Page images

countries, and with them they carried the gospel. In like manner Providence works in every age. In our own country persecution hunted out those men of God who, by their flight, were ordained to plant the gospel in America. Similar facts may be pointed out without number. Even when civil constitutions give the protection of law, there are innumerable ways in which persecution may be excited, and Providence may disquiet the people of God in one place, that they may remove and carry the gospel to another. We should trace the hand of God in all his works; and the more we give ourselves to the study of Providence, the more clearly will we be convinced that Jehovah reigns on earth as well as in heaven.

Acts ix. 31.

It is true that many useful purposes in the Divine Providence are served by persecution of the faith of Christ. It is equally true that persecution is always an evil in itself, and is only indirectly made subservient to the divine glory. The good that God effects by it is good brought out of evil. In its own nature it is calculated to injure, and would not only injure, but destroy the cause of God, were it not that his Almighty power and his wisdom can make the wrath of man to praise him. Instead, then, of being sought and longed for as a blessing,

it ought to be deprecated and avoided as far as possible. Our Lord, therefore, charges us to pray that we enter not into temptation, because it is a grievous thing in itself; and unless we were upheld by the Almighty power of God, we should assuredly be overcome and fall. In this many of the earliest saints known to church history were to blame, and nothing shows more clearly a commencement, even at that time, of a defection from the faith, than the fanatical ambition that they had for the honour of martyrdom. They courted the stake and the teeth of the lions; and were displeased with those who endeavoured to save them, as if they had done them an injury. Christ does not command this. When they persecute you in this city, says he, flee you to another. We are to give our lives only when we must either yield them, or deny Christ. If we, out of ignorance, go beyond this, and throw away life without being called to it, the Lord, no doubt, will pardon our ignorance, but we will have no reward for ignorance. Ignatius was much to blame in this respect. His letters are rather a sort of pious raving about the glories of martyrdom, than an example of the strongest self-denial in parting with the thing of all things on earth most valuable-the life. He is like the warrior who is prodigal of life from the love of fame, and his own advantage from victory, rather than from a single eye to the authority and glory of his sovereign. Would that general deserve approbation who would grieve that a part of the dominions of his sovereign should be saved by the

voluntary submission of the enemy, and that victory was not gained by the effusion of an ocean of blood?

Even in modern times, when, alas! there are no symptoms of the zeal of Ignatius, the common maxim, which in one sense is true, is generally quoted in a very false sense- "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Many quote this maxim, as if they longed for persecution, and as if they considered times of trial as the halcyon days of the church. Neither Scripture nor experience warrants this doctrine. God may always bring good out of evil, and always make persecution tend to spread the gospel somewhere. But persecution, while it may send the gospel to distant places, may almost extinguish it in the place where it exists. It may, indeed, afterwards arise from the ashes into new life. But it may also be in a manner extinguished for ages. Witness France, Bohemia, and many of the best reformed countries at the Reformation. They are still in the ashes of the conflagration. And, at all events, whatever is to be the result, the immediate consequence to many is a fall to rise no more. In every time of persecution, multitudes deny Christ. This ought to make every one dread it even more than death; because no man could stand, unless God should uphold him. Instead, then, of fanatically congratulating one another that times of glorious persecution are shortly ready to arise, we ought to pray earnestly and constantly that God may not, in his

Providence, lead us into temptation. And let us not only, being aware of our own weakness, and well informed of our duty in this respect, pray against times of suffering; but let us labour incessantly, and with every talent, to do the will of God, that so, when he comes, we may be found, like good servants, doing his will, and waiting for his coming. Whatever our hand finds to do, let us do it with all our might. This, we are sure, is right, whether times of prosperity or times of adversity are at the door. This is the course in which we shall have peace and confidence now; and this is the course which Jesus will approve when he comes to judgment." Well done, good and faithful ser vant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." Let us not be ashamed of any truth, or of any duty. They who laugh at us now will shortly weep and mourn. Let every soldier of Christ attack the enemy with whatever weapons God has put into his hands. The metaphysician affects to prove not only the uselessness, but the absurdity of Christianity. Physical science insults the records of Holy Scripture by pretended discoveries, deduced from facts in the most philosophical manner; and a multitude of the undecided, who still wear the livery of the Lord Jesus, hover between the camp of Israel and the camp of the uncircumcised, under the pretence of mediating between the contending armies, and effecting a reconciliation in a way that will do full justice to the claims of both. A new philosophy has been invented by the prince of darkness for the vulgar;

and the profane and ignorant rabble are made to talk with an appearance of the wisdom of Socrates. Heresy and fanaticism appear in all their forms, and almost in every party. If it were possible, surely, among them, they would deceive the very elect. Soldiers of Christ, arise; put on your armour! Onward, onward, brave companions of Christ. Fear not the multitude nor the talents of your adversaries. The Lord sits in the heavens, and shall laugh them to scorn. He entered into Jerusalem into the midst of his enemies, surrounded only by the body guards of little children singing hosannas. It is glorious to be called to fight the battles of the Lord: it is peculiarly glorious to be called to the encounter of the enemy at a time when they are so powerful and so determined. Dread not the number nor the fierceness of their hosts. Think of the resolution of Jonathan and his armour-bearer. "Come and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few."

If it is wrong to wish for persecution, it is equally wrong to provoke it. As in the early ages of Christianity, some persons offered themselves unnecessarily to danger and death, so at present some seem desirous of provoking hostility and of exciting persecution. They seem to think that they are never strictly faithful, except they are giving studied offence. This is wrong: this serves not the gospel, but effectually injures its progress. We are to give

« PreviousContinue »