« VorigeDoorgaan »
and this only have I reason to believe. This I will profess. According to this I will live, and for this, if there be occasion, I will not only willingly, but even gladly lose my life, though I should be sorry that Christians should take it from me. Propose to me anything out of this book, and require whether I believe it or no, and deem it never so incomprehensible to hnman reason, I will subscribe it with hand and heart, as knowing no demonstration can be stronger than this ! God hath said so, therefore it is true. In other things I will take no man's liberty of judgment from him; neither shall any man take mine from me. I will think no man the worse man, nor the worse Christian ; I will love no man the less for differing from me. And what measure I mete to others I expect from them again. I am fully assured that God does not, and that therefore man ought not, to require any more of any man than this, to believe the scriptures to be God's word, to endeavour to find out the true sense thereof, and to live according to it."
Before we close this volume it may be well to look back on what has been written, and to consider the practical lessons which may be gathered from the whole. It is a low, unworthy, and profitless thing to read history only to gratify curiosity. If our errors, both theoretical and practical, are not corrected, and our hearts not made better by such an exercise, we have carried it on in vain.
And what is it in these scenes which has been presented to us, but the wickedness of the oppressor, and the virtues of the oppressed ; the triumphs of power over piety in one view, and of piety over power in another?
I. The reality, the power, the beauty, of true religion. - Let us turn from the defects, the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies, of professors of Christianity, as these things are too frequently seen in the day of prosperity and the sun-shine of liberty, and which have such a tendency to produce not only revulsion and disgust, but suspicion and scepticism, to contemplate, in contrast with all this, genuine religion, during the dark night of adversity, when it can only be heard by the clank of the prisoner's fetter, or seen by the light of the martyr's flame. Here there is truthfulness, sanctity, and conscience, if nowhere else, and withal a power, compared with which the tyranny that has been the guilty cause of the scene is but as brute force compared with almightiness of virtue. There is no inconsistency here—no hypocrisy here—but a living embodiment of conscience arrayed in the beauties of holiness. To see men, who, in what many would consider the veriest trifles, trifles in their estimate not worth the cost of a single sigh, or to be upheld by the expenditure of a single tear, exhibiting the constancy of martyrs at the dictate of conscience, and going to bonds, imprisonment, and death-how strikingly in all this is seen not only the grandeur of Christianity, but the evidence of its truth! Infidelity likes not to look upon the martyrs of our faith, but chooses to dwell rather upon its insincere professors. But if it can bear upon its weak disordered vision the full blaze of such effulgence, we bid this evil spirit look upon the saintly virtue of the sufferers for conscience sake. Let the facts of the gospel be disproved, its evidences discredited, and its arguments answered, if they can. Still how are its effects as set forth in the pages of its martyrology to be dealt with? This noble army
of martyrs, how are they to be beaten down, driven from the field, vanquished; they who rise, every one of them, a living witness of the truth, power, and glory of Christianity ?
Be this the first lesson we learn, from the scenes which have come before us, and which come before us from every similar scene. The sufferings of Christians from Pagans; of Protestants from Papists; of Nonconformists from Episcopalians; of Episcopalians from Presbyterians: all equally shew the same transcendant excellence of our holy religion. They tend to keep up the power and dominion of principle, the sovereignty of conscience, the vigour of rectitude. They are the lofty dykes which keep out the ocean of sin, and prevent the church as well as the world, from being covered with a turbid deluge of expedience, utilitarianism, faithlessness, and hypocrisies. Persecution, then, while on the one hand it exhibits in itself the odiousness of vice, calls out with no less power and effect the beauty of virtue. is in the pages of our martyrology that Christianity is enshrined in her highest sanctity and her most awful majesty; it is there that its friends see in it most to love and admire, and its foes most to fill them with dread and dismay.
II. The next thing, surely, which must strike us is, the character and extent of persecution.—Intolerance, by whomsoever exercised, is a deadly evil. It transvenoms all the kindly feelings of the human bosom into the dregs of malignity, and is marked oftentimes by the most ferocious cruelty. Men naturally amiable, lose all their own softness and tenderness of disposition and become morose, severe, and relentless, under the influence of bigotry. The usual expressions of sympathy, commiseration, and charity are withheld, and all the emotions of pity are extinqnished. And what is still worse, all this is done under the sanction of religion ; and Christianity is thus made to operate in the very opposite way to that so strikingly described in the beautiful imagery of the prophet, and instead of the lion being changed into the lamb, the lamb is transformed into the lion. Men never go to greater lengths in sanguinary violence, than when they become cruel under the alleged command of religion. That surely must be hateful to God which is opposed to his own nature as a God of love, and to the spirit of his law, which commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Persecution is as impious as it is cruel; for it not
only opposes every precept of the New Testament, but invades the prerogative of God himself, by assuming a right to punish those who have committed no offence but against Him, and whom he has reserved for his own exclusive scrutiny into their character, and for his own penal visitation. Heresy is a sin, of which the criminality can be measured by Him alone, who is the infallible Judge of truth, and of the human heart. Religion is a matter which lies solely between God and the individual conscience; of which God alone can take cognizance; and persecution, therefore, is a usurpation, or an attempt at it, of the attributes and prerogatives which belong exclusively to the Most High. It is a vain endeavour to ascend into his throne, to wield his sceptre, and to hurl his thunderbolts.
Nor is it altogether free from an air of the ridiculous, for surely man scarcely ever appears more foolish than when attempting to legislate for the opinions and the conscience of his fellow man, and to make laws for the soul which lies so entirely beyond his cognizance and his inflictions.
And then its own history shews how useless it is. Truth is immortal : the sword cannot pierce it; fire cannot consume it; prisons cannot incarcerate it; famine cannot starve it; all the violence of men stirred up by all the power and subtilty of hell, cannot put it to death ; in the person of its martyrs it bids defiance to the will of the tyrant who persecutes it; and with the martyrs’ last breath, predicts its own full and final triumphs. The pagan persecuted the Christian ; but yet Christianity lives. The Papist persecuted the Protestant, but yet Protestantism lives. The Church of England persecuted the Nonconformist, and yet Nonconformity lives.
Nonconformists persecuted Episco