocates of the mythical theory of Germany, and all their disciples here, to write a myth half as long as this essay, and impose it on the elders and members of my church as my writing. Let it only be presented in manuscript to the congregation—there was no printing in Paul's days—and in five minutes a dozen members of the church will detect the forgery, even if I should hold my peace. And were I to leave on a mission to China or India, and write letters to the church, would any of these business men, who have seen my writing, have the least hesitation in recognizing it again? Do you think anybody could forge a letter as from me, and impose it on them? What an absurdity, then, to suppose that anybody could write a gospel or epistle, and get all the members of a large church to believe that an Apostle wrote it. The first Christians, then, were absolutely certain that the documents which they received as apostolic, were really so. The Church of Rome could attest the Epistle to them, and the Gospels of Mark and Luke written there. The Church of Ephesus could attest the Epistle to them, and the Gospel, and Letters, and Revelation of John written there. And so on of all the other churches; and these veritable autographs were long preserved. Says Tertullian, who was ordained A. D. 192: "Well, if you be willing to exercise your curiosity profitably in the business of your salvation, visit the apostolical churches in which the very chairs of the apostles still preside—in which their authentic letters themselves are recited (apud quae ipsae authenticae literae eorum recitantur), sounding forth the voice and representing the countenance of each one of them. Is Achaia near you, you have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi, you have Thessalonica. If you can go to Asia, you have Ephesus; but if you are near to Italy, you have Rome." There can not be the least doubt about the preservation of documents for a far longer time than from Paul to Tertullian—one hundred and fifty years. I hold in my hand a Bible, the family Bible of the Gibsons—printed in 1599—two hundred and fifty-seven years old, in perfect preservation; and we have manuscripts of the Scriptures twelve to fourteen hundred years old, like the Sinaitic Codex, perfectly legible.

They were moreover directed to be publicly read in the churches, and they were publicly read every Lord's day. Is it credible that an impostor would direct his forgery to be publicly read? If the epistle was publicly read during Paul's lifetime, that public reading in the hearing of the men who could so easily disprove its genuineness, was conclusive proof to all who heard it, that they knew it to be the genuine writing of the Apostle. The primitive churches then had conclusive proof of the genuineness of the Apostolic Epistles and Gospels.

The only difficulty which now remains is the objection that they might have been corrupted by alterations and interpolations by monks, in later times. We have two securities against such corruptions, in the way these documents were given, and the nature of their contents. They were sacred heirlooms, and they were public documents. Could you, or could any man, have permission to alter the original copy of Washington's Farewell Address? Would not the man who should attempt such sacrilege be torn in a thousand pieces? But Washington will never be an object of such veneration as John, nor will his Farewell Address ever compare in importance with Paul's Farewell Letter to the Philippians. Besides, these Gospels and Letters were public documents, containing the records of laws, in obedience to which men are daily crossing their inclinations, enduring the mockery of their neighbors, losing their money, and endangering their lives. They contained the proofs and promises of that religious faith in God and hope of heaven, for the sake of which they suffered such things. Is it credible that they would allow them to be altered and corrupted? You might far more rationally talk of altering the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution of the United States. Translated into different languages—transported into Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Carthage, Egypt, Parthia, Persia, India, and China—committed to memory by children, and quoted in the writings of Christian authors of the first three centuries, to such an extent, that we can gather the whole of the New Testament, except twenty-six verses, from their writings—appealed to as authority by heretics and orthodox in controversy—and publicly read in the hearing of tens of hundreds of thousands every Sabbath day in worship—we are a thousand times more certain that the New Testament has not been corrupted, than we are that the Declaration of Independence is genuine.

On this ground then we plant ourselves. The whole story of a late and gradual formation of the New Testament, or, in plain English, of its forgery, stands out as an unmitigated falsehood in the eyes of every man capable of writing his own name. The first churches could not be deceived with forgeries for apostolic writings. Nor could they, if they would, allow these writings to be corrupted. Be they true or false, fact or fiction, the books of the New Testament are the words of the Apostles of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the next chapter we will inquire into the truth of their story.

