Vol. 3, No. 5
Severe persecution of the church began in the mid 60's A.D. The apostle Paul was killed in 68 A.D. under the cruel reign of Emperor Nero. The apostle John was killed about 100 A.D. The severe persecution of the church was continued until 313 A.D. It was not constant, but it often raged for years continuously.
The eminent church historian and Bible scholar, Dr. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, wrote the following very good summary of the situation with the Roman Empire and the church in the early 4th century A.D.
In the year 305 A.D. when Diocletian abdicated the imperial throne, the Christian religion was sternly prohibited, its profession was punished with torture and death, and against it all the power of the state was called into exercise. Less than twenty years afterward, in 324 A.D., Christianity was recognized as the official religion of the Roman Empire, and a Christian Emperor held supreme authority, with a court of professed Christians around him. It seemed but a single step from facing lions in the amphitheatre to a place beside the throne of the world!
Soon after abdication of Diocletian, in 305 A.D. four aspirants after the imperial crown were at war. The two most powerful rivals were Maxentius and Constantine, whose armies, met in battle at the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber, ten miles from Rome, 312 A.D. Maxentius represented the old heathen persecuting element; Constantine was friendly to the Christians, although at that time not a professed believer. He claimed to have seen in the sky a shining cross bearing this motto, 'Hoc Signo Vinces' -- 'By this sign thou shalt conquer,' and afterward adopted it as the standard of his army. The victory was with Constantine, and Maxentius was drowned in the river. Soon afterward, 313 A.D., Constantine promulgated his famous Edict of Toleration, which officially put an end to the persecutions. Not until 328 A.D. did Constantine become sole emperor, and then Christianity was enthroned. Constantine's personal character was not perfect. Though generally just, he was occasionally cruel and tyrannical. It has been said that "the reality of his Christianity was better than its quality."
He delayed his baptism until just before his death, in the prevalent opinion of his time that baptism washed away all sins previously committed. He was certainly a wise politician, if not a great Christian; for he had the insight to ally himself with the movement which held the future of his empire.
From this sudden change of relations between the empire and the church, world-wide and far-reaching results followed; some of them good, some of them evil, both to the church and the state. We can readily see wherein the new attitude of the government brought benefits to the cause of Christianity. (The History Of The Christian Church, pages 73, 74.)
Emperor Constantine issued a law regarding Sunday (the first day of the week) in A.D. 321. He did not establish Sunday as the day for Christians to worship! Historians say his parents were Christians.
There is not room in this lesson to present the large array of historical documentation that Christians had from the apostles of Christ been worshipping on the Lord's day which was the first day of the week or Sunday, and that they most certainly had not been observing the seventh-day Sabbath! Emperor Constantine absolutely did not change the Sabbath to Sunday! There had been no Roman law to protect and aid the Christians in their observance of Sunday, and Constantine changed that situation by making a decree or law to help them.
Those who say the Ten Commandment Law, which God gave through Moses, was not abolished when Jesus died, also say that law is perfect. D.M. Canright was a leading teacher, preacher and advocate of this view over 100 years ago. He studied himself out of that position and here is one of his comments on the idea that the Ten Commandment Law is complete.
But this is all assumption and contrary to the manifest truth. Which one of the ten commandments condemns pride, boasting, drunkenness, un-thankfulness, love of pleasure, anger, filthy talk, impatience, variance, selfishness and the like? Which one of the ten commandments requires us to feed the poor, to visit the fatherless and the widow, to suffer long and be kind, to be gentle, meek, temperate, to pray, to repent, to go to meeting, to forgive and the like? No, the Decalogue does no such thing, because it was made for no such purpose. It was merely prohibitory in its nature. The man who merely did nothing, who simply avoided crime, kept that law. But the law of God, by which a Christian must live, requires him to do, and to do much. He must love God, love his neighbor, love his neighbor, love his enemies, visit the widow and the needy, suffer wrong, be patient, entertain strangers, and be active in every good work.
It requires unceasing activity and the consecration of all our energies to good works; but the Decalogue requires nothing but to avoid open crime. The Decalogue alone is never called law of God, or the law of the Lord, or a perfect law, nor is it said that any one will be judged by it, or that it is binding on Christians. (Seventh-Day Adventism Renounced, pages 344, 345.)