§ 2. (continued)


When I implied that in some points of view Christianity has not answered the expectations of the old prophecies, of which it claims to be the fulfilment, I had in mind principally the contrast which is presented to us between the picture which they draw of the universality of the kingdom of the Messiah, and that partial development of it through the world, which is all the Christian Church can show; and again the contrast between the rest and peace which they said He was to introduce, and the Church's actual history,—the conflicts of opinion which have raged within its pale, the violent acts and unworthy lives of many of its rulers, and the moral degradation of great masses of its people. I do not profess to meet these difficulties here, except by saying that the failure of Christianity in one respect in corresponding to those prophecies cannot destroy the force of its correspondence to them in others; just as we may allow that the portrait of a friend is a faulty likeness to him, and yet be quite sure that it is his portrait. What I shall actually attempt to show here is this,—that Christianity was quite aware from the first of its own prospective future, so unlike the expectations which the prophets would excite concerning it, and that it meets the difficulty thence arising by anticipation, by giving us its own predictions of what it was to be in historical {448} fact, predictions which are at once explanatory comments upon the Jewish Scriptures, and direct evidences of its own prescience.

I think it observable then, that, though our Lord claims to be the Messiah, He shows so little of conscious dependence on the old Scriptures, or of anxiety to fulfil them; as if it became Him, who was the Lord of the Prophets, to take His own course, and to leave their utterances to adjust themselves to Him as they could, and not to be careful to accommodate Himself to them. The evangelists do indeed show some such natura1 zeal in His behalf, and thereby illustrate what I notice in Him by the contrast. They betray an earnestness to trace in His Person and history the accomplishment of prophecy, as when they discern it in His return from Egypt, in His life at Nazareth, in the gentleness and tenderness of His mode of teaching, and in the various minute occurrences of His passion; but He Himself goes straight forward on His way, of course claiming to be the Messiah of the Prophets [Note 1], still not so much recurring to past prophecies, as uttering new ones, with an antithesis not unlike that which is so impressive in the Sermon on the Mount, when He first says, "It has been said by them of old time," and then adds, "But I say unto you." Another striking instance of this is seen in the Names under which He spoke of Himself, which {449} have little or no foundation in anything which was said of Him beforehand in the Jewish Scriptures. They speak of Him as Ruler, Prophet, King, Hope of Israel, Offspring of Judah, and Messiah; and His Evangelists and Disciples call Him Master, Lord, Prophet, Son of David, King of Israel, King of the Jews, and Messiah or Christ; but He Himself, though, I repeat, He acknowledges these titles as His own, especially that of the Christ, chooses as His special designations these two, Son of God and Son of Man, the latter of which is only once given Him in the Old Scriptures, and by which He corrects any narrow Judaic interpretation of them; while the former was never distinctly used of Him before He came, and seems first to have been announced to the world by the Angel Gabriel and St. John the Baptist. In those two Names, Son of God and Son of Man, declaratory of the two natures of Emmanuel, He separates Himself from the Jewish Dispensation, in which He was born, and inaugurates the New Covenant.

This is not an accident, and I shall now give some instances of it, that is, of what I may call the independent autocratic view which He takes of His own religion, into which the old Judaism was melting, and of the prophetic insight into its spirit and its future which that view involves. In quoting His own sayings from the Evangelists for this purpose, I assume (of which there is no reasonable doubt) that they wrote before any historical events had happened of a nature to cause them unconsciously to modify or to colour the language which their Master used. {450}

1. First, then, the fact has been often insisted on as a bold conception, unheard of before, and worthy of divine origin, that He should even project a universal religion, and that to be effected by what may be called a propagandist movement from one centre. Hitherto it had been the received notion in the world, that each nation had its own gods. The Romans legislated upon that basis, and the Jews had held it from the first, holding of course also, that all gods but their own God were idols and demons. It is true that the Jews ought to have been taught by their prophecies what was in store for the world and for them, and that their first dispersion through the Empire centuries before Christ came, and the proselytes which they collected around them in every place, were a kind of comment on the prophecies larger than their own; but we see what was, in fact, when our Lord came, their expectation from those prophecies, in the passages which I have quoted above from the Roman historians of His day. But He from the first resisted those plausible, but mistaken interpretations of Scripture. In His cradle indeed He had been recognized by the Eastern Sages as their king; the Angel announced that He was to reign over the house of Jacob; Nathanael, too, owned Him as the Messiah with a regal title; but He, on entering upon His work, interpreted these anticipations in His own way, and that not the way of Theudas and Judas of Galilee, who took the sword, and collected soldiers about them,—nor the way of the Tempter, who offered Him "all the kingdoms of the world." In the words of the Evangelists, He began, not to fight, but "to {451} preach;" and further, to "preach the kingdom of heaven," saying, "The time is accomplished, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe the Gospel." This is the significant title, "the kingdom of heaven,"—the more significant, when explained by the attendant precept of repentance and faith,—on which He founds the polity which He was establishing from first to last. One of His last sayings before He suffered was, "My kingdom is not of this world." And His last words, before He left the earth, when His disciples asked him about His kingdom, were that they, preachers as they were, and not soldiers, should "be His witnesses to the end of the earth," should "preach to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem," should "go into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature," should "go and make disciples of all nations till the consummation of all things."

The last Evangelist of the four is equally precise in recording the initial purpose with which our Lord began His ministry, viz. to create an empire, not by force, but by persuasion. "Light is come into the world: every one that doth evil, hateth the light, but he that doth truth, cometh to the light." "Lift up your eyes, and see the countries, for they are white already to harvest." "No man can come to Me, except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him." "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself."

Thus, while the Jews, relying on their Scriptures with great appearance of reason, looked for a deliverer who should conquer with the sword, we find that Christianity, from the first, not by an afterthought upon {452} trial and experience, but as a fundamental truth, magisterially set right that mistake, transfiguring the old prophecies, and bringing to light, as St. Paul might say, "the mystery which had been hidden from ages and generations, but now was made manifest in His saints, the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you," not simply over you, but in you, by faith and love, "the hope of glory."

2. I have partly anticipated my next remark, which relates to the means by which the Christian enterprise was to be carried into effect. That preaching was to have a share in the victories of the Messiah was plain from Prophet and Psalmist; but then Charlemagne preached, and Mahomet preached, with an army to back them. The same Psalm which speaks of those "who preach good tidings," speaks also of their King's "foot being dipped in the blood of His enemies;" but what is so grandly original in Christianity is, that on its broad field of conflict its preachers were to be simply unarmed, and to suffer, but to prevail. If we were not so familiar with our Lord's words, I think they would astonish us. "Behold, I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves." This was to be their normal state, and so it was; and all the promises and directions given to them imply it. "Blessed are they that suffer persecution;" "blessed are ye when they revile you;" "the meek shall inherit the earth;" "resist not evil;" "you shall be hated of all men for My Name's sake;" "a man's enemies shall be they of his own household;" "he that shall persevere to the end, he shall he saved." What sort of encouragement was this for men who were {453} to go about an immense work? Do men in this way send out their soldiers to battle, or their sons to India or Australia? The King of Israel hated Micaiah, because he always "prophesied of him evil." "So persecuted they the Prophets that were before you," says our Lord. Yes, and the Prophets failed; they were persecuted and they lost the battle. "Take, my brethren," says St. James, "for an example of suffering evil, of labour and patience, the Prophets, who spake in the Name of the Lord." They were "racked, mocked, stoned, cut asunder, they wandered about,—of whom the world was not worthy," says St. Paul. What an argument to encourage them to aim at success by suffering, to put before them the precedent of those who suffered and who failed!

