« VorigeDoorgaan »
and which, of themselves, furnish incontrovertible evidence of the credibility of the gospel history.
Josephus records the name of John the Baptist; that he was a baptizer, and preached the remission of sins to those who received his baptism: This may be seen by consulting the eighteenth book of his Antiquities. In the same book he mentions the extensive influence which John the Baptist had obtained over the minds of the multitude; the unlawful marriage of Herod, to Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, and his inhumanity in casting John into prison, and the order for his being put to death: He also asserts that John the Baptist was a most righteous man, and one whom all men esteemed for his piety. These facts accord so well with the gospel history, that whoever rejects the one, must reject the other also.
In his twentieth Book, he records the massacre of James the Just, whom he calls "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ ;" and expresses an opinion which prevailed among the Jews, that Jerusalem was destroyed as a punishment for his murder. This James is mentioned in the New Testament, as the brother and apostle of Christ; and one of his epistles is now numbered with the canonical books of the New Testament. He was the first who filled the office of Bishop of Jerusalem; was universally esteemed for his piety, and was put to death in the year sixty-two. To these facts, twenty-four ecclesiastical writers and historians appeal in succession, previous to the fourteenth century: Nor has their truth ever been called in question by a single writer of note. The facts are therefore too plain for denial, so long as the voice of history is allowed to be received in evidence. These are a few of the leading and important facts recorded in the evangelical history, and to which an unbelieving Jew felt himself under the necessity of bearing testimony, while recording the public acts of Herod and Pontius Pilate. They carry with them such plain and evident marks of truth, that skeptics have found it necessary, either to pass them in silence, or attempt to weaken the credibility of this historian, by branding him with the charge of superstition. But his character as an historian is too well established, to be in the least shaken by such feeble atLempts.
Tacitus, the celebrated Roman historian, who flourished as a writer and public advocate, about fifty years after the crucifixion of Christ, notwithstanding his bitter enmity to, and abhorrence of christians, has recorded such facts relating to its origin and rapid progress, as must for ever silence the clamor of those who are idle enough to pretend that Christ was an obscure individual, or that his religion was little known during the first century. For this author tells us in his fifteenth book, when speaking of those people who were called christians—" The founder of this name was CHRIST, one who in the reign of TIBERIUS suffered death as a criminal, under PONTIUS PILATE, Imperial Procurator of Judea, and, for a while, the pestilent superstition was quelled, but revived again and spread, not only over Judea, where it was first broached, but even through Rome." The historian is here writing of a period when christianity was in its infancy, and during the life-time of some of the apostles. He describes in glowing colors the cruelty of Nero, who, having set fire to the city of Rome, that he might be gratified with a spectacle of what he had read concerning the burning of Troy, attempted to cast the odium upon the innocent followers of our Lord. In this, the monster was but too successful, and a vast multitude of christians of different ages and sexes, suffered the most cruel torture and death. Their sufferings are thus described by the historian. "First therefore were seized, such as freely owned their sect; then, a vast multitude by them discovered; and all were convicted"-(not of the imputed crime of burning Rome, but of being christians, which was mistaken for hatred to mankind.) The historian adds-" To their death and torture were added the aggravations of cruel derision and sport; for, either they were disguised in the skins of savage beasts, and were exposed to expire by the teeth of devouring dogs; or they were hoisted up alive, and nailed to crosses; or wrapped in combustible vestments, and set up as torches, that when the day set, they might be kindied to illuminate the night. For presenting this tragical spectacle, NERO had lent his own gardens, and exhibited at the same time the public diversion of the Circus, sometimes driving a chariot in person, and, at intervals, stand
ing as a spectator amongst the vulgar, in the habit of a charioteer. Hence it proceeded, that towards the miserable sufferers, popular commiseration arose, as for a people who, with no view to the utility of the state, but only to gratify the bloody spirit of one man, were doomed to perish."
