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the signs were expressly wrought in confirmation of
this assertion of the apostles, that their Master was
risen from the dead, we are constrained by the
strongest moral evidence to believe that that asser-
tion was true.

It is impossible for words to make this argument
plainer. But there are some particulars which may
illustrate the economy of the divine dispensation in
conferring these extraordinary powers, and the con-
nection which they have with the other branches of
the evidence for Christianity.

The day upon which our Lord rose was the day
after that Sabbath which was the passover, i. e. it
was the first day of the week, the Jewish Sabbath
being the seventh ; and it was called in the Leviti-
cal law, the wave-offering. Pentecost was the
'ffsvrrixoffrn r./M^a, the 50th day from the wave-offering.
It was therefore also the first day of the week, and


it was a day upon which all the males of Judea
Were supposed to be present before the Lord in Jeru-
salem. Our Lord remained forty days upon earth
after his resurrection, and he probably spent the
greatest part of that time in Galilee. But he was in
the neighbourhood of Jerusalem upon the fortieth
day, for he ascended from Mount Olivet.* The apos-
tles, who probably would feel it to be their duty as
Jews to be present at the approaching festival, were
commanded by their master not to depart from Je-
rusalem till they received the promise of the Father :
for, said he, " Ye shall be baptized with the Holy
Ghost not many days hence."

Accordingly the eleven returned from the mount,
where they had witnessed the ascension, to Jerusa-
lem, and continued quietly with the disciples in
prayer and supplication. We have reason to think
that they did not appear in public ; and We do not
read of any other transaction but filling up the
Apostolical College, till the day of Pentecost, the
10th day after the ascension, when, being *' all with
one accord in one place, they were all filled with the
Holy Ghost." The gift of tongues was the first
that was exercised, because it was suited to the oc-
casion. Devout Jews and proselytes were assem-
bled, from respect to the festival^ out of all coun-
tries. To every one in his own tongue, the apos-
tles, inspired with fortitude, another gift of the Spi-
rit, spoke the wonderful works of God. And Peter
explained the appearance which excited their won-
der, to be the attestation which, in fulfilment of
their own prophecies, God was now bearing to the

* Luke xxiv. 50; Acts i. 12.


resurrection of the Messiah, whom, after all the
works that he had done in the midst of them, their
rulers had crucified, but whom God had exalted.
You can thus trace, in the time of conferring these
powers, the wise adjustment of means to an end.
You see the silence and quietness, which had been
maintained after the death of Christ, abundantly
compensated by the public manner in which the gos-
pel is first preached. The apostles are directed to
submit their claim to the examination of the great-
est multitude that could be assembled at Jerusalem ;
and the report, which this multitude would carry to
their own countries of so extraordinary an appear-
ance, was employed as an instrument of preparing
many different parts of the world for the preaching
of the apostles, who were soon to visit them. The
powers themselves are delineated in the Acts and in
the Epistles. You read of the word of wisdom, i.e.
a clear comprehensive view of the Christian scheme —
the word of knowledge, probably the faculty of trac-
ing the connexion between the Jewish and Christ-
ian dispensation — prophecy, either the applying of
the prophecies in the Old Testament, or the fore-
telling future events — healing — the gift of tongues —
the gift of interpreting tongues — and the gift of dis-
cerning spirits, i. e. perceiving the true character of
men under the disguise which they assumed, so as
to be able to detect impostors.* There is a variety
in these gifts corresponding to all the possible occa-
sions of the teachers of this new religion. Some of
them, being external and visible, were the signs and
pledges of those which, although invisible, were not

* 1 Cor. xii. 8—10.


