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Julian Pe- III. The progress and triumph of the Church of Rome. Asia Minor. riod, 4799. IV. The Reformation, both iv its good and bad effects. Vulgar Æra, V. Ano
V. And the subsequent history of Christianity, particularly 96.
in England; with the prospect of its future dominion over all
mankind, as declared in the prophecies of the Old and New
I. The state of the Christian Church from the death of St.
John to the death of Constantine.
In closing the volumes wbich it was necessary to peruse, for
the drawing up of the following brief abstract of Ecclesiastical
History, it was impossible to avoid contrasting the batred and
dissensions which have prevailed within the later centuries
among Christians with the upion and harmony, which excited the
surprise of their enemies, in the earlier ages of their faith. Al-
though this difference can only be imputed to the infirmities,
crrors, or vices which have debased and corrupted the Churches,
and their members, the faults of individuals bave too frequently
been referred to the religion they profess. It may be necessary,
therefore, to define the meaning of Christianity, that by con-
stantly keeping before us one certain definite view of the reli-
gion which was now established, we may not confound with it
any one of the more or less extensive sects, or sectlings,
churches, or parties, which have endeavoured to identify their
peculiar causes with that of Christianity, and their several titles
with the exclusive name of Christian.
Christianity is the completed revelation of those sanctions of, and motives to, virtue, which the uoassisted reason of man could not have discovered. Its object is to promote the present and future happiness of the human race, which can only be effectually secured by virtuous principles and habits. One systém of religion is distinguished from another, by the opinions it teaches, the conduct it enforces, the institntions it establishes, and the means wbich it adopts for its preservation. The fundamental opinions, or essential doctrines of Christianity, may be included in these three-that the nature of man is now dif. ferent from that with which his first parents were created that a Divine Being undertook to recover mankind from this state of degradation, by offering bimself as an atonement, after a life of blamelessness and parity, and by rising froin the dead, to demonstrate the certainty of our own resurrection-that divine assistance is afforded to all those who desire to be restored to that condition in which man was originally created.
The conduct which Christianity requires, does not extend to outward morality only, but to internal purity of motive, to spirituality of disposition, and, as far as possible, to a change of pature.
The Scriptural institutions of Christianity are the commemorations of ihe facts wbich prove tho truth of its doctrines. They are few, but important. The observance of the first day in the week) is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, and a declaration of the truth of our own. In haptism, we commemorate the descent of the Spirit, and assert the necessity of a Divine influence, to recover man from the fall. In the other sacrament, of the Lord's Supper, we commemorate the crucifixion, and profess our belief in the atonement. The observance of Easter is also mentioned in Scripture, as the time of the more solemn commemoration of our Lord's resurrection.
The scriptural means by wbich the knowledge of the Christian religion is to be preserved in the world, are the perpetual observance of the institutions, and the right interpretation of the completed Scriptures. To secure these great objects, the divine Founder of Christianity appointed twelve teachers, and after them he appeared from the invisible state to appoint ano..
Jolian Pe- ther, who should establish societies from among the mass of Asia Mias.
riod, 4799. mankiod, and set apart teachers to instruct the people, inter.
Vulgar Era, pret the Scriptures, and maintain the institutions or the new
96. religion. The apostles were equal among themselves. They
governed the whole visible Churcb, or general body of Chris.
tians, when they were assembled together; and each was the
spiritual ruler of the Church or society which himself bad
founded. The same mode of preserving Christianity has been
continued from the earliest age to the present time.
Such was the Christianity which was established over the
world at the period when the canon of Scripture was finally closed.
The design of its great Author would have been fully accom-
plished, if the two great sources of error bad not perverted the
simplicity of truth. Vice and false philosophy are the only
causes of heresy and error. The former endeavours to recon-
cile the purity and truth of Christianity with the conduct it bas
forbidden, whether it be ambition, pride, or folly, through all
their differences and gradations the latter refides, allers, ob-
jects to, or speculates upon, the doctrines of revelation, till it has
established some new theory, or removed some primitive truth.
