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princes, the wisdom of philosophers, the intrigues of courts, the enmity of the pagan priesthood, with all the weight of an established system of idolatry and superstition; it could, therefore, only make its way by sustaining and overcoming the malice and rage of its enemies.
In the view that we have taken of the Christian history during the preceding period, it appears uniformly in harmony with this representation. The general character of the disciples of Christ is that of a suffering people; and, notwithstanding some intervals of repose occasionally intervening, in general the progress of the gospel is traced in the blood of the saints, and its power and evidence made conspicuous in prevailing against the most formidable opposition. Thus the excellency of its power appeared to be of God, and not of man. While the Christian cause was thus opposed to the world, and made its way by its own divine energy, the general purity of its profession was preserved; for, what could induce men to embrace it, but a conviction of its heavenly origin and importance ? So long as the Christian profession was thus circumstanced, its success carried with it its own witness. But the scene is altogether changed, when we view the state of matters after the ascension of Constantine ; for then, instead of the teachers of Christianity being called upon to shew their attachment to it by self-denial and suffering for its sake; we see them exalted to worldly honour and dignity; and the holy and heavenly religion of Jesus converted into a system of pride, domination, and hypocrisy, and becoming, at length, the means of gratifying the vilest lusts and passions of the human heart. The consequence of such a change in the state of things may be easily anticipated by those who have any proper views of the corruption of human nature; and it corresponds with matter of fact
for no sooner do we perceive the teachers in the church, who had hitherto been the foremost in sustaining the opposition of the persecuting powers, and animating their flocks to a patient continuance in bearing the cross
-no sooner do we see them invested with secular honours, immense wealth, and elevated to dignity, than the first object of their lives seems to have been to maintain their power and pre-eminence, and aspiring at dominion over the bodies and consciences of men. From the days of Constantine, the corruption of the Christian profession proceeded with rapid progress. Many evils, probably, existed before this period, which prepared the way for the events that were to follow; but when the influence of the sccular power became an engine of the clergy, to be exercised in their kingdom, it need not be a matter of surprise that the progress became exceedingly rapid in converting the religion of Christ into a system of spiritual tyranny, idolatry, superstition, and hypocrisy, until it arrived at its full height in the Roman hierarchy, when, what is called THE CHURCH became the sink of iniquity.
That such a display of human depravity as we shall have to detail in the succeeding events of church history, should be exhibited under a profession of Christianity, may very reasonably excite our astonishment. Many, indeed, without discriminating between Christianity and its corruptions, have found what they conceive a suffi
a cient justification of their own skepticism, in the many abominations which have been, and still are, committed under the Christian name. And it must be allowed, that it is one of the most plausible and successful arguments in encouraging and supporting a skeptical state of mind, to paint the Christian system as it appears the engine of priestcraft, and the support of spiritual tyranny, idolatry, and superstition. But genuine Christianity is no more accountable for these enormities, than, what is called, the religion of nature is for all the absurd and superstitious rites of paganism.
It may be proper, therefore, to observe, that the greatest iniquity that has been discovered in what is called the Christian church, admitting the evil in its full extent, is but the accomplishment of what was before predicted in the sacred scriptures; and, considered in this view, it presents us with a most powerful argument in confirmation of the prophetic word. In the establishment of Christianity by Constantine, the obstruction which had hitherto operated against the full manifestation of the antichristian power, being removed, the current of events gradually brought matters to that state, in which “ the man of sin” became fully revealed, “sitting in the temple of God, and shewing himself as God."
The apostles of Jesus Christ gave many intimations in their writings of the corruptions which should arise under the Christian profession at a future period. There were not wanting symptoms of this even in their own days, as appears from the following passages. When the apostle Paul delivered to the elders of the church at Ephesus, a solemn warning to take heed to themselves and to the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers,'he adds, as the reason of it, “ for I know this, that after my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock; also of your ownselves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Acts xx. 29, 30. The jealousy and fear which he entertained relative to the influence of false teachers, is manifest in the foHowing passage. « But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve, through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ: For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ; and no wonder, for Satan himself VOL. I.
is transformed into an angel of light, therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed into ministers of righteousness.” (2 Cor. xi. 3, 13, 14, 15.) The same general caution against the effects which should proceed from false teachers, is very plainly given by the apostle Peter. “ But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
And many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you, whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” 2 Pet. ii. 1-3. To these passages, and many others that might be adduced, as calculated to awaken the attention of Christians to the dangers they should be exposed to from corrupt teachers, we may particularly add the following, as it not only foretells but describes the nature of the apostacy that should take place, and at a period remote from the time when the predictions were delivered. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their consciences seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them who believe and know the truth." 1 Tim. iv. 1-3. Again, “This know also, that in the last days perilous time shall come; for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent. fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God ;-having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." 2 Tim. iii. 1-5. But of all the predictions contained in the New Testament, the most particular and express description of the antichristian power that should arise under the Christian name, is the following. “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled; neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way; and then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming ; even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders; and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” 2 Thess. ii. 1-10.
In this representation of the apostacy from the purity of the Christian faith and its influence, which terminated in the man of sin sitting in the temple of God, we may notice the following particulars :
1. That the apostle describes its origin as taking place in his own day. “The mystery of iniquity dotha