« ElőzőTovább »
thorns set themselves against him in battle: but he went through them; he burned them together.
This destruction of Jerusalem was in all respects agreeable to what Christ had foretold of it, Matt. xiv. ; as appears by the account which Josephus gives of it, who was then present, who had a share in the calamity, and who wrote the history of their destruction. Many circumstances resembled the destruction of the wicked at the day of judgment; by his account, it was accompanied with many fearful sights in the heavens, and with a separation of the righteous from the wicked. Their city and temple were burnt, and razed to the ground; and the ground on which the city stood was ploughed, so that one stone was not left upon another, Matt. xxiv. 2.
The people had ceased for the most part to be an independent government after the Babylonish captivity ; but the sceptre entirely departed from Judah on the death of Archelaus, when Judea was made a Roman province. After this, they were cast off from being the people of God: but now their very city and land are utterly destroyed, and they carried away from it; and so have continued in their dispersions through the world for now above sixteen hundred years.
Thus there was a final end put to the Old Testament world: all was finished with a kind of day of judgment, in which the people of God were saved, and his enemies terribly destroyed. Thus does he who was so lately mocked, despised, and spit upon by these Jews, and whose followers they so malignantly persecuted, appear gloriously exalted over his enemies,
The Success of Redemption from the Destruction of Jerusalem,
to the Time of Constantine.
JERUSALEM was destroyed about the year of our Lord sixty-eight, and so before that generation passed away which was contemporary with Christ. The destruction of the Heathen empire under Constantine, was about two hundred and sixty
In showing how the success of the gospel was carried on through this time, I would,-1. Take notice of the opposition made against it by the Roman empire.—2. How the work of the gospel went on notwithstanding all that oppo.
year after this.
sition–3. The peculiar circumstances of tribulation and distress that the church was in just before their deliverance by Constantine; and 4. The great revolution in Constantine's time.
I. I would briefly show what opposition was made against the gospel, and the kingdom of Christ, by the Roman empire. This opposition was mainly after the destruction of Jerusalem, though it began before; but that which was before the destruction of Jerusalem, was mainly by the Jews. When Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews were much incapacitated for troubling the church; therefore the devil turns his hand elsewhere, and uses other instruments. The opposition which was made in the Roman empire against the kingdom of Christ, was chiefly of two kinds.
1. They employed all their learning, philosophy, and wit, in opposing it. Christ came into the world in an age wherein learning and philosophy were at their height in the Roman empire. The gospel, which held forth a crucified Saviour, was not at all agreeable to the notions of the philosophers.—The Christian scheme of trusting in such a crucified Redeemer, appeared foolish and ridiculous to them. Greece was a country the most famous for learning of any in the Roman empire : but the apostle observes, that the doctrine of Christ crucified appeared foolishness to the Greeks, 1 Cor. i. 23; and therefore the wise men and philosophers opposed the gospel with all the wit they had. We have a specimen of their manner of opposing, in their treatment of the apostle Paul at Athens, which was and had been for many ages, the chief seat of philosophers in all the whole world. We read in Acts xvii. 18, that the philosophers of the Epicureans and Stoics encountered him saying, What will this babbler say? He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange Gods. Thus they were wont to deride and ridicule Christianity; and, after the destruction of Jerusalem, several philosophers published books against it. The chief of these were Celsus and Porphyry, who wrote with a great deal of virulence and contempt, much after the manner of the Deists of the present age. As great enemies and despisers as they were of the Christian religion, they never denied the facts recorded of Christ and his apostles in the New Testament, particularly the miracles which they wrought, but allowed them. They lived too near the times of these miracles to deny them ; for they were so publicly done, and so lately, that neither Jews nor Heathens in those days appeared to deny them; but they ascribed them to the power of magic.
2. The authority of the Roman empire employed all their strength, time after time, to persecute, and if possible to root out Christianity. This they did in ten general successive persecutions, We have heretofore observed that Christ came into the world when the strength of Heathen dominion and authority was the greatest under the Roman monarchy. All the strength of this monarchy was employed for a long time to oppose and persecute the Christian church, and if possible to de stroy it, in ten successive attempts, which are called the ten Heathen persecutions.
The first of these, which was the persecution under Nero, was a little before the destruction of Jerusalem, in which the apostle Peter was crucified, and the apostle Paul beheaded, soon after he wrote his second epistle to Timothy. When he wrote that epistle, he was a prisoner at Rome under Nero, and says, chap. iv. 6, 7, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fighty I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” There were many thousands of other Christians slain in that persecution. The other nine persecutions were all after the destruction of Jerusalem. Some of these were very terrible indeed, and far exceeded the first persecution under Nero. One Emperor after another set himself with the utmost rage to root out the Christian church from the earth, that there should not be so much as the name of Christian left in the world. Thousands, yea millions were put to cruel deaths in them ; for they spared neither sex nor age.
