the First Week of Advent
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Judgments of God
Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
Are the punishments inflicted by him for particular crimes. The Scriptures give us many awful instances of the display of divine justice in the punishment of nations, families, and individuals, for their iniquities.
See Gen 7: 19, 25. Exodus 15:1-27 : Judges 1:6-7 . Acts 12:23 . Esther 5:14 . with chap. 7: 10. 2 Kings 11:1-21 : Leviticus 10:1-2 . Acts 5:1-10 . Is. 30: 1 to 5. 1 Samuel 15:9 . 1 Kings 12:25; 1 Kings 12:33 . It becomes us, however, to be exceedingly cautious how we interpret the severe and afflictive dispensations of Providence. Dr. Jortin justly observes, that there is usually much rashness and presumption in pronouncing that the calamities of sinners are particular judgments of God; yet, saith he, if from sacred and profane, from ancient and modern historians, a collection were made of all the cruel persecuting tyrants who delighted in tormenting their fellow creatures, and who died not the common death of all men, nor were visited after the visitation of all men, but whose plagues were horrible and strange, even a sceptic would be moved at the evidence, and would be apt to suspect that it was the hand of God in it.
As Dr. Jortin was no enthusiast, and one who would not overstrain the point, we shall here principally follow him in his enumeration of some of the most remarkable instances. Herod the Great was the first persecutor of Christianity. He attempted to destroy Jesus Christ himself, while he was yet but a child, and for that wicked purpose slew all the male children that were in and about Bethlehem. What was the consequence? Josephus hath told us: he had long and grievous sufferings, a burning fever, a voracious appetite, a difficulty of breathing, swelling of his limbs, loathsome ulcers within and without, breeding vermin, violent torments and convulsions, so that he endeavoured to kill himself, but was restrained by his friends. The Jews thought these evils to be divine judgments upon him for his wickedness. And what is still more remarkable in his case is, he left a numerous family of children and grand-children, though he had put some to death, and yet in about the space of one hundred years the whole family was extinct. Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist, and treated Christ contemptuously when he was brought before him, was defeated by Aretas, an Arabian king, and afterwards had his dominions taken from him, and was sent into banishment along with his infamous wife Herodias, by the emperor Caius. Judas, that betrayed our Lord, died, by his own hands, the most ignominious of all deaths.
Pontius Pilate, who condemned our blessed Saviour to death, was not long afterwards deposed from his office, banished from his country, and died by his own hands; the divine vengeance overtaking him soon after his crime. The high priest Caiaphas, was deposed by Vitellius, three years after the death of Christ. Thus this wicked man, who condemned Christ for fear of disobliging the Romans, was ignominiously turned out of his office by the Roman governor, whom he had sought to oblige. Ananias, the high-priest, persecuted St. Paul, and insolently ordered the bystanders to smite him on the mouth. Upon which the apostle said, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall. Whether he spake this prophetically or not, may be difficult to say; but certain it is, that sometime after he was slain, together with his brother, by his own son. Ahamus, the high priest, slew St. James the Less; for which and other outrages he was deposed by king Agrippa the younger, and probably perished in the last destruction of Jerusalem. Nero, in the year sixty-four, turned his rage upon the Christians, and put to death Peter and Paul, with many others.
Four years after, in his great distress, he attempted to kill himself; but being as mean- spirited and dastardly as he was wicked and cruel, he had not the resolution to do that piece of justice to the world, and was forced to beg assistance. Domitian persecuted the Christians also. It is said he threw St. John into a caldron of boiling oil, and afterwards banished him into the isle of Patmos. In the following year this monster of wickedness was murdered by his own people. The Jewish nation persecuted, rejected, and crucified the Lord of glory. Within a few years after, their nation was destroyed, and the Lord made their plagues wonderful. Flaccus was governor of Egypt near the time of our Saviour's death, and a violent persecutor of the Jews. The wrath of God, however, ere long overtook him, and he died by the hands of violence. Catullus was governor of Libya about the year seventy-three. He was also a cruel persecutor of the Jews, and he died miserably. For though he was only turned out of his office by the Romans, yet he fell into a complicated and incurable disease, being sorely tormented both in body and mind. He was dreadfully terrified, and continually crying out that he was haunted by the ghosts of those whom he had murdered; and, not being able to contain himself, he leaped out of his bed, as if he were tortured with fire and put to the rack.
