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which they are, in truth, deplorably uninformed. To persons of this description, the work before us is well adapted.
Scarcely less important would be its utility to those who feel no difficulties pressing upon their faith, and who imagine that their mountain stands too strongly to be ever moved. If they neglect to get their minds stored with sound information upon this class of topics, a time may too probably come, when they will bitterly rue their present supine security. Even to the best informed and most established Christian, it is delightful to walk round the ramparts of the sacred city, and, at every examination, to make new discoveries upon the extent and cohesion of the eternal rock on which it rests.
These volumes comprise a great number of Disquisitions, Historical, Literary, and Philosophical, each, in a sense, independent of the others, and bearing a satisfactory conclusion to a mind which is at all accustomed to the weighing of moral evidence; and yet all so grouped and mutually bound together, that the accumulation of proof becomes all but irresistible. The general plan may be conceived of, though, by no means completely, by the two Propositions which lead to the divisions of the whole work.
* 1. Before studying either the miraculous or the prophetic proof of Christianity, or the written accounts of its progress, whether by friends or enemies, there may be enough known from a view of its distinctive character, of its actual effects, of its continued and prospective spirit and tendency, and of its acknowledged commencement, to yield a complex presumption that it is “ not of men, but of God.”
• II. There are statements concerning Christianity, and other coeval religions, in extant Jewish and heathen writers; in citations from lost works of its adversaries; in notices of current oral objections to it; in public appeals as to public facts by early Christian apologists ; in details by Christian writers of events, the general truth of which is amply contirmed by their opponents; together with implications in the silence of some Jews and heathens, and in the conduct of others; which concur to furnish very strong additional grounds for believing its supernatural origin. Introd. p. xxiv.
These facts and correlates, the Author traces through their multitude of labyrinths, examining, sifting, comparing, with a minuteness and completeness which are evidently dictated by a mind solicitously upright and impartial. The materials and the critical investigations which spring out of them, are brought together in Notes, Supplements, and Appendices, located throughout the volumes according to their relative proximity to the lines of reasoning which form the general body and texture of the work. The composition must have cost the Author extreme labour in research, as well as much patient reflection. Of $0 comprehensive a work, we cannot undertake to give what might serve as a complete outline; but we shall attempt such a sketch, as much as possible in the Author's own words, as shall present to an intelligent mind enough to produce a correct general idea of the whole.
Christianity differs in principle from all religions that men have fabricated, and from any that we can suppose they would fabricate. It differs specifically from all other religions, in its ascertained effects, --notwithstanding declensions and aberrations,--and in its continued tendency to purify itself from corruption, to regain vitality, and to diffuse itself by pacific and benevolent means. The acknowledged mean, ness of its commencement augments its extraordinary and wonderful character, and enhances the incredibility of its being a human device.
• The circumstances of Jesus and his first adherents, as collected from the statements, implications, and admissions of enemies to Christianity ;-the personal character of Jesus ;-the singular morality of the primitive Christians ;-many remarkable testimonies from adversaries upon these points ;- the nature, degree, and manner of the opposition which it was to be rationally calculated that Christianity would have to encounter from the Jews ;—the same inquiry pursued with respect to the Romans and other heathen nations ;-the morality of heathenism,-not only its general licentiousness, but its subtle, versatile, and optional character, by which it could be made to satisfy the consciences of such men as Ścipio and Cicero, Trajan and Aurelius Antoninus, while yet the foundation of moral principle was but the more effectually sapped by the very pretence of goodness ;--the peculiar disadvantages of the first Christian teachers ;—their being of the nation despised above all others, their low condition, the want of philosophic dignity and rhetorical attractions, and the immense difficulties attendant upon any attempt of foreigners to instruct on subjects surrounded with nicety and prejudice, either the lettered or the vulgar part of a nation.'
