1265-1321 Dante Alighieri.

Evidences of Christianity, in their external, or historical, division ... online

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" With these premises let us open the book of prophecy, and select an ex-
ample from among the various remarkable events there predicted. We choose
one of so extraordinary a character as to place it among the most improbable
events (humanly speaking) of any age or nation; but to be quite sure that
we do not over-estimate it, we suppose it to have an equal chance of general
fulfilment; expressed, as we have said, by the fraction 1-2. This does not,
however, include the particularities of tune and place, both of which ^re com-
prehended in the terms of the prediction. With regard to time^ we observe,
that as there is no natural circumstance to determine the event spoken of to
one age or period more than another, the probability of exact fulfilment in this
respect must be inversely as the whole number of ages in which it might have
taken place. T%i5, if we allow forty years for the average duration of an
age, is about sixty ; and the fraction l-60th, therefore, expresses the contingency
of time in the case supposed. With regard to place^ the probability of exact
fulfilment is evidently determined by the relation of the locality named to the
whole world. This, in the case referred to, is not greater than that of one to
100,000; and the fraction 1-100,000, therefore, is the numerical factor for this
element of probability. Combining these three ratios, we obtain an aggre-
gate of no less than twelve millions of chances against the fulfilment of the

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Muumed event at the time and place designated ; and this erent is the personal
appearance of Jesus Christ upon earth as the Saviour of the world.

" Remarkably associated with this appearance in many ancient predictions,
was the' continuance of the Jewish dominion, and of the temple at Jerusalem ;
the joint contingency of which, according to the principles explained, cannot
be rated at less than 1 -340th. A multitude of predictions are found, also, in
various parts of scripture, relative to extraordinary particulars in the life,
character, and death, of our Saviour, as well as with reference to the political
and social aspect of the times in which he appeared. Many of them are so
nearly miraculous in their nature, or so minute and circumstantial in their
details, as ahnost to preclude the idea of chance in any sense. And we are
very sure, therefore, that we do not assume too much in assigning to twenty
of them an average equal chance of non-occurrence. Proceeding upon this
ground, we find the probability of their joint occurrence opposed by a disparity
oimore than a million of chances to one ; and it results from the combination
of all the ratios thus found, that the advent of our Saviour, in all its characte-
ristic circumstances and relations, could not have been calculated upon as a
matter of fortuitous occurrence, with more than one in four thousand millions
of millions of chances. The term probability can scarcely be applied with
propriety to a case so very remote; but the argument does not stop here.

** Our Saviour, at a time when all the calculations of human forethought
were diametrically opposed to him, predicted the general dissemination of his
gospel, and the consummation of prophecy with regard to the destruction of
Jerusalem, in tlie short space of a single generation : and so it turned out By
the laws of probability, neither event had, at the utmost, more than one
chance in ninety of occurring at that particular time ; and there was, there-
fore, only one in 8,100 of their joint occurrence.

" The predictions' relative to the siege of Jerusalem, the subjugation of
Judea, and the dispersion and subsequent condition of the Jews, present many
particulars equally remarkable in character and fulfilment We select twenty
four, which have severally a degree of probability not greater than 1-2, and
the result is an aggregate of nearly seventeen millions of chances opposed to
their joint occurrence.

" The predictions of the Old and New Testament relative to the state and
condition of the church in various ages, and its influence upon the moral and
political welfare of mankind, furnish another class of particulars which have
been singularly verified. The individual probability of most of them would
be much less than 1-2 ; but we concede this, and limit ourselves to twelve
points, the aggregate contingency of which is about l-4000th.

" Finally, the prophecies of the Old Testament relative to the Gentile
nations around Judea, and the great empires Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre, Egypt,
&c., present about fifty particulars worthy of notice in this calculation. To
avoid, however, all possibility of error, we consider only half that number,
from which we deduce the expectation of tlieir united fulfilmei't in about the
ratio of one to thirty-three millions.


