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finement, as Antioch, Alexandria, Athens, Corinth and Rome, and here it achieved its victories during the Augustan and immediately succeeding age. 8th. It was for three hundred years subject to a persecution, at the hands both of the people and the government, universal, protracted and intense. 9th. It achieved its success only by means of the instrumentality of testimony, argument, example and persuasion.
Nevertheless, the little flock” became, soon after the ascension five thousand, Acts, iv. 4, and increased continuously by multitudes, Acts, v. 14. The heathen writers Tacitus and Pliny testify to the rapid progress of this religion during the first, and Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Origen during the second and the first part of the third century. So much so that the conversion of Constantine during the first part of the fourth century was politic, even if it was sincere, as the mass of the intelligence, worth and wealth of the empire had passed over to Christianity before him.—Paley's Ev., Part II., chap. ix., sec. 1.
20. How does Gibbon attempt to destroy the force of this argument in the fifteenth chapter of his history?
Without denying the presence of any supernatural element, he covertly insinuates that the early successes of Christianity may be adequately accounted for by five secondary causes. 1st. “The inflexible, or if we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians.” 2d. “The doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficiency to that important truth.” 3d. “The miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive church.” 4th. “The pure and austere morals of the Christians.” 5th. “The union and discipline of the Christian republic, which gradually formed an independent state in the midst of the Roman empire.”
This is a very superficial view of the matter. As to the “1st.” pretended secondary cause above quoted, it is itself the effect that needs to be accounted for. In the face of contempt and death it did not produce itself.
As to the “2d” cause cited we answer (1.) that this doctrine could have produced no effect until it was believed, and the belief of men in it is the very effect to be accounted for. (2.) The doctrine of future torments has not, in modern experience, been found attractive to wicked men.
As to the “3d” cause we answer, (1.) if the miracles were real, then Christianity is from God. (3.) If false, they certainly would rather have betrayed than advanced the imposture.
As to the “4th” cause, the superior morality of Christians, we admit the fact.
As to the “5th” cause, we answer (1.) that this federative union among Christians could not exist until after the previous universal extension of their religion. (2.) That it did not exist until the close of the second century; and (3.) before Constantine it was only the union in danger of a despised and persecuted sect.See Dr. M. D. Hoge's University Lecture.
21. Does the whole of the foregoing evidence in vindication of Christianity amount to a demonstration ?
This evidence, when fully brought out and applied, has availed in time past to repel the just force of every infidel objection, and to render invincible the faith of many of the most powerful and learnedly informed intellects among men. It is adapted to reach and influence the minds of all classes of men ; it addresses itself to every department of human nature, to the reason, the emotions, the conscience, and it justifies itself by experience; in its fullness it renders all unbelief sin, and sets intelligent faith within impregnable bulwarks. It is not, however, of the nature of mathematical demonstration. The evidence being that of testimony, of the moral power of truth, and of the practical verification of experience, of course prejudice, moral obliquity, refusal to apply the test of experience, must all prevent the evidence from producing conviction. Faith must be free, not mechanically coerced. Besides, many difficulties and absolutely insolvable enigmas attend this subject, because of the natural insurmountable limits of human thought. The evidences of Christianity thus constitute a considerable element in man's present probation, and a very adequate test of moral character.
22. What, in fact, is the principal class of evidence to which the Scriptures appeal, and upon which the faith of the majority of believers rests ?
1. The moral evidence inherent in the truth and in the person of Jesus.--See questions 15 and 16.
II. The sanctifying effect of Christianity, as exhibited in the persons of Christian acquaintances.
III. The personal experience of the spiritual power of Christianity.--See question 17.
This kind of evidence stands first in practical importance, because,
1st. The Scriptures command faith (1.), as soon as the Bible is opened upon intrinsic evidence, (2.) of all men, without exception, even the most ignorant.
2d. The Scriptures make belief a moral duty and unbelief a sin, Mark xvi., 14.
3d. They declare that unbelief does not arise from excusable weakness of the reason, but from an "evil heart," Hebrews iii., 12.
4th. A faith resting upon such grounds is more certain and stable than any other, as the noble army of martyrs witness.
5th. A faith founded upon moral and spiritual evidence surpasses all others in its power to purify the heart and transform the character.
The Christian religion having been proved to be from God, it remains to inquire what is the infallible source through which we may derive the knowledge of what Christianity really is. The Protestant answer to this question is, that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, having been given by inspiration of God, are the only and all-sufficient rule of faith and judge of controversies. We will now establish the first of these propositions.
THE SCRIPTURES OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS ARE INSPIRED, AND THEREFORE INFALLIBLE.
1. What, in general terms, is the nature of inspiration ?
Inspiration is that divine influence which, accompanying the sacred writers equally in all they wrote, secured the infallible truth of their writings in every part, both in idea and expression, and determined the selection and distribution of their material according to the divine purpose. The nature of this influence, just as the nature of the divine operation upon the human soul in providence, in regeneration, or in sanctification, is of course entirely inscrutable. The result of this influence, however, is both plain and certain, viz., to render their writings an infallible rule of faith and practice.—See Dr. Hodge’s article on Inspiration, Bib. Rep., October 1857.
2. In what respects do inspiration and revelation differ?
Revelation properly signifies the supernatural communication of any truth not before known. This revelation may be made either immediately to the mind of the recipient, or mediately through words, signs, or vision, or through the intervention of an inspired prophet. Inspiration, on the other hand, signifies sim. ply that divine influence which renders a writer or speaker infallible in communicating truth, whether previously known or not. Some men have received revelations who were not inspired to communicate them, e.g., Abraham. Nearly all the sacred writers were inspired to communicate with infallible accuracy much that they knew by natural means, such as historical facts; much that they reached by the natural use of their faculties, such as logical deduction, and much that was suggested by their own natural affections.
Inspiration, therefore, while it controlled the writer, so that all he wrote was infallibly true, and to the very purpose for which God designed it, yet left him free in the exercise of his natural faculties, and to the use of materials drawn from different sources, both natural and supernatural. On the other hand, revelation supernaturally conveyed to the writer only that knowledge which, being unknown to him, was yet necessary to complete the design of God in his writing. This revelation was effected in different ways, as by mental suggestion or visions, or audible voices, etc. Sometimes the revelation was made to the writer's conscious intelligence, and then he was inspired to transmit an infallible record of it. Sometimes the writer was used by the Holy Spirit as a mere instrument in executing an infallible record of that which to himself conveyed no intelligible sense, e .g., some of the prophesies.—1 Pet. i., 10–12.
3. How do inspiration and spiritual illumination differ?
Spiritual illumination is an essential element in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit common to all true Christians. It never leads to the knowledge of new truth, but only to the personal discernment of the spiritual beauty and power of truth already revealed in the Scriptures.
Inspiration is a special influence of the Holy Spirit peculiar to the prophets and apostles, and attending them only in the exercise of their functions as accredited teachers. Most of them were the subjects both of inspiration aud spiritual illumination. Some, as Balaam, being unregenerate were inspired, though destitute of spiritual illumination.