THE EVIDENCE OF CHRISTIANITY FROM ITS PROPAGATION.
There are two forms of religion in the world which owe their present existence and influence to the fact that they were at first propagated by direct effort. They are Christianity and Mohammedism. In this respect they stand by themselves. The religion of the Jews had its origin with their own nation, and grew up with themselves, and identified itself with all their legislative, municipal, and military regulations—a growth among themselves, and not an accretion from surround ing nations. They indeed sought to make proselytes, but they never sought or expected to make their religion a universal religion. Moses labored to make the Jewish people a religious people, not to convert the surrounding nations, and at no period of their history did the Hebrews ever conceive the idea of converting the whole world to their faith. It was the religion of the Jewish nation, not the religion of the world.
The Egyptian religion was limited to the Egyptians, the Chaldean to the Chaldeans, the Assyrian to the Assyrians. It was a fundamental idea in the ancient Pagan religions that every nation had its own gods, and that those gods were to be respected by other nations. The Greeks did not go forth to convert the world to their Jupiter, Juno, or Mars, but were content that all others should do honor as they chose to their own national gods. In the Pantheon at Rome the idea was embodied in the very name and conception of the temple, that all the gods of the nations were to be recognized, and that all might have a place there provided they did not disturb or displace those who were recognized as the Roman divinities.
Christianity and Mohammedism, however, each alike started out on a different idea. They were to be propagated. They were to overstep the narrow limits of the people among whom they had their origin. They were, wherever they went, to displace other religions. They were to convert heathen temples to churches or mosques, or, if this could not be done, they were to disrobe their priests, and to empty them of worshipers, and to leave them tenantless. They were to throw down all altars; stop the effusion of blood in sacrifice every where; change all laws that recognized the existence of more gods than one; set up the worship of one God, and bring the nations of the earth under the influence of a " book-revelation"—the Bible or the Koran. They were both to be diffused by direct effort; and the idea of propagation was a fundamental idea in both—the one by the sword, the other by the influence of truth and love.
They began much alike. Both had their origin in an individual in whom alone was the germ of the religion—was all the religion; and both those founders of the respective systems were obscure—both poor, both uneducated, both without powerful alliances or armies. Neither of the religions was a development from any previous form of religion, or an outgrowth of existing views among men, or of any prevailing form of civilization, and neither of them would have started up as such an outgrowth or development in Persia in the time of Cyrus, or in Greece in the age of Pericles, or in Rome in the time of the Antonines, or of any nation now, if we can suppose that the existing nations had their present forms of civilization or art without any religion. Both had very small beginnings, and wearisome weeks and months, and even years, passed away before they became so rooted or accumulated such force as to affect the established institutions, or to excite apprehension among the friends of existing systems of religion. The founders of both experienced similar opposition from their own families and friends, and made their first converts among strangers; and both were greatly persecuted. The one, to save his life in infancy, was borne to a distant land, and was often obliged to resort to measures derived from his higher nature to save his life, and at last was put to death on a cross; the other was compelled to flee from the place of his birth and from his home, and to make a distant city the seat and centre of his efforts to spread his religion. Neither lived to see much more than the beginning of the diffusion of their religion, and the religion of both was spread with rapidity over extended regions only when they were no longer upon the earth to direct its diffusion in person. Millions of human beings have been brought under the power of each; each has lived, since its origin, through the revolutions of many centuries, andfamid all the advances which the world has made in science and in art; each has given laws to nations; has founded governments; has changed long-existing dynasties ; has controlled kings on their thrones; has organized vast armies; has changed, if not made permanent, the customs of the world. The banners of each in war have waved over numberless battle-fields, often when contending alone with other nations; often when arrayed against each other; seldom in union against a common foe. Both, though often attacked with the utmost violence, yet survive, and now together more deeply influence the destiny of the world than all other forms of religion combined.
Both these religions can not be true; both can not have been propagated because they were true. An argument for the divine origin of either from the fact of its propagation that would be equally applicable to both would prove nothing, and a very material question occurs whether there is any such peculiarity in the manner and fact of the propagation of the one as would demonstrate its divine origin, which would not be applicable to the other; or whether the mere propagation of a system of philosophy or religion, under any circumstances, proves that it is from God.
Without comparing the evidence in regard to the two, and reserving the remarks which distinguish and separate the two, so far as the argument is concerned, to the closing part of the Lecture, I shall endeavor, as its main purpose, to set before you the argument for the divine origin of Christianity as derived from its propagation.
This I shall do by illustrating the following points-:
I. That the religion was propagated;
II. That the evidence or facts on which this was done was sufficient to account for its propagation, or t9 secure its propagation if such evidence existed; and,
IIL That the fact of the propagation of Christianity, in the manner in which it occurred, can be explained only on the supposition that there was such evidence, and that the religion is from God.
I. The first point, as I have announced it—That the religion was propagated—has so far the appearance of being a truism that you may be surprised, perhaps, that I have so far reflected on your understandings as to submit it as a proposition to be proved or even illustrated. I mean by it, however, more than may strike you on its mere announcement.
What I mean by it, and what is to be illustrated in this argument is, (1.) That it was not a development from any previous system of religion or from the state of the world; and (2.) That it was propagated in the manner and on the grounds which are stated in the New Testament.
(1.) It was not a development from any previous system of religion or from the state of the world.
That there are things existing in society which are of the proper nature of development from something previously existing, or which have sprung into being because the state of the world demanded them, can not be called in question; and it can not be denied that progressive civilization seems to follow, in some respects, the laws of development in the vegetable kingdom. It would be a curious and not unprofitable inquiry to ascertain what were the germs of the present civilizations of the world, and by what laws they have been unfolded. Society is thus a growth, formed of accretions from without, as plants are, in which the principle of life in the germ attracts to itself, and moulds into the appropriate shape, under its own laws of life, whatever is necessary to its full and perfect form. The race thus, like the plant, is one, and the progress is steadily and indefinitely onward.* It is, in itself, a fair question whether all existing things in society can be traced
* " Social advancement is as completely under the control of natural law as is bodily growth. The life of an individual is a miniature of the life of a nation."—Dr. Draper, History of the Intellectual Development of Europe. Preface.
to this law of development or progress; and it is perfectly fair for any advocate of that theory to endeavor to show that Christianity, so far as it indicates progress, comes under that law. So far, in fact, has the principle now adverted to been carried, that it has been held that the great minds which have been thrown up from time to time to meet great emergencies in the world, and to lift the race to a higher level, have, in fact, been created by circumstances, and are simply a development of what may be in the germ of humanity; as the richest fruit, under the highest cultivation, is but a fair development of what is in the germ from which it sprang. In like manner it has been held, and it is quite material for infidelity to hold it, that Christianity is but a simple development of a state of things to which the world in its progress was coming; itself, in due time, to give way to some higher development that shall spring out of an advanced state of society, and that will better than Christianity then represent the real progress of the world—"Positivism," or some such form of religion. j According to such a theory, in the words of another, f" Christianity arose from a happy confluence of the Greek and Roman with the Hebrew civilization." The state of the world demanded a change in religion. The old religions were dying or dead. The civilization of the world was in advance of those religions, and they must die, at any rate'. But there were in them elements of religion representing the progress which the world had made at that time, which might be mingled with the advanced principles in civilization, and out of which a new system might spring that would accompany the world in its progress for many generations, until, it also becoming decayed and effete, and falling behind some distant age, some higher form of 5ligion would arise which would better represent an
dvanced period of the world.
