Martyrdom of Stephen



Gods people, though dear to God, yet usually have been in an afflicted estate

FOr the first: Gods people, although dear and precious in his eyes, yet they have usually been an afflicted people in all generations unto this day. When God was making his Covenant with Abraham, Gen. 15:12. at the going down of the Sun a deep sleep fell upon him: and lo, a horror of great darkness was on him; and ver. 17. a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp passed between his sacrifice, and the Lord tells him of the bondage of his seed in Egypt. The afflicted condition of Gods people who were to come from Abraham, was shown by the horror of darkness, and the smoking furnace: And this is observable, As at the first great Promise that was made for Gods choosing of a people to himself out of Abrahams loins, their afflicted estate was set out; so where we have the great promise of the Gospel, the largest of any in the Gospel, for the encouragement of those who are willing to part with anything for Christ, even there persecution is annexed: for so the words are, Mark 10:29, 30.

There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my sake, and the Gospels, but he shall receive a hundred fold now in this life, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life; Persecutions come in amongst all those great things that are there promised. Israel is a people afflicted from their youth, Psal. 129:1. When God appeared to Moses, to send him a deliverer of his people, he appeared to him in a burning bush, to set out the afflicted estate of his people.

If the people of God might have a Herald to give Arms to them, as some other Professions and Societies have, the best and most suitable, would be such as Mr. Hooper that holy Martyr had when he was made Bishop of Worcester, A Lamb in a flaming bush, with rays of the Sun from Heaven shining on it: a Lamb for meekness, in a bush burning, amongst wicked men, who are as brambles and thorns, burning with malice, and yet the sweet influence and comfortable light of heaven let out upon it.

When Ignatius came to the wild beasts, to be devoured of them, and his bones crushed between their teeth; Now (says he) I begin to be a Christian: Blessed Mr. Bradford writing to the Town of Walden, to encourage them to suffer, saith, that that Christian hath not learned his A.B.C. in Christianity, who hath not learned the lesson of the Cross. A Christian is a Cross-bearer, says Luther. As God made the evening and the morning to be the first day, and so the second, &c. So the day of Gods people, God hath made to be the evening of troubles here, and the everlasting morning of glory and happiness hereafter. It is an expression of Mr. Calvin, The godly (says he) have their dark shadow of troubles before them, and their brightness of glory behind to come hereafter, but the men of the world have their brightness before them.

Men use to bring out their best first, and reserve the worst till afterwards, but Gods dealing with his people is otherwise, their worst is first with them. The way to Canaan is through the wilderness, even after a sore and tedious bondage; yea, and when God brought his people into Canaan, he brought them into the worst part of Canaan first, into the southern part, which was the most dry and barren part of the land. The way to Zion is through the valley of Baca, Psal. 84:6.

Many are the troubles of the righteous, saith David, Psal. 34:19. According to that of the Apostles, Acts 14:22. Through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God. Psalm 22. is a prophetical Psalm of Christs sufferings, and the title is upon Aijeleth Shehar, which signifies the morning Hart or Stag, such a one as the Huntsmen sever out in the morning from the rest, to hunt for that day. Such was Christ, and such is his Church, as the morning Stag severed out to be hunted and worried by the world. In the world ye shall have tribulation, saith our Savior to his disciples, John 16:33. we cannot follow Christ, and be his Disciples, but upon these terms, Mat. 16:24. Others use to invite Followers with promises of honors and riches, but Christ tells the worst at first, what we are like to find; we must be content to take up our cross, not to endure it by compulsion, and constraint, but to take it up willingly and cheerfully: Secondly, not what cross we will, we must not choose our cross, but what is appointed for us.

He must take up his cross. But this cross it may be shall be but now and then.

Yes, Luke 9:23. He must take up his cross daily.

But if every day, I hope it is an easy cross.

Nay, it is a killing cross; 1 Cor. 15:31. I die daily, saith St. Paul.

But yet I hope there may be refreshings some part of the day.

Not so neither; Rom. 8:36. For thy sake are we killed all the day long; that is, in regard of the danger of death: Secondly, in regard of some beginnings that we suffer: Thirdly, in regard of our willingness to undergo it.

