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REIGN OF NERO.
increase of wealth and luxury in the Roman empire, and these were at their height in the reign of Nero.
Nero, from his childhood, was fond of those pursuits which are commonly encouraged as tending to soften the feelings and refine the mind. He delighted in music and poetry; and, in order to improve a naturally hoarse voice, sometimes passed a day without food : he performed publicly at the theatre in Rome, and went into Greece to contend for the prizes offered to those who excelled in chariot-racing and wrestling. Although he was outdone by others, the flattering spectators declared him the victor; and he returned to Italy in the pride of an eastern conqueror, followed by a company of dancers and singers. His conduct then became daily more abominable. He divorced his wife Octavia, and having married Poppea, killed her soon after by a violent blow with his foot, A.D. 65. About the same period, he condemned Seneca to die with many others, who were accused of conspiring against his life, and, as a particular favour to his former preceptor, allowed him to choose his own mode of death. The character of Seneca among the Romans, resembles that of Socrates among the Greeks; but so many Christian precepts are found in the writings of the former, that it seems probable he had learned something of the blessed doctrine that was then spreading at Rome. Seneca chose to have his veins opened, and, as he was slowly dying, dictated a moral discourse ; but, as his agony became great, he drank poison to hasten his escape from bodily suffering, and that not operating quickly, he was suffocated. His affectionate wife, Paulina, wished to die with him, but when she fainted from loss of blood, her veins were closed and she long survived him.
In A.D. 64, Nero, like a madman casting firebrands for his own sport, ordered the city of Rome to be set on fire in several places ; partly, it appears, that he might build a great palace for himself, and partly, that he might be gratified by a sight similar to that of which he had read the glowing description in Homer's verses on the burning of Troy; and, it is said, whilst the flames were spreading, and the streets filled with lamentations, the emperor gazed at the scene from a high tower, and sung to his lyre those same verses of the Greek poet. At the end of seven days, the fire was extinguished ; but five-sevenths of the city were destroyed, for out of the
fourteen quarters into which it was divided, only four remained entire. Nero soon contrived to escape the public indignation by offering to rebuild the city at his own expense with greater magnificence, and by accusing the Christians as the authors of this terrible calamity.
It is possible that the Christians were at first considered as a sect of the Jews, whose difference from their brethren was not a matter of general interest : but when they were manifestly separated from them, after their rejection of the apostle's testimony, as recorded in the close of the Acts, they were likely to attract more attention, and soon became the objects of the suspicion and enmity of the Gentiles. The religion of the Jews was in some measure understood ; for it was well known they had a temple at Jerusalem, where sacrifices were offered, and an established priesthood existed : but as the Christians had no temple, and nothing in their religion that a natural man could understand, the common thought was that they were atheists ; and this we shall find was the constant accusation brought against them. Horrid tales were circulated concerning the practices supposed to be carried on in their private meetings; and, though any one might have gone amongst them to prove the truth or falsehood of these reports, it was boldly said they concealed what they were ashamed to disclose. Nero thought he would turn the general hatred against these despised people, in order to screen himself; and he commenced a cruel persecution, under pretence that they were guilty of setting the city on fire : but even Tacitus, the historian of these times, whilst he expresses himself with great bitterness towards the Christians, says that people could not help pitying them, because it was clear they suffered to gratify a tyrant's cruelty, and not for the public good.
It seems as if the devil on this occasion, as on many others, had been busied in inventing every mode of making death horrible, knowing that it was the last act of his power against the Lord's people, as they were on the point of escaping him for ever. Some were crucified by Nero's order in his own gardens; others, covered with the skins of wild beasts, were torn to pieces by dogs. Some of the bodies were covered with wax, or other combustible materials, and, being fixed upright with stakes, were used as torches, to give light to the spectators who attended the public entertainments given by the
emperor. This persecution extended even to distant parts of the empire'; for an inscription was found in a village of Portugal to this effect :-"Nero Augustus, High-priest, &c., on account of his having cleared the province of robbers, and of those who taught mankind the new superstition.”* Thus, as Paul says, the faithful witnesses for Christ in his days were counted as the filth of the earth, and the offscouring of all things. Nero, in this monument to his own honour, classes them with robbers; and Tacitus, speaking of their appearing in the capital, remarks it is the place where everything filthy and wicked centres, as in a common sewer.
