Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

thority, with as much severity as is shewn towards the vilest and most notorious malefactors.

Thus our innocent Lord was charged with the greatest crimes before the Jewish rulers and Pontius Pilate the Roman governor ; accused, with great heat and bitterness, of blasphemy against God and rebellion against Cæsar, the highest crimes that could be committed against either: and in the same manner were his apostles used, and the primitive Christians, both by Jews and heathens.

This is what is meant by being persecuted, reviled, and evil spoken of; and to be thus treated for righteousness' sake, and the sake of our Lord Jesus, is the same as to suffer thus for being good men and good Christians, and adhering steadfastly to the truths of religion, and performing conscientiously the duties of it; more particularly, for confessing boldly Jesus to be the Messias, the eternal Son of God, the only Saviour of the world; whether it be against Jews and infidels, that wholly deny him and his religion, or against heretics that corrupt it, and hold opinions dishonourable to his

person and contrary to his doctrine, as delivered to us in the holy scriptures.

And of this patient and courageous suffering for this most righteous cause, we have the example, as of the prophets of old, so of the holy apostles and primitive Christians, and all pious sufferers since, to encourage us to the like, when God shall call us to it. How the prophets suffered for the true religion ‘in their days, the history of the Old Testament will inform us; and how the apostles were persecuted, reviled, and evil spoken of, for the sake of their dear Master, and preaching his gospel to the world, and with what bravery and constancy, meekness and charity, they bore the worst that wicked men could inflict upon them, even to death itself, we may read in the history of their Acts in the New, and in the annals of the primitive church; all of them sealing the truth of their doctrine with their blood, except St. John, who was miraculously preserved from perishing in a caldron of boiling oil, into which he was cast by the cruel rage of his persecutors. And as for the Christians of the first ages of the church, they, as ecclesiastical history will tell us, were made to drink deep of the same bitter cup, and treated with the most inhuman barbarity that the most rankled malice could invent; and that purely for professing themselves the disciples of Jesus Christ. Other crimes could never be proved upon them, they being the most innocent, inoffensive people in the world ; but because they refused to defile themselves, and dishonour God, by joining in the diabolical worship of the heathens, and preached to them a more rational and pure religion; therefore the Devil set on his wicked instruments with the greatest cruelties to torment and destroy them. They haled them from one court of justice to another, and accused them, before the rulers and governors, of the most horrid crimes, on purpose to defame and blacken their religion, and render it odious to the world; though barely to prove them Christians was enough to condemn them to the most painful and shameful deaths.

Because they refused to sacrifice to the heathen gods, which they knew to be all one as to worship the Devil, they were accused as atheists, and their religion styled, by way of eminence, the atheism; and Julian, the apostate, seldom calls it any thing else. Because they would not swear by the emperor's genius, and submit to all other their idolatrous usages, which their laws established, and frequently assembled together for religious worship in the night, and in obscure places, for fear of the rage of their enemies; they were charged with sedition and rebellion, and of holding dangerous meetings to oppose and disturb the government. And because in the Lord's Supper they affirmed that they did partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ their Saviour, they were accused as savage devourers of man's flesh; and, from some inhuman, bloody practices of the Gnostics, who went under the name of Christians, the whole body of them were said to be the barbarous murderers of infants, and suckers of their blood; and by which horrid ceremony they sealed their mutual confederacy and combination. And, because of their feasts of charity, and the holy kiss which then accompanied their reception of the sacrament, they were calumniated as guilty of the most beastly and unnatural lusts, and all sorts of riot and excess. All which vile aspersions though they clearly wiped off in their excellent apologies, yet were they hated, persecuted, and butchered for all that; because they constantly professed themselves to be Christians, and would worship none but the supreme God and Jesus Christ, whom their persecutors, in blasphemous scorn, used to call a crucified vagabond.

Afterwards, when the empire grew Christian, then, as persecution was before raised against the religion itself, so the malice of the Devil soon excited wicked men to persecute their fellow Christians that would not subscribe to their heretical doctrines, but adhered firmly to the orthodox truth of the gospel. And because he could not directly vent his fury upon the hated followers of Jesus, they being then protected and encouraged by the secular powers, his only way was to stir up quarrels among themselves, about some particular, abstruse doctrines of their religion, which soon ended in a world of misery and blood. Witness the cruel persecution raised by the Arians against those that asserted the great truth of Christ's divine as well as human nature, in the reigns of Constantius and Valens, when they had those emperors of their side, and which they carried on with as much inhumanity as ever the heathen did.

And in like manner the reformed churches abroad are now by the bigoted Romanists not only branded with the odious title of heretics, and reviled as the most abominable wretches in the world, and allowed no possibility of salvation, because they dare refuse to comply with their intolerable innovations, and impious and impossible doctrines, which yet they impose to be as entirely believed as the most fundamental articles of faith : but, whenever they have it in their power, they treat them with the utmost cruelty. Witness the barbarous court of inquisition in Spain, and the methods of late used with the protestants in a neighbouring nation, which have equalled, if not exceeded, all former persecutions, not to mention our bloody Marian days here at home.

Now any suffering of this nature, for the sake of our blessed Lord and his truth, is that persecution for righteousness' sake which Christ pronounces as a great blessedness, and matter of much rejoicing

And should the malice of wicked men proceed no further than to imprison, and take away the goods, or banish, or inflict corporal punishments that are short of death, or only to revile and speak evil of and ridicule, and expose to shame and derision, those that are better men and Christians than themselves, only for their being so; all must be placed to the account of the cross, and according to the degree of the suffering be more or less looked upon as en. during persecution for the sake of righteousness and the name of Jesus Christ. And accordingly the primitive church had their confessors as well as their martyrs in very high honour and regard, who, though they escaped by God's providence with their lives, yet courageously witnessed a good confession ; and firmly adhered to the truth when called before public tribunals, and suffered patiently either bodily pains and tortures, or loss of liberty or estate, and were ready, in preparation of mind, to persevere in the same even unto death. Such perfect, undissembled love as this to Jesus and his truth, which thus casts out fear, and makes Christians content to be, as their Master was, men of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; to be mocked and scourged, and even to die in torments, as he did, rather than in the least to betray or dishonour this his most righteous cause, does indeed deserve the highest esteem from men, and will no doubt receive an unspeakably great reward at the hands of God.

But before we come to speak of that, and to shew what great reason consequently they have to rejoice who do thus suffer and are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, we must not forget to observe the word falsely that is inserted in the text, Blessed are

« AnteriorContinuar »