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" There remains f 'till a vast number of correlatiTe and circumstantial deUdli^
not reducible to any of the foregoing heads, which are found scattered through
the pages of scripture, and furnish a " thick array" of corroborative evidence
for the affirmative view of the subject; but we need not fear to waive the use
of them in the present calculation. The composition of the ratios already-
determined gives an aggregate which it requires nearly forty places of figures
to enumerate, and which the utmost powers of the human mind may vainly
attempt to appreciate. If we should even assume a single grain of sand for
the numerator of the fraction, the whole globe of th6 earth, repeated many
millions of times, would scarcely suffice for its denominator; and such is the
extreme improbability of any consistent fulfilment of the scriptural prophecies
on the principles of chance.

" It will not be objected to this calculation that it regards the different sub-
jects of prophecy as parts of one and the same system; for although they
were in fact uttered by different prophets and in diffierent ages of the world,
they are all united by a common subject; and that with a degree of consistency
and harmony scarcely less wonderful than the fulfilment itself"

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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
pr&phecies ; and tfiat on which we are now about to enter,
the pri^a^aiion of Christianity, The two fonner have been
discussed. We praise the subject, not the lecturer, in saying
that we have not only established on solid ground the genu-
ineness of the miracles of the gospel, and the prophetic
attestsdon to the divine mission of our Lord ; but that, in
having done thus, we have twice finished the proof of Chris-
tianity, 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, and by a course of argument
entirely different, when we had shown that Jesus was a
prophet, as well as the great subject of prophecy. We ar<5
now to begin anew, hoping to prove a third time, and by a
course of evidence entirely different from either of the pre-
ceding, 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.

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It was ouly forty days after the resurrection of Christ, that
he delivered to his little band of apostles the parting charge :
" Go into all the world, and preadi the gospel to every creor
ture,^ " 6ro, teach (or disciple) €dl ncUions, 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 com-
pleted 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 :

L The difficulties they had to surmount in executing
this command. Be it remarked,

1st. In the first place, 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 adapt-
ed for extensive 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 (jentiles to their unsocial S3rstem of rdi-
gion. Their zeal was indeed extremely energetic in behalf
of whatever involved the security and honour 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 4o 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

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had never been propagated from place to place. In its innu-
merable forms, it had grown up out of the depraved disposi-
tions of human nature, all over the world ; as thorns and
thistles, though never sown by the husbandman, are found
every where on the face of the earth. Without a creed, it
was without principle ; and therefore 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 de-
scription of Pagans that all other forms of religion were not
as good, for the p*»ople observing them, as theirs was for
them ; or that any dictate of kindness or common sense
should lead them to attempt the subversion of the gods of
their neighbours, 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 labouring
to bring over every creature to the single faith of Christ.
Had Christianity been content to siand^ without urging its
right to stand cdone^ 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 idol
temple, to the Christian's God ; and an image, in honour of
Christ, might have been permitted a place among the divini-
ties of the Pantheon. But its character being rigidly exclu-
sive, 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.*

♦ A religion, under which all men could unite with one another, appeared
to the ancients an impossibility. " A man must be very weak (said Celsut;,


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2d. But the dilEculties to be surmounted by the apostles
were not confined to the novelty of their enterprise, and the
exclusiveness of their feith. 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 ex-
pense 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 par-
taking, in the least degree, of any of its characteristic quaU-
ties, 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 Gen-
tiles, 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, recognised no
S3rstem 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 pro-
pensities 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 of thought, in the mind of a native
of Greece or Rome, than the scripture doctrine of the nature
and guilt of sin, of repentance, conversion, faith, love, meek-
ness, and purity of heart. Their languages had scarcely
expressions sufficiently approximated to these subjects to
admit of their explanation withoiit the coinage of new words

to imagine that Greeks and barbarians, in Asia, Europe, and Lybia, can evei
unite under the same.s^'stem of religion."