Yet the first preachers, our Lord's immediate disciples, saw no difficulty in a prospect to human eyes so appalling, so hopeless. How connatural this strange, unreasoning, reckless courage was with their regenerate state is shown most signally in St. Paul, as having been a convert of later vocation. He was no personal associate of our Lord's, yet how faithfully he echoes back our Lord's language! His instrument of conversion is "the foolishness of preaching;" "the weak things of the earth confound the strong;" "we hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no home;" "we are reviled and bless, we are persecuted, and blasphemed, and are made the refuse of this world, and the offscouring of all things." Such is the intimate comprehension, on the part of one who had never seen our Lord on earth, and knew little from His original {454} disciples of the genius of His teaching;—and considering that the prophecies, upon which he had lived from his birth, for the most part bear on their surface a contrary doctrine, and that the Jews of that day did commonly understand them in that contrary sense, we cannot deny that Christianity, in tracing out the method by which it was to prevail in the future, took its own, independent line, and, in assigning from the first a rule and a history to its propagation, a rule and a history which have been carried out to this day, rescues itself from the charge of but partially fulfilling those Jewish prophecies, by the assumption of a prophetical character of its own.

3. Now we come to a third point, in which the Divine Master explains, and in a certain sense corrects, the prophecies of the Old Covenant, by a more exact interpretation of them from Himself. I have granted that they seemed to say that His coming would issue in a period of peace and religiousness. "Behold," says the Prophet, "a king shall reign in justice, and princes shall rule in judgment. The fool shall no more be called prince, neither shall the deceitful be called great. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid. They shall not hurt nor kill in all My holy mountain, for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea."

These words seem to predict a reversal of the consequences of the fall, and that reversal has not yet been granted to us, it is true; but let us consider how distinctly Christianity warns us against any such anticipation. {455} While it is so forcibly laid down in the Gospels that the history of the kingdom of heaven begins in suffering and sanctity, it is as plainly said that it results in unfaithfulness and sin; that is to say, that, though there are at all times many holy, many religious men in it, and though sanctity, as at the beginning, is ever the life and the substance and the germinal seed of the Divine Kingdom, yet there will ever be many too, there will be more, who by their lives are a scandal and injury to it, not a defence. This again is an astonishing announcement, and the more so when viewed in contrast with the precepts delivered by our Lord in His Sermon on the Mount, and His description to the Apostles of their weapons and their warfare. So perplexing to Christians was the fact when fulfilled, as it was in no long time on a large scale, that three of the early heresies more or less originated in obstinate, unchristian refusal to readmit to the privileges of the Gospel those who had fallen into sin. Yet our Lord's words are express: He tells us that "Many are called, few are chosen;" in the parable of the Marriage Feast, the servants who are sent out gather together "all that they found, both bad and good;" the foolish virgins "had no oil in their vessels;" amid the good seed an enemy sows seed that is noxious or worthless; and "the kingdom is like to a net which gathered together all kind of fishes;" and "at the end of the world the Angels shall go forth, and shall separate the wicked from among the just."

Moreover, He not only speaks of His religion as destined to possess a wide temporal power, such, that, {456} as in the case of the Babylonian, "the birds of the air should dwell in its branches," but He opens on us the prospect of ambition and rivalry in its leading members, when He warns His disciples against desiring the first places in His kingdom; nay, of grosser sins, in His description of the Ruler, who "began to strike his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink and be drunken,"—passages which have an awful significance, considering what kind of men have before now been His chosen representatives, and have sat in the chair of His Apostles.

If then it be objected that Christianity does not, as the old prophets seem to promise, abolish sin and irreligion within its pale, we may answer, not only that it did not engage to do so, but that actually in a prophetical spirit it warned its followers against the expectation of its so doing.


According to our Lord's announcements before the event, Christianity was to prevail and to become a great empire, and to fill the earth; but it was to accomplish this destiny, not as other victorious powers had done, and as the Jews expected, by force of arms or by other means of this world, but by the novel expedient of sanctity and suffering. If some aspiring party of this day, the great Orleans family, or a branch of the Hohenzollern, wishing to found a kingdom, were to profess, as their only weapon, the practice of virtue, they would not startle us more than it startled {457} a Jew eighteen hundred years ago, to be told that his glorious Messiah was not to fight, like Joshua or David, but simply to preach. It is indeed a thought so strange, both in its prediction and in its fulfilment, as urgently to suggest to us that some Divine Power went with him who conceived and proclaimed it. This is what I have been saying;—now I wish to consider the fact, which was predicted, in itself, without reference to its being the subject whether of a prediction or of a fulfilment: that is, the history of the rise and establishment of Christianity; and to enquire whether it is a history that admits of being resolved, by any philosophical ingenuity, into the ordinary operation of moral, social, or political causes.

As is well known, various writers have attempted to assign human causes in explanation of the phenomenon: Gibbon has especially mentioned five, viz. the zeal of Christians, inherited from the Jews, their doctrine of a future state, their claim to miraculous power, their virtues, and their ecclesiastical organization. Let us briefly consider them.

He thinks these five causes, when combined, will fairly account for the event; but he has not thought of accounting for their combination. If they are ever so available for his purpose, still that availableness arises out of their coincidence, and out of what does that coincidence arise? Until this is explained, nothing is explained, and the question had better have been let alone. These presumed causes are quite distinct from each other, and, I say, the wonder is, what made them come together. How came a multitude of Gentiles to {458} be influenced with Jewish zeal? How came zealots to submit to a strict, ecclesiastical régime? What connexion has a secular régime with the immortality of the soul? Why should immortality, a philosophical doctrine, lead to belief in miracles, which is a superstition of the vulgar? What tendency had miracles and magic to make men austerely virtuous? Lastly, what power was there in a code of virtue, as calm and enlightened as that of Antoninus, to generate a zeal as fierce as that of Maccabæus? Wonderful events before now have apparently been nothing but coincidences, certainly; but they do not become less wonderful by cataloguing their constituent causes, unless we also show how these came to be constituent.

