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disciples, all history assures us.
How she survived.
their efforts-how the fishermen of Galilee could have overcome their whole array without the help of God, is a problem which infidelity only shows its own weakness by attempting to solve.
4. But the authority of the magistrate was united with the influence of heathen and Jewish priesthoods in zealous hostility to the gospel. In all countries, the support of the religion of the state was the duty of the magistrate. Toleration, among the most civilized heathens, much as it has been eulogized by infidels, allowed of no religion that would not permit entire communion on the part of its followers in the worship appointed by the state. On this condition it countenanced the utmost latitude of belief and practice. But to refuse conformity with the national rites, and worship to the national gods, was an unpardonable offence not only to the gods, but to the civil authority. This it was that excited so much wonder among the Gentiles, and nerved the secular arm with such deadly offence against the disciples of Christ. "Keep yourselves from idols," was a precept that met the pagan Greek and Roman, whenever he beheld a Christian. "What can be the reason," said a Roman prefect to an Alexandrian bishop, "why
* 66 "The Athenian notion of toleration is well described by Socrates, and much resembles the opinion on that subject that many entertain even in our own times. 'It appears to me,' says Socrates, 'that the Athenians do not greatly care what sentiments a man holds, provided he keeps them to himself; but if he attempts to instruct others, then they are indignant."" Douglas on Errors, etc., p. 212.
you may not still adore that God of yours, supposing him to be a God, in conjunction with our gods?" "We worship no other God," was the Christian's answer;* a declaration which from the sword of a heathen magistrate could have no forbearance, and being everywhere received as a characteristic principle of the gospel, called out the whole power of the civil governments of the Gentiles to unite with their priesthoods in its destruction.
5. To these associated powers were added the prejudices and passions of all the people. These, among the Gentiles, were powerful, not only in favor of their own idolatries, but especially in aversion to a religion originating among Jews; still more to a religion advocated by Jews who were despised and persecuted by their own despised countrymen; and yet a great deal more to a religion so spiritual and holy, so utterly at war with vice and idolatry, as that of the gospel.
See, in the epistle to the Romans, a picture from the pencil of a master, of the fierce passions, the vicious debasements, which universally characterized the gentile nations in the days of St. Paul. "Filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who, knowing the judg
* Euseb. Hist. Eccl. b. 7, ch. 11.
ment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."* This description is borne out to the letter by the testimonies of heathen writers. Paul has furnished a picture of the morals of his own nation corresponding with it in all essential features. What then could the gospel, with all its holy duties and spiritual doctrines, encounter in such a world, but a most violent opposition from the whole mass of the people?
6. But the wisdom and pride of the heathen philosophers were by no means the least formidable enemies with which the gospel had to contend. Their sects, though numerous and exceedingly various, were all agreed in proudly trusting in themselves that they were wise, and despising others. Their published opinions, their private speculations, their personal immorality, made them irreconcilable adversaries of Christianity. It went up into their schools, and called their wisdom foolishness, and rebuked their self-conceit. It "came not with excellency of speech," or "the enticing words of man's wisdom," "doting about questions and strifes of words;" but, knowing nothing among men, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified, it just bade them repent, be converted, become as little children, and believe in a crucified Saviour for peace with God. This was indeed, "to the Greek, foolishness." "What will this babbler say?" "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods," were the taunting words of certain of the Epi
cureans and Stoics, when they encountered St. Paul. Mockery was the natural expression of their minds, "when they heard of the resurrection of the dead."* The apostles, therefore, in attempting to propagate the gospel among the Gentiles, were opposed by all the wit and learning and sophistry, all the pride and jealousy and malice, of every sect of philosophers. And how formidable was this hostility, is obvious from the great credit, superior even to that of the priests, among the higher classes of society, which those sects had obtained. "Whoever pretended to learning or virtue, was their disciple; the greatest magistrates, generals, kings, ranged themselves under their discipline, were trained up in their schools, and professed the opinions they taught."+
7. In connection with these powerful adversaries, consider the character of the age in which the apostles undertook the propagation of Christianity. It was distinguished as one of profound peace among the nations, when the minds of men were peculiarly capable of deliberately investigating the claims of the gospel; it was the Augustan age, when philosophy thronged the cities with her disciples, and every description of polite literature was in the highest cultivation. Its peculiar feature was directly the reverse of credulity. No age of the world, before or since, was so extensively characterized by scepticism. While the great mass of the plebeians were superstitiously given to idolatry, the patricians were no less corrupted with opinions which went to the denial of all religion. + Lyttleton's Conversion of St. Paul.
Among the various schools which then divided the learned of the Roman empire, those which declared openly against the most fundamental truths of religion were much the most numerous. Of this description were the Epicureans and Academics: the former maintaining that the soul was mortal, and that, if gods there were, they took no care of human affairs; the latter, that to arrive at truth was impossible— that "whether the gods existed or not, whether the soul was mortal or immortal, virtue preferable to vice, or vice to virtue," could not be ascertained. These two sects, the one atheist, the other too sceptical even to believe in atheism, were the most numerous of all in the age of the apostles, and were particularly encouraged by the liberality of the rich and the protection of the powerful. From this prevalence of philosophy, "falsely so called," the age was distinguished for curious and bold inquiry; the learned everywhere, like those of Athens, spending their time in little else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.* It was also, for the same reason, an age of special contempt for whatever claimed to be received as supernatural. While every city, through the influence of the priests and magistrates, was wholly given to idolatry, so far as the multitude and the external aspect of all classes were concerned; yet, in the inner schools of philosophy, and the private opinions
Cicero complains, that of all sects of philosophers, this made the most remarkable progress and gained the most adherents. De Finibus.
+ Mosheim's Hist., part 1, sec. 21.
+ Acts, ch. 17.