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THE BOOK OF MARTYRS
by John Foxe
Persecutions of the Christians by the Goths and Vandals
Many Scythian Goths having embraced Christianity about the time of Constantine the Great, the light of the Gospel spread itself considerably in Scythia, though the two kings who ruled that country and the majority of the people continued pagans. Fritegern, king of the West Goths, was an ally to the Romans, but Athanarich, king of the East Goths, was at war with them. The Christians, in the dominions of the former, lived unmolested, but the latter, having been defeated by the Romans, wreaked his vengeance on his Christian subjects, commencing his pagan injunctions in the year 370.
In religion the Goths were Arians, and called themselves Christians; therefore they destroyed all the statues and temples of the heathen gods, but did no harm to the orthodox Christian churches. Alaric had all the qualities of a great general. To the wild bravery of the Gothic barbarian he added the courage and skill of the Roman soldier. He led his forces across the Alps into Italy, and although driven back for the time, returned afterward with an irresistible force.
The Last Roman “Triumph”
After this fortunate victory over the Goths a “triumph,” as it was called, was celebrated at Rome. For hundreds of years successful generals had been awarded this great honor on their return from a victorious campaign. Upon such occasions the city was given up for days to the marching of troops laden with spoils, and who dragged after them prisoners of war, among whom were often captive kings and conquered generals. This was to be the last Roman triumph, for it celebrated the last Roman victory. Although it had been won by Stilicho, the general, it was the boy emperor, Honorius, who took the credit, entering Rome in the car of victory, and driving to the Capitol amid the shouts of the populace. Afterward, as was customary on such occasions, there were bloody combats in the Coliseum, where gladiators, armed with swords and spears, fought as furiously as if they were on the field of battle.
The first part of the bloody entertainment was finished; the bodies of the dead were dragged off with hooks, and the reddened sand covered with a fresh, clean layer. After this had been done the gates in the wall of the arena were thrown open, and a number of tall, well-formed men in the prime of youth and strength came forward. Some carried swords, others three-pronged spears and nets. They marched once around the walls, and stopping before the emperor, held up their weapons at arm’s length, and with one voice sounded out their greeting, Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant! “Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!”
The combats now began again; the gladiators with nets tried to entangle those with swords, and when they succeeded mercilessly stabbed their antagonists to death with the three-pronged spear. When a gladiator had wounded his adversary, and had him lying helpless at his feet, he looked up at the eager faces of the spectators, and cried out, Hoc habet! “He has it!” and awaited the pleasure of the audience to kill or spare.
If the spectators held out their hands toward him, with thumbs upward, the defeated man was taken away, to recover if possible from his wounds. But if the fatal signal of “thumbs down” was given, the conquered was to be slain; and if he showed any reluctance to present his neck for the death blow, there was a scornful shout from the galleries, Recipe ferrum! “Receive the steel!” Privileged persons among the audience would even descend into the arena, to better witness the death agonies of some unusually brave victim, before his corpse was dragged out at the death gate.
The show went on; many had been slain, and the people, madly excited by the desperate bravery of those who continued to fight, shouted their applause. But suddenly there was an interruption. A rudely clad, robed figure appeared for a moment among the audience, and then boldly leaped down into the arena. He was seen to be a man of rough but imposing presence, bareheaded and with sun-browned face. Without hesitating, an instant he advanced upon two gladiators engaged in a life-and-death struggle, and laying his hand upon one of them sternly reproved him for shedding innocent blood, and then, turning toward the thousands of angry faces ranged around him, called upon them in a solemn, deep-toned, voice which resounded through the deep enclosure. These were his words: “Do not requite God’s mercy in turning away the swords of your enemies by murdering each other!”
Angry shouts and cries at once drowned his voice: “This is no place for preaching!— the old customs of Rome must be observed!— On, gladiators!” Thrusting aside the stranger, the gladiators would have again attacked each other, but the man stood between, holding them apart, and trying in vain to be heard. “Sedition! sedition! down with him!” was then the cry; and the gladiators, enraged at the interference of an outsider with their chosen vocation, at once stabbed him to death. Stones, or whatever missiles came to hand, also rained down upon him from the furious people, and thus he perished, in the midst of the arena.
His dress showed him to be one of the hermits who vowed themselves to a holy life of prayer and self-denial, and who were reverenced by even the thoughtless and combat-loving Romans. The few who knew him told how he had come from the wilds of Asia on a pilgrimage, to visit the churches and keep his Christmas at Rome; they knew he was a holy man, and that his name was Telemachus— no more. His spirit had been stirred by the sight of thousands flocking to see men slaughter one another, and in his simple-hearted zeal he had tried to convince them of the cruelty and wickedness of their conduct. He had died, but not in vain. His work was accomplished at the moment he was struck down, for the shock of such a death before their eyes turned the hearts of the people: they saw the hideous aspects of the favorite vice to which they had blindly surrendered themselves; and from the day Telemachus fell dead in the Coliseum, no other fight of gladiators was ever held there.
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” —Romans 5:1-11
Justification by faith FLOURISHES BY THE CROSS of Jesus Christ. All that we will become matures by God’s grace because it comes by the truth of the Cross. Therefore being justified by faith… “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, ESV).
