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brought by such association unless the evidence of the gospel itself, or the powerful operations of the Spirit of God, had produced in his mind the most undoubted conviction of its truth.
But though the generality of the first converts to Christianity in all countries were people in the middle and lower stations of life, it ought not to be forgotten that from the
very beginning there were notwanting men of birth, education, talents, and fortune, whose conversion added both lustre and dignity to the gospel triumphs. Among the Jews, we may mention Nicodemus, one of the rulers; Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the senate of Israel; the great company of priests mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, whose office and literature rendered them conspicious; and above all the celebrated Apostle of the Gentiles, St. Paul, whose attachment to the worship of his father was originally so deep-rooted, and whose excellent education, extensive learning, and unrivalled eloquence appear in all his discourses, and are the admiration even of infidels themselves. The sacred and profane writers supply us with a numerous catalogue of princes, magistrates and philosophers, who became converts to the gospel long be
fore it was the religion of the empire of Rome or was supported by the arm of power. in process of time it became so that it was not a single person of figure in this city, or in that nation, who obeyed the gospel, but multitudes of the wise, the learned, the noble and the mighty in every country. These being all fully convinced of the truth of our Lord's pretensions, and deeply impressed with a sense of his dignity, gave the most solid proof of their conviction, and consequently of the truth of Christianity, by worshipping as a God one whom his countrymen had condemned as a malefactor; by forsaking the religion wherein they had been bred, a religion well suited to their inclinations and passions, and embracing one whereby they could gain neither honour nor profit, but on the contrary, much suffering and disgrace. In short, the religion was of God, and with his aid, it could not fail to make its way in the world.
" Refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this council, or this work be of men, it will come to nought. But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
I FORMERLY read these words with a design to impress on your minds a sense of the truth of your; religion, and consequently a regard for the doctrines and precepts which it contains ? and I proposed to show, as a natural inference from this advice, and I may also say prediction of Gamaliel, that the great success of the gospel in the first ages, and its existence at this very day, are undoubted proofs of its divine origin.
It is evident from the great multitude of converts to Christianity in the first
that it upon
must either contain irresistible evidence of its being from God, or the invisible and effectual power of the Almighty must have accompanied the preaching of the Apostles. No other causes, at least, can be discovered sufficient to produce the effect. On the contrary, every thing conspired to prevent the success of the gospel. The Christian religion was opposed by the sword of the magistrate, the craft of the priests, the pride of the philosophers, and the passions and prejudices of the Jew and Gentile.
This religion was not propagated in the dark, nor delivered out in parcels, according to the usual method in which impostures are made to succeed ; but was fully laid before
; men all at once, that they might judge of the whole under one view. Mankind, then, were not cheated into the belief of it, but received it
due examination and conviction. The gospel was first preached and believed by multitudes in Judea, where Jesus exercised his ministry, and where every individual had full opportunity of knowing whether the thing told of him were true or not. In this country, surely, his history never would have been received, unless the facts alleged
in it could have stood the test of examination. Moreover, the religion of Jesus was preached and believed in the most renowned countries and cities of the world, and in an age when a spirit of inquiry universally prevailed, and the faculties of men were improved by the most perfect state of social life. In such an age as this, it would have been very impolitick for a deceiver and impostor to have made his appearance. The first converts, it is true, were, in general, men of middle and inferiour
, stations ; but even these, in an age of such knowledge and intercourse, were sufficiently secured against false pretensions. Or if you suppose their minds not to have been sufficiently informed with knowledge, you should consider that in proportion to their ignorance, their attachment to their first religious principles would be strong ; and that to bring men of such characters to change their principles nothing less than infinite power or evident miracles are adequate. These were the ideas which engaged our attention when I last discoursed to you.
I now proceed to observe, what seems highly worthy of attention, that the belief of Christianity was attended with no worldly ad