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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
the religion of Christians. By Christianity is here meant, not that religious system as it may be understood and set forth in any particular society calling itself Christian; but as it is contained in the sacred books acknowledged by all these societies, or churches, and which contained the only authorized rule of faith and practice.
2. The lofty profession which Christianity makes as a religion, and the promises it holds forth to mankind, entitle it to the most serious consideration of all. For it may in truth be said, that no other religion presents itself under aspects so sublime, or such as are calculated to awaken desires and hopes so enlarged and magnificent. It not only professes to be from God, but to have been taught to men by the Son of God incarnate in our nature, the Second Person in the adorable trinity of divine Persons, "the same in substance, equal in power and glory." It declares that this divine personage is the appointed Redeemer of mankind from sin, death, and misery; that he was announced as such to our first parents upon their lapse from the innocence and blessedness of their primeval state; that he was exhibited to the faith and hope of the patriarchs in express promises; and, by the institution of sacrifices, as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, so that man might be reconciled to God through Him, and restored to his forfeited inheritance of eternal life. It represents all former dispensations of true religion, all revelations of God's will, and all promises of grace from God to man, as emanating from the anticipated sacrifice and sacerdotal intercession of its Author, and as all preparatory to the introduction of his perfect religion; and that as to the great political movements among the nations of antiquity, the rise and fall of empires were all either remotely or proximately connected with the designs of his advent among men. It professes to have completed the former revelations of God's will and purposes; to have accomplished ancient prophecies; fulfilled ancient types; and taken up the glory of the Mosaic religion into its own "glory that excelleth;" and to contain within itself a perfect system of faith, morals, and acceptable worship. It not only exhibits so effectual a sacrifice for sin, that remission of all offences against God flows from its merits to all who heartily confide in it; but it proclaims itself to be a remedy for all the moral disorders of our fallen nature; it casts out every vice, implants every virtue, and restores man to "the image of God in which he was created," even to "righteousness and true holiness."
3. Its promises both to individuals and to society are of the largest kind. It represents its Founder as now exercising the office of the High Priest of the human race before God, and as having sat down at his right hand, a mediatorial and reconciling government being committed to him, until he shall come to judge all nations, and distribute the rewards of eternity to his followers, and inflict its never-terminating punishments upon those who reject him. By virtue of this constitution of things, it promises pardon to the guilty, of every age and country, who seek it in penitence and prayer, comfort to the afflicted and troubled, victory over the fear of death, a happy intermediate state to the disembodied spirit, and finally the resurrection of the body from the dead, and honour and immortality to be conferred upon the whole man glorified in the immediate presence of God. It holds out the loftiest hopes also to the world at large. It promises to introduce harmony among families and nations, to terminate all wars and all oppressions, and ultimately to fill the world with truth, order, and purity. It represents the present and past state of society, as in contest with its own principles of justice, mercy, and truth; but teaches the final triumph of the latter over every thing contrary to itself. It exhibits the ambition, the policy, and the restlessness of statesmen and warriors, as but the overruled instruments by which it is working out its own purposes of wisdom and benevolence; and it not only defies the proudest array of human power, but professes to subordinate it by a secret and irresistible working to its own designs. Finally, it exhibits itself as enlarging its plans, and completing its designs, by moral suasion, the evidence of its truth, and the secret divine influence which accompanies it. Such are the professions and promises of Christianity, a religion which enters into no compromise with other systems; which represents itself as the only religion now in the world having God for its author; and in his name, and by the hope of his mercy, and the terrors of his frown, it commands the obedience of faith to all people to whom it is published upon the solemn sanction, "He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned."
4. Corresponding with these professions, which throw every other religion that pretends to offer hope to man into utter insignificance, it is allowed that the evidence of its truth ought to be adequate to sustain the weight of so vast a fabric, and that men have a right to know that they are not deluded with a grand and impressive theory, but are receiving from this professed system of truth and salvation "the true sayings of God." Such evidence it has afforded in its splendid train of MIRACLES; in its numerous appeals to the fulfilment of ancient PROPHECIES; in its own powerful INTERNAL evidence; in the INFLUENCE which it has always exercised, and continues to exert, upon the happiness of mankind; and in various collateral circumstances. Under the heads of Miracles and Prophecy, those important branches of evidence will be discussed, and to them the reader is referred.
