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torches during the night.”* During ten successive persecutions they were subjected to the greatest barbarities. “ The first three or four ages of the church were stained with the blood of martyrs, who suffered for the name of Jesus. The greatness of their number is acknowledged by all who have a competent acquaintance with ancient history, and who have examined that matter with any degree of impartiality. The learned and eloquent, the doctors and ministers, and chiefly the rich, after the confiscation of whose fortunes a rapacious magistracy were perpetually gaping, were the persons the most exposed to the dangers of the times. Diocletian ordered all the bishops and ministers of the Christian church to be - cast into prison," and issuing edicts still more cruel, "it was ordered that all sorts of torments should be employed, and the most insupportable punishments invented, to force these venerable captives to renounce their profession, by sacrificing to the heathen gods; for it was hoped, that if the bishops and doctors of the church could be brought to yield, their respective flocks would be easily induced to follow their ex. ample. An immense number of persons, illustriously distinguished by their piety and learning, became the victims of this cruel stratagem, throughout the whole Roman empire, Gaul excepted, which was under the mild and equitable dominion of Constantius Chlorus. Some were punished in such a manner as the rules of decency oblige us to pass in silence; some were put to death, after having had their constancy tried by tedious and inexpressible torments; and some were sent to the mines to draw out the remains of a miserable life in poverty and bondage. By a fourth edict, the magistrates were ordered and commissioned to force all Christians, without distinction of rank or sex, to sacrifice to the gods, and were authorized to employ all sorts of torments, in order to drive them to this act of apostacy. The diligence and zeal of the Roman magistrates, in the execution of this inhuman edict, had like to have proved fatal to the Christian cause."* Thus, by adopting the language of history, in the detail of facts, without reference to this prediction, we see how, after the pollution and destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, the abolition of the Jewish rites and worship, and the subversion of their state and desolation of their country by the Romans, the people that knew their God, and understood among the people, and instructed many in the knowledge of the only living and true God, and of his salvation by Jesus Christ, instead of being received and welcomed by the world, while proclaiming the glad tidings of redemption, and calling men to repentance, fell by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, MANY DAYS.
* Tacit. Ann. lib. XV. C. 44. † Mosheim's Eccles. Hist. book i. c. 5, § 11.
Now when they shall fall, they shall he holpen with a little help ; but many shall cleave to them with flatteries. Ver. 34. In the 304th year of the Christian era, the last and severest of the edicts of Diocletian was issued against the Christians ; and the execution of it “ had like to have proved fatal to the Christian cause." “ The divine providence, however,” to use the words of Mosheim, 6 was preparing more secure and happy days for the church. In the year 306, Constantius Chlorus dying in Britain, the army saluted, with the title of Augustus, his son Constantine, surnamed the Great, on account of his illustrious exploits, and forced him to accept the purple.” The elevation of Constantine to the throne, and his conversion to Christianity, gave outward peace to the church. In human view, the help seemed great. But as many had formerly become genuine converts, on witnessing the integrity of saints, conjoined with the intrepidity of martyrs, the religion of the court became then the lure to a formal and false profession of a holy faith ; the cause of truth received but a little help; and many did cleave to them with flatteries. Eusebius, in his life of Constantine, relates that the emperor's kindness was wont to be imposed on by the unspeakable dissimulation of those who craftily crept into the church, and falsely assumed the name of Christians. Julian, afterwards the apostate, was, while it served his purpose, one of these hypocritical pretenders to a faith they did not cherish. " That he might allure the Christians to favour him, he publicly professed the faith, from which he had long ago privately revolted ; he even went to church, and joined with them in the most solemn offices of religion.* His dissimulation carried him so far as to become an ecclesiastic in lower orders, or a reader in the church. Moreover, this is also called a little help,-observes Bishop Newton, (to whose excellent dissertations on the prophecies none should be a stranger,) “ because the temporal peace and prosperity of the church lasted but a little while. The spirit of persecution presently revived ; and no sooner were the Christians delivered from their heathen adversaries, than they began to quarrel among themselves, and to persecute one another.”
* Mosheim's Eccles. Hist. book ii. c. 1, sect. 3.
And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, to the time of the end : because it is yet for a time appointed. Ver. 35. The things noted in the scripture of truth, prior to the time of the rise and standing up of the
* Ammian. Marcell. lib. 21, c. 2, quoted by Bishop Newton.
Roman power, and the consequent subversion of the Jewish state, form a succession of political events, in which the fate of the Jews was immediately involved : and it would seem that, for this reason, the history of the kings of the north and of the south was specially introduced into the prophetic record. The interests of Judaism as a church then merged into those of Christianity. The prospective restoration of the Jews was still in view, and every thing that was noted exhibited a succession of events which were finally to be wound up in that consummation of the vision : but the history of the Jews, during the time that desolations were determined, was, everywhere alike, that of a people whom God had cast off, though not for ever; and who were without a king, and without a prince, and without an altar, and without a country. And as soon as the subversion of the Mosaic dispensation was effected, and the abomination that maketh desolate was placed and set up by the Romans, the things that immediately after are noted, pertain not any more to a succession of earthly monarchs, but to the people that know their God. They were to instruct many, but they were to fall by the sword, by captivity, and by spoil, many days. A new era denoted by persecution for righteousness' sake, was immediately to succeed the extirpation of the Jews from Judea. And the character and fate of the church of Christ, propagated by the preaching of righteousness, and nurtured by the blood of martyrs, became a new object in the vision.
The Roman power, in whatever form, was to maintain its ascendency; and no other is mentioned as succeeding to it, though some were to come against it, and finally supplant it in the east. In the same manner, or under the same form of government, in which it stood up, the persecution of the preachers of the gospel was to succeed to the abolition of ordinances of the law. Slaughter, burning, imprisonment, or ba
nishment, and spoliation, were to be practised and persevered in, in order to bring to nought, and extirpate from the world, a doctrine according to godliness which then sprang up. In the days of these kingdoms, of which the Roman was the last, did the God of heaven set up a kingdom ; and such was the reception given to it by the rulers and nations of the world ! But after a long time of fiery trial, and still without any change in the form of the government of Rome, they who had been afflicted long were holpen with a little help; and hypocrisy and worldly-mindedness began to be associated with the profession of the gospel. Many clave to them with flatteries, when a smile from a throne, in lieu of the prospect of a cross, awaited the convert to the Christian faith. But little, in a spiritual sense, was the help which the conversion of the emperor of Rome conferred on the cause of the cross. The truth was - not greatly aided by nominal converts, or by worldly men. The spirit of the world was gradually infused into the church, which became corrupted by prosperity, as previously it had been purified by tribulation.
The hierarchy gradually arose, and attained a do mineering ascendency, as if the kingdom of Christ had been a kingdom of this world, dependant for its stability on human power. They who held the offices of those that before had instructed many, became lords over the consciences of men; and held God's heritage as their own. They who ought to have been known of all men as the disciples of Jesus, by their mutual love, vented their unholy zeal in fierce animosity and violence; and the reputed guardians of the gospel of peace, copying the example of blind idolaters, strove to maintain the interest of the church by the very means which had been tried in vain to effect the subversion of the gospel. Persecution for conscience sake revived in another form; that of papal