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the common level whence they had ascended, and again commenced their work, always in the same track, but always with the same failure.
Upon the observance of the moral and religious duties depends the wholesome existence of human society, which would crumble into nothing, if mankind were not generally impressed with a reverence for these important rules of conduct. This reverence is still further enhanced by the opinion which is first impressed by nature, and afterwards confirmed by philosophy, that these rules are the commands and laws of the Deity, who will finally reward the obedient, and punish the transgressors. And thus, upon whatever we suppose our inoral faculties to be founded, whether upon a certain modification of reason, upon an original instinct (which is a baseless idea, for instinctive virtue or vice would necessarily discard all prospects of an immortality) called a moral sense, or upon whatever other principle of our nature, it cannot be doubted, they were given us for the direction of our conduct in this life.*
Were we to judge of the importance of events by the greatness of their effects, and their influ
ence on the well-being of mankind, we should naturally be led to conclude, that no history whatever can be so interesting, as that of the rise and progress of Christianity. The change it has occasioned in the world, is unspeakably more wonderful in its nature than any which was ever brought about by the establishment of empires, from the beginning of the world to the present day; the Roman empire itself, which was of the greatest extent, and the longest duration, not excepted. While they all, in their turns, have dwindled to decay and ruin, the kingdom of the Messiah is still extending itself. In its progress, it has been marked by two glorious and decisive victories: it has conquered the learned and luxurious citizens of the Roman world; and has subdued the warlike barbarians of Scythia and Germany, who subverted the empire, and afterwards embraced the religion of Rome.* Nor are we to doubt that it will at length embrace the bulk of mankind, and continue to the end of time. It already spreads its wings over the face of America. Even NewZealand may, in the course of ages, learn justice from its law, and mercy from its gospel.
In regard to its evidence, it is a peculiarly fa vourable circumstance, that Christianity took its deepest root in the most civilized and learned, and consequently the most inquisitive part of the world. The Jews inculcated its excellent moral precepts. The heathens, even while they persecuted it, acknowledged the benefits of its institutes. * Yet, whatever learning or genius could do, was at first done against Christianity, because its origin was wholly among the illiterate. But neither all the argument, nor all the force of the mighty Roman authority, could stop the current of its pure and benevolent principles. Look at the first preachers of the gospel, who taught men to subdue all irregular desires of pleasure, of wealth, and power, and to suppress every tendency of the heart to pride, vanity, and vain glory.
The Apostles, by what they taught, had no hope to make themselves popular, either with the higher, or with the lower orders of mankind, for they flattered no human vice, but absolutely prohibited every dereliction from right reason. A few unlettered fishermen from Judea were thus to enlighten and civilize the world! Their mission, indeed, was not authenticated by the formality
formality of certificates, nor did they go about to collect evidences and testimonies. They acted 'with greater simplicity, and with the open confidence of truth. They delivered their narrations in a plain and artless form; nor did they take pains to prepossess or influence mankind. Not one of their enemies was ever able to convict them of falsehood. They never varied in their accounts; they persisted in them, with an unshaken constancy, and sealed them with their blood; and it gives no small weight to their testimony, that they bore witness to facts which were designed to confirm a scheme of religion, contrary to their own most rooted prejudices.
Can we suppose, that twelve men should combine to assert a falsehood, at the hazard of their lives, without any view to private interest, and with the certain prospect of losing by it every thing that is, or ought to be, dear to mankind in this world? No Pagan ever laid down his life for the honour of Isis or Osiris, for Jupiter, for Neptune, or Apollo. Moreover, even those who are so sceptical, as to be contented scarcely with any thing short of demonstration, must acknowledge, that there is in the birth and death of Christ, in the unparalleled sublimity of his doctrine; in the coincidence, and unconcerted testimony of A 3
his disciples; in the sanction given to their assertions, by their subsequent persecutions and death; and in the extraordinary -fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament; something more than a probability, that the dispensation of Christianity was not a fabric of craft and imposture.
It is not, I should presume, readily to be be lieved, that the Apostles of Christ could have been so pertinaciously deranged, as to have submitted to the most excruciating torments, and even to the most agonizing deaths, merely for the support of what they knew to be untrue. Those of the church, indeed, afterwards, who sunk under martyrdom, might, had it been false, have been involved in the obstinacy of prepossession they might have blindly confided in an imposture, handed down to them by their fathers. But, for the Apostles themselves, who were witnesses and principals concerned in all that had passed, that they should have devoted themselves to death, was a species of phrenzy, more contrary to nature than any that is to be traced in the annals of the world. Who ever saw hypocrisy keep up the cheat, when destruction, both here and hereafter, was to be inevitably the consequence?