The word “experience” in the KJV can be translated “tested character.” The NASB calls it “proven character.” The joy in our hope of the glory of God increases as we grow in grace. I have often taught in the past that hope is a certainty that doesn’t know “when;” but it is also a certainty that hasn’t been fully realized or hasn’t been ultimately fulfilled. Hope’s ultimate fulfillment is in the return of Christ, as it is written in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” Until that day, through the truth of justification by grace through faith, God is working all things together for good… that we may be conformed to the image of Christ by God’s sovereign will and decree (Romans 8:28-29). Every persevering trial, tribulation and situation that we face works in us to build your character and mine as Christian believers because it is based upon the Cross of Christ (justification) and built up in the Cross of Christ (sanctification). Again, as Romans 1:17 tells us, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” That God’s righteousness through his crucified Son is revealed from “faith to faith” means that saving faith is not still. Justification by faith is not stagnant; it grows. The Christian life is strengthened with each trial it endures (see Romans 4:20). Where does it flourish? In what ways does it grow?
We have PEACE because we are justified by faith in Christ crucified (Romans 5:1). It is peace that grows beyond our intellects, as we are told by the apostle elsewhere: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
We have ACCESS INTO THIS GRACE because we are justified by faith in Christ crucified (Romans 5:2); yet, we are not merely in God’s presence, for we are reconciled to God (Romans 5:10, 11), as we are also encouraged by the Spirit through the New Testament writings: “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
We have JOY because we are justified by faith in Christ crucified (Romans 5:2, 11). It is joy that increases beyond the frailty of our emotions, as we are reminded by Peter in his first general epistle: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
We have the LOVE OF GOD and THE FULLNESS OF THE INDWELLING SPIRIT because we are justified by faith in Christ crucified (Romans 5:5). It is a love that matures beyond our learning and it is a relationship with the indwelling God unto overflowing, as we are told by the Spirit of God through Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:17-21).
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Read the previous article in this series, “Justification is Focused on the Atonement” (Romans 5:1-11).
“Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? —John 9:35
Numbers of moral, amiable, generous, and even religious people have not believed on the Son of God. Excuse me, I cannot let you slip through in the crowd, I must lay hold upon you with a holy vehemence, that even forgets courtesy for the moment, and I must say to the best of you, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”
Though this man had been scrupulously obedient, yet our Lord asked the question. It may be, I speak to some who say, “I have been at all times obedient to the duties of religion. Whatever I have found to be commanded of God in his Word, I have carefully carried out.” Was it not so with this man born blind? The Saviour put clay upon his eyes, and told him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash off the clay, and the man did exactly as he was told. He did not go to another pool, but to the pool of Siloam; and he did not attempt to get the clay from his eyes by any other process than that of washing. He was very obedient to Christ; yet the Lord said to him, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” No outward observances, however carefully carried out, will obviate the need of the enquiry, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” I am afraid some of you have not been very careful in fulfilling outward ordinances, and for this you are blameworthy; but if you had been scrupulously exact, yet no outward observances, however carefully followed out, can exempt you from the question, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”
Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Delivered Sunday, April 4, 1890
at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 36, Sermon No. 2141
“The Question of Questions”
“He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.” —Psalm 103:9
God chastens and chides his children, next, because if he did not so, others of the family would follow their ill example. If I knew a man who lived in sin, and yet enjoyed the light of God’s countenance, should I not naturally conclude that I also may live as he does, and yet walk in the light as God is in the light? If we had heard of David’s sin with Bathsheba, and had never read of his horror of soul, his broken bones and bleeding heart, should we not have inferred that we also might fall into the like filthiness, and find it a very small matter to return into the way of righteousness again? Every father among you knows that he has often to deal with his child’s ill doing, not only for its own sake but for the sake of his younger children; for if the fault were overlooked they might come to do the same. Sometimes a frown which might have been spared the individual, considered by himself, must be put upon the parent’s face for the sake of brothers and sisters, lest they should fall into like fault. Remember that the Lord has a large family, and like a wise father he considers the interests of all, consequently he does not allow sin to go unchidden, lest it breed folly in others.
Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Delivered Sunday Morning, May 3, 1874
at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 20, Sermon No. 1171
“The Lord Chiding His People”
“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” —Romans 9:30-33
Notice that these people made a mistake at the very beginning; it may not seem a great one, but it was so in reality. Israel did not follow after righteousness, but after “the law of righteousness.” They missed the spirit, which is righteousness, and followed after the mere letter of the law. To be really righteous was not their aim, but to do righteousness was their utmost notion. They looked at “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” and so forth; but to love God with all their heart was not thought of, and yet this is the essence of righteousness. They looked at the letter of the law, and were careful to pay tithe upon mint and anise, and to attend to all sorts of small points and niceties; but to cleanse the heart and purify the motive did not occur to them. They thought of what a man does, but they forgot the importance of what a man is. Love to God, and likeness to God, were forgotten in a servile attempt to observe the letter of the law. So we see everywhere, people nowadays consider what kind of dress a clergyman ought to wear on a certain day, and which position he should occupy at the communion, and what should be the decoration of the place of worship, and what should be the proper music for the hymn, and so forth; but to what purpose is all this? To be right in heart with God, to trust in his dear Son, and to be renewed in his image, is better than all ritual. Among ourselves there are certain people who are nothing if they are not orthodox: they make a man an offender for a word, and are never so happy as when they are up to their necks in controversy. In each case the external and the letter are preferred to the inward and the spiritual. O my dear hearers, escape from this error; be not so eager for the shell as to lose the kernel, so zealous for the form of godliness as to deny the power thereof!
Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Delivered Sunday Morning, May 1, 1887
at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 33, Sermon No. 1961
“S.S.: or The Sinner Saved”