Since the days of John Baptist the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force, Mat. 11:12. this is ordinarily taken for the greediness of the peoples embracing Johns Ministery, but it rather seems to be spoken of another kind of violence, namely, the violence of opposition and persecution, in which the enemies of the Gospel seek to lay violent hands upon it; for he tells them presently, Verse 16, 17, 18. that the Jews were as wayward children, that nothing would please them, but said that John had a Devil; they were therefore rather violent against his Ministery, then violent in embracing of his Ministery.

2 Tim. 3:12. All that will live godly, must suffer persecution:

First all] Every one must expect it, although it is true, God calls not all to the like sufferings, yet he exempts none from some degree or other, let him be as wise, and as discreet as he will, yet if godly, he shall not escape. Christ was the best Preacher that ever was, he lived the most inoffensively that ever any did, and yet while he was preaching, the Pharisees blew their noses at him in scorn and derision;* for so the word signifies in the Original, Luke 16:14. which is translated, derided him. And at another time they would have broke his neck, by casting him from a steep hill, after he had done his Sermon. Saint Paul the most famous Preacher next to Christ, that ever was, and yet he was accounted a babler, a pestilent fellow, his Sermons were accounted factious and seditious.

Secondly, He that will live godly.] The Devil will let a man have many wishes and desires, these are not persecuted; but he that will, if he be set upon it, absolutely resolved that he will, and nothing shall hinder, then he must make account to suffer: When the woman in the Revelations, Chap. 12. was ready to bring forth her Child, the Dragon sought to devour it, he meddled not with her all the while she was a breeding.

Thirdly, he that will live.] If he keep his godliness in his heart, and not discover it in his life, he may go on well enough, but these shows of godliness the world cannot endure. Wickedness must appear with open face, but godliness must keep within doors: Wickedness trades openly, but godliness must keep in as a bankrupt, that dare not be seen.

Fourthly, he that will live godly.] Not civilly only, for a man to live fairly, lovingly, justly amongst men, to keep from crying sins, and here to rest, this man perhaps may escape sufferings; but if he begins to live godly, to go beyond morality in his profession, then he must expect to suffer.

Fifthly, he that will live godly in Christ Jesus: that is, in the vertue, strength and power of Christ Jesus;* The other may be done without knowledge of Christ, but this godliness in Christ Jesus is that which is persecuted in the world [godly in Christ Jesus.]

That is, first real and true godliness, not the shadow of godliness:

A Wolf flies not upon a painted sheep, we can look upon a painted toad with delight: There are some forms, and shadows of godliness entertained in the world, but the reality and truth of godliness is that which is hated, and opposed.

Secondly, godliness in Christ Jesus, is exact godliness, it carries a soul to a higher pitch then morality doth; now a man begins to live in a higher course of Religion, to be strict in his ways, to tremble at the least sin, to devote himself wholly to God, this man must expect to suffer.

Thirdly, the godliness that is in Christ Jesus, is a stirring godliness: if a man will be lukewarm, and as Gallio, not caring which way things go, then many will speak well of him, he is no busy-body, not so hot, and fierce as others are. We read Exod. 8:28. Pharaoh was content to let the people go, only he would not have them go far; so, many are content that men should be Religious, so be it they do not go too far, Revel. 2:2. Christ saith to the Angel of the Church of Ephesus, I know thy labor and thy patience; mark how these two are joined: If the Angel had not labored so much, it is like he had not suffered so much: If Ministers and Christians will be idle and do little, they are not like to suffer much, a little patience will serve the turn; but those who put forth themselves, who are stirring, active, who labor much, they must expect to suffer much.

It is very observable that of the seven Churches we read of in the Revelations, there are only two of whose troubles there are no mention; and which are they? the first is Sardis, of which it is said, She had a name that she lived, and was dead: the other was Laodicea, that was neither hot nor cold: These two escaped troubles, but none of the other.

Fourthly, the godliness that is in Christ Jesus, is a powerful godliness, that will not yield and give in; such as the Lord requires in Jeremy, Let them come in to you, do not you go to them: Let men say what they will, let them threaten, rail, flatter, persuade, yet this yields not. Now the world judges this to be pride, stubbornness, not knowing what the power of godliness means: A reed that yields, is not shattered by the wind: So those who will be time-servers, whose consciences will bow any way, those shall suffer no great matter; but if men be unyieldable, especially in things that are counted small, as many of the Christians in the Primitive times, who would not cast one grain of frankincense into the fire to save their lives, these are hated, contemned and persecuted in the World: Antichrist is content to let the name and profession of Religion alone, but he persecutes the power of godliness, it is that which witnesseth against him, Revel. 11:8. He slays the witnesses, but he lets their carcasses lie openly; he cares not for the name and profession, so be it the witnessing power be slain.

