תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

delphia, when it had to contend with difficulties of this kind. But amidst all this, there were some blessed and consolatory circumstances. Our Saviour, as he describes the character of these troublers of the Church, so he describes their end“Behold, I will make them come and worship at thy feet;" that is, the time shall come when these persons shall be completely humbled. Their triumphing, like all the triumphing of the wicked, shall be short. They shall come and humbly confess, that they have been in the wrong, and that you have been in the right. Our Saviour does not say that they will willingly do this, but that he would make them do so; and the expressions are very emphatic, for this term is twice and very significantly repeated—“Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet.” But this is not all. There was something further which our Lord said he would make them do. This is his language—“And to know that I have loved thee;" that is, that he would give these persons to understand, that though they had been permitted for a time to triumph, though they had, in their self-elevation and pride, trampled upon those whom they opposed, and had persecuted and distressed them; that all the while his love had been set upon the very persons who had thus been trampled under foot; he had all the while looked upon them as the spiritual Church, and not only so, but that these very persons themselves should at length come to know it and acknowledge it; that they should be compelled to confess, by some signal interposition of his right hand, that

those whom they had despised and ill treated, were, in reality, the true friends of religion and the Church, such as loved the Lord Jesus Christ and were loved by him. This must have been a matter of high consolation to the afflicted members of the Church of Philadelphia, and enough to support them and encourage them and comfort them under all that they had suffered.

Now before I pass on to the topic which is contained in the tenth verse of this epistle, and which relates to entirely different matters, I would desire to establish a few positions which have a very interesting and important practical aspect.*

V. A declaration of security from external dangers. “ Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."

Here is a remarkable attestation to the real Christian character of the generality of the members of the ancient Church of Philadelphia. They had kept the word of God's patience, which I understand as meaning, that they had clung to the truth as it is in Jesus, with a constancy which could not be overcome, but at the same time with a meekness and a gentle

• There is here found a total chasm in the MS. which it is impossible to supply. By a note of the lamented author, this fourth head seems to have been omitted in delivering the discourse, for reasons which were temporary. He lived not, however, to finish his plans in regard to it. It has been considored best, therefore, to print it as it stood.-Ev.

ness under difficulties, which exhibits very striking marks of real Christianity. There always are in the true Christian character two principles combined, which are generally, in the estimation of the world, supposed to be at variance; fortitude and gentleness. Thus you will find an exhortation—"Be ready to give an answer to every one that asketh a reason of the hope that is in you,” but couple it with meekness. As they had thus kept the word of Christ, he promises that he would keep them from the hour of temptation which was coming on all the world, to try them that were on the earth. There is here a promise to keep them from apostacy on the one hand, and destruction on the other, during some remarkable season of persecution which was to fall more particularly on Christianity within the bounds of the Roman empire. In this promise Christ as much as says to the members of the Church of Philadelphia, that in consequence of the religious character which they had been enabled to maintain, he would, on this occasion, shelter them from the fury of a rapidly advancing storm ; that he would not permit them to be so severely tempted as many

of the other Churches should be that were lost and overcome. The period alluded to by our Saviour is most generally supposed to be the persecution which took place under the reign of the Emperor Trajan, and the historical circumstances connected with which are deeply interesting. The first persecution of the Christians closed with the death of the brutal Nero, and during the interval which came between that event and the latter years of the reign of Domitian, the Church enjoyed comparative peace. The Jews who had been the sleepless persecutors of the VOL. II.

42

Christians, had been stricken down under the conquering arms of Titus and Vespasian, and were at that early period an outcast people. Even the proverbial cruelty of Domitian was too busy with senatorial slaughter to have leisure for the pursuit of peasant blood. But he was at last roused by the rumour that his throne was to be seized by some new sovereign of the kindred of our Lord. Persecution instantly burst out, but after about one year's continuance, it subsided on the death of the tyrant. In the first persecution under Nero, St. Peter and St. Paul are supposed to have been slain. In the persecution under Domitian, St. John was banished to the island of Patmos, from whence these epistles were sent.

In the late work of Croly on the Apocalypse, there is an admirable and brief history connected with my text. It is stated, that the death of Nerva, who was the successor of Domitian, gave the throne to Trajan. He was a brave soldier and most vigorous emperor. But what concerns my subject most is, that among the elements of his character are to be found distinguished his prejudices as a Roman and his bigotry as an idolater.

· Popular violence had continued to disturb the Church in the provinces of the Roman empire, and when the younger Pliny was, in the third year

of Trajan, sent as proconsul to Asia, he found the Church the object of general severity. The celebrated letter of Pliny gives equal proof of the innocence of the Christians, the fury of their enemies, and the singular ignorance of the most philosophic and inquiring Romans, on the subject of the Christian doctrines. Trajan's answer to the celebrated letter of Pliny, is particularly worthy of observation,

as it established the law for the empire, that the Christians were not to be officiously sought after, but that such as were accused and convicted of adherence to Christianity, were to be put to death as wicked citizens, if they did not return to the religion of their ancestors; such was the legislation of Paganism. It is clear, that this law left the Christians to the most extensive and continued suffering; it made the mere profession of Christianity a state crime, and it left no alternative but apostacy or death. Thus much has been necessary to understand the condition of the Churches in proconsular Asia, under the reign of the Emperor Trajan. The whole of the Asiatic Churches, powerful and distinguished as they were from the beginning, had, at the time of which I am speaking, become almost the only establishment of Christianity in the world. The Church in Jerusalem had been scattered in the general ruin of the Jews, which occurred twenty or thirty years before. The Church in Rome had been broken by the persecution under Nero. It was in Asia alone, the greatest and most important of all the provinces of the Roman empire, that Christianity appeared in all its grandeur; and throughout the whole period of future persecution, the weight of the storm was turned upon this province. The feebler and more distant communities felt the visitation from age to age, and sometimes at long intervals between; but on Asia fell the perpetual thunder. This law of Trajan continued in force no less than two hundred years, during the whole of which time the Christian name was a signal of hazard, of plunder, and of death. During this period, multitudes of Christians, too great to name, were sacrificed to popular fury;

« הקודםהמשך »