However, this by the way; the real question is this,—are these historical characteristics of Christianity, also in matter of fact, historical causes of Christianity? Has Gibbon given proof that they are? Has he brought evidence of their operation, or does he simply conjecture in his private judgment that they operated? Whether they were adapted to accomplish a certain work, is a matter of opinion; whether they did accomplish it is a question of fact. He ought to adduce instances of their efficiency before he has a right to say that they are efficient. And the second question is, what is this effect, of which they are to be considered as causes? It is no other than this, the conversion of bodies of men to the Christian faith. Let us keep this in view. We have to determine whether these five characteristics of Christianity were efficient causes of bodies of men becoming Christians? I think {459} they neither did effect such conversions, nor were adapted to do so, and for these reasons:—

1. For first, as to zeal, by which Gibbon means party spirit, or esprit de corps; this doubtless is a motive principle when men are already members of a body, but does it operate in bringing them into it? The Jews were born in Judaism, they had a long and glorious history, and would naturally feel and show esprit de corps; but how did party spirit tend to transplant Jew or Gentile out of his own place into a new society, and that a society which as yet scarcely was formed in a society? Zeal, certainly, may be felt for a cause, or for a person; on this point I shall speak presently; but Gibbon's idea of Christian zeal is nothing better than the old wine of Judaism decanted into new Christian bottles, and would be too flat a stimulant, even if it admitted of such a transference, to be taken as a cause of conversion to Christianity without definite evidence in proof of the fact. Christians had zeal for Christianity after they were converted, not before.

2. Next, as to the doctrine of a future state. Gibbon seems to mean by this doctrine the fear of hell; now certainly in this day there are persons converted from sin to a religious life, by vivid descriptions of the future punishment of the wicked; but then it must be recollected that such persons already believe in the doctrine thus urged upon them. On the contrary, give some Tract upon hell-fire to one of the wild boys in a large town, who has had no education, who has no faith; and instead of being startled by it, he will laugh at it as something frightfully ridiculous. {460} The belief in Styx and Tartarus was dying out of the world at the time that Christianity came in, as the parallel belief now seems to be dying out in all classes of our own society. The doctrine of eternal punishment does only anger the multitude of men in our large towns now, and make them blaspheme; why should it have had any other effect on the heathen population in the age when our Lord came? Yet it was among those populations, that He and His made their way from the first. As to the hope of eternal life, that doubtless, as well as the fear of hell, was a most operative doctrine in the case of men who had been actually converted, of Christians brought before the magistrate, or writhing under torture, but the thought of eternal glory does not keep bad men from a bad life now, and why should it convert them then from their pleasant sins, to a heavy, mortified, joyless existence, to a life of ill-usage, fright, contempt, and desolation.

3. That the claim to miracles should have any wide influence in favour of Christianity among heathen populations, who had plenty of portents of their own, is an opinion in curious contrast with the objection against Christianity which has provoked an answer from Paley, viz. that "Christian miracles are not recited or appealed to, by early Christian writers themselves, so fully or so frequently as might have been expected." Paley solves the difficulty as far as it is a fact, by observing, as I have suggested, that "it was their lot to contend with magical agency, against which the mere production of these facts was not sufficient for the convincing of their adversaries:" {461} "I do not know," he continues, "whether they themselves thought it quite decisive of the controversy." A claim to miraculous power on the part of Christians, which was so unfrequent as to become now an objection to the fact of their possessing it, can hardly have been a principal cause of their success.

4. And how is it possible to imagine with Gibbon that what he calls the "sober and domestic virtues" of Christians, their "aversion to the luxury of the age," their "chastity, temperance, and economy," that these dull qualities were persuasives of a nature to win and melt the hard heathen heart, in spite too of the dreary prospect of the barathrum, the amphitheatre, and the stake? Did the Christian morality by its severe beauty make a convert of Gibbon himself? On the contrary, he bitterly says, "It was not in this world that the primitive Christians were desirous of making themselves either agreeable or useful." "The virtue of the primitive Christians, like that of the first Romans, was very frequently guarded by poverty and ignorance." "Their gloomy and austere aspect, their abhorrence of the common business and pleasures of life, and their frequent predictions of impending calamities, inspired the Pagans with the apprehension of some danger which would arise from the new sect." Here we have not only Gibbon hating the moral and social bearing, but his heathen also. How then were those heathen overcome by the amiableness of that which they viewed with such disgust? We have here plain proof that the Christian character repelled the heathen; where is the evidence that it converted them? {462}

5. Lastly, as to the ecclesiastical organization, this, doubtless, as time went on, was a special characteristic of the new religion; but how could it directly contribute to its extension? Of course it gave it strength, but it did not give it life. We are not born of bones and muscles. It is one thing to make conquests, another to consolidate an empire. It was before Constantine that Christians made their great conquests. Rules are for settled times, not for time of war. So much is this contrast felt in the Catholic Church now, that, as is well known, in heathen countries and in countries which have thrown off her yoke, she suspends her diocesan administration and her Canon Law, and puts her children under the extraordinary, extra-legal jurisdiction of Propaganda.

This is what I am led to say on Gibbon's Five Causes. I do not deny that they might have operated now and then; Simon Magus came to Christianity in order to learn the craft of miracles, and Peregrinus from love of influence and power; but Christianity made its way, not by individual, but by broad, wholesale conversions, and the question is, how they originated?

It is very remarkable that it should not have occurred to a man of Gibbon's sagacity to inquire, what account the Christians themselves gave of the matter. Would it not have been worth while for him to have let conjecture alone, and to have looked for facts instead? Why did he not try the hypothesis of faith, hope, and charity? Did he never hear of repentance towards God, and faith in Christ? Did he not recollect the many words of Apostles, Bishops, Apologists, Martyrs, {463} all forming one testimony? No; such thoughts are close upon him, and close upon the truth; but he cannot sympathize with them, he cannot believe in them, he cannot even enter into them, because he needs the due formation for such an exercise of mind [Note 2]. Let us see whether the facts of the case do not come out clear and unequivocal, if we will but have the patience to endure them.

A Deliverer of the human race through the Jewish nation had been promised from time immemorial. The day came when He was to appear, and He was eagerly expected; moreover, One actually did make His appearance at that date in Palestine, and claimed to be He. He left the earth without apparently doing much for the object of His coming. But when He was gone, His disciples took upon themselves to go forth to preach to all parts of the earth with the object of preaching Him, and collecting converts in His Name. After a little while they are found wonderfully to have succeeded. Large bodies of men in various places are to be seen, professing to be His disciples, owning Him as their King, and continually swelling in number and penetrating into the populations of the Roman Empire; at length they convert the Empire itself. All this is historical fact. Now, we want to know the farther historical fact, viz. the cause of their conversion; in other words, what were the topics of that preaching which was so effective? If we believe what is told us by the preachers and their converts, the answer is plain. They "preached Christ;" they called on men {464} to believe, hope, and place their affections, in that Deliverer who had come and gone; and the moral instrument by which they persuaded them to do so, was a description of the life, character, mission, and power of that Deliverer, a promise of His invisible Presence and Protection here, and of the Vision and Fruition of Him hereafter. From first to last to Christians, as to Abraham, He Himself is the centre and fulness of the dispensation. They, as Abraham, "see His day, and are glad."

