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Trajan, commanding the presidents to inflict capital punishment on all who would not renounce Christianity, was never abrogated while heathenism reigned in Rome.* What persecution was in the heart of the empire, it was also in Africa, Persia, Arabia, Capadocia, Mesopotamia, Nicomedia, Phrygia, and in almost every place where the Christian name was known. "Those who suffered for the cause of Christ, men, women, youths of both sexes, were so numerous as to be estimated only in the mass." "In torments they stood stronger than their tormentors; their bruised and mangled limbs proving too hard for the instruments with which their flesh was racked and pulled from them: the blows, however often repeated, could not conquer their impregnable faith, even though they not only sliced and tore off the flesh, but raked into their very bowels." Such is the description given by one of those who thus endured. to the end. The strong language in the epistle to the Hebrews is eminently applicable. Some "were tortured, not accepting deliverance; and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheep-skins, and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented: they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”‡
Christians were often the victims of popular fury,
* Lardner, vol. 4, p. 300.
Heb. 11: 35-38.
as well as of public edicts and imperial authority. Every odious slander was propagated against them for the purpose of instigating the rage of the populace. The evidence of abject slaves or of persons forced by torture to testify as an incensed community desired, was used to justify the most dreadful explosions of vulgar hate. Did a drought occur? It was a proverbial explanation, that "if God refused rain, the Christians were in fault." Did the Nile refuse its annual irrigation, or the Tiber overflow its banks? Did earthquake, or famine, or any other public calamity excite the popular mind? A ready cause was in every mouth-the anger of the gods on account of the increase of Christianity! A ready sacrifice to propitiate the offended deities was immediately resorted to the slaughter of the Christians. How the better informed of society endeavored to stimulate the mob to these hecatombs of innocent victims, may be judged from the fact that "Porphyry, a man who wished to be accounted a philosopher, found a cause for the inveteracy of an infectious and desolating sickness in this, that Esculapius could not exert any effectual influence on the earth in consequence of the prevalence of Christianity !"*
Such, then, were the obstacles which opposed the propagation of the gospel. Who, in anticipating them, must not have said, "If this cause be of man, it must come to naught?” Either it must die a natural death in the obscurity of its birth, or be torn to pieces at the first onset of its foes; or else * Neander's Ch. Hist.
it must be of God, protected and advanced by his power.
Before proceeding to speak of the success of the apostles, we may deduce from the premises we have established a conclusive proof of the power by which they acted.
It is certain that they understood the difficulties, and anticipated the dangers of their work. men of ordinary understanding they must have foreseen, while by the predictions of Christ they were distinctly apprized of the obstacles and perils they would encounter. Nevertheless, with a perfect knowledge of their own weakness, they undertook to propagate the gospel among all nations. Why? What was there in reproach and beggary, in racks and prisons, in wild beasts and flames, so inviting? Must they not have been sincere in their professions? Could any thing short of a thorough belief that Jesus was risen, and had promised to be with them in all their labors, have induced them to undertake such an enterprise? It is impossible, without ridiculous absurdity, to question their entire persuasion of this. But is this a proof that Jesus was risen, and that, in divine power, he was with them? We do not pretend that, in general, the fact of the advocates of a doctrine being convinced, is valid evidence of its truth; but in the case of the apostles it should be thus regarded, inasmuch as they could not have been deceived. Whether Jesus wrought genuine miracles or not; whether he had appeared to them "at sundry times and in divers manners" after his burial;
whether he had eaten with them, conversed with them, journeyed with them during the space of forty days subsequent to his death; whether they heard and saw him, at the end of those days, solemnly give them their charge to propagate the gospel, and the promise of his presence and power wherever they should go, they must have known. Consequently, when with such undeniable knowledge and unquestionable sincerity, they went into all the world preaching Jesus and the resurrection, neither deceived nor wishing to deceive, the evidence was perfect that they labored in the service of truth-that their faith stood not "in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."
II. Let us now consider THE SUCCESS of the apostles in executing their Master's charge. On the fiftieth day after his death they commenced. Beginning in Jerusalem, the very furnace of persecution, they first set up their banner in the midst of those who had been first in the crucifixion of Jesus and were all elate with the triumph of that tragedy. No assemblage could have been more possessed of dispositions perfectly at war with their message, than that to which they made their first address. And what was the tenor of the address? "Jesus of Nazareth, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain; whom God hath raised up.. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." One would have
supposed that the same hands that had rioted in the blood of his Master, would now have wreaked their enmity in that of this daring, and, to all human view, most impolitic apostle. But what ensued? Three thousand souls were that day added to the infant church.* In a few days the number was increased to five thousand ; and in the space of about a year and a half, though the gospel was preached only in Jerusalem and its vicinity, "multitudes both of men and women," and "a great company of the priests, were obedient to the faith." Now, the converts being driven by a fierce persecution from Jerusalem, "went everywhere preaching the word ;" and in less than three years churches were gathered "throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and were multiplied." About two years after this, or seven from the beginning of the work, the gospel was first preached to the Gentiles; and such was the success, that before thirty years had elapsed from the death of Christ, his church had spread throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria; through almost all the numerous districts of the lesser Asia; through Greece and the islands of the Egean sea, the sea-coast of Africa, and even into Italy and Rome. The number of converts in the several cities respectively, is described by the expressions, "a great number," "great multitudes," "much people." What an extensive impression had been made, is obvious from the outcry of the opposers at Thessalonica, that "they who had turned
† Acts 4: 4.
+ Acts 5:14; 6:7.
Acts 8:4; 9:31.