Whether this is so is a fair question, and yet it would
ippear not to be of difficult solution. It may be remarked in the outset that Christianity
as not the appearance of being a development. It had no growth. It was perfect at the commencement as it came from its Founder, and as it was explained in the New Testament. It became fixed at once, and it has not changed. It has no doctrines now which it had not eighteen hundred years ago; and it had none then which it has not now, for it has lost none by the way. One of our main embarrassments in regard to it, as compared with the progress of the world, as we shall see in a subsequent Lecture, is that it is a fixed religion, not susceptible of change or modification. To that our adversaries hold us; from that we can not retreat. The form of Minerva was not more complete at her birth than Christianity was, and its form was no more susceptible of growing beauty than was hers. In proof that these things were so, I submit the following remarks:
(a) Christianity was not a development of the Pagan religions. It sprang up in a land remote from those religions ; it has no features in common with them; it came, so far as they had life, into immediate and deadly collision with them. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, the Persian, the Greek, the Roman mythologies—which of them or what part of them is represented by Christianity ? The temples, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the morals—which of them is represented by Christianity ? Which of them welcomed its coming—which of them sprang forward to embrace it—which of them opened its temples for it ?
(b) Christianity was not developed from Judaism, ■
unless it be in the sense, if the comparison be not too low, in which the chrysalis is " developed" into the butterfly, and the new insect emerges into a new form of being, the former life — the groveling caterpillar— dying altogether. Judaism died when Christianity appeared. Unlike the expiring worm, indeed, with the little life it had, it evinced a deadly antagonism to the new form—the new religion — and then it, like that worm, expired. Its altars were overthrown ; its priests were disrobed; its temple was razed to the foundations ; its sacrifices were rendered unmeaning, and ceased forever; its political economy was ended; its people were scattered to the ends of the earth, to be gathered as a nation no more. We as Christians, indeed, admit, in our sense of the term, that Christianity was " developed" in a certain sense from the Jewish religion ; that the one had the same origin as the other; that the same life-blood flowed through both ; that the Messiah of the one was adumbrated by the rites of the other; and that the one was, in the purpose of God, preparatory and introductory to the other. But this is not the sense in which the enemies of Christianity would say that Christianity was developed from Judaism ; and in the sense in which they use the term it is in no manner true.
(c) It was not a development from the Greek philosophy, or from the Roman philosophy, the echo of the Greek. That philosophy, in common with other forms of philosophy, has, indeed, at times greatly influenced and modified Christianity as it has been held in the world; but the systems have been kept distinct, and have never been confounded. With both these before us now—for the records of the Greek and Roman phi- ~ losophy have been, from some cause, almost as carefully
preserved as the records of Christianity—we are enabled to make a comparison between what Socrates, Pythagoras, Zeno, and Plato taught, and what Jesus taught j and no germ of the latter is to be found in the former. It is impossible to take the teachings of the Greeks, and to show how the peculiarities of the Christian system could have grown out of them; and it is morally certain that if Christ had not appeared in person, and if the world had retained its possession of the Greek philosophy, such a system as that of Christianity would have been forever unknown to men. From some cause, the Greek philosophy has quite as much affinity with the religion of the Koran as it has with the religion of the New Testament; for it was at Bagdad, in the time of the Caliphs, that it was preserved, when a dark night had settled down on Christian Europe ; it was at Bagdad, in the palmy days of the religion of Mohammed, that it was most carefully studied ; it was from Bagdad, as, in part, the result of the Crusades, that it was given again to Europe.
(d) Nor was it a development of the civilization which the world had attained at the time when it appeared. Christianity is not Greek civilization; it is not Roman; it is not Egyptian; it is not Persian; it is not Babylonian. In fact, the enemies of Christianity tell us that it set itself much against the civilization of the world when it appeared. It enjoined peculiar manners, and was austere, cold, dissocial,' severe ; it had no fine arts of its own, and it looked with disdain on the arts of polished life in Greece and Rome ; it evinced no affinity for poetry, painting, or statuary, but looked with distrust on them all; it attempted no rivalship of the works of the great Greek masters, but aroused their hostility by eschewing and avoiding them; its own works of art of that early age—needful for their public assemblies, and needful to mark the places where martyrs slept—as in the catacombs of Rome, are of the rudest structure; and its connection with the arts—poetiy, painting, sculpture, architecture — was of the slowest growth, and was the work of late, and not of early years. Moreover, there has been a deep conviction in the minds of many of its best friends that the extensive cultivation of the fine arts is not conducive to the growth of a pure Christianity, but that such a cultivation is, from some cause, closely connected, in fact, with a deterioration in doctrine, and with corruption in practical life. Christianity at its beginning was what it has ever been since. Less by far than any other system that has influenced mankind has it been the result of development and growth.
(e) Nor is it true that it is a development of civilization as the world has advanced since its Founder lived, and that it owes its present form to the progress of the race. In one breath we are told by Comte and his followers that it falls behind the age; that it is effete and obsolete; that the world now, in its state of civilization, needs a better system, and that it is the business of philosophy to reveal such a system; in the next breath, by Buckle and his friends, that it is the result of the progressive civilization of the world, and has grown naturally out of the unfoldings of the germs of civilized life. " Can a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig-tree bear olive-berries ? either a vine figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh."
Neither of these suppositions is true. Christianity has not outlived its influence on the civilization of the world, nor has it obtained its influence because it is a development of the germs of civilization which the world in its progress is unfolding.
