Page images



prove the truth of the facts of the Gospel, it only proves, what we have no reason to doubt, that the early professors of Christianity were for the most part firm believers in the divine origin of their faith. There was no serious persecution of the Christians before the year 64, at which period very few of the original preachers could have been alive. Edicts were promulged, principally upon political grounds, against the Christians; but the persecution was carried on, as in all ages, without any inquiry, and the truth of the miracles was not an object of interest, or even of suspicion, to either the bigoted Jews or the more liberal but superstitious Romans. It is therefore untrue to say that the martyrs died in attestation to facts, the truth or falsehood of which they must have known. The Roman persecutors cared nothing at all about the miracles-most of them believed them. They proposed to apotheosise Jesus, but they objected to a new religion. The Christians were not required to confess that Jesus was a false prophet, but only to cease teaching in his name, and to conform to the established religious customs." The enthusiastic faith of the Apostles, which gave a divine sanction to their miraculous narrations, would doubtless have induced some of them to persist in the same story under torture or threats of death, if it had been necessary, but it was not so. This was not the point of dispute-no one then doubted the frequent occurrence of miracles.

The Apostles were human beings, and they were religious enthusiasts, supported by the consciousness of propagating doctrines of religion and of morals infinitely superior to the cruel, exclusive, hopeless Judaical faith in which they had been educated, and to the licentious Paganism of the Gentiles; and they were as honest as enthusiasts can be whose minds are distorted by constantly dwelling on mysterious subjects, and whose feel. ings are exaggerated by dazzling and new hopes of eternal glori. fication in Heaven. Is there no such passion among men as pride ?

Pride in founding and leading a new geot, pride in being looked up to by

• Whately's “ Kingdom of Christ,” p. 71.



their adherents as the apostles of God, and as the familiar companions of God himself, as the twelve appointed judges who were to sit on twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel at the last day? Is there nothing preferable in such a life to that of a carpenter, a fisherman, or a tax-gatherer, the basest of all employments among the Jews ? Yes, there is, even if that life were spent in poverty and danger, and ended with martyrdom. And is not a fisherman's life spent in poverty and danger ?

The Christian congregations in the first centuries were of course perfectly willing to receive as sacred truths in writing, what had already been verbally taught and preached to them; and would joyfully accept any miraculous stories which increased their confidence, and the certainty and dignity of their religion. Even if the Christians did not at first keep strict possession of their sacred books, and refrain from exposing them to the sneers of unbelievers, wbich is very probable, still it is very certain that, whatever may be the opinions of our Bible Societies now, the Apostles and their immediate successors did not trust to the circulation of the Scriptures for the propagation of the faith; and copies were therefore not made for that purpose. Manuscript copies cannot be multiplied without considerable time and labour, and no one would have found it worth his while to transcribe them for a profitable sale. But, even supposing that the Jews and Gentiles could have procured copies of the Gospels soon after their appearance, I doubt whether any one of them would have taken the trouble to examine and criticise the Scriptures of such an inconsiderable sect as the Christians were during the first and second centuries. How many Christians have read the sacred books of the Mormons in this inquisitive age ?

It has been said, that if we are to doubt the truth of the Gospel Narratives, equal discredit would be thrown upon the whole range of ancient history, and that we should be compelled to disbelieve everything that has ever been recorded. The fact is, that ancient history is not to be trusted much. We just take it for what it is worth; we do not reject the whole of the Roman history because it contains the story of the miraculous conception of Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus, of their wet-nurse the

[ocr errors]



wolf, and many other old legends; we reject or explain away whatever is supernatural—we retain whatever is probable; and we are able, by comparing one author with another, and with existing memorials, to make even the most absurd and romantic legends useful to us in our historical and antiquarian researches. But we do not pretend to have any certainty of belief in the va. rious events of the most approved ancient histories.

