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thousands of them were spread over various parts of the known world, especially in Asia and Africa. Their great numbers fomented and cherished a bold and ferocious spirit, which vented itself in several violent attempts to restore their government. Their first rebellion was about the eighteenth year of the emperor Trajan, A. D. 116. It extended through the Jewish population of Palestine, Egypt, Cyrenaica, Cyprus, and the neighbouring coasts; and, being opposed by the arms of Rome, much blood was spilt on both sides.
A second rebellion broke out in the 16th year of the emperor Adrian (A. D. 133). This insurrection also was a very sanguinary one: it continued progressively increasing for about four years. Tinius Rufus was at that time lieutenant in Palestine. The causes of the insurrection are related variously. Adrian had rebuilt the city of Jerusalem to a considerable extent, and the Jews were extremely irritated at beholding it inhabited by heathens, and sacrifices offered in it to Jupiter Capitolinus; add to which, that they could not endure the yoke of oppression and slavery which lay heavily upon them. • An impostor, who called himself Barchochebas or “Son of the Star,” in allusion to the star of Jacob (Numb. xxiv. 17), was the chief instigator of this last insurrection. He announced himself to be the Messiah and restorer of the Jewish kingdom, who had been foretold by the prophets; and, the better to secure his popularity, he practised upon the credulity of the people by juggling tricks. The seat of war was in Palestine, where Barchochebas obtained possession of a strongly fortified town called Bethera, er Bethar, not far from Jerusalem. After a long siege it was taken by the Romans, and became the theatre of Jewish tragedy, and great cruelties. As might have been expected, an unpitying destruction of the Jews immediately took place, and it was the more severe, because they had long irritated and vexed the Romans. But their sufferings were a just reward for their cruelty and unrelenting hatred toward the Christians, wliose principles would not allow them to unite in rebellion against the government. In the end, most of these disaffected persons perished by hunger, thirst, or slaughter; and, by command of the emperor, the Jews were interdicted, on pain of death, from entering Jerusalem. This ruin of the Jewish affairs proved an
REIGN OF THE ANTONINES.
advantageous event to the Christians at Jerusalem, who were thereby delivered from the rage of implacable enemies. That church was also now cleansed from Judaism, and, from that time, persons whose sentiments were tinctured with a leaning towards the rites of the Mosaic economy were carefully precluded from the office of bishop or elder.
Adrian was succeeded in the government of the empire, A. D. 138, by Titus Antoninus Pius, a senator about fifty years of age, whom Adrian declared his successor, on the express condition that he himself should immediately adopt Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, a youth of about seventeen, as his colleague, and by these two Antonines the Roman world was governed for forty years, that is, from 138 to 180. Their united reigns, according to Gibbon, form possibly the only period of history in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government. Our concern, however, is principally with the state of the professors of Christianity during their administration.
The elder Antoninus appears to have been a most amiable prince. He caused order and tranquillity to be maintained throughout the empire ; and, though himself a heathen, he was never guilty, so far as his own personal character and intentions were concerned, of wantonly shedding the blood of Christians. They were, however, cruelly treated in some of the Asiatic provinces, and this occasioned Justin Martyr to draw up his first apology, which was presented to the emperor. The crimes laid to their charge by the Pagan priests, as already intimated, were those of impiety and atheism, and to a refutation of these is Justin's first apology mainly directed. In several of the former edicts, the word crime had not been sufficiently determined in its signification ; and not only the priests, but some of the magistrates also applied it to the profession of Christianity itself. But Antoninus issued an edict in which he decided the point in favour of the Christians, and on the side of humanity and justice. He addressed a letter to the magistrates throughout the district of Asia to the following effect :
THE EMPEROR TO THE COMMON COUNCIL OF ASIA. “I am clearly of opinion that the gods will take care to discover such persons (as those of whom a complaint had been
made to him];—for it much more concerns them to punish such as refuse to worship them than you, if they be able to do it. But you harass and vex the Christians and accuse them of atheism and other crimes which you can by no means prove. To them it appears an advantage to die for their religion, and they gain their point, while they throw away their lives rather than comply with your injunctions. As to the earthquakes which have happened in times past, or more recently, is it not proper to remind you of your own despondency when they happen, and to request you to compare yonr temper and behaviour with theirs ? Observe how serenely they confide in their God, while in such seasons you seem to be ignorant of the gods and to neglect their worship.”
