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To this fact the Apostle alludes in this passage: "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." Whether the descendants of Abraham saw any connection between the sacrifices of their ritual, and the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they had "crucified and slain," or whether they could discover any link of union between the cross of the slaughtered Redeemer and the salvation of the soul, but were too infatuated with their folly to acknowledge it, I will not attempt positively to affirm. That such was the case is, however, highly probable: "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin,"+ was the pointed declaration of the Son of God himself. It was not so much for want of understanding the gospel, as for wilful and deliberate rejection of its truths, that the Almighty removed the symbols of his presence from them and their children. The Gentiles, too, regarded the scheme as a compound of error and extravagance; and because they could not make it accord with their notions of wisdom and reason, they declared it a system of madness, and its promoters either impostors or enthusiasts. To this unworthy insinuation the Apostle alludes in the spirited vindication he makes of his zeal for the truth: "For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.”‡
Now for these reasons and with scarcely any modification, we may expect the same bitter invective against the Gospel and all its true friends in the present day. The feelings and the prepossessions of the minds of our countrymen are in favour of some regard to the Christian name;
* 1 Cor. i. 22-23.
↑ John xv. 22.
2 Cor. v. 13, 14.
and persecution unto death is happily no more the crime of Britain. Blessings on the benignant government under which we dwell; sitting "beneath our own vine and figtree, none daring to make us afraid!" But still, whatever the spread of education, a sense of moral right and decency, and the obloquy which attaches itself to the name of bigot, may effect; there will always be a powerful opposition from the unsanctified heart towards real and active piety. "As then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so it is ." The description which the Gospel gives of man as "dead in trespasses and sins;" as a transgressor of the divine law from his birth, as wholly incapable of pleasing God without faith, as a criminal condemned and deserving to die, as a sinner entirely at the clemency of his offended Sovereign, and who must receive pardon freely and without desert, if he be saved—is unpalatable truth to the selfrighteous and unhumbled spirit. And although a sense of shame may restrain it from the open aggression of such as espouse these sentiments, yet the unrenewed mind "hates them with perfect hatred."
And this leads me to mention the third and last cause of persecution, namely, the fallen and corrupt state of the heart towards God and his truth. It is no breach of the charity which thinketh no evil" to affirm that the natural man desires a religion which would allow him to indulge all the sensual gratifications of the soul. "That which is born of the flesh, is flesh." And all the unblushing infidelity which has ever prevailed in the world, and which men have laboured so industriously to propagate, must be ascribed to the same cause-not so much an incapacity of mind to receive the truth, or a want of evidence to support it, as a bad state of the heart towards it. The rejection of
* Gal. iv. 29.
the Gospel, and the oppression which has sometimes been poured on its friends, may, indeed, in some instances, have been the act of the judgment and conscience, as it was with Paul, who "thought he did God service" at the very time he persecuted the disciples of Christ "unto death :" but the wicked and deceitful heart must be considered as the radical cause of this stupidity both of the mind and conscience. When "men do not like to reta in God intheir knowledge, he gives them over to a reprobate mind."* And then "this is their condemnation, that light is come into the world, but men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil."+ Whatever ostensible objections the infidel may bring against revealed religion on account of what he calls its contradictions-contradictions which he never attempted to reconcile; the real, though concealed cause of his contemptuous rejection must be ascribed to the moral delinquency of his heart. There can be no doubt but he would rather believe all the doctrines it contains, than practice any ten of the self-denying duties it prescribes. And besides the infidel, there are others, whose names are associated with Christians; but who, nevertheless, abhor the peculiar doctrines of the apostles of Jesus Christ. The blessings of salvation and the promises of mercy are too rich and too free for their reception. The very excellence of the Gospel is, in their estimation, its greatest evil. Divest it of its glories and reduce it to a barren system of ethical philosophy, and perhaps their ineffable contempt may be turned into a smile. Such persons will pass by the cross; they will impeach the wisdom of "holy men of old, who were moved by the Holy Ghost;" they will accuse the apostles of error and mistake; they will allow the scripture to utter falsehood and folly: but redemption from the curse of the divine law by the
death of the Lord Jesus Christ; remission of sin through his blood, and justification by faith in his obedience and sacrifice; the necessity of the Holy Spirit and of his divine influence to renovate the disordered world, it must not utter. Such unbelievers would confound the foolishness of men with the wisdom of God; they would recall those ages of darkness which enveloped the earth before the advent of the Redeemer, and reduce the hopes of men to a more forlorn and miserable condition than those of the Pagan world. However strange it might seem, you will frequently find the restlessness of scepticism, with the dogmatism of bigotry, in these individuals. They would not, indeed, confiscate property, or enforce their favourite tenets at the point of the sword, but the constant use of a few admired phrases, such as rational, mystical, illiberal and fanatical, shows the supercilious disdain with which they regard the essential peculiarities of the gospel and the understandings of those who publish them. These are some of the causes which, like so many streams from one common fountain, concur to oppose the truth, and more or less all who are concerned to promote it. Let us pass on to observe
III. THE POWERFUL MOTIVES WHICH OUR LORD URGES TO PATIENT ENDURANCE. "THEIR'S IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: GREAT IS YOUR REWARD IN HEAVEN; FOR SO PERSECUTED THEY THE PROPHETS WHICH WERE BEFORE YOU."
In presenting this part of the subject to your notice, brevity must be observed. Nor is enlargement on so obvious a topic in anywise necessary. The happiness of those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ is amply stated in the Scripture, and fully attested by many who have been called to endure it. Supported by Him for whom they could if required suffer the loss of all things they derive abundant satisfaction from the thought, that they are "counted
worthy to suffer shame for his name."*
heart feels solid pleasure in having an opportunity to evince its sincere attachment to divine truth and of showing its sense of the Lord's goodness. It counts every act of service done for its friend as so much pleasure. Thus St. Paul felt, and expressed himself in reference to his labours and sufferings for the Lord Jesus. "I take pleasure," says he in the language of unmingled triumph, “in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecution, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."+
But let us consider this point a little more attentively. These persons are happy.
First. Because of their conformity to their Lord. To them may be addressed the sentiment of an apostle: "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." Thus, it appears, that the sorrows which His people endure for Him are a kind of special gift, and a proof of His fatherly kindness and love. And, besides this, they tend to bring them more closely into fellowship with Him, and with each other. It is undeniable, that saints have always been most eminent for spirituality in persecuting times. There is something in oppression which serves as a cement to the followers of Christ. Whatever shades of difference there may be in their faith or discipline, if they are brethren in affliction they possess mutual sympathies, and are drawn close to each other by the bonds of a sacred fraternity. Then, likewise, do their graces shine; then are their spirits fragrant. A father of the Christian church has quaintly remarked-“ that the people of God have always been like roses, more fragrant when put into the still, and heated by the fire of persecu
Acts v. xli.
t 2 Cor. xii. 10.
+ Phil. i. 29.