His distemper increased till his entrails were all corrupted, and came out of his body; and thus he perished, as signal an example as ever was known of the divine justice rendering to the wicked according to their deeds. Caius, the Roman emperor, was a great persecutor of the Jews and Christians, and a blasphemer of the God of heaven. Soon after his atrocities, however, he was murdered by one of his own people. Severus, emperor of Rome, was a violent and cruel persecutor of the followers of Christ. He also, and all his family, perished miserably, about the year two hundred after our Saviour. About the same time, Saturnius, governor of Africa, persecuted the Christians and put several of them to death. Soon after, he went blind. Heliogabalus, the emperor, brought a new god to Rome, and would needs compel all his subjects to worship him. This was sure to have ended in a persecution of the Christians. But, soon after, this vile monster was slain by his own soldiers, about the year two hundred and twenty-two. Claudius Herminianus was a cruel persecutor of the Christians in the second century, and he was eaten of worms while he lived. Decius persecuted the church about the year two hundred and fifty: he was soon after killed in battle. Gallus succeeded, and continued the persecution.
He, too, was killed the year following. Valerian, the emperor, had many good qualities; but yet he was an implacable enemy to the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel. Some time after he came to the throne, he was taken prisoner by Sapor, king of Persia, and used like a slave and a dog; for the Persian monarch, from time to time, obliged this unhappy emperor to bow himself down, and offer him his back, on which to set his foot, in order to mount his chariot or his horse. He died in this miserable state of captivity. Aemilian, governor of Egypt, about two hundred and sixty-three, was a virulent persecutor of the church of Christ. He was soon after strangled by order of the emperor. Aurelian, the emperor, just intending to begin a persecution against the followers of Christ, was killed in the year two hundred and seventy-four. Maximinus was a persecutor of the church. He reigned only three years, and then fell under the hands of violence. About the year three hundred was the greatest possible contest between Christ and the Roman emperors, which should have the dominion. These illustrious wretches seemed determined to blot out the Christian race and name from under heaven. The persecution was far more fierce and brutal than it had ever been. It was time, therefore, for the Lord Jesus Christ, the great head of the church, to arise and plead his own cause: and so, indeed, he did. The examples we have mentioned are dreadful: these that follow are not less astonishing, and they are all delivered upon the best authorities.
Dioclesian persecuted the church in three hundred and three. After this nothing ever prospered with him. He underwent many troubles: his senses became impaired; and he quitted the empire. Severus, another persecuting emperor, was overthrown and put to death in the year three hundred and seven. About the same time, Urbanus, governor of Palestine, who had signalized himself by tormenting and destroying the disciples of Jesus, met with his due reward; for almost immediately after the cruelties committed, the divine vengeance overtook him. He was unexpectedly degraded and deprived of all his honours; and, dejected, dispirited, and meanly begging for mercy, was put to death by the same hand that raised him. Firmilianus, another persecuting governor met with the same fate. Maximianus Herculus, another of the wretched persecuting emperors, was compelled to hang himself, in the year three hundred and ten. Maximianus Galerius, of all the tyrants of his time the most cruel, was seized with a grievous and horrible disease, and tormented with worms and ulcers to such a degree, that they who were ordered to attend him could not bear the stench. Worms proceeded from his body in a most fearful manner; and several of his physicians were put to death because they could not endure the smell, and others because they could not cure him. This happened in the year of our Lord three hundred and eleven. Maxentius, another of the inhuman monsters, was overthrown in battle by Constantine; and in his flight he fell into the Tiber, and was drowned in the year three hundred and twelve. Maximinus put out the eyes of many thousands of Christians. Soon after the commission of his cruelties, a disease arose among his own people, which greatly affected their eyes, and took away their sight.
