Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

terested benevolence and laborious philanthropy in which they embarked.

We learn from the records of the Acts of the Apostles, that no sooner had the servants of Christ, in obedience to their Master's commands, entered upon the great work to which he had designated them, than a heavy storm of painful and discouraging persecution overtook them. We shall find, if we read the former part of Acts iv., that almost on their first attempt to preach the gospel, they were seized by officers appointed for the purpose, and carried before the Jewish Sanhedrim. It is also stated, chap. v. 10, that but a short period after this event had elapsed, ere they were again called to appear before the same high tribunal : and on this second appearance, they were ordered to be beaten, and received a command from the court, that they should no more speak to the people in the name of Jesus. A third summons shortly after overtook them, and they were once more compelled to present themselves at the bar of this iniquitous tribunal. The result of this their third appearance is recorded in Acts chap. vi. ver. 7, where we are informed, that one of their number was on this occasion put to death in the most unjust and cruel manner. In the 3d verse of the following chapter, we are told that Saul, who was a notorious persecutor, (though he afterwards became a preacher of the faith he was then labouring to destroy,) made havock of the church, entering into every house, and hailing men and women, committed them to prison. The 12th chapter of the same book states the death of James, who was killed by the sword, and the imprisonment of Peter, who would have met with the same fate, had he not been miraculously delivered. In the following chapters of the same inspired records, we bave various detailed accounts of the sufferings, perserutions, and dangers, to which the apostle Paul was perpetually exposed; and the truth of those statements is abun. dantly confirmed by his own testimony, which we have in the numerous Epistles which he addressed to the Asia

99

tic and other churches*. It is, however, but a short account with which the sacred oracles furnish us, of the sufferings of the apostles and others of the first converts to Christianity. The principal information which we have on this subject, is derived from the works of various contemporary historians, who have written the history of these eventful ages. Josephus, Celsus, Tacitus, and Pliny, with several other of the writers who lived about this period, were decidedly hostile to Christianity. They were not (as is frequently objected to Christian authors) of the prejudiced party. On the contrary, they wrote with a view to injure and impede the cause of the gospel, and not with a design to increase the weight of that impregnable body of satisfactory and convincing evidence by which it is supported. The testimony, therefore, of these men may be confidently relied on; as it cannot be supposed that they would write more favourably of a religion which they thoroughly des. pised, than what they were compelled to do, out of respect to their own characters as faithful and correct historians.

From these various sources of information, we learn that the majority of the first preachers of Christianity were put to death by its hostile and malicious enemies, in a most unnatural and cruel manner. Mark, it is related, was dragged by a cord fastened to his feet through the streets of Alexandria, until life became extinct, and his body mangled in the most inhuman way. Luke was hanged in Greece. James was slain by the sword at Jerusalem. Peter was crucified, and Paul was beheaded, at Rome: and Thomas, who came to preach the gospel to the inhabitants of this country, was persecuted and slain by the Brahmunst. Neither were the sufferings and trials of which I am here speaking confined to the apostles and other active propagators of Christianity. Every man who

* See 1 Cor. i. 4–9; and 2 Cor. xi. 24; also chap. vi. 4th and following verses, which passages are quoted at length in the first part of this work.

† See a little work on the evidences, entitled “A Father's Gift to his Children," page 78.

N 2

renounced the religion of his ancestors, and became a convert to its sacred truths, was liable to be thus treated in those days of injustice and cruelty. It was not in one place, neither for a short space of time, but in every country where the gospel made its way, and through a long series of years, that Christians underwent, in a thousand different forms, these inhuman and unheard of trials. In some places they were whipped until all the flesh was torn from their bodies. In others they were dressed in the skins of beasts, and mercilessly exposed in the theatres of popular amusement, to be devoured by dogs, tigers, and other kinds of ferocious beasts. They were in some instances bound upon iron spikes, and compelled to remain in that painful position until the lamp of life was extinguished. Some were roasted alive before slow fires; whilst others were dipped in pitch and oil, and fire being put to them, were used as torches to illuminate public roads, gardens, and other places of general resort. In fact, so great were the sufferings and trials to which they were perpetually exposed, that the apostle has justly declared, in referring to them, (1 Cor. xv. 19,) that if in this life only. they had hope in Christ, they were of all men the most miserable.

