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The Emergence of Christianity


An extract from the “History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century” by J. H. Merle d’Aubigné (1794-1872)


[J. H. Merle d’Aubigné was a famous Christian historian and one of God’s great gifts to the Church. A preacher and scholar of Presbyterian persuasion, he was born in Geneva, the son of Protestant refugees from France. As an unconverted student for the ministry he met the Scottish minister Robert Haldane in Geneva, who expounded and preached to Merle d’Aubigné and his fellow students from the Epistle to the Romans. The whole group of students at length all came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.]


The enfeebled world was tottering on its foundations when Christianity appeared. The national religions which had satisfied the parents, no longer proved sufficient for their children. The new generations could not repose contented within the ancient forms. The gods of every nation, when transported to Rome, there lost their oracles, as the nations themselves had there lost their liberty. Brought face to face in the Capitol, they had destroyed each other, and their divinity had vanished. A great void was occasioned in the religion of the world.


A kind of deism, destitute alike of spirit and of life, floated for a time above the abyss in which the vigorous superstitions of antiquity had been engulfed. But like all negative creeds, it had no power to reconstruct. National prepossessions disappeared with the fall of the national gods. The various kingdoms melted one into the other. In Europe, Asia, and Africa , there was but one vast empire, and the human race began to feel its universality and unity.


Then the Word was made flesh.


God appeared among men, and as man, to save that which was lost. In Jesus of Nazareth dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.


This is the greatest event in the annals of the world. Former ages had prepared the way for it: the latter ages flow from it. It is their centre and their bond of unity.


Henceforward the popular superstitions had no meaning, and the slight fragments preserved from the general wreck of incredulity vanished before the majestic orb of eternal truth.


The Son of Man lived thirty-three years on earth, healing the sick, converting sinners, not having where to lay his head, and displaying in the midst of this humiliation such greatness and holiness, such power and divinity, as the world had never witnessed before. He suffered and died – he rose again and ascended into heaven. His disciples, beginning at Jerusalem, travelled over the Roman empire and the world, every where proclaiming their Master as the author of everlasting life. From the midst of a people who despised all nations, came forth a mercy that invited and embraced all men. A great number of Asiatics, of Greeks, and of Romans, hitherto dragged by their priests to the feet of idols, believed the Word. It suddenly enlightened the whole earth, like a beam of the sun.1 A breath of life began to move over this wide field of death. A new people, a holy nation, was formed upon the earth; and the astonished world beheld in the disciples of the Galilean a purity and self-denial, a charity and heroism, of which it had retained no idea.


Two principles especially distinguished the new religion from all the human systems that fled before it. One had reference to the ministers of its worship, the other to its doctrines.


The ministers of paganism were almost gods of these human religions. The priests of Egypt, Gaul, Dacia, Germany, Britain, and India, led the people, so long at least as their eyes were not opened. Jesus Christ, indeed, established a ministry, but he did not found a separate priesthood: he dethroned these living idols of the world, destroyed an overbearing hierarchy, took away from man what he had taken from God, and re-established the soul in immediate connexion with the divine fountain of truth, by proclaiming himself sole Master and sole Mediator. “One is your master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.”2


As regards doctrine, human systems had taught that salvation is of man: the religions of the earth had devised an earthly salvation. They had told men that heaven would be given to them as a reward: they had fixed its price; and what a price! The religion of God taught that salvation comes from him alone; that it is a gift from heaven; that it emanates from an amnesty – from the grace of the Sovereign Ruler: “God hath given to us eternal life.”3


Undoubtedly Christianity cannot be summed up in these two points; but they seem to govern the subject, as far as history is concerned. And as it is impossible for me to trace the opposition between truth and error in all its features, I have been compelled to select the most prominent.


1 Oia tiV hliou bolh. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. ii. 3. 

2Matthew xxiii. 8.

31 John v. 11.


“HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY,” by J. H. Merle d’Aubigné, 1846. French edition 1835. Published by Baker Book House (USA), reprinted from the edition issued in London in 1846. Vol 1,  pp 7-8.