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is true, and infidels would be possessed of one solid objection against it, namely, That our Lord was mistaken, when he predicted the reception his doctrine would meet with. But the Scriptures cannot be broken: the word of Christ is fulfilled and fulfilling every day, and especially in this particular. Many perhaps will be ready to object here, and to maintain, that in our nation, and at this present time, the charge is invidious and false. It will be pleaded, that when Christianity had to struggle with Jews and Pagans, it could not but be opposed; but that with us, under the guard of a national establishment, an opposition to Christianity (unless by the feeble efforts of deists and libertines) is impracticable and inconsistent by the very terms; and that, if the delusions of a few visionary enthusiasts are treated with that contempt and indignation which they justly deserve, this should not be styled an opposition to Christianity, but rather a warrantable concern for its vindication, especially as no coercive methods are used; for though some attempts have been made to restrain the leaders from poisoning the minds of the people, yet no person is injured, either in life or property, on account of his opinions, how extravagant soever.
To this extenuation it may be replied,
1. I do not assert that persecution and reproach must necessarily attend the name of a Christian, or that it is not possible to make a high profession of religion under that name, and at the same time preserve or acquire a large share of the honours, riches, and friendship of the world; but I maintain with the apostle, “All that will live godly in Christ “ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” The distinction he makes in these words is observable: So much godliness as may be professed without a peculiar relation to Jesus, the world will bear; sobriety and benevolence they will applaud ;
eren prayers, fastings, and other external acts may be commended; but to live godly in Christ Jesus—so as to profess our whole dependence upon his free salvation, to seek all our strength from his grace, to do all expressly for his sake, and then to renounce all trust or confidence in what we have done, and to make mention of his righteousness only—this the world cannot bear; this will surely provoke the contempt or hatred of all who have not the same spirit, whether accounted Christians or Infidels, Papists or Protestants. That nothing less than what I have mentioned, can be the import of living godly in Christ Jesus, I shall in due time prove by a cloud of witnesses.
2. I acknowledge, with thankfulness to God, and to those whom he has placed in just authority over us, that the interposition of stripes, imprisonment, tortures, and death, in matters pertaining to conscience, has no longer place in our happy land.
jacet (semperque jaceat!) Divini Imago Zelis et Pestis. The spirit of persecution is repressed by the wisdom of our laws and the clemency of our princes; but we have no ground to believe it is extinct, or rather, we have sufficient evidence of the contrary. Not to mention some recent instances, in which power has been strained to its full extent, it is notorious that scorn, invective, and calumny (which can act unrestrained by human laws), are employed for the same ends and purposes, which, in other countries, are more speedily effected by anathemas and sanguinary edicts.
3. The opposition I am speaking of is not primarily between men and men, simply considered, but between the spirit of the world and the spirit that is of God, and therefore the manifestation of ench will be in mutual proportion. The Lord Jesus himself sustained the fiercest contradiction of sinners, because his character was superlatively excellent : his apostles, though far inferior to their Lord, expressed so much of his temper and conduct, that they were counted worthy to suffer shame in the next degree to him: as he was, so were they in the world. St. Paul, who laboured more abundantly than his brethren, experienced a larger share of dishonour and ill-treatment. Though educated at the feet of Gamaliel, and no stranger to Grecian literature, when he showed himself determined to know nothing but Jesus, and to glory only in his cross, he was accounted, by Jew and Gentile, as the filth and off-scouring of all things: and thus it will hold universally. If therefore any who sincerely espouse the Gospel, meet with little disturbance or censure, it is not because the carnal mind is better reconciled to the truth than formerly in the apostles' days, but because our Zeal, faith, and activity are so much inferior to theirs, and our conduct more conformable to the prevailing taste around us.
4. I confess that (as our Saviour has taught us to expect by the parable of the tares) revivals of religion have been generally attended with some incidental offences, and counterfeited by many false appearances. It has been so in times past, it is so at present, and we are far from justifying every thing, and in every degree, that the world is ready to condemn. However, we cannot but complain of a want of candour and ingenuousness in this respect also. Many who bring loud charges against what is irregular and blameable, are evidently glad of the opportunity to prejudice and alarm weak minds; they do not confine their reproof to what is erroneous and unscriptural, but endeavour, by ambiguous expressions, invidious names, and indiscriminate censures, to obscure the state of the question, and to brand error and truth with the same mark of infamy; they either cannot, or will not, distinguish between evangelical principles and the abuse of them, and when the distinction has been pointed out to them again and again, they refuse attention, and repeat the same stale misrepresentations which they know have been often refuted; they will not allow a grain for infirmity or inadvertence in those whom they oppose, while they demand the largest concessions for themselves and their adherents; they expect strict demonstrations from others, while, in their own cause, they are not ashamed to produce slanders for proofs, and jests for arguments: thus they triumph without a victory, and decide, ex cathedrá, without so much as entering upon the merits of the cause. These methods, however successful, are not new inventions : by such arts and arms as these, Christianity was opposed from its first appearance; in this way Lucian, Celsus, and Julian employed their talents, and made themselves famous to future times.
I judge it therefore a seasonable undertaking, to attempt the apology of Evangelical Christianity, and to obviate the sophistry and calumnies which have been published against it; and this I hope to do, without engaging in any controversy, by a plain enumeration of facts. I propose to give a brief delineation of Ecclesiastical History from our Saviour'stime; and, that the reader may know what to expect, I shall here subjoin the principal points I have in view.
I shall consider the genius and characteristic marks of the Gospel which Jesus taught, and show that, so long as this Gospel was maintained in its purity, it neither admitted nor found a neutrality, but that all who were not partakers of its benefits, were exceedingly enraged against it. I shall make it appear, that the same objections which have attended any reformations in later ages, were equally strong against Christianity, as taught by Christ and his first disciples; and that the offences and irregularities which have been known to attend a revival of evangelical doctrine in our time, were prevalent, to a considerable degree, under the preaching and inspection of the apostles.
2. When I come to the lives and conduct of those called the Fathers, whose names are held in ignorant admiration by thousands, I shall prove, on the one hand, that the doctrines for which the Fathers were truly commendable, and by which many were enabled to seal their profession with their blood, were the same which are now branded with the epithets of absurd and enthusiastic; and, on the other hand, that the Fathers, however venerable, were men like ourselves, subject to mistakes and infirmities, and began very soon to depart from the purity and simplicity of the Gospel.
3. The progress of our history will manifest that the accession of wealth and power to the Christian profession proved greatly detrimental to the faith, discipline, and manners of the churches, so that, after the emperors publicly espoused the cause of Christ, the power and beauty of the Gospel was gradually eclipsed. Yet, in the most degenerate times, God had a spiritual people, who, though partaking in some degree of the general declension, retained so much of the primitive truth and practice as to incur the hatred and persecution of what is called the Christian world.
4. I shall treat of the means and instruments by which the Lord supported and revived his declining cause during several centuries. 1. In the valleys of Piedmont, Provence, &c. by Berengarius, Waldo, and others. 2. In England, by Wickliffe and his followers. 3. In Bohemia, by John Huss and Jerome of Prague. 4. In Germany, by Luther. Here I shall take occasion to observe, 1. That these successive reformations were all projected and executed, so far as God was pleased to give success, upon the same principles which are now so industriously exploded by many who would be thought champions of the Protestant faith. 2. That Luther's refor