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And notwithstanding the utmost force of it, we have no cause to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ; but the gospel of Christ may justly be ashamed of us. For whatever we be, the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. The natural tendency of it is to reform and save men, and the wrath of God is therein revealed against all ungodliness and un. righteousness of men, however they may detain the truths of God in unrighteousness, and not suffer them to have their due and proper influence upon their hearts and lives.
But that I may give a more clear and particular answer to it, I desire you to attend to these fol. lowing considerations:
1. It cannot be denied, but that Christianity hath had once very great and marvellous effects upon the hearts and lives of men. And for this I appeal to the lives and manners of the primitive Chriftians, for which we have not only the testimony of our own books and writers, but even of the adversaries of our religion. What reformation Christianity at first wrought in the manners of men, we have clear and full testiinony, from what the Apostles wrote concerning the several churches which they planted in several parts of the world. What heárty unity and affection there was among Christians, even to that degree, as to make men bring in their private estates and possessions for the common support of their brethren, we may read in the history of the Acts of the Apostles. The city of Corinth, by the ac. count which Strabo gives of it, was a very vicious and luxurious place, as most in the world; and yet we see by St. Paul, what a strange reformation the Christian religion made in the lives and manners of many of thom; I Cor. vi. 9, 10, 1L. Be not de. ceived, neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor, idola. ters, nor effeminate, nor thieves, nor covetous; non drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, Mall inhe. rit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are wa hed, but ye aré fanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Fesus, and by the Spirit of our God. And surely it is no small matter
to reclaim men from such a profligate course of life. The Apostle instanceth in crimes and vices of the first rate, from which yet he tells us many were cleansed and purified by the name of the Lord Jesus, and the Spirit of God; that is, by the power and efficacy of the Christian doctrine, together with the cooperation of God's Holy Spirit.
‘After the Apostles, the ancient Fathers, in their a. pologies for Christianity, give us a large account of the great power and efficacy of the Christian doctrine upon the lives and manners of men. Tertullian tells the Roman Governors, that their prisons were full of malefactors, committed for several crimes; but they were all Heathen. De veftris semper aftuat carcer, their prisons were thronged with criminals of their own religion ; but there were no Christians to be found committed there for such crimes; Nemo illic Chrifti. anus, nisi hoc tantùm, &c. There were no Christians in their prifons, but only upon account of their religi. on. Or if there were any malefactors that had been Chriftians, they left their religion when they fell into thofe enormities. And afterwards he adds, that if Christians were irregular in their lives, they were no longer accounted Christians, but were banished from their communion as unworthy of it. And they appealed to the Heathen, what a sudden and strange change Christianity had made in several of the most lewd, and vicious, and debauched persons, and what a visible reformation there presently appeared in the lives of the worst of men, after they had once entertained the Christian doctrine.
And these testimonies are so much the stronger, because they are publick appeals to our adversaries, which it is not likely they who were so prosecured and hated as the Christians were, would have had the confidence to have made, if they had not been notoriously true, even their enemies themselves being judges.
And that they were so, we have the confession of the Heathen themselves. I shall produce two remarkable testimonies to this purpose, and one of them from the pen of one of the bitterest enemies that the Christian religion ever had.
Pliny, in his epistle to Trajan the Emperor, gives him an account, " That having examined the Christi“ ans, setting aside the superstition of their way, he “ could find no fault; and that this was the sum 6c of their error, that they were wont to meet be. a fore day, and sing a hymn to Chrift, and to « bind themselves by Tolemn oath or sacrament, not “ to any wicked purpose, but not to steal, nor rob, " nor commit adultery, nor break their faith, nor “ detain the pledge." So that it seems the sum of their error was, to oblige themselves in the strictest manner against the greatest vices and crimes. Which methinks is a great testimony from an enemy and a judge, one who would have been ready to disco, ver their faults, and had opportunity of enquiring in. to them.