less necessary. Some of them were disseminated
through the Christian church, and the gifts of heal-
ing and of tongues were often conferred by the
hands of the apostles upon believers. This abund*
ance of miraculous gifts was proper at that time, to
demonsti*ate to the world the fulness of those trea*
sures which Were dispensed by the Lord Jesus, the
dignity with which he had invested his apostles, and
the obligation which lay upon all Christians to re-
ceive his word at their mouth. It was proper to
rouse the attention of the world to a new religion,
to overcome those considerations of prudence which
made them unwilling to forsake the religion of their
fathers, and to inspire them with steadfastness in the
faith. It was proper also to remove the prejudices
which the Jews entertained against the Heathen, and
to satisfy those who boasted of the privileges of the
law, that God had received the Gentiles. Cornelius
and his kinsmen and his friends were the first uncir-
cumcised persons to whom the Gospel was preached.
They of the circumcision who believed were aston-
ished when they saw the gift of the Holy Ghost
poured out upon them, and heard them speak with
tongues. Peter considered this as his warrant to
baptize them ; and when he reported it afterwards
to the apostles and brethren at Jerusalem, they no
longer blamed what he had done, but " held their
peace, and glorified God, saying. Then hath God also
to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life."

This abundance of miraculous gifts, which so
many reasons rendered proper at the first appear-
ance of Christianity, was gradually withdrawn as
the occasions ceased. We have no reason to think
that any but the apostles had the power of confer-


ring such gifts upon others. We are not indeed
warranted to say that miraculous gifts were never
visible in any who had not received them from the
hands of the apostles. But we know that in the
succeeding generations they became more rare. And
when we were speaking of this subject formerly, we
found writers in the third, and beginning of the fourth
century, acknowledging that only some vestiges of
such gifts remained in their days.

If you lay together the several particulars which
have been mentioned respecting the economy of
these miraculous gifts, it will appear that, as from
their nature, they were the unquestionable witness
of the Spirit, confirming the testimony which the
apostles bore to the resurrection of their Master ;
so, in the manner of their being conferred, every
wise observer may trace the finger of God. There
is none of that waste which betrays ostentation,
none of that scantiness or delay which implies a de-
fect of power, no circumstance unworthy of the di-
vine author of them ; but the wisdom and power of
God are united in the cause of the Gospel, and the
same fitness and dignity, which distinguished the
miracles of Jesus, are transferred to the works
which his Spirit enabled his apostles to perform.




In our Lord's prophecy of the destruction of Jerusa-
lem, we meet with these woi'ds : " This Gospel of
the kingdom shall first be preached to all the world
for a witness to all nations, and then shall the end
come." These words mark the space intervening
between the prediction and the termination of the
Jewish state, that is, a space of less than forty years,
as the period within which the Gospel was to be
preached to all nations. When we attended to the
fulfilment of this prophecy, we found that the ac-
count given, in the book of Acts, of the multitude of
early converts, of the dispersion of the Christians,
and of the success of Paul's labours, is confirmed by
the most unexceptionable testimony. We learn from
Tacitus, that in the year of our Lord 63, thirty
years after his death, there was an immense multi-
tude of Christians in Rome. From the capital of
the world, the communication was easy through all
the parts of the Roman empire : and no country
then discovered was too distant to hear tlie gospel.
Accordingly it is generally agreed, that before the
destruction of Jerusalem, Scythia on the north, In-
dia on the east, Gaul and Egypt on the west, and


Ethiopia on the south, had received the doctrine of
Christ. And Britain, which was then regarded as
the extremity of the earth, being frequently visited
during that period by Roman emperors or their
generals, there is no improbability in what is affirm-
ed by Christian historians, that the gospel was
preached in the capital of this island thirty years
after the death of our Saviour. The last fact which
Scripture contains respecting the propagation of
Christianity, is found in the book of Revelation. It
appears from the epistles which John was command-
ed to write to the ministers of the churches of Ephe^
sus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadel-
phia, and Laodicea, that there were, during the life
of that apostle, seven regular Christian churches in
Asia Minor. We may consider the facts hitherto
mentioned as the fulfilment of that prophecy which
I quoted. As to the progress of our religion, sub-
sequent to the period marked in the prophecy, we
derive no light from the books of the New Testa-
ment, because there is none of them which we cer-
tainly know to be of a later date than the destruc-
tion of Jervisalem. But there are other authentic
monuments from which I shall state to you the fact ;
and then I shall lead you to consider the force of
the argument for the truth of Christianity, which
has been grounded upon that fact.

