« AnteriorContinuar »
kinds of news, though never fo true, feldom gain credit, till some time after they are transacted and exposed to the examination of the curious, who, by laying together circumstances, attestations, and characters of those who are concerned in them, either receive, or reject, what at first none but eye-witnesses could absolutely believe or disbelieve. In a case of this fort, it was natural for men of sense and learning to treat the whole account as fabulous, or, at farthest, to suspend their belief of it, until all things stood together in their full light.
III. Besides, the Jews were branded not only for superstitions different from all the religions of the Pagan world, but in a particular manner ridiculed for being a credulous people; so that whatever reports of such a nature came out of that country, were looked
upon by the heathen world as false, frivolous, and improbable.
IV. We may further observe, that the ordinary practice of magic in those times, with the many pretended prodigies, divinations, apparitions, and local miracles among the Heathens, made them less attentive to such news from Judæa, till they had time to consider the nature, the occasion, and the end of our Saviour's miracles, and were awakened by many furprising events to allow them any consideration at all.
V. We are indeed told by St. Matthew, that the fame of our Saviour, during his life, went throughout all Syria, and that there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, Judæa, Decapolis, Idumæa; from beyond Jordan, and from Tyre and Sidon. Now, had there been any historians of those times and places, we might have expected to have seen in them some account of those wona derful transactions in Judæa ; but there is not any single author extant in any kind, of that age, in any of those countries,
VI. How many books have perished, in which possibly there might have been mention of our Saviour! Look among the Ronans, how few of their writings are come down to our times ! In the space of two hundred years from our Saviour's birth, when there was such a multitude of writers in all kinds, how small is the number of authors that have made their way to the present age
! VII. One authentic record, and that the most authentic heathen record, we are pretty sure, is lost; I mean the account sent by the governor of Judæa, under whom our Saviour was judged, condemned, and crucified. It was the custom of the Roman empire, as it is to this day in all the governments of the world, for the prefects and viceroys of distant provinces to transmit to their sovereign a summary relation of everything remarkable in their adminiftration. That Pontius Pilate, in his account, would have touched on fo extraordinary an event in Judæa, 'is not to be doubted; and that he actually did, we learn from Justin Martyr, who lived about a hundred years after our Saviour's death, resided, made converts, and suffered martyrdom at Rome, where he was engaged with philosophers, and in a particular manner with Crefcens the Cynick, who could easily have detected, and would not fail to have exposed him, had
he quoted a record not in being, or made any falfe citation out of it: Would the great apologist have challenged Crescens to dispute the cause of Christianity with him before the Roman fenate, had he forged such an evidence? or would Crescens have refufed the challenge, could he have triumphed over him in the detection of such a forgery? To which we must add, that the apology, which appeals to this record, was presented to a learned emperor and to the whole bods of the Roman fenate. This father, in this apology, speaking of the death and sufferings of our Saviour, refers the emperor, for the truth of what he says, to the acts of Pontius Pilate, which I have here mentioned. Tertullian, who wrote his apology about fifty years after Juftin, doubtless referred to the same record, when he tells the governor of Rome, that the emperor Tiberius having received an account out of Palestine in Syria of the divine person who had appeared in that country, paid him a particular regard, and threatened to punish any who should accuse the Christians; nay, that the emperor would have adopted him among the deities whom he worshipped, had not the senate refused to come into the proposal. Tertullian, who gives us this hiftory, was not only one of the most learned men of his age, but, what adds a greater weight to his authority in this case, was eminently skilful and well read in the laws of the Roman empire. Nor can it be said, that Tertullian grounded his quotation upon the authority of Justin Martyr, because we find he mixes it with matters of fact which are not related by that author. Eufebius mentions the fame ancient record; but, as it was not extant in his time, I shall not inlift upon his authority in this point. If it be objected that this particular is not mentioned in any Roman historian, I shall use the same argument in a parallel case, and see whether it will carry any force with it. Ulpian, the great Roman lawyer, gathered together all the imperial edicts that had been made against the Christians. But did any one ever say that there had been no such edicts, because they were not mentioned in the histories of those emperors ? Besides, who knows but this circumstance of Tiberius was mentioned in other historians that have been loft, though not to be found in any still extant? Has not Suetonius many particulars of this emperor omitted by Ta. citus, and Herodian many that are not so much as hinted at by either? : As for the spurious acts of Pilate, now extant, we know the occasion and time of their writing; and, had there not been a true and authentic record of this nature, they would never have been forged.
