« PreviousContinue »
because that which depended upon it was of far
For our Saviour's life, and death, and resurrection,
But yet I must add withal, that besides the mi. racles which they wrought, they gave greater teftimony of their integrity, than any historian in the world ever did. For they willingly suffered the greateft persecution and torment, yea and death itself, in confirmation of the truth of what they delivered. And for the propagating of the Christian religion through so great a part of the world, it is evident by the effect beyond all denial.
So that for the matters of fact, upon which the truth of Christianity does depend, here is greater and more advantageous evidence of history, than for any other matter of equal antiquity whatsoever.
As to the substance of these matters of fact, have the concurring testimony of the greatest enemies of the Christian religion. That there were such persons as our Saviour and his Apostles, that they preached such a doctrine, that they wrought such miracles; for this we have the acknowledgment of the Jews, and the testimony of the heathen Historians, and particularly of Celsus, and Porphyry, and Julian, who were the particular and most learned adversaries of the Chriftian religion. So that as to the matters of fact, there is no objection against them, whatever use we may make of them, or whatever consequences may draw from them. And I presume it agreed by all' objectors, that if these matters
of fact be true, they are a sufficient foundation of the truth of our religion, and we are very unequal to our religion, if we make a doubt of these things, which the greatest enemies of Christianity never had the face to deny.
4. And besides all this, to recompence the disadvantage which we have of those who saw the miracles of our Saviour and his Apostles, we have the reftimonium rei, the evidence of the effects of these things to confirm our belief of them; and this is an advan. tage which the first ages of Christianity could not have. We see our Saviour's predi&ions of the suco cess of his religion in the world, in the propagating and establishing of it, fully accomplished, notwithstanding the fierce opposition and resistance that was made against it by the greatest powers of the world. We see the dispersion of the Jews in all nations, and the misery and contempt which they every where suffer; and that now, for above sixteen hundred years, they have continued a distinct people, and a spe&acle of the divine justice and severity, for rejecting and crucifying the Son of God, and for a lasting and standing testimony of the truth of our Saviour's prediation, and of the Christian religion.
So that though we live at this distance from the first rise and beginning of Chriftianity; yet we have the relation of those things, which gave confirmation to it, conveyed down to us in as credible a manner as any ancient matter of fact ever was; and the effects of these things remaining to this day, do give testimony to the truth of it.
Fourthly, It is objected, that the terms of Christia anity seem very hard, and to lay too great restraints upon
human nature. It commands us to mortify our lufts, and subdue our passions, and deny un. godliness, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world: to be holy in all manner of conversation; to have respect to whatever things are honest and true, and just, and virtuous, and of good report; and to deny ourselves; and to part with the dearest enjoyments of this life, yea and with life itself, for the sake of Christ, and his gospel. Now VOL. VI.
these seem to be very hard terms; to forego all the present pleasures and enjoyments of this life, in hopes of a future happiness which we are less assured of.
Tọ this I answer,
1. That this is a greater objection against religion in general, than the Christian religion. For natural religion requires of us all the main duties that Chriftianity does, and gives us far less assurance of the reward of our obedience. Natural religion requires piety, and justice, and charity, the due government of our appetites and passions, as well as Christianity does, but does not discover to us the rewards of another world, by many degrees so clearly, as our Lord and Saviour, who hath brought life and immor, tality to light by the gospel; and by his resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, hath gi. ven us full assurance of another life after this, and of a glorious immortality. So that though we have not, nor can have the evidence of sense, for a future state, yet we have all the rational evidence for it, that can be wilhed or expected; and much more than men have for those adventures of their lives and fortunes, which they frequently make in the world, and think themselves reasonable in so doing.
2. The restraints which Christianity lays upon men, are in the judgment of mankind so far from being an objection against it, that they are highly to the commendation of it. Nay, it were the greatest ob. jection that could be against our religion, if it did set jus at liberty from those restraints. What can be more to the credit of any religion, than to command men to be just, and charitable, and peaceable ? and what more to the advantage of the professors of it? And on the contrary, what can reflect more upon any religion, than to indulge and allow men in any vice contrary to these? It shews men are glad to make any thing an objection against Christianity, when they lay hold of that, which if it had been otherwise, they would have have made ten times more. clamour against it for the
contrary: 3. As for most of these restraints which ChriStianity lays upon us, they are of that nature, so
much both for our private and publick advantage, that setting aside all considerations of religion, and of the rewards and punishments of another life, they are really good for us, and if God had noe laid them upon us, we ought in reason, in order to our temporal benefit and advantage, to have laid them upon ourselves. If there were no religion, I know men would not have such strong and forcible obligations to these duties : But yet I say, though there were no religion, it were good for men, in order to temporal ends, to their health, and quiet, and reputation, and safety; in a word, to the private and publick prosperity of mankind, that men should be temperate, and chaste, and just, and peaceable, and charitable, and kind, and obliging to one another, rather than the contrary. So that religion does not create those restraints arbitrarily, but requires those things of us, which our reason, and a regard to our own advantage, which the necessity and convenis ency of the things themselves, without any confideration of religion, would in inoft cases urge us to.
4. As to the case of persecution for religion; besides that it does not now happen so frequently as it did in the beginning of Christianity, nay, very seldom in comparison, if all things be considered, it cannot be thought unreasonable, both because religion of. fers to us, in confideration of our present sufferings, a happiness unspeakably greater than that which we forego for the sake of religion ;. and because when it happens, God does extraordinarily enable men to go through it with courage and comfort, as we see in the examples of the primitive Christians, who in great numbers, of all tempers and ages, did voluntarily choose to give up themselves to these sufferings, when there was no necessity laid upon them, but fair terms of retreat were offered to them by their ene. mies. It is one thing when a man suffers by the law, and cannot help it; and another thing when men may avoid suffering. In the former case, men sub. mit to necessity, and bear it as well as they can; in the latter case, if men suffer, it is a sign they firmly believe the reward of it; and if they suffer chear.
fullya fully, and with joy, as most of the martyrs did, it is plain evidence that God affords them extraordinary Tupport in their sufferings; and then the case is not very hard, when religion puts them upon nothing but what it gives them cause, and enables them to rejoice in the doing of it.
Fifthly, It is obje&ted, that the Chriftian religion is apt to dispirit men, and to break the courage and vigour of their minds, by the precepts of patience, and humility, and meekness, and forgiving injuries, and the like. This objection hath made a great noise in the world, and hath been urged by men of great reputation, and a deep insight into the tempers of men, and affairs of the world. It is said to be particularly inlifted upon by Machiavel, and very likely it may, though I think that elsewhere he is pleased to speak with terms of respect, not only of religion in general, but likewise of the Christian religion ; and ( which seems very much to contradict the o. ther) he says in the first book of his discourses upon Livy, (chap. 91.) that the greatness and fuc. cess of Rome is chiefly to be ascribed to their piery and religion; and that Rome was more indebted to Numa Pompilius for sertling religion among them, than to Romulus the founder of their ftate; and the reason he gives is much to our present purpose; for, says he, without religion there can be no military discipline, religion being the foundation of good laws and good discipline. And particularly he commends the Samnites, who betook themselves to religion, as their last and best remedy to make men couragious, nothing being more apt to raise mens spirits than religion.
But howsoever this objection be, I dare appeal both to reason and experience for the confutation of it.
1. To reason, and that as to these two things :
(1.) That the Christian religion is apt to plant in the minds of men principles of the greatest resoluti. on and truest courage. It teacheth men upon the best and most rational grounds to despise dangers, yea and death itself, the greatest and most formidable e