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There are men whose fundamental principles deny the existence of a spirit in man, or a spiritual above man-to whom “the what shall we eat, and what shall we drink,” is literally the one substantial question with which a man, if he is wise, will trouble himself-who will face a vast amount of obloquy, and even active persecution to spread their dogmas, and some of them, I verily believe, rather than renounce them, would die at the stake. These are the strangest phenomena of all. Men cannot live within the bounds of the visible, however desperately he may try. Like Peter, cursing and swearing “I know not the man," while his speech betrayed him, so men may denounce the spiritual world as a cheat, or scoff at it as a delusion—they may prove to their complete satisfaction that the spirit within them is but the perfect action of the most complex and exquisitely adapted mechanism known to man-but they do it with a zeal and earnestness, and often with a willingness to suffer anything rather than abandon their conviction, or renounce the advocacy of it, which betrays their higher nature, and convicts them of being spirits still. Martyrs even of a false, shallow, sensual philosophy, have not been rare. Among the heathen, too, the same spirit reigns. The dark page of pagan history is lighted by many a splendid record of heroic struggle and suffering for truth, or what the sufferer held to be truth; and which he so grappled to his heart that to part with it would be more bitter than death. Nothing is more universal than this willingness of man to suffer, and even to be tortured and killed rather than deny a truth or affirm a lie; you see traces of it everywhere, save among the most brutalized savages. If life is man's chief treasure, the one precious thing which sure instincts teach him to guard at any cost, then this is wholly unaccountable—it is just an impenetrable mystery. It would look as if some demon were sporting with the belief and resolutions of men. But the history of inartyrdom means that life is not man's chief treasure; that it is in itself quite worthless, and worse than worthless, not comparable in value with a brute's, if the circle of a brute's existence is likewise the circle of a man's. All its worth comes into it from the world outside its visible sphere. If this be all which the materialist or atheist would leave us, there are few brutes who do not pass a better and happier life than man, under such conditions, and in such a world as this. There are those of you living lives your dogs would not change with you, if you could not catch some inspiration from a world whose precincts no brute can enter, and cherish some hope that “the present a tíliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Renounce that, and what is left to us—“ Let us cat and drink for to-morrow we die," and let to-morrow come soon.
Christianity did not invent martyrdom, nor has Christianity the monopoly of martyrdom, but
1. The Christian is the highest and noblest form of martyrdom, and no form of religious belief has been so sealed and consecrated by the blood of its noblest professors as the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.
It is a great mistake to suppose that the history of Christianity and of Christian life, is wholly different from the history of every other form of human belief, and of the common human life in every country and every age of the world. Man is a religious being; every when and every where this feature of his constitution asserts itself. This leads him to seek intercourse with heaven; his spirit needs intercourse with heaven; and the conditions of that intercourse are the supreme considerations with him through all the phases of his civilisation, and all the ages of his history. All true observation of him shows him as a religious being. In the absence of a clear revelation, the necessity is so strong upon him that he dreams, as it were, a revelation for him. self. He invents à religion, or rather moulds it on the fragments of the eldest knowledge of our race, by which he tries to fill that chasm in his divine relations of which he is sorrowfully conscious, and which makes his life every where the life of a being who thinks he has to do with heaven—that he has duties, obligations, fears, hopes, joys, and sorrows, which belong to the life of a spirit in conscious relation with an invisible spiritual world. Chris. tianity brings these relations out into clear view. It makes known to man what his relation is to God, and what his duties, It unveils the spiritual world, and makes him its conscious, intelligent citizen; in a word, it enables him to be all that the pagan aims at being, longs to be, but miserably fails. It is the man walking in the broad daylight, as compared with the man groping and stumbling in darkness, or the child feeling vaguely and dimly after the use of his powers. But what I want you to see is that in both cases there is the man walking, or trying to walk, and that a certain likeness, and even identity of movement will exist between them. So the heathen feeling for truth will present many phases of experience, and arrive at many results, which will have a strong moral likeness to those of the Christian, who has found the truth and who knows both what and Whom he has believed. Thus the Incarnation, which the Gospel brings out as a blessed fact into the clear daylight, is such an absolute need of the human spirit, that you find dim previsions of it in every pagan system, and thoughts about it which present an almost startling analogy—all the more striking through their many imperfections and impurities--to the truth about the Incarnate Word whom the Gospel reveals. Atonement, mediaton, divine regene
rating life, are so essential to man's existence as a spirit in a nature and a world like this, that his own dreams and hopes about them, not unhelped, we may well believe, from on high, present very important likenesses to the truth as revealed in the Word of God. Thus, too, with martyrdom. We may expect to find, fully developed, brought out into its full manly dignity and power, that spirit of willingness to suffer and die for truth, which, unless it had been latent in humanity, Christianity could not have unfolded. And if we expect to find the full, grand image of this within the Christian sphere, we may be sure that blurred and imperfect forms of it are to be seen in every age and all about the world. And this is just what history presents to us. We meet the spirit of martyrdom everywhere. It was a pagan poet who sang, “It is beautiful and blessed to die for one's country.” But you must open the pages of Christian history, and unfold the bead-roll of Christian martyrs, to see the spirit of human self-devotion and self-sacrifice in all its essential nobleness and grandeur ; and there they appear wielding power over man, and moulding the life of nations and continents, with a triumphant mastery, such as no conqueror at the head of the mightiest armaments which the world can furnish, has ever been able to boast. The history of Christian martyrdom is the very noblest page of the history of man. It was the conquering force in the early ages of the Church. Mighty as were the preachers, mightiest of all were the martyrs. The notion that there was anything worth dying for, except oblivion, had grown very dim in the age of the first Christian teachers. The world felt that a new power, a great power of God, had passed into it, when multitudes of men, and tender women, and little children, challenged, yea, courted, the privilege of dying, in tortures and amid uni. versal execrations, that they might seal their faith in their unseen God and Saviour with their blood. It was the glow of an intense and exalting life, which emanated from the prison, the rack, and the stake, where they tried to torture the disciples of Christ to renounce their trust in His name ; and it spread contagiously through society, and made the way ready for the preachers of the Gospel. The spectacle of the martyrs began the conversion, which the preachers and rulers of the Church had but to complete. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the harvest which they reaped abundantly—the harvest of the whole civilized world.
