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cry from the ashes of our repentance, “Have says he, "for those who were once enlightened, mercy upon me, according to the multitude of and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were thy tender mercies, and blot out my transgres- made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have sions.” Deign thou also to be present, O great tasted the good word of God, and the powers God, and “Holy one of Israel.” Deign thou of the world to come; if they shall fall away, to also to be present with the goodness, the love, renew them again unto repentance.” the bowels of compassion, which thou hast for St. Paul, after having pronounced these terpoor penitent sinners! Hear, O Lord, hear, o rific words, adds; “Behold we are persuaded Lord, and pardon! Amen.
better things of you.” Happy apostle, who,
while pronouncing the sentence of celestial SERMON LXXXIX.
vengeance, could flatter himself that it would not fall on any of his audience. But we, my
brethren, how'shall we say to you? “ Beloved, ON THE NATURE OF THE UNPAR- we are persuaded better things of you.” The DONABLE SIN.
disposition is worthy of our wishes. May it
be the effect of this discourse, and the fruit of HEBREWs vi. 4-6.
To have been enlightened,—to have tasted It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, the heavenly gift, to have been partakers of
and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were the Holy Ghost, -to have tasted the good made partakers of Floly Ghost, and have word of God, and felt the powers of the world tasted the good word of God, and the powers of to come,-and to fall away in defiance of so the world to come: if they shall fall away, to re- much grace,--such are the odious traits emnew them again unlo repentance.
ployed by the apostle to degrade a crime, the “How dreadful is this place! This is none nature of which we proceed to define. The other but the house of God, and this is the gate awful characteristics in the portrait, and the of heaven." On a different occasion, there superadded conclusion, that it is impossible to would have been nothing surprising in the fears renew them again unto repentance, fully apof Jacob. Had God revealed himself to this prize us, that he here speaks of the foulest of patriarch in the awful glory of avenging wrath, all offences; and, at the same time, gives us a and surrounded with devouring fire, “with limited notion of its nature. darkness and with tempest;” it would have been Some have thought, that the surest way to surprising that a man, that a sinner, and a be- obtain a just idea of the sin, was to represent it liever of the earlier ages of the church, should by every atrocious circumstance. They have have been vanquished at the sight. But, at a collected all the characteristics, which could period when God approached him with the ten- add aggravation to the crime: they have said, derest marks of love; when he erected a mira- that a man who has known the truth, who has culous ladder between heaven and earth, caus- despised, hated, and opposed it, neither through ing the angels to ascend and descend for the fear of punishment, nor hope of reward, offerprotection of his servant; when he addressed ed by tyrants to apostacy, but from a principle him in these consolatory words, “Behold I am of malice, is the identical person of whom the with thee, I will keep thee in all places whither apostle speaks; and that in this monstrous asthou goest, and I will bring thee again into this sociation of light, conviction, opposition, and land; for I will not leave thee;" that Jacob unconquerable abhorrence of the truth, this awshould tremble in such a moment, is what we ful crime consists. cannot conceive without astonishment. What! Others, proceeding farther, have searched is the gate of heaven dreadful; and is the house ancient and modern history, for persons, in of God an object calculated to strike terror into whom those characteristics associate; that, suthe mind?
peradding example to description, they might My brethren, Jacob's fcar unquestionably exhibit a complete portrait of the sin, into proceeded from the presence of God, from the whose nature we shall now inquire. They singularity of the vision, and the peculiar scene- have selected two striking examples. The first ry of the discovery, which had struck his ima- is that of the emperor Julian, the unworthy negination. But let us farther extend our thoughts. phew of Constantine the Great, designated in Yes, the gate of heaven is terrible, and the house history under the odious appellation of apostate, of God is dreadful! and his favours should im- who, after having been bred in the bosom of press solemnity on the heart. Distinguished the church, and after having officiated with his favours give occasion to distinguished crimes; brother, as reader (do not be surprised, my breand from places the most exalted have occurred thren, that the nephew of an emperor should the greatest falls. St. Paul, in the words of my wish to be a reader in the church, the first text, places each of the Hebrews, whom he ad Christians had higher ideas than we of the sadressed, in the situation of Jacob. He exhibits cred functions,) after, I say, having sustained a portrait of the prodigies achieved in their fa- this office, abandoned the faith, persecuted the vour, since their conversion to Christianity; the church, endeavoured to refute Christianity, asmiracles which had struck their senses; the sumed the character of chief pontiff, carried knowledge which had irradiated their minds; himself to that excess as to wish to efface the and the impressions which had been made on impression of baptism by the blood of victims, their hearts. He opens to them the gate of and if we may credit a tradition reported by heaven; but, at the same time, requires that Theodoret, died blaspheming against Jesus they should exclairn, “How dreadful is this Christ.* place!" From this profusion of grace, he draws motives for salutary fear. “It is impossible,”
* llist. Eccles. lib. iii. cap. 3.