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for the purpose. And in many respects the whole race of the
Jews, degenerate as they were in the time of the apostles,
were as little prepared for a spiritual, heart-searching reli-
gion, as any people of the Gentiles.

Then imagine the incipient eflfort of the disciples of Christ
to gain over the nations to the obedience of the gospel. What
could they say to them by way of conciliation, of all their
S3rstems of reUgion and habits of living, to which, from time
immemorial, they had been accustomed? Nothing but
unqualified, uncompromising reprobation. What could they
offer as a substitute, and with what recommendations could
they propose it ? The tmity of God, to the extermination
of all idolatry ; the fall of man and his entire ruin and
condemnation hy sin, to the utter subversion of all their
proud conceit of their own merit, and of the dignity of their
degraded nature ; the necessity of a neiv heart, including'
repentance and holiness, and humility, and the diligent
pursuit of all godliness of living, to the complete breaking
up of all their philosophy ; the mortification of all their
pride, and the direct prohibition of all those unbridled |)as-
sions and odious vices which then held such universal domin-
ion in the world. It was no aid to the work of the apostles,
that, besides the above unwelcome truths and requisitions, the
gospel stipulated for a habit of secret prayer, a life of faith ;
a heart animated with patience, gentleness, forgiveness, and
benevolence, to all mankind ; and, above all, a single reli-
ance for peace with God upon the death and intercession of
One who had been crucified as a malefactor, despised and
rejected even by the despised nation of the Jews.

It is easy to perceive from this brief sketch of some of the
peculiarities of the gospel, in contrast with all that was loved,
and practised, and gloried in by the nations of the earth, that
while a new religion, willing to make terms with the habits
and corruptions of men, might, if aided by the fascinations
of eloquence, the enticements of worldly interest, and the
arm of secular power, have gained some advancement;


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Christianity, with its uncompromising spirit; its holy require-
ments, and its twelve unlettered and despised apostles for its
whole earthly strength, must have perished in its infancy, had
not the "Mighty Ruler of the universe" been its friend.

3d. From what has been said, it is manifest that d«
enterprise of the apostles must have arrayed against it all the
influence of every priesthood both among Jews and Heathens.
In the beginning of Christianity the priests of the Jews were
not only very numerous and degenerate, but exceedingly
mfluential in their nation. They were, in reality, the nobility
of Judea. The power of the magistracy was, in a great
measure, in their hands. The people were educated under
their charge. They held the reins of public opinion, and
headed all the great public movements of the community.
What tremendous resistance they were capable of making
to the advancement of Christianity ; how bitterly they replied
to those claims which pronounced the dissolution of their
priesthood, and the termination of their authority ; and with
what deadly concert they persecuted its blessed Author,
thinking they had put also his gospel, when they had put his
person to the cross, I need not remind you.

We turn to the priests of the Gentiles. The enterprise
of the apostles was directly at war with their dignities, their
influence, and their gains. What resistance they were capa-
ble of making, is obvious from a consideration of the exten-
sive establishment, the high official dignity, the wealth, the
political influence, and the superstitious veneration, attached,
in the first years of Christianity, to a heathen priesthood.
"Tlie religion of the nations," says Gibbon, "was not merely
a speculative doctrine, professed in the schools or preached in
the temples. The innumerable deities and rites of polythe-
ism were closely interwoven with every circumstance of
business or pleasure, of public or of private life ; and it
seemed impossible to escape the observance of them without,
at the same time, renouncing the commerce of mnnkind.
The important transactions of peace and war were prepared