My other witness is Julian the Emperor and Apo, state, who, in one of his epistles, tells us, “ The “ Christians did severely punish sedition and im“ piety.” And afterwards exhorting the heathen Priests to all offices of humanity, and especially alms towards the poor; he tells them, they ought to be more careful in this particular, and to mend this fault; because (says he) the Galileans taking advantage of our neglect in this kind, have very much strengthened their impietry (for so he calls their religion) by being very intent upon these offices, and exemplary in their charity to the poor, whereby they gained many over to them.
And in his 49th epistle to Arsacius the High-priest of Galatia, he recommends to him, among other means for the advancement of Paganism, the build. ing of hospitals, and great liberality to the poor, not only of their own religion, but others. For, says he, it is a mame that the impious Galileans Mould not only maintain their own poor, but ours also; where. fore let us not suffer them to out-do us in this virtue. Nothing but the force of truth could have extorted so full an acknowledgment of the great humanity and charity of the Christians, from so bitter an enemy of our religion as Julian was. If he'owned it, we may be sure it was very great and exemplary.
So that you see that the Christian religion had a very great power and efficacy upon the lives and manners of men when it first appeared in the world. And the true spirit and genius of any religion, the force of any institution, is best seen in the primitive effects of it; before it be weakened and difpirited by those corruptions, which in time are apt to insinuate themselves into the best things. For all laws and inftitutions are commonly more vigorous, and have greater effects at first, than afterwards ; and the best things are apt in time to degenerate, and to contract foil and ruft. And it cannot in reason be expected otherwise. So that though it be a thing to be bewailed, and by the greatest care and diligence to be resisted, yet it is not so extremely to be won. dered at, if Christianity, in the space of sixteen hundred years, hath abated much of its first strength and vigour.
Especially considering, that there were several circum. ftances, that gave Christianity mighty advantages at first, especially the miraculous powers which did accompany the first publication of the gospel ; which mult needs be full of conviction to thole who saw the wonderful effects of it : the extraordinary operation of the Spirit of God upon the minds of men to dispose them to the receiving of it : the persecuted and suffering state that Christians were generally in, which made those who embraced the profession to be generally serious and in good earnest in it, and kept up a continual heat and zeal in the minds of men for that religion which cost them so dear, and for which they suffered so much : and the fury of their enemies againit it did naturally inflame their love and kindness to one another ; nothing being a greater endearment among men, than cominon ufferings in a common cause. So long as Christians were not corrupted by fecular interests, and, by denying all for Christ, were free from covetousness and ambition, the great roots of all evil, the church of Christ, tho' me was black, yet me was comely, and terrible as an army with banners ; she was all this while in an excellent posture to resist the temptations, and Vol. VI.
fight against the vices and corruptions of the world; but after the world broke in upon the church, and Christianity was countenanced by the powers of the world, and watered with secular preferments and encouragements, no wonder if the tares began to grow up with the wheat : then iniquity began to abound, and the love of many to wax cold. When the sun of prosperity began to shine upon the Christian profellion, then no wonder if the vermin bred and swarmed every where. When it grew creditable and advantageous for men to be Christians, this must in all reason make a world of hypocrites, and counterfeit professors.
These things, I reckon, must in reason make a mighty difference between the first ages of Christianity, and those which have followed since ; and no wonder if the real fruits and effects of religion in these several states of Christianity be very unequal. For prosperity and adversity made a wide difference in this matter. The persecution of any religion na. turally makes the professors of it real ; and the prosperity of it does as naturally allure and draw in hypocrites. Besides, that even the best of men are more corrupted by prosperity than affliction.
But though Christians were best under persecution, vet God did not think fit always to continue them in that state, because he would not tempt them and tire them out with perpetual sufferings ; and after he had given the world a sufficient experiment of the power and efficacy of the Christian religion, in maintaining and propagating itself in despite of all the violence and opposition of the world, sufficient for ever to give reputation to it ; he then thought good to leave it to be kept up by more human ways, and such as offer less violence to the nature of man. Being once established and settled in the world, and upon equal terms of advantage with other religions, God left it to be supported by niore ordinary means; by pious education, and diligentinstruction, and good laws and government, without miracles, and without persecution, and without those extraordinary and overpowering