VIII. The story of Agbarus, king of Edessa, relating to the letrer which he sent to our Saviour, and to that which he received from him, is a record of great authority; and though I will not infift upon it, may venture to say, that, had we such an evidence for
fact in Pagan history, an author would be thought very unreasonable who should reject' it. I believe you will be of my opinion, if you will peruse, with other authors, who have appeared in vindication of these letters as genuine, the additional arguments which have been made use of by the late famous and learned Dr. Grabe, in the second volume of his - Spicilegium.".
SECTION I. 1. IV hat facts in the history of our Saviour might be taken notice of by
Pagan authors. II. What particular faits are taken notice of, and by what Pagan au
thors. III. How Celfus represented our Saviour's miracles. IV. The same representation made of them by other unbelievers, and proved
unreasonable. V. What faets in our Saviour's history not to be expected from Pagan
I. WE now come to consider what ủndoubted authorities are extant among the Pagan writers; and here we must premise, that some parts of our Saviour's history may be reasonably expected from Pagans. I mean, such parts as might be known to those who lived at a difance from Judæa, as well as to those who were the followers and eyewitnefles of Christ.
II. Such particulars are most of these which follow, and which are all attested by some one or other of those heathen authors who lived in or near the age of our Saviour and his disciples. • That
Auguftus Cæsar had ordered the whole empire to be censed or taxed,' which brought our Saviour's reputed parents to Bethlehem : this is mentioned by several Roman historians, as Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dion. 'That a great light, or a new Star, appeared in the East,
which directed the wise men to our Saviour:' this is recorded by Chalcidius.
' That Herod, the king of Palestine, so often mentioned in the Roman history, made a great flaughter of innocent children,' being so jealous of his succeffor, that he put to death his own sons on that account: this character of him is given by several historians; and this cruel fact mentioned by Macrobius, a heathen author, who tells it as a known thing, without any mark or doubt upon it. • That our Saviour had been in Egypt, this Celsus, though he raises a monstrous story upon it, is to far from denying, that he tells us our Saviour learned the arts of magic in that country.
· That Pontius Pilate was governor of Judæa ; that our Saviour was brought in judgment before him, and by him condemned and crucified this is recorded by Tacitus. That many miraculous cures, and works out of the ordinary course of nature, were wrought by him:' this is confessed by Julian the Apoftate, Porphyry, and Hierocles, all of them not only Pagans, but professed enemies and persecutors of Christianity. . That our Saviour fore. 'told several things which came to pass according to his predic
tions :' this was attested by Phlegon, in his annals, as we are assured by the learned Origen against Celsus. “That, at the time when
our Saviour died, there was a miraculous darkness and a great earthquake :' this is recorded by the fame Phlegon the Trallian, who was likewise a Pagan, and freeman to Adrian the emperor. We may here observe, that a native of Trallium, which was not situate at so great a distance from Palestine, might very probably be informed of
such remarkable events as had passed among the Jews in the age immediately preceding his own times, fince several of his countrymen, with whom he had conversed, might have received a confused report of our Saviour before his crucifixion, and probably lived within the shake of the earthquake, and the shadow of the eclipse, which'are recorded by this author. - That Christ was worshipped as a God
among the Christians, that they would rather suffer death than . blafpheme him; that they received a facrament, and by it entered • into a vow of abftaining from sin and wickedness;' conforming to the advice given by, St. Paul ; that they had private assemblies of
worship, and used to join together in hymns:' this is the account which Pliny the younger gives of Christianity in his days, about sea -venty years after the death of Christ, and which agrees in all its circumstances with the accounts we have, in Holy Writ, of the first state of Christianity after the crucifixion of our blessed Saviour.
