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of the educated, it was almost entirely pervaded with scepticism. Add to this its necessary companion, the universal prevalence of unprecedented luxury and dissoluteness of living, and you will have a true outline of the character of the age in which the apostles, by "the foolishness of preaching," knowing "nothing among men, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified," were to "destroy the wisdom of the wise," and convert whole nations to Christianity.
Most evidently was the age peculiarly and entirely unpropitious. Nothing, on human calculation, could have been more certain of utter rejection and contempt at such a time, than the simplicity, spirituality, and holiness of the gospel; especially its two cardinal points, humble repentance and submissive faith.
8. Consider, next, to whom the propagation of the gospel was committed. Who were they that received the commission, "Go, preach the gospel to every creature," and "make disciples of all nations?" Men adapted to such a mighty work in no single qualification, except to show, in their weakness, that their success was altogether of God. They were neither philosophers, nor orators, nor educated men. They were from a class of mankind denominated by the ruling nations, barbarians; they were of that nation among the barbarians, whom all the rest of the world particularly despised; they were of that portion of the nation which was least esteemed by its own members. They were poor, without the least worldly consideration or influence. They were acquainted
with no craft but that of publicans and fishermen. They had never learned any language but that of Galilee, and yet they were to preach to people of all languages. Such were the men whose work it was to assault the high and fenced walls of Judaism—to break the power of heathenism, though entrenched in the vices of the people, upheld by the craft of their priesthoods, defended by the power of all nations, and sanctioned by the traditions of immemorial ages. Such were the men who were to go into the proud schools of philosophy, show their wisdom to be foolishness, teach their teachers, bring out captives to the humble faith of the crucified Nazarene, and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.
9. Consider the circumstances of depression and discouragement in which they commenced this work. The enemies of their Master had just succeeded in putting him to the shame of the cross, under accusation of capital guilt. Their taunting language to the agonizing victim, "If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross," shows what a death-blow they supposed themselves to have given to his cause. All his disciples had forsaken him and fled. The stone upon the mouth of his sepulchre was not heavier than the weight upon their hearts, when they beheld him dead and buried. After a few days they assembled together again in Jerusalem, when an upper room contained the whole congregation of those that believed in Christ. Their cause was universally supposed to have died with its Master. The fact that
he had not been saved by the power of God from the disgrace of crucifixion, was regarded everywhere as a perfect answer to all his claims. Such was the be
ginning of the propagation of the gospel. These were the desperate circumstances in which the unfriended, unprotected, ridiculed apostles were to set up their banner. What could they do?
10. Consider the mode they adopted. They sought no favor from worldly influence; courted no human indulgence; waited for no earthly approbation; paid as little deference to rank, or wealth, or human learning, as to poverty and meanness. They spoke as men having authority-as ambassadors commissioned from a throne, and sustained by a power before which they had a right to demand that priests and philosophers and kings should submit. "Not with enticing words of man's wisdom," did they seek to advance their cause, but in simple reliance upon "the demonstration of the Spirit." Instead of selecting such doctrines as would best conciliate their hearers, and concealing the rest, they fixed their preaching most emphatically on what they knew was the special topic of derision and mockery both to Jew and Greek, glorying in nothing save in the cross of Christ. Instead of seeking retired and ignorant people as the subjects of their efforts; instead of a double doctrine, as the philosophers had-one thing for the world, another for their disciples, a part for the novice, the whole only for the initiated-they kept back nothing anywhere, declaring boldly the whole gospel in the most public places and before the greatest enemies.
"Jesus and the resurrection" were preached as freely to Epicureans and Stoics in Athens, as to publicans and sinners in Jerusalem. Instead of accommodating their declarations in any degree to the vainglorious and vicious characters of those whom they addressed, they declared the wrath of God to be "revealed from heaven against all ungodlienss and unrighteousness of men." To every soul that would be a Christian, they issued the requirement, "depart from iniquity," "crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts," and be willing to be esteemed a fool and persecuted to death for Christ's sake. Such was the mode selected by these powerless Galileans, by which to subdue the fierce opposition of the proud, self-righteous Jews, and to make Christians out of Greeks and Romans, alike devoted to degrading vices and puffed up with the conceit of superior wisdom.
11. Now let us see in what manner the attempt to propagate Christianity was received. It was met everywhere by the most strenuous hostility, and the fiercest persecution. From the first discourse of the apostles, down to the three hundred and fifth year of the Christian era, persecution never entirely ceased, while its more public and general onsets followed one another in such close succession that the church had hardly time to bury her dead before she was calle to prepare more candidates, by thousands at a time, for the tortures and triumphs of martyrdom. The preaching of the apostles began at Jerusalem, and there also persecution began. Saul hunted Christians with the appetite of a bloodhound. Stephen was the
first victim. Soon the brethren were scattered far and wide by the fury of the storm. James was slain with the sword; Peter imprisoned for execution; Paul scourged and stoned, and pursued so continually, that in every city bonds and afflictions awaited him. Whatever Jewish hate, goaded on by a jealous priesthood, could do, was put in requisition to crush the cause. All the devices that Roman governors, seconded by the superstitions and passions of the several nations of heathenism, could employ, were united in the one business of driving back the advancing cause of Christ. His disciples were calumniated as atheists, enemies of man, murderers and devourers of their own children, and as guilty of the most loathsome and horrible practices.* Instruments of torture were exhausted. Jews and Gentiles, soldiers, slaves, governors, and emperors racked their ingenuity to find out new ways of tempting Christians to unfaithfulness; and when they were steadfast, of increasing their agonies without hastening their death. Every province and city and village was a scene of martyrdom. The great principle of the ruling powers was, that this "superstition," as they called it, must at all hazards be put down. "In a short time, the punishments by death were so common, that, as related by the writers of those times, no famine, pestilence, or war ever consumed more men at a time." The edict of
* "The Atheists," was the universal name for Christians. To the charge of dire hostility to all religion, was added that of combined rebellion against all law and all mankind. "Irreligiosi in Cæsares; hostes Cæsarum; hostes populi Romani," was their universal character among their enemies.