FOOTNOTES:

[65] The Family Christian Almanac for 1859, p. 57, American Tract Society, New York.

[66] Acta Concitia, sub voce Laodicea, Canon iv. Lardner vi. p. 368.

[67] Gibbon's Decline and Fall, II. p. 267.

[68] The original authorities may be found collected in the fourth volume of Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History; abstracts of them, with ample references, in Mosheim and Neander's Ecclesiastical Histories, and in Stanley's Eastern Church.

[69] Rawlinson's Historical Evidences, page 227.

[70] Origen Contra Celsum, passim.

[71] Lardner, Vol. IX. page 358.

[72] In fact, some persons were trying to impose a letter, "as from us," containing declarations, that the day of Christ was upon them.



CHAPTER VI.

IS THE GOSPEL FACT OR FABLE?

"For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come."—1 Thess. i. 9, 10.

In the last chapter we ascertained that the Gospels and Epistles were not forgeries of some nameless monks of the third century—that the shopkeepers, silversmiths, tent-makers, coppersmiths, tanners, physicians, senators, town councilors, officers of customs, city treasurers, and nobles of Caesar's household, in Rome, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Athens, and Alexandria, could no more be imposed upon in the matter of documents, attested by the well-known signatures of their beloved ministers, than you could by forged letters or sermons purporting to come from your own pastor—and that the documents which they believed to contain the directory of their lives, and the charter of that salvation which they valued more than their lives, which they read in their churches, recited at their tables, quoted in their writings, appealed to in their controversies, translated into many languages, and dispersed into every part of the known world, they neither would, nor could, corrupt or falsify.

The genuineness of the copies of the New Testament, which we now possess, is abundantly proved by the comparison of over two thousand manuscripts, from all parts of the world; scrutinized during a period of nearly a hundred years, by the most critical scholars, so accurately that the variations of such things as would correspond to the crossing of a t, or the dotting of an i, in English, have been carefully enumerated; yet the result of the whole of this searching scrutiny has been merely the suggestion of a score of unimportant alterations in the received text of the seven thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine verses of the New Testament. This is a fact utterly unexampled in the history of manuscripts. There are but six manuscripts of the Comedies of Terence, and these have not been copied once for every thousand times the New Testament has been transcribed, yet there are thirty thousand variations found in these six manuscripts, or an average of five thousand for each, and many of them seriously affect the sense. The average number of variations in the manuscripts of the New Testament examined, is not quite thirty for each, including all the trivialities already noticed.

We are, then, by the special providence of God, now as undoubtedly in possession of genuine copies of the Gospels and Epistles, written by the companions of Jesus, as we are of genuine copies of the Constitution of the United States, and of the Declaration of Independence. These are historic documents, of well-established genuineness and antiquity, which we now proceed to examine as to their truthfulness.

There is no history so trustworthy as that prepared by contemporary writers, especially by those who have themselves been actively engaged in the events which they relate. Such history never loses its interest, nor does the lapse of ages, in the least degree, impair its credibility. While the documents can be preserved, Xenophon's Retreat of the Ten Thousand, Caesar's Gallic War, and the Dispatches of the Duke of Wellington, will be as trustworthy as on the day they were written. Yet some suspicion may arise in our minds, that these commanders and historians might have kept back some important events which would have dimmed their reputation with posterity, or might have colored those they have related, so as to add to their fame. Of the great facts related in memoirs addressed to their companions in arms, able at a glance to detect a falsehood, we never entertain the least suspicion.

