Eusebius: The Church History
What did they get out of their religion, which they preferred to their own lives?
By about the year A.D. 313, a man named Eusebius of Caesarea was putting the finishing touches on his Church History, a rare jewel as he records so much we would not know concerning the ancient Church were it not for his work. In Book Five, he goes into vivid detail about the horrible persecutions visited upon the Christians in Gaul (modern-day France) in the cities of Lyons and Vienne.
Christians were falsely accused of the worst crimes; namely, incest (they called one another “brothers” and “sisters” and loved one another dearly), cannibalism (they spoke of a meal in which they ate “the body and the blood”), and atheism (they did not believe in the pagan gods). They were arrested and “encouraged” to renounce Christ by threats. Those who would not experienced the most gruesome tortures in the amphitheater for the amusement of the heathen. They were fed to wild beasts, endured red-hot plates of brass pressed against the most tender parts of the body, roasted in iron chairs, and all the while being whipped, stretched, mauled, beaten, starved, and any other unspeakable torture the demonically-inspired could unleash upon them, for as long as their bodies could hold out. The crazed mob would not even allow their bodies to be buried, but after six days of exposure and molestation burned what remained and swept the ash into the Rhone River thinking that such treatment would prevent them the resurrection. Fools.
But Eusebius records something that the pagans quipped after it was all over, more in taunt than anything else. But the question they asked actually reveals more about their own struggles to come to grips with what they witnessed about these Christians than any jest they could make: “What did they get out of their religion, which they preferred to their own lives?”
And there you have it—a good question, don’t you think? What do we get out of our religion (or “faith,” if you rather) that we prefer to our own lives? I turn to Hebrews to read that Christians are people who see the things promised and greet them from afar. They acknowledge that they are strangers on the earth. And they make it clear both by their profession and their lives that they are seeking a heavenly homeland, knowing that God, has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13-16). So they bear, believe, hope, and endure all things for the sake of Christ (1 Corinthians 13:7).