In the second general persecution, (under Domitian,) that which was next after the destruction of Jerusalem, the apostle John was banished to the isle of Patmos, where he had those visions which he has recorded in the Revelation. Under that persecution it was reckoned, that about forty thousand suffered martyrdom; which yet were nothing to what were put to death under some succeeding persecutions. Ten thousand suffered that one kind of cruel death, crucifixion, in the third persecution under the Emperor Adrian. Under the fourth persecution, which began about the year of Christ one hundred and sixty-two, many suffered martyrdom in England, the land of our forefathers, where Christianity had been planted, it is supposed, in the days of the apostles. And in the later persecu. tions, the Roman emperors being vexed at the frustration of their predecessors, who were not able to extirpate Christianity, or hinder its progress, were enraged to be the more violent in
Thus a great part of the first three hundred years after Christ was spent in violent and cruel persecutions of the church by the Roman powers. Satan was very unwilling to quit his hold of so great and distinguished a part of the world, as the countries contained in the Roman empire, of which he had had the quiet possession for so many ages : and therefore, when he saw it going so fast out of his hands, he bestirred himself to his utmost. All hell was raised to oppose it with its utmost power.
Satan thus exerting himself by the power of the Heathen Roman empire, is called the great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, fighting against the woman clothed with the sun. (Rev. xii.) And this terrible conflict between the church of Christ, and the powers of the Heathen empire before Constantine, is represented (verse 7) by the war between Michael and his angels, and the dragon and his angels ; “ And there was war in heaven ; Michael and his angels fought, and the dragon fought and his angels."
II. I would take notice what success the gospel had in the world before the time of Constantine, notwithstanding all this opposition. Though the learning and power of the Roman empire were so great, and both were employed to the utmost against Christianity ; yet all was in vain." They could neither root it out, nor stop its progress. In spite of all, the kingdom of Christ wonderfully prevailed, and Satan's Heathen kingdom mouldered and consumed away before it, agreeable to the text, “The moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool." And it was very observable that for the most part the more they persecuted the church, the more it increased; insomuch that it became a common saying, The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.Herein the church of Christ proved to be like a palm-tree; of which it is remarked, that the greater weight is hung to its branches, the more it grows and flourishes. On this account probably the church is compared to a palm tree, Cant. vii. 7. * This thy stature is like to a palm-tree." JUSTIN MARTYR, an eminent father in the Christian church, says, that in his days there was no part of mankind, whether Greeks or barbarians, or by what name soever they were called, even the most rude and unpolished nations, where prayers and thanksgivings were not made to the great Creator of the world, through the name of the crucified Jesus. TERTULLIAN, another eminent father in the Christian church, who lived in the beginning of the following age, testifies, that in his day the Christian religion had extended itself to the utmost bounds of the then known world, in which he reckons Britain ; and thence demonstrates, that the kingdom of Christ was then more extensive than any of the four great monarchies. He moreover says, that though the Christians were as strangers of no long standing, yet they had filled all places of the Roman dominions, their cities, islands, castles, corporations, councils, armies, tribes, the palace, senate, and courts of judicature; only they had left to the Heathen their temples. He adds, that if they should all agree to retire out of the Roman empire, the world would be amazed at the solitude and desolation that would ensue upon it, there would be so few left; and that the Christians were enough to be able easily to defend themselves, if they were disposed to rise up in arms against the Heathen magistrates.
And Pliny, a heathen who lived in those days, says, That multitudes of each sex, of every age and quality, were become Christians. This superstition, says he, having infected and overrun not the city only, but towns and countries, the tem. ples and sacrifices are generally desolate and forsaken.
And it was remarked by both Heathen and Christian writers in those days, that the famous Heathen oracles in their temples---where princes and others for many past ages had been wont to inquire and receive answers with an audible voice from their gods, which were indeed answers from the devil, were now struck dumb, and gave no more answers ; and particularly the oracle at Delphos, the most famous in the whole world, which both Greeks and Romans used to consult, began to cease to give any answers, even from the birth of Christ. The false deity who was worshipped, and who used to give answers from his oracle in that temple, being once inquired of, why he did not now give answers as he was wont to do? made this reply, (as several Heathen historians who lived about those times relate,) There is a Hebrew boy, who is king of the gods, who has commanded me to leave this house, and begone to hell, and therefore you are to expect no more answers.--And many Heathen writers, who lived about that time, speak much of the oracles being silenced, at which they wondered, not knowing what the cause should be. Plutarch wrote a particular treatise about it, which is still extant. And Porphyry, who opposed the Christian religion, has these words: “ It is no wonder, if the city for these so many years has been overrun with sickness: Esculapius, and the rest of the gods, having withdrawn their converse with men; for since Jesus began to be worshipped, no man has received any public help or benefit by the gods.” Thus did the kingdom of Christ prevail against the kingdom of Satan.
III. I now proceed to take notice of the peculiar circumstances of tribulation and distress just before Constantine the Great came to the throne. This distress they suffered under the tenth Heathen persecution, which, as it was the last, so it was by far the heaviest and most severe. The church before this, after the ceasing of the ninth persecution, had enjoyed a time of quietness for about forty years together; but, abusing their liberty, they began to grow cold and lifeless in religion, and contentions prevailed among them; by which they offended God to suffer this dreadful trial to come upon them. And Satan having lost ground so much, notwithstanding all his attempts, now seemed to bestir himself with more than ordinary rage. Those who were then in authority set themselves with the utmost violence to root out Christianity, by burning all Bibles, and destroying all Christians; and there