It is only necessary here to say, that the miracles to which Christianity appeals as proofs of its divine authority, are not only those which were wrought by Christ and his Apostles, but also those which took place among the patriarchs, under the law of Moses, and by the ministry of the Prophets; for the religion of those ancient times was but Christianity in its antecedent revelations. All these miracles, therefore, must be taken collectively, and present attestations of the loftiest kind, as being manifestly the work of the "finger of God," wrought under circumstances which precluded mistake, and exhibiting an immense variety, from the staying of the very wheels of the planetary system,—as when the sun and moon paused in their course, and the shadow on the dial of Ahaz went backward,—to the supernatural changes wrought upon the elements of matter, the healing of incurable diseases, the expulsion of tormenting demons, and the raising of the dead. Magnificent as this array of miracles is, it is equalled by the prophetic evidence, founded upon the acknowledged principle, that future and distant contingencies can only be known to that Being, one of whose attributes is an absolute prescience. And here, too, the variety and the grandeur presented by the prophetic scheme exhibit attestations to the truth of Christianity suited to its great claims and its elevated character. Within the range of prophetic vision all time is included, to the final consummation of all things: and the greatest as well as the smallest events are seen with equal distinctness, from the subversion of mighty empires and gigantic cities, to the parting of the raiment of our Lord, and the casting of the lot for his robe by the Roman guard stationed at his cross.
5. These subjects are discussed under the articles assigned to them; as also the INTERNAL EVIDENCE of the truth of Christianity, which arises from the excellence and beneficial tendency of its doctrines. Of its just and sublime conceptions and exhibitions of the divine character; of the truth of that view of the moral state of man upon which its disciplinary treatment is founded; of the correspondence that there is between its views of man's mixed relation to God as a sinful creature, and yet pitied and cared for, and that actual mixture of good and evil, penalty and forbearance, which the condition of the world presents; of the connection of its doctrine of atonement with hope; of the adaptation of its doctrine of divine influence to the moral condition of mankind when rightly understood, and the affecting benevolence and condescension which it implies; and of its noble and sanctifying revelations of the blessedness of a future life, much might be said:—they are subjects indeed on which volumes have been written, and they can never be exhausted. But we confine ourselves to the MORAL
TENDENCY, and the consequent BENEFICIAL INFLUENCE, of Christianity. No where except in the Scriptures have we a perfect system of morals; and the deficiencies of Pagan morality only exalt the purity, the comprehensiveness, the practicability of ours. The character of the Being acknowledged as supreme must always impress itself upon moral feeling and practice; the obligation of which rests upon his will. The God of the Bible is "holy," without spot; "just," without partiality; "good," boundlessly benevolent and beneficent; and his law is the image of himself, "holy, just, and good." These great moral qualities are not made known to us merely in the abstract, so as to be comparatively feeble in their influence: but in the person of Christ, our God, incarnate, they are seen exemplified in action, displaying themselves amidst human relations, and the actual circumstances of human life. With Pagans the authority of moral rules was either the opinion of the wise, or the tradition of the ancient, confirmed, it is true, in some degree, by observation and experience; but to us, they are given as commands immediately issuing from the supreme Governor, and ratified as his by the most solemn and explicit attestations. With them many great moral principles, being indistinctly apprehended, were matters of doubt and debate; to us, the explicit manner in which they are given excludes both:
for it cannot be questioned, whether we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves; to do to others as we would that they should do to us, a precept which comprehends almost all relative morality in one plain principle; to forgive our enemies; to love all mankind; to live righteously and soberly, as well as godly; that magistrates must be a terror only to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well; that subjects are to render honour to whom honour, and tribute to whom tribute, is due; that masters are to be just and merciful, and servants faithful and obedient. These, and many other familiar precepts, are too explicit to be mistaken, and too authoritative to be disputed; two of the most powerful means of rendering law effectual. Those who never enjoyed the benefit of revelation, never conceived justly and comprehensively of that moral state of the heart from which right and beneficent conduct alone can flow; and therefore when they speak of the same virtues as those enjoined by Christianity, they are to be understood as attaching to them a lower idea. In this the infinite superiority of Christianity displays itself. The principle of obedience is not only a sense of duty to God, and the fear of his displeasure; but a tender love, excited by his infinite compassions to us in the gift of his Son, which shrinks from offending. To this influential motive as a reason of obedience, is added another, drawn from its end: one not less influential, but which Heathen moralists never knew,—the testimony that we please God, manifested in the acceptance of our prayers, and in spiritual and felicitous communion with him. By Christianity, impurity of thought and desire is restrained in an equal degree as are their overt acts in the lips and conduct. Humanity, meekness, gentleness, placability, disinterestedness, and charity are all as clearly and solemnly enjoined as the grosser vices are prohibited; and on the unruly tongue itself is impressed "the law of kindness." Nor are the injunctions feeble; they are strictly LAW, and not mere advice and recommendations: "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord;" and thus our entrance into heaven, and our escape from perdition, are made to depend upon this preparation of mind. To all this is added possibility, nay certainty, of attainment, if we use the appointed means. A Pagan could draw, though not with lines so perfect, a beau ideal of virtue, which he never thought attainable; but the "full assurance of hope" is given by the religion of Christ to all who are seeking the moral renovation of their nature; because "it is God that worketh in us to will and to do of his good pleasure."
