Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

the gospel; and, to a careless observer, their faults
may seem to cast a shade on the faith which they
professed. But the scandal of the pious Christian,
and the fallacious triumph of the Infidel, should
cease as soon as they recollect not only by whom, but
likewise to whom, the divine revelation was given.
The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of
describing religion as she descended from heaven,
arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy
duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover
the inevitable mixture of error and corruption, which
she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among
a weak and degenerate race of beings.
Our curiosity is naturally prompted to inquire by
what means the Christian faith obtained so remark-
able a victory over the established religions of the
earth. To this inquiry, an obvious but satisfactory
answer may be returned ; that it was owing to the
convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the
ruling providence of its great Author. But as truth
and reason seldom find so favourable a reception in
the world, and as the wisdom of Providence frequently
condescends to use the passions of the human heart,
and the general circumstances of mankind, as instru-
ments to execute its purpose; we may still be per-
mitted, though with becoming submission, to ask,
not indeed what were the first, but what were the
secondary causes of the rapid growth of the Christian
church. It will, perhaps, appear, that it was most
effectually favoured and assisted by the five following
causes: I. The inflexible, and, if we may use the
expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians, de-
rived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, but pu-
rified from the narrow and unsocial spirit, which,
instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from
embracing the law of Moses. II. The doctrine of
a future life, improved by every additional circum-
VOL. II. F.

CHAP.
XV.

Five causes
of the
growth
of Chris-
tianity.

[merged small][ocr errors]

stance which could give weight and efficacy to that im-
portant truth. III. The miraculous powers ascribed
to the primitive church. IV. The pure and austere
morals of the Christians. V. The union and disci-
pline of the Christian republic, which gradually formed
an independent and increasing state in the heart of
the Roman empire. -
I. We have already described the religious har-
mony of the ancient world, and the facility with
which the most different and even hostile nations
embraced, or at least respected, each other's super-
stitions. A single people refused to join in the com-
mon intercouse of mankind. The Jews, who, under
the Assyrian and Persian monarchies, had languished
for many ages the most despised portion of their
slaves," emerged from obscurity under the successors
of Alexander; and as they multiplied to a surprising
degree in the East, and afterwards in the West, they
soon excited the curiosity and wonder of other na-
tions.” The sullen obstimacy with which they main-
tained their peculiar rites and unsocial manners
seemed to mark them out a distinct species of men,
who boldly professed, or who faintly disguised, their
implacable hatred to the rest of human-kind." Nei-
ther the violence of Antiochus, nor the arts of Herod,
nor the example of the circumjacent nations, could
ever persuade the Jews to associate with the insti-
* Dum Assyrios penes, Medosque, et Persas Oriens fuit, despectissima pars
servientium. Tacit. Hist. v. 8. Herodotus, who visited Asia whilst it obeyed
the last of those empires, slightly mentions the Syrians of Palestine, who, ac-
cording to their own confession, had received from Egypt the right of circum-
cision. See l. ii. c. 104.
* Diodorus Siculus, l. xl. Dion Cassius, l. xxxvii. p. 121. Tacit. Hist. v.
1—9. Justin, xxxvi. 2, 3.
° Tradidit arcano quaecunque volumine Moses,
Non monstrare vias eadem nisi sacra colenti,
Quaesitos ad fontes solos deducere verpas.
The letter of this law is not to be found in the present volume of Moses. But
the wise, the humane Maimonides openly teaches, that if an idolater fall into

THE FIRST CAUSE. Zeal of the Jews.

the water, a Jew ought not to save him from instant death. See Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, l. vi. c. 28.

tutions of Moses the elegant mythology of the Greeks." CHAP.

According to the maxims of universal toleration, the Romans protected a superstition which they despised.” The polite Augustus condescended to give orders, that sacrifices should be offered for his prosperity in the temple of Jerusalem; while the meanest of the posterity of Abraham, who should have paid the same homage to the Jupiter of the Capitol, would have been an object of abhorrence to himself and to his brethren. But the moderation of the conquerors was insufficient to appease the jealous prejudices of their subjects, who were alarmed and scandalized at the ensigns of paganism, which necessarily introduced themselves into a Roman province." The mad attempt of Caligula to place his own statue in the temple of Jerusalem was defeated by the unanimous resolution of a people who dreaded death much less than such an idolatrous profanation." Their attachment to the law of Moses was equal to their detestation of foreign religions. The current of zeal and devotion, as it was contracted into a narrow channel, ran with the strength, and sometimes with the fury, of a torrent.

