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ception could scarcely have been expected from Priestly or Paine!". which was meant only as a mingled expression of surprise and regret, that a learned Professor and Dignitary of the Church (who ought to have known and published better things) could be found in such heretical company, even in the single instance adduced !“ however unassailable, or even ineritorious, might be the character of Doctor Blaney in other respects.”-Such was the difference shewn to his general character, qualifying the partial censure ; and by no means “ classing his name with those of Priestly and Paine in the gross.
3. The delay of this censure, (not “ attack”) till after his decease, was merely accidental; occasioned by not having earlier noticed the obnoxious passages ; indeed, not until the subjects of the respective Critiques, in which they occur, naturally led me to consider them : and the candour of his friends and the public at large, will, I trust, do me the justice to allow, that on such occasions, I would not have defended it a single moment, through any apprehension of incurring his resentment, by exposing his palpable mistakes, had I noticed them in his lifetime.
And that neither the tone, nor temper, nor tenor of my Inspectorial strictures on Critics and Authors, both living and dead, betray any marks of timidity of spirit, towards the former ; or of “ unfair” dealing, and “ungenerous” disposition, towards the latter. Jan. 8, 1803.
THREE OCCASIONAL SERMONS.
By the Rev. R. POLWHELE.
LUKE xii. 28—29.
also, confess before the Angels of God. But he, that denieth me before men, shall be denied before the Angels of God. TN the first ages of Christianity, it required more than comI mon fortitude to hold fast the profession of the faith. To vindicate, in those days, the doctrines of CHRIST, was no other than to declare war against the world. The general opinions and habits of mankind, were unfriendly to the spirit of the true religion. The champions of the Gospel beheld in array against them the whole force of prejudice and sin. They were to combat the obstinacy of the Jews, and the sophistry of the heathen. They were to inculcate a morality, unembarrassed by ceremonial 6
obserobservances, and unadulterated by superstitious corruptions; and they were to publish a Revelation, whose doctrines, refusing to be tried by the subtleties of the schools, were accounted “the foolishness of preaching.” In this arduous conflict, they had no view of any temporal reward. They enjoyed no prospects of honour, of riches, or of pleasure, that might conciliate attention or encourage perseverance; but were compelled to relinquish their earthly pursuits, to dissolve their tenderest connexions, and abandon their most innocent enjoyments; to meet the menaces of power, and to expose themselves to every species of barbarity.
In the subsequent ages of the Christian Church, the same resolution was often necessary to maintain the cause of truth. « To confess CHRIST before men,” was still to resign the good things of life, to bear with patience the sharpest insults, and to despise the terrors of persecution. Even when the enemies of the Gospel could no longer.prevail, that spirit of superstition and intolerance, which disarranged the principles of order, and shook the pillars of the Church to their very basis, was exerted in various parts of Christendom, with all the ferocity of a Pagan persecution, against the professors and the preachers of true Christianity..
At this aweful moment, a spirit not unlike the Pagan, displays itself over a vast extent of territory against all who have the fortitude “ to confess Christ before men."
On a survey, however, of the Christian religion, as professed in this country, we have every reason to congratulate ourselves on its present tranquil establishment. We observe no difficulties, no dangers, attending the profession of it. In all its paths, we meet peace and security.
In pursuance of the subject, I mean to particularize a few of those periods in which the most distinguished professors of Christianity were exposed to persecution, and to point out to you the conduct of those professors; that, duly sensible of the peculiar advantages attending your religion as at this day established, you may look to your own demeanour with sentiments becoming Christians; and may be enabled to determine also, whether you have reason to expect the promise, or to dread the menace of the text.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Luke has drawn an admi· rable portrait of the martyrs of old time, " who wandered
about in sheepskins and goatskins, in deserts and on mountains, in dens and caves of the earth, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— who had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the
sword. They were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they 'might obtain a better resurrection.”
Let us see, whether they who actually “received the promise,” were possessed of the same magnanimity and fortitude.
The sufferings of the Christians, during the ten famous persecutions, are too well known to be here described at large. I shall therefore select a few examples only, by way of refreshing your memories, and impressing on your minds a just sense of those great characters, the primitive defenders of the faith.
The deaths of St. Peter and St. Paul are both such as must inspire us with the deepest reverence for those holy martyrs. They suffered under Nero.
St. Peter, we are told, having taken a last farewell of his brethren, especially St. Paul, was brought out of prison, and led to the top of the Vatican Mount, to be crucified there. And he, wiro once denied his master, was now fully established in the Faith. He embraced; indeed, his death, with ardour. And, with feelings truly characteristic of this zealous apostie, he entreated the executioner to crucify him with his head downwards ; deeming himself unworthy to suffer in the posture in which his Lord had suffered before him.
St. Paul is said to have converted three of the soldiers that were appointed to conduct him to the place of execution ; and on his arrival there, the aqidæ salvia, (three miles from Rome) resigned his neck, with chearfulness, to the fatal axe.
What devout Christian, in contemplating such deaths, does not, for a moment, wish “ to be dissolved and be with Christ !” St. Paul owed his condemnation, it is reported, to the circumstance of his having converted a mistress of Nero's to the Faith: and, in truth, the pure lives of those holy men, and their disciples, were too strikingly contrasted with the prevailing immoralities, to be tolerated by the heathen worid. The worship, indeed, which they taught, was so directly hostile to tire Pagan idolaters, that whereever we turn our eyes, we observe it exciting indignation.