The younger Pliny, proconsul of Bitliynia, writes
in the end of the first century to the emperor Tra-
jan, asking directions as to his conduct with regard
to the Christians. The letter of Pliny, the 9Tth of
the 10th book, ought to be familiar to every student
in divinity. He represents that many of every age
and rank were called to account for bearing the


Christian name ; that the contagion of tliat supersti-
tion had spread not only through the cities, but
through the villages and fields ; that the temples
had been deserted, and the usual sacrifices neglected.
There are extant two apologies for Christianity,
written by Justin Martyr, about the middle of the
second century, and one by TertuUian before the
end of it. These apologies, which were public papers
addressed to the emperor and the Roman magis-
trates, mention with triumph the multitude of
Christians. And there is a work of Justin Martyr,
entitled a dialogue with Tryplio the Jew, j)ublished
about the year 146, in which he thus speaks.
" There is no nation, whether of Barbarians or
Greeks, whether they live in waggons or tents,
amongst whom prayers are not made to the Father
and Creator of all, through the name of the crucified
Jesus." Both Christian and heathen writers attest
the general diffusion of Christianity through the
empire during the third century ; and in the begin-
ning of the fourth, Constantine, the emperor of
Rome, declared himself a Christian. If we consider
the emperor as acting from conviction, Christianity
has reason to boast of the illustrious convert. If we
consider him as acting from policy, his finding it
necessary to pay such a compliment to the inclina-
tions of the Christians is the strongest testimony of
their numbers. After Christianity became, by the
declaration of Constantine, the established religiou
of the empire, it was diffused, under that character,
through all the provinces. It was embraced by the
barbarous nations who invaded different parts of the
empire, and it received the sanction of their author-
ity in the independent kingdoms which they found-


ed. From them it has been handed down to the
nations of modern Europe. It is at present profess-
ed throughout the most civilized and enlightened
part of the world ; and it has been carried in the
progress of modern discoveries and conquests to re-
mote quarters of the globe, where the arms of Rome
never penetrated.

Upon these facts there has been grounded an ar-
gument for the truth of our religion. Gamaliel
said in the sanhedrim, when the gospel was first
preached, " If this counsel or this work be of men,
it will come to nought. But if it be of God, ye can-
not overthrow it." * The counsel has not been
overthrown, therefore it is of God. The argument
is specious and striking, and, with proper qualifica-
tions, it is sound. But much caution is required in
stating it. And as I have given you the facts with-
out exaggeration, so it is my duty to suggest the
difficulty to which the argument is exposed, and to
warn you of the danger of hurting the cause which
you mean to serve, by arguing loosely from the suc-
cess of the gospel.


We are not warranted to consider the success of
any system which calls itself a religion, as an infal-
lible proof that it is divine. The prejudices, the ig-
jiorance, the vices, and follies of men, a particular

* Acts V. 36, 09.


conjuncture of circumstances, and tlie skilful appli-
cation of human means, may procure a favourable
reception for an imposture, and may give the belief
of its divinity so firm possession of the minds of
men, as to render its reputation permanent. We
justly infer from the moral attributes of God
that he will not invest a false prophet with extraor-
dinary powers. But we are not warranted to infer
that he will interpose in a miraculous manner to
remove the delusion of those who submit their un-
derstandings to be misled by the arts of cunning
men. He has given us reason, by the right use of
which we may distinguish truth from falsehood.
He leaves us to suffer the natural consequences of
neglecting to exercise our reason ; and it is pre-
sumptuous to say that there can be no fraud in a
scheme, because the Almighty, for the wise purposes
of his government, or in just judgment upon those
who had not the love of the truth, permitted that
scheme to be successful.

