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THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER NOT APPRECIATED BY THE WORLD.
NotwitHSTANDING this state of outward rest, and though no person is directly persecuted for being a Christian, yet the strict profession of Christianity is, in reality, at all times in a state of persecution. The world in general is but nominally Christian, and perhaps will never be wholly otherwise: for the great bulk of mankind, even in countries termed Christian, have other objects than Christianity, and, indeed, think very little about it. In consequence of this, a true Christian, one who values his religion as he ought to do, who feels as he ought to feel, and who acts as he ought to act, will be regarded with dislike. His conduct will be a reproach to that of others, and he will never be caressed like a man whose virtue is of a more pliable kind, and who can accommodate himself to the prevailing taste.
To a certain degree, the principles of honor, integrity, and benevolence, will always be admired, and make a man esteemed. But that kind of honor, and that kind of generosity which the world most admires, is very consistent with many things with which a true Chrisian cannot comply. The common hero of our stage is by no means a Christian character. And let a Christian behave in a manner the farthest from stiffness and moroseness, his sentiments are so elevated, compared with those of mere men of business or pleasure, that they cannot long accord together; and the latter being the more numerous will be able to keep themselves in countenance, and will regard others with aversion and disgust. Now the man who is so much a Christian as to be unmoved
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by this contempt of the world, and who can bear to be ridiculed for his principles at present, would, I doubt not, be able to die for them. # # *
The influence of the world, pleasure, ambition, and emolument, being the same upon the human mind that it ever was, it must produce the same characters. Consequently, we must not be surprised, if there should be the very temper of the Scribes and Pharisees of our Saviour's time, in the rulers of Christian nations, and at the head of Christian establishments. On the other hand, as Christianity was by our Saviour compared to a net, which took in fishes of all kinds, good and bad, we may expect that (as in that early age) the profession of Christianity, and even in time of persecution, will not always purify the mind; but that there will be some unworthy characters in all Christian churches. At the same time, therefore, that we justly guard against others, let us look well to ourselves.
THE CHRISTIAN READY TO SUFFER FOR HIS FAITH.
This, you may say, was requisite in the circumstances in which the apostle wrote, Christianity being then in a state of persecution, which no person retaining the profession of it could avoid; but now that the church is at rest from persecution, those sufferings are no longer necessary, and we may be, at this day, as good Christians without any hardships, as in those days they who were exposed to them could be.
I am far from saying that this is not possible; but many persons, I fear, deceive themselves by this view of things, and imagine that much less is now necessary to make a Christian than really is so. Whereas, the terms on which we become Christians (and, of course, become entitled to the rewards of Christianity in a future world) are the very same that they ever were, and, upon the whole, perhaps not less difficult. As it greatly behoves us to form just ideas on this subject, I shall endeavour to give you some assistance with respect to it; and for this purpose, I beg you will attend to the following observations.
In the first place, though the actual suffering of the loss of goods, of liberty, of life, or of reputation (which is often more valuable than life) be not always required of Christians, the temper of mind which would enable them to bear the loss of all these, if the sacrifice should be demanded, is always required of us. All Christians are required now, as much as in the times of the apostles, to cultivate a superiority of mind to this world, and all the enjoyments and pursuits of it. They are required to have their affections so set on heaven, and
104 THE CHRISTIAN READY To suffer For His FAITH.
heavenly things; they are so to have their treasure and their citizenship in heaven, as that no earthly consideration shall be able to make them swerve from their duty. If any thing as dear to them as a right hand, or a right eye, would lead them to wrong conduct, they must cut it off, and cast it from them. They must not even hold their lives dear unto them, if it would prevent their finishing their course, or discharging the duty of a Christian, and that with joy, in every situation in which it shall please Divine Providence to place them. Our particular duties change with our circumstances, but the principle which leads to all duty, must ever be the same. This never changes; and where it really exists, it will not fail to make our duty, in all cases, eligible and joyful. A good man and a good Christian fears nothing but God, and hates nothing but sin. Have we, then, my Christian brethren, this principle of duty within us? Have we that steady attachment to Christianity, and that firm faith in a future life, and the rewards which Christ has promised to his disciples there, that would enable us to bear persecution, and even death, rather than swerve from it? If we have, we are Christians, and shall undoubtedly receive the proper rewards of Christianity, whether we be actually called to suffer persecution and death, or not ; as that soldier who keeps his rank, and holds himself ready to engage when called upon, is justly entitled to share the rewards of victory with those of his fellow-soldiers who happened to be called to the hottest action; because he would have engaged, and with as much alacrity, if it had been his place. But, my brethren, (and it behoves us seriously to question ourselves on the subject,) if we be not ready and determined, when called upon, to bear persecution, and even unto death in the cause of Christ, we are not true Christians. If we be not prepared to suffer with Christ here, neither shall we reign and be glorified with him hereafter. If, in such a case, we would, in fact, deny him, he also will deny us. And though
THE CHRISTIAN READY To suffer Fort His FAITH. 105
it does not now appear to the world, or may not even be known to ourselves, what our behaviour in time of persecution for conscience' sake would be, it is always known to God. He sees and judges by the heart, and whatever our final destination may be, we shall then be satisfied of the equity of his
The principles and prospects of Christianity are, in themselves, so great, and so far overbalance all the things of the present life, that they only require to be sufficiently attended to, to make any person do or bear any thing for their sake.
What hardships will not men undergo, and what risk, even of life, will they not run, in order to obtain a great estate, and much more a crown, in this world? In such a case as this, the mere pain of dying would not be regarded by them, if they were sure that they should not actually die, but that, after this suffering, they should certainly gain their purpose. This we see in history, and in common life, continually. There can be no doubt, therefore, but that if the same persons had the same firm faith in the future glorious rewards of Christianity that they have with respect to the things of this life, it would enable them to do and to suffer as much in order to obtain them.
It is only a deficiency of faith that makes persons shrink from persecution and death in the cause of Christianity. Because, in reality, all the pains of this transitory life are nothing in comparison of that eternal weight of glory which awaits those who have faith and patience unto death, with respect to another.