A temporal sovereign makes himself felt by means of his subordinate administrators, who bring his power and will to bear upon every individual of his subjects who personally know him not; the universal Deliverer, long expected, when He came, He too, instead of making and securing subjects by a visible graciousness or majesty, departs;—but is found, through His preachers, to have imprinted the Image [Note 3] or idea of Himself in the minds of His subjects individually; and that Image, apprehended and worshipped in individual minds, becomes a principle of association, and a real bond of those subjects one with another, who are thus united to the body by being united to that Image; and moreover that Image, which is their moral life, when they have been already converted, is also the original instrument of their conversion. It is the Image of Him who fulfils the one great need of human nature, the Healer of its wounds, the Physician of the soul, this Image it is which both creates faith, and then rewards it. {465}

When we recognize this central Image as the vivifying idea both of the Christian body and of individuals in it, then, certainly, we are able to take into account at least two of Gibbon's causes, as having, in connexion with that idea, some influence both in making converts and in strengthening them to persevere. It was the Thought of Christ, not a corporate body or a doctrine, which inspired that zeal which the historian so poorly comprehends; and it was the Thought of Christ which gave a life to the promise of that eternity, which without Him would be, in any soul, nothing short of an intolerable burden.

Now a mental vision such as this, perhaps will be called cloudy, fanciful, unintelligible; that is, in other words, miraculous. I think it is so. How, without the Hand of God, could a new idea, one and the same, enter at once into myriads of men, women, and children of all ranks, especially the lower, and have power to wean them from their indulgences and sins, and to nerve them against the most cruel tortures, and to last in vigour as a sustaining influence for seven or eight generations, till it founded an extended polity, broke the obstinacy of the strongest and wisest government which the world has ever seen, and forced its way from its first caves and catacombs to the fulness of imperial power?

In considering this subject, I shall confine myself to the proof, as far as my limits allow, of two points,—first, that this Thought or Image of Christ was the principle of conversion and of fellowship; and next, that {466} among the lower classes, who had no power, influence, reputation, or education, lay its principal success [Note 4].

As to the vivifying idea, this is St. Paul's account of it: "I make known to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; by which also you are saved. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures," &c., &c. "I am the least of the Apostles; but, whether I or they, so we preached, and so you believed." "It has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." "We preach Christ crucified." "I determined to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." "Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, shall appear, then you also shall appear with Him in glory." "I live, but now not I, but Christ liveth in me."

St. Peter, who has been accounted the master of a separate school, says the same: "Jesus Christ, whom you have not seen, yet love; in whom you now believe, and shall rejoice."

And St. John, who is sometimes accounted a third master in Christianity: "It hath not yet appeared what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is." {467}

That their disciples followed them in this sovereign devotion to an Invisible Lord, will appear as I proceed.

And next, as to the worldly position and character of his disciples, our Lord, in the well-known passage, returns thanks to His Heavenly Father, "because," He says, "Thou hast hid these things"—the mysteries of His kingdom—"from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones." And, in accordance with this announcement, St. Paul says that "not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble," became Christians. He, indeed, is one of those few; so were others his contemporaries, and, as time went on, the number of these exceptions increased, so that converts were found, not a few, in the high places of the Empire, and in the schools of philosophy and learning; but still the rule held, that the great mass of Christians were to be found in those classes which were of no account in the world, whether on the score of rank or of education.

We all know this was the case with our Lord and His Apostles. It seems almost irreverent to speak of their temporal employments, when we are so simply accustomed to consider them in their spiritual associations; but it is profitable to remind ourselves that our Lord Himself was a sort of smith, and made ploughs and cattle-yokes. Four Apostles were fishermen, one a petty tax collector, two husbandmen, and another is said to have been a market gardener [Note 5]. When Peter {468} and John were brought before the Council, they are spoken of as being, in a secular point of view, "illiterate men, and of the lower sort," and thus they are spoken of in a later age by the Fathers.

That their converts were of the same rank as themselves, is reported, in their favour or to their discredit, by friends and enemies, for four centuries. "If a man be educated," says Celsus in mockery, "let him keep clear of us Christians; we want no men of wisdom, no men of sense. We account all such as evil. No; but, if there be one who is inexperienced, or stupid, or untaught, or a fool, let him come with good heart." "They are weavers," he says elsewhere, "shoemakers, fullers, illiterate, clowns." "Fools, low-born fellows," says Trypho. "The greater part of you," says Cæcilius, "are worn with want, cold, toil, and famine; men collected from the lowest dregs of the people; ignorant, credulous women;" "unpolished, boors, illiterate, ignorant even of the sordid arts of life; they do not understand even civil matters, how can they understand divine?" "They have left their tongs, mallets, and anvils, to preach about the things of heaven," says Libanius. "They deceive women, servants, and slaves," says Julian. The author of Philopatris speaks of them as "poor creatures, blocks, withered old fellows, men of downcast and pale visages." As to their religion, it had the reputation popularly, according to various Fathers, of being an anile superstition, the discovery of old women, a joke, a madness, an infatuation, an absurdity, a fanaticism.

The Fathers themselves confirm these statements, so {469} far as they relate to the insignificance and ignorance of their brethren. Athenagoras speaks of the virtue of their "ignorant men, mechanics, and old women." "They are gathered," says St. Jerome, "not from the Academy or Lyceum, but from the low populace." "They are whitesmiths, servants, farm-labourers, woodmen, men of sordid trades, beggars," says Theodoret. "We are engaged in the farm, in the market, at the baths, wine-shops, stables, and fairs; as seamen, as soldiers, as peasants, as dealers," says Tertullian. How came such men to be converted? and, being converted, how came such men to overturn the world? Yet they went forth from the first, "conquering and to conquer."

The first manifestation of their formidable numbers is made just about the time when St. Peter and St. Paul suffered martyrdom, and was the cause of a terrible persecution. We have the account of it in Tacitus. "Nero," he says, "to put an end to the common talk [that Rome had been set on fire by his order], imputed it to others, visiting with a refinement of punishment those detestable criminals who went by the name of Christians. The author of that denomination was Christus, who had been executed in Tiberius's time by the procurator, Pontius Pilate. The pestilent superstition, checked for a while, burst out again, not only throughout Judea, the first seat of the evil, but even throughout Rome, the centre both of confluence and outbreak of all that is atrocious and disgraceful from every quarter. First were arrested those who made no secret of their sect; and by this clue a vast multitude {470} of others, convicted not so much of firing the city, as of hatred to the human race. Mockery was added to death; clad in skins of beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs; they were nailed up to crosses; they were made inflammable, so that, when day failed, they might serve as lights. Hence, guilty as they were, and deserving of exemplary punishment, they excited compassion, as being destroyed, not for the public welfare, but from the cruelty of one man."

The two Apostles suffered, and a silence follows of a whole generation. At the end of thirty or forty years, Pliny, the friend of Trajan, as well as of Tacitus, is sent as that Emperor's Proprætor into Bithynia, and is startled and perplexed by the number, influence, and pertinacity of the Christians whom he finds there, and in the neighbouring province of Pontus. He has the opportunity of being far more fair to them than his friend the historian. He writes to Trajan to know how he ought to deal with them, and I will quote some portions of his letter.

