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such persons, and
them upon acquainting themselves with the grounds of their persuasion. And they would thus be convinced, that Christianity was no cunningly devised fable, but that the prospects and rewards of another life that it opened were real and wellfounded, by which such sufferers were supported in the heavy trial.
It is indeed a matter of great notoriety, that in the times of the apostles, and afterwards, the heathens were so far from being discouraged from christianity, by the persecutions and most cruel tortures which its votaries and
professors underwent, that their patient and noble behaviour. under them drew the attention of beholders, and was the means of their inquiring into their principles and profession, and being converted to it.
They could not forbear reverencing, and desiring to have some knowledge of, a doctrine which could inspire men with such invincible courage under the most painful conflicts, and make them at the same time such excellent crea
“I myself,” says one of them, (who lived immediately after the apostles, and who after
wards himself courageously suffered for the truth, which he had boldly defended by his writings,) " in the days that I was a heathen, and a devoted admirer of Plato's doctrines, when I heard great crimes laid to the charge of the christians, and beheld them at the same time fearlessly to submit themselves to death, and to the most dreadful sufferings,- I could not but be persuaded, that it was impossible that such men should live in the practice of any wickedness, or of gross sensual indulgences. For no one who took pleasure in such gratifications, or in any of those vile things of which they were accused, could so cheerfully have embraced death, which would deprive them of all delights, and would not rather have chosen to prolong life at any rate as much as possible, and have striven to get out of the way of the magistrates, and escape from them, instead of yielding themselves up to them.”
To mention only one other instance:
The account written by an eye-witness of what those martyrs at Vienne and Lyons endured not long after, with such patience, meekness, and fortitude; rather than renounce
their faith in Christ, under that otherwise good man, but most bigoted idolater, Marcus Antoninus, cannot now be- read by any one of a virtuous unprejudiced mind, without admiring and thinking well of that doctrine which could produce such noble effects, and heights of suffering virtue, that do honour to human nature; a doctrine at that early period capable of being traced up to those who were acquainted with the eye-witnesses of Christ, and his miracles, and of those of his apostles ; a doctrine, which held forth a future endless recompense to the virtuous, and the severest punishments to the wicked ; and that particularly forbad all falsehood, and bound to the observance of the strictest truth.
Thus has it appeared, that the being baptized for the dead, or on account of them, which the apostle speaks of, was the being induced to embrace the christian religion, in dangerous times, from beholding the excellent characters of those who had suffered for it. And we have also seen it to have been verified in history, that this was very generally the motive, and the way by which the gospel was at first propagated. 2 M 2
It remains now to lay before you one or two remarks.
I. It cannot but give us satisfaction in the profession of our holy religion, that the blessed Jesus, the faithful and true witness, as the apostle (Rev. iii. 14.) styles him, the first martyr for it, surrendered up his existence in tortures, of which he had the certain foreknowledge long before, rather than deny his mission and authority from God, which he had proved and confirmed in his lifetime by many miracles above all human power.
And it is a part and continuation of the same most powerful argument for its truth, that the apostles and first followers of Jesus, who had seen and conversed with their Lord and Master after he was raised from the dead, and through him received extraordinary gifts and powers from God to propagate the gospel, did, many of them, in different countries, under Jewish and heathen magistrates, resign their lives to the sword; not in testimony of any mere doctrines about which men may have their brain heated, and become wild and ignorant enthusiasts, but in cool attestation of this
plain fact, that God had raised the Lord Jesus that was dead in three days to life, and had thereby given the broad seal of heaven to what this his beloved son and messenger had taught from him, of the future punishment of wicked men who refused to be reformed, and of the intended endless happiness of virtuous and holy men, and
promoters of truth and righteousness in the world.
The spectacle of tried virtue and integrity which Christ, first and chief, and those his chosen disciples and followers, thus held up to the world in attestation of the reality of a divine interposition to promote these great ends of Providence and of human happiness, was one of the chief means and instruments whereby men were at the first won over to the belief of the gospel at all hazards; and by which we at this day are still most fully convinced of its truth, and upon which it stands as upon a rock that cannot be moved.
II. It was a great deliverance and a happy change that was made, when the heathen powers were destroyed, and the
Constantine professed himself a christian.