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and his enemies terribly destroyed. Thus does Christ, 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.
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 years after this. In showing how the success of the Gospel was carried on through this time, I would notice, 1. The opposition made against it by the Roman empire; 2. How the work of the Gospel progressed, notwithstanding all that opposition; 3. The peculiar circumstances of tribulation and distress to the church just before their deliverance by Constantine; and 4. The great revolution in Constantine's time.
I. The opposition made against the Gospel, and the kingdom of Christ, by the Roman empire. This opposition was mainly after the destruction of Jeru. salem, 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; the devil therefore used other instruments. The opposition 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 Savior, was not at all agreeable to the notions of the philosophers. The christian scheme of trusting in such a crucified Redeemer, appeared to them foolish and ridiculous. 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. 1 : 23; and therefore the wise men and philosophers opposed the Gospel. 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 world. We read, Acts, 17 : 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. 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 destroy 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. 4 : 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."
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 terrible indeed, and far exceeded the first persecution under Nero. One emperor after another set himself with the utmost rage to root out the chris
tian 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; 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 per: secution it was reckoned that about forty thousand suffered martyrdom; which yet were few compared with the number put to death in some succeeding persecutions. Ten thousand suffered that one kind of cruel death, crucifixion, in the third persecution under the emperor Adrian. Under the fourth pero secution, which began about the year of Christ 162, many suffered martyrdom in England, the land o. our forefathers, where Christianity had been planted, it is supposed, in the days of the apostles. And in the later persecutions, the Roman emperors, being vexed at the failure 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 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. 12. And this terrible conflict between the church of Christ and the powers of the Heathen empire before Constantine, is represented by the war between Mi. chael 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 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 mon 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 said 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. 7: 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,