As the reason of the thing suggests that success
is not an unequivocal proof of the divine original
of any system, so the providence of God has afford-
ed Christians a striking lesson how careful they
ought to be in qualifying the argument deduced
from the propagation of Christianity. For, in the
seventh century of the Christian era, there arose
an individual in Arabia, who, although he be re-
garded by every rational inquirer as an impostor,
was able to introduce a religious system, which in
less than a century spread through Egypt, Palest-
ine, Syria, and Persia, which has subsisted in vigour
for more than eleven hundred years, and is at this
day the established religion of a portion of the world


much larger than Christendom. The followers of
Mahomet triumph in the extended dominion of the
author of their faith. But a Christian, who under-
stands the method of defending his religion, has no
reason to be shaken by the empty boast. For thus
stands the argument. When we are able to point out
the human causes which have produced any event, the
existence of that event is no decisive proof of a divine
interposition. But when all the means that were
employed appear inadequate to the end, we are ob-
liged to have recourse to the finger of God ; and
the inference, which arises from our being unable
to give any other account of the end, will be
drawn without hesitation, if there be positive
evidence that, in the accomplishment of the end,
there was an exertion of divine power.

When you apply this universal rule in trying the
argument which appears at first sight to be equally
implied in the success of the two religions, you find
the history of the one so clearly discriminated from
the history of the other, that the inference, which a
proper examination of circumstances enables a Christ-
ian to draw from the success of the Gospel, does in
no degree belong to the disciples of Mahomet. The
best guide whom you can follow in making this dis-
crimination is Mr. White, who, availing himself of
that acquaintance with eastern literature to which
his inclination and his profession had conspired to
direct him, has published a volume of Sermons, en-
titled, A Comparative View of Christianity and Ma-
hometanism, in their histoiy, their evidence, and their
eifects. There is in these sermons much valuable
and uncommon information combined with great
judgment, and expressed in a nervous and elevated


style. They meet many of the objections of modern
times, and form one of the most complete and mas-
terly defences of the truth of Christianity, You will
learn from him, better than from any other writer,
the favourable circumstances to which Mahomet
owed his success. And the short picture, which I
am now to give you of these circumstances, is little
more than an abridgment of some of Mr.AMiite's ser-.

Born in an ignorant uncivilized country, and a-
midst independent tribes of idolatrous Arabs, when
the Roman empire was attacked on every side by
barbarians, when the Christian world was torn with
dissension about inexplicable points of controversy,
when the simplicity of the gospel was corrupted, and
when Christian charity was forgotten in the bitter-
ness of mutual persecution, Mahomet, who possessed
strong natural talents, saw the possibility of rising
to eminence as the great reformer of religion. Hav-
ing waited till his own mind was matured by medi-
tation, and till he had established in the minds of his
neighbours an opinion of his sanctity, he began at
the age of forty to deliver chapters of the Koran.
During the long space of twenty-three years, he had
an opportunity of trying the sentiments of his coun-
trymen. By successive communications he corrected
what had proved disagreeable, and he accommodated
his system so as to give the least possible offence to
Jews, or Christians, or idolaters. He admitted the
divine mission of Moses and of Jesus. He incul-
cated the unity of God, which is a fundamental arti-
cle of the Jewish and Christian religions, and which
was not denied by many of the surrounding idolaters.
From the Old and New Testament he borrowed ma-


ny sublime descriptions of the Deity, and much ex-
cellent morality ; and all this he mixed with the
childish traditions and fables of Arabia, with a tole-
ration of many idolatrous rites, and with an indul-
gence to the vices of the climate. And thus the Ko-
ran is not a new system discovering the invention of
its author, but an artful motley mixture, made up of
the shreds of different opinions, without order or
consistency, full of repetitions and absurdities, yet
presenting to every one something agreeable to his
prejudices, expressed in the captivating language of
the country, and often adorned with the graces of
poetry. To his illiterate countrymen such a work
appeared marvellous. The artifice and elegance with
which its discordant materials were combined so far
surpassed their inexperience and rudeness, that they
gave credit to the declaration of Mahomet, who said
it was delivered to him by the angel Gabriel. The
Koran became the standard of taste and composition
to the Arabians ; and the blind admiration of those
who knew no rival to its excellence was easily trans-
formed into a belief of its divinity.