He says he does not know how to proceed with them, as their religion has not received toleration from the state. He never was present at any trial of them; he doubted whether the children among them, as well as grown people, ought to be accounted as culprits; whether recantation would set matters right, or whether they incurred punishment all the same; whether they were to be punished, merely because Christians, even though no definite crime was proved against them. His way had been to examine them, and put questions to them; if they confessed the {471} charge, he gave them one or two chances, threatening them with punishment; then, if they persisted, he gave orders for their execution. "For," he argues, "I felt no doubt that, whatever might be the character of their opinions, stubborn and inflexible obstinacy deserved punishment. Others there were of a like infatuation, whom, being citizens, I sent to Rome."

Some satisfied him; they repeated after him an invocation to the gods, and offered wine and incense to the Emperor's image, and in addition, cursed the name of Christ. "Accordingly," he says, "I let them go; for I am told nothing can compel a real Christian to do any of these things." There were others, too, who sacrificed; who had been Christians, some of them for as many as twenty years.

Then he is curious to know something more definite about them. "This, the informers told me, was the whole of their crime or mistake, that they were accustomed to assemble on a stated day before dawn, and to say together a hymn to Christ as a god, and to bind themselves by an oath [sacramento] (not to any crime, but on the contrary) to keep from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of promise, and making free with deposits. After this they used to separate, and then to meet again for a meal, which was social and harmless. However, they left even that off, after my Edict against their meeting."

This information led him to put to the torture two maid-servants, "who were called ministers," in order to find out what was true, what was false in it; but he says he could make out nothing, except a depraved {472} and excessive superstition. This is what led him to consult the Emperor, "especially because of the number who were implicated in it; for these are, or are likely to be, many, of all ages, nay, of both sexes. For the contagion of this superstition has spread, not only in the cities, but about the villages and the open country." He adds that already there was some improvement. "The almost forsaken temples begin to be filled again, and the sacred solemnities after a long intermission are revived. Victims, too, are again on sale, purchasers having been most rare to find."

The salient points in this account are these, that, at the end of one generation from the Apostles, nay, almost in the lifetime of St. John, Christians had so widely spread in a large district of Asia, as nearly to suppress the Pagan religions there; that they were people of exemplary lives; that they had a name for invincible fidelity to their religion; that no threats or sufferings could make them deny it; and that their only tangible characteristic was the worship of our Lord.

This was at the beginning of the second century; not a great many years after, we have another account of the Christian body, from an anonymous Greek Christian, in a letter to a friend whom he was anxious to convert. It is far too long to quote, and difficult to compress; but a few sentences will show how strikingly it agrees with the account of the heathen Pliny, especially in two points,—first, in the numbers of the Christians, secondly, on devotion to our Lord as the vivifying principle of their association.

"Christians," says the writer, "differ not from other {473} men in country, or speech, or customs. They do not live in cities of their own, or speak in any peculiar dialect, or adopt any strange modes of living. They inhabit their native countries, but as sojourners; they take their part in all burdens, as if citizens, and in all sufferings, as if they were strangers. In foreign countries they recognize a home, and in every home they see a foreign country. They marry like other men, but do not disown their children. They obey the established laws, but they go beyond them in the tenor of their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all; they are not known, and they are condemned; they are poor, and make many rich; they are dishonoured, yet in dishonour they are glorified; they are slandered, and they are cleared; they are called names, and they bless. By the Jews they are assailed as aliens, by the Greeks they are persecuted, nor can they who hate them say why.

"Christians are in the world, as the soul in the body. The soul pervades the limbs of the body, and Christians the cities of the world. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though suffering no wrong from it; and the world hates Christians. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and Christians love their enemies. Their tradition is not an earthly invention, nor is it a mortal thought which they so carefully guard, nor a dispensation of human mysteries which is committed to their charge; but God Himself, the Omnipotent and Invisible Creator, has from heaven established among men His Truth and His Word, the Holy and Incomprehensible, and has deeply fixed the same in {474} their hearts; not, as might be expected, sending any servant, angel, or prince, or administrator of things earthly or heavenly, but the very Artificer and Demiurge of the Universe. Him God hath sent to man, not to inflict terror, but in clemency and gentleness, as a King sending a King who was His Son; He sent Him as God to men, to save them. He hated not, nor rejected us, nor remembered our guilt, but showed Himself long-suffering, and, in His own words, bore our sins. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the just for the unjust. For what other thing, except His Righteousness, could cover our guilt? In whom was it possible for us, lawless sinners, to find justification, save in the Son of God alone? O sweet interchange! O heavenly workmanship past finding out! O benefits exceeding expectation! Sending, then, a Saviour, who is able to save those who of themselves are incapable of salvation, He has willed that we should regard Him as our Guardian, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Physician; our Mind, Light, Honour, Glory, Strength, and Life." [Note 6]

The writing from which I have been quoting is of the early part of the second century. Twenty or thirty years after it St. Justin Martyr speaks as strongly of the spread of the new Religion: "There is not any one race of men," he says, "barbarian or Greek, nay, of those who live in waggons, or who are Nomads, or Shepherds in tents, among whom prayers and eucharists are not offered to the Father and Maker of the Universe, through the name of the crucified Jesus. {475}

Towards the end of the century, Clement:—"The word of our Master did not remain in Judea, as philosophy remained in Greece, but has been poured out over the whole world, persuading Greeks and Barbarians alike, race by race, village by village, every city, whole houses, and hearers one by one, nay, not a few of the philosophers themselves."

And Tertullian, at the very close of it, could in his Apologia even proceed to threaten the Roman Government:—"We are a people of yesterday," he says; "and yet we have filled every place belonging to you, cities, islands, castles, towns, assemblies, your very camp, your tribes, companies, palaces, senate, forum. We leave you your temples only. We can count your armies, and our numbers in a single province will be greater. In what war with you should we not be sufficient and ready, even though unequal in numbers, who so willingly are put to death, if it were not in this Religion of ours more lawful to be slain than to slay?"

Once more, let us hear the great Origen, in the early part of the next century:—"In all Greece and in all barbarous races within our world, there are tens of thousands who have left their national laws and customary gods for the law of Moses and the word of Jesus Christ; though to adhere to that law is to incur the hatred of idolaters, and the risk of death besides to have embraced that word. And considering how, in so few years, in spite of the attacks made on us, to the loss of life or property, and with no great store of teachers, the preaching of that word has found its way into every part of the world, so that Greek and {476} barbarians, wise and unwise, adhere to the religion of Jesus, doubtless it is a work greater than any work of man."

We need no proof to assure us that this steady and rapid growth of Christianity was a phenomenon which startled its contemporaries, as much as it excites the curiosity of philosophic historians now; and they too had their own ways then of accounting for it, different indeed from Gibbon's, but quite as pertinent, though less elaborate. These were principally two, both leading them to persecute it,—the obstinacy of the Christians and their magical powers, of which the former was the explanation adopted by educated minds, and the latter chiefly by the populace.