Fifthly, Godliness in Christ Jesus, is world-condemning godliness; Noah condemned the world by that he did: Other men should be accounted well of, were it not for these; but this darkens their light, and condemns their way, which they are not able to abide, 1 Pet. 4:12. Beloved, think it not strange (saith the Apostle) concerning the fiery trial, as though some strange thing happened unto you; be not moved at it, as at the coming of a stranger unexpectedly, you must entertain troubles as ordinary daily guests.

It hath been, is, and will be the order of Gods providence towards his people, that they shall be in an afflicted condition, and that many times in great extremities; and hence, Chap. 5:10. the Apostle prays, That the God of all grace would make them perfect, after they had suffered a while; as if prayer might not be made for perfection, until we have suffered a while. As soon as St. Paul was manifested to be a chosen vessel for the honor of God, it was shown unto him, what things he should suffer for the name of Christ, as if that were a necessary concomitant to the profession of godliness.

Look over the whole Book of God, and consider the history of the lives of Gods people in all ages, both in Scripture, and in other records, and you shall find them usually in a poor afflicted condition; as soon as we hear of any work of Religion, we hear of the persecution of Abel.

Noahs Ark on the waters, was a type of the condition of the Church in afflictions. What hard things did Abraham, and the rest of the Patriarchs endure in their generations? How sore was the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt? Their passage through the Red sea and the dismal Wilderness into Canaan, was a type of the afflicted condition of Gods people in after ages, through which they were to pass to Heaven: How was David hunted as a Partridge in the wilderness? What bitter and sore complaints do we hear, of the grievous suffering he met withal? Psal. 129. the Church there bemoans her condition, that from her youth up she had been afflicted: What hard usage did the blessed Prophets of the Lord find? Eliah was persecuted, and must flee for his life, while four hundred false Prophets were fed at Jezabels table: Micaiah must be fed with the bread of affliction, and the water of adversity.

Histories tell us, that Isaiah was sawn asunder with a wooden saw; Jeremy was put into a dungeon, sticking in the mire (as some stories say) even up to the ears, and after was stoned to death in Egypt; Ezekiel was slain in Babylon; Micah was thrown down a steep place, and his neck broke; Amos was smitten with a club, and so brained: The Story of the persecutions of the Maccabees prophesied of, Dan. 11:36. and recorded by the Apostle, Heb. 11. from the 35 Verse to the end, is exceeding lamentable; the Texts says, That they were tortured, that they had the trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, were sawn asunder, slain with the sword, wandered up and down in Sheep-skins and Goats-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, they wandered in deserts, and mountains, and dens, and caves in the earth.

And after, for the Christian Church, we know what Christ himself, the great leader of his people suffered, what contradiction of sinners? what contempts? miseries? scorns? scourges? cursed, cruel, shameful death? When Stephen the first Christian Martyr was stoned, Dorotheus witnesseth, that two thousand others which believed on Christ, were put to death the same day. All the twelve Apostles after many sore and grievous afflictions endured, suffered many violent deaths, John only excepted: who yet, as the Scripture testifieth, was banished into Patmos, and as some Histories, that he was by Domitian thrown into a Tun of scalding lead, yet as they say, delivered by a miracle.

Peter was crucified with his heels upward, because he would not be as Christ was, thinking himself unworthy of that honor: Andrew was crucified by Egeas King of Edessa: James was slain by the sword of Herod, as we find Acts 12. the beginning: Philip was crucified, and stoned to death at Hieropolis, a City in Phrygia: Bartholomew, after divers persecutions, was beaten down with staves as he was preaching in a City of Armenia, and then crucified, and after his skin flayed off, and beheaded: Thomas was slain with a Dart at Calamina in India: Matthew was run through with a sword, or as some write, slain with a spear: James the son of Alpheus, who was called the just man, was set upon the pinacle of the Temple, and thrown down, and yet having some life left in him, he was brained with a Fullers club; some Histories say, that Paul before his conversion, had a special hand in this: Lebbeus was slain by Agbarus King of Edessa: Simon the Canaanite was crucified in Egypt, or as others say, he and Jude was slain in a tumult of the people: Matthias that came into the number in stead of Judas, was stoned, and then beheaded: Paul was beheaded at Rome, under Nero.

