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made an extensive progress. Indeed, with the exception of the short reign of Maximin, they suffered but little persecution for nearly half a century, and the effects were but too manifest in the melancholy state of the churches at this time,-in the laxity of their discipline, and the general lukewarmness which had come upon them in their profession. The simplicity and purity of the Christian religion was greatly corrupted, and the usual concomitants of a season of worldly ease and prosperity, viz. ambition, pride, and luxury, too generally prevailed among both pastors and people. In such a state of things, it cannot surprize a reflecting mind, that He who walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks, and holds the stars in his right hand-who has declared that he will make all the churches to know that it is He who searches the reins and hearts, and will give to every one according to his works-should interpose at this time to vindicate his own cause, and reclaim the wanderings of his people.
No sooner had Decius ascended the throne than a tempest was raised, in which the fury of persecution fell in a dreadful manner upon the Church of Christ. Whether it were from an ill-grounded fear of the Christians, or from a violent zeal for the superstitions of his ancestors, does not appear; but it is certain that he issued edicts of the most sanguinary kind, commanding the prætors; on pain of death, either to extirpate the whole body of Christians, without exception, or to force them by torments of various kinds to return to the pagan worship. Hence in all the provinces of the empire, during a space of two years, multitudes of Christians were put to death by the most horrid punishments which an ingenious barbarity could invent.
This trying state of things was continued, with more or less intermission, during the reigns of Gallus, Valerian, Iiocletian, and others of the Roman emperors ; but the detail is harassing to the feelings, and instead of proseeuting it circumstantially, I shall dismiss the subject by an extract from Dr. Chandler's History of Persecutions, relating to this period. “The most excessive and outrageous barbarities,” says he, "were made use of upon all who would not blaspheme Christ and offer incense to the imperial gods. They were publicly whipped,--drawn by the heels through the streets of cities, -racked till every bone of their body was disjointed,—had their teeth beat out,—their noses, hands, and ears cut off, -sharp pointed spears run under their nails,—were tortured with melted lead thrown on their naked bodies,--had their eyes dug out their limbs cut off, -- were condemned to the mines,-ground between stones,-stoned to death, burnt alive,-thrown headlong from the high buildings, beheaded, -smothered in burning lime kilns,-run through the body with sharp spears,-destroyed with hunger, thirst, and cold, -thrown to the wild beasts,-broiled on gridirons with slow fires,-cast by heaps into the sea, crucified,-scraped to death with sharp shells,--torn in pieces by the boughs of trees,-and, in a word, destroyed by all the various methods that the most diabolieal subtlety and malice could devise." *
When the persecution arose under the emperor Decius, or rather, as it is expressed by a late writer, “when the gates of hell were once more opened, and merciless executioners were let loose upon the defenceless churches, who deluged the earth with blood,” (A. D. 249.) Cyprian was presbyter of the church of Carthage, having been ordained the preceding year. Ile was soon marked out as
Introduction to Limborch's History of the Inquisition, vol. 1. sect. 1. p. 11. Should any one suspect Dr. Chandler of having overcharged the picture in this dreadful detail, I must entreat liim to look into any of the larger histories of this period, and he will soon be undeceived.
a victim to imperial fury, but he prudently fled from Carthage, in consequence of which he was proscribed, and his effects were seized. He has been censured by some persons as a deserter of his flock; but the firmness and Christian piety with which he afterwards (under the reign of Valerian, A. D. 258.) laid down his life, affords a presumption that he had not retired for want of courage. His works, which consist of a collection of his epistles, eighty-three in number, and several tracts, contain much information respecting the state of Christianity at that period, at the same time that they display a benevolent and pious mind, and evince much of the character of the Christian pastor, in the affectionate solicitude with which he watched over his flock. The letters which he wrote during his retirement, give a distressing picture of the effects which had been produced upon the churches by that state of tranquillity and exemption from suffering, which, with little interruption, they had enjoyed from the death of Severus, in 211, to the reign of Decius in 249,a period of about forty years.
“It must be owned and confessed," says he, “that the outrageous and heavy calamity, which hath almost devoured our flock, and continues to devour it to this day, hath happened to us because of our sins, since we keep not the way of the Lord, nor observe his heavenly commands, which were designed to lead us to salvation. Christ, our Lord, fulfilled the will of the Father, but we neglect the will of Christ. Our principal study is to get money and estates; we follow after pride; we are at leisure for nothing but emulation and quarrelling, and bave neglected the simplicity of the faith. We have renounced this world in words only, and not in deed. Every one studies to please himself, and to displease others.”* It is impossible for us not to be struck with
• Cyprian's Works, Epist, si.
the shocking contrast which this picture presents, from that drawn by Tertullian about fifty years before. It seems even to have staggered the credibility of some writers, Dr. Jortin, for example, remarks, that “Cyprian has described, in very strong terms, the relaxation of discipline and manners which had ensued; which yet may require some abatement. His vehement temper," says he, “his indignation against vice, and his African eloquence, might induce him to make free with a figure called exaggeration.” * But, unhappily, Cyprian's account is
. confirmed by the testimony of Eusebius, who was nearly cotemporary with him; and, which is still worse, it is put beyond all dispute by the immense number of defections from the Christian profession which every where abounded when the persecution, set on foot by Decius, commenced, and which occasioned great commotions in all the churches.
“ Through too much liberty," says Eusebius, “ they grew negligent and slothful, envying and reproaching one another; waging, as it were, civil wars among themselves, bishops quarreling with bishops, and the people divided into parties. Hypocrisy and deceit were grown to the highest pitch of wickedness. They were become so insensible as not so much as to think of appeasing the divine anger; but, like atheists, they thought the world destitute of any providential government and care, and thus added one crime to another. The bishops themselves had thrown off all concern about religion; were perpetually contending with one another, and did nothing but quarrel with and threaten, and envy, and hate one another;-they were full of ambition, and tyrannically used their power.”+ Such was the deplorable state of the churches, which God, as Eusebius justly remarks, first
Remarks on Eccles. Hist, vol. 1. p. 376.
+ Eusebius's Hist. b. 8. ch. 1.
punished with a gentle hand; but when they grew hardened and incurable in their vices, he was pleased to let in the most grievous persecutions upon them, under Diocletian, which exceeded, in severity and length, all that had gone before. It began in the year 302, and lasted ten years.
Reflections on the history of the Christian church during
the first three centuries, with a view of the rise of Antichrist.
In reviewing the history of the christian church, from the first propagation of the gospel until the reign of Constantine, it can scarcely fail to strike the readers's attention, that the Christian profession is marked, during this period, with a peculiar character, in distinction from what it sustained after the accession of Constantine to the throne, when the Christian religion was taken under his fostering care, and supported by the civil government. The first propagation of the Christian faith was not only unaided but directly opposed in most instances, by the civil government in the different countries in which it spread. The publishers of the gospel were, in general, plain and unlearned men, destitute of all worldly influence and power; their doctrine was in itself obnoxious, and their appearance little calculated to procure it a favourable hearing; nor could they present to the view of men any other inducement to embrace their testimony, than the prospect of life and immortality in the world to come; with the certainty, that through much tribulation believers must enter into the kingdom of God. The success of their doctrine stood in direct opposition to the power of