II. What was the special element of force in the martyrdom of Christian professors, “men who hazarded and laid down their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus," which gave their witness such tremendous power, and made it the noblest manifestation
of the martyr's spirit which has ever been seen in our world. There are two principles on which I shall for a moment dwell :
1. The Christian martyr had before his eyes the image of Christ, The Martyr. The vision of Calvary, God the martyr of truth, inade death beautiful and glorious. It became the divine act of man—that wherein "he could show likest God”—to die for truth or for mankind. The example of the Divine martyr lent a consecration to the instinct of man that it is good to die for truth—for duty. Men saw that this, too, was the mind of God. I need hardly point out what unbounded, what uncommon influence this actual Divine example exerted through the early Christian ages on the thoughts, the passions, and the deeds of men. It is this which made Christendom what Christendom is as compared with pagandom-it is the fruit of the living of God in the world as a sufferer, and at length a martyr, for truth and for mankind. Christendom, in its broadest character, is the world which believes that God has done this, and that men, in doing it, are treading in the footsteps of God. Poverty, homelessness, hunger, have had a divine beauty in the eyes of myriads of men, since God was poor, hungry, and homeless in our world. And the men who felt the attraction of this divine beauty, and were kindled by it to a kindred life, are the men who have left the deepest impress on their times, and have moulded thereby the future of the world. The “imitation of the Lord Jesus” as the God manifest in the flesh, under conditions to which it was possible for poor man to come near to Him, has been the master principle of the most powerful minds who have left their traces on the mould of Christendom—the master' workmen who have built the great temple of the Christian world. The conscious imitation of Christ, the God-man, has been the element which has infused a strength, a dignity, a grandeur, into the spirit of Christian martyrdom, which we look for in vain, save in rare instances, in pagan lands; and has made its record, as I have said, the noblest chapter in the history of man.
2. The second element is the love of the Lord Jesus Christ as the suffering, self-sacrificing Saviour of mankind,
Men may be martyrs for a truth, a principle, a notion, a dream ; the Christian martyr was martyr for a Master, and was sustained and inspired by a personal and passionate love. There is a Person, a known Person, one who has been in close, familiar, and loving contact with man, at the heart of Christianity. This is a grand contrast to the pagan creeds and schools. Christian faith is trust in a Person, Christian hope is hope in a Person, Christian devotion is devotion to a Person, and Christian martyrdom was martyrdom for a Person, for whom it was felt to be glorious and blessed to die. God living with man to win man's love, is a
second of the great ideas, or rather facts, which have moulded Christendom, and, through Christendom, are moulding the world. God kindling in human converse with man such passionate loyalty and love as wreathed the bonds borne for His sake with roses, and made the rack or the wild beast's den the very vestibule of Paradise. For, had not the Lord said to a dying sinner on the Cross, “This day shall thou be with me in Paradise.” “Come, then, let us die, that we may be with Him there!” And love only can win such love. Such sacrifice, sacrifice only can claim. Because God has loved to the uttermost, man's love bears him through the uttermost triumphant, that he may at least confess a debt which he can never repay. Because God has sacrificed Himself freely for man, man can sacrifice himself joyfully to God. There was a deep, intense, and passionate love filling the hearts of myriads of earth's noblest and most heroic children, in the ages that nursed the Christian martyrs, which made the more ghastly forms of suffering and agony beautiful in their sight. The Lord's love filled the world with men for whom man had no terrors; who could smile calmly on the world's worst; who feared no privations, perils, or weariness; who, on the ocean, in the deserts, in humanthrongs, in lonely wildernesses, had absolutely but one aim and hope, that they might suffer something for Him who had suffered all for them, might honour Him a little who had honoured them infinitely by taking on Him their likeness, and glorify Him who would glorify them, by showing how wholly His love had possessed and ruled their hearts. Paul's ardent outburst of devotion would have been the language of all of them. “What mean ye to weep and to break my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." There must have been something tremendous in the force of this love of the Lord Jesus, drawing men through torments and torturing death to His embrace, when martyrdom had to be rebuked and limited by the express injunction of the Church whose interest it so grandly served. It seized on the noblest natures like a divine frenzy, and revived in the world the dead belief that there was something worth living for, for there was something worth dying for, if it could not be found on this side the grave. Life was lifted out of the mire of a rotting paganism, and set on high, in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, when men had found something to live for, something to die for, which God, too, had lived for and died for, in our world.
III. How does our life look beside theirs ? I mean our life as Christians, owing to Christ all that we have, all that we are, all that we hope for how does our life express that debt? They expressed it by “hazarding their lives for the name of the
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