In one word, Christianity is not a " development" at all. It was mature and perfect at the beginning. Few of the great things which influence our world morally or physically are the result of" development." In the old geological periods, as we are now instructed, one was in no sense a " development" from the former; nor did the old in any form travel over into the new in an improved and more perfect growth. The old races were swept off absolutely, and new successive creations of plants and animals were brought upon the changed earth. Man at last appeared, not as a development, but as a new creation. So geology now teaches us. In the progress of society, of what is the printingpress a development ? the railroad—the magnetic telegraph ? Of what was the mind of Shakspeare, of Bacon, of Newton a development ? What was there in the intellect of John Shakspeare, originally a glover, and then a skinner and wool-stapler* in Henly Street, in Stratford-on-Avon, that developed itself into Hamlet, and Lear, and Macbeth—that, in the language of Hugh Miller, " set such great thoughts bounding through the world ?" What was there in the obscure and humble parson, the father of Newton, that " developed" itself into the science of fluxions, and the discovery of the great law of gravitation ?
(2.) The facts in regard to the propagation of Christianity are well settled in history.
(a) It had its origin with Jesus of Nazareth. That fact is as clear as any fact in history; it is so clear that no one can doubt it; it is so clear that it has never been * Ulrici, Dramatic Art of Shakspeare, p. 70. F
denied. Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical personage. What he was, who he was, whence he came, what was the object of his coming, are other questions; but that he lived, that he taught, that he died—that he was born in the time of Augustus Caesar, and died in the time of Tiberius—are points settled by all history. Infidelity has not ventured to call these things in question. And the most learned and able forms of skepticism have been employed in showing how, these facts being assumed, the growth and spread of Christianity can be explained. The Jesus of Strauss is a real historical personage, around whom his disciples and followers have drawn the myths that have grown up into Christianity as it is; the Jesus of Renan is a real personage —an uneducated peasant, ignorant of histoiy, of geography, of literature—unacquainted even with the history of the Herods of his own country, and a stranger to the history of Rome, yet a young man of remarkable and unparalleled genius, far beyond his own age, or any age—ultimately, as springing from the exertion of his own unconscious powers, conceiving the idea that he was the Messiah, and was, in a form before unknown, to set up the worship of the true God, and to change the religion of the world; the Jesus of Gibbon is a real personage, the influence of whose life and opinions on the world is to be explained in the best way in which it can be.
(b) This religion was propagated mainly by very humble men; by men who were uneducated; by men for the most part fishermen—having no original superiority above other fishermen on the shores of the Lake of Galilee, a rude and uncultivated region, or above fishermen as they are found now around Cape Cod or on the Banks of Newfoundland—among the last of men that would be selected for the work of religious missions, or for founding a religion, or for measuring strength with the philosophy of the world: men without rank, or position, or influence, except as they created it in the effort to spread the new religion; men belonging to a despised race—a race known indeed beyond the boundaries of their own narrow country, but mostly as slaves, and characterized by Tacitus as " the enemies of the human race;" men belonging to a nation that had produced nothing in sculpture, in painting, in philosophy, in arts, or in arms, to make them known abroad; men belonging to a race which heathen poets condescended to notice only with contempt.*
(c) The facts in the history of its propagation are as well settled as any other facts in history—so well settled as to admit of no skepticism in regard to them. There were no armies; there were no military leaders. The conquests of Christianity were not, certainly until' it ascended the throne of the Caesars, the result of bloody victories. The facts in regard to its propagation have been traced with great learning, impartiality, and fidelity by Mr. Gibbon, and accord, as stated by him, with all the other records that have been handed down to us. They have not been called in question by Strauss or Renan, and infidelity has not ventured, if it had any desire to do it, to found its attacks on Christianity on a denial of those facts. It was in Mr. Gibbon's path to state those facts, and he has done it without hesitation, and without an attempt to pervert them. In fact, he has traced that history in regard to the propagation of Christianity as the result of the labors of humble and unknown men, without influence or arms, as faithfully and impartially as he has described the * Credat Judaeus Apella.—Horace.
character of the Antonines or Julian, or as he has traced the history of the spread of the religion of Mohammed.
(d) The religion was propagated on the ground of miracles; on the affirmation that Christ rose from the dead; on the belief of the facts as they are stated in the New Testament. Whatever may be said about the truth on any of these points—whether, for example, Christ actually rose from the dead, or whether the hallucination of a woman has taught mankind to believe this, as Renan alleges: " The strong imagination of Mary Magdalene," says he, "has enacted a principal part. Divine power of love ! sacred moments in which the passion of a hallucinated woman gives to the world a resurrected God"*—yet there can be no doubt that the religion was, in fact, propagated on the ground of the belief of the facts stated in the New Testament, and that if these had not been believed, the religion could not, and would not have been spread over the world. The New Testament is full of this, and history is full of it. Mr. Gibbon did not venture to call this fact in question, though he has stated it, as it became him to do with his views of religion, in connection with the fact, as undoubtedly true also, that for ages the belief prevailed in the Church that miracles continued to be wrought, and that" that belief must have conduced very frequently to the conversion of infidels."f The only point which I am now making is, that the religion was propagated and received in the world on the ground of the belief that the miracles of the New Testament were true, and especially on the belief that Christ rose from the dead.
* Life of Jesus, p. 357.
t See his statement in full in vol. i., p. 264-2G7, of his History, Harper's ed., 1829.
II. The second inquiry is, Whether the supposed evidence of the divine origin of Christianity, on which it was propagated, was of such a nature as to account for the facts in regard to its spread in the world ; to justify men in embracing it; and to explain the causes of the great changes which it made. If those evidences were real, would they explaiy. the facts which followed; would they be such as to show that the action of the world in the case was right and wise ; would it be true that in subsequent times the race could look upon this part of its history with complacency and approbation ? for there is much, very much, in the past history of man on which we can not thus look, and'which, for the honor of our nature, the historian of human affairs would be glad to forget.
It will not be practicable or necessary to dwell long on this part of the subject. It is, perhaps, the part of the argument which I am submitting to you which would be most readily yielded by those who deny the truth of the Christian religion.
What is to be supposed in the case is this, that the things which are revealed in the New Testament actually occurred as they are stated there, and that credible proof that they did actually occur was furnished to mankind—so furnished that the world actually received it as credible proof. Let it be supposed, therefore, that the things narrated in the New Testament actually took place, and that the world believed this — that Jesus lived; that he was born and reared in the manner related; that he taught; that he proclaimed the doctrines which are attributed to him; that he was pure and holy in his character; that he answered the description of a long series of ancient predictions in regard to the Messiah; that he healed the sick by miracle; that he opened-the eyes of the blind, and caused the lame man to leap as an hart; that he cast Out devils ; that he raised the dead; that he was put to death on a cross; that the earth trembled, and that the sun withdrew his beams when he died; that he himself rose from the dead and ascended to heaven—let these things be supposed, and let them be credited by mankind. The question then is, whether there was any thing in the actual reception of the system which can not be explained on this supposition; any thing that can not be vindicated and justified as honorable to human nature ? Is there any thing in it which the world ought to desire to forget ¥ Is there any thing in reference to the actual changes which Christianity has made in the affairs of nations which the historian of human affairs would be at a loss in accounting for? Is there any thing in the reception of Christianity which would place the race on the same humiliating ground on which the past history of the world in regard to sorcery, and witchcraft, and necromancy, and imposture in general, has placed it ?
