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"The Great Empires of Prophecy"
A T Jones (1905)
This article sets out the basic principles behind the events of the books of Daniel and The Revelation. We are warned that there is nothing new under the sun, and should therefore take notice that when the conditions which provoked the religious laws of those books are reproduced they will undoubtedly provoke them again.
The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It has been already of old time, which was before us.
This article is made up of portions taken from the book "The Great Empires of Prophecy" by A T Jones. It was written in 1905 but has lost none of its relevance to todays religious activities.
All quotes have been italicized for convenience, and some former italics have been made bold. The page beginnings as marked are only approximate to allow sentences and phrases to remain uncut. Many paragraphs have been left out because they have no bearing on the main reason for this publication to show the enormous difference in attitudes between Christian and opposer.
Paragraph numbers are in the original. What may appear to be section headings are actually taken from the titles printed on the top of each right hand (odd numbered) page. The left hand (even numbered) page always carried the relevant chapter heading, but this is only entered once in this book. Bible references in square brackets have been added by the compiler.
Page 345 ANTAGONISTIC PRINCIPLES.
7. The controversy between the Christians and the Romans was not a dispute between individuals, nor a contention between sects or parties.
It was a contest between antagonistic principles.
It was, therefore a contest between Christianity and Rome, rather than between Christians and Romans. On the part of Christianity it was the proclamation of the principle of genuine liberty; on the part of Rome it was the assertion of the principle of genuine despotism.
On the part of Christianity it was the assertion of the principle of the rights of conscience and of the individual; on the part of Rome it was the assertion of the principle of the absolute absorption of the individual, and his total enslavement to the state in all things, divine as well as human, religious as well as civil.
Page 346 ROME AGAINST CHRISTIANITY
Jesus Christ came into this world to set men free, and to plant in their souls the genuine principle of liberty, - liberty actuated by love, liberty too honorable to allow itself to be used as an occasion to the flesh or for a cloak of maliciousness, liberty led by a conscience enlightened by the Spirit of God, liberty in which man may be free from all men, yet made so gentle by love that he would willingly become the servant of all, in order to bring to them the enjoyment of this same liberty. This is freedom indeed. This is the freedom which Christ gave to man; for whom the Son makes free is "free indeed." [John 8:36]
9. In giving to men this freedom, such an infinite gift could have no other result than that which Christ intended; namely, to bind them in everlasting, unquestioning, unswerving allegiance to Him as the royal benefactor of the race. He thus reveals Himself to men as the highest good, and brings them to Himself as the manifestation of that highest good, and to obedience to His wi11 as the perfection of conduct .
11. The Roman Empire then filled the world, "the sublimest incarnation of power, and a monument to the mightiest of greatness built by human hands, which has upon this planet been suffered to appear."
That empire, proud of its conquests, and exceedingly jealous of its claims, asserted its right to rule in all things, human and divine. In the Roman view, the State took precedence of everything. It was entirely out of respect to the State and wholly to preserve the State, that either the emperors or the laws ever forbade the exercise of the Christian religion. According to Roman principles, the State was the highest idea of good. "The idea of the State was the highest idea of ethics, and within that was included all actual realization of the highest good; hence the development of all other goods pertaining to humanity, was made dependent on this." Neander.
Page 347 THE ROMAN IDEA OF ETHICS
12. Man with all that he had was subordinated to the State; he must have no higher aim than to be a servant of the State; he must seek no higher good than that which the State could bestow. Thus every Roman citizen was a subject, and every Roman subject was a slave. "The more distinguished a Roman became, the less was he a free man. The omnipotence of the law, the despotism of the rule, drove him into a narrow circle of thought and action, and his credit and influence depended on the sad austerity of his life. The whole duty of man, with the humblest and greatest of Romans, was to keep his house in order, and be an obedient servant of the State." Mommsen.
13. It will be seen at once that for any man to profess the principles and the name of Christ was virtually to set himself against the Roman Empire. For him to recognize God as revealed in Jesus Christ as the highest good, was but treason against the Roman State. It was not looked upon by Rome as anything else than high treason; because, as the Roman State represented to the Romans the highest idea of good, for any man to assert that there was a higher good, was to make Rome itself subordinate.
And this would not be looked upon in any other light by Roman pride than as a direct blow at the dignity of Rome, and subversive to the Roman State. Consequently the Christians were not only called "atheists", because they denied the gods, but the accusation against them before the tribunals was of the crime of "high treason", because they denied the right of the State to interfere with mens relations to God. The common accusation against them was that they were "irreverent to the Caesars, and enemies of the Caesars and of the Roman people" ..
15. This idea of the State was not merely the State as a civil institution, but as a divine institution, and the highest conception of divinity itself.
The genius [or benefactor] of Rome was the supreme deity. Thus the idea of the State as the highest good was the religious idea; consequently religion was inseparable from the State. All religious views were to be held subordinate to the State, and all religion was only the servant of the State.
