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threatened to burn him alive. "I fear not the fire that burns for a moment; thou knowest not that which burns forever and ever!” His countenance was full of peace and joy, even when the executioner advanced into the midst of the assembly and thrice proclaimed, “Polycarp has professed himself a Christian.” The multitude, composed of Jews and heathen, replied with an overpowering shout. They demanded that he should be cast to the wild beasts. The Asiarch excused himself, by saying that the games were over. Then a general cry arose that Polycarp should be burned alive. A hasty but capacious funeral pile was gathered of the fuel of the baths and other combustibles. He was speedily disrobed; he requested not to be nailed to the stake; he was only bound to it. In a dignified and simple manner, he then offered the following prayer: “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of the well-beloved and ever-blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of thee, the God of angels, powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I thank thee that thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and this hour, that I may receive a portion in the number of thy martyrs, and drink of Christ's cup, for the resurrection to eternal life, both of the body and the soul, in the incorruptibleness of the Holy Spirit; among whom may I be admitted as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as thou, O true and faithful God, hast prepared, and foreshown, and accomplished. Wherefore I praise thee for all thy mercies; I bless thee; I glorify thee, with the eternal and heavenly Jesus Christ, thy beloved Son, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be glory now and forever."

The fire was kindled in vain, probably from some natural cause, though the early Christians deemed it supernatural.* Though the fire was kindled again, an executioner was sent to despatch the victim, and the blood which flowed from his side served to extinguish the flame. His body was subsequently reduced to ashes.

“ Such was the death of the blessed Polycarp,” says the Letter of the Church of Smyrna, “who, though he was the twelfth of those in Smyrna who, together with those from Philadelphia, suffered martyrdom, is yet chiefly celebrated by all men; insomuch that he is spoken of by the very Gentiles themselves, in every place, as having been not only an eminent teacher, but also a glorious martyr; whose death all desire to imitate, as having been every way conformable to the gospel of Christ." +

Patres Apos., (ed. Hefele,) p. 216.
+ Ibid. p. 219.

The martyrdom of Polycarp took place in the early part of the second century, when Christianity was yet in the freshness and purity of its first love.

At the close of the second century, Christianity, by the simple force of its inherent virtue, was spreading far and wide in every direction. It was felt as a power, not only in Rome, the capital of the empire, but in Africa on the one hand, and Gaul on the other. It had made its way beyond the confines of Arabia and Syria, as far as Hither India; nay, more, it had penetrated, with more or less success, among the barbarians of the British Isles. We do not indeed mean to affirm, that in these countries polytheism was not the recognized and predominant faith ; but we do mean to say, that Christianity was gradually taking its place, undermining its strength, and preparing its overthrow. The night of superstition was still deep and portentous, but the sunlight was piercing its depths, and glancing upwards and afar amid its broken shadows.

This was the age of conversion and proselytism, of struggle and self-sacrifice; consequently of simplicity, purity, and love. The might of the gospel was felt in the hearts of men; Jesus Christ was recognized as “ Head over all to the church;” pastors and people, united by fraternal ties, had one Lord, one faith, one baptism; in a word, freedom and brotherhood united the whole, and made them one in Christ.*

* In the Appendix, note G, will be found some interesting testimonies from Bunsen, Guizot, Ranke, Gibbon, and others, touching the organization and government of the primitive church.




The third century, in the history of Christianity, was one of struggle and transition, of partial corruption and splendid triumph. Embodied among men, it partook somewhat of their imperfections, and of the imperfections of the age. The times were evil, changing, and tumultuous. Corruptions the most horrible invaded the heart of Roman society. The old civic virtue was entirely lost. Scepticism and cruelty, luxury and lust, reigned among the patricians ; discontent and greed, selfishness and disloyalty, among the people. Rome grew weaker and weaker at the centre, more feverish and disturbed at the extremities. Now and then a good and able emperor ruled well for a few years, but the good he accomplished was obliterated by some weak or wicked successor. The army ruled the state, controlled the emperor, made and unmade the laws. Occasionally the Christians were tolerated, but oftener persecuted. Indeed, this was preëminently the age of persecution. Blood flowed in torrents. Thousands were thrown to the wild beasts, or murdered by the frantic populace.

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