This view of Christianity enables us to form some criterion of trulb, in the midst of all the discordant opinions of modern systems. Whatever doctrine has been invented by later writers, whether it be gradually established, as many of the corruptions of the Romanists have been, or proposed as a more correct interpretation of Scripture, as many of the Unitarian and German speculators have suggested their various novelties, is probably false, as it is certainly suspicious. If it was not once received by all Christians, in the primitive ages, in all their Churches, it is probably heretical. If it is not supported by some of the facts of Scripture it is suspicious. It is not generally remembered that the peculiar doctrines which
characterize Christianity are all identified with facts. The facts are the foundation of the doctrine, and moral inferences are deducible from the doctrine wbich is thus sanctioned and established. The first creeds were very scanty, because controversies were few, and were decided by inspired or highly venerated teachers. They were enlarged, as the decisions of the Catholic Church, represented by its general councils, concluded the controversies which were commenced by the philosophy which wrongly explainod, or wilfully rejected, the faith which was generally received. The general reception of an opinion among all Churches, was esteemed a proof that it had been originally taught by the apostles and their successors.
Such was the new faith which at the closing of the canon of Scripture, had begun to leaven the whole mass of the subjects of the imperial dominion. Even where it was not fully embraced, it elevated the mind, and restrained the conduct of many who would not openly profess it. The very philosophy which opposed or corrupted it, inculcated in various instances the necessity of purity, the belief in one God, and the certainty of a future state.
Churches had been founded in Rome, Corinth, Crete, the cities of Asia Minor, in Britain, Spain, Italy, Antioch, and many others. The nations of the world had been brought under the Roman yoke, that a free communication might be maintained between all parts of the civilized world.
The usurpations of the Papacy had not begun, neither had the people proceeded to the opposite extreme of rejecting all government, as an infringement of their liberty. Every sepa. rate Church was a society complete in itself, governed through all its gradations of laity, and through the minor offices of the priesthood, the deacous, and the presbyters, by one cpiscopal
Jalian Pe- head, who was liable to be deposed by the sentence of bis own Asia Minor
riod, 4799. order, if he violated the faith of Christ. Every ruler was con•
Vulgaræra, trolled by the rest of his brethren, while every independant hie-
rarchy preserved its freedom under the empire of known law,
The world has not since bebeld more union in the belief, or more
perfection in the conduct of Christians. This was the plan which
preserved the purity of the Cbristian creed against the first im-
pugners of the Majesty of the Son of God. This was the polity
wbich stamped the reprobation of the general body of Christians
at Nice, upon the Arians, who denied tbe Godhead of Christmat
Constantinople against the Apollinarian heresy, which deny bis
humanity. It was this which condemned at Ephesus, Nestorius,
who asserted that Christ was two persons, and condemned at
Chalcedon the error of Eutyches, wbo confounded his twofold
nature. At that time the ghost of imperial Rome was not seated
upon the seven bills, to terrify the nations with the spiritual
thunders of the Vatican, peither was every absurdity of doc
trine, and every irregularity in discipline, defended as a proof
of liberty, and freedom from prejudice.
The Churches of God in these early ages were opposed by every
weapon which the devices of an evil spirit, or the corruptions
of the human beart, could suggest; and their conquests were
made over its most inveterate foes. The civil and military
powers of the idolatrous governments opposed them by ten san-
guinary persecutions; and though the most eminent historian
of the last century, in imitation of a learned critic (Dodwell
Dissert. Cyprian), bas endeavoured to diminish the number of
the sufferers, the undeniable evidence which still remains, abun-
dantly demonstrates the prejudice, hatred, and cruelty of the
persecutors, and the singular union of holiness and zeal, of for-
titude and patience, among the blameless sufferers in the cause
of Christianity. We must pass over the cruel persecutions of
Nero and Domitian, in which the chief of the remaining apos.
tles, witb Timothy, Onesimus, Dionysius the Areopagite, and
other illustrious names, were put to death. Neither were the
more flagitious and abandoned of the Roman emperors, the sole
imperial adversaries of the rising Churches. A religion which
demands the homage of the heart, and permits no divided domi-
nion, even with the least known eyil, is no less detested by the
mild and gentle liberality which pleads for the indulgence of tbe
more general vices, than it is hated by the openly corrupt.