In these days, when every occurrence of the slightest general interest is immediately recorded in various publications of opposing and hostile opinions--is viewed in every light, discussed in every point, and, if in the least improbable, sifted to the uttermost -we may hope to be always tolerably certain about the events that are passing around us; but in ancient times, and even a few centuries ago, this was not the case. Intelligence of events in the age and country in which Christ appeared was not carried with great rapidity; and in those days there were no printing presses, newspapers, or reviews. Therefore, when we find that the gospel histories are filled with incredible stories—that they were written in an ignorant and superstitious age-that they were written by men who were interested in making these in. credible stories pass as true—that they were not written sooner than thirty or forty years after the supposed events—that the obscure origin of the religion, and the credulous and uninquiring temper of the time, prevented any examination being made by public authority or private inquisition into the truth of these incredible stories—then, surely, in accordance with every dictate of reason, the evidence of the Christian miracles must be pronounced to be utterly worthless and contemptible.



EXETER Hall orators and Fifth of November preachers would persuade as that all the Roman Catholic legends of miraculous cures and miraculous conversions were deliberately invented by the priests of that sect from sordid and ambitious motives. This is very far from the truth; the vast majority of Catholic miracles have accumulated from most disinterested sources, and have not received ecclesiastical confirmation until many years after their supposed occurrence. I have before remarked that the late Bishop Milner relates, in his “ End of Religious Controversy," several instances of recent miracles in England. Will any one be hardy enough to assert that this worthy ecclesiastic did not really believe in these miracles, and that he did not firmly believe in the annual miraculous liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius at Naples ? Will any one be impudent enough to maintain that this respectable person intended to impose a mass of premeditated falsehoods upon the public ? I will not; but of this I am convinced, that if any doubts should ever have arisen in Dr. Milner's mind as to the truth of these miracles, he would summarily have dismissed them as temptations of the devil; and if any strong and well-founded doubts should ever have forced themselves

upon his mind, he would bave contented himseif with the reflection that it was much more to the glory of God and to the interest of the holy Catholic Church that these miracles should continue to be believed, than that he should busy himself by spreading rumours of fraud, and thus cast suspicion and scandal upon the whole church, give cause for its enemies to triumph, and help all doubters up the first step to atheism.

But Protestant Christians will object that all the pious frauds of which I have spoken were perpetrated by the votaries of a cor



rupt and degenerate church-that their pure reformed religion, which is a restoration of original and evangelical Christianity, cannot be accused of these dishonest practices—and that, consequently, it is grossly unfair to impute such frauds to the Apostles and the Christians of the apostolic age.

Protestantism was certainly an improvement on Papal Christianity as far as liberty, humanity, and honesty are concerned. The Reformation was a new dispensation, imperatively called for by the progress of learning, science, and free inquiry. It was also in a great measure a protest against the numerous frauds and impositions of the church, detected or strongly suspected by the increased knowledge and inquisitiveness of the age. Protestantism has since that time been debarred from pretending to the honour of miraculous testimony, both by the more rational and moral spirit of the countries where it prevails, and by the necessity of asserting the cessation of miracles in order to get rid of the Catholic claim of being the only true church, illustrated since the death of Christ by a series of occasional miracles. To assign any period for this cessation has always proved impossible, for all the Christian fathers and doctors from the first century until the Reformation, and the Catholic clergy to the present day, have constantly appealed to the notoriety of miracles as attestations of the sanctity and identity of the church. Pretended miracles have been performed or histories of them have been invented, reported, and believed, in every age of Christianity, and in every country of Europe: the annual liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius at Naples, the miracles performed by the holy coat of Tréves, and the winking picture of the Virgin at Rimini, show us that the Catholic Church has no intention of relinquishing miraculous testimony even in the nineteenth century. With these broad facts before our eyes, it is sheer impudence to maintain that in a more dark and superstitious age the Apostles, actuated by stronger and fresher religious zeal and more benevolent motives, could not perpetrate similar pious frauds--and that a more ignorant, more credulous, and less inquiring people would not joyfully and implicitly believe any miraculous story which tended to exalt and glorify the person and character of the founder of their faith,

« PreviousContinue »