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of those persons; and being convinced, upon all accounts, that they had the same reason to believe the history of our Saviour, as that of any other person to which they themselves were not actually eye-witnesses, they were bound by all the rules of historical faith, and of right reason, to give credit to this history. This they did accordingly, and in consequence of it published the same truth themselves, suffered many affictions, and very often death itself, in the assertion of them. When I say, that a historical belief of the acts of our Saviour induced these learned Pagans to embrace his doctrine, I do not deny that there were many other motives, which conduced to it, as the excellency of his precepts, the fulfilling of prophecies, the miracles of his disciples, the irreproachable lives and magnanimous sufferings of their followers, with other considerations of the same nature; but whatever other collateral ar. guments wrought more or less with philosophers of that age, it is certain that a belief in the history of our Saviour was one motive with every new convert, and that upon which all others turned, as being the very basis and foundation of Christianity.
VII. To this I must further add, that as we have already seen many particular facts which are recorded in holy writ, attested by particular Pagan authors, the testimony of those I am now going to produce, extends to the whole history of our Saviour, and to that continued series of actions, which are related of him and his disciples in the books of the New Testament.
VIII. This evidently appears from their quotations out of the Evangelists, for the confirmation of any doctrine or account of our Blessed Saviour. Nay, a learned man of our nation, who examined the writings of the most ancient fathers in another view, refers to several passages in Irenæus, Tertullian, Clemens of Alexandria, Origen, and Cyprian, by which he plainly shows that each of these early writers ascribed to the four Evangelists, by name, their respective histories; so that there is not the least room for doubting of their
belief in the history of our Saviour, as recorded in the Gospels. I shall only add, that three of the five fathers here mentioned, and probably four, were Pagans converted to Christianity, as they were all of them very inquisitive and deep in the knowledge of Heathen learning and philosophy.
1. Character of the times in which the Christian religion was propagated:
1. It happened very providentially, to the honour of the Christian religion, that it did not take its rise in the dark, illiterate ages of the world, but at a time when arts and sciences were at their height, and when there were men who made it the business of their lives to search after truth, and sift the several opinions of philosophers and wise men, concerning the duty, the end, and chief happiness of reasonable creatures.
II. Several of these, therefore, when they had informed themselves of our Saviour's history, and examined with unprejudiced minds the doctrines and manners of his disciples and followers, were so struck and convinced, that they professed themselves of that sect; notwithstanding, by this profession in that juncture of time, they bid farewell to all the pleasures of this life, renounced all the views of ambition, engaged in an uninterrupted course of severities, and exposed themselves to public hatred and contempt, to sufferings of all kinds, and to death itself.
III. Of this sort we may reckon those three early converts to. Christianity, who each of them was a member of a senate famous for its wisdom and learning. Joseph the Arimathean was of the Jewish Sanhedrim, Dionysius of the Athenian Areopagus, and Flavius Clemens of the Roman senate; nay, at the time of his death, consul of Rome. These three were so thoroughly satisfied of the truth of the Christian religion, that the first of them, according to all the reports of antiquity, died a martyr to it; as did the second, unless we disbelieve Aristides, his fellow citizen and contemporary; and the third, as we are informed both by Roman and Christian authors.
IV. Among those innumerable multitudes, who in most of the known nations of the world came over to Christianity at its first appearance, we may be sure there were great numbers of wise and learned men, beside those whose names are in the Christian records, who without doubt took care to examine the truth of our Saviour's history, before they would leave the religion of their country and of their forefathers, for the sake of one that would not only cut them off from the allurements of this world, but subject them to every thing terrible or disagreeable in it. Tertullian tells the Roman governors, that their corporations, councils, armies, tribes, companies, the palace, senate, and courts of judicature, were filled with Christians; as Arnobius asserts, that men of the finest parts and learning, orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, philosophers, despising the sentiments they had been once fond of, took up their rest in the Christian religion.
V. Who can imagine that men of this character did not thoroughly inform themselves of the history of that person, whose doctrines they embraced? for, however consonant to reason his precepts appeared, how good soever were the effects which they produced in the world, nothing would have tempted men to acknowledge him as their God and Saviour, but their being firmly persuaded of the miracles he wrought, and the many attestations of his divine mission, which were to be met with in the history of his life. This was the
ground-work of the Christian religion, and, if this: failed, the whole superstructure sunk with it. This point, therefore, of the truth of our Saviour's history, as recorded by the Evangelists, is every where taken for granted in the writings of those, who from Pagan philosophers became Christian authors, and who, by reason of their conversion, are to be looked upon as of the strongest collateral testimony for the truth of what is delivered concerning our Saviour.
VI. Besides innumerable authors that are lost, we have the undoubted names, works, or fragments, of several Pagan philosophers, which show them to have been as learned as any unconverted Heathen authors of the age in which they lived. If we look into the greatest nurseries of learning in those ages of the world, we find in Athens, Dionysius, Quadratus, Aristides, Athenagoras, and in Alexandria, Dionysius, Clemens, Ammonius, Arnobius, and Anatolius, to whom we may add Origen, for though his father was a Christian martyr, he became, without all controversy, the most learned and able philosopher of his age, by his education at Alexandria, in that famous seminary of arts and sciences.
1. The learned Pagans had means and opportunities of informing thema
selves of the truth of our Saviour's history. II. From the proceedings, III. The characters, sufferings, IV. And miracles of the persons who published it. V. How these first apostles perpetuated their tradition, by ordaining pera
sons to succeed them. VI. How their successors in the three first centuries preserved their tra
dition, VII. That five generations might derive this tradition from Christ, to the
end of the third century. VIII. Four eminent Christians that delivered it down successively to the
year of our Lord 254. IX. The faith of the four abovementioned persons, the same with that
of the churches of the East, of the West, and of Egypt.
X. Another person added to them, who brings us to the year 343, and
that many other lists might be added in as direct and short a suce
cession. XI. Why the tradition of the three first centuries, more authentic than
that of any other age, proved from the conversution of the primitive
Christians. XII. From the manner of initiating men into their religion. XIII. From the correspondence between the churches. XIV. From the long lives of several of Christ's disciples, of which two
instances. 1. IT now therefore only remains to consider, whether these learned men had means and opportunities of informing themselves of the truth of our Saviour's history; for, unless this point can be made out, their testimonies will appear invalid, and their enquiries ineffectual.
II. As to this point, we must consider, that many thousands had seen the transactions of our Saviour in Judea, and that many hundred thousands had received an account of them from the mouths of those who were actually ey - witnesses. I shall only mention among these eye-witnesses the twelve apostles, to whom we must add St. Paul, who had a particular call to this high office, though many other disciples and followers of Christ had also their share in the publishing this wonderful history. We learn from the ancient records of Christianity, that many of the apostles and disciples made it the express business of their lives, travelled into the remotest parts of the world, and in all places gathered multitudes about them, to acquaint them with the history and doctrines of their crucified Master. And indeed, were all Christian records of these proceedings entirely lost, as many have been, the effect plainly evinces the truth of them; for how else during the apostles lives could Christianity have spread itself with such an amazing progress through the several nations of the Roman empire? how could it fly like lightning, and carry conviction with it, from one end of the earth to the other.