The third persecution of the Christians under Trajan and
Adrian, and the fourth by the Antonines and Marcus Aurelius,
were even more extensive in their effects, and equally violent in
their fury. The fierce hatred of Severus, which callcd forth the
eloquent apology of Tertullian, and the indignant remon-
strances of Clemons Alexandrinus, and Minucius Felix-the
selfish hostility of Maximin—the unsparing severity of Decius,
who threatened death to the mitigators of the sufferings of
Cbristians—the hypocritical opposition of Valerian, the mur-
derer of Cyprian, who soothed before be slaughtered, his victims
--the unrelenting efforts of Diocletian, to extirpate the very
name and race, and Scriptures of the followers of the crucified
Jesus--all these were borne by the despised and hated Christians,
who conquered by patient endurance, and triumphed by unre-
sisting submission. The heathen raged, and the people imagined
a vain thing; and if the Christians had appealed to the sword,
as from their numbers they might bave done, their Master had
been dishonoured by their service, and the world had lost the
honourable and perfect witness they bore by their sufferings, to
their conviction of the truth of the Gospel.
It was not only the menace and the torture, the rack and the
Jatian Pe- scourge, the stake and the sword, which raised themselves Asia Mint
riod 4799. against the members of the Churcbes of God. The ridicule of
Vulgar Æra, the satirist-the world's dread laugh-the scorn of the philoso-
phical leaders of the public opinion-the reasoning of the learn-
ed-contempt, and wonder, and pity--all that could move the
affections, or break the resolution—the fear of infamy, which
shriuks from slander- the love of approbation, which excites to
virtuous and useful actions, and leads men to honourable emi-
nence--all of these, and more than tbese powerful motives of
action, appealed in vain to the bearts of the primitive Chris.
tjans. The more their spiritual enemies within, and the turbu-
lent heathen withont, oppressed the Churches of Christ, the
more " they multiplied and grew," till the majority of the
empire professed the faith of the Gospel, and the Emperor of
Rome became the convert and protector of the faith of Christ.
II. From the death of Constantine to the rise of the Papal
power by the grant of Phocas.
Though the philosophy of the Gnostics, the Docetæ, the Marcionites, and others, bad corrupted in many instances the purity of Christianity, the two principal heresies wbich still divide the Universal Church, commenced at this period. One contaminated the doctrine, the other destroyed the government of the independant episcopal Churches. The error of Arius, and the usurpations of the Church of Rome, were the two principal sources of all the corruptions which bave degraded Christians. Ecclesiastical history ought only to have related the progress of mankind in knowledge, virtue, and happiness : it tells the same sad and melancholy tale of buman infrmity, and crime and folly, which profane 'history bas giren to the world.
