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the Gospel itself contains that they must believe, forsooth, that twelve illiterate fishermen succeeded in changing the religion of the world. Alack! alack! though heaven forefend that I should be taken for one of those infidels whom I am doing all I can to bring into the way of truth, yet, from all I could ever learn, they don't believe that the twelve illiterate fishermen had any finger in the pye at all, or any thing to do with the matter; and, moreover, tell me, that though very pretty books, are very pretty things, yet there is an awkward difference between their saying a thing for themselves, and having it said for them.
Ere Christianity then was established by the sword of Constantine, we have to give some account of its previous existence and extent during the 325 years pending which it was not established, and of the motives and principles that could have induced that High and Mighty Prince to become its convert.
To assist us in this important calculation, his good Lordship assures us, from the Acts of the Apostles, which were written by an Apostle, “ that the number of converts to the Christian religion began to increase considerably, almost immediately after our Saviour's ascension.” Yes, his ascension! And what has that to do with balloons and sky-rockets; Began to increase considerable ! almost !" What an accurate calculation ! Yet, for all this, whatever the Apostles may have said, I hope it is no impiety to say of them what Jesus Christ allowed would have been his own case, that“ if they honour themselves their honour is nothing."
It is not pretended by any historian that the Acts of the Apostles was written before the years 63 or 64, so that unless we ascribe the composition to the most plenary inspiration, we shall hardly expect arithmetical accuracy in the account of the number of persons present at an assembly; yet his Lordship telts, s, in round numbers, that the first assembly of disciples consisted of 123. His authority was less precise ; for the Acts of the Apostles, in the passage referred to, tells us that the number was only about one hundred and twenty. I should have been at a loss to have accounted for the odd three, but, recollecting that the Bishop, like myself, was orthodox, and would lose no opportunity of a good hit at the Unitarians, I guess we are to throw in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and then you will find the reckoning makes exactly 123.
About a week after this, three thousand were converted in one day, because they were so charmed with St. Peter's sermon, in which he told them, that this divine religion was all “ blood and fire, and vapour of smoke.” This three thousand, like Sir John Falstaff's men in buff, very soon increased to five thousand; and as a hop and a stride generally leads to a jump, his good Lordship makes free to tell us, that within a few years the number of believers had increased to myriads, which, as it only makes them
ten times more than they really were, and is for the glory of God, is but a moderate and allowable bounce. And with this last account, we are obliged to bid farewell to the history of the infant church, as resting on the basis of inspired authority.
Inspired authority we must all respect; to its sacred dictates we must all succumb: and every body knows how faithful a Minister and tender a guardian of the Church of England I have been, in the repeated warnings which I have given to my Reverend Brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, to take care how they go down stairs, and grapple with weapons that the wicked can play with as well as they! We have no Act of Parliament to make Apostles of Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, or any other of those sulky Pagans, who afford us but here and there a skinny picking of Christian evidence, as begrudgingly as if it were the periosteum of their own bones. Notting is known with certainty of what was going on in the Christian Church for the first hundred years : but, I dare say, every thing was quite right-though methinks, nevertheless, it was but a scurvy trick of the wise virgins not to send us any of their oil when our lamps had gone out.
“ The mysterious darkness at the crucifixion happened during the life-time of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy: and each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of nature, but not a word have they said of the greatest phenomenon of which the
ortal eye was ever witness.”—Gibbon, vol. ii. p. 379. Pliny the Younger, (let us make the most of him) Caius Plinius Cæcilius Secundus, at last, about the year 110, wrote a letter from Bithynia to the Emperor Trajan at Rome, to inform him, (be it observed, as News at Rome) that a wicked and immoderate superson was then existing in that distant province, " that it had seized not cities only, but the lesser towns also, and the open country.” But the Bishop takes care to omit that Pliny, after complaining of the extensive prevalence of that superstition, adds however, that it was at that time greatly on the decline. While Justin Martyr, who suffered for his Christianity in the year 157, has spoiled his testimony to the prevalence of Christianity, by not happening to be aware that there was any material difference between Jesus Christ and the Delian Apollo.
It is to the epocha of Constantine that we must look to ascertain the triumphs of the Cross. Christianity, like the glowworm, owes all its splendour to surrounding darkness. Ciceros, Horaces, or Virgils, were any longer to be found, not even a Lucan or a Seneca—the decline of every thing, even in the commonest mechanic arts, as well as in eloquence and virtue, gave the correlative ascendancy to religion; and universal tyranny and confusion marshalled the progress of Constantine and Jesus. The secret and insignificant sect, like the frost-scotched
adder, had slept unnoticed and unknown while there was virtue, wisdom, and truth, on earth : but these had perished; Marcus AURELIUS was no more; Rome had seen her last good man; and the world grew ripe for damnation and the Gospel.
