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deal of virulence and contempt, much after the manner that the Deists of the present age oppose and ridicule Christianity. Something of their writings yet remains. As great ene. mies and despisers as they were of the Christian religion, yet they never denied the facts recorded of Christ and his apos. tles in the New Testament, particularly the miracles which they wrought; but allowed them. They lived too near the times wherein these miracles were wrought 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 that ever it was under the Roman monarchy, the greatest and strongest human monarchy that ever was on earth. All the strength of this monarchy was employed for a long time to oppose and persecute the ! Christian church, and if possible to destroy it, in ten succes
sive attempts, which are called the ten Heathen persecutions, which were before Constantine.
The first of these, which was the persecution under Nero, was a little before the destructioň 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 was soon after he wrote it beheaded, agreeably to what he 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 fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”......And 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. And thousands and millions were put to cruel deaths in these persecutions; for they spared neither sex nor age, but killed them as fast as they could.
Under the second general persecution, that which was next after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Apostle John was banished to the isle of Patmos, where he had those visions of which he has given an account in the Revelation. Under that persecution it was reckoned, that about 40,000 suffered martyrdom ; which yet was 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 162, many suffered martyrdom in England, the land of our forefathers, where Christianity had been planted very early, and, as is supposed, in the days of the apostles. And in the later persecutions, 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 their attempts.
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 let
his hold of so great a part of the world, and every way the chief part of it, as the countries contained in the Roman empire were, 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, as it were, raised against it 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 in scripture, having seven heads and ten horns, fighting against the woman clothed with the sun, as in the 12th of Rev. And the terrible conflict there was between the church of Christ and the powers i of the Heathen empire before Constantine's time, is there, in
anverse 7, represented by the war between Michael and his gels, and the dragon and his angels :
“ And there was war
in heaven ; Michael and his angels fought, and the dragon fought and his angels."
2. 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 to put a stop to it, and to root it out for so long a time, and in so many repeated attempts ; yet all was in vain, they could neither root it out, nor put a stop to it.... But still, in spite of all that they could do, the kingdom of Christ wonderfully prevailed, and Satan's Heathen kingdom mouldered and consumed away before it, agreeably to the words of the text, “ The moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm sball 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 tree it is remarked, that the greater weight is laid upon it, or hung to its branches, the more it grows and flourishes ; on which account probably the church is compared to a palm tree in Cant. vii. 7. « This thy stature is like to a palm tree.” Justin Martyr, an eminent father in the Christian church, who lived in the age next after the apostles, in some writings of his, which are yet extant, 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, in some of his writings which are yet extant, sets forth how that in his day the Christian religion had extended itself to the utmost bounds of the then known world, in which he reckons Britain, the country of our forefathers ; and thence demonstrates, that the kingdom of Christ was then more extensive than any of the four great monarchies; and 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, tiibes, the palace, senate, and courts of judicature ; only they had left to the Heathen their temples ; and 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 multitudes of each sex, every age and quality, were become Christians ; this superstition, says he, having infected and overrun not the city only, but towns and countries, the temples 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 ; I say, those oracles were now silenced and struck dumb, and gave no more answers ; and particularly the oracle at Delphos, which was the most famous Heathen oracle 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 ; and the false deity who was worshipped, and 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 an Hebrew boy,. says he, who is king of the gods, who has commanded me to leave this house, and be gone to hell, and therefore you are to expect no more answers. And many of the Heathen writers who lived about that time speak much of the oracles being silenced, as a thing at which they wondered, not knowing what the cause should be. Plutarch, a Heathen writer of those times, wrote a particular treatise about it, which is still extant. And Porphyry, one of the Heathcn writers before
mentioned, who opposed the Christian religion, in his writings 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 king, dom of Satan.
3. 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, began to grow cold and lifeless in religion and carnal, 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 therefore they did not stand to try or convict them in a formal process, but fell upon them wherever they could ; sometimes setting fire to houses where multitudes of them were assembled, and burning them all together; and at other times slaughtering multitudes together; so that sometimes their persecutors were quite spent with the labor of killing and tormenting them ; and in some populous places, so many were slain together, that the blood ran like torrents. It is related, that seventeen thousand martyrs were slain in one month's time ; and that during the continuance of this persecution, in the province of Egypt alone, no less than one hundred and fortyfour thousand 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.