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tianity in his time and the condition of its more primitive ages:"By the good providence of God the Christian religion has so flourished and increased continually, that it is now preached freely without molestation, although there were a thousand obstacles to the spreading of the doctrine of Jesus in the world. But, as it was the will of God that the Gentiles should have the benefit of it, all the councils of men against the Christians were defeated; and by how much the more emperours and governours of provinces, and the people every where, strove to depress them, so much the more have they increased, and prevailed exceedingly*."
It is well known, that within less than eighty years after this, the Roman empire became Christian under Constantine; and it is probable that Constantine declared himself on the side of the Christians, because they were the powerful party for Arnobius, who wrote immediately before Constantine's accession, speaks of the whole world as filled with Christ's doctrine, of its diffusion throughout all countries, of an innumerable body of Christians in distant provinces, of the strange revolution of opinion of men of the greatest genius, orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, having come over to the institution, and that also in the face of threats, executions, and torturest. And not more than twenty years after Constantine's entire possession of the empire, Julius Firmicus Maternus calls upon the emperours Constantius and Constans to extirpate the relicks of the ancient religion; the reduced and fallen condition of which is described by our author in the following words:" Licet adhuc in quibusdam regionibus idololatria morientia palpitent membra, tamen in eo res est,
* Orig. cont. Cels. lib. vii.
† Arnob. in Gentes, 1. i. p. 27, 9, 24, 42, 44. edit. Lug. Bat. 1650.
ut a Christianis omnibus terris pestiferum hoc malum funditus amputetur:" and in another place "Modicum tantum superest, ut legibus vestris-extincta idololatriæ pereat funesta contagio*.' It will not be thought that we quote this writer in order to recommend his temper or his judgment, but to show the comparative state of Christianity and of heathenism at this period. Fifty years afterwards, Jerome represents the decline of paganism in language which conveys the same idea of its approaching extinction: "Solitudinem patitur et in urbe gentilitas. Dii quondam nationum, cum bubonibus et noctuis, in solis culminibus remanseruntt." Jerome here indulges a triumph, natural and allowable in a zealous friend of the cause, but which could only be suggested to his mind by the consent and universality with which he saw the religion received. "But now (says he) the passion and resurrection of Christ are celebrated in the discourses and writings of all nations. I need not mention Jews, Greeks, and Latins. The Indians, Persians, Goths, and Egyptians, philosophize, and firmly believe the immortality of the soul, and future recompences, which, before, the greatest philosophers had denied, or doubted of, or perplexed with their disputes. The fierceness of Thracians and Scythians is now softened by the gentle sound of the gospel; and every where Christ is all in allt." Were therefore the motives of Constantine's conversion ever so problematical, the easy establishment of Christianity, and the ruin of heathenism under him and his immediate successors, is of itself a proof of the progress which Christianity had made in the preceding period. It may be added also, "that Maxentius, the rival of Constantine, had shown himself friendly to the Christians. There
* De Error. Profan. Relig. c. xxi. p. 172. Quoted by Lard. vol.viii. p. 262. Jer. ad. Lect. ep. 57. Jer. ep. 8. ad Heliod.
fore, of those who were contending for worldly power and empire, one actually favoured and flattered them, and another may be suspected to have joined himself to them, partly from consideration of interest; so considerable were they become, under external disadvantages of all sorts*.” This at least is certain, that, throughout the whole transaction hitherto, the great seemed to follow, not to lead, the publick opinion.
It may help to convey to us some notion of the extent and progress of Christianity, or rather of the character and quality of many early Christians, of their learning and their labours, to notice the number of Christian writers who flourished in these ages. St. Jerome's catalogue contains sixty-six writers within the three first centuries, and the six first years of the fourth; and fifty-four between that time and his own, viz. A. D. 392. Jerome introduces his catalogue with the following just remonstrance :—“ Let those, who say the church has had no philosophers, nor eloquent and learned men, observe who and what they were, who founded, established, and adorned it; let them cease to accuse our faith of rusticity, and confess their mistaket." Of these writers, several, as Justin, Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Bardesanes, Hippolitus, Eusebius, were voluminous writers. Christian writers abounded particularly about the year 178. Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, founded a library in that city, A. D. 212. Pamphilus, the friend of Origen, founded a library at Cesarea, A. D. 294. Publick defences were also set forth, by various advocates of the religion, in the course of its three first centuries. Within one hundred years after Christ's ascension, Quadratus and Aristides, whose works, except some few fragments of the first, are lost; and, about * Lardner, vol. vii. p. 380.
Jer. Prol. in Lib. de Scr. Eccl.
twenty years afterwards, Justin Martyr, whose works remain, presented apologies for the Christian religion to the Roman emperours; Quadratus and Aristides to Adrian, Justin to Antoninus Pius, and a second to Marcus Antoninus. Melito, bishop of Sardis, and Apollinaris, bishop of Hierapolis, and Miltiades, men of great reputation, did the same to Marcus Antoninus, twenty years afterwards*: and ten years after this, Apollonius, who suffered martyrdom under the emperour Commodus, composed an apology for his faith, which he read in the senate, and which was afterwards publishedt. Fourteen years after the apology of Apollonius, Tertullian addressed the work, which now remains under that name, to the governours of provinces in the Roman empire; and, about the same time, Minucius Felix composed a defence of the Christian religion, which is still extant; and, shortly after the conclusion of this century, copious defences of Christianity were published by Arnobius and Lactantius.
Reflections upon the preceding account.
In viewing the progress of Christianity, our first attention is due to the number of converts at Jerusalem, immediately after its founder's death; because this success was a success at the time, and upon the spot, when and where the chief part of the history had been transacted.
We are, in the next place, called upon to attend to the early establishment of numerous Christian societies in Judea and Galilee; which countries had been the scene of Christ's
*Euseb. Hist. lib. iv. c. 26. See also Lardner, vol. ii. p. 666. Lard. vol. ii. p. 687.
miracles and ministry, and where the memory of what had passed, and the knowledge of what was alleged, must have yet been fresh and certain.
We are, thirdly, invited to recollect the success of the apostles and of their companions, at the several places to which they came, both within and without Judea: because it was the credit given to original witnesses, appealing for the truth of their accounts to what themselves had seen and heard. The effect also of their preaching strongly confirms the truth of what our history positively and circumstantially relates, that they were able to exhibit to their hearers supernatural attestations of their mission.
We are, lastly, to consider the subsequent growth and spread of the religion, of which we receive successive intimations, and satisfactory, though general and occasional, accounts, until its full and final establishment.
In all these several stages, the history is without a paral lel; for it must be observed, that we have not now been tracing the progress, and describing the prevalency, of an opinion, founded upon philosophical or critical arguments, upon mere deductions of reason, or the construction of ancient writings (of which kind are the several theories which have, at different times, gained possession of the publick mind in various departments of science and literature; and of one or other of which kind are the tenets also which divide the various sects of Christianity); but that we speak of a system, the very basis and postulatum of which was a supernatural character ascribed to a particular person; of a doctrine, the truth wereof depended entirely upon the truth of a matter of fact then recent. establish a new religion, even amongst a few people, or in one single nation, is a thing in itself exceedingly difficult. To reform some corruptions which may have spread in a religion, or to make new regulations in it, is not perhaps