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stand exemot might have expechatsoever, why the
had the precaution not to name.—But he says, he never read the Divine Legation. I can easily believe him : and will do him this further justice, that, when many have written against it without reading it, he is the first who has had the ingenuity to own it.
His system or hypothesis, as we find it in a late quarto volume, called Elements of the Civil Law,* is, in substance, this,-" That the same principle, which set the Roman Senate upon prosecuting the abominable RITES OF Bacchus, excited the Roman Emperors to persecute the primITIVE CHURCH."
But it is fit, this marvellous discovery should be revealed in his own words.—It may be asked (says he) in that almost universal licence and toleration, which the ancients, the Romans particularly, extended to the professors of all religions whatsoever, why the Christian profession alone, which might have expected a favourable treatment, seems to stand exempted, and frequently felt the severity of the bitterest persecution.t-If the learned Critic be serious in asking a question, which had been answered, and as would seem, to the general satisfaction, near twenty years ago, I suppose it is, to intimate that no other answer will content him but one from the persecutors themselves. This then he shall have; though it be of sixteen hundred years' standing.
Pliny the younger, when proconsul of Bithynia, acquaints his master with the reasons why he persecuted; and the satisfaction he had in so doing :-“ Neque dubitabam, qualecumque esset quod faterentur, certe PERTINACIAM, ET INFLEXIBILEM OBSTINATIONEM debere puniri.” † What was this froward and inflexible obstinacy? He tells us, it was refusing all intercommunity with Paganism ; it was refusing to throw a single grain of incense on their altars.
Tacitus, speaking of the persecution which followed the burning of Rome by Nero (the impiety of which action that mad tyrant had charged upon the Christians) says, “ Haud perinde in crimine incendii, quam odio HUMANI GENERIS convicti sunt.” Ş By which, I understand him to mean,—That though the emperor falsely charged them with the burning of Rome, yet the people acquiesced in the persecution, on account of the enormous crime of which they were convicted, [i. e. judged guilty in the opinion of all men ;] their hatred to the whole race of mankind ; || for nothing but such an unnatural aversion,
• By the Rev. Dr. Taylor, Chancellor of Lincoln. Page 579. Lib. x. ep. 97. Annalium lib. xv. cap. 44.
|| Tacitus, speaking of the Jews, observes that the end of their peculiar Rites was to separate them from all other people. From their separation he inferred their aversion. In this sense we are to understand him and other Pagan writers, when they exclaim against the Jews for their peculiar Rites. Each Nation had its own : so that peculiarity was a circumstance common to all. What differenced the Jewish Rites from all others was their end; which was to keep the people from all intercommunity with the several religions of Paganism; each of which, how different soever in their Rites, held fellowship with one another.-But here a famous French Critic, who writes “ de omni scibili," comes in support of our English Critic's system of the PSEUDO-MARTYRS of the primitive Church, and says, we all mis. take Tacitus's Latin. His words are these—“'oserais dire que ces mots odio humani generis convicti peuvent bien signifier, dans le stile de Tacite, convaincus d'être hais du genre-humain, autant que convaincus de hair le genre-humain.” [Traité sur la Tolerance, 1763, p. 60.] He tells us, He dare say,—what not one of
they thought, could induce men to persevere in rejecting so universal a principle, as intercommunity of worship
The good emperor AURELIUS was himself a persecutor. It is not to be doubted, when he speaks in condemnation of the Christian sect, but that he would tell the worst he conceived of them : and it must certainly have been that worst, which made him a Persecutor, so much against the mildness of his nature, and the equity of his philosophic manners. Now this sage magistrate, in his book of Meditations, speaking of the wise man's readiness to give up life, expresses himself in this manner,—“He should be so prepared that his readiness may be seen to be the issue of a well-weighed judgment, not the effect of MERE OBSTINACY, like that of the Christians." * For intercommunity being in the number of first principles, to deny these, could be owing to nothing but to mere obstinacy, or downright stupidity. Here, the mistaken duty of the magistrate, overcame the lenity of the man, and the justice of the philosopher : at other times, his speculations happily got the better of his practice. In his constitution to the community of Asia, recorded by Eusebius, he says,—“I know the Gods are watchful to discover such sort of men. And it is much fitter that they themselves should punish those who REFUSE TO WORSHIP THEM, than that we should interfere in their quarrel." } The emperor, at length, speaks out : and what we could only infer from Pliny, from Tacitus, and from the passage in the Meditations, he now declares in so many words ; viz. that THE CHRISTIANS WERE PERSECUTED FOR REFUSING TO WORSHIP THE GODS OF THE GENTILES.