If, to this be added, the correspondence of monuments, architecture, painting, statuary, coins, heraldry, and a thousand changes in the manners and customs of a people, we become as absolutely convinced of the truth of the narrative thus confirmed by these silent witnesses as if we had seen the events described. No man who visits the disinterred city of Pompeii, and sees the pavements marked by the wheel ruts, has any doubt that the Romans used wheeled carriages. When he sees the court-yards adorned with mosaic figures, and the walls with paintings of the gods, and of the manners of the people who worshiped them, he is profoundly impressed with the conviction that they excelled in the fine arts, and in the coarse vices of heathenism. When he visits the Coliseum, that vast ruin declares that the wealth of an empire, once devoted to the gratification of the most savage passions, has been diverted into some other channel. When he visits the catacombs, and reads long lines of heathen epitaphs, with their despairing symbols of broken columns, extinguished torches, and their heart-breaking "Farewell! an eternal farewell!" and then turns to the monuments of only two centuries later, and reads, "He sleeps in the Lord," "He waits the resurrection to life eternal," recording the hopes of whole generations of survivors, he can not doubt the truth of the written records of the conversion of the Roman Empire.

There is, moreover, another kind of contemporary history not so connected and regular as the formal diary or journal, which does not even propose to relate history at all, but is for that very reason entirely removed from the suspicion of giving a coloring to it; which, at the cost of a little patience and industry, gives us the most convincing confirmations of the truth, or exposures of the mistakes of historians, by the undesigned and incidental way in which the use of a name, a date, a proverb, a jest, an expletive, a quotation, an allusion, flashes conviction upon the reader's mind. I mean contemporary correspondence. If we have the private letters of celebrated men laid before us, we are enabled to look right into them, and see their true character. Thus Macaulay exhibits to the world the proud, lying, stupid tyrant, James, displayed in his own letters. Thus Voltaire records himself an adulterer, and begs his friend, D'Alembert, to lie for him; his friend replies that he has done so. Thus the correspondence of the great American herald of the Age of Reason exhibits him drinking a quart of brandy daily at his friend's expense, and refusing to pay his bill for boarding. In the unguarded freedom of confidential correspondence the vail is taken from the heart. We see men as they are. The true man stands out in his native dignity, and the gilding is rubbed off the hypocrite. Give the world their letters, and let the grave silence the plaudits and the clamors which deafened the generation among whom they lived, and no man will hesitate whether or not to pronounce Hume a sensualist, or Washington the noblest work of God—an honest man.

If we add another test of truthfulness, by increasing the number of the witnesses, comparing a number of letters referring to the same events, written by persons of various degrees of education, and of different occupations and ranks of life, resident in different countries, acting independently of each other, and find them all agree in their allusions to, or direct mention of, some central facts concerning which they are all interested, no one can rightfully doubt that this undesigned agreement declares the truth. But if, in addition to all these undesigned coincidences, we happen upon the correspondence of persons whose interests and passions were diametrically opposed to those of our correspondents, and find that, when they have occasion to refer to them, they also confirm the great facts already ascertained, then our belief becomes conviction which can not be overturned by any sophistry, that these things did occur. If Whig and Tory agree in relating the facts of James' flight, and William's accession, if the letters of his Jacobite friends and those of the French ambassador confirm the statements of the English historian, and if we are put in possession of the letters which James himself wrote from France and Ireland to his friends in England, does any man in his common sense doubt that the Revolution of 1688 did actually occur?

When, in addition to all this concentration and convergence of testimony, one finds that the matters related, being of public concern, and the changes effected for the public weal, the people have ever since observed, and do to this day celebrate, by religious worship and public rejoicings, the anniversaries of the principal events of that Revolution, and that he himself has been present, and has heard the thanksgivings, and witnessed the rejoicings on those anniversaries, the facts of the history come out from the domains of learned curiosity, and take their stand on the market-place of the busy world's engagements. We become at once conscious that this is a practical question—a great fact which concerns us—that the whole of the law and government of a vast empire has felt its impress—that our ancestors and ourselves have been molded under its influence, and that the religion of Europe and America, under whose guardianship we have grown to a prominent place among the people of earth, and may arrive at a better prominence among the nations of the saved, has been secured by that Revolution. We could scarcely know whether most to pity or contemn the man who should labor to persuade us that such a Revolution had never occurred, or that the facts had been essentially misrepresented.