The second example is that of the most sin- | nary method of defaming his character. Ungular Venetian, whose memory seems handed able to destroy the force of the miracle, they down to posterity solely to excite horror, and maintained that it proceeded from an impure for ever to intimidate those who renounce the source, and that it was by the power of the truth. His name is Francis Spierra. He had devil Jesus Christ healed this afflicted class of tasted the doctrine of the Reformation, and men. This was the occasion on which he propublished his sentiments; but on being cited nounced the words we have recited. before the pope's nuncio, and menaced with The import of the expressions is no way diffithe loss of his head, if he did not instantly re- cult to comprehend. Who is the Son of Man? cant, his fears occasioned his baseness, and he And who is the Holy Ghost? And what is it had the weakness to make a public renuncia- to speak against the one and the other? The tion of our communion. But scarcely had he Son of man is Jesus Christ revealed in human made the abjuration ere he was abandoned to form. Without staying here to refute a misthe horrors of melancholy. The anguish of take of the learned Grotius, who pretends behis mind was fatal to the body; and as one en- cause the article does not precede the word, it deavoured to convince him of the boundless is not to be understood of our Saviour, but of mercy of God, "I know it,” he exclaimed, men in general. To confirm the sense here “I know that God is merciful; but this mercy attached to the term, we shall only observe, belongs not to me, to me who have denied the that St. Luke, chap. xii. 8, after calling our truth. I have sinned against the Holy Ghost; Saviour “the Son of man," immediately adds, I already feel the horrors of the damned. My “Whosoever shall speak a word against the terrors are insupportable. Who will deliver my Son of man, it shall be forgiven him:" where soul from this body? Who will open for her it evidently follows, that by “the Son of man," the caverns of the abyss? Who will chase her Jesus Christ must be understood. And though into the darkest abodes of hell? I am damned the expression may elsewhere have other signiwithout resource. I consider God no longer fications, they have no connexion with our as my Father, but as my enemy. I detest subject. him; (is it possible that' a Christian mouth By the Holy Ghost, must be understood the should open with the like blasphemies!) I de- third person in the adorable Trinity; considertest him as such. I am impatient to join the ed not only as God, but as Author of the curses of the demons in hell, whose pains and miracles achieved for the confirmation of the horrors I already feel."*
gospel. Hence, to “speak against the Son of In the course of this sermon, we shall endea- man," was to outrage the Lord Jesus; to render vour to draw, from their method, whatever his doctrine suspected; to call his mission in may most contribute to your instruction. But, question; and particularly to be offended at the first of all, we deem it our duty to make some humiliations which surrounded it on earth. previous observations, and to derive the light Such was their conduct who said, " Is not this from its source. In the discussion of a sin, the carpenter's son? Can there any good thing solitary in its nature, the Scriptures having ex- come out of Nazareth? A gluttonous man, a cluded none from salvation, but those who are wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners." guilty of this offence, it is of the last impor- To speak against the Holy Ghost, was matance to review all those passages, which, it is liciously to reject a doctrine, when he who depresumed, have reference to the crime: we livered it, confirmed the truth of it by so dismust inquire in what they differ, and in what tinguished and evident a miracle as healing a they agree, drawing, from this association of demoniac; and to ascribe those miracles to the light, that instruction, which cannot be derived devil, which, they were assured, had God alone from any other source.
