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SECT. XIX. And the great impediments that hindered men from embracing it, or deterred them from professing it.
To which consideration we may add this; that the minds of those who embraced the Christian religion, taught by these men, were not entirely free and unprejudiced from any established rule of religion, and consequently very pliable; as they were who first embraced the heathen rites and the law of Mahomet; and much less were they prepared by any foregoing institution; as the Hebrews were rendered fit for the reception of the law of Moses, by circumcision, and the knowledge of one God: but, on the contrary, their minds were filled with opinions, and had acquired habits, which are a second nature, repugnant to these new instructions; having been educated and confirmed by the authority of laws, and of their parents, in the heathen mysteries and Jewish rites. And besides this, there was another obstacle as great, namely, the most 121grievous sufferings, which it was certain they who professed Christianity must endure, or be in fear of, upon that account: for, since such sufferings are highly disagreeable to human nature, it follows, that those things which are the cause of such sufferings cannot be received without great difficulty. The Christians, for a long time, were kept out of all places of honour, and were moreover fined, had their goods confiscated, and were banished: but these were small things; they were condemned to the mines; had the most cruel torments, that it was possible to invent, inflicted upon them; and the punishments of death were so common, that the writers of those times relate, that no famine, no pestilence, no war, ever consumed more men at a time. Neither were they the ordinary kinds of death: but burning of them alive, crucifying them, and such like punishments;374374 Domitius Ulplanus, a famous lawyer, wrote seven books about the punishments that Christians ought to have inflicted on them. Lactantius mentions them, book. v. chap. 11. which one cannot read or think of without the greatest horror; and this cruelty, which, without any long interruption, and that not every where, continued in the Roman empire almost till the time of Constantine, and in other places longer, was so far from diminishing them, that, on the contrary, their blood was called the seed of the church, they so much more increased as they were cut off. Here, therefore, let us compare other religions with Christianity. The Greeks and other heathens, who are wont to magnify their own matters, reckon a very few that suffered death for their opinions; some Indian philosophers, Socrates, and not many more; and it can hardly be denied, but that, in these famous men, there was some desire of transmitting their fame to posterity. But there were very many of the common people, scarce known to their neighbours, among the Christians, who suffered death for their opinion; women, virgins, young men, who had no desire, nor probable hopes, that their name would continue long after them; and, indeed, there are but a few whose names remain in the martyrologies, in comparison of the number of them that suffered for this cause, and are reckoned only by the 122heap.375375 As the innocent company of three hundred at Carthage, mentioned in the xxivth Roman martyrology of Augustus; very many in Africa under Severus; under Valerian at Antioch; and in Arabia, Cappadocia, and Mesopotamia, in Phrygia, in Pontes, under Maximin; at Nicomedia, in Numidia, at Rome, in Thebais, Tyre, Trevers under Dioclesian, in Persia under Cabada and Sapores. All which are mentioned in the martyrology, without any names. Further, very many of them might have escaped this punishment by some small dissimulation, such as throwing a little frankincense upon the altar; which cannot be affirmed of them who, whatever private opinions they had in their minds, yet in their outward actions conformed themselves to the customs of the vulgar. So that to suffer death for the honour of God could scarce be allowed to any but the Jews and Christians; and not to the Jews after Christ’s time; and before, only to a very few, compared with the Christians; more of which suffered punishment for the law of Christ in one province, than ever there did Jews; all whose sufferings of this kind may almost be reduced to the times of Manasses and Antiochus. Wherefore, seeing the Christian religion, in this particular also, infinitely exceeds others, it ought justly to be preferred before them. It must be inferred from such a multitude, of every age and sex, in so many different places and times, who refused not to die for this religion, that there was some great reason for such a constant resolution; which cannot be imagined to be any other but the light of truth, and the Spirit of God.
An answer to those who require more and stronger arguments.
IF there be any one who is not satisfied with the arguments hitherto
alleged for the truth of the Christian religion, bat desires more powerful ones,
he ought to know that different things must have different kinds of proof:376376 See Aristotle’s ethics to Nicomachus, book i.
sufficient, if a thing be made appear according to the subject matter of it; for the
same evidence is not to be expected in all things.” And in the latter part of his
first Metaphys. the last chapter: “Mathematical certainty is not to be met with in all things.” And
Chalcidius on the Timæus, according to the opinion of Plato: “A disposition to
believe precedes all doctrines; especially if they be asserted, not by common,
but by great and almost divine men.” one
sort in mathematics, another in the properties of bodies,
123another in doubtful matters, and another in matters of fact. And
we are to abide by that whose testimonies are void of all suspicion: which, if it
be not admitted, not only all history is of no further use, and a great part of
physic; but all that natural affection which is betwixt parents and children
is lost, who can be known no other way.377377 Thus Homer:—
“No man for certain knows whose son he is.”
That is, with the most exact kind of knowledge. And it is the will of God, that those things which he would have us believe, so as that faith should be accepted from us as Obedience, should not be so very plain as those things we perceive by our senses, and by demonstration; but only so far as is sufficient to procure the belief, and persuade a man of the thing, who is not obstinately bent against it;378378 There are two sorts of propositions in the Christian religion; one sort of which may be philosophically demonstrated, the other cannot. Of the former are inch as these: the existence of God, the creation of the world, a Divine Providence; the goodness and advantage of the precepts of religion; all which are capable of a demonstration, and are actually demonstrated by Grotius and others; so that a man must renounce his reason, or else admit them. But those passions which are contrary to them hinder unbelievers from receiving them, because, if they should own them to be true, they must subdue those passions, which they are unwilling to do, because they have been so long accustomed to them. Of the latter sort are the historical facts upon which the truth of the gospel depends, and which are explained by Grotius, and proved by historical arguments. Which same arguments would he allowed to be good by unbelievers, in the same manner as they do the proofs of all those histories which they believe, though they did hot see the facts, if they were not hindered by the prevalence of their passions; and which they must entirely subdue, if such arguments came once to take place. See a little book of mine, in French, concerning infidelity. Le Clerc. so 124that the gospel is, as it wore, a touchstone, to try men’s honest dispositions by. For since those arguments, which we have brought, have gained the assent of so many good and wise men, it is very manifest that the cause of infidelity in others is not from the want of proof, but from hence, that they would not have that seem true which contradicts their passions and affections.379379 Chrysotsom treats very handsomely of this, in the beginning of 1 Cor. chap. 3. And to Demetrius he says; “that they do not believe the commandments, proceeds from their unwillingness to keep them.” It is a hard thing for them lightly to esteem of honours and other advantages; which they must do, if they would receive what is related concerning Christ, and, for that reason, think themselves bound to obey the precepts of Christ. And this is to be discovered by this one thing, that they receive many other historical relations as true, the truth of which is established only upon authorities of which there are no marks remaining at this time; as there is in the history of Christ, partly by the confession of the Jews which are now left, partly by the congregation of Christians every where to be found; for which there must of necessity have been some cause. And since the long continuance of the Christian religion, and the propagation of it so far, cannot be attributed to any human power, it follows, that it must be attributed to miracles; or, if any one should deny it to have been done by miracles, this very thing, that it should, without a miracle, gather so much strength and power, ought to be looked upon as greater than any miracle.380380 Chrysostom handles this argument on 1 Cor. ch. i. towards the end; and Augustin, concerning the city of God, book xxii. chapter 6.
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