Nowhere would the explanation of things be so easy; nowhere would the historian have more occasion to congratulate himself than in assuming these as facts in the explanation of the history of the world. How easy would have been the task of Mr. Gibbon, how much hard labor would it have saved him, if he had " seen his way clear" to admit these things to be true !
I may be able, in the proper place, to show, that if the things attributed to Mohammed in history actually occurred, or were real historical events, the changes which were consequent on the introduction of his religion into the world are susceptible of easy explanation. I attempt no more than this in the remarks now made in regard to the establishment of Christianity.
(1.) These things were relied on: that Jesus lived; that he uttered great truths about God; that he taught the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment; that he wrought miracles in amazing numbers; that he raised the dead; that he himself rose from the dead; that he ascended to heaven; that he made an atonement for the sins of the world. The system never would have been preached at all if these things had not been believed to have occurred; it never would have been embraced if it had not been believed that they were true. The world did believe them; the world acted on the belief Mr. Gibbon could not deny this; no man can now deny it. The reliance in spreading the Gospel was not on military power; on philosophy; on superior claims in science; on a higher civilization; on appeals to the passions of men; on the promise of temporal advantages; on necromancy, juggling, fortune-telling, or sorcery; on new theories about government and law. All the accounts agree in this, that it was not on these things, but on the belief of the truth of the facts of Christianity as we have them in the records of the New Testament now.
(2.) The old systems of religion sat loosely on the world, and the world was, in a certain sense, waiting for a new religion. This was undoubtedly the case in Judea, for the power of the Jewish religion was waning, and the nation was, on principle and in accordance with their prophecies, waiting for an important change in religion when their Messiah should appear. The same thing was substantially true elsewhere. There is undoubted truth in a remark which Mr. Gibbon makes, that the systems of religion prevailing in the Roman empire were all " regarded by philosophers as equally false, by statesmen as equally necessary, and by the mass of the people as equally true." It is also an undoubted fact, established on the well-known testimony of the writers of that age, that there was a general expectation prevailing that some remarkable person would soon appear whose coming would materially change the condition of the world. Thus Suetonius (ch. iv.) says: " An ancient and settled persuasion prevailed throughout the East that the fates had decreed some one to proceed out of Judea who should attain universal empire.'' Thus Tacitus (Annals, 5,13), says: "Many were persuaded that it was contained in the books of their priests that at that very time the East should prevail, and that some one should proceed from Judea, and should possess the dominion." It is not, indeed, to be maintained that this expectation was universal, nor is it to be affirmed that Paganism or Judaism had lost their power altogether, for there was still vitality enough in both to arouse themselves to desperate efforts to destroy the new religion when it appeared, in furious storms of persecution.
. Yet, that the power of the religions of the world as controlling mankind was waning, if not almost extinct, is the undoubted testimony of history. Mr. Gibbon, speaking of the influence of the prevailing religions on the public mind, makes the following, among other remarks : " We are sufficiently acquainted with the eminent persons who flourished in the age of Cicero, and the first Caesars, with their actions, their characters, and their motives, to be assured that their conduct in this life was never regulated by any serious conviction of the rewards and punishments of a future state" (vol. i.,p. 260). "The general system of their mythology," says he, " was unsupported by any solid proofs; and the wisest among the Pagans had already disclaimed its usurped authority."—Ibid. "The doctrine of a future state," he adds, " was scarcely considered among the devout polytheists of Greece and Rome as a fundamental article of faith."—Ibid. In connection with these remarks, and as illustrating the religious state of the world when Christianity appeared, and as accounting, in some measure, for its reception by mankind, he makes, also, the following important observations:
"When Christianity appeared in the world, even these faint and imperfect impressions" [respecting religion in the "prevailing form] " had lost much of their original power. Human reason, which by its unassisted strength is incapable of perceiving the mysteries of faith, had already obtained an easy triumph over the folly of Paganism; and when Tertullian or Lactantius employ their labors in exposing its falsehood and extravagance, they are obliged to transcribe the eloquence of Cicero or the wit of Lucian. The contagion of these skeptical writings had been diffused far beyond the number of their readers. The fashion of incredulity was communicated from the philosopher to the man of pleasure or business, from the noble to the plebeian, and from the master to the menial slave who waited at his table, and who eagerly listened to the freedom of his conversation. On public occasions the philosophic part of mankind affected to treat with respect and decency the religious institutions of their country; but their secret contempt penetrated through the thin and awkward disguise; and even the people, when they discovered that their deities were rejected and derided by those whose rank or understanding they were accustomed to reverence, were filled with doubts and apprehensions concerning the truth of those doctrines, to which they had yielded the most implicit belief. The decline of ancient prejudice exposed a very numerous portion of human kind to the danger of a painful and comfortless situation. A state of skepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude, that if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision. Their love of the marvelous and supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond the limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which favored the establishment of polytheism. So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall' of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition. Some deities of a more recent and fashionable cast might soon have occupied the deserted temples of Jupiter and Apollo, if, in the decisive moment, the wisdom of Providence [sic] had not interposed a genuine revelation, fitted to inspire the most rational esteem and conviction, while, at the same time, it was adorned with all that could attract the curiosity, the wonder, and the veneration of the people. In their actual disposition, as many were almost disengaged from their artificial prejudices, but equally susceptible and desirous of a devout attachment, an object much less deserving would have been sufficient to fill the vacant place in their hearts, and to gratify the uncertain eagerness of their passions. Those who are inclined to pursue this reflection, instead of viewing with astonishment the rapid progress of Christianity, will perhaps be surprised that its success was not still more rapid and still more universal."*
* Decline and Fall, vol. i., p. 280, 281.
