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the world upside down, were come hither also." Demetrius, an enemy, complained of Paul, that "not only at Ephesus, but also throughout all Asia," what is now called Asia Minor, "he had persuaded and turned away much people.". In the mean while Jerusalem, the chief seat of Jewish rancor, continued the metropolis of the gospel, having in it many tens of thousands of believers. These accounts are taken from the book of the Acts of the Apostles; but as this book is almost confined to the labors of Paul and his immediate companions, saying very little of the other apostles, it is very certain that the view we have given of the propagation of the gospel during the first thirty years is very incomplete. In the thirtieth year after the beginning of the work, the terrible persecution under Nero kindled its fires; then Christians had become so numerous at Rome, that, by the testimony of Tacitus, "a great multitude" were seized. In forty years more, as we are told in a celebrated letter from Pliny the Roman governor of Pontus and Bythinia, Christianity had long subsisted in these provinces, though so remote from Judea. "Many of all ages, and of every rank, of both sexes likewise,' were accused to Pliny of being Christians. What he calls, "the contagion of this superstition," thus forcibly describing the irresistible and rapid spread of Christianity, had "seized not cities only, but the less towns also, and the open country," so that the heathen temples "were almost forsaken," few victims were purchased for sacrifice,
See Paley's Evidences. + Acts 21:20. " ποσαι μυριάδες.”
and "a long intermission of the sacred solemnities had taken place.* Justin Martyr, who wrote about thirty years after Pliny, and one hundred after the gospel was first preached to the Gentiles, thus describes the extent of Christianity in his time: "There is not a nation, either Greek or barbarian, or of any other name, even of those who wander in tribes and live in tents, among whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered to the Father and Creator of the universe by the name of the crucified Jesus." Clemens Alexandrinus, a few years after, thus writes: "The philosophers were confined to Greece and to their particular retainers, but the doctrine of the Master of Christianity did not remain in Judea, but is spread throughout the whole world, in every nation and village and city, converting both whole houses and separate individuals, having already brought over to the truth not a few of the philosophers themselves. If the Greek philosophy be prohibited, it immediately vanishes; whereas, from the first preaching of our doctrine, kings and tyrants, governors and presidents, with their whole train and with the populace on their side, have endeavored with their whole might to exterminate it, yet doth it flourish more and more."
There is no reason for diminishing the wonder which this rapid success of the gospel so necessarily excites, by the supposition that all these conversions, or the greater part of them, were little more than a change of profession and name-the substitution of a Christian church for a heathen temple-a mere tranLardner, vol. 4, p. 13–15.
sition from one system of religious ceremonial to another. In times of fierce persecution, the reality of a conversion is tried "as by fire." There was little, during the first three hundred years of Christianity, to encourage a profession of its faith, except so far as the heart had become sufficiently devoted to its holy and self-denying duties, to be willing to suffer on their account the loss of all things. Mere cold assent and dead formality were not likely to put themselves in the way of being torn by wild beasts or buried in the mines. The change wrought in the converts was, for the most part and notoriously, a change of heart and of life, as well as an entire change of opinion. The striking alteration in those who embraced the gospel, bore a powerful attestation to its divine authority. Philosophers complained that men improved but little in goodness under their instructions; while Paul could say to the Christians of Corinth, a city famous for the profligacy of its inhabitants, "Such were some of you: but ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." "The doctrine of Christ," says a writer of those times, "did convert the most wicked persons who embraced it from all their debaucheries to the practice of all virtues." So remarkable was the difference between the Christians and those whom they had once resembled, that Origen, defending their faith against the attacks of Celsus, challenges a comparison between their moral character and that of any other societies
* Origen cont. Celsum.
in the world. Even the sceptic Gibbon unites in this testimony. Speaking of these early converts, he says, "As they emerged from sin and superstition to the glorious hope of immortality, they resolved to devote themselves to a life not only of virtue, but of penitence. The desire of perfection became the ruling passion of their soul." "Their serious and sequestered life, averse to the gay luxury of the age, inured them to chastity, temperance, economy, and all the sober and domestic virtues. The contempt of the world exercised them in the habits of humility, meekness, and patience. The more they were persecuted, the more closely they adhered to each other. Their mutual charity and unsuspecting confidence has been remarked by infidels, and was too often abused by perfidious friends. Even their faults, or rather their errors, were derived from an excess of virtue."* From all these authorities it is evident that the propagation of the gospel was not only of great rapidity, but of great power in transforming the hearts and lives of the multitudes who embraced it.
In connection with the moral power and vast extent of this work, it should be considered, that among those who were brought to the obedience of Christ were men of all classes, from the most obscure and ignorant to the most elevated and learned. In the New Testament we read of an eminent counsellor, and of a chief ruler, and of a great company of priests, and of two centurions of the Roman army, and of a
Gibbon, vol. 2, ch. 15, p. 138, 139.
proconsul of Cyprus, and of a member of the Areopagus at Athens, and even of certain of the household of the emperor Nero, as having been converted to the faith. Many of the converts were highly esteemed for talents and attainments. Such was Justin Mar
tyr, who while a heathen was conversant with all the schools of philosophy. Such was Pantanus, who before his conversion was a philosopher of the school of the Stoics, and whose instructions in human learning at Alexandria, after he became a Christian, were much frequented by students of various characters. Such also was Origen, whose reputation for learning was so great that not only Christians but philosophers flocked to his lectures upon mathematics and philosophy, as well as on the Scriptures. Even the noted Porphyry did not refrain from a high eulogium upon the learning of Origen.* It may help to convey some notion of the character and quality of many early Christians, of their learning and their labors, to notice the Christian writers who flourished in these ages. St. Jerome's catalogue contains one hundred and twenty writers previous to the year 360 from the death of Christ. The catalogue is thus introduced: "Let those who say the church has had no philosophers, nor eloquent and learned men, observe who and what they were who founded, established, and adorned it." Pliny, in his celebrated letter to Trajan, written about sixty-three years after the gospel began to be preached to the Gentiles, expressly states, that in the provinces of Pontus and Bythinia many
* Stillingfleet's Orig. Sac. p. 273, 274. + See Paley, p. 346.