Now it is precisely on this kind of evidence that we believe the great facts of the Christian Revolution. We have contemporary histories, formal and informal; letters, public and private, from the principal agents in it, and opposers of it, dispersed from Babylon to Rome, and addressed to Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Asiatics, written by physicians, fishermen, proconsuls, emperors, and apostles. We have miles of monuments, paintings, statuary, cabinets of coins, and all the heraldry of Christendom. And these great facts stand out more prominently on the theater of the world's business as effecting changes on our laws and lives, and their introduction as authenticated by public commemorations, more solemn and more numerous than those resulting from the English or the American Revolution. Our main difficulty lies in selecting, from the vast mass of materials, a portion sufficiently distinct and manageable to be handled in a single essay.

We shall be guided by the motto already announced as the rule of inductive research. One thing at a time; and the nearest first. The Epistles, being nearer our own times than the Gospels, claim our first notice, and first among these, those which stand latest on the page of sacred history, the letters of John; two from Peter to the Christians of Asia; and those which Paul, in chains for the gospel, dictated from imperial Rome.

From the abundant notices of the early Christians by historians and philosophers, satirists and comedians, martyrs and magistrates, Jewish, Christian, and heathen, I shall select only two for comparison with the Epistles and of the apostles; and both those heathen—the celebrated letter of Pliny to Trajan, and the well-established history of Tacitus; both utterly undeniable, and admitted by the most skeptical to be above suspicion. Not that I suppose that the testimony of men who do not take the trouble of making any inquiry into the reality of the facts of the Christian religion is more accurate than that of those whose lives were devoted to its study; or that we have any just reason to attach as much weight to the assertions of persons, who, by their own showing, tortured and murdered men and women convicted of no crime but that of bearing the name of Christ, as to those of these martyrs, whose characters they acknowledged to be blameless, and who sealed their testimony with the last and highest attestation of sincerity—their blood. Considered merely as a historian, whether, as regards means of knowledge, or tests of truthfulness, by every unprejudiced mind, Peter will always be preferred to Pliny. But because the world will ever love its own, and hate the disciples of the Lord, there will always be a large class to whom the history of Tacitus will seem more veritable than that of Luke, and the letters of Pliny more reliable than those of Peter. For their sakes we avail ourselves of that most convincing of all attestations—the testimony of an enemy. What friends and foes unite in attesting must be accepted as true.

The facts which we shall thus establish are not, in the first instance, those called miraculous. We are now ascertaining the general character for truthfulness of our letter writers and historians. If we find that their general historic narrative is contradicted by that of other credible historians, then we suspect their story. But if we find that, in all essential matters of public notoriety, they are supported by the concurred testimony of their foes, and that the narrative of the miracles they relate bears the seals of thousands who from foes became friends, from conviction of its truth, then we receive their witness as true. Even in Paul's day, heathen Greek writers bore testimony to the apostles, what manner of entering in they had unto the converts of Thessalonica; and how they turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come. Pliny wrote forty years later.

