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Paley’s Evidences of Christianity.

(Continued from p. 467.)

When he speaks of the original witnesses of the Christian miracles, the assertion must be limited to the Apostles, and what is recorded of them in the gospels. As to the measure of their belief, if it is to be learned from the same authority, we shall not find it very firm. The promises which he gave them of everlasting life could neither be denied nor proved; but the sign which Jesus gave them of rising from the dead after three days, they might expect to see accomplished; but they did not believe him; they took no care of the body which, had they believed him, they would have expected to revive. Even the two Marys who went to the sepulchre to perform the pious duty of anointing the dead body, did not expect to find that he had revived. When the angel told them that he had, and gone before them to Galilee, and bade them tell the disciples, the latter were still incredulous. Thomas would not believe until he had put his fingers into the wound in the side of Jesus. When he actually appeared to the eleven, some doubted. The accounts given by the Evangelists of the resurrection differ materially from each other; but they all agree that they were not prepared to expect it by their faith in Jesus.

So important a subject as the ascension, which seems necessary to establish the divinity of Jesus, we might expect would be positively spoken of by all who wrote on the subject; yet Mark and Luke alone make the assertion. Matthew and John, who, according to the other two, were present, do not mention it. Mark and Luke are not of the eleven, nor are they mentioned among those to whom Jesus appeared. Now, if four persons relate certain circumstances at which two of them were present, and the others were not, and the latter mention a surprising event, which they say took place there and then, and the other two who were present do not mention it, is it not fair to conclude that it did not take place?

The converts, whose religious belief was based on the gospels of Matthew and John, could not believe in the ascension; since the authors of those histories, who are stated by the other two Evan­gelists to have been present when the event took place, do not mention  it. Are we not justified in the conclusion that, however Matthew and John might believe that Jesus was located in heaven, they never witnessed the ascension?

The supposition of Paley is, that the original witnesses of the miracles passed their lives in labours, dangers, and suffering, in consequence of their belief in and inculcation of those miracles. Now I have shown that, with regard to the twelve, their lives were much more easy and comfortable during the life of the founder than before their call. After his death, the twelve (for another was elected in the place of Judas) seem to have been dispersed; and except what is stated in the Acts of the Apostles, supposed to have been written by Luke, there is not anything known with certainty about them. Peter has acquired some notoriety in connexion with the cock, and by a vision in which he saw a sheet descending from heaven; in which were all kinds of unclean beasts, and heard a voice commanding him to kill and eat, on which authority he released his converts from the prohibition. From what we read in the Acts, Paul and those who accompanied him were received by the converts with great respect, and Paul as an arbitrator and judge.

From the beginning it seems to have been the plan of the missionaries to withdraw the converts from the jurisdiction of the heathen judges. Matthew (xviii. 15) relates that Jesus directed the disciples, if any one was trespassed against by his brother, he was to remonstrate with him privately; and if he refused redress to take one or two more; if he refused to hear them, to tell it to the church; if he refused to hear the church to hold him as a heathen man and a publican; which seems to intimate that he was to be held as one excommunicated. The church was to be the last resort to obtain redress of grievances. The plaintiff <<548>>was not referred to the laws and judges of his country, whether Jewish or Roman.

This speech, attributed to Jesus, is open to serious doubts; there does not seem to be any evidence that during his life there was, among the converts, any institution, such as was afterwards termed The Church. Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, chap. 6, upbraids them with going to law with their brethren, before the unbelievers, and tells them that they shall judge the angels (ib. 3), how much more things that pertain to this life?

If they had any complaints against any one, to refer them even to those who were least esteemed in the church, rather than appeal to the laws of their country and the judges appointed by their sovereign. Now, though he does not point himself as the arbitrator, his giving this censure, and the authoritative style in which his epistles are framed, show that he enjoyed a supreme authority in the churches which he had established, and to which he addresses his admonitions. This pre-eminence was surely an object of ambition, and well worth the trouble and even dangers incurred in acquiring and maintaining it. Besides, this mental enjoyment was not unaccompanied by other pleasures. In the same epistle he tells them, that they who sow spiritual things are entitled to reap carnal things; and accordingly, at the conclusion of his address, he gave them the same order that he had given to the church in Galatia; that they should each lay by in store on the first day of the week, according to their means, that when he come there should not need be any gatherings; then he would send their liberality to Jerusalem, by whomever they may approve, and delicately hints that if it be meet that he go also they shall go with him. Such a hint would not be disregarded.

In his second epistle (chap. ix.) he tells them, that, though he knew their forwardness, of which he had boasted to the Macedonians, Achaia was ready a year ago, and that many had been provoked to imitate their zeal; therefore he sent the brethren, that they, the Corinthians, should be prepared; lest if the Macedonians came with him and found them unprepared, he should be ashamed of his confident boasting. He bids them give cheerfully, not grudgingly; that he which soweth sparingly should reap sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully should reap bountifully.

I think, from these statements, it will appear that there were many advantages to compensate for the “labour, danger, and suffering, undergone by the original witnesses of the Christian miracles.” How much of this suffering was provoked by the intemperate zeal of the professors may be easily imagined. Paul, Barnabas, Peter, Silas, and others who traveled about the country, made it a joint of visiting the <<549>>Synagogues and haranguing the congregations, preaching a doctrine most offensive to the Jews. That they should have incurred the hatred of the hearers is very natural; and that they should in consequence have been ill treated, scourged, and imprisoned, in those places where the Jews possessed any civil authority is not to be wondered at. The same would occur in this country or any other part of Christendom, if a band of Mussulman enthusiasts were to intrude into the churches, deny the divinity of Jesus, the doctrine of the trinity, and the efficacy of Christianity to insure salvation. Less than a hundred years ago, in those countries where the Holy Inquisition flourished, for much less outrages, they would have been burned alive, for the benefit of their souls.

We may reasonably doubt whether any Christian was put to death by the Jews for his religion, in the early ages of Christianity; indeed it is expressly stated by the Jews, in their answer to Pilate (John xviii. 31), that it was not lawful for them to put any one to death. The murder of Stephen was the effect of a popular commotion, excited by a sermon which he thought proper to make to the council, before which he was brought on an accusation of blasphemy, which he concluded by looking up and declaring he saw the heavens opened, and the son of man standing on the right hand of God. Herod put to death James, the brother of John; but it is not stated that it was on account of his being a Christian; but it is said, that seeing it pleased the Jews, he took Peter also and put him in prison; but he escaped before he was brought before Herod. The Roman governor refused to interfere in the religious disputes between the parties.

(To be continued.)