i That • St. Peter, whose miracles are many of them recorded in Holy Writ, • did many wonderful works,' is owned by Julian the Apoftate, who therefore represents him as a great magician, and one who had in his possession a book of magical secrets, left him by our Saviour. (That the devils or evil spirits were subject to them,' we may learn from Porphyry, who objects to Christianity, that, since Jesus had begun to be worshipped, Æsculapius and the rest of the Gods did no more converse with men. Nay, Celsus himself affirms the fame thing in effect, when he says, that the power which seemed to refide in Christians proceeded, from the use of certain names, and the invocation of certain dæmons, Origen remarks on this passage, that the author doubtless hints at those Christians who put to fight evil spirits, and healed those who were possessed with them; a fact which had been often seen, and which he himself had seen, as he declares in another part of his discourse against Celsus; but at the same time assures us, that this miraculous power was exerted by the use of no other name but that of Jesus, to which were added several passages in his history, but nothing like any invocation to dæ
III. Celsus was so hard set with the report of our Saviour's misacles, and the confident attestations concerning him, that though he often intimates he did not believe them to be true, yet, knowing he might be filenced in such an answer, provides himself with another retreat, when beaten out of this; namely, that our Saviour was a magician. Thus he 'compares the feeding of so many thoufands at two different times with a few loaves and fishes, to the magical feasts of those Egyptian impostors who would present their Ipectators with visionary entertainments, that had in them neither substance nor reality : which, by the way, is to suppose, that a hungry and fainting multitude were filled by an apparition, or strengthened and refreshed with shadows. He knew very well that there were so many witnesses and actors, if I may call them such, in these two miracles, that it was impossible to refute such multitudes, who had doubtless sufficiently spread the fame of them, and was therefore in
this place forced to resort to the other solution, that it was done by magic. It was not enough to say, that a miracle which appeared to fo many thousand eye-witnesses was a forgery of Christ's disciples ; and therefore, supposing them to be eye-witnefles, he endeavours to thew how they might be deceived.
IV. The unconverted Heathens, who were pressed by the many authorities that confirmed our Saviour's miracles, as well as the unbelieving Jews, who had actually seen them, were driven to account for them after the same manner : for, to work by magic in the Heathen way of speaking, was in the language of the Jews to cast out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. Our Saviour, who knew that unbelievers in all ages would put this perverse interpretation on his miracles, has branded the malignity of those men who, contrary to the dictates of their own hearts, started such an unreasonable objection, as a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and declared not only the guilt, but the punishment of fo black a crime. At the same time he condescended to thew the vanity and emptiness of this objection against his miracles, by representing, that they evidently tended to the destruction of those powers, to whose affistance the enemies of his doctrine then ascribed them; an argument which, if duly weighed, renders the objection so very frivolous and groundless, that we may venture to call it even blasphemy against common sense. Would magic endeavour to draw off the minds of men from the worship that was paid to stocks and stones, to give them an abhorrence of those evil spirits who rejoiced in the most cruel sacrifices, and in offerings of the greatest impurity; and, in short, to call upon mankind to exert their whole strength in the love and adoration of that Being from whom they derived their existence, and on whom only they were taught to depend every moment for the happiness and continuance of it? Was it the business of magic to humanize our natures with compassion, forgiveness, and all the instances of the most extenfive charity? Would evil spirits contribute to make men sober, chaite, and temperate, and, in a word, to produce that reformation which was wrought in the moral world by those doctrines of our Saviour that received their fanction from his miracles? Nor is it poflible to imagine, that evil spirits would enter into a combination with our Saviour, to cut off all their correspondence and intercourse with mankind, and to prevent any for the future from addicting themselves to those rites and ceremonies which had done them so much honour. We see the early effect which Christianity bad on the minds of men in this particular, by that number of books which were filled with the secret of magic, and made a sacrifice to Christianity, by the converts mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. We have likewise an eminent inftance of the inconsistency of our religion with magic, in the history of the famous Aquila. This person, who was a kinsman of the emperor Trajan, and likewise a man of great learning, notwithstanding he had embraced Chriftianity, could not be brought off from the studies of magic by the repeated admonitions of his fellow Christians; fo that at length they expelled him their fociety, as rather choosing to Vol. Y. G