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up his own robes to make bandages for his wounded soldiers. Shortly afterwards, Decebalus again appeared in arms; and Trajan, on his way to oppose him, caused a bridge to be thrown across the Danube, such as no modern architect would attempt to construct. It consisted of twenty-two arches, and the ruins of it that remain are reckoned among the wonders of ancient art. The boldness and contempt of life shown by the Dacians are said to have arisen from their expectation of immortality. They were only subdued after a war of five years; and, as Decebalus killed himself, the whole of their uncultivated country, 1300 miles in circumference, fell into the hands of the Romans. The hardy natives gradually submitted to the laws, and learned the arts of their conquerors, so that Dacia became one of the fairest provinces of the empire; and by this addition it reached its greatest extent.
The rejoicings at Rome lasted one hundred and twenty days, and Trajan's fame spread so far that even ambassadors came from India to seek his friendship. During the peace that followed, the emperor adorned the capital, and sought to improve the moral condition of his people ; and he was so generally beloved that he could hardly believe he had any enemies. In reading the character and actions of Trajan, as set forth by the heathen historians, we may anxiously turn aside to inquire, whether he was nearer the kingdom of heaven than his predecessors, and the doctrine of Christ more acceptable to him than to them? These questions, alas, must be answered in the negative; and it is in the ninth year of his reign that we find the third general persecution of the Christians carried on with the greatest rigour.
The correspondence between Trajan and the younger Pliny, then governor of Bithynia, about A.D. 107, gives us some idea of the state of the Christians at this period, and the general ignorance of their religion, or prejudice against it. Pliny writes to the emperor, humbly asking how he ought to treat the Christians; a serious question, he observes, as the numbers of these impious people of every age and sex so rapidly increase. He inquires if their punishment should be proportioned to their age and strength, and whether any time should be given them for repentance; and, finally, desires to know whether the name alone, or the crimes connected with it were 120
PLINY'S ACCOUNT OF THE CHRISTIANS.
the object of punishment ? He then tells the emperor that the plan which he pursues, whilst awaiting his wiser counsel, is to question all who are accused before his tribunal, whether they are Christians ? If they plead guilty, the question is repeated with a threatening of death. The obstinate he had, in all cases, punished with death, excepting those who were reserved as Roman citizens for the emperor's own judgment; for he judged that whatever was the nature of their religion, their unwillingness to give it up deserved condemnation.
When we remember that the churches in Asia, mentioned in the former chapter, fell particularly under this persecution, the report of them as given by a heathen judge is particularly interesting. He found some of the Asiatic Christians, when accused before him, declaring they never had been Christians; others said they had professed to be such, five, ten, or even twenty years before, but did so no longer. All these proved their innocence by calling upon the gods, and upon Cæsar, and cursing the name of Christ. “ This,” adds the governor, “] have been assured, a real Christian could not be forced to do.” We can easily suppose that the Philadelphian or Smyrnean state produced the most martyrs; the Laodicean state the most apostates. Pliny closely examined the apostates as to the nature of their former religion, and even the imperfect account given by them, made him begin to doubt, whether it was so much crime as error.
He learned that on a certain day (probably the Lord's day) it was their custom to meet before daylight, and repeat a hymn to Christ as a God; after which they solemnly bound themselves not to commit any wickedness. Later in the day they met to partake of a common harmless meal together, which, however, they had given up when they found it was contrary to the laws. Probably this was the feast of Charity, and the Lord's Supper, which seems to have been at first connected with it (see 1 Cor. xi. 33, 34; Jude 12). Not satisfied with the evidence of the apostates, Pliny caused two deaconesses, or servants of the Church, to be tortured, in order that he might arrive at the truth ; but after all it appeared to him “a wicked and excessive superstition.” He ends his long letter by saying, he hopes the evil is not beyond remedy, if he may abso
PERSECUTION UNDER TRAJAN.
lutely promise safety to the repentant, as through his efforts the desolate temples had been revisited, and animals again bought for sacrifice.
Trajan's brief answer was as follows : “You have done perfectly right, my dear Pliny, in the inquiry which you have made concerning the Christians. For, truly, no general rule can be laid down which will apply itself to all cases. These people must not be sought after. If they are brought before you and convicted, let them be capitally punished; but with this restriction, that if any one renounce Christianity, and prove his sincerity by worshipping our gods, however suspected he may be for the past, he shall obtain pardon for the future, on his repentance. But all libels in no case ought to be attended to; for the precedent would be of the worst sort, and perfectly inconsistent with the maxims of my government.”