Pliny, the younger, was born A. D. 61, was praetor under Domitian, consul in the third year of Trajan, A. D. 100, was exceedingly desirous to add to his other honors that of the priesthood; was accordingly consecrated an augur, and built temples, bought images, and consecrated them on his estates; was, in A. D. 106, appointed Governor of the Roman Provinces of Pontus and Bithynia[73]—a vast tract of Asia Minor, lying along the shores of the Black Sea and the Propontis; and including the province anciently called Mysia, in which were situated Pergamos and Thyatira, and in the immediate vicinity of Sardis and Philadelphia. Pliny reached his province by the usual route, the port of Ephesus; where John had lived for many years, and indited his letters, A. D. 96, scarcely ten years before. The letters of Peter to the strangers scattered through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, bring us to the same mountainous region, eight hundred miles distant from Judea; whence, in earlier days, our savage ancestors received those Phoenician priests of Baal, whose round towers mark the coasts of Ireland nearest to the setting sun; and whence, about the period under consideration, came the heralds of the Sun of Righteousness, who brought the "Leabhar Eoin"[74] which tells their children of him in whom is the life and the light of men. Natives of these countries had been in Jerusalem during the crucifixion of Jesus, and, though only strangers, had witnessed the darkness, and the earthquake, and had heard the rumors of what had come to pass in those days; and on the day of Pentecost had mingled with the curious crowd around the apostles, and heard them speak, in their own mother tongues, of the wonderful works of God. The remainder of the story of their conversion we gather from the letters of Peter, John, and Pliny.

"Pliny, to the Emperor Trajan, wisheth health and happiness:[75]

"It is my constant custom, Sire, to refer myself to you in all matters concerning which I have any doubt. For who can better direct me when I hesitate, or instruct me when I am ignorant?

"I have never been present at any trials of Christians, so that I know not well what is the subject matter of punishment, or of inquiry, or what strictures ought to be used in either. Nor have I been a little perplexed to determine whether any difference ought to be made upon account of age, or whether the young and tender, and the full grown and robust, ought to be treated all alike; whether repentance should entitle to pardon, or whether all who have once been Christians ought to be punished, though they are now no longer so; whether the name itself, although no crimes be detected, or crimes only belonging to the name ought to be punished.

"In the meantime, I have taken this course with all who have been brought before me, and have been accused as Christians. I have put the question to them, whether they were Christians. Upon their confessing to me that they were, I repeated the question a second and a third time, threatening also to punish them with death. Such as still persisted, I ordered away to be punished; for it was no doubt with me, whatever might be the nature of their opinion, that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy ought to be punished. There were others of the same infatuation, whom, because they are Roman citizens, I have noted down to be sent to the city.

"In a short time the crime spreading itself, even whilst under persecution, as is usual in such cases, divers sorts of people came in my way. An information was presented to me, without mentioning the author, containing the names of many persons, who, upon examination, denied that they were Christians, or had even been so; who repeated after me an invocation of the gods, and with wine and frankincense made supplication to your image, which, for that purpose, I have caused to be brought and set before them, together with the statues of the deities. Moreover, they reviled the name of Christ. None of which things, as is said, they who are really Christians can by any means be compelled to do. These, therefore, I thought proper to discharge.

"Others were named by an informer, who at first confessed themselves Christians, and afterward denied it. The rest said they had been Christians, but had left them; some three years ago, some longer, and one or more above twenty years. They all worshiped your image, and the statues of the gods; these also reviled Christ. They affirmed that the whole of their fault or error lay in this: that they were wont to meet together, on a stated day, before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately, a hymn to Christ as a God, and bind themselves by a sacrament, not to the commission of any wickedness, but not to be guilty of theft, or robbery, or adultery; never to falsify their word, nor to deny a pledge committed to them, when called upon to return it. When these things were performed, it was their custom to separate, and then to come together again to a meal, which they ate in common, without any disorder; but this they had forborne since the publication of my edict, by which, according to your command, I prohibited assemblies. After receiving this account, I judged it the more necessary to examine two maid servants, which were called ministers, by torture. But I have discovered nothing besides a bad and excessive superstition.

"Suspending, therefore, all judicial proceedings, I have recourse to you for advice; for it has appeared to me a matter highly deserving consideration, especially upon account of the great number of persons who are in danger of suffering. For many of all ages, and every rank, of both sexes likewise, are accused, and will be accused. Nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but the lesser towns also, and the open country. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it may be restrained and arrested. It is certain that the temples, which were almost forsaken, begin to be frequented. And the sacred solemnities, after a long intermission, are revived. Victims, likewise, are everywhere brought up, whereas, for some time, there were few purchasers. Whence, it is easy to imagine, what numbers of men might be reclaimed, if pardon were granted to those who shall repent."