There is in the consciousness of that unsullied innocence and all-perfect virtue, which speaks in the bright eyes and eloquent beauty which surrounds me, and which can only be guilty of making orators ever and anon forget their periods ; there is, indeed, a joy so sweet, a satisfaction so entire, as saints can never feign, nor sinners feel. What nothing earthly gives, nor can destroy, the soul's calm sunshine, the heart-felt joy, is virtue's prize—and enriched with this, she defies the Gospel, nor asks its blessing, nor regards its curse. The guilty only have need of salvation; and it is only to the guilty that the offer of it is not an insult.
But Constantine, the evangelical Constantine, the perfect model and exemplar of all saints, had a father-in-law whom he impelled to hang himself; a brother-in-law whom he strangled; a beautiful nephew, at only twelve or thirteen years old, whose throat he cut; an innocent wife, whom he suffocated; a noble son, whom he beheaded. So, when he had made a clear house for bimself, he gave his mind to religion, and sent for the priests of Jupiter to pour the balm of spiritual consolation into his sinsick soul. But they, deluded men, were not perfect in their art, and the voice of Pagan piety sounded like the thunders of Mount Sinai
“ Ah nimium faciles qui tristia crimina cædis
Fluminea totti posse putetis aqua." Ah! fatally deceived, who think that the guilt of murder can be expiated. While Christianity,
" like the sweet south, That breathes
a bank of violets, Stealing and giving odours;" softly whispered, “ the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin ;" that was the text that suited him, and Constantine unfurled the blood-stained banner of the Cross. The terrors of a military force silenced the faint and unsupported murmurs of the Pagans; the dread of Hell's eternal blazes taught the weak that it was at any rate safest to believe; and the dagger of assassination taught the wise, that it was safest to seem to believe.
From him and his example have all “, religious Kings, Princes, and Governors,” emulated the character, or claimed the title, of DEFENDER Of The Faith: while to Him who holds it now, appertains the singular distinction of having been the first that ever held it with humanity and justice. With what morality, with what truth, or seeming of truth, then, can a divine origination, or
supernatural causes, be pretended for a religion, which never existed, nor would have existed, but by means of violence and fraud; and never triumphed, but by the defeat of all that was honourable, just, and good, among men? I speak not unadvisedly, nor deliver assertions which I am not able and prepared to prove; I have not chosen to defend myself as craft and falsehood are defended, by delivering under legal protection, or with the solemn, drawling cant, and melancholy grimaces of pulpit dogmas, which no man may question, and statements which no man may answer : but I have sought, I have courted, I have challenged refutation -“ Num fingo, num mentior, cupis refelli quid enim laboro nisi ut veritas in omni quæstione illustretur.” And I call on all who boast a scholar's name, or all whose research or learning can have qualified them to have known more of the world's history than their own immediate experience has presented, to disprove if they.can the truths which I maintain, Let them shew some age or country in the world where Christianity was propagated by any other means than the cunning of priests and the cruelty of soldiers. Wherever she has marched, desolation has tracked her progress; wherever she has paused, affliction has mourned her triumr.ph. Death or baptism were the terms offered by bloody conquerors to oppressed and insulted nations-Alfred, Hojedo, Ximenes, Torquemada, Cortes, Pizarro, aud Henry, and such as they, men whose understandings never knew what truth meant; whose hearts were strangers to pity and compunction; were the booted Apostles and soldiers of Christ Jesus, they accomplished the mandate, or the prediction, which declared, that he came not to send peace on earth, but a sword. And now, if this be truth, how wicked, how foolish, how impotent, to be angry, with him who has told it; if it be not so, how easy, how obvious, how incumbent, is the duty of those who can do so, to prove the contrary. And be it borne in mind by every one, that the question now at issue touching the propagation of the Gospel, or as it is to stand in your vote, Whether the proposition which has been read is valid or invalid, affects the public accusation which I have put forth, and still maintain, against all Ministers and Preachers of the Gospel, not standing in the line of Apostolical succession, or holding, as I do, the indelible character derived from the gift and calling of the Holy Ghost—that they are deceivers of the people; and it is not by recriminating on the accuser, but by answering the accusation, that they will vindicate themselves; and as I shall hail the feeblest attempt to do so as a pledge of sincerity, and an indication of innocence, so shall I consider the shrinking from so manifest a duty, under any pretext whatever, as a virtual admission, that that accusation is felt to be unanswerable.
A FREE TRANSLATION FROM THE FRENCH OF “ DE
After a nap of twenty thousand years,
The God of us poor Christian souls awoke;
And see what's doing upon earth. What joke
But sighs and groans when men their God invoke;
May I be cursed to all eternity.”
Soon spied the planet wbirling like a top;
To rattle on till fate the car should stop;
But turned to poison by the heart's “ black drop;"
Both black and white, the frozen and the roast;
And of my goodness and my power boast;
To worship those whom I (they say) love most
In rusty black, a shuffling canting crew;
That what they preach, they do not practise too;
They do indeed kick up a grand to-do,
When I created your most glorious earth;
Daubed with black ochre; enemies to mirth.
All pleasure had been stifled in the birth,
When pestered you should be by devils blue;
To wrap each sense in bliss, I sent to you;
Without from angels pilfering their due;