16. The genius [or benefactor] of the Roman State being to the Roman mind the chief deity, since Rome had conquered all nations, it was demonstrated to the Roman mind that Rome was superior to all the gods that were known. And though Rome allowed nations to maintain the worship of their national gods, these as well as the conquered people were considered only as the servants of the Roman State. Every religion was held subordinate to the religion of Rome, and though "all forms of religion might come to Rome and take their place in its pantheon, they must come as servants of the State."
17. The State being the Romans conception of the highest good, Romes own gods derived all their dignity from the fact that they were recognized as such by the State. It was counted by the Romans an act of the greatest condescension and an evidence of the greatest possible favor to bestow State recognition upon any foreign gods, or to allow any Roman subject to worship any other gods than those recognized by the Roman State. A fundamental maxim of Roman legislation was:-
"No man shall have for himself particular gods of his own; no man shall worship by himself any new or foreign gods, unless they are recognized by public laws." Cicero.
18. Again: the Roman State being the supreme deity, "the senate and the people" were but organs through which its ideas were expressed; hence the maxim, Vox populi, vox dei, — the voice of the people is the voice of God.
Page 349 "VOX POPULI, VOX DEI"
As this voice gave expression to the will of the supreme deity, and consequently of the highest good, and as this will was expressed in the form of laws, hence again the Roman maxim, "What the law says is right."
19. It is very evident that in such a system there was no place for individuality. The State was everything, and the majority was in fact the State. What the majority said should be, that was the voice of the State, that was the voice of God, that was the expression of the highest good, that was the expression of the highest conception of right; and everybody must assent to that or be considered a traitor to the State. The individual was but a part of the State. Therefore there was no such thing as the rights of the people; the right of the State only was to be considered, and that was to be considered absolute.
"The first principle of their law was the paramount right of the State over the citizen. Whether as head of a family, or as a proprietor, he had no natural rights of his own; his privileges were created by the law as well as defined by it. The State in the plenitude of her power delegated a portion of her own irresponsibility (sic) to the citizen, who satisfied the conditions she required in order to become the parent of her children; but at the same time she demanded of him the sacrifice of his free agency to her own rude ideas of political expediency." Merivale.
20. It is also evident that in such a system there was no such thing as the rights of conscience; because as the State was supreme also in the realm of religion, all things religious were to be subordinated to the will of the State, which was but the will of the majority. And where the majority presumes to decide in matters of religion, there is no such thing as rights of religion or conscience. Against this whole system Christianity was diametrically opposed .
70. Therefore when Christianity had become quite generally spread throughout the empire, it seemed to such emperors as Marcus Aurelius, Decius, Valerian, and Diocletian emperors who most respected Roman institutions - that the very existence of the empire was at stake. Consequently their opposition to Christianity was but an effort to save the State, and was considered by them as the most reasonable and laudable thing in the world. It was only as a matter of State policy that they issued edicts or emphasized those already issued for the suppression of Christianity. In making or enforcing laws against the Christians it was invariably the purpose of these emperors to restore and to preserve the ancient/ dignity and glory of the Roman State. In an inscription by Diocletian, it is distinctly charged that by Christianity the State was being overturned. His views on this subject are seen in the following extract from one of his edicts: -
"The immortal gods have, by their providence, arranged and established what is right. Many wise and good men are agreed that this should be maintained unaltered. They ought not to be opposed. No new religion must presume to censure the old, since it is the greatest of crimes to overturn what has been once established by our ancestors, and what has supremacy in the State."
71. This is further shown by the following words from the edict of Galerius putting a stop to the persecution of Christianity: -
"Among other matters which we have devised for the benefit and common advantage of our people, we have first determined to restore all things according to the ancient/ laws and the public institutions of the Romans. And to make provision for this, that also the Christians, who have left the religion of their fathers, should return again to a good purpose and resolution."
72. With persecution proceeding from these four sources, it is evident that from the day that Christ sent forth his disciples to preach the gospel, the Christians were not certain of a moment's peace.
page 367 THE GOVERNMENTAL SYSTEM AT FAULT.
It might be that they could live
a considerable length of time unmolested;
yet they were at no time sure that it would be so, because they were subject at all times to the spites and caprices of individuals and the populace.
At any hour of the day or night any Christian was liable to be arrested and prosecuted before the tribunals, or to be made the butt of the capricious and violent temper of the heathen populace.
Yet to no one of these sources more than another, could be attributed the guilt or the dishonor of the persecution; because each one was but the inevitable fruit of that system from which persecution is inseparable.
74. The theory which attaches
blame to the emperors as the persecutors of
the Christians is a mistaken one; because the emperor was but the
representative, the embodiment, of the State itself. The State of
Rome was a system built up by the accumulated wisdom of all the
Roman ages; and to expect him whose chief pride was that he was a
Roman, and who was conscious that it was the highest possible
honor to be a Roman emperor,
- to expect such a one to defer to the views of a new and despised sect of religionists whose doctrines were entirely antagonistic to the entire system of which he was a representative, would be to expect more than Roman pride would bear. As the case stood, to have done such a thing would have been to make himself one of the despised sect, or else the originator of another one, worthy only, in the eyes of the populace, of the same contempt as these. Of course we know now that the emperors should have done just that thing, and they were told then that they ought to do it; but the fact is nevertheless that Roman pride would not yield. Nor is this the only case of the kind in the history of Christianity.