The Christians suffered meekly, and it might have been said to Nero and his officers, “ Ye have condemned and killed the just, and he doth not resist you.” But it was not so with other subjects of his tyranny, for a great many plots were formed against his life by those who hated him for his cruelty and extravagance. Lucan, the first poet of the age, was condemned to death for taking part in one of these conspiracies. His veins were opened, and, as he saw his hands and legs becoming lifeless, he repeated aloud a passage in his poem on the battle of Pharsalia, describing the death of a wounded soldier from loss of blood. The indifference of Petronius, an Epicurean, in the same circumstances, is another proof that he who has the power of death often disguises its terrors to those who have the sting of it, even sin, most deeply fixed in their souls. He employed his dying hours in the gayest conversation with his friends, reciting the lightest poems, and betrayed nothing like fear, by any word or look. Whilst Nero was becoming more hateful to his people, his self-idolatry increased, and he acted as if every thing were to minister to his pleasure, and without any consideration of the needy. The palace which he built for himself was so magnificent, that, if the descriptions of it are true, it exceeded in splendour anything that has ever been seen in the world. Its entrance was lofty enough to admit a statue of the emperor one hundred and twenty feet high, and the covered galleries which enclosed the pleasure grounds, were a mile in length, and filled with grand apartments. The ceilings of the dining halls were so contrived as to represent the firmament with the heavenly bodies in motion;
* This does not rest upon good authority.
and the whole palace was covered with a gilded roof, so that it was commonly called the golden house. The space in the centre contained wooded grounds, ornamental gardens, and artificial lakes, where Nero amused himself with fishing with nets made of gold and silk. The emperor was also so extravagant in his dress, that he would never wear the same robe twice, so that he required multitudes of servants to attend to his wardrobe. When his palace was finished, he exclaimed with delight, “ I can now lodge like a man;" but his pleasure was soon over.
In A.D. 66, the news of a determined revolt in such a small province as Judea astonished the emperor ; for the greatest part of Europe quietly wore the Roman yoke, and none but the Parthians were in hostile independence in Asia. He protessed, however, to despise his Jewish enemies, but the proofs they had already given of their bravery, led him to see the importance of appointing one of his bravest generals to head the legions sent against them. He chose Vespasian, who had long practised the arts of war with success among the fierce savages of Britain and Germany, and forgave him the offence of having refused to admire his singing, for which he was in prison at the time.
Nero had offended his generals abroad as much as his subjects at home; for some of his most faithful officers were, at different periods, sacrificed to his jealousy. In A.D. 68, Servius Galba, general of the armies in Spain and Germany, accepted the invitation of the discontented citizens, and marched towards Rome. As soon as Nero heard of his approach, he escaped into the country; and Galba was proclaimed emperor by the Prætorians, with the approval of the senate. The tyrant was condemned to die as the vilest malefactor ; but he stabbed himself that he might not be taken alive.
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH DURING THE REIGN OF NERO. —
PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL. -THE LAW NOT BINDING ON THE GENTILES. — EPISTLE OF JAMES. – EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. - CHURCHES IN THE HEATHEN CITIES.- TAE CLOSE OF PAUL'S LABOURS.-MARTYRDOM OF PAUL AND PETER.
It is most desirable and important to trace the history of the Church of God as it may be gathered from the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, for in these writings it is given us, not by any partial observer, but by the Spirit of Truth himself.
God, infinitely wise, who arranged all his dispensations towards the human family before the foundation of the world, proved his long-suffering in his dealings with the Jewish nation at the close of this dispensation ; and gradually instructed his children who belonged to that nation, showing them the beauty of the new garment whilst he drew away the old ; filling them as new bottles with new wine, whilst he dried up the old wine in the old bottles. The Jewish believers well knew that circumcision and the whole of the Mosaical law came from God; and they could not give up the one or the other till they were instructed by the Spirit of God. Moreover, the question naturally arose, Was it necessary for the Gentile believers to be brought under the same yoke ?
After the awful death of Herod Agrippa, the word of God, the blessed seed scattered everywhere, grew and multiplied; and Paul, as an extraordinary witness of the grace of God, was called with Barnabas to leave the church at Antioch for a while, and to preach in other cities. In every place the synagogues of the Jews were first visited ; and they proceeded through the island of Cyprus, where they abounded. It was there that Elymas, a child of the devil, tried to prevent the Roman prefect from believing the glad tidings brought by the servants of Christ ; and it was only when Elymas was struck blind that he believed. Thus we shall now continually find the Jew seeking to hinder the Gentile from receiving the Messiah whom he rejects. At Antioch, in Pisidia, Paul delivered the fullest testimony concerning Christ in the synagogue, ending thus : “Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through