I. Introduction to a second list of Pagan authors, who give testimony of our Saviour.
II. A passage concerning our Saviour from a learned Athenian.
III. His Conversion from Paganism to Christianity makes his evidence stronger than if he had continued a Pagan.
IV. Of another Athenian philosopher converted to Christianity.
V. Why their conversion, instead of weakening, strengthens their evidence in defence of Christianity.
VI. Their belief in our Saviour's history founded at first upon the principles of historical faith.
VII. Their testimonies extended to all the particulars of our Saviour's history.
VIII. As related by the four Evangelists.
I. TO this list of Heathen writers, who make mention of our Saviour, or touch upon any particulars of his life, I shall add those authors who were at first Heathens, and afterwards converted to Christianity; upon which account, as I shall here shew, their testimonies are to be looked upon as the more authentic. And, in this list of evidences, I confine myself to such learned Pagans as came over to Christianity in the three first centuries, because those were the times in which men had the best means of informing themselves of the truth of our Saviour's history; and because, among the great number of philosophers who came in afterwards, under the reigns of Christian emperors, there might be several of them who did it partly out of worldly motives.
II. Let us now suppose that a learned Heathen writer, who lived within sixty years of our Saviour's crucifixion, after having shewn that false miracles were generally wrought in obscurity, and before few or no witnesses, speaking of those which were wrought by our Saviour, has the following passage. |But his works were always seen, because they were true; they were seen by those who were healed, and by those who were raised from the dead. Nay, these persons who were thus healed, and raised, were seen not only at the time of their being healed and raised, but long afterwards. Nay, they were seen not only all the while our Saviour was upon earth, but survived after his departure out of this world; nay, some of them were living in our days.|
III. I dare say you would look upon this as a glorious attestation for the cause of Christianity, had it come from the hand of a famous Athenian philosopher. These forementioned words, however, are actually the words of one who lived about sixty years after our Saviour's crucifixion, and was a famous philosopher in Athens. But it will be said he was a convert to Christianity: now consider this matter impartially, and see if his testimony is not much more valid for that reason. Had he continued a Pagan philosopher, would not the world have it said that he was not sincere in what he writ, or did not believe it; for if so, would not they have told us he would have embraced Christianity? This was indeed the case of this excellent man; he had so thoroughly examined the truth of our Saviour's history, and the excellency of that religion which he taught, and was so entirely convinced of both, that he became a proselyte and died a martyr.
IV. Aristides was an Athenian philosopher, at the same time famed for his learning and wisdom, but converted to Christianity. As it cannot be questioned that he perused and approved the apology of Quadratus, in which is the passage just now cited, he joined with him in an apology of his own to the same emperor on the same subject. This apology, though now lost, was extant in the time of Ado. Vinesis, A. D.870, and highly esteemed by the most learned Athenians, as that author witnesses. It must have contained great arguments for the truth of our Saviour's history, because in it he asserted the divinity of our Saviour which could not but engage him in the proof of his miracles.
V. I do allow, that generally speaking, a man is not so acceptable and unquestioned an evidence, in facts which make for the advancement of his own party. But we must consider, that, in the case before us, the persons to whom we appeal were of an opposite party, till they were persuaded of the truth of those very facts which they report. They bear evidence to a history in defence of Christianity; the truth of which history was their motive to embrace Christianity. They attest facts which they had heard while they were yet Heathens, and had they not found reason to believe them, they would have still continued Heathens, and have made no mention of them in their writings.
VI. When a man is born under Christian parents, and trained up in the profession of that religion from a child, he generally guides himself by the rules of Christian faith, in believing what is delivered by the evangelists; but the learned Pagans of antiquity, before they became Christians, were only guided by the common rules of faith; that is, they examined the nature of the evidence which was to be met with in common fame, traditions, and the writings of those persons who related them, together with the number, concurrence, veracity, and private characters of those persons; and being convinced upon all accounts that they had the same reason to believe the history of our Saviour, as that of any other person to which they themselves were not actually eye-witnesses, they were bound, by all the rules of historical faith, and of right reason, to give credit to this history. This they did accordingly, and in consequence of it published the same truths themselves, suffered many afflictions, and very often death itself in the assertion of them. When I say, that an historical belief of the acts of our Saviour induced these learned Pagans to embrace his doctrine, I do not deny that there were many other motives which conduced to it, as the excellency of his precepts, the fulfiling of prophecies, the miracles of his disciples, the irreproachable lives and magnanimous sufferings of their followers, with other considerations of the same nature; but whatever other collateral arguments wrought more or less with philosophers of that age, it is certain, that a belief in the history of our Saviour was one motive with every new convert, and that upon which all others turned, as being the very basis and foundation of Christianity.
VII. To this I must further add, that as we have already seen many particular facts which are recorded in holy writ, attested by particular Pagan authors, the testimony of those I am now going to produce, extends to the whole history of our Saviour, and to that continued series of actions which are related of him and his disciples in the books of the New Testament.
VIII. This evidently appears from their quotations out of the evangelists, for the confirmation of any doctrine or account of our blessed Saviour. Nay, a learned man of our nation, who examined the writings of our most ancient fathers in another view, refers to several passages in Irenæus, Tertullian, Clements of Alexandria, Origen, and Cyprian; by which he plainly shews that each of these early writers ascribed to the four evangelists by name, their respective histories; so that there is not the least room for doubting of their belief in the history of our Saviour as recorded in the gospels. I shall only add, that three of the five fathers here mentioned, and probably four, were Pagans converted to Christianity, as they were all of them very inquisitive and deep in the knowledge of Heathen learning and philosophy.