* * * * *

"Trajan to Pliny, wisheth health and happiness:[76]

"You have taken the right course, my Pliny, in your proceedings with those who have been brought before you as Christians; for it is impossible to establish any one rule that shall hold universally. They are not to be sought after. If any are brought before you, and are convicted, they ought to be punished. However, he that denies his being a Christian, and makes it evident in fact, that is, by supplicating to our gods, though he be suspected to have been so formerly, let him be pardoned upon repentance. But in no case, of any crime whatever, may a bill of information be received without being signed by him who presents it, for that would be a dangerous precedent, and unworthy of my government."

I must request my reader now to procure a New Testament, and read, at one reading, the First General Epistle of Peter, the First General Epistle of John, and the Seven Epistles to the Churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea—only about as much matter as four pages of Harper's Magazine, or half a page of the Commercial—that he may be able to do the same justice to the apostles as to the governor. He will thus be able to see the force of the various allusions to the numbers, doctrines, morals, persecutions, and perseverance of the Christians, contained in those letters; the object which I have in view being, to establish their authenticity by proving the truthfulness of their allusions to these things. If you think this too much trouble, please lay down the book, and dismiss the consideration of religion from your thoughts. If the letters of the apostles are not worth a careful reading, it is of no consequence whether they are true or false.

1. These letters take for granted, that the fact of the existence of large numbers of Christians, organized into churches, and meeting regularly for religious worship, at the close of the first century, is a matter of public notoriety to the world. Here, in countries eight hundred miles distant from its birthplace, in the lifetime of those who had seen its founder crucified, we find Christians scattered over Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia—churches in seven provincial cities, the sect well known to Pliny, before he left Italy, as a proscribed and persecuted religion, the professors of which were customarily brought before courts for trial and punishment—though he had not himself been present at such trials—and now so numerous in his provinces, that a great number of persons, of both sexes, young and old, of all ranks, natives and Roman citizens, professed Christianity. Others, influenced by their example and instruction, renounced idolatry; victims were not led to sacrifice; the sacred rites of the gods were suspended, and their temples forsaken. The existence, then, of churches of Christ, consisting of vast numbers of converted heathens, at the close of the first century, is in no wise mythological or dubious. It is an established historical fact. The Epistles of the apostles stand confirmed by the Epistles of the governor and the emperor.

2. The second great fact presented in the Epistles, and confirmed by the letters of the governor and the emperor, is, that the worship of the Christian Church then was essentially the same which it is now. We find these Christians of the first century commemorating the death and resurrection of Christ, and rendering divine honors to him; the "stated day" on which they assembled for worship, and the "common meal," are as plain a description of the "disciples coming together upon the first day of the week, to break bread," as a heathen could give in few words. Their terms of communion too, to which they pledged their members by a sacrament, "not to be guilty of theft, robbery, or adultery; never to falsify their word, or deny a pledge committed to them," find their counterpart in every well-regulated church at this day.

The articles of the Christian faith, then, are not the "gradual accretions of centuries," nor is the "redemptive idea, as attaching to Christ, a dogma of the post-Augustine period." The churches of the first century commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus, as that of a divine person, "singing the hymn to him as a God," which their descendants sing at this day around his table:

"Forever and forever is, O God, thy throne of might, The scepter of thy kingdom is a scepter that is right, Thou lovest right, and hatest ill; for God, thy God, Most High, Above thy fellows hath with th' oil of joy anointed thee."