75. The theory that would make the govemors responsible, is likewise a mistaken one; because the governors were simply the officers of the State, set over a particular province to conduct the affairs of the government and to maintain the laws. It was not in their power to set aside the laws, although, as we have seen, some of them even went as far as possible in that direction rather than cause the Christians to suffer by enforcing the law.
Page 368 AGAINST CHRISTIANITY
76. The only theory that will stand the test at all is that which places upon the priests and the people the guilt of the persecutions.
They were the ones who did it from real bitterness of the persecuting spirit. And yet to attach all the blame to these, would be a mistake; because it would have been impossible for them to persecute had it not been for the system of government of which they were a part.
77. Had the State been totally separated from religion, taking no cognizance of it in any way whatever; had the State confined itself to its proper jurisdiction, and used its power and authority to compel people to be civil and to maintain the public peace, it would have been impossible for either people, priests, governors, or emperors, to be persecutors. Had there been no laws on the subject of religion, no laws enforcing respect for the gods nor prohibiting the introduction of new religions, - even though religious controversies might have arisen, and having arisen, even had they engendered bitter controversies and stirred up spiteful spirits, - it would have been impossible for any party to do any manner of wrong to another.
78. Instead of this, however, the Roman government was a system in which religion was inseparable from the State - a system in which the religion recognized was held as essential to the very existence of the State; and the laws which compelled respect to this religion were but the efforts of the State at self-preservation. Therefore there was a system permanently established, and an instrument formed, ready to be wielded by every one of these agencies to persecute the professors of that religion.
79. Except in cases of the open violence of the mob, all that was done in any instance by any of the agencies mentioned was to enforce the law.
If the Christians had obeyed the laws, they never would have been persecuted. But that was the very point at issue. It was not right to obey the laws. The laws were wrong. To obey the laws was to cease to be a Christian. To obey the laws was to dishonor God and to deny Christ.
To obey the laws was to consent that mankind should be deprived of the blessing of both civil and religious liberty, as well as to forfeit for themselves eternal life.,
page 369 GROUND OF GOVERNMENTAL PERSECUTION.
80. If religion be properly a matter of State, - and rightfully, a subject of legislation, then there never was any such thing as persecution of the Christians by the Roman State. And what is more, that being so, there never has been in all history any governmental persecution on account of religion. If religion be properly a subject of legislation and of law, then it is the right of the State to make any laws it may choose on the subject of religion; and it is its right to attach to these laws whatever penalty will most surely secure proper respect for the religion chosen. And if the legislation be right, if the law be right, the enforcement of the law, under whatever penalty, can not be wrong. Consequently if religion be properly a matter of the State, of legislation, and of law, there never was and there never can be any such thing as persecution by any State or kingdom on account of religion, or for conscience' sake.
81. From all these evidences it is certain that the real blame and the real guilt of the persecution of the Christians by the Roman Empire lay in the pagan theory of State and government - the union of religion and the State.
This was the theory of the
State, and the only theory that then held sway, and this
necessarily embodied both a civil and a religious despotism.
And as Jesus Christ came into the world to set men free and to plant in their hearts and minds the genuine principles of liberty, it was proper that He should command that this message of freedom and this principle of liberty should be proclaimed in all the world to every creature, even though it should meet with the open hostility of earth's mightiest power.
And proclaim it His disciples did, at the expense of heavy privations and untold sufferings.
82. "Among the authentic records of pagan persecutions, there are histories which display, perhaps more vividly than any other, both the depth of cruelty to which human nature may sink and the heroism of resistance it may attain. . . .[this break is in the original]. The most horrible recorded instances of torture were usually inflicted either by the populace or in their presence in the arena. We read of Christians bound in chairs of red-hot iron, while the stench of their half-consumed flesh rose in a suffocating cloud to heaven; of others who were torn to the very bone by shells or hooks of iron;
of holy virgins given over to the lust of the gladiator, or to the mercies of the pander; of two hundred and twenty-seven converts sent on one occasion to the mines, each with the sinews of one leg severed by a red-hot iron, and with an eye scooped from its socket; of fires so slow that the victims writhed for hours in their agonies; of bodies torn limb from limb, or sprinkled with burning lead; of mingled salt and vinegar poured over the flesh that was bleeding from the rack; of tortures prolonged and varied through entire days. For the love of their divine Master, for the cause they believed to be true, men, and even weak girls, endured these things without flinching, when one word would have freed them from their sufferings. No opinion we may form of the proceedings of priests in a later age, should impair the reverence with which we bend before the martyr's tomb." Lecky.
83. All this was endured by men and women, and even weak girls, that people in future ages might be free - free to worship according to the dictates of their own consciences - free both civilly and religiously. All this was endured in support of the principle, announced to Israel before they entered Canaan; to Nebuchadnezzar and all his officers and people; to Darius the Mede and all his presidents, princes, and people; and now to all the world for all time;
the divine principle that with religion
civil government can of right have nothing to do
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