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and comply with the Roman rites, fled into Ireland and Scotland and the smaller British isles, where they maintained their authority and superstition for some time longer.
But, though the dominion of the Druids in our own country was destroyed at this time, many of their pernicious principles and superstitious practices continued much longer. In truth, so deeply rooted were these principles in the minds of the people of Gaul and Britain, that they not only baffled all the power of the Romans, but they continued to maintain a footing for some ages after the gospel began to be published in the country. And this serves to account for the numerous edicts of emperors, and canons of councils, in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, against the worship of the sun, moon, mountains, rivers, lakes, and trees. This wretched superstition continued even longer in Britain than in some other countries, having been revived first by the Saxons, and afterwards by the Danes. Of this we have a sufficient and melancholy proof in the fact that, so late as the eleventh century, in the reign of Canute, it was found necessary to make the following law against those barbarous heathenish superstitions. “We strictly charge and forbid all our subjects to worship the gods of the Gentiles-that is to say, the sun, moon, fires, rivers, fountains, hills, or trees, and woods of any kind."*
Such is a brief delineation of the system of Druidism—the religion of our forefathers; in the practice of the absurd, superstitious, and cruel rites of which, in all human probability, we, at this day, should ourselves have been engaged, had not the glorious gospel of Christ visited this benighted region, and turned our feet into the ways of peace. But, having traced it from the Christian era to its decline and final extinction, we shall proceed, in the next Lecture, to a more agreeable subject—the history of the introduction of Christianity into the British isles, and its progress till the arrival of the Saxons, in the year 449.
Leges Polit. Canuti Regis, cap. v. apud Leudenbrog in Glossar, p. 1473.
Progress of the Gospel at the beginning-Inquiry respecting its
Introduction into Britain-Testimonies of Theodoret, Eusebius, Gildas- Facilities of Introduction-Pomponia Grecina
- Britain an Asylum from Nero's Fury-Improbability of Peter preaching the Gospel here-Examination of the Evidence respecting the Apostle Paul's doing so—Specimen of Monkish Legends on the Subject-Church of Glastonbury-NenniusJeffery of Monmouth—Persecution of British Christians-Giraldus Cambrensis - State of the British Churches during the first Three Centuries--Monks of Bangor-Pelagius and his Heresy-Means taken to suppress the latter. A. D. 33–448.
The rapid progress which Christianity made in the world during the apostolic age, and the astonishing success of its first preachers, are facts that have often been adverted to in this Course of Lectures, and adduced as evidences of its divine origin. It does not, indeed, fall within the province of the historian to pursue this argument, and exhibit it in its full light, but merely to lay the foundation on which it is built, by giving an impartial account of the time and manner in which the several nations were brought to the knowledge and belief of the gospel ; and this is what I now propose to attempt with regard to our own country.
The ecclesiastical as well as civil antiquities of nations are generally involved in much obscurity. This is evidently the case with regard to the precise time when and the means by which the Gospel was first introduced into this island. Either the
first British Christians kept no records of this happy event, or those records have long since perished. The most ancient of our historians is Gildas, who lived during the sixth century [A. D. 560]; and he expressly declares that he could find no British records of the civil and ecclesiastical affairs of this country, while it was subject to the Romans : and he further assures us that, if any such records had ever existed, they had either been destroyed by their enemies, or carried into foreign countries by some of the exiled Britons. * We must therefore be content to avail ourselves of such a portion of light and information as can be gleaned from the writers of other nations, who incidentally mention the time and other circumstances of the planting of Christianity in this island.
On a subject of this kind, where certainty is not to be obtained, we ought to rest satisfied with such credible testimony as we can collect from any source. The Acts of the Apostles casts no light upon the subject, unless we admit, what is certainly possible, not to say probable, that, among the “devout men out of every nation under heaven,” who were dwelling at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, Acts ii. 5, there might be some from the British isles, who, as in other instances, on their return home, would carry with them the news of the Messiah's advent, as well as of his death and resurrection, with the consequent effusion of the Holy Spirit ;-but something more in the way of evidence may be collected from the apostolic epistles. Paul, writing to the church at Rome, says, “ the sound (of those who preached the gospel of peace) went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world,” Rom. x. 18. The same apostle, addressing the Colossians, says word of the truth of the gospel had come unto them, as it had done to all the world, being preached to every creature which is under heaven.” Col. i. 6, 23. Now, as the Roman empire at that time included nearly the whole habitable globe, and as Great Britain then certainly constituted a province of that empire, it is surely not unreasonable to infer that the apostle included our island in the comprehensive view which he took of the various countries which had then been visited by the light of the gospel.
