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nothing is more probable, than that this is the precise action, which an enthusiast would have selected for his performance. But, of the various circumstances attendant upon his death, I make great account, as an argument: because I cannot comprehend, how either an impostor or an enthusiast, placed in the peculiar circumstances of Christ, could have so ordered matters wholly out of his controul, that they should exactly correspond with certain descriptive prophecies composed many ages even before his own birth.
But this chain of events is not the only one, which hampers and perplexes the supposition that Christ was either an enthusiast or an impostor': there is yet another, for which the infidel, on his principles, stands bound to account.
If Christ were either an impostor or an enthusiastic pretender to the Messiahship, though he might apply various predictions to himself, and though possibly he might induce others to adopt a similar application : yet his enthusiasm or his scheme of imposture must have had a commencement at some one definite point of his life; and, even had he been so inclined, he could not have commanded the application of prophecies to himself by others during his own infancy. Yet did this very occurrence actually take place. An infidel may assert, that Christ, either as an impostor or as an enthusiast, availed himself of certain old predictions highly venerated among the Jews, and gave himself out to be the person whom they foretold. Now, to say nothing of the insuperable difficulties with which (as we have already seen) this crude notion is clogged, the prophecies were first applied to Christ by others, while he himself was yet an infant. Wise men came out of the east to inquire after him, as soon as he was born: Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled about so strange an event : old Simeon in the temple took the child in his arms, and declared that he was the promised Deliverer : and Anna spoke of him, though still an infant, to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem *. Circumstances of this description, being wholly independent of Christ himself, are plainly incompatible with the theory of his being either an impostor or an enthusiast. He did not merely give himself out to be the predicted Messiah: he was declared to be such by others, and those neither of his own family nor at all connected with him, while he as yet was a child in arms.
We have now patiently gone through the evidence respecting the claims of Christ to the Messiahship of the Hebrews : and the difficulties, that attend upon the only two suppositions by which those claims might be invalidated are so great, that it may well be made a question, whether to believe him an impostor or an enthusiast
* Matt. ii. 1-6. Luke ii. 25-32, 36-38.
does not shew an incomparably higher degree of credulity than to believe him a prophet really sent
III. The character of the founder of Christianity having been thus fully vindicated, it might seem almost superfluous to discuss the character of his apostles and immediate followers : for, if Christ himself cannot be pronounced either an impostor or an enthusiast except in despite of all evidence both moral and historical, it must clearly follow, that neither can any such imputation be reasonably cast upon those, who acted in obedience to his commands, and who propagated the identical system which he himself originally promulged. Yet, since the speculations of Infidelity respecting these earliest preachers of the Gospel are attended with numerous difficulties, it may not be altogether useless to consider their character also.
1. The notion, I presume, which infidel writers, in consistence with their own principles, must entertain of the primitive missionaries of Christianity, is this : that they were a combination of artful impostors, tinged in a measure with Jewish obstinacy and enthusiasm (for the union of fraud and fanaticism is neither rare nor impossible); who, availing themselves of the peculiar circumstances of the times, contrived to erect, upon the infatuated credulity of mankind, an ecclesiastical fabric, which through the labours of their industrious successors has since attained its present gigantic magnitude. These men, says Mr. Volney, were robbers and hypocrites : preaching simplicity, to inveigle confidence; humility, the more easily to enslave; poverty, in order to appropriate all riches to themselves ; another world, the better to invade this. He speaks indeed, when he employs such language, of the whole collective body of the Christian clergy: but then he must be understood to include the apostles and the first preachers of the Gospel within that body; because, otherwise, his argument is palpably inconclusive. Let us grant to the utmost extent of his wishes, that the priesthood of the middle ages fully answered to his description; and let us further concede for the sake of argument, that the priesthood of the present day are not a whit better than their predecessors : what then? Unless Mr. Volney can prove that the apostles also were men of a like spirit, he will but little, at least with sober-minded and rational inquirers, have advanced his project of overturning Christianity. Because certain unprincipled persons may have availed themselves of the general reception of the Gospel and the general veneration entertained for its divine founder, and may thence have contrived to erect upon these foundations a rich and powerful and thriving spiritual empire: are we therefore logically bound to conclude, that the apostles were robbers and hypocrites ? The existence of artful and wicked men within the pale of the Christian Church cannot, by any legitimate process of reasoning with which I am acquainted, demonstrate the falsehood of Christianity itself. For this purpose, had Mr. Volney been a really honest and conscientious investigator, he would not have dealt in a vague indiscriminate abuse of the Christian clergy in general : but would have endeavoured to shew, if such a matter could be shewn, that his vituperation was correctly applicable to the apostles in particular. Could he have demonstrated on any secure grounds, that the apostles and the earliest preachers of the Gospel were robbers and hypocrites, preaching simplicity to inveigle confidence ; humility, the more easily to enslave; poverty, in order to appropriate all riches to themselves ; another world, the better to invade this : could he, I say, have satisfactorily demonstrated any such position; he would also have demonstrated, that the apostles and first teachers, under their peculiar circumstances of being the original promulgators of a religious system, were certainly a band of interested impostors. But, unless this can be done, in effect nothing is done. The misconduct of their successors cannot prove the apostles to be impostors : and, unless the apostles can be proved to be impostors, Christianity cannot be proved to be a fable. If therefore Mr. Volney wishes to include in his description the whole body of the Christian priesthood, from the apostles down to the present time; a matter, clearly necessary to the conclusiveness of his