July 28, 1892
LIKE the four Adventists now in the Henry County, Tenn., Jail, the subjects of persecution for conscience’ sake have always been accused of contumacy. In pagan Rome, even those governors who cared little for the worship of the gods, and had nothing to gain either in wealth or influence by persecuting the Christians, could see in their refusal to obey the laws made in aid of paganism, nothing but willful obstinacy and downright stubbornness. As related in the “Two Republics,” they regarded such willful disobedience to the law to be much more worthy of condemnation than even the disrespect to the gods. Such an one was Pliny, who said, “Let their confessions be of any sort whatever, this positiveness in inflexible obstinacy deserved to be punished.” Many of the governors “would sooner pardon in the Christians their defection from the worship of the gods, than their want of reverence for the emperors in declining to take any part in those idolatrous demonstrations of homage which pagan flattery had invented, such as sprinkling their images with incense, and swearing by their genius.”
Still others were disposed to be favorable to the Christians, to sympathize with them in their difficult positions, and to temper as far as possible the severity of the laws against them. And when the Christians were prosecuted before their tribunals, they would make personal appeals to induce them to make some concession, however slight, that would justify the governor in certifying that they had conformed to the law, so that he might release them,—not only from that particular accusation, but from any other that might be made.
Such governors would plead with the Christians to this effect, “I do not wish to see you suffer; I know you have done no real harm, but there stands the law. I am here as the representative of the empire to see that the laws are enforced. I have no personal interest whatever in this matter; therefore, I ask you for my own sake that you will do some honor to the gods, however slight, whereby I may be relieved from executing this penalty and causing you to suffer. All that is required is that you shall worship the gods. Now your God is one of the gods; therefore what harm is there in obeying the law which commands to worship the gods without reference to any particular one? Why not say, ‘The Emperor our lord,’ and sprinkle a bit of incense toward his image? Merely do either of these two simple things, then I can certify that you have conformed to the law, and release you from this and all future prosecutions of the kind.”
When the Christians replied that he could not, under any form or pretense whatever, worship any other god than the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ; not honor any other by any manner or offering; nor call the emperor lord in the meaning of the statute, then the governor, understanding nothing of what the Christian called conscience, and seeing all of what he considered the kindest possible offers counted not only as of no worth but even as a reproach, his proffered mercy was often turned into wrath. He considered such a refusal only an evidence of open ingratitude and obstinacy, and that therefore such a person was unworthy of the slightest consideration. He held it then to be only a proper regard for both the gods and the State to execute to the utmost the penalty which the law prescribed.
Another thing that made the action of the Christians more obnoxious to the Roman magistrates, was not only their persistent disregard for the laws touching religion, but their assertion of the right to disregard them. And this plea seemed the more impertinent from the fact that it was made by the despised of the despised.