Here Tacitus informs us that the christian sect was founded by Christ, who was put to death under the reign of Pontius Pilate; that the sect became so numerous in a short time, as to spread throughout all the country of Judea; that vast numbers of them were found at Rome, in the reign of Nero, and suffered the most cruel and frightful deaths to gratify the hellish and unnatural revenge of the most ungodly assassin that ever disgraced the history of man; and that they suffered without being guilty of the crime with which they were charged. Let us here mark a few facts which are worthy of special notice: This writer was a pagan, bitterly opposed to the religion of Christ, born about twenty years after the crucifixion, and about the time that Nero acceded to the empire of Rome : Had access to all the sources of correct information, and was doubtless well acquainted with all the facts which he relates of the history of the christians. His unbelief of the gospel, and his superstitious attachment to pagan idolatry, will readily account for all the reproaches which he heaps upon the early christians: But it cannot be denied, that when an open enemy bears witness to the truths which the evangelical historians have recorded, and especially when he testifies the innocence of those whom he hates, he is fully entitled to the credit of his readers: for no man can reasonably be suspected of falsehood, when he gives evidence in favour of a cause which he obviously wishes to condemn. With these facts, supplied by the testimony of the bitterest enemies to christianity, respecting the origin and early extensive progress of the gospel; supplied too, by men of undoubted learning, ability and historical knowledge; by men who lived in the age of the apostles and their associates-with these important and interesting facts staring them in the face, how is it, that modern skeptics dare deny the plain and simple truths of the gospel history, and attempt to persuade us that the whole story is a falsehood
and a cheat? They must be either ignorant of history, lost to reason, or enemies to themselves and mankind.
It is well known that the Jews were among the most bitter enemies of Christ and his followers. To them, the miracles of Jesus and his disciples were daily exhibited; and the inference is unavoidable, that could they have denied their reality with the least prospect of success, they would not have failed to improve the slightest pretext for so doing. So far were they from denying these miracles, however, that the Mishna, a collection of Jewish traditions, made by Rabbi Jekuda, in about the year 180, besides a commentary on the same, both fully acknowledge their existence; but the one attributes them to a concert with Beelzebub, as the envious Jews, in whose presence these miracles were performed, had before done, while the other asserts them to be the effect of magic. These books, which were written with so much enmity to the christian religion, acknowledge the existence of Christ, as the author of a new religion,; bear testimony to his miracles; speak of the state of the Jews as being the same which is described by the Evangelists; mention the disciples as having followed Christ and wrought miracles in his name ; speak of the destruction of Jerusalem; testify the rise and extensive prevalence of christianity, and bear witness to the constancy of the early professors of that religion. To this acknowledgment of important facts, by the bitter opposers of christianity, Origen appeals with confidence, and urges them as an undeniable evidence of the truth of the christian history.
Justin Martyr, whom we have mentioned before, engaged in controversy with the philosophers of his age, and especially with Crescens, the cynic, whom he challenged to debate the cause of christianity with him before the Roman senate: But Crescens, though one of the most learned and acute philosophers of the age, did not see fit to accept the offer, which he undoubtedly would have done, had he thought there was any probability of detecting anv palpable forgeries in the writings of the evangelists. This challenge was given a little more than 100 years after our Saviour's crucifixion. This advocate for the christian cause, in his Apology, when speaking of the
sufferings of Christ, refers the emperor to the acts of Pontius Pilate, which were then extant, for a full confirmation of the facts of that tragical event, the crucifixion of Christ. Tertulian, who wrote his Apology about fifty years after, speaks likewise of the acts of Pilate, and tells us that the emperor Tiberius, having received an account of Jesus, out of Palestine, threatened to punish the accusers of the christians; that he paid him particular regard, and would have admitted him into the number of the gods which he worshipped, had not the senate rejected the proposal. It is here proper to remark, that the "acts of Pilate," to which we have referred, had perished before the days of Eusebius, though this historian mentions them as having been formerly well known. The modern work, bearing this title, is therefore evidently spurious.
I will now present you with a part of a letter, written between 70 and 80 years after the death of Christ, by Pliny the younger, a zealous pagan idolator, and addressed to the emperor Trajan, concerning the christians, which affords a clear and ample proof of their numbers and their innocence, notwithstanding the unrighteous calumnies which were heaped upon them by the enemies of the gospel. He informs the emperor that multitudes were brought before him, and accused of being christians, and gives an account of the manner of his proceedings with them. "I asked them, (says he,) whether they were christians or not? If they confessed that they were christians, I asked them again, and a third time, intermixing threatenings with the questions: If they persevered in their confession, I ordered them to be executed; for I did not doubt but, let their confession be of any sort whatever, this positiveness and inflexible obstinacy deserved to be punished. There have been some of this mad sect whom I took notice of in particular as Roman citizens, that they might be sent to that city. After some time, as is usual in such examinations, the crime (of being christians,) spread itself, and many more cases came before me, though without an author, containing many names [of persons accused.] However, they assured me, that the main of their fault, or of their mistake, was this, that they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before