This inflexible perseverance, which appeared so Its gradual cor. a more awful character, since Providence has deigned

odious or so ridiculous to the ancient world, assumes

* A Jewish sect, which indulged themselves in a sort of occasional conformity, derived from Herod, by whose example and authority they had been seduced, the name of Herodians. But their numbers were so inconsiderable, and their duration so short, that Josephus has not thought them worthy of his notice. See Prideaux's Connection, vol. ii. p. 285.

• Cicero pro Flacco, c. 28.

f Philo de Legatione. Augustus left a foundation for a perpetual sacrifice. Yet he approved of the neglect which his grandson Caius expressed towards the temple of Jerusalem. See Sueton. in August. c. 93, and Casaubon's notes on that passage.

g See, in particular, Joseph. Antiquitat. xvii. 6. xviii. 3. and De Bel. Judaic. i. 33. and ii. 9. Edit. Havercamp.

h Jussia Caio Caesare, effigiem ejus in templo locare, arma potius sumpsere. Tacit. Hist. v. 9. Philo and Josephus gave a very circumstantial, but a very rhetorical, account of this transaction, which exceedingly perplexed the governor of Syria. At the first mention of this idolatrous proposal, king Agrippa fainted away; and did not recover his senses till the third day.

F Q

ro

increase.

to reveal to us the mysterious history of the chosen
people. But the devout and even scrupulous attach-
ment to the Mosaic religion, so conspicuous among
the Jews who lived under the second temple, becomes
still more surprising, if it is compared with the stub-
born incredulity of their forefathers. When the law
was given in thunder from Mount Sinai; when the
tides of the ocean, and the course of the planets were
suspended for the convenience of the Israelites; and
when temporal rewards and punishments were the
immediate consequences of their piety or disobedience,
they perpetually relapsed into rebellion against the
visible majesty of their divine king, placed the idols of
the nations in the sanctuary of Jehovah, and imitated
every fantastic ceremony that was practised in the
tents of the Arabs, or in the cities of Phoenicia. As
the protection of Heaven was deservedly withdrawn
from the ungrateful race, their faith acquired a pro-
portionable degree of vigour and purity. The con-
temporaries of Moses and Joshua had beheld with care-
less indifference the most amazing miracles. Under
the pressure of every calamity, the belief of those
miracles has preserved the Jews of a later period
from the universal contagion of idolatry; and in con-
tradiction to every known principle of the human
mind, that singular people seems to have yielded a
stronger and more ready assent to the traditions of
their remote ancestors, than to the evidence of their
own senses.'
The Jewish religion was admirably fitted for de-
i For the enumeration of the Syrian and Arabian deities, it may be observed,
that Milton has comprised in one hundred and thirty very beautiful lines the
two large and learned syntagmas which Selden had composed on that abstruse
subject.
j “How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they
believe me, for all the signs which I have shewn among them P” (Numbers,

xiv. 11). It would be easy, but it would be unbecoming, to justify the complaint of the Deity from the whole tenor of the Mosaic history.

fence, but it was never designed for conquest; and chAP. it seems probable that the number of proselytes was * never much superior to that of apostates. The divine Their reli- - - - - - - gion better promises were originally made, and the distinguish-ji. ing rite of circumcision was enjoined, to a single . family. When the posterity of Abraham had mul- conquest. tiplied like the sands of the sea, the Deity, from whose mouth they received a system of laws and ceremonies, declared himself the proper and as it were the national God of Israel ; and with the most jealous care separated his favourite people from the rest of mankind. The conquest of the land of Canaan was accompanied with so many wonderful and with so many bloody circumstances, that the victorious Jews were left in a state of irreconcilable hostility with all their neighbours. They had been commanded to extirpate some of the most idolatrous tribes, and the execution of the divine will had seldom been retarded by the weakness of humanity. With the other nations they were forbidden to contract any marriages or alliances, and the prohibition of receiving them into the congregation, which in some cases was perpetual, almost always extended to the third, to the seventh, or even to the tenth generation. The obligation of preaching to the Gentiles the faith of Moses had never been inculcated as a precept of the law, nor were the Jews inclined to impose it on themselves as a voluntary duty. In the admission of new citizens, that unsocial people was actuated by the selfish vanity of the Greeks, rather than by the generous policy of Rome. The descendants of Abraham were flattered by the opinion, that they alone were the heirs of the covenant, and they were apprehensive of diminishing the value of their inheritance, by sharing it too easily with the strangers of the earth. A larger acquaintance with mankind extended their knowledge without cor

« ForrigeFortsett »