« PreviousContinue »
already work,” ver. 7. The seed was then sown; idolatry was already stealing into the churches. I Cor. x. 14. A voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels. Col. ü. 18. Men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth, supposing that gain was godliness, and teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre-sake. Men of this cast appear to have early abounded, and, as acting not wholly in direct opposition to Christianity, but corrupting it in the way of deceit and hypocrisy. During the whole progress towards the full revelation of the man of sin, there was no direct disayowal of the truth of Christianity; it was “ a form of godliness without the power of it.”
2. There is an evident intimation in this passage of an obstacle or hindrance in the way of this power being fully revealed. “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, &c." ver. 6, 7. Without going into any minute and critical examination of these verses, it is obvious that the wicked power which is here the subject of the apostle's discourse, and denominated the man of sin, had not then been fully displayed, and that there existed some obstacle to a complete revelation of the mystery of iniquity. The apostle uses a particular caution when hinting at it; but the Thessalonians, he says, knew of it; probably from the explanation he had given them verbally, when he was with them. It can scarcely be questioned, that the hindrance or obstacle, referred to in these words, was the heathen or pagan Roman government, which acted as a restraint upon the pride and domination of the clergy, through whom the man of sin ultimately arrived at his power and authority, as will afterwards appear. The extreme caution which
the apostle manifests in speaking of this restraint, ren, ders it not improbable that it was something relating to the higher powers; for we can easily conceive bow improper it would have been to declare in plain terms that the existing government of Rome should come to an end. There is a remarkable passage in Tertullian's Apology, that may serve to justify the sense which Protestants put upon these verses; and since it was written long before the accomplishment of the predictions, it deserves the more attention. “ Christians," says he, “are under a particular necessity of praying for the emperors, and for the continued state of the empire; because we know that dreadful power which hangs over the world, and the conclusion of the age, which threatens the most horrible evils, is restrained by the continuance of the time appointed for the Roman empire. This is what we would not experience; and while we pray that it may be deferred, we hereby shew our good will to the perpetuity of the Roman state."* From this extract it is very manifest that the Christians, even in Tertullian's time, a hundred and twenty years before the pagan government of Rome came to its end, looked forward to that period as pregnant with calamity to the cause of Christ; though it is probable they did not accurately understand the manner in which the evils should be brought on the church. And this indeed the event proved to be the case. For while the long and harassing persecutions, which were carried on by the Pagan Roman emperors, continued, and all secular advantages were on the side of paganism, there was little encouragement for any one to embrace Christianity, who did not discern somewhat of its truth and excellence. Many of the errors, indeed, of several
. centuries, the fruit of vain philosophy, paved the way for
• Tertullian's Apology, ch. xxxii.
the events which followed; but the bindrance was not effectually removed, until Constantine the emperor, on professing himself a Christian, undertook to convert the kingdom of Christ into a kingdom of this world, by exalting the teachers of Christianity to the same state of affluence, grandeur, and influence in the empire as had been enjoyed by pagan priests and secular officers in the state. The professed ministers of Jesus having now a wide field opened to them for gratifying their lust of power, wealth, and dignity, the connection between the Christian faith and the cross was at an end. What followed was the kingdom of the clergy, supplanting the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
3. It is worthy of observation, in what language the apostle describes the revelation of the man of sin, when this hindrance, or let, should be removed. “ And then shall that wicked be revealed, --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.” He had before described this power, and personified him as “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.”
Every feature in this description corresponds to that of a religious power, in the assumption of divine authority, divine honours, and divine worship ; a power which should arrogate the prerogatives of the most HIGH, having its seat in the temple or house of God, and which should be carried on by Satan's influence, with all deceit, hypocrisy, and tyranny; and with this corresponds the figurative representation given of the same power, Rev. xiii. 5--8.
As many things in the Christian profession, before the
reign of Constantine, made way for the kingdom of the clergy, so, after they were raised to stations of temporal dignity and power, it was not wholly at one stride that they arrived at the climax here depicted by the inspired apostle. Neither the corruption of Christianity, nor the reformation of its abuses was effected in a day; “evil men and seducers waxed worse and worse.” There was a course of mutually deceiving and being deceived. The conscience of man is not blunted all at once against the convictions of guilt; and there is something uncommonly expressive in the apostle's words, when he describes the blessed God as giving men up to strong delusions, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness; and this he represents as the necessary consequence of their not receiving the love of the truth that they might be saved.
In the sequel, it will appear, that when the bishops were once exalted to wealth, power, and authority, this exaltation was of itself the prolific source of every corrupt fruit. Learning, eloquence, and influence, were chiefly exerted to maintain their own personal dominion and popularity. Contests for pre-eminence over each other, became the succedaneum of the ancient contention for the faith, and its influence over the world. Power was an engine of support to the different factions ; and the sword of persecution, which, for three centuries, had been drawn by the Pagans against the followers of Christ, the besotted ecclesiastics employed against each other in defence of what was now called “the holy Catholic church."
The history of this church from the accession of Constantine to the period when the bishop of Rome was elevated to supreme authority, discovers a progressive approximation to that state of things, denoted in scripture, by the revelation of “ the man of sin sitting in the temple of God.” All the violent contentions, the assembling of councils, the persecutions alternately carried on by the different parties, were so many means of preparing the way for the assumption of spiritual tyranny, and the idolatry and superstition of the Roman hierarchy. In all these transactions, the substitution of human for divine authority, contentions about words instead of the faith once delivered to the saints; pomp and splendour of worship, for the primitive simplicity; and worldly power and dignity, instead of the self-denied labours of love and bearing the cross ;--this baneful change operated in darkening the human mind as to the real nature of true Christianity, until, in process of time, it was lost sight of.
When Jesus Christ was interrogated by the Roman governor concerning his kingdom, he replied, “ My kingdom is not of this world.” This is a maxim of unspeak
a able importance in his religion; and almost every corruption that has arisen, and by which this heavenly institution has been debased, from time to time, may be traced, in one way or other, to a departure from that great and fundamental principle of the Christian kingdom. It may, therefore, be of importance to the reader to keep his eye steadily fixed upon it, while perusing the following pages, as that alone can enable him to trace the kingdom of the Son of God, amidst the labyrinths of error and delusion which he will presently have to explore.