(3.) The new system contained statements on points which men had desired to know, and on which they despaired of obtaining information from any other source. We shall see in a subsequent Lecture (Lecture IX.) that Christianity meets and satisfies original wants .in man—wants in his very nature as a religious being, and wants as a fallen being—and that it supplies, in the great sacrifice which it reveals as made for sin, what men had been elsewhere seeking in vain. The remark which I am now making is, that the fact that those doctrines were promulgated and believed in the early propagation of Christianity, will go far to explain the fact that the religion was embraced, or to account for the success attending the efforts for its dissemination. Mr. Gibbon has himself shown this with great skill in reference to the doctrines of the immortality of the soul and of a future state, for he has made this one of the five causes which will explain the fact of the propagation of the Christian religion.* The point which I am now making is, that what was true of those doctrines is true of other doctrines of Christianity also. It is no less a fact that they met the wants and aspirations of men. And as we know that the religion was propagated and embraced on the belief of these truths, it follows that if it is assumed that they were true, the fact would go far to explain the reception of the religion in the world. The new religion met a conscious want of men in the failure of polytheism, and was embraced in part because it met such a want. That there is a God, one God; that there is a Savior; that the soul is immortal; that there is a future state ; that the pardon of sin may be obtained, are truths which men had panted to know, but which had been found in no other * Decline and Fall, vol. i., p. 259-264.
system, and which they had ceased to hope could be obtained in connection with philosophy or polytheism.
(4.) Men will sooner or later yield to that which seems to them to have the force of truth, or which they believe to be true. The foundation of this remark is, that there is that in the human mind, as we shall see in another part of this course (Lecture IX.), which corresponds with truth, or which is designed to secure the reception and influence of truth in the world, and this principle or law of our nature will explain the progress which truth on any subject has made. It is, moreover, the most cheering thing in regard to the future, for it makes it certain that truth on all subjects, religion as well as others, will ultimately be triumphant. It is to be admitted that there may be that in the mind itself which will temporarily resist this. There may be the prejudices of education, of bigotry, of country, of custom, of party, and of religion — the " idols" of the " tribe," of the " cave," of the " forum," and of the " theatre," as Lord Bacon calls them*—but those prejudices truth will overcome. There may be laws, customs, and vested interests; there may be the influence of a priesthood; there may be the resistance of a false philosophy ; there may be all the power derived from hereditary rank; there may be all that there is in the passions of men, and the love of ease and indulgence; there may be all the power of a gross iirimorality, sanctioned by religion, by custom, and by law; and there may be all the power of a state or empire. All this Christianity encountered; most of this any new form of religion, or any new opinion in philosophy, will be likely to encounter in the world. Truth may seem to begin
* Idola tribus, idola specus, idola fori, idola theatri.—Novum Organum, lib. i., aphor. xxxix.
its way as by beating against adamantine walls. It may appear to accomplish no more than the ocean does with its raging billows against rock-bound coasts, or along the pebbly shore. It makes the attack, and then retires. If the pebble is removed a little inward, it will come back again; if the sand is washed a little, it at once fills up; if the solid rocks tremble, they still stand firm. Truth may seem to be stayed, and to die out; but it will not.
"Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again;
The eternal years of God are hers."
Time only is needed for its triumph. In due time it will be in the ascendant; and, great as was the opposition which Christianity met when first announced to the world, yet it did triumph, and the principle now laid down will account for the fact that it triumphed. The same principle, also, will account for the fact that it is kept up in the world; and the same principle makes it absolutely certain that it will ultimately prevail all over the earth.
(5.) A belief in miracles will convince men of the truth of a religion which they are wrought to establish, and faith in the miracles of the New Testament was one of the main grounds on which the system was embraced. The process of argument by which this is proved is a very brief one. It is simply that the human mind is so made that it can not believe that the laws of nature would be set aside to confirm a falsehood or to commend an impostor. Whatever may be true in regard to the converse of this proposition, whether the human mind is so made that it can believe that the laws of nature will be set aside to confirm a true system of religion, or to commend a true embassador from heaven to the world—which is now the great question in our conflict with scientific infidelity, yet there is a universal opinion—men can not believe otherwise—that God would not, and could not, interpose in this manner in behalf of an impostor and a false system of religion. If the dead are raised, and if men believe that they are raised, then they will believe also that he who does this is invested with special power by God, and has a special commission from him, for created power does not raise the dead.
Mr. Gibbon has been at considerable pains (vol. L, p. 264-267) to illustrate the fact that "supernatural gifts, even in this life, were ascribed to the Christians above the rest of mankind," and "must have conduced to their own comfort, and very frequently to the conviction of infidels;" and he has made it a point to consider when these marvelous powers ceased in the Church. Mr. Lecky, with a different purpose, and with great ability, has engaged in the inquiry when miracles really ceased in the Church, and has described the prevailing state of mind on the subject at the present time (History of Rationalism in Europe, vol. i., p. 155-202); but, whenever it ceased, no one can doubt, not even Mr. Gibbon, that the belief that such miracles were wrought would account for the spread of the Gospel. Indeed, that, as has been remarked, is one of the main points by which he accounts for its diffusion in the Roman empire.
I can not but be justified, therefore, in the conclusion which I draw from these things, that if the miracles ascribed to the Savior were wrought, this fact will account for the spread of Christianity in the world, and will justify its reception. Somehow the mind of man is so made that such a result must follow.
(6.) The belief of the things on which Christianity was propagated would account for all the facts which occurred in the conversion of men; in their forsaking sin; in their yielding to the claims of virtue; in the reformations of morals and of life which followed in the path of the apostles. That men did forsake their sins, and that they did lead upright and pure lives under the influence of this system, is a simple matter of historic truth which no one would call in question. It is apparent on the face of the New Testament; it has come down to us in sacred history; it is confirmed by what occurs now; and it is established by what, with some, would be a more decisive authority than all the rest, that of Mr. Gibbon; for he would have given a different representation of the influence of Christianity on morals if God, while he allowed him to be an infidel in religion, had not made him faithful as an historian.
Of the five causes on which, according to him, the reception of Christianity in the world can be explained without the necessity of admitting its divine origin, the purity of its morals is one. It became necessary, therefore, in such an argument, to show that the early Christians were distinguished for their pure moral character, and that Christianity, in fact, promoted the reformation of mankind. This point has been elaborated by him with consummate skill (vol. i., p. 267-271). If there is a sneer on his face while he writes, and an underlying sarcasm as his pen moves so smoothly, it is no more than we were to expect; but the fact is one which could not but be stated in an honest account of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The use to be made of it was another question for him, as it is for us; but historic verity demanded of Mr. Gibbon that the statement should be made, as it is made, that "the primitive Christian demonstrated his faith by his virtues" (vol. i., p. 267), and that full credit should be given to the statement that "when the Christians ofBithynia were brought before the tribunal of the younger Pliny, they assured the proconsul that, far from being engaged in any unlawful conspiracy, they were bound by a solemn obligation to abstain from the commission of those crimes which disturb the private or public peace of society—from theft, robbery, adultery, perjury, and fraud" (vol. i.,p. 267, 268), and that "the friends of Christianity may acknowledge," says he, " without a blush, that many of the most eminent saints had been before their baptism the most abandoned sinners" (vol. i., p. 267).