From this theoretical estimate of the project and the obstructions, or rather insuperable difficulties, even palpable impossibilities
, which must have surrounded it, Mr. Sheppard proceeds to the collecting and analyzing of known facts. The nature, modes, and degree of the actual opposition made by the Jews, both in Palestine and in other countries, both native and proselytic. The correspondent historical statements with regard to the heathen governments and all ranks of the people. Opposition from acts of the State,-direct, in persecutions, early, never totally ceasing for 250 years, extending through the empire, penetrating into all the classes of society, and diversified in forms next to incredible of remorseless cruelty ;--indirect, in acts of the savage populace, connived at and often encouraged by the agents of government. Oppositions in the way of calumny, reproach, ridicule; all the modes of private annoyance, public hatred, and ever-pressing seduction.
Having arrived at this point, and confirmed and illustrated the vast multitude of facts by abundant authorities, Mr. Sheppard goes on to shew, that the Religion of Jesus Christ, in the face of all the proved circumstances of resistance, did make a progress rapid and extensive, so as to effect a phenomenon the most wonderful and absolutely unique.
· We have seen, from the testimony of Jews and heathens, that this doctrine, alike unacceptable to each and resisted by both, had, from the very period of its Founder's death, sustained and spread itself in his native land; that, within fifty years, it had prevailed over heathenism in some large territories of Asia; and that, within a century, it was widely diffused through the known world, and chiefly through the most lettered and civilized portions of the Roman Empire.
• Yet, this Summary of the facts and arguments is much less impressive than the examination of them separately and in detail ; for we cannot do justice, in few words, either to all the incongruities which meet us in supposing Christianity a fiction, or to the contrast between its vast and diversified difficulties and the rapidity of its conquests. But thus much we may say :-if any reader can seriously decide that no miracle, open or secret, was necessary to this great and sudden renunciation of habits and principles, simultaneous through many and distant lands, and taking place amidst obloquy and peril, —that reader should henceforth discard as groundless those Rules of Probability, whether respecting public or private conduct, which have been drawn from the qualities of human nature and the constitution of human society. Vol. I. p. 332.
With this position of things as they really were, the second
- Christianity, ..... combined with its disadvantageous origin and the great obstacles actually opposed to it, could not have triumphed as it did, without some other miracle, or rather some series of miracles, in its support:
For that which is a morally miraculous feature in its scheme, the absence of accommodation to all the corrupt tastes of mankind, was, in fact, a miracle of repulsion, adapted to preclude its acceptance, unless that acceptance had been urged by some strong counteractive attestations of divinity.' Vol. II. p. 1.
The Author then, for the first time in this part of his argument, lays hold upon the Resurrection of Christ, as the one and pre-eminent miracle, the belief of which, even infidels must acknowledge, was the fulcrum of the lever that has actually moved the world. He argues upon this fact with great felicity and power; yet, with a scrupulosity which could not fail to impress with a conviction of honour and ingenuousness even the most determined infidel, if he retained (yet where is the determined infidel that does retain ?) a spark of love to integrity and truth. The objections and evasions which malignity could
. invent or desire, which crooked ingenuity might imagine, which
alarmed prejudice might welcome, are fairly stated and patiently examined. This portion of the work is indeed, to our feeling, singularly impressive and convincing. But we know too much of the intellectual injustice, the resolute infatuation of the deistical character, to expect that even so fine a piece of frank and lucid reasoning would be allowed to produce any good effect upon minds so prepossessed. They need to undergo a different process, the production of mental honesty, “ the creation of a
, new heart and a right spirit.”
A new and extensive dependency in Mr. Sheppard's chain of argument now appears. From considerations elaborated by profound and original reasoning, he shews that, to solve the entire problem of the early and extensive prevalence of Christianity, there is an antecedent probability that other miracles were wrought, accompanying the first message of apostolic Christianity, and attesting, particularly to the heathen auditors, both the reality of the facts announced and the authorized capacity of the announcer. This part of the work is not only extensive but deeply complicated. Our intelligent readers, whose minds are not unversed in habits of intense thought and the tracing of many consecutive ideas, will, perhaps, form an approximating conception of it from a portion of the concluding paragraph.