He himself died miserably, and upon the rack, his eyes started out of his head through the violence of his distemper, in the year three hundred and thirteen. All his family likewise were destroyed, his wife and children put to death, together with most of his friends and dependents, who had been the instruments of his cruelty. A Roman officer, to oblige this Maximinus, greatly oppressed the church at Damascus: not long after, he destroyed himself. Licinius, the last of these persecuting emperors before Constantine, was conquered and put to death in the year three hundred and twenty-three. He was equally an enemy to religion, liberty, and learning. Cyril, the deacon, was murdered by some Pagans, at Heliopolis, for his opposition to their images. They ripped open his belly, and ate his liver: the divine vengeance, however, pursued all those who had been guilty of this crime; their teeth came out, their tongues rotted, and they lost their sight. Valens was made emperor in 364; and though a Christian himself, he is said to have caused fourscore presbyters, who differed from him in opinion, to be put to sea, and burnt alive in the ship. Afterwards, in a battle with the Goths, he was defeated and wounded, and fled to a cottage, where he was burnt alive, as most historians relate: all agree that he perished. The last Pagan prince, who was a formidable enemy to Christianity, was Radagaisus, a king of the Goths. He invaded the Roman empire with an army of 400, 000 men, about the year 405, and vowed to sacrifice all the Romans to his gods. The Romans, however, fought him, and obtained a complete victory, taking him and his sons prisoners, whom they put to death.
Hunneric, the Vandal, though a Christian, was a most cruel persecutor of those who differed from him in opinion, about the year of our Lord 484. He spared not even those of his own persuasion, neither his friends nor his kindred. He reigned, however, not quite eight years, and died with all the marks of divine indignation upon him. Julian the apostate greatly oppressed the Christians: and he perished soon after, in his rash expedition against the Persians. Several of those who were employed or permitted by Julian to persecute the Christians, are said to have perished miserably and remarkably. I will here relate the fate of a few of those unhappy wretches in the words of Tillemont, who faithfully collected the account from the ancients. We have observed, says that learned man, that count Julian, with Felix, superintendent of the finances, and Elpidius, treasurer to the emperor, apostates all three, had received orders to go and seize the effects of the church at Antioch, and carry them to the treasury. They did it on the day of the martyrdom of St. Theodoret, and drew up an account of what they had seized. But count Julian was not content with taking away the sacred vessels of the church, and profaning them by his impure hands: carrying to greater lengths the outrage he was doing to Jesus Christ, he overturned and flung them down on the ground, and sat upon them in a most criminal manner; adding to this all the banters and blasphemies that he could devise against Christ, and against the Christians, who, he said, were abandoned to God.
Felix, the superintendent, signalized himself also by another impiety; for as he was in viewing the rich and magnificent vessels which the emperors Constantine and Constantius had given to the church, "Behold" said he, "with what plate the son of Mary is served!" It is said, too, that count Julian and he made it the subject of banter, that God should let them thus profane his temple, without interposing by visible miracles. But these impieties remained not long unpunished, and Julian had no sooner profaned the sacred utensils, than he felt the effects of divine vengeance. He fell into a grievous and unknown disease; and his inward parts being corrupted, he cast out his liver and his excrements, not from the ordinary passages, but from his miserable mouth, which had uttered so many blasphemies. His secret parts, and all the flesh round about them, corrupted also, and bred worms; and to show that it was a divine punishment, all the art of physicians could give him no relief. In this condition he continued forty days, without speech or sense, preyed on by worms. At length he came to himself again.
The imposthumes, however, all over his body, and the worms which gnawed him continually, reduced him to the utmost extremity. He threw them up, without ceasing, the last three days of his life, with a stench which he himself could not bear. The disease with which God visited Felix was not, so long. He burst suddenly in the middle of his body, and died of an effusion of blood in the course of one day. Elpidius was stripped of his effects in 365, and shut up in prison, where, after having continued for some time, he died without reputation and honour, cursed of all the world, and surnamed the apostate. To these instances many more might be added nearer our own times, did our room permit. These, however, are sufficient to show us what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God, and how fruitless and awful it is to oppose his designs, and to attempt to stop the progress of his Gospel. "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them to pieces as a potter's vessel. Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling." Psalms 2:1-12 : Jortin's Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. 3: p. 246, &c. Simpson's Key to the Prophecies, 29; Newton on the Prophecies, dis. 24; Bryant's Observations of the Plagues of Egypt; Tillemont, Histoire des Emp.
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Judgments of God'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​cbd/​j/judgments-of-god.html. 1802.