« 前へ次へ »
planted: devotion to a cause, universally derided and persecuted, was to be produced ; the whole temper and spirit and disposition, in short, of the proselyte were to be thoroughly changed, in order to his becoming a Christian. This, we are assured in Scripture, could not be effected, save by the special operation of God's Holy Spirit attending upon the early preachers of the Gospel.
To such an assurance, when we consider the immense difficulties with which the first introduction of Christianity was surrounded, our unbiassed reason involuntarily assents. With aid thus potent, it is easy to conceive how the new religion triumphed over every impediment: without it, we are puzzled and perplexed to assign any satisfactory cause, why thousands and myriads of the Gentiles should eagerly flock to the despised and dangerous standard of the cross.
On this point, the language both of the narrative and of the missionaries themselves is
perfectly clear and decisive.
The Lord, we are told, added to the Church daily such as should be saved *. With great power, it is said, gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus : and great grace was upon them to The hand of the Lord, we read, was with the scattered missionaries : and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord f. As many, it is said, as were disposed to eternal life believed Ş. A certain
Acts ii. 47.
+ Acts iv. 33.
woman named Lydia, remarks the author of the narrative, which worshipped God, heard us : whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul *. My speech and my preaching, says the great apostle of the Gentiles to his Corinthian converts, was not with enticing, words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power : that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God f. For, after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God; it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe I. Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have. planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he, that planteth, any thing ; neither he, that watereth : but God, that giveth the increaseg. Of his own will, says James respecting God, begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruit of his creatures ll. Blessed, says Peter, be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead J. Ye have an unction from the Holy One, says John, and ye know all things **.
Such is the constant avowal of men, who sealed their faith with their blood. We doubtless have
* Acts xvi. 14. + 1 Corinth. ii. 4, 5.
1 John ii. 20.
1 Corinth i. 21. 11 Peter i. 3.
only their own assertion; and our opinion must rest upon the credit, which we give to it: but, as the fact alleged fully accounts for their success, as they cheerfully laid down their lives in proof of their veracity, and as it is no easy matter to solve the problem of the rapid spread of Christianity if all divine agency be excluded; we may perhaps find it more difficult, on the who e, ta disbelieve them, than to believe them.
2. The second cause, alleged in the scriptural history for the unexampled success of the early preachers of the Gospel, is the power which they possessed of working miracles.
By the hands of the apostles, we read, were many signs and wonders wrought among the people. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes. both of men and women; insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them *.
As the Spirit of God was necessary to change the heart and to influence the will, in order that Christianity might be received even in the face of every discouragement: so was the power of working miracles necessary to convince the understanding, that a religion thus characterized could not but be from heaven.
The apostles claimed to be ambassadors. But an ambassador cannot be received without producing his cre
Acts v, 12, 14, 15.
dentials : his mere word and asseveration are insufficient. The credentials therefore of the apostles, credentials, to which on all occasions they fearlessly appealed, were miracles. I will not dare, says Paul, to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that, from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ *. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds t. These signs, declares Christ himself to his disciples, shall follow them that believe : In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues ; they shall take up serpents; and, if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them ; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover f. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you : and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judèa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth g.
Such is the claim made by the apostles to the power of working miracles : and a similar claim had already been made by Christ, previous to his crucifixion. Now, that the performance of miracles affords an ample proof of a divine commission, few will be disposed to deny: and, that,
Rom. xv. 18, 19.
+ 2 Corinth. xii. 12.
when conjoined with the special influence of God's Spirit upon the human heart, it is an abundantly sufficient cause of the rapid acceptance of the Gospel, most will be inclined to allow. But here a question arises, whether the claim was real, or only simulated : whether, in the language of Mr. Gibbon, miraculous powers were only ascribed to the primitive Church, or whether they were really possessed by it.
The reasoning of Mr. Hume, in regard to miracles, brings out as a result, that no human evidence can in any case render them credible. For a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature : and a firm and unalterable experience has established those laws. Therefore it will always be more probable, that the testimony in favour of a miracle should be false, than that unalterable experience should be violated. Hence he lays it down, as a plain consequence, that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falshood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.
To an unsophisticated intellect, this reasoning will, I think, appear not a little paradoxical : and, to an intellect accustomed to discussion, it will seem not a little fallacious.
It is hard to conceive, why competent evidence should not be sufficient to establish any fact, which does not involve a contradiction in terms. No doubt, the more extraordinary the fact, the