The common opinion of any age may be known by the opposition which it has made to those who offer their own conclusions to general acceptance. The primitive ages were careful to preserve the scriptural doctrine of the twofold patare of Christ, and to assert' his humanity while they defended his divinity. The various errors which the spurious philosopby of the three first centuries submitted to the approbation of the Churches, were generally founded on the attempt to exalt the divinity, at the expence of the humanity of Christ. The Goostics invented their notion of the Æons-the Docetæ their opinion that the form of Christ was not real, but a phantom only; and that the sufferings of Christ in his own persou, was an impossibility. The error of Arius was founded on the opposite extreme. This heresiarch endeavoured to introduce an opinion, which the Universal Church believed to be derogatory to the divinity of its founder, that our Lord was only the first, and greatest, and highest of all created beings. This opinion appeared to him to be more consistent with human reason ; and it became, therefore, a part of his philosophy, and he rejected the plainer declaration of Scripture, and the evidence of antiquity both of the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews believed their Logos to be a divine being-the Christians received Christ as that Logos, because bis own assertions and actions, as well as the testimony of St. John, appeared to demonstrate the truth. The sources of heresy with Arius, were the same as those which infoence so many at present. His private speculations were preferred to that interpretation of scripture which had been uni. formly adopted by the Universal Church. He did pot, or would not, remember, that Scripture is superior to reason ; and that the prostration of our intellect, which man cannot demand of man, is an act of worthy and reasonable homage to God.
The vehement disputes wbich convolsed the whole Charch
lian Pen through these three centuries, and which respectively occasion. Asia Minor.
4, 4799. ed the calling of the first general councils, may be said to bave
IgarÆra, originated id the innovations of Arius. The Councils of Nice,
Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, have confirmed the
general opinions of the primitive Churches, and that also of the
far greater portion of Christians at present, on the subject of
the person of Christ, of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the
Atonement. Our most eminent historian has expressed himself
with the sarcastic bitterness so usual with him when Christianity
is mentioned, respecting these councils. The faults of Churches
and of Cbristians have always been the triumph of inf delity.
Now, as well as formerly, the crimes and follies of David make
the enemies of God to blaspheme. He bas omitted, however, to
relate the influence of these dissensions among Cbristians, upon
the people of the East. The usual consequences of contro-
versy, religious indifference, unscriptural error, contempt of
the zealous maintainers of truth, and general carelessness of
lifo, prepared the way for any bold teacher, who could triumph
over the increasing igoorance, upite the broken fragments of
truth and falsehood into one system, and arouse the dormant
superstition of the age. There is a fulness of time for error as
well as for truth. As the progressive improvement of the human
race by knowledge and literature, and science among the hea-
thens, by revelation among the Jews, and by universal peace
among all nations, rendered the time of our Lord's incarnation
the very fittest period for establishing a religion, founded on
evidences which intreated the careful and deliberate investiga-
tion of all mankind, that they might be satisfied of its truth,
and embrace it upon conviction; so did the progressive dete-
rioration of the age, by the extinction of learning among the
heathen in consequence of the political convulsions of the Ro-
man empire, and the savage inroads of the barbarians, by the
puerile attention to trifles among the Jews, by the general con-
tempt in which they were held, and the almost universal mental
debasement, render this the fittest period for the general esta.
blishment of the two great corruptions of Christianity; the
apostacies of Rome, and of Mahomet, the predicted rival ene-
mies of pure religion in the west and east.
It would lead me too far from my object to relate at greater
length the causes of the origin, progress, and suspension of the
conquests of Mabomet; its subsequent temporary revival, tbo
entire loss of its political power as the dangerous rival of its
neighbours, and its present increasing weakness by the gradual
separation and independance of its fairest provinces. Our wri.
ters on prophecy have shewn the great probability, that as these
two niasses of error arose together, their power will be also de-
stroyed at the same time, when the prophetic period of 1260
years, which commenced in the year 606, will have elapsed. I
am not willing, however, to rest any argument upon these inter-
pretations. Time and history are the only certain interpreters
of prophecy, and though the declining power of the Mohammedan
apostacy may appear to sanction this hypothesis, the reviving
influence of the upscriptural errors and political power of Ro-
manism, excites at once our sorrow and surprise, and compels
us to withhold our assent to the desired interpretation, till the
veil is yet more withdrawn from the future. Our attention will
be more usefully directed to the causes and growth of the wes-
tern apostacy of the Church of Rome.
The early Churches were united into one society by the observance of one common law, submission to episcopal government. A member of the episcopal Church of one country, was considered a member of the Catbolic Church of Christ, in every