Lastly, the imperial Sophist, who, of all the idolaters, was most learned in this mystery of iniquity, as having employed all his politics and his pedantry to varnish over the deformities of persecution, frankly owns, that “the Jews and Christians brought the execration of the world upon them, by their AVERSION TO THE GODS OF THE GENTILES." I
« Westminster's bold race dare say,--that these words, odio humani generis convicti, may well signify, in the style of Tacitus, convicted of being hated by the human race, as well as convicted of hating the human race." And now Tacitus, so long famed for his political sagacity, will be made to pronounce this galimatias from his oracular Tripod,“ The Jews were not convicted so properly for the CRIME of setting fire to Rome, as for the CRIME OF BEING HATED by all mankind.”
• Το δε έτοιμον τούτο, ένα από ιδικής κρίσεως έρχεται, μή κατά ψιλήν σαράταξιν, ώς oi Xplotiavoi.--Lib. xi. sect. 3. t 'Eyà Mèv old", fri kai tois Deos eniuerés COTI, μη λανθάνειν τους τοιούτους: πολύ γάρ μαλλον εκείνοι κολάσαιεν αν τους μη βουλομέvous aurous W POOKUVEîv Mueis.—Eccles. Hist. lib. iv. cap. 13. t 'Aurdad, Oů προσκυνήσεις θεοίς ετέροις· και δη μέγα της περί τον θεόν φησι διαβολής. Θεός γάρ ζηλωτής φησι-Αφετε τούτον τον λήρον, και μη τηλικαύτην εφ' υμάς αυτούς έλκετε Baadoulay.-Julian. apud Cyril. Contra Jul. lib. v.
We have seen, from the MAGISTRATE's own testimony, what it was for which he persecuted. We shall now see, from the PEOPLE's demand, that they required the exertion of his power, on no other account. It was usual in their sanguinary shews, when criminals and offending slaves were exposed to the beasts, to call out for and demand execution on the Christians, by the formula of AIPE TOTE AOEOTE. This was their early language, when they required Polycarp for the slaughter. The name ATHEIST was only one of their more odious terms, for a rejector of their Gods. And it was but too natural, when they wanted to have their rage and cruelty thus gratified, to use expressions, which, at the same time that the terms were most calumniating, implied the very crime for which the magistrate was wont to persecute.
What says our learned Civilian to this evidence? He allows Antiquity to have proved the Fact, that the pagan emperors did persecute. But for what, is a question (says he) that may still be asked. And the true answer, with your leave, he thinks himself better able to give than the Persecutors themselves. My reader (these are his words) will grant the fact ; and I COME NOW TO ACCOUNT FOR IT. The account, we find, had been settled long ago. What of that? It had never passed through his philologic Office; and therefore lay still open till our master-critic was at leisure to examine it.
It is not true (says this redresser of wrongs) that the primitive Christians held their assemblies in the night-time to avoid the interruptions of the civil power. But the converse of that proposition is true IN THE UTMOST LATITUDE, viz. that they met with molestations from that quarter, because their assemblies were nocturnal.*
He says, it is not true : The Christian church says, it is. Who shall decide ? A bundle of Grammarians ; or the college of Apostles ? I know his mind : and I guess at my reader's : and of the two, being at present more disposed to gratify the latter, I shall, for once, venture to bring our Civilian before a foreign Judicatory, that is to say, holy SCRIPTURE.
From Scripture we learn, that the first Christian assembly, held in the night-time, was the very night after the RESURRECTION ; when the disciples met in a clandestine manner, with the doors made fast upon them: and this, we are assured, was to avoid the interruptions of the civil power ; or, in the plainer words of St. John, FOR FEAR OF THE JEWS : † for the Soldiers' story of the resurrection began now to make a noise ; and the Jewish rulers were much startled and enraged at it. But when the fright of the disciples was a little over, and things had subsided into a calm, the next assembly, we hear of, was in the day-time ; without any marks of the former wary circum
• " Elements of the Civil Law,” p. 579. † John xx. 19.
