The Miraculous Propagation of the Gospel
Isaiah 60:22
A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in his time.

I. THE MATTER OF FACT ITSELF, to which this prophecy refers, — how swift and strange a progress the Gospel made at, and after its first setting out in, Jerusalem.

II. THIS SUCCESS OF THE GOSPEL WAS CERTAINLY MIRACULOUS, and owing chiefly to the mighty operations of the Holy Spirit, and for this plain reason: because the natural and visible causes which concurred to the production of this great effect were not any ways equal to the effect produced. The Gospel of Christ, at its earliest appearance, had all the probabilities in the world against its success: for it was possessed scarcely of any one of those advantages which do most signally recommend a new doctrine, and make it thrive. It had no complying tenets, to soothe men's appetites and passions. It had no encouragement, no protection from the civil power; no force or cunning to uphold it; no men of eminence and esteem to engage on its side. The age which was pitched upon for the discovery of it was more discerning and enlightened, more curious and inquisitive, than, perhaps, any that either preceded or followed it; and therefore the success of this doctrine could not be owing to men's ignorance or supineness. Finally, its promulgators delivered it out not by parcels, as is the way of cunning and designing men; but offered the whole of it to be altogether examined and compared. Nevertheless, though pressed with all these encumbrances, it sprang forth, and made its way into the world by a swift and incredible progress. The inference from hence is plain and indubitable: that a Divine power and virtue certainly went along with it, to supply what was wanting to it upon other accounts.

III. CONSIDER WHAT SHIFTS THE ENEMIES OF THE GOSPEL MAKE USE OF, TO EVADE THE FORCE OF THIS PRESSING ARGUMENT. It is true, they will own, Christians multiplied very fast, and the increase of them was, in some sense, miraculous: that is, it was wonderful; as every unusual thing is to those who do not know or consider the causes of it. But to a man, they say, who dares to go out of the common road, and to think for himself, it will appear that there was at that time a set of natural causes on foot, sufficient to account for this effect, without any recourse to a Divine and supernatural agent. E.g. The sufferings of the martyrs made mighty impressions upon men. The purity of the Christian morals was a mighty argument to bring the men of probity and virtue into the interests of the Gospel. The analogy of some of its mystical truths to the doctrines of (then in great esteem) was a very good bait to the men of learning. The distribution of goods which the first Christians made, and their living together in common, was a good reason for many men's embracing that faith which, they were sure, would maintain them. The casual cessation of oracles was immediately turned to the advantage of the religion of Christ, as if that had procured it. And the destruction of the Jewish State contributed greatly to the increase of the Christian numbers; because it seemed to have been foretold by the Founder of their faith: and, therefore, luckily coming to pass about that time, raised a high opinion in men of His Person and doctrine. The causes here assigned were utterly insufficient to produce the event for which they are assigned.


V. INQUIRE INTO THE TIME WHEN, AND THE MANNER HOW, THIS MIRACLE CEASED, and make suitable reflections upon it with regard both to those who lived then, when this check was given to the Gospel, and to us who live now. The plain answer to the inquiry proposed is that the miracle ceased when the civil power began to declare openly in behalf of Christianity; that is, soon after Constantine came to the throne. For it was no longer a wonder that our religion should thrive and flourish when, instead of bitter persecutions, it met with all manner of encouragements. For a century after Constantine, and upwards, the number of Christians multiplied exceedingly in all the parts of the world in which it had already been planted, and to which the empire of the Romans, or their influence, did extend. For above a century after that, Christianity seems to have been at a stand. But then it declined apace every day; dissensions among Christians grew hot, and their zeal for religion waxed cold. The great honours and endowments which religious princes had bestowed on the Church did too often occasion ambition and luxury in those who contended for them, or possessed them. In a word, all the vices of prosperity abounded, together with the advantages of it. So that the name of Christianity was no longer venerable in the eyes of men; and its holy doctrine, not producing an answerable sanctity of life, made no further impressions upon them. This unhappy opportunity Mohammed laid hold of to set up his religion; which, being suited to the voluptuous manners of the East, and seconded by the power of the sword, made large inroads into Christendom, and tore away entire provinces at once from the profession of the Gospel.

(F. Atterbury, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in his time.

WEB: The little one shall become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation; I, Yahweh, will hasten it in its time."

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