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I ascribe these effects to the good providence of God, watching over the preservation of our holy faith; for what else could make the disciples of Mahomet tolerant in spite of their ignorance and bigotry; and pacific, when their law breathed nothing but war and universal dominion ?
Still the church had other trials to undergo ; and hell had yet in reserve some further engines of its wrath to employ against her. For
IV. While the African and Asiatic Chris tians were in danger of a total suppression by the rage of their Ottoman masters, the European had almost as much to apprehend from exhaustless swarms of Northern barbarians. And, what darkened the prospect still more, all knowledge and learning had disappeared, during these turbulent ages. Hence, to the destructive fanaticism of the East, was added the grossest superstition of the West; which, growing up in a long night of ignorance, and yet directed by policy towards the establishment of a vast and gloomy empire, involved all Christendom in its pestilential shade, and threatened the very extinction of all true religion,
Yet it pleased God, in this distressful state of his church, to provide for its continuance, and even integrity, in due time, by making the cloystered ignorance of the Monks serve to the preservation of the sacred canon ; and the enslaving projects of a tyrannical hierarchy, to the restoration of religious and civil liberty.
And thus, though the powers of hell had been successively let loose against the church of Christ in the terrible shapes, first, of Jewish and Gentile persecution ; then, of heresy, in the church itself; next, of Mahometan enthusiasm ; and, lastly, of Antichristian superstition ; yet have they not prevailed against this sacred structure, founded on a rock, guarded, as we believe, by heaven itself, and therefore destined to be eternal.
I have touched these several particulars slightly and rapidly, just to put you in mind of what the Christian religion has endured, since its appearance in the world, and to let
you see how unlikely it is that this religion should have kept its ground against these various and multiplied attacks, if it had not been divinely
But of all the trials, to which it has been exposed, the greatest by far, if this religion had been an imposture, is ONE, which I have not yet mentioned ; and that is, the examination of severe, enlightened Reason.
And this trial, to complete its honour, our divine faith hath TWICE undergone: once, in the very season of its birth ; and now, again, for two or three centuries, since the revival of letters, in our Western world: periods, both of them, distinguished, in the annals of mankind, by a more than common degree of light and knowledge; which must, in the nature of things, have been fatal to any scheme of religion, pretending only to a divine original, and not really so descended.
But this part of the argument is too large, as well as too important, for me to enter upon at present. Let me therefore conclude with a short and interesting reflexion on so much of it, as we have been considering.
It was natural, no doubt, for the author of a new religion, full of his scheme, and impressed with the importance of it, to promise to himself the perpetuity of his work. But a wise man might easily conjecture that a religion, like the Christian, would meet with the fiercest oppesition: and, though this be not a proper time to shew it, it might be shewn, that the spirit of Christ s distinctly foresaw the several species of opposition, which his religion had to encounter h.
Yet, in the face of all these perils, our Lord predicts, in the most direct and positive terms, that his church should brave them all, and subsist for ever. It has subsisted to this day, after encountering such storms of persecution and distress, as must, in all likelihood, have overturned any human fabrick. Is not the true solution of the fact, this, that it was founded on the word of God, which endureth for ever i ? . The rest, then, follows of course. The wise master-builder (to use his own words on another occasion, near akin to this) had built his house upon a ROCK: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house : and it FELL NOT, for it was founded upon a ROCK k.
g 1 Peter i. ll.
Of Persecution. John xvi. 2.
tion, passiva i i Peter i. 25.
k Matth. vii. 24, 25.
And I say also unto thee, that thou art
Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church ; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
THE religion of Jesus hath descended to us, through two, the most enlightened ages of the world. It was, first, published in the reign of Tiberius: It was re-published, as we may say, at the Reformation : and is it likely, that an. imposture should have made its way in the former of these periods ? Or, is it possible, it should still keep its ground against the influence of all that light and knowledge, by which the latter has been distinguished ?