Now, if the system of Christianity is true, such facts would occur just as it is stated that they did occur; that is, it would produce precisely such effects as these, for its doctrines are designed to produce such effects. It needs no argument to show that these effects must follow from such a system of doctrines, and the causes and effects in such a case would be commensurate with each other; in other words, the supposition of the truth of Christianity would account for the facts in its propagation.
(7.) In like manner, the supposition of the truth of the facts in Christianity would, if they were believed, shake the faith of men in the old systems of religion; for, if Christianity was true, these systems were of course false, and men would perceive it and abandon them: an event which actually occurred, and which can thus be satisfactorily explained.
(8.) On the same supposition, also, all the arrangements for a priesthood, and for the 'offering of sacrifices, * alike among the Jews and the heathen, would be seen to be useless and unnecessary, and would soon lose their hold on men—as was the fact. The Jewish priesthood, as a priesthood, ceased almost immediately on the in
troduetion of Christianity; the altar was overthrown, the temple was demolished, and Judaism expired. The same effect followed among the heathen. The fires ceased to bum on the altars; the priests were disrobed; the temples were closed; the vast fabric of superstition melted away. This effect undoubtedly followed on the preaching of Christianity, for it is attested by all history, and it was an effect which must follow if Christianity was true. The supposition that it was true, or was believed to be true, will account for the effects which actually. followed.
(9.) On the same principle, also, it would follow that all the laws made for the support of Paganism would soon become obsolete, and would lose their power, so that they could not be revived, and so that it would become necessary to adjust the laws to the new order of things. If the religion should lose its hold on the people ; if the temples and the altars should be forsaken; if the priesthood should become powerless; if the Lares and the Penates should be treated as useless lumber; if the Dies Fasti should cease to attract the people; if faith in the gods should cease, then all the laws which upheld those things would be unmeaning and powerless, and the legislation of the state would be adjusted to the new religion: an event which actually occurred, and which is susceptible thus of an easy explanation.
(10.) It would also follow, however, that there would probably be a conflict between the two systems, and that, while there was power on the one side and feebleness on the other, there would be an attempt to sustain the one and to destroy the other by power—the power of the state; for, if Christianity was true, there was that in it which would not yield to the dictation of civil power; and if Paganism was expiring, it would rouse its remaining strength to put down the new system. This actually occurred, as might have been anticipated, and the supposition of the truth of Christianity will account for all the persecutions which attended its early propagation.
(11.) And once more: The new religion, if it was from God, or if it was believed to be from God, would make martyrs, and the supposition of its truth will account for all that occurred in the history of martyrdom. All that is recorded of their patience, calmness, firmness, tenacity, obduracy, Obstinacy, if men please, can be accounted for if it be supposed that the religion was from God. When Pliny wrote to the Emperor Trajan that, having failed in the attempt to secure a recantation from the accused Christians, he ordered them to death, because, whatever might be their general conduct, he thought that such " inflexible obstinacy" ought to be punished, he was but recording a fact that must have occurred on the supposition that Christianity is true.* The religion required just such sacrifices, and just such firmness as Pliny described. It would produce just such calmness, firmness, obduracy, obstinacy, among its true friends. It would make confessors and martyrs. It would produce just such effects as were actually produced in tens of thousands of instances in the attempt to propagate it, and, therefore, the cause is commensurate with the effect.
* " I have taken," says Pliny to Trajan, "this course with all who have been brought before me and have been accused as Christians. Upon their confessing to me that they were, I repeated the question a second and third time, threatening also to punish them with death. Such as still persisted I ordered away to be punished; for it was no doubt with me, whatever might be the nature of their opinion, that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy ought to be punished."—Lardner's Works, vii., p. 23, ed. London, 1829.
The supposition of the divine origin of Christianity, therefore, would furnish an easy and natural solution of all the recorded facts which occurred in its propagation, alike in regard to the great numbers that embraced it, the spirit with which it endowed them, and the changes which it made in the world.
HL The remaining inquiry is, Whether the propagation of Christianity can be explained on any other supposition than that it is from God.
This inquiry, to make the argument complete, would properly resolve itself into two parts: the question whether the propagation of Christianity could be explained on the supposition that it is not from God; and the question whether the other system referred to in the beginning of this Lecture—the only one that in this respect can come in competition with it — would not furnish the same argument as to a divine origin.
Can the propagation of Christianity be explained on the supposition that it is an imposture ?
The only labored attempt to show this has been by Mr. Gibbon, and he has exhausted the subject. Nothing has been left to be added by succeeding skeptics. The explanation of the remarkable facts connected with the subject of Christianity was in Mr. Gibbon's path in describing the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He could not avoid it; and we have no reason to suppose that he wished to avoid it; for when, in the solitude of night, in the summer-house of his garden at Lausanne, he had finished his work, and laid down his pen, and took several turns in a covered walk of acacias, meditating on what he had done, there was, perhaps, no part of the work on which he would look with more satisfaction than on the chapters (xv., xvi.) in which he describes " the progress of the Christian religion, and the sentiments, manners, numbers, and conditions of the primitive Christians,'3 and " the conduct of the Roman government toward the Christians."—Vol. i., p. 249329*
He could not avoid this inquiry. The spread of Christianity was too important a fact in the history of the world, and was too closely connected with the downfall of the empire to permit him to pass it by; and though the same facts might have been recorded
* "It was on the day, or rather night of the 27th of June, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page, in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not describe the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame," etc.—Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon, Esq., vol. i., p. 170, ed. Dublin, 1796. In illustration of the feelings of satisfaction with which Mr. Gibbon regarded these two chapters of his History, I may refer to his remarks in his "Life and Writings" after those chapters had been attacked by Mr. Davies, of Oxford, by Bishop Watson, by Dr. Priestley, Sir David Dalrymple, and Dr. White, of Oxford. As the result of the whole, he says, " Had I believed that the majority of English readers were so fondly attached to the name and shadow of Christianity; had I foreseen that the pious, the timid, and the prudent would feel, or affect to feel, with such exquisite sensibility, I might perhaps have softened those invidious chapters, which would create many enemies, and conciliate few friends. But the shaft was shot, the alarm was sounded, and I could only rejoice that, if the voice of our priests was clamorous and bitter, their hands were disarmed from the powers of persecution." " Let me frankly own that I was startled at the first discharge of ecclesiastical ordnance; but, as soon as I found that this empty noise was mischievous only in the intention, my fear was converted into indignation ; and every feeling of indignation or curiosity has long since subsided in pure and placid indifference."—Mis. Works, vol. i., p. 153, 156.
with another mode of explaining them, or with no attempt to explain them, yet the principles of Mr. Gibbon* would not permit him to suggest the explanation that it came from God, and a bare statement of the facts as they occurred, with no explanation, would have made an impression on mankind which those principles would lead him to counteract if he could. The diffusion of Christianity seemed to attest its divine origin. It was an argument much relied on by Christians. On the mass of men the manner of its propagation has always made a deep impression in favor of its divine origin. That the religion is from God seems to be the most natural, philosophical, and obvious explanation of the facts in the case. If, therefore, it could be shown that the propagation of that religion could be accounted for on the supposition that it is not of God, or by mere natural causes constantly in operation among men, much might be done to loosen its hold on the world.
