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CHAP 4

MARTYRDOM OF JUSTIN,

161

to the most cruel tortures. So much, however, were former edicts regarded, that none could be condemned unless some crime was brought against them; but the enraged heathen priests and corrupt judges found no difficulty in suborning false witnesses, and procuring the death of all who were brought before them.

In the year 163, the able apologist Justin, slept in Jesus. He was educated a philosopher, and was, probably, the most learned man, who, since the days of the Apostles, had embraced Christianity. In early life he wandered through all the systems of philosophy in pursuit of God and happiness, but found no satisfaction. At length he examined the Gospel, and found peace for his soul. To the cause of the Redeemer he consecrated his habits of study, and became its able supporter. His views of Christian doctrine were once, in the main, evangelical; but he was nearly ruined by a philosophising spirit. Of those who denied the deity of Christ, he thus expressed himselt: “ There are some who call themselves Christians who confess him to be the Christ, but still maintain that he is a mere man only, with whom I agree not; neither do most of those who bear that name agree with them; because we are commanded by Christ himself not to obey the precepts of men, but his own injunctions and those of the holy prophets. As for myself I am too mean to say any thing becoming his infinite deity." His apologies for Christianity are still extant, and are

This learned and excellent man was imprisoned, whipped, and beheaded for the crime of being a Christian. We have his testimony to the interesting and important fact, that the Churches in his time examined those they received, not only concerning their creed, but concerning a work of grace in their hearts.

But the most distinguished martyr of the age, was Polycarp. This venerable man was, with Ignatius, the disciple of John; was intimate with the apostles, and was ordained by them over the Church of Smyrna. The learned Usher says, it is beyond all question, that he was the angel of the church of Smyrna, to whom the apocalyptical epistle was sent. If so, bis martyrdom was there particularly predicted. For seventy years he had been a firm pillar in the church. Against the heretics of the age, especially the Docetae, who denied the humanity of Christ, . rejected the Old Testament, and mutilated the New, he opposed liimself with the greatest firmness. To Marcion, their chief, who one day called out to him, " Polycarp, own us;" "I do

very valuable.

own thee," said he, “ to be the first born of Satan," Ireneus informs us, that he often heard from his lips an account of his conversations with John, and others who had seen our Lord, whose sayings he rehearsed.

This venerable man was brought to the tribunal in the hundredth year of his age. The proconsul told him to reproach Christ and he would release him. 66 Eighty and six years," said Polycarp, “ have I served him, and he hath never wronged me, and how can I blaspheme my king who hath saved me?' “ I have wild beasts,” said the proconsul. 66 Call them,” said the martyr. "I will tame your spirit by fire.” 66 You threaten me with fire, which burns for a moment and will be soon extinct; but you are ignorant of the future judgment and of the fire of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why do you delay ? Do what you please.” The fire being prepared, and he being bound, a distinguished sacrifice, clasped his hands, which were tied behind him, and said, “O, Father of thy beloved and blessed son Jesus Christ, through whom we have attained a knowledge of thee, O God of angels and principalities, and of all creation, and of all the just, who live in thy sight, I bless thee that thou hast counted me worthy of this day, and this hour, to receive my portion in the number of martyrs, in the cup of Christ, for the resurection to eternal life, both of soul and body, in the incorruption of the Holy Ghost, among whom may I be received before thee this day as a sacrifice weil savoured and acceptable, which thou the faithful and truc God hast prepared, promised before-hand and fulfilled accordingly. Wherefore I praise thee for all these things, 1 glorify thee by the eternal High Priest, thy well beloved Son, through whom, with him in the Holy Spirit, be glory to thee, both now and forever. Amen."

Eleven brethren from Philadelphia, suffered with him, A. D. 167. If the Lord Jesus Christ died as a mere martyr to the truth, how inferior was he in fortitude, to his servant Polycarp. 66 O my father,” said he, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” But He was an atoning sacrifice, called to bear his Father's wrath, for our sins.

By the persecutions of Antoninus, our attention is here directed to a country hitherto unknown in ecclesiastical history. Flourishing churches had been planted in Vienne and Lyons in France, then called Gallia ; probably, by the churches of Asia. The account given by themselves of their sufferings, under Severus the Roman governor, will be read with great interest by all who love to trace the children of God in their

CHAP. 4.

MARTYRS OF VIENNE AND LYONS.

163

Christian warfare. It affords a very full account of the humil. ity, meekness, patience, magnanimity and heavenly mindedness of the martyrs; of the influences of the Holy Spirit ; of the supports of religion under the most excruciating sufferings, and must excite, in every reader, a spirit of gratitude to God, for the inestimable blessings which we, in this age of light and liberty, are permitted to enjoy.

The epistle of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons, to the Brethren

in Asia and Phrygia.

ABRIDGED.