As to the former, from first to last, men in power magisterially reprobate the senseless obstinacy of the members of the new sect, as their characteristic offence. Pliny, as we have seen, found it to be their only fault, but one sufficient to merit capital punishment. The Emperor Marcus seems to consider obstinacy the ultimate motive-cause to which their unnatural conduct was traceable. After speaking of the soul, as "ready, if it must now be separated from the body, to be extinguished, or dissolved, or to remain with it;" he adds, "but the readiness must come of its own judgment, not from simple perverseness, as in the case of Christians, but with considerateness, with gravity, and without theatrical effect, so as to be persuasive." And Diocletian, in his Edict of persecution, professes it to be his "earnest aim to punish the depraved persistence of those most wicked men." {477}

As to the latter charge, their founder, it was said, had gained a knowledge of magic in Egypt, and had left behind him in his sacred books the secrets of the art. Suetonius himself speaks of them as "men of a magical superstition;" and Celsus accuses them of "incantations in the name of demons." The officer who had custody of St. Perpetua, feared her escape from prison "by magical incantations." When St. Tiburtius had walked barefoot on hot coals, his judge cried out that Christ had taught him magic. St. Anastasia was thrown into prison as dealing in poisons; the populace called out against St. Agnes, "Away with the witch! away with the sorceress!" When St. Bonosus and St. Maximilian bore the burning pitch without shrinking, Jews and heathen cried out, "Those wizards and sorcerers!" "What new delusion," says the magistrate concerning St. Romanus, in the Hymn of Prudentius, "has brought in these sophists who deny the worship of the Gods? how doth this chief sorcerer mock us, skilled by his Thessalian charm to laugh at punishment?" [Note 7]

It is indeed difficult to enter into the feelings of irritation and fear, of contempt and amazement, which were excited, whether in the town populace or in the magistrates, in the presence of conduct so novel, so unvarying, so absolutely beyond their comprehension. The very young and the very old, the child, the youth in the heyday of his passions, the sober man of middle age, maidens and mothers of families, boors and slaves as well as philosophers and nobles, solitary confessors {478} and companies of men and women,—all these were seen equally to defy the powers of darkness to do their worst. In this strange encounter it became a point of honour with the Roman to break the determination of his victim, and it was the triumph of faith when his most savage expedients for that purpose were found to be in vain. The martyrs shrank from suffering like other men, but such natural shrinking was incommensurable with apostasy. No intensity of torture had any means of affecting what was a mental conviction; and the sovereign Thought in which they had lived was their adequate support and consolation in their death. To them the prospect of wounds and loss of limbs was not more terrible than it is to the combatant of this world. They faced the implements of torture as the soldier takes his post before the enemy's battery. They cheered and ran forward to meet his attack, and as it were dared him, if he would, to destroy the numbers who kept closing up the foremost rank, as their comrades who had filled it fell. And when Rome at last found she had to deal with a host of Scævolas, then the proudest of earthly sovereignties, arrayed in the completeness of her material resources, humbled herself before a power which was founded on a mere sense of the unseen.

In the colloquy of the aged Ignatius, the disciple of the Apostles, with the Emperor Trajan, we have a sort of type of what went on for three, or rather four centuries. He was sent all the way from Antioch to Rome to be devoured by the beasts in the amphitheatre. As he travelled, he wrote letters to various Christian {479} Churches, and among others to his Roman brethren, among whom he was to suffer. Let us see whether, as I have said, the Image of that Divine King, who had been promised from the beginning, was not the living principle of his obstinate resolve. The old man is almost fierce in his determination to be martyred. "May those beasts," he says to his brethren, "be my gain, which are in readiness for me! I will provoke and coax them to devour me quickly, and not to be afraid of me, as they are of some whom they will not touch. Should they be unwilling, I will compel them. Bear with me; I know what is my gain. Now I begin to be a disciple. Of nothing of things visible or invisible am I ambitious, save to gain Christ. Whether it is fire or the cross, the assault of wild beasts, the wrenching of my bones, the crunching of my limbs, the crushing of my whole body, let the tortures of the devil all assail me, if I do but gain Christ Jesus." Elsewhere in the same Epistle he says, "I write to you, still alive, but longing to die. My Love is crucified! I have no taste for perishable food. I long for God's Bread, heavenly Bread, Bread of life, which is Flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I long for God's draught, His Blood, which is Love without corruption, and Life for evermore." It is said that, when he came into the presence of Trajan, the latter cried out, "Who are you, poor devil, who are so eager to transgress our rules?" "That is no name," he answered, "for Theophorus." "Who is Theophorus?" asked the Emperor. "He who bears Christ in his breast." In the Apostle's words, already cited, he had "Christ in him, the hope {480} of glory." All this may be called enthusiasm; but enthusiasm affords a much more adequate explanation of the confessorship of an old man, than do Gibbon's five reasons.

Instances of the same ardent spirit, and of the living faith on which it was founded, are to be found wherever we open the Acta Martyrum. In the outbreak at Smyrna, in the middle of the second century, amid tortures which even moved the heathen bystanders to compassion, the sufferers were conspicuous for their serene calmness. "They made it evident to us all," says the Epistle of the Church, "that in the midst of those sufferings they were absent from the body, or rather, that the Lord stood by them, and walked in the midst of them."

At that time Polycarp, the familiar friend of St. John, and a contemporary of Ignatius, suffered in his extreme old age. When, before his sentence, the Proconsul bade him "swear by the fortunes of Cæsar, and have done with Christ," his answer betrayed that intimate devotion to the self-same Idea, which had been the inward life of Ignatius. "Eighty and six years," he answered, "have I been His servant, and He has never wronged me, but ever has preserved me; and how can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?" When they would have fastened him to the stake, he said, "Let alone; He who gives me to bear the fire, will give me also to stand firm upon the pyre without your nails."

Christians felt it as an acceptable service to Him who loved them, to confess with courage and to suffer {481} with dignity. In this chivalrous spirit, as it may be called, they met the words and deeds of their persecutors, as the children of men return bitterness for bitterness, and blow for blow. "What soldier," says Minucius, with a reference to the invisible Presence of our Lord, "does not challenge danger more daringly under the eye of his commander?" In that same outbreak at Smyrna, when the Proconsul urged the young Germanicus to have mercy on himself and on his youth, to the astonishment of the populace he provoked a wild beast to fall upon him. In like manner, St. Justin tells us of Lucius, who, when he saw a Christian sent off to suffer, at once remonstrated sharply with the judge, and was sent off to execution with him; and then another presented himself, and was sent off also. When the Christians were thrown into prison, in the fierce persecution at Lyons, Vettius Epagathus, a youth of distinction who had given himself to an ascetic life, could not bear the sight of the sufferings of his brethren, and asked leave to plead their cause. The only answer he got was to be sent off the first to die. What the contemporary account sees in his conduct is, not that he was zealous for his brethren, though zealous he was, nor that he believed in miracles, though he doubtless did believe; but that he "was a gracious disciple of Christ, following the Lamb whithersoever He went."