Mr. Gibbon has done his work well. No man could bring to the task greater learning, more patient industry, more impartial historical honesty, or more attractive eloquence in thought or in style. No man surpassed him in the knowledge of the vast lore treasured in ancient libraries, sacred and secular, that could be made to bear on the subject; no man has ever equaled him in understanding the power of a sneer. The argument, as he pursued it, is complete. No one will add to it; no one will improve it.
The points on which Mr. Gibbon relies in the explanation of the " Progress of the Christian Religion" are five in number: " The inflexible, and, if we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from embracing the law of Moses." " The doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth." "The miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive Church." " The pure and austere morals of Christians." " The union and discipline of the Christian republic, which gradually formed an independent and increasing state in the heart of the Roman empire."
This is all. But I need not say that the force of these considerations is not seen by the mere announcement of their titles. It could only be seen in view of the very elaborate and ingenious argument with which these principles are illustrated.
Of course I could not, in the task assigned me, go into an examination of this argument, and you would not thank me for undertaking it. The world understands it, as the world understands the argument of Mr. Hume against miracles, that, however it is to be met or explained, it is not an argument to be greatly relied on by infidelity. The progress of Christianity in the world has not been perceptibly impeded by either; and the number of those influenced by either argument is small, mostly among those in early life, and to a great extent, if not entirely, those who were skeptics before. If a personal allusion may be allowed, I may be permitted to say that this was precisely the effect nearly fifty years ago on my own mind.
Some very general remarks on the reasons thus assigned for the propagation of Christianity may, however, not be unprofitable or improper.
(a) It is now to be admitted—it would be conceded universally—that these are all the causes that can be assigned for the propagation of Christianity on the supposition that the religion is on the same level with Mohammedism, or is false. No one has attempted to add to this argument; no one would be likely to attempt it. Mr. Gibbon exhausted the subject. It was to be presumed that he would state all the arguments which would occur to him, and it is certain that no arguments likely to bear on the subject would escape him. Infidelity can do no more in this argument, and the argument is complete.
" Si Pcrgama dextra Defendi possent, etiam hac defensa fuissent."
M.n. ii., 291, 292.
There are no more arguments to be added to these. Historical research will add no more. German rationalism will add no more, and the warfare is transferred to other fields.
(b) It can not be denied that Mr. Gibbon has, in these statements, rendered an involuntary tribute of great value to Christianity, and has conceded much that may be referred to as an actual, though an indirect proof of its divine origin. It was much that the necessities of the case, and the claims of honest and impartial history, should extort from such a man, and in such connections, the concessions made in regard to the system; it is much that Christianity had laid the foundation for such an argument — an argument which Mr. Gibbon could not have urged in explanation of the continued prevalence of the Greek and Roman mythology in the world, or in explanation of the propagation of the Mohammedan system. It was much that he could refer, and was constrained to refer, to " the zeal of the early Christians;" to " the doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth;" to " the pure and austere morals of Christians;" and this, with what was implied in the very nature of the argument, and what is, in fact, conceded, that these things were not found in the ancient systems of religion; that paganism— human wisdom and philosophy — had never originated these things so as to give permanency to the ancient systems of religion, or to secure their propagation in the world. " The general system of their mythology," says he (vol. i., p. 260), " was unsupported by any solid proofs, and the wisest among the Pagans had already disclaimed its usurped authority. The doctrine of a future state was scarcely considered, among the devout polytheists of Greece and Rome, as a fundamental article of faith." " The first book of the Tusculan Questions," says he," and the Treatise De Senectute, and the Somnium Scipionis, contain, in the most beautiful language, every thing that Grecian philosophy or Roman good sense could possibly suggest on this dark subject;" and, as the result, he adds," The writings of Cicero represent in the most lively colors the ignorance, the errors, and the uncertainty of the ancient philosophers with regard to the immortality of the soul" (vol. i., p. 259).
The impression, in fact, made on the mind of Cicero himself by the ablest argument that philosophy has ever furnished for the immortality of the soul—that in the Gorgias—is thus expressed in his own language, in a passage which I shall have occasion to quote again: " I know not how it is that when I read I assent; but when I lay down the book, and begin, by myself, to think of the immortality of souls, all my assent glides away."*
* Marcus. Num eloquentiilPlatonem superare possumus? Evolve diligenter ejus eum librum, qui est de animo: amplius quod desideres,
It is natural and proper now to ask whence had the Author of Christianity these views which commended his religion to the world, securing its propagation, and displacing all the results of human wisdom ? Whence sprang these " pure and austere morals," so unlike what prevailed under the best forms of the Pagan religion, so superior to any of the systems of philosophers? Let it be supposed that Christianity is from God, and all this is plain. What will make it plain on any other supposition ?
(c) It is to be admitted by us that Mr. Gibbon is right in the statement of the historical fact that these things did contribute materially to the spread of Christianity, for in embracing it men gave their assent to the fact that these things were so; they embraced it, among other reasons, because they believed that these things were so. They saw in these truths and results such a religion as man needs; they saw what was not to be found in any other system; they saw, or thought they saw in these things proof that a religion so pure, a religion that prompted to such zeal for the good of man, a religion which revealed the doctrine of immortality, must be from God. Were they far from truth and nature in such a supposition ?