Gildæ Historia, cap. i.
66 the * Theodoret, tom. iv. Ser. 9, p. 610. † Archb. Usher, de Eccles. Brit. primord. p. 8. Stillingfleet's Orig. Brit. p. 37, &c. Euseb. Demon. Evang. I. iii. cap. 7. || Tertull. contra Judæos, cap. 7.
There are two questions, in relation to this subject, which naturally suggest themselves for consideration—the first respects the time when, the second the persons by whom, the gospel of peace was originally brought hither; and the former of these points appears to be better supported by evidence than the latter. That the light of the Gospel shone upon Britain, while the apostles were yet alive, seems highly probable from numerous testimonies. Theodoret, who flourished in the former part of the fifth century and who was unquestionably one of the most learned fathers of the church, says,-“Our fishermen, publicans, and tent-makers, persuaded not only the Romans and their subjects, but also the Scythians, Indians, Persians, Hyrcanians, Britons, Cimmerians, and Germans, to embrace the religion of him who had been crucified."* It
indeed seem to some but a slender foundation on which to ground the notion of the apostle Paul's preaching the Gospel in this country, that Theodoret refers to him when he speaks of “tent-makers;" but the supposition certainly receives confirmation from the fact that, in other places of his writings, he insinuates that the apostle Paul preached the Gospel in this island as well as in Spain, and other countries of the west.+ Clement of Rome, and Jerome, say the same thing in rather plainer terms. To these writers we may also add the testimony of Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea, who lived in the beginning of the fourth century, and who, from his connexion with Constantine the Great, had the best opportunities of being well-informed on a subject of this kind. To demonstrate the truth of the Gospel, he wrote a large work, in which he endeavours to prove that the apostles had preached the Gospel successfully “ to the Romans, Persians, Armenians, Parthians, Indians, Scythians, and to those which are called the British islands." Tertullian, also, in his book against the Jews, which was written A. D. 209, positively affirms, that “ Those parts of Britain into which the Roman arms had never penetrated were become subject to Christ ;''l] whence it would appear that the Gospel had made its way into the Roman provinces of Britain some time before Tertullian wrote. To this, let me add the tes
timony of Gildas, who seems to fix the introduction of Christianity into our country prior to the great revolt and defeat of the Britons, under their queen Boadicea, which took place in the year 61. For, having mentioned these events, he goes on to say, “ In the mean time, Christ, the true sun (of righteousness, Mal. iv.) afforded his rays-that is, the knowledge of his precepts, to this island benumbed with extreme cold, having been at a great distance from the sun; I do not mean the sun in the firmament, but the eternal sun in heaven, about the end, as we know, of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, showing his most glorious * light to the whole world, at which time his religion was propagated (at Rome) without any hindrance."* Such was probably the tradition concerning this matter which prevailed at the beginning of the sixth century, when Gildas wrote, and it was possibly not far from the truth.
We shall be more disposed to give credit to these testimonies concerning the early introduction of the Gospel into Britain, when we consider the almost constant and daily intercourse that then took place between Rome and Britain. The emperor Claudius established a Roman province in the south-east parts of Britain, in the year of Christ 43. Soon after this, a Roman colony was settled in the West Riding of Yorkshire (Camelodunum). London and St. Albans had become large, rich, flourishing municipia, or free cities, crowded with Roman citizens, before the revolt under Boadicea took place. In consequence of this intercourse, whatever became the subject of attention in the capital of the empire could not long be unknown in this country. Now, it is a well known fact that the Christian religion had not only made great progress at Rome in the days of Claudius, but had even engaged the attention of the government.+ Claudius died in the year 54, previously to which many of our countrymen of high rank had been carried prisoners to Rome, and others had gone thither to negociate their affairs at the seat of government --add to which, that a very considerable number of Romans had come into Britain, to occupy civil and military posts in this island. These considerations may serve to show us how easily the Gospel might find its way into
* Gildæ Hist, cap. 6.
+ Suetonius in vita Claud, cap. 25.