And the question will force itself upon our minds, and can not be evaded, How did these apostles persuade such multitudes of heathens to believe their repeated assertions of the death, resurrection, and glory of Jesus? In the space of three octavo pages, Peter refers to these facts eighteen times. John, in like manner, repeatedly affirms them. The Christian religion consists in the belief of these facts, and a life corresponding to them. Now, how did the apostles persuade such multitudes of heathens to believe a report so wonderful, profess a religion so novel, renounce the gods they had worshiped from their childhood, and all the ceremonies of an attractive, sensual religion; "temples of splendid architecture, statues of exquisite sculpture, priests and victims superbly adorned, attendant beauteous youth of both sexes, performing all the sacred rites with gracefulness; religious dances, illuminations, concerts of the sweetest music, perfumes of the rarest fragrance," and other more licentious enjoyments, inseparable from heathen worship. How did they persuade them to exchange all this for the assembly before daybreak, the frugal common meal, the psalm to Christ, and the commemoration of the death of a crucified malefactor? If we add, that they commemorated his resurrection, by observing the Lord's day, the question comes up, How did they come to believe that he was risen from the dead? Could a few despised strangers, or a few citizens if you will, persuade such a community, purely by natural means, to believe such a report, to care whether the Syrian Jew died or rose, or to commemorate weekly, by a solemn religious service, either his death or resurrection? It is evident they believed what they commemorated. How did they come to do so?

But whether we can answer the question or not, the fact stands out as indisputable, that not merely the writers of the Epistles and Gospels, and a few enthusiasts, but an immense multitude of all ages, of both sexes, and of every rank—the whole membership of the primitive churches—did believe in the death, resurrection, and glory of the Lord Jesus, and did render to him divine worship. The second great fact, affirmed in the Epistles, stands confirmed by the testimony of the heathen governor, and of the Roman emperor.

3. A mere theory of a new religion, unconnected with practice, may be easily received by those who care little about any, so long as it brings no suffering or inconvenience. But the religion of these Christians was, as you see, a practical religion. If their new worship required a great departure from the worship of their childhood, their Christian morals required a still greater departure from their former mode of life. I need not remind you of the moral codes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristides, who taught that lying, thieving, adultery, and murder were lawful; nor how much worse than the theory of the best of the heathen were the lives of the worst; nor how unpopular to persons so educated would be such teaching as this—"Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin: that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revelings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries; wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the living and the dead." "Lay aside all malice, and guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings." "Whosoever abideth in Christ sinneth not. Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil." So sharp, and stern, and strictly virtuous is apostolic religion, as displayed in these letters. Is it possible then that these converted heathens did really even approach this standard of morality? Did this gospel of Christ actually produce any such reformation of their lives?

You have the testimony of apostates, eager to save their lives by giving such information as they knew would be acceptable to the persecutor; you have the testimony of the two aged deaconesses, under torture; you have the unwilling, but yet express, testimony of their torturer and murderer, that all his cruel ingenuity could discover nothing worse than an excessive superstition and culpable obstinacy. What, then, does this philosophic inspector of entrails, and adorer of idols, call an excessive superstition and culpable obstinacy? Why, they bound themselves by the most solemn religious services, not to be guilty of theft, robbery, or adultery; not to falsify their word, nor deny a pledge committed to them; and when some senseless blocks of brass were carried on men's shoulders, into the court-house, to represent a mortal man, they would not adore them, nor pray to them; no, not though this philosopher compiled the liturgy, and set the example. For this refusal, and this alone, he ordered them away to death. Doubtless they heard, in their hearts, the well-known words, "Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. But if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf."

The morality of the Epistles, then, was not a merely a fine theory, but an actual rule of life. The moral codes of the apostles were received as actually binding on the members of the churches of the first century. In this all-important matter of the rule of a good life—the fruits by which the tree is known—the integrity, authority, and success of the apostles, in turning licentious heathens into moral Christians, is authenticated by the unwilling testimony of their persecutors. The Epistles of the apostles stand confirmed, as to their ethics, by the letters of Trajan and Pliny.