In that memorable persecution, when Blandina, a slave, was seized for confessorship, her mistress and her fellow-Christians dreaded lest, from her delicate make, she should give way under the torments; but {482} she even tired out her tormentors. It was a refreshment and relief to her to cry out amid her pains, "I am a Christian." They remanded her to prison, and then brought her out for fresh suffering a second day and a third. On the last day she saw a boy of fifteen brought into the amphitheatre for death; she feared for him, as others had feared for her; but he too went through his trial generously, and went to God before her. Her last sufferings were to be placed in the notorious red-hot chair, and then to be exposed in a net to a wild bull; they finished by cutting her throat. Sanctus, too, when the burning plates of brass were placed on his limbs, all through his torments did but say, "I am a Christian," and stood erect and firm, "bathed and strengthened," say his brethren who write the account, "in the heavenly well of living water which flows from the breast of Christ," or, as they say elsewhere of all the martyrs, "refreshed with the joy of martyrdom, the hope of blessedness, love towards Christ, and the spirit of God the Father." How clearly do we see all through this narrative what it was which nerved them for the combat! If they love their brethren, it is in the fellowship of their Lord; if they look for heaven, it is because He is the Light of it.

Epipodius, a youth of gentle nurture, when struck by the Prefect on the mouth, while blood flowed from it, cried out, "I confess that Jesus Christ is God, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost." Symphorian, of Autun, also a youth, and of noble birth, when told to adore an idol, answered, "Give me leave and I will hammer it to pieces." When Leonidas, {483} the father of the young Origen, was in prison for his faith, the boy, then seventeen, burned to share his martyrdom, and his mother had to hide his clothes to prevent him from executing his purpose. Afterwards he attended the confessors in prison, stood by them at the tribunal, and gave them the kiss of peace when they were led out to suffer, and this, in spite of being several times apprehended and put upon the rack. Also in Alexandria, the beautiful slave, Potamiæna, when about to be stripped in order to be thrown into the cauldron of hot pitch, said to the Prefect, "I pray you rather let me be dipped down slowly into it with my clothes on, and you shall see with what patience I am gifted by Him of whom you are ignorant, Jesus Christ." When the populace in the same city had beaten out the aged Apollonia's teeth, and lit a fire to burn her, unless she would blaspheme, she leaped into the fire herself, and so gained her crown. When Sixtus, Bishop of Rome, was led to martyrdom, his deacon, Laurence, followed him weeping and complaining, "O my father, whither goest thou without thy son?" And when his own turn came, three days afterwards, and he was put upon the gridiron, after a while he said to the Prefect, "Turn me; this side is done." Whence came this tremendous spirit, scaring, nay, offending, the fastidious criticism of our delicate days? Does Gibbon think to sound the depths of the eternal ocean with the tape and measuring-rod of his merely literary philosophy?

When Barulas, a child of seven years old, was scourged to blood for repeating his catechism before {484} the heathen judge—viz. "There is but one God, and Jesus Christ is true God"—his mother encouraged him to persevere, chiding him for asking for some drink. At Merida, a girl of noble family, of the age of twelve, presented herself before the tribunal, and overturned the idols. She was scourged and burned with torches; she neither shed a tear, nor showed other signs of suffering. When the fire reached her face, she opened her mouth to receive it, and was suffocated. At Cæsarea, a girl, under eighteen, went boldly to ask the prayers of some Christians who were in chains before the Prætorium. She was seized at once, and her sides torn open with the iron rakes, preserving the while a bright and joyous countenance. Peter, Dorotheus, Gorgonius, were boys of the imperial bedchamber; they were highly in favour with their masters, and were Christians. They too suffered dreadful torments, dying under them, without a shadow of wavering. Call such conduct madness, if you will, or magic: but do not mock us by ascribing it in such mere children to simple desire of immortality, or to any ecclesiastical organization.

When the persecution raged in Asia, a vast multitude of Christians presented themselves before the Proconsul, challenging him to proceed against them. "Poor wretches!" half in contempt and half in affright, he answered, "if you must die, cannot you find ropes or precipices for the purpose?" At Utica, a hundred and fifty Christians of both sexes and all ages were martyrs in one company. They are said to have been told to burn incense to an idol, or they {485} should be thrown into a pit of burning lime; they without hesitation leapt into it. In Egypt a hundred and twenty confessors, after having sustained the loss of eyes or of feet, endured to linger out their lives in the mines of Palestine and Cilicia. In the last persecution, according to the testimony of the grave Eusebius, a contemporary, the slaughter of men, women, and children, went on by twenties, sixties, hundreds, till the instruments of execution were worn out, and the executioners could kill no more. Yet he tells us, as an eye-witness, that, as soon as any Christians were condemned, others ran from all parts, and surrounded the tribunals, confessing the faith, and joyfully receiving their condemnation, and singing songs of thanksgiving and triumph to the last.

Thus was the Roman power overcome. Thus did the Seed of Abraham, and the Expectation of the Gentiles, the meek Son of man, "take to Himself His great power and reign" in the hearts of His people, in the public theatre of the world. The mode in which the primeval prophecy was fulfilled is as marvellous, as the prophecy itself is clear and bold.

"So may all Thy enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love Thee shine, as the sun shineth in his rising!"

I will add the memorable words of the two great Apologists of the period:—

"Your cruelty," says Tertullian, "though each act be more refined than the last, doth profit you nothing. {486} To our sect it is rather an inducement. We grow up in greater numbers, as often as you cut us down. The blood of the martyrs is their seed for the harvest."

Origen even uses the language of prophecy. To the objection of Celsus that Christianity from its principles would, if let alone, open the whole empire to the irruption of the barbarians, and the utter ruin of civiliz1tion, he replies, "If all Romans are such as we, then too the barbarians will draw near to the Word of God, and will become the most observant of the Law. And every worship shall come to nought, and that of the Christians alone obtain the mastery, for the Word is continually gaining possession of more and more souls."

One additional remark:—It was fitting that those mixed unlettered multitudes, who for three centuries had suffered and triumphed by virtue of the inward Vision of their Divine Lord, should be selected, as we know they were, in the fourth, to be the special champions of His Divinity and the victorious foes of its impugners, at a time when the civil power, which had found them too strong for its arms, attempted, by means of a portentous heresy in the high places of the Church, to rob them of that Truth which had all along been the principle of their strength.


I have been forestalling all along the thought with which I shall close these considerations on the subject of Christianity; and necessarily forestalling it, because it properly comes first, though the course which my argument has taken has not allowed me to introduce it {487} in its natural place. Revelation begins where Natural Religion fails. The Religion of Nature is a mere inchoation, and needs a complement,—it can have but one complement, and that very complement is Christianity.

Natural Religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but it cannot find, it does but look out for the remedy. That remedy, both for guilt and for moral impotence, is found in the central doctrine of Revelation, the Mediation of Christ. I need not go into a subject so familiar to all men in a Christian country.

Thus it is that Christianity is the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham, and of the Mosaic revelations; this is how it has been able from the first to occupy the world and gain a hold on every class of human society to which its preachers reached; this is why the Roman power and the multitude of religions which it embraced could not stand against it; this is the secret of its sustained energy, and its never-flagging martyrdoms; this is how at present it is so mysteriously potent, in spite of the new and fearful adversaries which beset its path. It has with it that gift of staunching and healing the one deep wound of human nature, which avails more for its success than a full encyclopedia of scientific knowledge and a whole library of controversy, and therefore it must last while human nature lasts. It is a living truth which never can grow old.