6. When such is the moral nature of Christianity, how obvious is it that its tendency both as to individuals and to society must be in the highest sense beneficial! From every passion which wastes, and burns, and frets, and enfeebles the spirit, the individual is set free, and his inward peace renders his obedience cheerful and voluntary: and we might appeal to infidels themselves, whether, if the moral principles of the Gospel were wrought into the hearts, and embodied in the conduct, of all men, the world would not be happy; whether if governments ruled, and subjects obeyed, by the laws of Christ; whether if the rules of strict justice which are enjoined upon us regulated all the transactions of men, and all that mercy to the distressed which we are taught to feel and to practise came into operation; and whether, if the precepts which delineate and enforce the duties of husbands, wives, masters, servants, parents, children, did, in fact, fully and generally govern all these relations,—whether a better age than that called golden by the poets, would not then be realized, and Virgil's
Jam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna,
[Now Astraea returns, and the Saturnian reign,]
be far too weak to express the mighty change? [It was in the reign of Saturn that the Heathen poets fixed the golden age. At that period, according to them, Astraea, (the goddess of justice,) and many other deities lived on earth; but being offended with the wickedness of men, they successively fled to heaven. Astraea staid longest, but at last retired to her native seat, and was translated into the sign Virgo, next to Libra, who holds her balance.] Such is the tendency of Christianity. On immense numbers of individuals it has superinduced these moral changes; all nations, where it has been fully and faithfully exhibited, bear, amidst their remaining vices, the impress of its hallowing and benevolent influence: it is now in active exertion in many of the darkest and worst parts of the earth, to convey the same blessings; and he who would arrest its progress, were he able, would quench the only hope which remains to our world, and prove himself an enemy, not only to himself, but to all mankind. What then, we ask, does all this prove, but that the Scriptures are worthy of God, and propose the very ends which rendered a revelation necessary? Of the whole system of practical religion which it contains we may say, as of that which is embodied in our Lord's sermon on the mount, in the words of one, who, in a course of sermons on that divine composition, has entered most deeply into its spirit, and presented a most instructive delineation of the character which it was intended to form: "Behold Christianity in its native form, as delivered by its great Author. See a picture of God, as far as he is imitable by man, drawn by God's own hand. What beauty appears in the whole! How just a symmetry! What exact proportion in every part! How desirable is the happiness here described! How venerable, how lovely is the holiness!" "If," says Bishop Taylor, "wisdom, and mercy, and justice, and simplicity, and holiness, and purity, and meekness, and contentedness, and charity, be images of God, and rays of divinity, then that doctrine, in which all these shine so gloriously, and in which nothing else is ingredient, must needs be from God. If the holy Jesus had come into the world with less splendour of power and mighty demonstrations, yet the excellency of what he taught makes him alone fit to be the master of the world;" and agreeable to all this, has been its actual influence upon mankind. Although, says Bishop Porteus, Christianity has not always been so well understood, or so honestly practised, as it ought to have been; although its spirit has been often mistaken, and its precepts misapplied, yet, under all these disadvantages, it has gradually produced a visible change in those points which most materially concern the peace and quiet of the world. Its beneficent spirit has spread itself through all the different relations and modifications of life, and communicated its kindly influence to almost every public and private concern of mankind. It has insensibly worked itself into the inmost frame and constitution of civil states. It has given a tinge to the complexion of their governments, to the temper and administration of their laws. It has restrained the spirit of the prince, and the madness of the people. It has softened the rigours of despotism, and tamed the insolence of conquest. It has, in some degree, taken