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1. The first reason is the inflexible and intolerant zeal of the early Christians, derived from the Jewish religion, but purified from its narrow and unsocial spirit.
On this point, Mr. Gibbon writes with his usual eloquence and elegance: but, after attempting to the utmost of my power to catch and understand the force of his argument, I cannot find, thát it condenses itself into any other form than the following:
They, who possess an inflexible and intolerant zeal, must, in the necessary way of cause and effect, sooner or later bring all mankind over to their opinions. But the primitive Christians possessed this inflexible and intolerant zeal. Therefore their religion was soon propagated to a very wide extent.
Of such reasoning I must confess myself unable to discover the conclusiveness. There is no necessary or even natural connection, so far as I can see, between the zealous obstinacy of one man in maintaining a set of opinions and the conviction of all other men that those opinions are true. I should think, that the very reverse was much more likely to be the case. Dogmatical obstinacy, quite unsupported by evidence, not unfrequently, in the first instance, gives us a considerable degree of perhaps mischievous amusement: if teizing and importunate and pertinacious, it will generally, in the second instance, produce a strong feeling of weariness and impatience and annoyance. But I much doubt, whether a man was ever induced seriously to exchange one set of opinions for another by a tiresome and never-ceasing persecutor of this description: I much doubt, for instance, whether any conceivable zeal and obstinacy and importunity, to the perpetual operation of which Mr. Gibbon might haply have been subjected by a determined adherent of the pseudo-prophet Brothers, would have wrought any change in the sentiments of that admirable historian. Yet does he endeavour to persuade himself and his readers, that the inflexible and intolerant zeal of the early Christians is quite reason enough for their wonderful success in making proselytes.
I have considered the point merely as Mr. Gibbon himself has chosen to state it: but, in truth, his statement is most essentially defective. He simply considers pertinacious obstinacy in one man, as an infallible mean of inducing another man to change his opinion: whereas he ought to have considered pertinacious obstinacy in one man, as an infallible mean of inducing another man to change his opinion, notwithstanding this change of sentiment will expose the convert to torture and death. The genuine statement, therefore, of the matter, is as follows. In the judgment of Mr. Gibbon, provided only a man be endowed with a sufficient stock of zeal and obstinacy, he will certainly make numerous proselytes to his opinions, though his proselytes may be morally sure that they will be tortured and murdered for yielding to the wearisome importunity of this obstinate zealot.
This then is the first reason assigned by our great historian for the rapid propagation of pri, mitive Christianity.
2. The second is the doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth.
Here again Mr. Gibbon eloquently discusses the uncertainty respecting a future state, which prevailed among the philosophers of Greece and Rome; the defects inherent in the popular religions; the prevailing belief of the immortality of the soul among the Jews; the opinion entertained y many among the Christians, that the end of the world was near at hand; the doctrine of the millennium; the conflagration of Rome and the universe; and the stern declaration of Tertullian, that the unconverted pagans must expéct no mercy hereafter. Of these materials his argument is composed ; if such materials can be said to constitute an argument: and his conclusion, for so I presume it is meant to be, is summed up in the following terms. mise of eternal happiness was proposed to mankind, on condition of adopting the faith and observing the precepts of the Gospel, it is no wonder, that so advantageous an offer should have been accepted by great numbers of every religion, of every rank, and of every province in the Roman Empire.
I wish not to be captious : but of this conclu
When the pro
sion I can no more see the validity, than I could discern the cogency of his first reason. That men should readily embrace an advantageous offer, when satisfied that the propounders of it could make it good, I can easily conceive and understand: but, why great numbers of every religion, of every rank, and of every province in the Roman Empire, should be eager to embrace such an offer, unless they had some reasonable grounds for believing the certainty of its completion, I must own myself quite unable to comprehend. Now, on Mr. Gibbon's principles, what were these grounds of assured belief? By dint of sheer obstinacy and intolerant zeal, it seems, the primitive Christians teized the reluctant Pagans into a full admission of their religious opinions : and, when once this matter was effected which the historian thinks so easy, that he fearlessly lays it down as his first reason of the success of Christianity); the world was prepared, without any further evidence, to believe every syllable which their pertinacious instructors might please to teach them respecting a future state.
Under circumstances so replete with conviction, it is no wonder, thinks Mr. Gibbon, that thousands upon thousands of every rank, age, temper, religion, and province, should become eager and satisfied proselytes: it is no wonder, that, after having first undergone the process of
being harassed by importunity into a complete acquiescence in the opinions of their new teachers, they should next be fully prepared to believe every thing respecting the invisible world which their obstinate preceptors might choose to tell them.
In truth, it is no wonder, that those, who could be induced through the operation of mere importunity to embrace a religion which forthwith exposed them to obloquy and persecution, should, without any further hesitation, though without a shadow of evidence, assent to the naked dogmata of their masters in regard to a future state. The first step in the journey is every thing. Let that only be taken, and the remainder of their mental progress is perfectly easy.
3. The third reason, assigned by Mr. Gibbon for the rapid propagation of Christianity, is the miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive Church.
Had the historian assigned, as a reason, the miraculous
powers possessed by the primitive Church; we should readily have perceived the cogency of it: but he speaks only of the miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive Church ; and, in the course of his discussion, he endeavours to establish the more than probability, that such powers were never really possessed and exercised. We have therefore to consider, how far miraculous powers, ascribed indeed to the Church,