Thus we see St. Thomas sacrifice,l to the rage of the Brahmans, on the coast of Coromandel-St. Timothy stoned to death at Ephesus, by the votaries of Diana--and St. Mark assaulted by the worshippers of Scrapis at Alexandria, and dragged through the streets in so violent a manner, that his flesh was torn from his bones, and he expired in agonies!
Those who, by our ecclesiastical writers, have been emphatically styled “ The Fathers,” were as unrelentingly persecuted as the Apostles or Evan velists.
The circumstances attending the deaths of St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp, leserve our particular notice. Perhaps no one of the Father's of the Church ever suffered such
merciless torments, as St. Ignatius. Imprisoned and scourged, forced to hold fire in his hands, whilst his sides were burnt with papers dipt in oil, obliged to stand upon live coals whilst his flesh was torn with burning pincers; he yet remained invincible, and rejoiced in his final sentence, that he should be carried in chains to Rome, there to be delivered to wild beasts. To Rome he was accordingly conveyed, and, at the time of the saturnalia, brought into the amphitheatre; when the lions were let loose, and quickly devoured the venerable bishop, to the entertaininent of an impious multitude.
St. Polycarp's calm and cheerful acquiescence in any sentence that the Proconsul might pronounce, affords us a wonderful example of a truly Christain Faith. The Proconsul threatened “the wild beasts," or the “ more terrible punishinent of fire.” The mode of punishment was indiderent to Polycarp; he was committed to the flames.
The same spirit prepared for martyrdom, did Irenæus possess ;. when, at Lyons, he was put to death, together with almost all the Christians of that great city; insoniuch that its streets flowed with their blood..
It would be endless to recount the various instances of saintly fortitude that occurred among the primitive professors of Christianity.
Eusebius informs us, that to avoid the dreadful spectacle of persecuted Christians at Cæsarea, he withdrew to Thebais in Egypt, where, however, the furiousness of the heathen was still more shockingly displayed. There (he says) multitudes, both men and women, sometimes an hundred in a day, were doomed to the most excruciating deaths, which they endured with the firmest constancy; which many of them, indeed, courted, by approaching the tribunal immediately after the condemnation of their companions, · and by openly * confessing CHRIST!”
Such were the difficulties and dangers with which Christianity · was at first surrounded ! Such was the noble intrepidity with which its professors resigned their lives! And thus the champions of the Gospel, protected by the whole Armour of Light, were enabled to triumph, in life and in death, over all the cruelties of the persecuting enemy!
In succeeding ages, Christianity had been as violently assailed by the malice of her enemies, or the bigotry of her friends.
But the time would fail ine to enumerate the martyrdoms of more recent periods.
In this country we have examples of Christian magnanimity, as illustrious as the proto-martyrs then jelves. And we might with. draw our views with no abatement of adniration, from the zeal and fidelity of a St. Ignatius, or the patience and serenity of a Vol. III. Churchm. Mag. Sup.
Polycarp, to the piety and firmness of a Ridley, or the venerable simplicity and resignation of a Latimer.
In the tremendous revolution which has been just exhibited before us, we have observed a great revolt from the standard of Christianity; but we have seen many faithful.
It hath been remarked, that a nation of profest infidels, is a phenomenon absolutely new amongst mankind. The truth is, that the present rulers of the French people, avowed ruffians as they are, have terrified the multitude into a renunciation of their religion. It is also to be noticed, that, in France, the public mind is fully occupied by martial enterprize, and agitated by the most violent passions..
If we look back to the time when the French ecclesiastical establishment was first invaded, we shall see many characters that proved by their firmness the sincerity of their religious professions. We shall recollect, that vast numbers of the clergy refused to take the oath which the national assembly attempted to impose ; though all the non-conformists were immediately ejected from their benefices. And (what we deem a glorious instance of the integrity of the clerical order) of a hundred and thirty-one bishops, three only were found servile enough to betray their conscience and their honour, in stooping to take the oath for the preservation of their* bishoprics. And, for the common people, we lately observed a striking instance of their religiousness; when, immediately as the churches (which had been long shut up) were thrown open, they rushed into the sacred edifices; and' agitated with the strongest penitential emotions, prostrated themselves before the Eternal !
With these various views of suffering Christianity before us, we are now, I think, duly prepared to inquire, for a moment, into our own situation and conduct as the disciples of Jesus. ,
It is sufficiently clear, I conceive, that “ the yoke,” with us, “ is easy, and the burthen light.” Here may the Christian “ confess CHRIST,” in security. He hath no cause to fear the diminution of his temporal happiness, however open the avowal of his principles. Thus fortunately situated, we have every motive to be religious, both in reality and in appearance. Surely, then, religion must flourish where nothing rises to obstruct its growth ; where the happiest circumstances concur to favour its expansions, and to produce its maturity! Surely, the Christian Faith, no more a cold assent, must now possess the heart, and operate upon the conduct !
The threatenings, denounced in the text, need not be extended to this country, in which no objects of fear exist to deter us from our duty; nor any shew of reason to be ashamed of Him, whose religion is established amongst us!
But, alas! the nature of men has been, in all ages, corrupt; and