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with the eloquent and bold addresses of Peter, had such an influence upon those who were present, that more than three thousand were added to the church at that time. From this period the apostles began boldly to preach Jesus and the resurrection, as a truth of the greatest notoriety; and multitudes were converted to their faith.
The numerous converts which the apostles made, and the mighty works which were wrought by their hands, attracted the attention of the Jewish rulers, who imprisoned some of the apostles, and put some of their followers to death. At length, in the year 35, Saul of Tarsus, a principal agent in this persecution, while journeying to Damascus, to disturb and imprison the proselytes of that place, was stopped in his mad career, and by a special miracle, was converted to Christianity.
As Jesus Christ, during his personal ministry, confined his preaching to the Jews, so for ten years after did the apostles limit their preaching to the seed of Abraham. But the Lord appeared to Peter in a vision, and opened the eyes of his understanding, so that he immediately communicated to the Gentiles the news of salvation. From that time the Jews and Gentiles, without distinction, enjoyed the preaching of the gospel.
About this time, A. D. 41, James, the brother of John, was beheaded by Agrippa, he being the first apostle who suffered martyrdom. About the year 49, a dissention arising among the Apostles concerning circumcision, a general council was held on the subject, when, after considerable debate, it was decided that circumcision was superseded by the gospel. This result had a favorable influence upon Christianity, which, by the labors of Paul and others, was extensively spread among the Gentiles in Asia Minor and Greece.
From the time of this council to the reign of Nero, including a period of more than twelve years, nothing
remarkable transpired. It was during this period however, that Paul was apprehended by the Jews, and sent a prisoner to Rome, where he remained two years preaching the gospel, and writing to the churches. Within this period also, James the brother of Jesus is said to have been stoned to death, and Peter to have been crucified with his head downwards.
Nero is the first Roman emperor, who took any part in the persecution of the Christians. It is probable that the Christians had become very numerous in his day; and to stop their increase, this monster of cruelty commenced a formidable persecution against them. He is said to have set fire to the city of Rome, and then to have charged the crime to the innocent Christians, whom he treated with wanton barbarity. Some he imprisoned and tortured; some were crucified; and others were empaled, being held in an upright position by stakes. thrust through their bodies; and others were thrown to wild beasts. Many were wrapped in garments dipped in pitch, and fastened to a post, when fire was put to them, that they might give light to the city, and expire in the most excruciating torment. Nero is said to have illuminated his own garden in this shocking manner, and to have amused himself by driving his chariot in the light. Paul is supposed to have suffered death in this persecution.
During the apostolic age there arose a sect among the Christians denominated Gnostics, which ascribed all evil to the Devil, and all good to an eternal God. They also denied the resurrection of the body, and confined all retribution to this world. Many passages in the apostolic epistles are levelled against this heresy.
In the year 70, Jerusalem was taken by Titus the Roman general, after the Jews had suffered incredibly from famine, civil war, and other causes.
From the death of Nero in 69, to the latter end of the
reign of Domitian, a period of about thirty years, the Christians had rest, and the gospel extended itself to all the provinces of the Roman empire. But at length the emperor Domitian renewed the persecution, and many were put to death. It was in this persecution that the apostle John was banished to the isle of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelations. The apostle, however, survived this persecution, returned from banishment, and died at Ephesus at an advanced age.
In the reign of Marcus Aurelius, from the year 161 to 180, the most cruel and general persecution raged that Christianity had ever experienced. The number of martyrs, in this reign, was probably greater than all who had suffered before them. There was no species of torture to which Christians were not subjected. Some were scourged and dragged through the streets: some were suffocated in prison; some were literally broiled, by the application of hot irons, till the human shape could hardly be discovered; some were exposed to wild beasts. while others were burned at the stake. To these cruelties the Christians submitted with the greatest composure, and even rejoiced and praised God in the midst of their sufferings. The famous Polycarp, the companion of St. John, and the celebrated Justin, surnamed the Martyr, suffered in this reign. This period was also disgraced by excommunications for matters of opinions; which the Montanists, a sect of Christians at this time, experienced.
The doctrine of the Trinity was also introduced into the church about this time by the Platonic philosophers, who upon becoming Christians incorporated their philosophy with their religion.
About the year 200, another persecution raged with considerable violence in some parts of the empire. Some were destroyed by being thrown to the wild Vol. VIII.
beasts, some were beheaded, and others were put to death by having boiling pitch poured upon them.
About the year 240, flourished Origen, one of the most celebrated of the primitive fathers. The superior talents and erudition of this pious Christian, justly entitle him to the esteem and admiration of the world. He is said to have written six thousand volumes, though many of these must have been small. This distinguished man, who has been denominated the boast of the age, was a warm advocate for the "Restitution of all things."
In the year 249, in the reign of Decius, a cruel and general persecution was carried on against the church, it being the intention of this prince to extirpate Christianity from his empire. Some died by fire, by wild beasts, and the sword; others by suffering lingering and agonizing deaths by almost every species of torture, which they bore with incredible firmness..
About 257, Christians of all ages and sexes were again exposed to a cruel persecution. Language would fail in describing the cruelties and tortures to which they were exposed. Their sufferings can be exceeded by nothing but the fortitude and patience with which they met and endured them.
As the gospel extended itself, corruptions also made their appearance. Excommunications were frequent in this age. A superstitious reverence likewise began to be attached to martyrdom. Many who were banished, or fled to the mountains to escape persecution, continued in caves and dens to the end of their lives, vainly supposing that torturing their bodies was the surest way of saving their souls.
In the nineteenth year of Diocletian, being about the year 303, after enjoying nearly half a century of quiet, the Christians were called to endure one of the most cruel, formidable, and lasting persecutions the church had ever witnessed. This emperor was determined to
extirpate Christianity, which had by this time taken deep root in all parts of the empire. He ordered that all the churches should be demolished, and all the books of the Christians destroyed. But as Christianity had spread so far, and as the copies of the Scriptures were so numerous, it was impossible to destroy them all.
During this persecution, almost infinite multitudes suffered death, and that in the most cruel forms. Some were literally roasted by slow, lingering fires; some were suffocated, and some were thrown to the wild beasts in the amphitheatres. But it was not death alone that Christians had to encounter; misery wrung every fibre which could feel, before she gave the blow of grace, which sent the sufferers to eternity. Some were suspended by one hand or foot, till death relieved them of their agony. Some had their arms, ears and nose cut or torn off, their eyes dug out, and every part of their bodies mangled, broiled, and deformed, for days, and even weeks before their lives were taken. Some villages, inhabited only by Christians, were wrapped in flames, and men, women, and children perished in one common ruin. These are only a specimen of the modes of torture and of death. But severe as their sufferings were, multitudes of Christians voluntarily flocked togather, and owned themselves to be Christians, and so perished, singing praises to God, and exhorting their brethren to this glorious combat. This persecution was not limited to any one place, but extended over the whole Roman empire; it was not confined to a short period, but continued eight years. Altho this persecution ended in the year 311, peace did not continue more than six months, when the persecution was resumed, and continued nearly two years longer.
In the year 313, the troubles which the Christians had encountered, ceased. For at this memorable period the empire became Christian; Constantine the emperor being a convert to the gospel.