« EelmineJätka »
provinces of Egypt, during the reign of Caligula; and fifty thousand fell at Alexandria in the same day, at the time in which Gibbon asserts that the destruction of the Christians by Nero was confined to the walls of Rome. Nor did the new religion gain converts only among the lower or middle classes of society, but prevailed among all descriptions of men. It forced its way into the schools of philosophy, into the seats of power, and into the palaces of princes, and made splendid captives among those whom it found most hostile by their rank and education. In this honourable number were Epaphroditus, the master of Epictetus, Clement, the cousin of Domitian, the royal family of the Adiabenes, and Philo and Josephus.
Thirdly, owing to obvious causes, a wide difference necessarily subsists between the modern and the ancient sceptics. Many of the former, though they reject Christianity, may yet be honestand uprightmen. But they who opposed it on its first propagation, and in the ages immediately succeeding, forfeited every claim to integrity and honour. For the salutary influence, which the new faith exerted in reforming and enlightening man. kind, was so obvious, and the miracles on which it rested, were so unquestionable, that its divine origin could not be resisted without the consciousness of guilt. The cause of Christianity, on its first appearance, was obviously the cause of truth and virtue; and no one could set his face against it, without denying what on one hand he knew to be true, and asserting what on the other he knew to be false. They who could be free to act this part, in a question of such importance as the credibility of the Christian religion, must have been in a high degree depraved and unprincipled; and to this imputation will be found liable even those men, whom Gibbon represents as adorning the age in which they lived, and exalting our notions of human nature. On the account which this celebrated historian has given of the rise and progress of Christianity, I have had frequent occasions to animadvert with great severity, Indeed his narrative appears to me, not a faithful, impartial history, but a disgusting tissue of misrepresentations and falsehoods, disguised under studied embellishinents of language, and dictated by pride, ignorance, and malice. His assertions, while aiming
to degrade Christ and his followers, are diametrically opposite to the truth. Philo and Josephus furnish happy materials to refute and expose him; and they will appear to rise from the grave, as if to avenge the insults offered to the sacred cause of truth and virtue, by this insidious and haughty sceptic.
It is not unusual with writers, in the prefaces to their respective works, to apologize for defects, and to deprecate the severity of criticism. But, in the present case, as far as the arrangement of the subject, and the language in which the author expresses himself, are concerned, any laboured apology, it is hoped, will be thought unnecessary. Not that he has the vanity to imagine that his style is faultless: he flatters himself, however, that it is marked in general with the clearness and precision which are the only qualities of good composition admissible by the grave and tasteless subjects of theological criticism.
With regard to other more material faults, the author trusts, that he may justly urge in extenuation of them the words of the learned Spencer: “As to my manner of treating the subject, my industry will, I think, secure me from the censure of any man.
names of those learned persons from whom I happen to differ, as well as the errors and reproofs of others, I have, for the most part, passed over in silence, and that not with any sullen acrimony. Besides which, I have refrained altogether from that illiberal fury with which learned men often lacerate each other. I am not conscious of having, on any occasion, forced Scripture to yield an unwilling support to my opinion; nor upon obscure topics have I indulged an unbridled liberty of conjecture; but used a freedom, tempered with mature deliberation.” “ Since then I have endeavoured to conduct the argument in that equitable manner, which may obtain the general approbation, I cherish a hope of finding my reader not less equitable to myself, and ever mindful of human frailty, if at any time he discover me stumbling in the prosecution of my subject. This hope I the more willingly entertain, in as inuch as the path which I now tread is slippery, intricate, and marked by very few vestiges; so that occasionally to err in such a road, is not only human but unavoidable*."
• Preface to Libri Tres De Legibus Hebræorum,
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
The Force of his Speech, Acts v. 36, not fully