for their author. Here, I conceive, is all the The task will not exceed our limits, there light we can derive from the text. And as being at most but four texts, in which, it is pre- many persons determine the sense of the text, sumed, the Scriptures speak of this sin. The not so much by the letter as the reputation of first is in the gospels where mention is made of the interpreter, we must apprize them, that we speaking or blaspheming against the Holy have derived this explanation not only from Ghost: “ I say unto you, all manner of sin and the writings of our most celebrated commentablasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the tors who have espoused it, but also from the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not works of the most celebrated of the fathersbe forgiven unto men. And whosover speak- I mean Chrysostom. The following is the subeth a word against the Son of man, it shall be stance of his paraphrase on the text in St. Matforgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against thew:-"You have called me a deceiver, and the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, an enemy of God; I forgive this reproach. neither in this world, neither in that which is Having some cause to stuinble at the flesh with to come.” This text, which Augustine deems which I am clothed, you might not know who the most difficult in the Scriptures, will be- I am. But can you be ignorant that the castcome intelligible, if we examine the occasion ing out of demons, is the work of the Holy and weigh the words.
Ghost For this cause, he who says, that I do The occasion is obvious to understand. Jesus these miracles by Beelzebub, shall not obtain had just cured a demoniac. The Pharisees had remission." attested the fact, and could not deny its divine Such is the comment of Chrysostom, to authority: their eyes decided in favour of Jesus whom we add the remark of an author, worChrist. But they had recourse to an extraordi- thy of superior confidence; it is St. Mark, who
Our author thought himself justified in reciting this subjoins these words: “Because the Pharisees sad case, there being thousands in France who had re
said he hath an unclean spirit.” Hence it is nounced the reformed religion.
inferred that the Pharisees, by ascribing the
miracles of the Holy Ghost, to an unclean fences, "a sin unto death;" but the Spirit of spirit, were guilty of the identical sin against God prompts us to attach this idea to the the Holy Ghost, of which Jesus Christ had second. There are likewise two kinds of aposspoken: as is apparently proved.
tates. There is one class, who have made only The second text we shall explain, occurs in small attainments in the knowledge of the the fifth chapter of the first epistle of St. John. truth; weak and imperfect Christians, unac" If any man see his brother sin a sin which quainted as yet with the joys and transports is not unto death, be shall ask, and he shall excited in the soul by a religion, which progive him life for them that sin not unto death: mises remission of sin, and everlasting felicity. there is a sin unto death; I do not say ye shall There is another, on the contrary, to whom pray for it.” On this question there are, as God has given superior knowledge, to whom we usually say, as many opinions as parties. he has communicated the gifts of miracles, and
Consuli the doctors of the Romish church, whom he has caused to experience the sweetand they will establish, on these words, the ness of his promise. It would be hard to refrivolous distinction between venial and mortal ject the first; but the apostle had regard to the sins; a conjecture both false, and directly op- second. Those, according to St. John, who posed to the design of those from whom it pro- have committed the “sin unto death,” are the ceeds. Because, if this sense be true, the mo- persons who abjure Christianity, after the remert a man commits a mortal sin, prayer must ception of all those gifts. In the primitivo cease with regard to himn; and he who com church, where some were honoured with the mits a venial sin, will still need the prayers of endowment of discerning spirits, there probasaints to avoid a death he has not deserved; bly were brethren who could discern the latter this is not only indefensible, but what the Ca- apostates from the former. tholics themselves would not presume to main- These observations lead to the illustration tain.