Those ten fearful Persecutions in the Primitive times, from the time of Domitius Nero, unto Constantine, doth set out fully unto us the truth of this argument: for three hundred years together, the name of a Christian was death, except now and then, the Churches had some little breathings. Brightman speaking of the stories of those times, says, that every page, and leaf, is as it were all red, colored in blood: the Covenant of grace is a bloody Covenant, both in regard of the blood of Christ, first sealing it, and the blood of the blessed Martyrs, adding likewise their seals in confirming of it.  In that Treatise that goes under the name of Cyprian, de duplici Martyrio; speaking of that place, 1 John 5:8. Three bear witness on earth, the Spirit, water and blood; the third is applied to the blood of the Martyrs in those times.

It is a most heart-breaking meditation to consider the ragings, madness and fury of the Heathens against the Christians in those times. Jerome in an Epistle to Cromatius, says, that there was no day in a whole year, unto which the number of five thousand Martyrs cannot be ascribed, except only the first day of January. Vincentius reports, that at Aquileia, the Emperor gave leave to every man that would, to kill the Christians; All the policy, wit, strength of invention, of men and devils, were exercised and stretched out to the utmost, for devising the most miserable torments, and exquisite tortures; as plates of Iron burning hot, laid upon their naked flesh; pinsers red hot, pulling off the flesh from the bones; bodkins, pricking and thrusting all over their bodies: casting into lime kilns, and into caldrons of scalding lead: whippings until almost all the flesh was torn off their bodies, and their bones and bowels appeared, and then laid flat upon sharp shels and knives: their skins were flayed off alive, and then their raw flesh was rubbed with salt and vineger: their bodies were beaten all over with clubs, until their bones and joints were beat asunder: they were laid upon gridirons, rosted, and basted with salt and vineger: one member was pulled from another; by fastening them to the boughs of trees, they rent their bodies apieces: they were tossed upon the horns of Bulls, with their bowels hanging out; they were cast among dogs to be devoured; they were put under the Ice naked into Rivers; they were tortured on the rack, on the wheel, and on the gibbet, with flaming fire under them: they made it their sports, to see them devoured by wild beasts; and in the night, in stead of torches, they burnt the bodies of the Saints, to give them light for their pastimes.

To give you an instance or two, that you may see the miserable extremities the Saints of God in former times passed through. I read of one Sanctus, upon whom when such intolerable tortures were inflicted, as the Persecuters thought, surely they should have heard some words of blasphemy coming from him, yet they could get nothing but this, Sum Christianus, I am a Christian; at which they being mad, they clapt on plates of brass red hot, to the most tender parts of his body, wherewith although his Spirit shrunk not, but still continued constant, yet his body was so drawn together, that it lost the proper shape of a man; and after he lying in prison a while, they brought him forth again to the common scaffold in the face of the people, and put him to all kind of torments they could devise, as though he had been put to none before, as scourgings, tearings by wild beasts; his body being thus torn, they brought an iron chair red hot with fire, and set him in it, and so fryed and scorched him as upon a gridiron: Thus he being made the whole day a spectacle to the people, in stead of their games and sights, they could get nothing from him, but his first confession, Christianus sum, I am a Christian.

The example of Romanus, who was of noble birth, but more noble in his Martyrdom, is very famous; he was first whipped with knaps of lead at the ends of the cords; he desired them not to spare him for his Nobility, Not the blood of my progenitors, says he, but Christian profession makes me noble: then they lanced him with knives, until the bones appeared white, his face was buffeted, his eye-lids torn with their nails, his hair pulled from his face; the Captain being astonished at his constancy, commanded them to cease from tortures; he was after brought forth and scourged again upon his old sores; they plucked out his tongue by the roots: the Captain being yet more astonished to see him continue constant, commanded him to be brought into prison, and there be to strangled.

The example of Vincentius is as remarkable as any; he was first wracked, all his joints being stretched out of their place; then his body was indented with grievous and deadly wounds; then they tortured his flesh, by raking upon it with iron combs sharply filed; and then they laid his body upon a grate of iron, opening his flesh with iron hooks, they seared it with fiery plates, sprinkling it with hot burning salt; then they drew him into a dungeon, where the floor was spread with the sharpest shells that could be gotten, they laid his body upon them, and so left him without all succor.