4. The only other fact to which I call your attention, from among the multitude alluded to in these letters, is the cost at which these converts from heathenism embraced this new religion. Every one who renounced heathenism, and professed the name of Christ, knew very well that he must suffer for it. "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, that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad with exceeding joy;" this was the welcome of the Bithynian convert into the Church of Christ. Persecution by fire and sword was then the common lot of the Church. "I have never been present at any trials of the Christians," says the governor. Such trials were well known to him it seems. He was not sure whether he should murder all who ever had borne the name of Christ, or only those who proved themselves to be really his disciples, by refusing to revile him, and return to idolatry; and the merciful emperor commands him to spare the apostates. Above twenty years before—in A. D. 86—there were apostates from the persecuted religion. In A. D. 90, John had written, "they went out from us, that it might be made manifest they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out that it might be made manifest that they were not all of us." So it seems Pliny thought: "They all worshiped your image, and other statues of the gods; these also reviled Christ. None of which things, as is said, they who are really Christians can by any means be compelled to do." What these means were he tells us: "I put the question to them, whether they were Christians. Upon their confessing to me that they were, I repeated the question a second and a third time, threatening, also, to punish them with death. Such as still persisted, I ordered away to be punished." What is very remarkable, it was, it seems, "usual in such cases, for the crime to spread itself, even whilst under persecution." In the face of such dangers, these heathen would still profess faith in Christ, and when they might have saved their lives by reviling him, refused to do so. From the published rescript of the emperor, approving of Pliny's course, and condemning to death all who were convicted of being really Christians; from the public circulars of the apostles, warning them of "fiery trials," "Satan casting some of them into prison," and exhorting them to "be faithful unto death;" and from such comments on these as the torture and public execution of aged women as well as men—the terms of discipleship were well known to the whole world. Yet we see that in the face of all this, "great numbers of persons, of both sexes, and of all ages, and of every rank," in Pliny's opinion, were so steadfast in their faith, that "they were in great danger of suffering."

Here, then, is another well-attested fact, in which the testimony of the apostles stands confirmed by the signatures of the Bithynian governor, and the Roman emperor—a fact which stands forth clear, prominent, most undoubted, without the smallest trace of anything mythological or misty about it—that, in A. D. 106, great numbers of converted heathens did suffer exile, torture, and death itself, rather than renounce Christ; and that it was well known that the Christian faith enabled its professor to overcome the world.

These four great facts of the later Epistles, being thus established beyond dispute, in pursuance of our plan, we ascend the stream of history some forty years, to the time of the earlier Epistles, when Paul lay in the Praetorian prison, and his faithful companion, Luke, wrote the continuation of his narrative of the things most surely believed among the Christians; when "apostles were made as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things;" and Christians "were made a gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions;" "were brought before kings and rulers, and hated of all nations for Christ's name sake;" "endured a great fight of afflictions;" were "for his sake killed all the day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter;" "were made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men." We remove the field of our investigation from a remote province of Asia, to one equally remote from Judea, and far more unfavorable for the growth of the religion of a crucified Jew, to the proud capital of the world, imperial Rome. The time shall be shortly after the burning of the city, in A. D. 64, and during the raging of the first of those systematic, imperial, and savage persecutions through which the Church of Christ waded, in the bloody footsteps of her Lord, to world-wide influence, and undying fame. Our historian shall be the well-known Tacitus; and the single extract from his history, one of which the infidel Gibbon says:[77] "The most skeptical criticism is obliged to respect the truth of this important fact, and the integrity of this celebrated passage of Tacitus." I shall not insert quotations from Paul or Luke; that were merely to transcribe large portions of the Epistles and Gospels, which whoever will not carefully peruse, disqualifies himself for forming a judgment of their veracity. The confirmation of the four facts already established, of the existence, worship, morals, and sufferings of the disciples of Christ; and these facts as well known within thirty years after his death, will sufficiently appear by the perusal of the following testimony of Tacitus.[78]

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