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wade such resistance against the furious assaults of an enemy, as the divine mind of this pious sage against the attacks of stripes, tortures, and death, till, at length, he vanquished through the aid of reason engaged in the cause of religion.
“ O priest, most worthy of the sacerdotal dignity, who didst not pollute thy sacred body with impure viands! O guardian of the law, and professor of a philosophy all divine! O noblest assertor of the religion of thy country, in spite of passion, of torture, and of death! Thou hast gloriously confirmed the equity of our law by thy sufferings and perseverance ; rendered our rites more conspicuous, but not abrogated them; and, by realities and deeds, established the precepts and doctrines of our holy profession. O venerable sage, superior to torments, above the force of raging flames, most glorious of conquerors, who hast led thy passions in triumph! As heretofore our father Aaron, armed with a censer, ran into the midst of the temple, and vanquished the destroying angel, in like manner did Eleazar, descended from the same Aaron, steadily adhere to his profession, and conquer in the midst of devouring flames. And, what is most astonishing, when age and infirmities had enervated his body, he exerted an invincible resolution of mind. O happy age! integrity and sanctity unquestionable, that gave testimony of so illustrious a death!"
What more satisfactory evidence can be required of the power of reason over the passions, than that of an aged man enduring so much for the cause of piety and virtue, with such undaunted intrepidity? But as it may be alleged, by way of objection, that this in age is less to be wondered at, because, as strength and courage decrease, so the passions and love of life may then be supposed to be considerably abated, I shall proceed to show, that even young men, whose reason has been fixed upon true principles, have undergone, and overcome, torments heavier than the former.
When the tyrant found himself foiled in this first attempt, and that he could not compel the venerable Eleazar to violate the laws of his country, he became so incensed, that he commanded others of the Hebrew captives to be brought before him, promising them immediate liberty, upon condition of their eating forbidden meats, and threatening them with greater torture than had been inflicted in case of refusal.
PURSUANT to the order aforesaid, there were brought before the tyrant seven sons, with their ancient mother. The men, from the symmetry of their form, and elegance of their deportment, attracted his notice; and therefore, after beholding them with a kind of approbation, he commanded them to approach, and thus accosted them : .
“ Young men, from an approbation of your personal appearance, I have kind intentions towards you : nor can I but pay a more than ordinary respect to your family, which hath the unusual blessing of so many such brethren. To advise, therefore, that you would not be guilty of the same mad and most absurd zeal, with that poor old bigot, whom you saw perish in the midst of agonies and tortures, is a kindness far below what I design for you. I invite you to comply with me, with an assurance of my particular friendship : for I have it in my power to oblige and advance them that obey me, in as eminent a manner as I have to punish those that stand out against my commands. Be assured then, you shall not fail of preferments, but have places of honour and profit, and great trust under me, provided you will renounce your country's customs, and be content to live after the Greek manner; laying aside the foolish distinction of meats, and indulging those appetites and pleasures freely, in which youth, never fond of restraint, must find a delight now denied you by the tyrant of your own superstition. Consider too, that if such advantageous offers be rejected, you must expect that your obstinacy will be the more provoking, and I shall be obliged to make every one of you examples, by a death as full of pain and horror as the anger of an incensed king can inflict. Be persuaded to pity yourselves, when a stranger and an enemy has set you an example of pity. Throw not lavishly away so much youth and beauty, which I am very loth should perish : but perish it must, unless you will save it by that one way. Therefore consider well. MeThinks you should consider, and not resolve too rashly, when I assure you, that, in case of disobedience, you have nothing to expect but racks, fire, and death."
The tyrant had no sooner thus spoken, than he commanded the instruments of torture to be produced, in order to work more strongly upon their fears, than words and menaces he imagined could do. When the guards had set before them the wheels, racks, manacles, combustible matter, and other implements of horror and execution, Antiochus, taking the advantage of the impression he supposed this spectacle would make, once more applied to them in terms to this effect : “ Young men, consider the consequences; your compliance is no longer a wilful offence : you may rest assured that the Deity you worship will consider your case, in being compelled to violate your law.” But they were so far from being terrified at the consequence of a denial, that their resolutions became stronger, and through the power of reason, aided by religion, they triumphed over bis barbarity. What is it reasonable to suppose would have been the measures pursued, had there been but an individual among them timorous, or inordinately fond of life? Would not such a one have addressed himself to the rest, in terms similar to the following ?
