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Alexander Severus, the most excellent of all the heathen emperors, not excepting Antoninus Philos. was guided by the renowned Ulpian, and his mother Mammea, supposed a Christian: of him, saith Lampridius, "Judæis privilegia reservavit : Christianos esse passus est:" yea, in the mornings he wentto prayer"in lacario suo, in quo et divos principes, sed optimus electos, et animas sanctiores, in queis et Apollonium; et quantum scriptor suorum temporum dicit, Christum, Abraham, et Orpheum, et hujusmodi Deos habebat." Yea, saith the same Lampridius, "Christo templum facere voluit, eumque inter Deos recipere: Quod et Adrianus cogitasse fertur:" &c. ; ut ante. And after: "Cum Christiani quendam locum, qui publicus fuerat, occupassent; contra, popinarii dicerent sibi eum deberi; rescripsit, melius esse ut quomodocunque illic Deus colatur; quâm popinariis dedatur." The great strictness of the christian churches in the election of their pastors, he made his example in the choice of his officers: "Dicebatque grave esse, cum id Christiani et Judæi facerent in prædicandis sacerdotibus qui ordinandi sunt, non fieri in provinciarum rectoribus, quibus fortunæ hominum committuntur et capita :" that is, "Nomina eorum proponebat, hortans populum, siquis quid haberet criminis, probaret manifestis rebus ; si non probaret, poenam subire capitis," He made a saying of Christ's his motto, saith Lamprid: "Clamabatque sæpius quod à quibusdam sive Judæis sive Christianis audierat, et tenebat ; idque per præconem cum aliquem emendaret, dici jubebat, Quod tibi nonvis, alteri ne feceris: quam sententiam usque adeo dilexit, ut et in palatio, et in publicis operibus, præscribi juberet." Thus you see what opinion the best Roman heathen emperors had of Christ and the christians, Paul had liberty in Rome to preach in his hired house to any that would come and hear him; (Acts xxviii. 31;) no man forbidding him. And those Emperors that did persecute Christianity, were either such beasts as Nero, or at best such as never understood the reason of that religion, but persecuted they knew not what. And it was not so much for the positive parts of Christianity that they persecuted them, as for the negatives, even for denying honour and worship to those idols, whom the Romans had been long accustomed to adore. So that "Tollite impios, Tollite impios," was the cry of the rabble, as if it had been ungodliness to deny their gods and to sacrifice or burn incense on the idols' altars was that ordinary command which they disobeyed, to the suffering of death.
As Grotius saith, (lib. 3,) "Multa habemus testimonia quæ historiæ istis libris traditæ partes aliquot confirmant. Sic Jesum cruci affixum, ab ipso et discipulis ejus miracula patrata, et Hæbræi et Pagani memorant. De Herode, Pilato, Festo, Fælice, de Johanne Baptista, de Gamaliele, de Jerosolymorum excidio, exstant scripta luculentissima Josephi edita paulo post annum à Christi obitu 40. Cum quibus consentiunt ea quæ apud Thalmudicos de iisdem temporibus leguntur. Neronis sævitiam in Christianos Tacitus memoriæ prodidit. Exstabant olim et libri tum privatorum ut Phlegontis, tum et acta publica, ad quæ Christiani, provocabant, quibus constabat de eo sidere, quod post Christum natum apparuit, de terræ motu, et solis deliquio contra naturam, plenissimo lunæ orbe, circa tempus quo Christus crucis supplicio affectus est."
Celsus and Julian do not deny the miracles of Christ: Mahomet himself confesseth Christ to be a true prophet, and the word of God; and condemneth the Jews for rejecting him. He confesseth his miraculous nativity, and mighty works, and that he was sent from heaven to preach the Gospel: he bringeth in God as saying, "We have delivered our declarations to Jesus, the son of Mary, and strengthened him by the Holy Ghost." And, we have delivered him the Gospel, in which is direction and light, &c.: and he teacheth his followers this creed, say, 'We believe in God, and that which was delivered to Moses and Jesus, and which was delivered to the prophets from their Lord. We distinguish not between any of them, and we deliver up ourselves to his faith.' And if Christ be to be believed, as Mahomet saith, then Christianity is the true religion; for, as for his and his followers' reports, that the Scriptures are changed, and that we have put out Christ's prediction that Mahomet must be sent, &c.; they are fables, not only unproved, but before here proved utterly impossible.
Read Eusebius, 'Eccles. Hist.' (1. xviii. c. 17 and 18. and 1. xi. c. 10,) of God's strange judgments on Maximinus, the emperor; whose bowels were tormented, and his lower parts ulcerated with innumerable worms, and so great a stink that killed some of his physicians; which forced him to confess, that what had befallen him was deserved, for his madness against Christ; for he had forbidden the Christians their assemblies, and persecuted them wherefore he commanded that they should cease persecuting the Christians; and that, by a law and imperial edict, their assemblies should be again restored; he confessed his sins,
and begged the Christians' prayers, and professed that if he were recovered, he would worship the God of the Christians, whom by experience he had found to be the true God.'
See Bishop Fotherby's 'Atheomast.' (1. i. c. 3. pp. 140, 141,) comparing his case with Antiochus's.
Paulus Orosius, 'Hist.' (lib. 6, fine,) telleth us of a fountain of oil which flowed a whole day in Augustus's reign; and how Augustus refused to be called Dominus, and how he shut up Janus's temple because of the universal peace; and that “Eo tempore, id est, eo anno quo fortissimam verissimamque pacem ordinatione Dei Cæsar composuit, natus est Christus; cujus adventum pax ista famulata est; in cujus ortu audientibus hominibus exultantes angeli cecinerunt, Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis."