66 The servants of Christ, sojourning in Vienne and Lyons in France, to the brethren in Asia propria and Phrygia, who have the same faith and hope of redemption with us; peace and grace and glory from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are not competent to describe with accuracy, nor is it in our power to express the greatness of the affliction sustained here by the saints; the intense animosity of the heathen against them, and the complicated sufferings of the blessed martyrs. The grand enemy assaulted us with all his might; and, by his first essays, exhibited intentions of exercising malice without limits and without control. He left no method untried to habituate his slaves to his bloody work, and to prepare them by previous exercises against the servants of God. Christians were absolutely prohibited from appearing in any houses, excepting their own; in baths; in the market, or in any public place whatever. The grace of God, however fought for us, preserving the weak and exposing the strong; who, like pillars, were able to withstand them in patience, and to draw the whole fury of the wicked against themselves. These entered into the contest, and sustained every species of pain and reproạch. What was heavy to others, to them was light while they were bastening to Christ, evincing, indeed, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.

The first trial was from the people at large; shouts, blows, the dragging of their bodies, the plundering of their goods,casting of stones, and the confining of them within their own houses, and all the indignities which may be expected from a fierce and outrageous multitude; these were magnanimously sustained. Being led into the Forum by the tribune and the ma

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gistrates, they were examined before all the people, whether they were Christians; and, on pleading guilty, were shut up in prison until the arrival of the governor. Before him they were at length brought, and be treated us with the greatest savageness of manners. The capital martyrs discharged their part with all alacrity of mind. Others seemed not so readyas yet weak, unable to sustain the shock of so great a contest. Ten lapsed, whose cases filled us with great and unmeasurable

Persons were now apprehended daily, of such as were counted worthy to fill up the number of the lapsed; so that the most excellent were selected from the two churches, even those by whose labour they had been founded and established. They were seized, at the same time, some of our heathen servants, who by the impulse of Satan, fearing the torments which they saw inflicted on the saints, at the suggestion of the soldiers, accused us of eating human flesh, and of various unnatural crimes, and of things not fit even to be mentioned or imagined, and such as ought not to be believed of mankind.

These things being divulged, all were jncensed to madness against us, so that it some were formerly more moderate on account of any connexions of blood, affinity or friendship, they were then transported beyond all bounds with indignation.

Now it was that our Lord's word was fulfilled-6 The time will come when whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” The holy martyrs now sustained tortures which exceed the powers of description; Satan labouring by means of these tortures to extort something slanderous against Christianity. The whole fury of the multitude, the governor and the soldiers, were spent in a particular manner on Sanctus of Vienne, the deacon; and on Maturus, a late convert indeed, but a magnanimous wrestler in spiritual things; and on Attalus of Pergamus, a man who had ever been a pillar and support of our church ; and lastly on Blandina, through whom Christ showed that those things that appear unsightly and contemptible among men, are most honourable in the presence of God, on account of love to his name, exhibited in real energy, and not in boasting and pompous pretences. To every interrogatory Sanctus answered, I am a Christian. Having exhausted all the usual methods of torture, they at last, fixed red hot plates of brass to the most tender parts of his body. But he remained inflexible.

Some young persons, whose bodies had been unexercised with sufferings, unequal to the severity of the continement expired. Pothinus, bishop of Lyons, upwards of ninety years of age, and very infirm and asthmatic, yet strong

CHAP. 4.

VIENNE AND LYONS.

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in spirit, and panting after martyrdom, was dragged before the tribunal, treated with the greatest indignity, thrown into prison, where, after two days, he expired.

The martyrs were put to death in various ways. Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and Attalus, were led to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre, to be the common spectacle of Gentile inhumanity.

Cæsar sent orders that the confessors of Christ should be put to death, and that the apostates from their divine master should be dismissed. These were interrogated separate from the rest, as persons soon to be dismissed, and made a confession to the surprise of the Gentiles, and were added to the list of martyrs. A small number still remained in apostacy ; but they were those who possessed not the least spark of divine faith, had not the least acquaintance with the riches of Christ in their souls, and had no fear of God before their eyes; whose life had brought reproach on Christianity, and had evidenced them to be the children of perdition.

On the last day of the spectacles, Blandina was again introduced with Ponticus, a youth of fifteen. They were ordered to swear by the idols ; and the mob, perceiving them to persevere immoveably, were incensed, and no pity was showp. Ponticus, animated by his sister, who was observed by the heathen to strengthen and confirm him, after a magnanimous exertion of patience, yielded up the ghost. After Blandina had endured stripes, the tearing of the beasts and the hot iron chair, she was enclosed in a net and thrown to a bull; and having been tossed some time by the animal, and proving quite superior to her pains, through the influence of hope and the realizing view of the objects of her faith and her fellowship with Christ, she at length breathed out her soul. Even her enemies confessed that no woman among them had ever suffered such and so great things. The bodies of the martyrs

having been contumeliously treated and exposed for six days, were burnt and reduced to ashes, and scattered by the wicked into the Rhone, that not the least particle of them might appear on the earth any more. And they did these things as if they could prevail against God, and prevent their resurrection-and that they might deter others, as they said, from the hope of a future life ;-on which relying, they introduce a strange and new religion, and despise the most excruciating tortures, and die with joy. Now let us see if they will rise again, and if their God can help them, and deliver them out of our hands."

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