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or concluded by solemn sacrifices, in which the magistrate,
the senator, and the soldier were obUged to participate." The
Soman senate was always held in a temple or consecrated
place. ^ Before commencing business, every senator per-
£>rmed an act of homage to the gods of the nation. The
several colleges of the sacerdotal order, in the single city of
Rome — ^the fifteen Pontifls ; the fifteen Augurs ; the fifteen
keepers of the SibylUne books ; the six Vestals ; the seven
Epuli ; the Flamens ; the*confratemities of the Saltans and
Lupercalians, ifcc, furnish an idea of the strong estabUsh-
ment of the priesthood in an empire that embraced the knpwn
world. The dignity of their sacred character was protected,
as well by the laws as the manners of the country. " Their
robes of purple, chariots of state, and sumptuous entertain-
ments, attracted the admiration of the people; and they
received from the consecrated lands and public reveime an
ample stipend, which liberally supported the splendour of the
priesthood, and all the expenses of the religious worship of
the state." The great men of Rome, after their consulships
and military triumphs, aspired to the place of pontiff or of
augur. Cicero confesses that the latter was the supreme
object of his wishes. Pliny was animated with a similar
ambition. Tacitus, the historian, after his prsetorship, Wjas a
member of the sacerdotal order. The fifteen priests, compos-
mg the college of pontifis, were distinguished as the com-
panions of their sovereign. And as an evidence of what
accommodations paganism must have had in Rome in the
days of her glory; the number of its temples and chapels,
remaining in the three hundred and eightieth year after the
birth of Christ, when, for more than three centuries, Chris-
tianity had been thinning the ranks of its votaries, and for
sixty years had been the established religion of the empire,
was four hundred and twenty-four* In connexion with
all this organization and deep rooted power of heathenism ;
consider its various tribes of subordinate agents and interested

♦ Gibbon, vol. iv. c. xxviii.

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allies ; the diviners, augurs, and managers of oracles, \ridi
all the attendants and assistants belonging to the templee of
a countless variety of idols ; the trades whose craft was sus*
tained by the patronage of image-worship, such as statuaries,
shrine-mongers, sacrifice-sellers, incense-merchants ; consider
the great festivals and games by which heathenism flattered
the dispositions of the people, and enlisted all classes and all
countries in its support — the Circemian and other grand
exhiWtions among the Romans ; the Pjrthian, Nemean, Isth-
mian, and Olympic games, cdebrated with great pomp and
splendour in almost every Grecian city of Europe and Asia
— ^the pride of the people, the delight of all the lovers of
pleasure or of &me, intimately associated with, and specially
patronised by the religion of idols ; and therefore directly
attacked by all the efforts of diristianity. Then say, what
must have been the immense force in which the several
priesthoods of all heathen nations were capable of uniting
among themselves, and with the priests of the Jews, in the
common cause of crushing a religion by whose doctrines
none of them could be tolerated. That with all their various
contingents, they did unite, consenting in this one object, if
in little else, of smothering Christianity in her cradle, or of
drowning her in tfie blood of her disciples, all history assures
us. How she survived their efibrts ; how the fishermen of
Gahlee 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.

4th. But the atUhority of tlie magistrate was united with
the influence of heathen and Jewish priesthoods in zealous
hostflity to the gospel. In all countries, the support of the
religion of the state was the duty of the magistrate. Toler-
ation, 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

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countenanced the utmost latitude of belief and practice.*
But to refiise conformity with the national rites, and worship
to the national ^ods, was an offence unpardonable, not only
to the gods, but to the civil authority. This it was that ex-
dted so much wonder among the Gentiles, and nerved the
secular arm with such deadly offence against the disciples
of Christ. " Ki^ep yourselves frcmi 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 you may not still adore that
God of yours, supposing him to be a God, in conjunction
with our Gods T ^' We worship no other God^^^ was the
Christian's answer ;t a declaration which, from the sword of
a heathen magistrate, could have no forbearance, and being
every where received as a characteristic principle of the
gospel, called out the whole power of the civil governments
of tiie Gentiles to unite with their priesthoods in its de-

5th. To these associated powers, were added the prejudices
and passions of all the people. These, among the Gentiles,
were powerful, not only in fevour 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

Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriEvidences of Christianity, in their external, or historical, division ... → online text (page 22 of 36)