22. No more important fact is recorded in history than the establishment of the Christian religion, and its acceptance by all the most enlightened nations of the world. From Christ's birth we count the years forward to our own days, and backward to the days of Adam. Born with the Child Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem, then seemingly crushed by His ignominious death upon the Cross, yet rising with Him victoriously from the tomb, and informed with a supernatural life by the descent of the Spirit of God, the Christian religion entered upon a divinely appointed career of extending the Kingdom of Christ, and propagating His doctrines and religious observances to the uttermost bounds of the earth. After struggling for three centuries against all the persecuting power of the Roman empire, the once despised religion triumphed over the vices of an effete civilization, by establishing the reign of Christian morality and becoming the true civilizer of the nations. In the forward march of Christianity idols have disappeared and the true God has been preached and worshipped everywhere.
23. This origin of the Christian religion and the transformation it has effected in the morals of men must be accounted for from the pages of history. If they can be explained in no other way than by admitting that miracles were wrought in its behalf, then it is accredited as the messenger of God, and therefore we must acknowledge its Heavenly mission. We are therefore going to examine the early history of Christianity. We will go back to the time when its followers were still universally persecuted. when no earthly power could he suspected of having promoted its success.
About the year 112, the Younger Pliny wrote to the Emperor Trajan that the Christians existed in great numbers in the province of Bithynia, that they assembled on a particular day for religions worship, when they sang a hymn to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a sacred sanction not to he guilty of theft or other sins. This "contagion" prevailed in the cities, villages, and open country the temples were deserted, the regular sacrifices discontinued. Some had heeu Christians for twenty years; all declared there was no evil in their practices, and large numbers persevered in defiance of torture and death. He asked what course he must follow in trying them. (Epist. 96, 97.)
Tacitus speaks of their origin. He relates that the Emperor Nero came under suspicion of having purposely caused the great fire at Rome in tIme year 64, that he threw the blame on persons "whom the populace hated for their crimes and called by tlme name of Christians. This name is derived from Christus, who was punished by the procurator Pontius Pilatus, during the reign of Tiberius. The execrable superstition was suppressed for a time. but broke out again, and overran, not Judea alone, the country of its birth, but Rome itself." Thus, in thirty or forty years after Christ's death, the religion had spread so as to count an immense number of followers in Rome (Lib. XV, C. 24. To account for this rapid spread in spite of The Christian Revelation governmental power and mob prejudice, we have the Christian story, which has been received by millions of men throughout a long succession of centuries. Other explanations, in vogue for a while, have been abandoned as unsatisfactory. Now the Christian story is narrated in the four Gospels and other portions of the New Testament, whose reliability, we shall prove below. It is briefly as follows: --
At the time pointed out by the Jewish Prophets, there was born miraculously, of the Virgin Mary, in the place designated in prophecy, a Child of the race of David, who by command of Heaven was called Jesus, that is Saviour, because, as was predicted, He was to save His people from their sin. After giving for thirty years the example of all the virtues that adorn private life, He preached for three years in Judea and Galilee a doctrine of marvellous perfection, vastly superior to any that men had ever conceived; and he gained a number of disciples, plain, unlearned men, many of whom left all things to follow Him, though He held out no inducements but rewards in the future life. He preached a doctrine directly opposed to the human passions, and required its observance, claiming to be a messenger from God His Father, to be one with His Father, to be the expected Christ, or Messias, which name became His own by universal consent. Meanwhile He worked most numerous and most astounding miracles, and appealed to them as the credentials of His Divine mission. For, when asked by the disciples of St. John the Baptist whether He was the expected Messias, He pointed to His miracles, saying: Go and relate to John what you have seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again" (Matt. XI, 5). Later he said: "I have a greater testimony than that of John. For the works which the Father hath given Me to perfect, the works themselves which I do, give testimony of Me that the Father hath sent Me" (Jo. V, 36). He made many prophecies concerning His passion and His death, the future destruction of Jerusalem, etc. He appealed chiefly, in testimony of His mission, to the great miracle of His resurrection from the dead. This prediction was known to His enemies who declared to Pilate: "Sir, we have remembered that that seducer said when He was yet alive, after three days I will rise again" (Matt. XXVIII, 63). And on the very day thus publicly predicted Christ rose victoriously from the dead; He appeared repeatedly to His disciples, on one occasion to as many as five hundred together.
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