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Babylon rose up against the ambitious strangers, and 50,000 Jews perished before peace was restored to the country. The remnant were left undisturbed during the reign of Agrippa, and so rapidly increased that they became as prosperous and wealthy as before.
Herod Agrippa returned to Jerusalem in great pomp, and hung up in the Temple his heavy golden chain as a memorial of God's preserving care. By his whole conduct he tried to win the favour of the people ; hę observed all the ceremonies with great exactness, attended to sacrifice daily, and carefully avoided the outward uncleanness pointed out in the law. It is not then surprising that such a man should vex the Church, as related Acts xii., in order to please the Jews.
His first act was to kill James, the brother of John, with the sword. It is related, that the man who had accused him to the king was led to believe that Jesus was the Christ by seeing the apostle's readiness to die, and having confessed his faith he was condemned to the same punishment. As they went together to the place of execution, he asked the apostle's forgiveness ; and, in the spirit of his Master, James replied, “ Peace be to thee," and kissed him.* When Herod Agrippa saw that the Jews were pleased by the death of James, he put Peter in prison, and would have killed him also, if he had not been miraculously delivered out of his hands in answer to the unceasing prayers of the church. When the king found that he had escaped, he put the keepers of the prison to death, and soon after left Jerusalem and went to dwell at Cæsarea. This was probably to avoid the suspicions that had been excited in the emperor's mind by hearing that the Jewish prince was strongly fortifying the capital. Notwithstanding the general popularity of Herod, he had offended the stricter Jews by building a musical theatre at Berytus, and by his shows of gladiators in that city; for, on one occasion, he condemned two troops of malefactors to fight together till they were all killed. It was after a reign of three years that Herod gave a
* It does not come within the compass of this work to relate the different traditions concerning the apostles, to which some degree of uncertainty must be attached, or to give the details of the sufferings of the martyrs of Christ. The young reader is referred to an interesting little work, entitled “Last Words of the Martyrs,” by the authoress of “Little Mary.”
DEATH OF HEROD AGRIPPA.
grand festival at Cæsarea in honour of his friend the emperor; and it was probably this set day that is spoken of at the close of Acts xii. According to the account given by Josephus, a great multitude were assembled from all quarters; and on the second day of the public entertainment, the king entered the theatre in a robe of silver that glittered so brightly in the morning sun that the whole assembly were astonished by his dazzling appearance. As he was beginning to speak, some of his impious flatterers exclaimed, “A present god !” Herod did not rebuke them, or speak of the only God of glory, in whom he professed to believe: but being immediately smitten with violent pain, he was carried to his palace, and died after five days of extreme agony, being eaten of worms, A.D. 44.
Claudius, or rather his ministers, decided that the younger Herod Agrippa, son of the late king, being only seventeen, was too young to reign; and Judea was again put into the condition of a Roman province.
The Greeks at Cæsarea and the Roman troops rejoiced at the death of Herod, and even made a feast to celebrate, as they said, the king's departure. On hearing this, Claudius, out of respect for his late friend, ordered these ill-behaved soldiers to be displaced by others from the Syrian legions : but this was never done; and their continuance in Judea under this sentence of disgrace only increased their bitterness against the Jews, and kept up an irritation that was followed by terrible struggles.
The first years of the reign of Claudius were not marked by oppression or cruelty ; he pleased the people by adorning the capital, and, in A.D. 49, wishing to gratify them by some foreign conquest, he sent an army against the British tribes that were still independent.
According to a census taken by this emperor's command, Italy was found to contain twenty millions of free citizens ; and as it was reckoned there must be at least twice as many in the provinces, the Romans at this time were probably sixty millions in number. The slaves throughout the empire were, it is supposed, as numerous as the free-born; and, according to this calculation, a hundred and twenty millions of people were at this time held together by one form of government, and acknowledged one master. The natural infirmities of Claudius would have been far less injurious to his subjects than the dreadful abuse of the power which, in his weakness, he per
mitted to fall into stronger and more violent hands. His wife Messalina, whose very name became proverbial for female wickedness, entirely succeeded in governing him, aided by Pallas, a favourite freed-slave, and others equally covetous and cruel. So ignorant was Claudius of the crimes, and even names of those whom he was persuaded to condemn, that he often invited to supper those who had been put to death the day before, and denied that he had given orders for an execution but a few hours after pronouncing sentence.
Messalina played with her timid husband's fears by inventing stories of secret plots against his life, so that at last he was afraid to let any one approach him, even a child, without a strict search; and in this state of mind he was induced to consent to cruelties which he afterwards bitterly lamented. At length, one of Messalina's companions in crime told him of her acts of excessive wickedness, and she was herself put to death by his orders; and such was his indifference to her end, that, a few days after, he asked why she did not come to supper. Claudius married three wives, the last of whom, Agrippina, almost equalled Messalina in crime. Her sole ob. ject was to secure the throne for Nero, her son by a former marriage, and the emperor was persuaded to adopt him as his successor, A.D. 50.