of the two passages yet to be explained: tho Waving the various glosses of the Nova- one is in the tenth chapter to the Hebrews; the tians, and other commentators, do you ask other is our text. In both these passages, it is what is the idea we should attach to these obvious the apostle had the second class of words of the apostle, and what is the sin of apostates in view. This is very apparent from which he here speaks? We repeat what we our text. Throughout the whole of this epistle, have already intimated, that it is difficult to ex- it is easy to prove, that the apostle's wish was plain. However, on investigating the views of the prevention of apostacy. He especially dethe apostle throughout the chapter, we discover signed to demonstrate, that to renounce Christhe sense of this text. His design was, to em- tianity, after attesting its confirmation by mirabolden the young converts in the profession of cles, here denominated “distributions of the the religion they had so happily embraced. Holy Ghost," was a crime of the grossest enorWith this view, he here recapitulates the proofs nity. He has the same design in the text. which established its truth: "" There are three Let us examine the terms. that bear witness on earth, the water, and the 1. “They were once enlightened;" that is, spirit, and the blood. It is the innocence of the they had known the truth. They had comprimitive Christians, which is called the water; pared the prophets with the apostles, the pro the miracles which are called the spirit; and phecies with the accomplishment; and by the martyrdom, by which the faithful have sealed collective force of truth, they were fully pertheir testimony, and which is called the blood: suaded that Jesus was the Messiah. Or, if you attesting that those three classes of witnesses, please, “ they were once enlightened;" that is, demonstrate the truth of the Christian religion, "they were baptized;” baptism, in the primiand render its opposers utterly inexcusable. tive church, succeeding instruction, according
After these and similar observations, the to that precept of Christ, “Go ye and teach apostle says expressly, that he wrote for the all nations, baptizing them,” &c. St. Paul, at confirmation of their faith, and closes with this the beginning of this chapter, speaking of bapexhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves tism, expresses the same sentiment. So also we from idols.” Between these two texts, occur are to understand St. Peter, when he says, that the words we wish to explain: “ There is a sin "the baptism which now saves us, is not the putunto death: I do not say that ye shall pray for ting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer it.” Must not " the sin unto death,” be that, of a good conscience.” The answer of a good against which he wished to fortify the saints; conscience, is the rectitude of conduct, resultI mean apostacy?
ing from the catechumen's knowledge and What! you will say, is a man lost without faith. Hence they commonly gave the appelremedy who has denied the truth; and is every lation of illuminated to.a man after baptism. one in the sad situation of those for whom the "The washing of baptism," says Justin Martyr, apostle prohibits prayer? God forbid, my bre- is called illumination; because he who is inthren, that we should preach so strange a doc- structed in these mysteries, is enlightened.” trine; and once inore renew the Novatian se- Hence also the Syriac version, instead of en
There are two kinds of apostates, and lightened, as our reading which follows the two kinds of apostacies: there is one kind of Greek, has rendered it haptized. apostacy into which we fall by the fear of 2. “They had tasted of the heavenly gift;" punishment, or on the blush of the moment, that is, they had experienced the serenity of by the promises Satan makes to his proselytes. that peace, which we feel when we no longer There is another, into which we fall by the fear the punishment of sin: having passed, if I enmity we have against the truth, by the de- may so speak, the rigorous road of repentance, testable pleasure we take in opposing its force. into favour with God. It were cruel to account the first of these of 3. “They were made partakers of the Holy
Ghost, they had relished the good word of God, the gift of miracles, and experienced all the and the powers of the world to come." All graces enumerated in the text. This was the these various expressions may be understood sin of those, who, after conversion, abjured the of miracles performed in their presence, or truth, and pronounced against Jesus Christ the achieved by themselves. The Holy Ghost him- anathemas which his enemies, and particularly self has assumed this acceptation, in various the Jews, required of apostates. These St. parts of the Scriptures, as in that remarkable Paul had in view, in the words of our text, passage in the nineteenth chapter of the Acts, and in the tenth chapter of this epistle. Of this
Have ye received the Holy Ghost?"—We St. John also spake, when he said, “ there is a have not so much as heard, whether there be sin unto death.” Hence the sin described in any Holy Ghost. The good word, says Grotius, these three passages, and the sin against the is the promise of God, as in the twenty-ninth | Holy Ghost, is the same in quality, if I may of Jeremiah, “I will-perform my good word so speak, though diversified in circumstances: towards you;' that is, my promise; and one of we have, consequently, comprised the whole unthe greatest promises made to the primitive der the vague appellation of unpardonable sin. Christians, was the gift of miracles.
“ These After these considerations, perhaps, you alsigns," says Jesus, "shall follow them that be- ready rejoice. This sermon, designed to inlieve; in my name they shall cast out devils, spire the soul with sanctifying fear, has, perthey shall speak with longues, they shall take haps, already contributed to flatter your secuup serpents.” In fine, “the powers of the rity: you no longer see any thing in the text, world to come,” were, likewise, the prodigies which affects your case; nor any thing in the to be achieved during the gospel economy; most disorderly life, connected with a crime, which the Jews call the age, or world to come; peculiar to the primitive Christians. Let us prodigies elsewhere called, the "exceeding dissipate, if possible, so dangerous an illusion. greatness of his power, and the mighty work- We have done little, by tracing the manner in ing of his power."