Another governor, in Asia Minor, so cruelly persecuted the unoffending Christians, that the whole body of them came with one accord before his tribunal, to show him, as it seems, their numbers, and their determined confession of Christ. He ordered a few of them to be executed, and sent away the rest, saying, contemptuously, “ Miserable people, if you choose death you may find precipices and halters enough.”
In the tenth year of his reign, Trajan came to Antioch with his army on his way to the East, where he hoped to subdue the independent kingdom of Parthia. While he rested in this city, Ignatius, bishop of the Christians there, came forwards expressing his willingness to suffer death if the emperor would spare the rest. If the conversation that took place between them has been faithfully reported, Trajan heard and rejected the truth; yet, it appears, Ignatius was so anxious for martyrdom, that he spoke somewhat rashly, and, instead of confining himself to the simplicity of the gospel, boldly telling the emperor he was a sinner, and testifying to him concerning the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, he dwelt much upon a doctrine that was altogether incomprehensible to Trajan, namely, his own union with Christ. This he expressed so strongly that he obtained the name of Theophorus, or the one bearing God within him; and the emperor pronounced sentence against him in the following manner :-"Since Ignatius
THE JEWS IN EGYPT AND CYPRUS..
professes that he carries within him the Crucified One, let him be sent bound to Great Rome, and thrown to the wild beasts for the entertainment of the people.” Here Trajan appears to be without excuse; he was among the number who thought the preaching of Christ crucified to be foolishness, and condemned those who believed as impious persons. Ignatius had in vain tried to convince him that the gods of the Gentiles were no gods, and that, as the nations only worshipped devils, it was no impiety to renounce them.
Ignatius was conducted to Rome as a prisoner, and Trajan pursued his designs with uninterrupted success; obtaining victories over unknown barbarians, and subduing the eastern nations, as far as the borders of India. There, it is said, like a second Alexander, he sighed that there were no more worlds to conquer. In the meanwhile, the oppressed Jews in different places took advantage of the absence of the most powerful legions, and took up arms in their own defence. In Egypt the contest was dreadful ; for, after the Greek inhabitants of the capital had obtained the mastery and succeeded in slaying the Jews residing there, the Cyrenian Jews came upon them and took the most terrible revenge. It is reported, that they destroyed 220,000 people; and, notwithstanding their strict profession of touching nothing unclean, they actually feasted on the bodies of their enemies, and, in some cases, made girdles of their skins. In Cyprus, where the Jews were the most wealthy and numerous people, 240,000 of the islanders were the victims of their revenge, and the populous city of Salamis became almost a desert. Adrian, the nephew and appointed successor of Trajan, assembled a body of troops, and came to the assistance of the remaining inhabitants; and, after he had turned all the Jews out of the island, a law was passed threatening with death any of them who should again set foot upon it. It is reckoned, that as many of the descendants of Abraham perished in these wars as originally came out of Egypt.
CHAP. XXII. STATE OF THE CHURCH.--EPISTLES OF IGNATIUS.-MARTYRDOM
OF IGNATIUS.—DEATH OF TRAJAN. As Trajan remained in the East nine years, and no other remarkable events occurred during his absence, it will be well to consider at this time a little more particularly the state of the Church, as it may be gathered from the history of Ignatius. Some writings, supposed to be the genuine epistles of Ignatius and the acts of his martyrdom, still remain ; but the mixture of truth and error makes it impossible to bring them forward as undoubted authorities. It must be remembered that the Church at this time was without the New Testament, as we have it : for, though all the books of it existed, and were preserved in different places, they were not collected together for general use. The extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, which were the witnesses of God to the truth of those who had heard of his great salvation from the Lord himself (Heb. ii. 3), those which are usually spoken of as Pentecostal or sign gifts, had ceased, or nearly so ; and the written word was not yet in general circulation, though it was the common property of the Church in their stead.
It is said, that the epistles of Ignatius were written at Smyrna and Troas, where he was allowed to rest on his way to Rome.
Polycarp was then bishop of the church at Smyrna; and it has been supposed that he was addressed (Rev. ii. 10): but the persecution had not then extended so far. Both Ignatius and Polycarp had been instructed by the Apostle John, and could remember his accounts of the works and words of Christ; and it seems more than probable his gospel was in their hands. But the difference between the apostle, who wrote with the full inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and the disciple, who, though a spiritual man, leaned to his own understanding, is very striking and instructive. The point in which Ignatius particularly fails is just the point where human nature, in his circumstances, would be most likely to fail; namely, in overrating the importance and authority of the rulers in the church. It is very likely that he was tempted to this extreme, because there were many unruly persons in the churches, who were not subject to those who were appointed by God to watch over them: but in going beyond the word of God, he laid the foundation for evils more serious