About this time, Claudius visited Britain to take the honour of the victories won by his generals. He only remained there sixteen days, and returned in triumph to Rome, leaving Plautius with his lieutenant, Vespasian, to carry on the war. After many battles, they succeeded in bringing a part of the island into the condition of a Roman province; but under the weaker government of Ostorius, the successor of Plautius, the Britons rebelled against Roman power; and it was long before the warlike tribes were forced to submit. Caractacus, king of the Silures, the inhabitants of South Wales, by making the mountainous part of the country the seat of war, was able to resist, and even to alarm, the Romans during nine years. He was at length brought to Rome as a prisoner ; and, it is said, as he walked in chains through the streets, amidst the throngs of people who were curious to see a man who had so long struggled against superior power, he exclaimed with surprise, “ How can a people, possessed of such magnificence at home, envy me a humble cottage in Britain ?” He pleaded his own
cause before Claudius, and was pardoned. It was by this emperor's order that the Druids were all put to death.
The ambitious Agrippina, anxious to see her son, who was just seventeen years of age, in possession of the empire, determined to poison her husband. As Claudius often ate till he was stupified, his attendants were not surprised at being called to carry him to bed in an insensible state after his supper. Agrippina had concealed the poison in a dish of mushrooms, of which the emperor was excessively fond, but, as he seemed likely to recover from the effects of it, she persuaded his physician to introduce a poisoned feather into his throat, under pretence of making him vomit; and in this manner he died, A.D. 55.
The latter part of the reign of Claudius takes us through the important events connected with the ministry of Paul (Acts xiii.axix). The command of Claudius that all Jews should depart from Rome, was the means of making Priscilla and Aquila, the Roman tent-makers, useful to the churches of the Gentiles, the instructors of Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew whom they met at Ephesus, and the helpers of Paul. How often the wrath of man is made to praise God, for He can over-rule it at any moment for his own glory! Throughout the reign of Claudius the state of things in Judea was becoming worse and worse. In A.D. 48, a quarrel arose between the Romans and Jews, and 20,000 of the latter were destroyed. In A.D. 51, Felix, the brother of Pallas, was appointed governor of Judea; and, under the protection of that powerful minister, he committed great crimes, as we shall hereafter relate.
REIGN OF NERO.—HIS CHARACTER AND CONDUCT.-DEATH OF
SENECA.-BURNING OF ROME.- PERSECUTION OF THE CARIS
TIANS.—CLOSE OF NERO'S REIGN. THERE is a time, said Solomon, wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt (Eccl. viii. 9); and the time of Nero's reign was as striking an example of this as we are furnished with in history.
The power which his mother was so anxious he should possess proved ruinous to him and to herself; so vain are human expectations of happiness from an exalted position. Seneca, one of the ablest teachers of morality that ever appeared among the heathens, was the tutor of Nero; and his pupil was at first universally admired for his justice, liberality, and humanity. On one occasion, when called upon to sign his name to the sentence of death written against a list of malefactors, the young emperor expressed a wish that he could not write; and, again, when the senate commended the wisdom of his government, be begged them to keep back their praise till he deserved it. But, as if to prove the vanity as well as uncertainty of that morality which does not flow from the life of God within, this was the man whose name is, to this day, proverbial for monstrous cruelty and self-exaltation.
Before he was twenty-one years of age, he became impatient of control or advice, and, after dismissing Seneca from his court, he caused his own mother to be killed. Instead of showing any sorrow for this act, he went to look at the dead body, and coldly remarked he had never before thought his mother such a beautiful woman, A.D. 59.
All the worst features in that dreadful picture of the state of the Gentiles, set before the church at Rome, only the year before, by the Epistle of Paul, are mentioned by the historians of the times in their description of Nero's character (Rom. i. 184-32). And when the head of the empire was such, it is not surprising that the torrent of iniquity was unchecked.
Even Juvenal, a poet of this age, exposes the vices of his countrymen with great severity, but in a manner so opposite to that of the Spirit of God by the hand of Paul, that it is plain he comes under the description of those “ Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in (or consent with) them that do them” (Rom. i. 32). The old Roman virtues, which a Christian writer has wisely called their “ splendid sins”-for, as we have seen, personal courage, temperance, patriotism, &c., were all used in the service of the kingdom of darkness-all these disappeared with their liberties, and were succeeded by the most unnatural vices. All the abominations that can be conceived accompanied the