Page images
PDF
EPUB

mies again procured his banishment. But before he arrived at his port of exile, through fatigue and hard treatment from the soldiers, he expired. He was one of the most able preachers that have adorned the church.

10. THE TEN PERSECUTIONS. Historians usually reckon ten general persecutions, the first of which was under the emperor Nero, thirtyone years after our Lord's ascension, when that empe-, ror, after having set fire to the city of Rome, threw the odium of that execrable action on the Christians. First, those were apprehended who openly avowed themselves to be of that seet; and by them were discovered an immense multitude, all of whom were convicted. Their death and tortures were aggravated by cruel derision and sport; for they were either covered with the skins of wild beasts and torn in pieces by devouring dogs, or fastened to crosses, and wrapped up in combustible garments, that, when the daylight failed, they might, like torches, serve to dispel the darkness of night. For this tragical spectacle, Nero lent his own gardens, and exhibited at the same time the public diversions of the circus; sometimes driving a chariot in person, and sometimes standing as a spectator, while the shrieks of women, burning to ashes, supplied music to his ears.

The Second general persecution was under. Domitian, in the year 95, when 40,000 were supposed to have suffered martyrdom.

The Third began in the third year of Trajan, in the year 100, and was carried on with violence for several years.

The Fourth was under Antoninus, when the Christians were banished from their houses, forbidden to show their heads, reproached, beaten, hurried from place to place, plundered, imprisoned, and stoned.

'The Fifth began in the year 127, under Severus, when great cruelties were committed. In this reign

happened the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, and their companions. These two beautiful and amiable young women, mothers of infant children, after suffering much in prison, were exposed before an insulting multitude, to a wild cow, who mangled their bodies in horrid manner; after which they were carried to a conspicuous place, and put to death by the sword.

The Sixth began with the reign of the emperor Maximinus, 235.

The Seventh, which was the most dreadful ever known, began in 250, under the emperor Decius, when the Christians were in all places driven from their habitations, stripped of their estate tormented with racks, &c.

The Eighth began under Valerian. Both men and women suffered death, some by scourging, some by the sword, and some by fire.

The Ninth was under Aurelian, in 274; but this was inconsiderable, compared with others before mentioned.

The Tenth began in the nineteenth year of Diocletian, 303. In this dreadful persecution, which lasted ten years, houses which were filled with Christians were set on fire, and whole droves were tied together with ropes, and thrown into the sea. It is related that 17,000 were slain in one month's time; and that during the continuance of this persecution, in the province of Egypt alone, no less than 144,000 Christians died by the violence of their persecutors; besides 700,000 that died through the fatigues of banishment, or the public works to which they were condemned.-Buck's Theological Dictionary.

11. MARTYRDOM OF THE THEBAN LEGION. DURING the reign of the emperor Maximian, A. D. 286, a legion of soldiers, consisting of 6666 men, contained none but Christians. This legion was called the Theban legion, because the men had been raised in

Thebais; they were quartered in the east, till the emperor Maximian ordered them to march for Gaul, to assist him against the rebels in Burgundy ; when passing the Alps into Gaul, under the command of Mauritius Candiaso and Experuis, their commanders, they at length joined the emperor. About this time, Maximian ordered a general sacrifice, at which the whole army were to assist; and he commanded, that they should take the oaths of allegiance, and swear, at the same time, to assist him in the extirpation of Christianity in Gaul.

Terrified at these orders, each individual of the Theban legion absolutely refused either to sacrifice, or to take the oath rescribed. This so enraged Maximian, that he ordered the legion to be decimated ; that is, every tenth man to be selected from the resť and put to the sword. This cruel order having been put into execution, those who remained alive were still inflexible, when a second decimation took place, and every tenth man of those living were again put to the sword. But this second severity made no more impression than the first had done; the soldiers preserved their fortitude and principles ; but, by the advice of their officers, drew up a remonstrance to the emperor, in which they told him “ that they were his subjects and his soldiers, but could not at the same time forget the Almighty ; 'that they received their pay from him, and their existence from God.