Take an example of a woman or two; one Blandina was miserably whipped, tortured by wild beasts, tormented, and scorched upon a gridiron, and then put into a net, and cast unto the wild Bulls to be gored, and so slain. We read of one Eulalila a young Gentlewoman, famous for her godliness and constancy, who was pulled away from the seat of her Persecuters by the hair of her head, then one joint was pulled from another, and the flesh from the bones by tushes and claws of wild beasts; then they harrowed her flesh with an iron hurdle, they burnt her body on every side before and behind with flaming torches, and at last cast her into fire, and consumed her body unto ashes.

How lamentable is the hearing of these things unto nice and curious women? who now must not have the wind to blow on them, who are ready to die if they be but crossed a little of their wills. It was an excellent speech of a woman Martyr, Julitta by name, who being to be put into the fire, spake unto other women thus, Cease to accuse the fragility of the feminine sex: What? are not we made of the same matter that men are? yea, after Gods image are we made as well as they; God did not use flesh to make women of in token of infirmity, we are bone of his bone, in token we must be strong in the living God. These were the sufferings of those times; we shrink at everything, at every scorn and frown.

As for after times, it pleased God to stir Constantine a Christian Emperor, and then the Church had some rest; to which some apply that place, Rev. 20:2. Satan was bound a thousand years, not to rage for a thousand years after, so as he then did, until Antichrist got strength: but the Text will not bear this interpretation; we read Rev. 8:1. at the opening the first seal, there was silence in Heaven half an hour; that is, a space of intermission, wherein the Church had some little breathing for a while, but yet continued not long; for Licinius, who first joined in the maintenance of Christian Religion, fell off and turned an outragious persecuter.

After that the Church endured infinite troubles by the heresie of Arianism, that spread itself mightily abroad, so that the whole world almost was become an Arrian; at this time says Hilary, the Church was so obscured, as it was not to be sought in any external pomp in public places, but in prisons and dens; Non in tectis, & exteriori pompa, sed potius in carceribus & speluncis. Arrius was a man of excellent parts, and forward in good, but through pride, being disappointed of his expected preferment, fell off. Mr. Brightman upon Revelations 8:11. thinks it was he, that was meant by that Star which fell, which was called wormwood, by which the third part of the waters were made bitter, and many dyed of the waters.

After that Antichrist began to rise more and more, and to bring a fearful darkness over the face of the Church; of which times the holy Ghost prophesies, Rev. 8:12. The moon, sun, and stars were smitten. The first open and bloody persecution of Antichrist, was that of the Waldenses, in the year 1160. and 1260. and so on: there is a whole volume written of the lamentable extremities that these poor people endured, the reading whereof might cause the hardest heart that lives to break. A special agent in this persecution was one Dominick, father of the Dominicans, of whom his mother dreamed when she was with child with him, that she had a Wolf flaming with fire out of his mouth in her body.

In after times we read of the most famous instruments of Gods glory, what hard things they endured: as Wickliff, Huss, Jerome of Prague, and others. The first time that ever any Law was made for burning those that opposed the Pope in England, was in Henry the Fourths time: so it went on to those bloody Marian days; What imprisonments? what starvings? stranglings? gibbets? fire? banishments were there then? What grievous miseries did Gods people endure in France, especially in that bloody savage Massacre in the year 1572? the History of it tells us, that near the Archbishop’s Prison in Lyons, the blood ran warm reeking in the streets, into the River: in thirty days space, there were an hundred thousand poor orphans, widows, and succorless creatures, wandering about without relief.

Thus both Scripture, and the Histories of all times, hold forth unto us the truth of this point, that the estate of Gods people is an afflicted estate; they cry out aloud unto us, that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. This hath been the way of God even towards those who have been dearest to him, and it is so at this day, but yet a great difference hath God made, between us, and those in former times, in regard of the degree of afflictions yea, between us and others of his Servants, in other places now: we feel but little of those hard things that many of Gods people have felt, and still do feel: we sit under our vines, and fig-trees, in peace and plenty, not only under the shadows of them, but we taste and eat plentifully of the fruit of them, they are not empty vines, nor empty fig-trees unto us.

Jeremiah Burroughs, Moses His Choice, with His Eye Fixed upon Heaven: Discovering the Happy Condition of a Self-Denying Heart, (London: John Field, 1650), 9–25.

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