away the edge of the sword, and thrown even over the horrors of war a veil of mercy. It has descended into families; has diminished the pressure of private tyranny; improved every domestic endearment; given tenderness to the parent, humanity to the master, respect to superiors, to inferiors ease; so that mankind are, upon the whole, even in a temporal view, under infinite obligations to the mild and pacific temper of the Gospel, and have reaped from it more substantial worldly benefits than from any other institution upon earth. As one proof of this, among many others, consider only the shocking carnage made in the human species by the exposure of infants, the gladiatorial shows, which sometimes cost Rome twenty or thirty lives in a month; and the exceedingly cruel usage of slaves allowed and practised by the ancient Pagans. These were not the accidental and temporary excesses of a sudden fury, but were legal and established, and constant methods of murdering and tormenting mankind. Had Christianity done nothing more than brought into disuse, as it confessedly has done, the two former of these inhuman customs entirely, and the latter to a very great degree, it has justly merited the title of the benevolent religion. But this is far from being all.
Throughout the more enlightened parts of Christendom there prevails a gentleness of manners widely different from the ferocity of the most civilized nations of antiquity; and that liberality with which every species of distress is relieved, is a virtue peculiar to the Christian name. But we may ask farther, What success has it had on the mind of man, as it respects his eternal welfare? How many thousands have felt its power, rejoiced in its benign influence, and under its dictates been constrained to devote themselves to the glory and praise of God! Burdened with guilt, incapable of finding relief from human resources, the mind has here found peace unspeakable in beholding that sacrifice which alone could atone for transgression. Here the hard and impenitent heart has been softened, the impetuous passions restrained, the ferocious temper subdued, powerful prejudices conquered, ignorance dispelled, and the obstacles to real happiness removed. Here the Christian, looking round on the glories and blandishments of this world, has been enabled, with a noble contempt, to despise all. Here death itself, the king of terrors, has lost his sting; and the soul, with a holy magnanimity, has borne up in the agonies of a dying hour, and sweetly sung itself away to everlasting bliss. In respect to its future spread, we have reason to believe that all nations shall feel its happy effects. The prophecies are pregnant with matter as to this belief. It seems that not only a nation, or a country, but the whole habitable globe, shall become the kingdom of our God, and of his Christ. And who is there that has ever known the excellency of this system; who is there that has ever experienced its happy efficacy; who is there that has ever been convinced of its divine origin, its delightful nature and peaceful tendency, but must join the benevolent and royal poet in saying, "Let the whole earth be filled with its glory? Amen and amen.
7. Among the collateral proofs of the truth and divine origin of Christianity, its rapid and wonderful success justly holds an important place. Of its early triumphs, the history of the Acts of the Apostles is a splendid record; and in process of time it made a wonderful progress through Europe, Asia, and Africa. In the third century there were Christians in the camp, in the senate, and in the palace; in short, every where, as we are informed, except in the temples and the theatres: they filled the towns, the country, and the islands. Men and women of all ages and ranks, and even those of the first dignity, embraced the Christian faith; insomuch that the Pagans complained that the revenues of their temples were ruined. They were in such great numbers in the empire, that, as Tertullian expresses it, if they had retired into another country, they would have left the Romans only a frightful solitude. (See the next article.) For the illustration of this argument, we may observe, that the Christian religion was introduced every where in opposition to the sword of the magistrate, the craft and interest of the priests, the pride of the philosophers, the passions and prejudices of the people, all closely combined in support of the national worship, and to crush the Christian faith, which aimed at the subversion of Heathenism and idolatry.
