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mediately to the first disciples and first preachers of the Gospel, who were exposed, in the discharge of their high office, to the severest trials, and the cruellest persecutions from their numerous and powerful enemies. Some of them undoubtedly, who had not sufficient root in themselves, gave way to the storms that assailed them, and made shipwreck of their faith, as our Lord here foretels that they would. But others, we know, stood firm and unmoved, amidst the most tremendous dangers, and underwent, with unparelleled fortitude, the most excruciating torments. The description which the writer to the Hebrews gives of the saints and prophets of old, may, with the strictest truth, be applied to the apostles and their successors in the first ages of the Gospel, under the various persecutions to which they were exposed. "They had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea moreover of bonds and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword, were destitute, afflicted, tormented*." All these barbarities they endured with unshaken patience * Heb. si. 37.
and firmness, and thereby bore the strongest possible testimony, not only to their own sincerity, but to the divine and miraculous influence of the religion which they taught. For it is justly and forcibly observed by the excellent Mr. Addison, that the astonishing and unexampled fortitude which was shewn by innumerable multitudes of martyrs, in those slow and painful torments that were inflicted on them, is nothing less than a standing miracle during the three first centuries. "I cannot, says he, conceive a man placed in the burning iron chair of Lyons, amidst the insults and.mockeries of a crowded amphitheatre, and still keeping his seat; or stretched upon a grate of iron over an intense fire, and breathing out his soul amidst the exquisite sufferings of such a tedious execution, rather than renounce his religion, or blaspheme his Saviour, without supposing something supernatural. Such trials seem to me above the strength of human nature, and able to overbear duty, reason, faith, conviction, nay, and the most absolute certainty of a future state., We can easily imagine that a few persons in so good a cause might have laid down their Vol. I. X lives
lives at the gibbet, the stake, or the block but that multitudes of each sex, of every age, of different countries and conditions, should, for nearly three hundred years together, expire leisurely amidst the most exquisite tortures, rather than apostatize from the truth, has something in it so far beyond the natural strength and force of mortals, that one cannot but conclude there was some miraculous power to support the sufferers; and if so, here is at once a proof, from history and from fact, of the divine origin of our religion*/'
There is a third portion of the seed, that falls amono- thorn?. This wants neither root nor depth of earth. It grows up; but the misfortune is, that the thorns grow up with it. The fault of the soil is not that of bearing nothing, but of bearing too much; of bearing what it ought not, of exhausting its strength atid nutrition on vile and worthless productions, which choke the good seed, and prevent it from coming to perfection. "These are they, (says our Saviour, in the parallel place of St. Luke,) which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares, and riches,
* Addison's Evidences, S. 7.
and and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection." In their youth perhaps they receive religious instruction, they imbibe right principles, and listen to good advice: but no sooner do they go forth, no sooner do they leave those persons and those places from whom they receive them, than they take the road either of business or of pleasure, pursue their interests, their amusements, or their guilty indulgences with unbounded eagerness, and have neither time nor inclination to cultivate the seeds of religion that have been sown in their hearts, and to eradicate the weeds that have been mingled with them. The consequence is, that the weeds prevail, and the seeds are choked and lost. Can there possibly be a more faithful picture of a large proportion of the Christian world? Let us look around us, and observe how the greater part of those we meet with are employed. In what is it that their thoughts are busied, their views, their hopes, and their fears centered, their attention occupied, their hearts and souls and affections engaged? Is it in searching the Scriptures, in meditating on its doctrines, its precepts, its x 2 exhortations, exhortations, its promises, ancHts threats? Is it in communing with their own hearts, in probing them to the very bottom, in looking carefully whether there be any way of wickedness in them, in plucking out every noxious weed, and leaving room for the good seed to grow and swell and expand itself, and bring forth fruit to perfection? Is it in cultivating purity of manners, a spirit of charity towards the whole human race, and the most exalted sentiments of piety, gratitude, and love towards their Maker and Redeemer? These I fear are far from being the general and principal occupations of mankind. Too many of them are, God knows, very differently employed. They are overwhelmed with business, they are devoted to amusement, they are immersed in sensuality, they are mad with ambition, they are idolaters of wealth, of power, of glory, of fame. On these things all their affections are fixed. These are the great objects of their pursuit; and if any accidental thought of religion happens to cross their way, they instantlydismiss the unbidden, unwelcomeguest, with the answer of Felix to Paul, "Go thy way for this time; when we have a convenient season, we will send for thee."