See also what, after others, he saith of Tiberius motioning to the senate, that Christ might be accounted a God; and Sejanus resisting it: (lib. 7. 'Auct. Bib. Pat.' to.1. p. 209,) where he saith also, that aliquanti Græcorum libri attested the darkness at Christ's death. And (lib. 7. p. 216) he showeth that, as after the ten plagues of Egypt, the Israelites were delivered, and the Egyptians destroyed, so was it in the Roman empire with the Christians and Pagans, after the particular revenges of the ten persecutions. But because he is a christian historian, I cite no more from him.
Yet Faith hath many Difficulties to overcome: what they are; and what their Causes.
THERE are two sorts of persons who may possibly peruse these things, and are of tempers so contrary, that what helpeth one may hurt the other: the first are those who see so many objections and difficulties, that they are turned from the due apprehension of the evidences of Christianity, and can think of nothing but stumbling-blocks to their faith. To tell these men of more difficulties, may add to their discouragement, and do them hurt and yet I am not of their mind that think they should be therefore silenced; for that may tempt them to imagine them unanswerable, if they come into their minds: the better way for these men is, to desire them better to study the
evidence of truth: and there are other men, who must be thought of, who seeing no difficulties in the work of faith, do continue unfortified against them, and keep up a belief by mere extrinsic helps and advantages, which will fall as soon as the storms assault it: and because no doubt is well overcome that is not known, and nil tam certum quàm quod ex dubio certum est, I will venture to open the difficulties of believing."
Sect. 1. That believing in Christ is a work of difficulty, is proved, both by the paucity of sound believers, and the imperfection of faith in the sincere; and the great and wonderful means which must be used to bring men to believe.
Superficial believers are a small part of the whole world, and sound believers are a small part of professed Christians: and these sound believers have many a temptation, and some of them many a troublesome doubt, and all of them a faith which is too far from perfection. And yet all the miracles, evidences, arguments and operations aforesaid, must be used to bring them even to this.
Sect. 2. The difficulties are, I. Some of them in the things to be believed; II. Some of them in extrinsical impediments; III. And some of them in the mind of man who must believe.
Sect. 3. I. 1. The mysteriousness of the doctrine of the blessed Trinity, hath always been a difficulty to faith, and occasioned many to avoid Christianity, especially the Mahometans ; and many heretics to take up devices of their own, to shift it off.
Sect. 4. II. The incarnation of the Second Person, the eternal Word, and the personal union of the divine nature with the human, is so strange a condescension of God to man, as maketh this the greatest of difficulties, and the greatest stumbling-block to infidels and heretics.
Sect. 5. III. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the advancement of man's nature in him above the angelical nature and glory, is a difficulty.
Sect. 6. IV. To believe all the history of the miracles of Christ, the prophets, and apostles, is difficult, because of the strangeness of the things.
Sect. 7. V. It is not without difficulty firmly to believe the 2 Omnis credendi difficultas non temere ex futili nulliusque judicii opinione nascitur; sed ex valida causa, et verisimilitudine plurimum munita: tum enim incredulitas rationem justam habet, quum ipsa res de qua non creditur, quiddam incredibile continet. Nam rebus quæ dubitandi causam non habent, non credere, eorum est qui sano judicio in discutienda veritate minime utuntur.-Athenagor. Lcg. p. 82.
immortality of souls, and the endlessness of the felicity of the
life to come. a.
Sect. 8. VI. And it hath proved hard to many to believe the endless miseries of damned souls in hell.
Sect. 9. VII. And it is as hard to believe the paucity of the blessed, and that the damned are the far greater number.
Sect. 10. VIII. And that so great a change, and so holy a life, is necessary to salvation, hath proved a difficulty to some. Sect. 11. IX. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body is one of the greatest difficulties of all.
Sect. 12. X. So is Christ's coming into the world so late, and the revealing of his Gospel to so few, by prophecy before, and by preaching since.
Sect. 13. XI. So also was the appearing meanness of the person of Christ, and of his parentage, place, and condition in the world; together with the manner of his birth.
Sect. 14. XII. The manner of his sufferings and death upon a cross, as a malefactor, under the charge of blasphemy, impiety, and treason, hath still been a stumbling-block both to Jews and gentiles.
Sect. 15. XIII. So hath the fewness and meanness of his followers, and the number, and worldly pre-eminence and prosperity of unbelievers, and enemies of Christ.
Sect. 16. XIV. The want of excellency of speech and art in the holy Scriptures, that they equal not other writings in logical method and exactness, and in oratorical elegancies, is a great offence to unbelievers.
Sect. 17. XV. As also that the physics of Scripture so much differeth from philosophers'.
Sect. 18. XVI. As also the seeming contradictions of the Scripture do much offend them.
Sect. 19. XVII. And it offendeth them, that faith in Christ himself is made a thing of such excellency and necessity to salvation.
Sect. 20. XVIII. And it is hard to believe, that present adversity and undoing in the world is for our benefit and everlasting good.
Sect. 21. XIX. And it offendeth many, that the doctrine of Christ doth seem not suited to kingdoms and civil governments, but only for a few private persons.
Si animus sit quinta illa, non nominata magis quam intellecta natura: multo integriora et puriora sunt ut à terra longissime se efferant.-Cicer. Tusc. Qu. 1. 1. p. 223.