which the first witnesses of the gospel became These are the endowments, with which the guilty of the unpardonable sin; we must also persons in question were favoured; their crime inquire, what relation it may have to us. was apostacy. " It is impossible, if they fall În general, it is not possible to hear subjects away, to renew them again unto repentance." of this nature discussed, without a variety of
To fall away, does not characterize the state questions revolving in the mind, and asking of a man, who relapses, after having obtained one's self, have I not already committed this remission. How deplorable soever his situa- i sin? Does not such and such a vice, by which tion may be, it is not without resource. The I am captivated, constitute its essence? Or, falling away in our text signifies a total defec- if I have never committed it yet, may I not tion; and entire rejection of Jesus Christ, and fall into it at a future period? It is but just, of his religion. The falling away, according brethren, to afford you satisfaction on points to St. Paul, in the ninth chapter of his epistle so important. Never did we discuss more to the Romans, marks the first stage of obdu- serious questions; and we frankly acknowledge, racy in the Jewish nation. But the falling that all we have hitherto advanced, was merely away in our text, is not only a rejection of introductory to what we have yet to say; and Christ, but a rejection after having known him: for which we require the whole of the attention, it is not only to reject, but to outrage and per- with which you have favoured us. secute him with malice and enmity of heart. Though truth is always the same, and never Here is all the information we can derive from accommodates itself to the humours of an audithe text. The unpardonable sin, in these ence, it is an invariable duty to resolve these words, is that of apostates; and such as we questions according to the characters of the inhave characterized in the preceding remarks. quirers. The questions amount in substance
This also is the genuine import of the tenth to this: Can a man in this age commit the unchapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, “If we i pardonable sin? And, I assure you, they may sin wilfully, after having received the know- i be proposed from three principles, widely difledge of the truth,” as would be easy to prove. /ferent from each other: from a melancholy,
Now, if you have been attentive to all the from a timorous, and a cautious disposition. considerations we have just advanced: if you We shall diversify our solutions, conforınably have understood the explanations we have to this diversity of character. given of the several texts, you may form a cor- 1. One may make this inquiry through a rect idea of the unpardonable sin. You may melancholy disposition; and mental derangeknow what this crime was, at least, in the ment is an awful complaint. It is a disease time of the primitive church. It was denying, which corrupts the blood, stagnates the spirits, hating, and maliciously opposing the truth, at and flags the mind. From the body, it quickly the moment they were persuaded it proceeded communicates to the soul; it induces the suffrom God. Two classes of men might commit ferers to regard every object on the dark side; this crime in the apostolic age.
to indulge phantoms, and cherish anguish, First, those who had never embraced Christi- , which, excluding all consolation, wholly deanity; but opposed its progress in defiance of votes the mind to objects, by which it is alarmed rational conviction, and the dictates of con- and tormented. A man of this disposition, on science. This was the sin of the Pharisees, i examining his conscience, and reviewing his who maliciously ascribed to the devil miracles, life, will draw his own character in the deepest which they knew could have God alone for colours. He will construe bis weakness into their author.
wickedness, and his infirmities into crimes; he Secondly, those who had embraced the gos | will magnify the number, and aggravate the pel, who had been baptized, who had received i atrocity of his sins; he will class himself, in
short, with the worst of human characters. ' admit that it is not totally extinguished. I And, our reasons for self-condemnation and i would assist this man to enter more minutely abasement before God, being always too well into his state; to consider the holy fears which founded, the person in question, proceeding fill, the terrors which agitate, and the remorse on these principles, and mistaking the causes which troubles his heart; and in such a way as of humiliation and repentance, for just subjects to derive from the cause of his grief, motives of horror and despair, readily believes himself of consolation. We should never stretch our lost without resource, and guilty of the unpar- subjects, nor divide what Jesus Christ has joindonable sin.