“ While your commands (say they) are not contradictory to those of our common Master, we shall always be ready to obey, as we have been hitherto; but when the orders of our prince and the Almighty differ, we must always obey the latter. Our arms are devoted to the emperor's use, and shall be directed against his enemies ; but we cannot subunit to stain our hands with the effusion of Christian blood ; and how, indeed, could you, O emperor, be sure of our allegiance and fidelity, should we violate our obligations to our God, in whose service we were solemnly engaged before we entered into the army? You command us

[ocr errors]

to search out and destroy the Christians; it is not necessary to look any further for persons of that denomination; we ourselves are such, and we glory in the name,

We

e saw our companions fall without the least opposition or murmuring, and thought them happy in dying for the sake of Christ. Nothing shall make us lift up our hands against our sovereign ; we had rather die wrongfully, and by that means preserve our innocence, than live under a load of guilt; whatever you command we are ready to suffer; we confess ourselves to be Christians, and therefore cannot persecute Christians, nor sacrifice to idols.”

Such a declaration, it might be presumed, would have affected the emperor, but it had a contrary effect ; for, enraged at their perseverance and unanimity, he commanded that the whole legion should be put to death, which was accordingly executed by the other troops, who cut them to pieces with their swords:-Milner's History of Christian Martyrdom.

$

12. WILLINGNESS OF THE ANCIENT CHRISTIANS TO

SUFFER FOR CHRIST'S SAKE. The ancient Christians counted it an honour to suffer for their religion, and oftentimes gave up their lives with joy, for the sake of their Lord.

In the fourth century, the emperor Valens ordered the Christians in Edessa to be slain, on a certain day, while they were at their devotions, in their churches. The officers, however, being more compassionate than the emperor, privately gave notice to the Christians not to assemble on the day appointed, so that they might escape death. The Christians thanked. the offi. cers for their advice, but disregarded both that and the emperor's menaces, rather than neglect their duty. They accordingly repaired to the church, and the troops were put in motion to destroy them. As they marched along, a woman, with a child in her arms, broke through their ranks, when the officer ordered her to be brought before him, and asked her where she was

going? She replied, to the church, whither others were making all the haste they could.

“ Have you not heard,” says the officer, “ of the emperor's order, to put to death all who are found there ?"_" I have, says she, “and for that cause I make the more haste.”

“* And whither," said the officer, “ do you lead that child ?"-" I take him," replied she," with me, that he also may be reckoned in the number of the martyrs." Upon this, the humane officer returned to the emperor, and told him that all the Christians were prepared to die in defence of their faith, represented to him the rashness of murdering so great a multitude, and entreated the emperor to drop the design, at least for the present; with which he at length complied.--Miher's History of Christian Martyrdom.

13. LETTER OF PLINY TO TRAJAN, RELATIVE TO THE

FIRST CHRISTIÀNS. In the conduct and writings of ancient pagans, a great variety of important testimonies to the truth and spread of the Christian religion, and the purity of Christian principles, may be found. But perhaps in no instance is this testiniony so clear, and yet so undesignédly given, as in the epistle of Caius Plinius, or “the younger Pliny” (so called), addressed to the Roman emperor Trajan,

Pliny was born A. D. 61, or 62, and about 107 was sent to the provinces of Pontus and Bithynia, by Trajan, to exercise the office of governor. The persecutions of Christians, under Trajan, had commenced about 100; and in these provinces, there were prodigious numbers of them, against whom Pliny, by the emperor's edict, was obliged to use all manner of severity. But being a person of good sense and moderation, he judged it prudent, before he proceeded to the extreme rigour of the law, to represent the case to Trajan, and receive further orders concerning it. He therefore wrote the following letter:" Pliny, to the emperor Trajan, wisheth health and happiness - It is

« PreviousContinue »