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Thaumaturgus came to Neo-Cæsaria, and found but seventeen Christians; but after laboring twenty-six years in that city, there remained no more than seventeen persons attached to the ancient idolatries.
Christianity must have derived considerable assistance also from the many venerable and learned authors, who wrote in its defence, and attacked the superstition of the Gentiles. Their arguments could not fail to produce a luminous effect on the heathen reader. The victories they obtained when attacking idolatry, or refuting a pagan opponent, were decisive above all that fame can recount. It was common for the heathen to reproach the Christians with the Galilean, and with his crucifixion. Here Tertullian retorts, and in their own humor: 6 Your gods,” says he, * “ are made out of old pots and kettles, and the only difference is the workmanship and consecration. If you expose us to tortures, your gods endure far greater. The carpenter must be guilty of profaneness and sacrilege before he can make a god. You fix us to crosses and gibbets, and which of your divinities does not endure similar severities? You murder us with swords and spears, but your own gods are treated far worse; the axe, the saw, and the chissel are only some of the instruments of cruelty with which you torment them. Our heads are severed from our bodies, but your gods have no heads till they are fastened on with solder or glue. You expose us to the flames, and there your idols are melted before they can assume the dignity of divinities. You condemn us to the mines, and from thence is dug the substance of your gods. You also banish us to some of those islands where some of your go:ls were born, and some were buried.”
VII. Persecution, contrary to all human estimation, contributed very much towards the general spread of the gospel. Christianity, unarmed and unprotected, for the space of two hundred and pinety
* Apol, cap. XX
years, combating the unabating malice of the Jews, the pride and scorn of the philosophers, sustained in some provinces eight, and in some eleven storms of imperial persecution. The pagan priests, actuated by jealousy and hatred, never ceased to solicit these persecutions; and when earthquakes, plagues, or military disasters occurred, instead of bearing them as the visitations of providence on a guilty people, they never failed to enrage the populace, by insinuating that the gods were angry because the temples were deserted, and the Christians, instead of being thrown to the lions, received protection. These were dreadful words in the ears of an enraged populace, and they often caused them to pour their utmost fury on the unoffending church.
At this period, attachment to the temples, and prejudices in favor of ancient superstition, were strong, and retarded many from hearing the gospel. Hence it pleased the wise and gracious God to permit the power and excellency of Christianity to be displayed in the sufferings and martyrdom of the saints, that the heathens might believe.
In the commencement of the later persecutions, many of the rich and weak professors of Christianity, fell from the faith, and offered incense to idols to save themselves and their property. This emboldened the heathen, and grieved the faithful, but it did not intimidate them. The amphitheatre, the forum, or place where the Christians avowed their religion, was crowded with pagan spectators. Here they saw ece clesiastics, laymen, and frequently delicate women, brought before the magistrates, and every effort tried to induce them to renounce the Lord Jesus, and to offer incense to the emperor's statue, or to other idols. They saw them endure a series of tortures, the most ingenius that rage and cruelty could devise; tortures of burning, scourging, or fractures, which were often protracted for several days. They saw the fortitude, meekness and patience with which the saints supported their sufferings, and heard the prayers they offered
to God for their misguided persecutors, and for all the world. They saw the full triumph of the faith, which transported the sufferers to a contempt of death, and almost to an insensibility of bodily pain. They saw the utmost powers of earth and hell despised; and a sight so divine could not be unproductive of very extraordinary effects. One part of the multitude was mad with rage, and ascribed the fortitude of the martyrs to an unaccountable obstinacy. But those who were more judicious, and better disposed, regarded the martyrs in a different view. Seeing them renounce riches, liberty and life, sooner than their religion, by the worship of idols, commanded their admiration, and subdued their prejudices.
