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time of the Maccabees, was very small, when compared with those of the primitive Christians.
For the Apostles of our blessed Lord, their companions and successors, being intrusted by him with a commission the most beneficial to mankind that ever was; that of notifying to the Jews, that their promised Messiah was come; of converting the Gentiles from idolatry, and teaching all men the genuine love of God and their neighbour, as the way to eternal happiness; became, for undertaking this good work, (though they proceeded in it most respectfully to magistrates, and inoffensively to all men) objects of public rage, instead of gratitude. Nor were they only, but their followers of both sexes, pursued with warmer zeal, and destroyed by more exquisite torments, than the vilest malefactors : nor was the continuance of these barbarities, excepting some intervals, much less than three hundred years. Yet none of them were retaliated, when, in spite of them all, our faith, by its own reasonableness, and the unwearied patience of its adherents, had prevailed, and was become the reigning one: not even the bitterest persecutors were punished for all the murders, which they had committed. Nor did any erroneous Christian suffer death from a Christian magistrate for his errors, for a long while afterwards : nor was any law made for that end, I believe, in one thousand years from our Saviour's coming. In process of time indeed the rulers of the church of Rome, having already introduced other corruptions into our holy profession, supported them by introducing this also. But when they were become persecutors, much truer and more orthodox Christians became once more willing martyrs. Amongst these our first reformers were eminent: since whose days, liberty of conscience and the religious rights of mankind have been asserted on more solid grounds, in a fuller extent, and with greater consistence, than ever was done before. Nor I hope will the members of our communion ever forget to exercise, either due caution against the open and secret attempts of those blood-thirsty and faithbreaking tyrants, or due moderation towards all, who peaceably dissent from us.
And they, who accuse Christianity of the cruelties, committed by the professors of it, should consider, how much its genuine professors abominate even the smallest of them, and every tendency to them. But indeed these our adversaries, who would seem to abhor a persecuting spirit beyond all men, and complain of our religion, as encouraging it, have singular need to examine, of what spirit they are themselves : and whether they do not by false imputations, and eruel mockings*, the only weapons which they have at command, persecute most unrighteously, (without any pretence of conscience to oblige them to it) both Christian faith, and natural piety, without sparing in several instances even moral virtue. A proper sense of their own unreasonable vehemencies would incline them to excuse, as far as possible, those of other men, and restrain them from going on to bring charges against the innocent and guilty, promiscuously. But though we were all as bad in this respect, as they imagine the worst of us to be, it would by no means affect the truth of the Scripture doctrine, which is far from encouraging force in matters of faith. The patriarchal religion is free from all shadow of blame in that respect: the Jewish hath been sufficiently vindicated: and the Christian fully clears itself.
Heb. xi. 36,
Our blessed Lord, reproved his Disciples, when they would have called down fire from Heaven on the Samaritans; who, besides being both heretics and schismatics, had used him personally ill : and told them, that the Son of Man was not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them*. And though in a parable he uses the words, compel them to come int; both the whole of the context, and the whole of his instructions, particularly those which he gave to his Apostles when he first sent them forth, irrefragably prove, that the only compulsion intended was that of cogent reasons and pressing exhortations. Accordingly St. Paul plainly asserts, that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal f, but that we are to instruct in meekness those that oppose themselves g. We are not then authorized to raise persecution, but on the contrary commanded patiently to suffer it. And therefore I now proceed,
II. To shew the excellency of this duty: and particularly, as practised by the first Christians.
I have already observed, that as most of the heathens thought all religions might be true, they were in little danger of suffering for any : and amongst such, as thought their established faith and worship false and even mischievous, few or none had the patriotism to declare against it, or the security to refuse complying with it. The Jews, who, so long as they observed their law, were assured of national prosperity, had small need of precepts to undergo persecution for it willingly: which however they did undergo with admirable fortitude, when the sins of the people in general had brought the pious part, along with themselves, into distress. And it is a moving de* Luke ix. 54, 55, 56.
+ Luke xiv. 23. # 2 Cor. x. 4.
§ 2 Tim. ii. 25.
scription, which the Epistle to the Hebrews gives of their sufferings. They had trials of mockings and scourgings, of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were slain with the sword: they went about in sheep-skins, and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented : of whom the world was not worthy: they wandered in desarts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth*.
Their afflictions however were only occasional consequences of the idolatry of their countrymen. But Christianity set out from the first, with our Saviour's predictions to his Disciples, that they should be hated of all nations, delivered up, and killed, for his name's saket; with their predictions to their converts, that all, who would live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution $; with immediate and dreadful examples of these truths; with the express command, Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life ş. And faithful accordingly they were, to such a degree, as nothing but consciousness of truth, and divine assistance, could possibly make them.
The Apostles gave no proofs of courage in the first part of their history. They all deserted our Saviour, as soon as ever he was apprehended: one of them was terrified, without any particularly great occasion, into denying him: and even after his resurrection, nay probably his ascension too, they kept their assemblies very private, for fear of the Jews||. What was it then, that changed them into such different persons, within the space of a few days ? Wbat could it be else, than the completion, recorded in the acts of our Saviour's promise, Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem and all Judea, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth *. With what surprising boldness, immediately upon this, doth the late apostate, St. Peter, standing up with the Eleven, lift up his voice, and say, Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words t: let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, Lord and Christs. This was not a passionate and inconsiderate courage. For what had there happened, that could raise it in them all? And what could possibly be milder and more rational, than their uniform temper and behaviour: which, their answer to the threatenings of the rulers, both so resolutely and so decently expresses ? Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you, more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things, which we have seen and heard 5.
* Heb. ix. 36, 37, 38. + Matth. xxiv. 3. Ś Rev. ij. 10.
# John xx. 19. Acts i. 15, 14.
+ 2 Tim. iii. 12.
As they bore testimony, not merely to doctrines and opinions, but to plain and repeated, though miraculous facts, of which their senses were perfect judges, they could not mistake. And what could they hope for by attempting to deceive ? They must each of them know themselves to be every way unqualified for conducting a fraud of this nature. They had seen just before, that they could not trust, either to the bravery, or the fidelity, one of another. Or if they could, a great part of what they said might easily be confuted notwithstanding, if it was not true. For aught appears, they might have returned to their former occupations with great safety. # Acts i. 8.
+ Acts ii. 14. Ver. 36.
Ý Acts iv. 18, 19, 20.