In the beginning of his scheme, Mahomet met with
much opposition, and he was obliged at one time to
fly from Mecca to Medina. His reputation had pre-
pared for him a favourable reception in that city.
His address, his superior knowledge, and the influ-
ence of his connections, soon gathered round him a
small party, with which he began to make those pre-
datory excursions, which have, in every age, been
most agreeable to the character of the Arabs. Ma-
homet pretended, that as all gentle methods of re-
forming mankind had proved ineffectual, the Al-
mighty had armed him with the power of the sword ;


and he went forth to compel men to receive the great
prophet of heaven. His talents as a leader, the suc-
cess of his first expeditions, and the hope of booty,
increased the number of his followers. It was not
long before he united into one body the tribes of
Arabs who flocked around his standard ; and at the
time of his death he was meditating: distant con-
quests. The magnificent project which he had con-
ceived and begun was executed with ability and suc-
cess by the caliphs, to whom he transmitted his tem-
poral and his spiritual power. They led the Arabs
to invade the neighbouring provinces, and by their
victorious arms they founded, upon the religion of
the Koran, an empire, which the joint influence of
ambition and enthusiasm continued for ages to ex-

Mahomet, then, is not to be classed with the teach-
ers of piety and virtue, whose success may be consi-
dered as an example of the power of truth over the
mind. He ranks with those conquerors whom the
spirit of enterprise and a concurrence of circumstances
have conducted from a humble station to renown
and to empire. He is distinguished from them chief-
ly by calling in religion to his aid ; and his sagacity
in employing so useful an auxiliary is made manifest
by the progress and the permanence of his scheme.
But the means were all human ; the only assistance
which Mahomet pretended to receive from heaven con-
sisted of the revelation which dictated to him the
Koran, and the strength which crowned him with
victory. How far a revelation was necessary for the
composition of the Koran may be left to the decision
of any person of taste and judgment who remem-
bers, when he reads it, that Mahomet was in posses-


sion of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.
How far the strength of heaven was necessary to
give victory to Mahomet may be left to the judgment
of any one who compares the spirit of the Arabs, in-
fluenced and directed by the character and the views
of their leader, with the wretched condition of those
whom they conquered. Yet these were the only
pretences to a divine mission which Mahomet made.
He declared that he had no commission to work mi-
racles ; and he appealed to no other prophecies than
those which are contained in our Scriptures.

And thus, as the introduction of his scheme did
not imply the exercise of supernatural powers, as no
positive unequivocal evidence of his possessing such
powers was ever adduced, so his success may be
fully accounted for by human means. The more
that an intelligent reader is conversant with the
Koran, he discerns the more clearly the internal
marks of imposture ; and the more that he is con-
versant with the manners of the times in which
Mahomet lived, and with the histoiy of the pro-
gress of his empire, he is the less surprised at the
propagation and the continuance of that imposture.

When you turn from this picture to view the his-
tory of the progress of Christianity, the striking con-
trast will appear to you to warrant the conclusion
which the followers of Jesus are accustomed to draw
from the success of his religion.

In a province of the Roman empire, after it had
reached the summit of its glory, and in the Augus-
tan age, the most enlightened period of Roman his-
tory, there appeared a Teacher delivering openly, in
the temple and the synagogue, the purest morality,
the most spiritual institutions of worship, and the


most exalted theology, not in a systematical form,
but in occasional discourses, and in the simplest lan-
guage. He committed his instructions, not to writ-
ing, but to a few illiterate men who had been his
companions ; and the number of his disciples after
he was crucified by the voice of his countrymen,
did not exceed 120. His apostles, in teaching what
they had received from their Master, had to encoun-
ter an opposition which, in all human rules of judg-
ing, was sufficient to create an insurmountable ob-
stacle to the progress of their doctrine. They had
to combat the vices of an age which, according to
all the pictures that have been drawn of it, appears to

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 19 of 32)