I cannot help interrupting the good emperor for a moment, in this place, merely while I direct your attention to the fact now mentioned, namely, the very different conduct that was manifested by the Christians and the heathens of that period, when overtaken by any signal calamity in the course of nature, such as an earthquakė, famine, or the breaking out of a pestilence. On occasions of this kind, which at that period and in the warm eastern climate were of rather frequent occurrence, the difference was too remarkable to escape the observation of the most careless, and you see it was accordingly taken notice of by the emperor. On these trying occasions, Christianity had an opportunity of showing its superior influence, by the exemplary conduct of its professors. Their resignation to God, their calm, collected, and tranquil deportment-possessing their souls in patienceand their unwearied benevolence towards the distressed, frequently at the hazard of their own lives, formed a striking contrast to the behaviour of the heathen, who were all consternation and confusion, and in the midst of their terror and dismay would abandon their dearest friends the moment that calamitiés overtook them, and, seeking their own safety, leave the wretched to perish without relief.
But to return to the emperor's proclamation--thus he proceeds:
“ You live in practical ignorance of the Supreme God himself, and you harass and persecute to death those who worship him. Concerning these same men, some others of the provincial go
CHARACTER OF MARCUS AURELIUS.
vemors wrote to our divine father Adrian, to whom he returned for answer, “That they should not be molested unless they appeared to attempt something against the Roman government. Many also have made application to me concerning these men, to whom I have returned an answer agreeable to the maxims of my father. But, if any persons will persist in accusing the Christians merely as such, let the accused be acquitted, though he appear to be a Christian, and let the accuser be punished.”
Set up at Ephesus in the Common Council of Asia.
Eusebius tells us that letters to the same purport were also written to the Larisseans, the Thessalonians, the Athenians, and all the Greeks; and that the humane emperor took care that his edicts were carried into effect. He reigned three-and-twenty years, and it seems not unreasonable to conclude that during the greater part of that time the disciples of Christ were allowed to worship God unmolested ; but the elder Antoninus died in the year 162, when the government devolved wholly on his colleague, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
This prince embraced the rigid system of the stoical philosophy, when only a youth, and having obtained the purple he set himself assiduously to inculcate that system upon his subjects. He even condescended to read lectures to the Roman people, says Mr. Gibbon, in a manner more public than was consistent with the modesty of a sage or the dignity of an emperor. We cannot therefore wonder that his partiality for his favourite pursuit should lead him to behold with an envious eye the lenity which had been shown towards the Christians by his predecessor. Certain it is that the new emperor had no sooner arrived at the plenitude of power than he completely discarded the tolerant principles of Antoninus Pius, and the flood-gates of persecution were once more thrown wide open.
At this period the churches of Asia appear to have suffered considerably. A few instances of this may be given as a specimen. Polycarp was at this time pastor of the church at Smyrna, an office which he is said to have filled for the greater part of a century with honour to himself, to the glory of his divine master, and to the edification of his brethren. The eminence of his station marked him out as the victim of popular fury. The cry of the multitude against Polycarp was, “This is the doctor of Asia, the father of the Christians, the subverter of our gods, who teaches many that they must not perform the sacred rites nor worship our deities. Away with these Atheists !” The philosophy of the emperor could not teach him that this supposed atheism was a real virtue, which deserved to be encouraged and propagated among mankind; here reason and philosophy failed him; and his blind attachment to the religion of his country caused him to shed much blood and to become the destroyer of the saints of the living God.
Anxious for the fate of their beloved pastor, who was at this time more than 100 years old, the friends of Polycarp prevailed on him to withdraw from public view and retire to a neighbouring village, where he continued amidst his brethren, in fervent prayer to God for the tranquillity of the churches. In the mean time the most diligent search was made for him without effect. But, when his adversaries proceeded to put some of his brethren to the torture in order to compel them to betray him, he could no longer be prevailed on to remain concealed. “The will of the Lord be done,” said he, and instantly surrendered himself to his persecutors.
The particulars of the martyrdom of Polycarp were communicated in a letter from the church in Smyrna to the churches of Pontus, which letter is preserved by Eusebius, and it contains a variety of circumstances relating to his last moments. On surrendering himself to his pursuers, he is said to have saluted them with a cheerful countenance and invited them to take some refreshment at his table, only soliciting from them on his own behalf one hour for prayer. They granted his request, and his devotions were prolonged to double that period, with such sweetness and savour that all who heard him were struck with admiration, several of the soldiers expressing their regret that they were employed against so venerable an old man. Having finished his devotions, Polycarp was placed upon an ass, to be conveyed towards the city, when he was met on the road by some of the principal persons concerned in his persecution. Many efforts were tried to shake his confidence and induce him to abjure his profession ; but all in vain. At one time he was threatened by the proconsul with the fury of wild beasts. “Call for them,”