Some persons speak of it as if it were a thing of history, with only indirect bearings upon modern times; {488} I cannot allow that it is a mere historical religion. Certainly it has its foundations in past and glorious memories, but its power is in the present. It is no dreary matter of antiquarianism; we do not contemplate it in conclusions drawn from dumb documents and dead events, but by faith exercised in ever-living objects, and by the appropriation and use of ever-recurring gifts.

Our communion with it is in the unseen, not in the obsolete. At this very day its rites and ordinances are continually eliciting the active interposition of that Omnipotence in which the Religion long ago began. First and above all is the Holy Mass, in which He who once died for us upon the Cross, brings back and perpetuates, by His literal presence in it, that one and the same sacrifice which cannot be repeated. Next, there is the actual entrance of Himself, soul and body, and divinity, into the soul and body of every worshipper who comes to Him for the gift, a privilege more intimate than if we lived with Him during His long-past sojourn upon earth. And then, moreover, there is His personal abidance in our churches, raising earthly service into a foretaste of heaven. Such is the profession of Christianity, and, I repeat, its very divination of our needs is in itself a proof that it is really the supply of them.

Upon the doctrines which I have mentioned as central truths, others, as we all know, follow, which rule our personal conduct and course of life, and our social and civil relations. The promised Deliverer, the Expectation of the nations, has not done his work by {489} halves. He has given us Saints and Angels for our protection. He has taught us how by our prayers and services to benefit our departed friends, and to keep up a memorial of ourselves when we are gone. He has created a visible hierarchy and a succession of sacraments, to be the channels of His mercies, and the Crucifix secures the thought of Him in every house and chamber. In all these ways He brings Himself before us. I am not here speaking of His gifts as gifts, but as memorials; not as what Christians know they convey, but in their visible character; and I say, that, as human nature itself is still in life and action as much as ever it was, so He too lives, to our imaginations, by His visible symbols, as if He were on earth, with a practical efficacy which even unbelievers cannot deny, so as to be the corrective of that nature, and its strength day by day,—and that this power of perpetuating His Image, being altogether singular and special, and the prerogative of Him and Him alone, is a grand evidence how well He fulfils to this day that Sovereign Mission which, from the first beginning of the world's history, has been in prophecy assigned to Him.

I cannot better illustrate this argument than by recurring to a deep thought on the subject of Christianity, which has before now attracted the notice of philosophers and preachers [Note 8], as coming from the wonderful man who swayed the destinies of Europe in the first years of this century. It was an argument not unnatural in one who had that special passion for human glory, which has been the incentive of so many {490} heroic careers and of so many mighty revolutions in the history of the world. In the solitude of his imprisonment, and in the view of death, he seems to have expressed himself to the following effect:—

"I have been accustomed to put before me the examples of Alexander and Cæsar, with the hope of rivalling their exploits, and living in the minds of men for ever. Yet, after all, in what sense does Cæsar, in what sense does Alexander live? Who knows or cares anything about them? At best, nothing but their names is known; for who among the multitude of men, who hear or who utter their names, really knows anything about their lives or their deeds, or attaches to those names any definite idea? Nay, even their names do but flit up and down the world like ghosts, mentioned only on particular occasions, or from accidental associations. Their chief home is the schoolroom; they have a foremost place in boys' grammars and exercise books; they are splendid examples for themes; they form writing-copies. So low is heroic Alexander fallen, so low is imperial Cæsar, 'ut pueris placeat et declamatio fiat.'

"But, on the contrary" (he is reported to have continued), "there is just One Name in the whole world that lives; it is the Name of One who passed His years in obscurity, and who died a malefactor's death. Eighteen hundred years have gone since that time, but still it has its hold upon the human mind. It has possessed the world, and it maintains possession. Amid the most varied nations, under the most diversified circumstances, in the most {491} cultivated, in the rudest races and intellects, in all classes of society, the Owner of that great Name reigns. High and low, rich and poor, acknowledge Him. Millions of souls are conversing with Him, are venturing on His word, are looking for His Presence. Palaces, sumptuous, innumerable, are raised to His honour; His image, as in the hour of His deepest humiliation, is triumphantly displayed in the proud city, in the open country, in the corners of streets, on the tops of mountains. It sanctifies the ancestral hall, the closet, and the bedchamber; it is the subject for the exercise of the highest genius in the imitative arts. It is worn next the heart in life; it is held before the failing eyes in death. Here, then, is One who is not a mere name, who is not a mere fiction, who is a reality. He is dead and gone, but still He lives,—lives as a living, energetic thought of successive generations, as the awful motive-power of a thousand great events. He has done without effort what others with life-long struggles have not done. Can He be less than Divine? Who is He but the Creator Himself; who is sovereign over His own works, towards whom our eyes and hearts turn instinctively, because He is our Father and our God?" [Note 9]

Here I end my specimens, among the many which might be given, of the arguments adducible for Christianity. I have dwelt upon them, in order to show how I would apply the principles of this Essay to the proof of its divine origin. Christianity is addressed, both as regards its evidences and its contents, to {492} minds which are in the normal condition of human nature, as believing in God and in a future judgment. Such minds it addresses both through the intellect and through the imagination; creating a certitude of its truth by arguments too various for direct enumeration, too personal and deep for words, too powerful and concurrent for refutation. Nor need reason come first and faith second (though this is the logical order), but one and the same teaching is in different aspects both object and proof, and elicits one complex act both of inference and of assent. It speaks to us one by one, and it is received by us one by one, as the counterpart, so to say, of ourselves, and is real as we are real.

In the sacred words of its Divine Author and Object concerning Himself, "I am the Good Shepherd, and I know Mine, and Mine know Me. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them everlasting life, and they shall never perish; and no man shall pluck them out of My hand."

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1. He appeals to the prophecies in evidence of His Divine mission, in addressing the people of Nazareth (Luke iv. 18), St. John's disciples (Matt. xi. 5), and the Pharisees (Matt. xxi. 42, and John v. 39), but not in details. The appeal to details He reserves for His disciples. Vide Matt. xi. 10; xxvi. 24, 31, 54: Luke xxii. 37; xxiv. 27, 46.
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2. Vide supra, pp. 341, 375, 413-416.
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3. Vide supra, pp. 23-30 and 75-80.
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4. Had my limits allowed it, I ought, as a third subject, to have described the existing system of impure idolatry, and the wonderful phenomenon of such multitudes, who had been slaves to it, escaping from it by the power of Christianity,—under the guidance of the great work ("On the Gentile and the Jew") of Dr. Döllinger.
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5. On the subjects which follow, vide Lami, De Eruditione Apostolorum; Mamachius, Origines Christ.; Ruinart, Act. Mart.; Lardner, Credibility, &c.; Fleury, Eccles. Hist.; Kortholt, Calumn. Pagan.; and De Morib. Christ., &c.
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6. Ep. ad Diognet.
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7. Essay on Development of Doctrine, ch. iv. § 1.
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8. Fr. Lacordaire and M. Nicolas.
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9. Occas. Serm., pp. 49-51.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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