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THE PROPAGATION OF CHRISTIANITY.
THERE is a peculiarity in the argument for the divine authority of Christianity, which we cannot but notice in the commencement of this lecture. While the several parts unite with the utmost harmony and prodigious strength in the construction of one grand system of evidence, each is a perfect argument in itself, and capable of furnishing, had we nothing else on which to depend, an ample support for the whole fabric of Christianity. We speak of the several parts composing that general division to which these lectures are restricted: the external evidence, such as the miracles, the prophecies, and that on which we are now about to enter, the propagation of Christianity. The two former have been discussed. We praise the subject, not the lecturer, in saying that we have not only established on solid ground the genuineness of the miracles of the gospel, and the prophetic attestation to the divine mission of our Lord; but that, in having done thus, we have twice finished the proof of Christianity as a divine revelation. It was complete when we had shown that Jesus and his apostles were attended by the credentials of genuine miracles. It was commenced again, and completed a second time, by a course of argument entirely dif
ferent, when we had shown that Jesus was a prophet, as well as the great subject of prophecy. We are now to begin anew, hoping to prove a third time, and by a course of evidence entirely different from either of the preceding, that the gospel of Christ is none other than "the glorious gospel of the blessed God." Our argument will be drawn from the rapid propagation of the gospel, in contrast with the difficulties it had to overcome.
It was only forty days after the resurrection of Christ, that he delivered to his little band of apostles the parting charge, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." "Go, teach," or disciple, "all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." In other words, Go, carry the war of the truth into the midst of its enemies; think not your work completed till you have planted the cross upon the high places of the heathen, and have gathered together my elect "from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Such was the work intrusted to those few unlearned, despised disciples, who formed almost the whole strength of the Christian church in the day when their beloved Master was received out of their sight, and ascended into heaven. Now let us consider, in the first division of this lecture,
I. THE DIFFICULTIES they had to surmount in executing this command. Be it remarked,
1, That the idea of propagating a new religion, to the exclusion of every other, was at that time a perfect novelty to all mankind, with the exception of
perhaps a few individuals of the Jews, specially enlightened in the prophetic declarations of the Old Testament scriptures. The Jewish religion was indeed sufficiently exclusive; but in its external organization it was neither designed nor adapted for exten`sive promulgation. Nothing could have been more perfectly foreign to all the reigning opinions, prejudices, and dispositions of that insulated nation, in the days of the apostles, than the thought of attempting to convert even a single city of the Gentiles to their system of religion. Their zeal was indeed extremely energetic in behalf of whatever involved the security and honor of their faith; but in regard to other nations, it was the zeal of jealousy to keep them at a great distance, rather than of invitation to bring them to a participation in their superior privileges.
The charge of the Saviour to his apostles was, if possible, still more novel to the Gentiles than the Jews. Heathenism had never been propagated from place to place. In its innumerable forms, it had grown up out of the depraved dispositions of human nature all over the world, as thorns and thistles, though never sown by the husbandman, are found everywhere on the face of the earth. Without a creed, it was without principle; and therefore it had nothing to contend for but the privilege of assuming any form, worshipping any idol, practising any ritual, and pursuing any absurdity, which the craft of the priesthood or the superstitions and vices of the people might select. It never was imagined by any description of pagans, that all other forms of religion
were not as good for the people observing them, as theirs were for them; or that any dictate of kindness or common-sense should lead them to attempt the subversion of the gods of their neighbors, for the sake of establishing their own in their stead. So that nothing could have been more perfectly new, surprising, or offensive to the whole gentile world, than the duty laid upon the first advocates of Christianity, to go into all nations, asserting the exclusive claims of the gospel, denouncing the validity of all other religions, and laboring to bring over every creature to the single faith of Christ. Had Christianity been content to stand, without urging its right to stand alone, the heathen nations might have allowed it as much toleration as they were accustomed to yield to the various systems of idolatry among themselves. An altar would perhaps have been vouchsafed in many an idoltemple, to the Christian's God, and an image in honor of Christ might have been permitted a place among the divinities of the Pantheon. But its character being rigidly exclusive, and yet its spirit universally benevolent, the apostles must have seen at once that they were charged with a work not only perfectly new, but which would necessarily bring them into conflict with all the institutions, passions, customs, prejudices, and powers of all nations of the world.*
2. But the difficulties to be surmounted by the
* A religion under which all men could unite with one another appeared to the ancients an impossibility. “A man must be very weak," said Celsus, "to imagine that Greeks and barbarians, in Asia, Europe, and Lybia, can ever unite under the same system of religion."
apostles were not confined to the novelty of their enterprise, and the exclusiveness of their faith. In the whole character of the gospel, as a system of religious doctrine and a rule of heart and life, there was a barrier in the way of its progress, which to human wisdom and power would have rendered their cause perfectly desperate. To propagate any religion at the expense of every other would have been to them, in their own strength, destitute as they were of all earthly auxiliaries, a hopeless task; but to propagate the religion of the gospel was unspeakably more difficult. A system of doctrine partaking in the least degree of any of its characteristic qualities, was a thing entirely unimagined among the heathen, and scarcely thought of by one in ten thousand of the degenerate posterity of Abraham. Religion, among the Gentiles, was a creature of the state; it consisted exclusively in the outward circumstance of temples, and altars and images, and priests and sacrifices, and festivals and lustrations. It multiplied its objects of worship at the pleasure of the civil authorities; taught no system of doctrine, recognized no system of morality, required nothing of the heart, committed the life of man to unlimited discretion, and allowed any one to stand perfectly well with the gods, on the trifling condition of a little show of respect for their worship, to whatever extent he indulged in the worst passions and lowest propensities of his nature. Heathen religion, in all its forms, was the most perfect contrast to every thing spiritual, holy, humbling, self-denying. Nothing could have been more foreign to every habit