ed by a happy temperature. If you look soleWithout doubt, it is highly proper to reason ly at the mercy of God, you will unavoidably with people of this description. We should form excuses to flatter your security; if you endeavour to compose them, and enter into confine your regards to his justice, you will their sentiments, in order to attack their argu- fall into despair. It is this happy temperature ments with more effect; but, after all, a man of severity and indulgence, of mercy and jusso afflicted has more need of a physician than tice, of hope and fear, which brings the soul of a minister, and of medicine than sermons. If a saint to permanent repose; it is this happy it is not a hopeless case, we must endeavour to temperature which constitutes the beauty of remove the complaint, by means which nature religion, and renders it efficacious in the conand art afford; by air, exercise, and innocent version of mankind. This should be our merecreations. Above all, we must pray that thod with persons of a doubtful disposition. God would cause the bones he has broken to
But wo unto us, if under the pretext of givrejoice;" and that he would not abandon, to ing the literal import of a text of Scripture, the remorse and torments of the damned, souls we should conceal its general design; a design redeemed by the blood of his beloved Son, and equally interesting to Christians of every age. reconciled by his sacrifice.
and nation, and which concerns you, my bre2. This inquiry may also be made through thren, in a peculiar manner; wo unto us, if una timorous disposition. We distinguish timidity der a pretence of composing the conscience of from melancholy; the first being a disposition the timorous, we should afford the slightest enof the mind, occasioned by the mistaken notions couragement to the hardened, to flatter their we entertain of God and his word; the second, security, and confirm them in their obduracy of the body. The timorous man fixes his eye of heart. on what the Scriptures say of the justice of 3. This inquiry, -Whether we can now comGod, without paying adequate attention to mit the unpardonable sin?-may likewise be what is said of his mercy. He looks solely at made on the ground of caution, and that we the perfection to which a Christian is called, may know the danger, only in order to avoid without ever regarding the leniency of the it. Follow us in our reply. gospel. Such a man, like the melancholy per- We cannot commit this sin with regard to son, is readily induced to think himself guilty the peculiar circumstances of those who lived of the unpardonable sin. Should he Hatter in the first ages of the church. This has been himself with not having yet perpetrated the proved, I think, by the preceding arguments; deed, he lives in a continual fear. This fear no person having seen Jesus Christ work mira. may, indeed, proceed from a good principle, cles, and, like the Pharisees, having called him and be productive of happy effects, in exciting Beelzebub; nor has any one received the gift vigilance and care; but, if not incompatible with of miracles, and afterwards denied the truth, the liberty of the children of God, it is at least as those apostates, of whom we spake. But a repugnant to the peace they may obtain; which man may commit the crime, with regard to constitutes one of the sweetest comforts of re- what constitutes its essence, and its atrocity. ligion, and one of the most effectual motives This also we hope to prove. For, I ask, what to conciliate the heart.
constituted the enormity of the crime? Was If a man of this description should ask me, it the miracles, simply considered? Or was it whether one may now commit the unpardon- the conviction and sentiments which ensued, able sin? I would repeat what I have just said, and which proceeded from the hearts of the that this sin, in all its circumstances, has pecu- witnesses. Without a doubt it was the convicliar reference to the miracles by which God tion and the sentiments, and not the miracles formerly confirmed the evangelical doctrine; and prodigies, separately considered, and with. and consequently, to account himself at this out the least regard to their seeing them perperiod guilty of the crime, is to follow the emo- formed, or themselves being the workers. If tions of fear, rather than the conviction of ar- we shall, therefore, prove, that the efforts gument. I would compare the sin which which Providence now employs for the converalarms his conscience, with that of the unhap- sion of mankind, may convey to the mind the py rnan of whom we spake. I would prove same conviction, and excite the same sentiby this comparison, that the disposition of a ments afforded to the witnesses of these miraman, who utters blasphemy against Jesus cles, shall we not consequently prove, that if Christ, who makes open war with the profes- men now resist the gracious efforts of Provisors of his doctrine, has no resemblance to the dence, they are equally guilty as the ancients; style of another, who sins with remorse and and, of course, that which constitutes the escontrition; who wrestles with the old man; sence and atrocity of the unpardonable sin, who sometimes conquers, and sometimes is subsists at this period, as in the apostolic age. conquered: though he has sufficient cause from 1. A man, at this period, may sin against his sin to perceive, that the love of God by no the clearest light. Do not say that he cannot means properly burns in his heart; he has, sin against the sane degree of light, which irhowever, encouragement from his victories, to I radiated the primitive church. "I allow that