(d) In considering the question whether these causes alone would explain the facts of the propagation of Christianity, let it now be supposed that the system was false; that it was based on imposture and delusion ; that Jesus never existed, or that he was an enthusiast, or that he was an impostor, or that his apos
nihil erit. Auditor. Feci, mehercnle, et quidem siepins: sed nescio quo modo, dum lego, assentior; cum posui librum, et mecum ipse de immortalite animorum coepi cogitare, assentio omnis ilia elabitur. —Tusc. Quaest., lib. i., c. ii.
ties contrived the system with an intention to impose on the world; that no miracles were wrought; that Christ was not raised from the dead; that all this occurred in the most intellectual age of past time, when the light of philosophy had just culminated in Greece and in Rome, and before the long night settled down on Europe in the Dark Ages; when of all ages it would have been most easy to detect an imposture—and the problem then would be, how could such a religion, Under such apostles, and in such an age, accomplish these things ? How could it overthrow the ancient systems of mythology; set aside the ancient laws; change longestablished customs; render meaningless and void the ancient sacrifices; disrobe an established priesthood; throw down ancient altars; overcome the corrupt and evil passions of men; go into the scenes of domestic life, .and transform all around the fireside: how could it remove Penates and Lares, and set up a Christian altar in their place; lead men to abandon sins long indulged, and to call things sinful which before were regarded as innocent; transform pollution to godly living, and lift up the degraded to a life of pure devotion and self-sacrifice, and of such men make martyrs ? Yes, make martyrs, for this it did by tens of thousands—the young, the aged; the rich, the poor; the refined, the uncultivated; the master, the slave; the man who had been a philosopher, and the tender and delicate female reared in luxury, and accustomed to the gayety and the splendors of the court.
This is the problem; and the reasons assigned will not, do not explain this. The mind is conscious of a sad vacancy when these facts are before it, and these reasons are assigned for those facts. It wants more ; it must have more.
But add now the idea that all this was true—that things were as they are stated in the New Testament— and we have a cause that is commensurate with the effect, that settles all doubts, that makes all things plain.
And shall we now compare this system and these facts with that other system which infidelity would make parallel with this, and whose propagation the unbelievers would explain on the same principles—the system of Mohammed ?
Well was it, though perhaps he was unconscious of the reason why it was so, that Mr. Gibbon did not attempt elaborately, as in the case of Christianity, to explain the causes of the rapid diffusion of that system. Those causes are patent on the face of the system and on the face of history. Yet Mr. Gibbon has, as in the case of Christianity, narrated with great exactness and fidelity the origin, the slow growth at first, the subsequent triumphs, and the influence of that system, as no other man has done or could do. But he has not ventured to suggest that its propagation might demonstrate that it was of divine origin, for that might have suggested a stronger argument for the propagation of the other system; he has not thought it necessary, as in the case of Christianity, to attempt an explanation of the causes of its diffusion, for that explanation, easy, natural, and satisfactory as it must have been, might have appeared too much in contrast with the explanation of the causes of the spread of Christianity, and, in thus accounting for the one, might have suggested to men that there was some sophistry in the explanation of the other.
But can the spread of Mohammedism be explained except on the supposition that it is from God ? Has any historian ever found any difficulty on that subject, or even felt himself embarrassed in regard to such an explanation ? Is it more difficult than the explanation of the conquests of Caesar or Alexander ? If you add to the idea of conquest—of the triumphs of arms which you have in the conquests of Caesar and Alexander— the idea that Mohammedism is a religion, and, therefore, meets one of the wants of mankind; that it affirms the doctrine that there is one God, and, therefore, in this respect, meets the highest wants of men; that it makes provision for the indulgence of some of the most powerful passions that rule in the human soul; that it makes prominent as an attraction the promise of sensual delights alike in this world and the world to come; that it imposes few restraints on the passions, and those only that are most easily evaded; that it falls in, in the main, with the whole course and tendency of human nature, and blends these indulgences with religion, and makes them part of the 'religion itself—if these things are before the mind, is it difficult to explain the spread and the permanency of the system ? How different from a system of poverty, and humility, and self-denial; a system with nothing of military glory; a system originated not by one who was a splendid conqueror, but by one who was poor and despised, and was crucified between malefactors ; a system going forth not under the blazonry of banners of conquest, but as if one should make the image of the gallows an emblem of his religion — for the cross was then more ignominious than the gallows is now; a system which required a renovated heart, and the renunciation of the passions, and a pure life! How different these two as making an appeal to mankind! In the language of another, " The enthusiasm by which Mohammedism conquered the world was
mainly a military enthusiasm. Men were drawn to it at once, and without conditions, by the splendor of the achievements of its disciples, and it declared an absolute war against all the religions it encountered. Its history, therefore, exhibits nothing of the process of gradual absorption, persuasion, compromise, and assimilation that was exhibited in the dealings of Christianity with barbarians." And again: "One of the great characteristics of the KoraD is the extreme care and skill with which it labors to assist men in' realizing the unseen. Descriptions the most minutely detailed, and, at the same time, the most vivid, are mingled with powerful appeals to those sensual passions by which the imagination in all countries, but especially those in which Mohammedism has taken root, is most forcibly influenced."*
When we remember these things, and when we remember, " as modern criticism has shown from the state of the Arab mind and character in the period antecedent to the coming of Mohammed, that the race was fully prepared for its mission as soon as some principle should unite in one nationality the struggling and divided tribes of the Peninsula," it is not difficult to explain " the rapid expansion of the power of that religion, the brilliant and fugitive bloom of civilization which embellished the dominion of the Arabs," without the supposition that it was from God.f
* Lecky, Hist. of Rationalism, i.,235.
t Edinbnrg Review, vol. cxxiv., 1. The literature on this subject, in order to a full understanding of the causes of the rise and decline of this extraordinary power, may be found in the following works: Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chs. l.,*li., vol. iii., p. 360-460. Mohammed der Prophet, sein Leben und seine Lehre, von Gustav Weil, Stuttgardt, 1844. Life of Mahomet, and History of Islam to the Era of the Hegira, by William Muir, 4 vols., London, 1861.
The Mohammedan religion was in the line of human nature; was in accordance with a previous state of the public mind; was under the guidance of an eminent military chieftain and his not less illustrious successor; was connected with the founding of a mighty empire —it appealed to the most powerful passions of men, and yet, at the same time, gave to men what they pant for— a god, a religion, a hope of immortality—and immortality, in its case, which was of all things most gratifying, a prolongation forever of the pleasures of sense. How different from the Christian scheme !
Mohammedism rose, and spread, and flourished as a religion constructed with eminent ability, and sustained by military power, and the love of national glory; it is decaying and falling as a false religion must do, not keeping up with the progress and wants of the world; Christianity, as we shall see hereafter, becomes more extended and wide-spread in its power and influences as the world advances in civilization, science, and the arts, and is the only system of religion that has any promise, in itself, of spreading over the nations, and of enduring to the end of human affairs.
Das Leben und die Lehre des Mohammed's, von Adolf Sprenger, 3 vols., Berlin, 1855-18G5.