spection.* These open meetings were repeated as often as the returns of public worship required : sometimes shifting from house to house ; sometimes more stationary in the Temple.+
But when now the MIRACLES, worked by the apostles in confirmation of the soldiers' story, had alarmed the rulers afresh ; and Peter and John, whom they had put into prison, were, on their releasement, enjoined silence, the Church, assembled in this exigence to implore the Divine direction touching the extent of their obedience to the civil power, was answered by sensible signs from heaven, as at the day of Pentecost — And when they had prayed (says the historian) the place was shaken where they were assembled together ; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God WITH BOLDNESS. I
Here we see, that this second persecution had a different effect upon the Church from the former. At first, they assembled in a clandestine manner for fear of the Jews; now, they continued openly in the Temple to speak the word of God with boldness. This conduct seemed good to the Holy Ghost : and the reason is not difficult to comprehend. The Church was now, for the first time, solemnly enjoined silence by Authority. It was fit it should be as solemnly decided, who was to be obeyed ; God, or the civil Magistrate. But this was not all: the decision served another very great purpose; it served, to disseminate the Faith : for the natural consequence of the disciples' persisting to discharge their ministry, after they had been formally forbidden, was their being scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.§ Had the Church taken its usual remedy against civil violence, namely, secret assemblies (which, in ordinary cases, modesty and a sober regard to authority prescribe), the faithful had not been dispersed ; and the purpose of Divine Providence, in the speedy propagation of the Gospel, had not been properly effected.
This being the case, in the interval between the dispersion, and St. Paul's miraculous conversion, we hear of no nocturnal assemblies ; unless you reckon in the number that between the Disciples and their illustrious Convert, on the town-wall of Damascus, when they let him down in a basket, to escape his persecutors. In this condition, things remained till Paul's return to Jerusalem : and then, says my text, the Churches had rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria.
From this time, till Herod's persecution, ** we have not one word of any nocturnal assembly of the Faithful: but no sooner did that persecution commence, than those meetings were again re-assumed. The Church assembled at midnight, to pray for Peter's deliverance out of prison : and he, when he was delivered by their prayers, found more difficulty to get to his secreted friends than to escape from his gaolers. *
• Acts i. 14; ii. 1. || Acts ix. 25.
7 Acts ii. 46. Acts iv. 31. . Acts ix. 31. ** Acts xii. I.
Acts viii. 1.
In a word, from this history of the first propagation of the Faith, we learn, that, in times of persecution, the Church assembled by stealth, and in the night: but whenever they had a breathing-time, and were at liberty to worship God according to their conscience, they always met together openly, and in the face of day. Thus when Paul came first to Rome (where this sect shared in the general toleration of foreign worship, till the magistrate understood that it condemned the great principle of intercommunity) we learn, that he freely discharged the office of his ministry from morning to night.f And the sacred writer, as if on purpose to insinuate, that, when the Church had rest from persecution, it never crept into holes and corners, ends his narrative in this manner :- And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and RECEIVED ALL that came in unto him ; preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, NO MAN FORBIDDING him. I
It may be objected, perhaps, “ that the question is, of the persecuting Pagans ; and all that has been here said, concerns the persecuting Jews only.” It does so: but who can help it? The Jews happened to persecute, first. As to the question, that which is essential in it is only this, Whether the primitive Christians held their clandestine assemblies to avoid persecution ; or, whether they were persecuted for holding clandestine assemblies ?—Who persecuted, whether Jews or Pagans, is merely incidental to the question, and wholly indifferent to the decision of it. But it may still be said, “That the Christians having thus gotten the habit of clandestine assemblies in Judea ; by that time Churches became formed in the midst of Paganism, they continued the same mode of worship, though the occasion of its introduction was now over ; so that the learned Doctor's position may yet be true, that the Pagans persecuted for those clandestine meetings, which had been first begun in Judea, to avoid persecution, and were now continued in contempt of authority.” To this I answer, that the fact, on the Doctor's own principles, is impossible. According to his principles, clandestine meetings must be prosecuted as soon as observed ; and they are of a nature to be observed as soon as practised. Now all Antiquity, both profane and sacred, assures us, that the Christian Church was not persecuted on its first appearance amongst the Pagans : who were not easily brought, even when excited by the Jews, to second their malice, or to support their impotence.
• Acts xii. 13. Acts xxviii. 23. Acts xxviii. 30, 31.