It is not, indeed, probable, that a holy and exalted Being should cause paltry or puerile or ostentatious miracles to be wrought for the attestation of these truths, and in that sense compete with a Pythagoras or an Apollonius ; nor that, except for commensurate guilt, he should ordain miracles of destructive or punitive power: but it is probable that he who wrought the beneficent miracle of creation, and has manifested his eternal Godhead, should, when imposture had pretended beneficent miracles for its own base ends, cause similar ones to be verily wrought; at once to display his own moral perfection, and to impress on his creatures the truth of that system of doctrine which generates and inculcates theirs. It is probable that he should thus cause truth to triumph over falsehood in her own favourite expedients, and far outvie the cunning craftiness of men, in the benign simplicity of genuine miracles as well as of true doctrine. It is probable, also, that these miracles, in favour of the truth, should be for a time frequent, various, and repeated; and wrought in different places, by different teachers of the same truths: inasmuch as the witnessing of them, however ineffectual with prejudice and adverse spirits, would be yet much more efficacious than mere testimony; and their succession and variety, by permitting repeated observation, would tend to obviate that pre-judgment of magic or collusion which might arise concerning one or few. It is probable also, as I conceive, that, when their nonconfutation and their triumphant effects had evinced their reality, and when other proofs of the revelation had also been superadded, these would be withdrawn. Vol. ii. p. 108.
Hence, the Author proceeds to the inquiry into positive evidence that the additional miracles, whose utility, if not necessity, had thus been à priori established, were actually wrought by those whom Jesus sent to make known to men his message of truth and grace.
But this positive evidence, according to the peculiar plan of the work, must not be of the most direct and plainly appropriated kind, the reality and solidity of which sort of proofs have been demonstrated by many well-known writers : but it is to be collected from reluctant and ill-willed witnesses, the sworn and devoted of the adverse party ; from their cavils, their accusations, their unwelcome admissions, their inadvertent implications. From this class of testimony, whose direct purpose was only the breathing out of hate and malice, the Author has extracted a surprising body of evidence; evidence, the value of which may be best appreciated by the suitor or the lawyer who triumphantly establishes his cause in court out of the mouths of the opposing witnesses. We give the abstract of this part of the investigation.
*(1.) The Talmuds, or ancient and authorized commentaries of the Jews on their own scriptures, repeatedly record the pretensions of disciples of Jesus to miraculous gifts of healing, and even intimate their possession of some such powers, though, as they contend, unlawfully. (2.) The more formal Jewish accounts of the rise of Christianity disa tinctly mention prodigies to have been expected and demanded by the earliest Christians, as the signs or credentials of an apostle or envoy of Jesus. (3.) The opinions or pretexts of the Jews, as discovered in controversy, ascribe the success of the religion to the magical arts of its first teachers. (4.) Most of those heathen writers of the first ages, who either name and assail Christianity, or appear covertly to allude to it, either affirm or hint at pretensions of its early propagators to supernatural powers, to prophesying or divination, magic, and wonder-working: and Celsus suggests, that they were actually aided by dæmons, and so influenced their converts. (5.) The Emperor Julian, with a studied accumulation of phrase, denounces St. Paul as a magician quite unrivalled, and attributes eminence in a similar kind of powers to the apostles in general. (6.) The same explanation of their success had been resorted to by Porphyry. (7.) The opinion of their having exercised magic was current among heathens generally, as appears from the queries of magistrates, and from the remarks and replies of Christian controvertists; while other customary evasions, adopted by their enemies, indicate that they.conceded the fact of preternatural or wonderful works being done in the name of Christ, attempting only to obviate or ward off the inference as to the divinity of his mission. (Vol. ii. p. 114.) They might be diversely eluded, both by supersti
. tious and by sceptical minds; while, at the same hour, their artless majesty and pure benignity, gloriously accordant with the glad tidings which they sealed, were owned by each enlightened and susceptible inquirer, as signatures luminously distinctive and infallibly divine.'