Moreover, this religion was not propagated in the dark, by persons who tacitly endeavoured to deceive the credulous; nor delivered out by little and little, so that one doctrine might prepare the way for the reception of another; but it was fully and without disguise laid before men all at once, that they might judge of the whole under one view. Consequently mankind were not deluded into the belief of it, but received it upon proper examination and conviction. Beside, the Gospel was first preached and first believed by multitudes in Judea, where Jesus exercised his ministry, and where every individual had the means of knowing whether the things that were told him were matters of fact; and in this country, the scene of the principal transactions on which its credibility depended, the history of Christ could never have been received, unless it had been true, and known to all as truth. Again: the doctrine and history of Jesus were preached and believed in the most noted countries and cities of the world, in the very age when he is said to have lived. On the fiftieth day after our Lord's crucifixion, three thousand persons were converted in Jerusalem by a single sermon of the Apostles; and a few weeks after this, five thousand who believed were present at another sermon preached also in Jerusalem, Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4; Acts 6:7; Acts 8:1; Acts 9:1; Acts 9:20 . About eight or ten years after our Lord's death, the disciples were become so numerous at Jerusalem and in the adjacent country, that they were objects of jealousy and alarm to Herod himself, Acts 12:1 . In the twenty-second year after the crucifixion, the disciples in Judea are said to have been many myriads, Acts 21:20 . The age in which Christianity was introduced and received, was famous for men whose faculties were improved by the most perfect state of social life, but who were good judges of the evidence offered in support of the facts recorded in the Gospel history. For it should be recollected, that the success of the Gospel was not restricted to Judea; but it was preached in all the different provinces of the Roman empire. The first triumphs of Christianity were in the heart of Greece itself, the nursery of learning and the polite arts; for churches were planted at a very early period at Corinth, Ephesus, Beraea, Thessalonica, and Philippi. Even Rome herself, the seat of wealth and empire, was not able to resist the force of truth at a time when the facts related were recent, and when they might, if they had been false, have easily been disproved. From Greece and Rome, at a period of cultivation and refinement, of general peace, and extensive intercourse, when one great empire united different nations and distant people, the confutation of these facts would very soon have passed from one country to another, to the utter confusion of the persons who endeavoured to propagate the belief of them. Nor ought it to be forgotten that the religion to which such numbers were proselyted, was an exclusive one. It denied, without reserve, the truth of every article of Heathen mythology, and the existence of every object of their worship. It accepted no compromise; it admitted of no comprehension. If it prevailed at all, it must prevail by the overthrow of every statue, altar, and temple in the world. It pronounced all other gods to be false, and all other worship vain. These are considerations which must have strengthened the opposition to it; augmented the hostility which it must encounter; and enhanced the difficulty of gaining proselytes: and more especially when we recollect, that among the converts to Christianity in the earliest age, a number of persons remarkable for their station, office, genius, education, and fortune, and who were personally interested by their emoluments and honours in either Judaism or Heathenism, appeared among the Christian proselytes. Its evidences approved themselves, not only to the multitude, but to men of the most refined sense and most distinguished abilities; and it dissolved the attachments which all powerful interest and authority created and upheld. Among the proselytes to Christianity we find Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, members of the senate of Israel; Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue; Zaccheus, the chief of the publicans at Jericho; Apollos, distinguished for eloquence; Paul, learned in the Jewish law; Sergius Paulus, governor of the island of Cyprus; Cornelius, a Roman captain; Dionysius, a judge and senator of the Athenian areopagus; Erastus, treasurer of Corinth; Tyrannus, a teacher of grammar and rhetoric at Corinth; Publius, governor of Malta; Philemon, a person of considerable rank at Colosse; Simon, a noted sophist in Samaria; Zenas, a lawyer; and even the domestics of the emperor himself. These are noticed in the sacred writings; and the Heathen historians also mention some persons of great note who were converted at an early period. To all the preceding circumstances we may add a consideration of peculiar moment, which is, that the profession of Christianity led all, without exception, to renounce the pleasures and honours of the world, and to expose themselves to the most ignominious sufferings. And now, without adding any more to this argument, we may ask, How could the Christian religion have thus prevailed had it not been introduced by the power of God and of truth? And it has been supported in the world by the same power through a course of many ages, amidst the treachery of its friends, the opposition of its enemies, the dangers of prosperous periods, and the persecutions and violence of adverse circumstances; all which must have destroyed it, if it had not been founded in truth, and guarded by the protection of an almighty Providence.
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Christianity'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/c/christianity.html. 1831-2.