“ What stupid and fool-hardy wretches are we thus to continue deaf to the invitations and kind advice of a king, who calls us to gain and promotion, upon our obedience! Why should we amuse ourselves with vain imaginations, and persist in a fatal obstinacy, which can end in nothing but death ? Shall we be so insensible as to have no regard to these dreadful engines of cruelty ? None to the menaces of an unrelenting tyrant, inexorable enough to put in execution all that he hath threatened ? Shall we not rather abandon this empty point of honour, and that false pride of constancy, that is certain to prove our destruction? It can be no crime to have some respect to our youth, which promises many happy years; some pity to our poor aged mother, whose gray hairs must be brought down with unspeakable sorrow to the grave, to see so many sons cut off at once, and herself made childless in an instant by our disobedience. What the king says is very rational, that God is too just and good not to make allowance for the hard circumstances we lie under. Why should we then throw ourselves out of life, at a time when we are best fitted Vol. IV.
to taste the sweets of living? Why hurry ourselves headlong out of a world where every thing conspires to delight and entertain us most agreeably? Let us not strive any longer with our fate; nor buy applause so dear as at the expense of racks and death. The law itself is not so severe as to condemn for involuntary offences; and the more just our fears are, the less there is of will in the compliance. What pretence can we bave then for this obduracy? Or why should we be so fond of a mistaken courage, which is indeed no better than despair and obstinacy, when nothing but death is before us if we stand out; and life and security, plenty and pleasure, are surely ours, if we do but submit?".
BUT no language similar to this was uttered from the moutb of one of these brave youths; for the apprehension of the racking pains they were about to endure little affected their minds. They triumphed over their impending misfortunes; and when the tyrant comnianded them to eat of the forbidden viands, they, with one voice, and, as it were, with one spirit, made him this reply:
“To what purpose, O king, is the delay ? If with desigu to know our final resolution, be assured we are ready to encounter death in its most frightful forms, rather than transgress the laws of our fathers. For, besides, the reverence due to the example of our ancestors upon other accounts, this is what our obedience to the law, and the precepts of Moses, requires from us. Do not then attempt any more to persuade us to apostasy ; do not put on a counterfeit pity for those who know you hate them; even death itself is more supportable than such an insulting, dissembling compassion, as would save our lives with the loss of our innocence. Thou thinkest to terrify us by threatenings of death and torture, notwithstanding the same experiment made upon the old man hath so lately taught thee how ineffectual all such methods are upon the servants of the true God; and if the old men of our nation endure so courageously such exquisite pains for their religion, is it reasonable to suppose that the young ones will suffer the reproach of being behind them in constancy and patience? As we have þeen educated under his particular care and instructions, so wę shall conquer after his example. Try us, therefore, and see if it be in thy power to destroy our souls, when we suffer in the cause of God and religion? This is impossible : your cruelty canot hurt us; for all the effect our pains can have, will be to secure us the glorious rewards due to unshaken patience and injured virtue.Upon you the consequence will be very different and dreadful; for by the murders of so many innocent men, you arm the Divine vengeance against yourself; and, for the temporal punishments which you inflict, will become so obnoxious, as to suffer the punishment of everlasting torments."
The tyrant, enraged at their contumacy, gave the word of command; and the guards immediately brought forth the eldest of the seven brethren, and having torn off his garment, and tied his hands behind him, cruelly scourged him; and continued their lashes till they were tired, but could avail nothing. They then put him on the wheel, where his body being extended, he underwent the severest tortures of the rack; thus reproaching his tormentor : “Monster of cruelty ! enemy to the Divine Justice ! you torment me in this manner not for homicide or impiety, but as an asserter and defender of the sacred law.” The guards then exhorted him to comply, eat of the king's meat, and thereby obtain a respite. But he answered, “Think not, base men, that your wheel can destroy my reason. Break my limbs in pieces, burn my flesh, distort my arteries; yet all the torments you can inflict on me shall serve but to convince you, that it is the peculiar glory of an Hebrew to be invariably firm in suffering for the cause of virtue.” They then put fire under him, and exposed his body, as much extended as possible, to the devouring flames, insomuch that he exhibited a spectacle horrible beyond description, and thus continued till nothing was left of human form, but a skeleton of broken bones.
During the shocking scene, this brave youth, and worthy descendant of faithful Abraham, was not heard to utter a groan, but bore his torments with such invincible fortitude, as if he had been translated to immutability in the midst of the flames, exclaiming “My brethren, follow my example : desert me not in this noble conflict, nor disclaim the relation of generous constancy, by which we are allied in soul more nearly than in blood. Engage, resolutely en