They would no longer remain unacquainted with those divine doctrines which communicated to the sufferers a support more than human. The amiable, quiet, and industrious lives of the Christians were contrasted with the ferocious dispositions of their persecutors; and the happy death of the former, with the miserable exit of the latter. The full and perfect light of revelation was opposed to the feeble glimmerings of pagan philosophy; the purity and simplicity of the Christian worship were compared with the profane and superstitious rituals of the temples; the reasonableness of approaching God by one Mediator, who associated in his adorable person the divine and human nature, was contrasted with the multitude of gods who were once artists or princes. They unveiled the real face of Christianity, and acknowledged her original to be from heaven.
It was, therefore, to promote the conversion of the heathen, that the Lord Jesus exposed his precious members; yea, the choice rams of his flock in sacrifice. The conversions made by the martyrdom of a few faithful Christians were more than could have been made by a thousand homilies.
It is worthy here to add, that in some cases of general carnage, in which the saints could not have glorified God in this manner by their death, he preserved them by a particular providence. Previously to the taking of Jerusalem by Titus, the Christians were warned of God, with Simeon their bishop, to flee to Pella beyond the Jordan. Also, when the Vandals under Alaric stormed the city of Rome, the Christians fled to their church, and the pagans to their temples. The barbarians pursued them, and spared. neither age nor sex: but when they came to the church in which the Christians were assembled, they had not the power to hurt an individual. These are encouraging instances of God having sealed his servants, and vouchsafed to protect his church. The latter instance is successfully urged by Augustine, in his city of God, against paganism, as a special interposition of providence in favor of Christianity.
VIH. Having spoken concerning the sufferings of the saints, it is proper to add a few observations concerning the awful vengeance of God on their hardened persecutors. With regard to the Jews, the crucifixion of Jesus, and the obstinate rejection of his gospel, when confirmed by a series of miracles, were crimes which merited the most signal vengeance of heaven. But that long-suffering of God, which had borne with their fathers forty years in the wilderness, exercised its clemency towards them for the same number of years under the gospel economy.
But the punishment of the guilty seems the heavier for being delayed. Having in the seventieth year of Christ, revolted against the Romans, they were shut up in Jerusalem, and sustained a most calamitous siege, in which eleven hundred thousand of them perished by the sword, the pestilence, and famine. Those who survived, according to the words of Christ, were led away captive to all nations. Also, in the reign of Trajan, and of Adrian, his successor, they revolted again, under Barchocheva, a false Messiah, and mas, sacred the Romans wherever their interest prevailed. They were infatuated to destruction. Adrian slew five hundred and eighty thousand of them in Judea, and seven hundred and twenty thousand more in the
different provinces. He razed also the foundation of the temple, and caused a ploughshare to pass over it, Luke xxi. This was a striking accomplishment of our Saviour's prediction, and a luminous evidence of the truth of Christianity. Nor would the Christians be wanting to notice it, and to draw a just and striking parallel between the sins and punishments of this hardened people. To these may be added, the diseases and calamities which God inflicted on Herod, on Maximian, on Valerian, and others, who had persecuted the church. He who toucheth Zion toucheth the apple of God's eye.
IX. From these deplorable scenes of pagan fury, which threatened to exterminate the church, we are unexpectedly called to contemplate her sudden elevation to honor and influence, and to see her caressed, more than ever she had been despised.
While the imperial sceptre was in the hands of heathen princes, Christianity had but a small proportion of the great and learned among its converts. Frequently exposed to provincial or general persecutions, or in constant apprehension' from edicts unrepealed, its professors exceeded our conception in faith, purity, and love. The converts from paganism embraced it from a conviction of its excellence, and at the risk of every wordly comfort. They made the Lord their on. ly hope, and gloried in suffering for his name. But the wise and righteous God, who has invariably placed mankind in a state of probation, saw it meet at this period to reverse the adversity of the saints, and give them the highest prosperity that the imperial authority and munificence could confer.
Constantine, on his investment with the imperial diadem, had to contend with Maxentius, who had become a tyrant at Rome. When entering on the expedition, he was dubious from whom of the gods he should solicit assistance. He recollected that the pagan divinities had afforded no aid to the superstitious Dioclesian, while his father Constantius, who had renounced the mythology of the Greeks, prospered in all