On this view of the sufferings of the apostles and first converts to the Christian cause, I ask the candid reader to solve the difficulty, by explaining, if he can, on what principle, and by what motives these noble sufferers could possibly be induced to deceive others, or suffer themselves tamely to be deceived, by receiving a religion which exposed them to such accumulated trials, without enquiring into (or in fact being any thing less than positively convinced of) its truth and divine authority. Too many painful instances frequently occur, in which it evidently appears that men are adepts in hypocrisy, deception, and lies: no such wickedness, however, can rationally be attributed to the men whose sufferings I have here described. Fire and sword, rack and tortures, imprisonment, banishment, and death are not things to be trified

with. We need, therefore, fear no contradiction when we say, that it was nothing but the deep conviction which they had of the truth and importance of the religion they had embraced, which enabled them, in the midst of these scenes of perpetual and accumulated suffering, firmly to adhere to it.

It was the hope of immortality which it exhibited, which was the efficient motive that operated so powerfully, and by which they were influenced, in the spirit of Loly resignation, to submit to the loss of all things that were dear to them on earth; to renounce the religion in which they had been educated; to bear patiently the shame and defamation which were universally heaped upon them; and voluntarily to undergo the unparalleled sufferings and tortures which I have described, in order to defend and propagate it in the world. They had tasted of the good word of life, (Heb. vi. 5 ;) and being renewed in the spirit of their mind, (Eph. iv. 23,) were convinced that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation, (Rom. i. 16.) They saw that the world was lying in wickedness, (1 John v. 19,) and knew that the eternal ruin of its votaries, if they continued in their unbelief, was inevitable. Obedience, therefore, to the command of God, and compassion to the souls of men, were the exalted principles which induced them to become fools for Christ's sake, (1 Cor. iv. 10,) which supported them in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, (2 Cor. vi. 4,5,) and by which they were enabled to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had in heaven a better and a more enduring substance. (Heb. x. 34.)

But besides the purity of the motives, the extent of the labours, and the magnitude of the sufferings by which the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ are distinguished, there is another point of view in which we are called upon to survey them. These disinterested philanthropists not only underwent pains and privations, and encountered death in every form, in consequence of their conviction 102

of the truth and importance of Christianity, and then open profession of its doctrines; but it was on the ground of the same conviction, that the high excellence of moral character to which they attained, and which I have particularly enlarged upon in the first part of this work*, was formed. Under the influence of this conviction they not only laboured and suffered, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection; but they likewise renounced their old customs, submitted to new rules of conduct, withdrew themselves from every sinful indulgence, were characterized by humility and meekness, and holding forth the word of life, (Phil. ii. 16,) as lights shining in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, (Phil. ii. 15,) they became living epistles, read and known of all men. (2 Cor. iii. 2.)

The divine authority of the Christian Scriptures, I therefore unhesitatingly assert to be fully substantiated, by these sufferings of the apostles in defence of the religion therein revealed, and the characteristic marks of sincerity which they uniformly displayed in all their endeavours to propagate it. And the reader who rejects this inference is called upon to give a more reasonable account of their conduct; and to show, if he can, on more rational principles, what were the real motives by which they were actuated in their work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope, (1 Thess. i. 3.) If, however, he would divest his mind of prejudice, and instead of contradicting all the principles of right reasoning, act in conformity to them, he must of necessity admit the propriety of this conclusion; and as an unavoidable consequence be compelled to acknowledge, that Christianity is true—that the apostles knew it to be so---and, therefore, feeling as they did its importance, both to themselves and to others, they relied on, and were upheld by the arm of Omnipotence in their endeavours to preach it: and although it happened, through the

* Chap. II. Section 2.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »