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SECT. II.) Cyprian's reflections on this occasion. 201 plicity of the faith. We have renounced this world in words only, and not in deed. Every one studies to please himself, and to displease others.”* It is impossible for us not to be struck with the shocking contrast which this picture presents, to that drawn by Tertullian about fifty years before. It seems even to have staggered the credibility of some writers. Dr. Jortin, for example, remarks, that “ Cyprian has described, in very strong terms, the relaxation of discipline and manners which had ensued; which yet may require some abatement. His vehement temper, his indignation against vice, and his African eloquence, might induce him to make free with a figure called exaggeration.” + But, unhappily, the account of Cy. prian is confirmed by the testimony of Eusebius, who was nearly contemporary with him; and, which is still worse, it is put beyond all dispute by the immense number of defections from the Christian profession which every where abounded when the persecution, instituted by Decius, commenced, and which occasioned great commotions in all the churches.
“ Through too much liberty,” says Eusebius," they grew negligent and slothful, envying and reproaching one another; waging, as it were, civil wars among themselves, bishops quarrelling with bishops, and the people divided into parties. Hypocrisy and deceit were grown to the highest pitch of wickedness. They were become so insensible as not so much as to think of appeasing the divine anger; but, like atheists, they thought the world destitute of any providential government and care, and thus added one crime to another. The bishops themselves had thrown off all care of religion; were perpetually contending with one another, and did nothing but quarrel with, and threaten, and envy, and hate one another ;
* Cyprian's Works, epist. xi. Remarks on Eecles, Hist, vol. 1. p. 576.
were full of ambition, and tyranically used their power:" ** Such was the deplorable state of the churches, which God, -as Eusebius justly remarks, first punished with a gentle hand; but when they grew hardened and incurable in their vices, he was pleased to let in the most grievous persecutions upon them, under Diocletian, which exceeded in severity and length, all that had gone before. It began in the year 302, and lasted ten years.
Reflections on the history of the Christian church during the first three centuries, with a view of the rise of Antichrist.
In reviewing the history of the christian church, from the first propagation of the gospel until the reign of Constatine, it can scarcely fail to strike the reader's attention, that the Christian profession is marked, during this period, with a peculiar character, in distinction from what it sustained after the accession of Constantine to the throne, when the Christian religion was taken under his fostering care, and supported by the civil government. The first propagation of the Christian faith was not only unaided, buț directly opposed in most instances, by civil
govern. ments, in the different countries in which it spread. The publishers of the gospel were, in general, plain and unlearned men, and destitute of all worldly influence and power; their doctrine was, in itself, obpoxious, and their appearance contemptible; nor could they present to the view of men any other inducement to embrace their testimony, than the prospect of life and immortality in the world to come ; with the certainty, that through much tri
Euscbius's Hist. b. 8. ch. i.
SĒCT. iv.] View of the rise of Antichrist. 203 bulation believers must enter into the kingdom of God. The success of their doctrine stood in direct opposition to the power of 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 eould, therefore, only make its way by sustaining and overcoming all 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 represention. The general character of the disciples of Christ is that of a suffering people; and, notwithstanding some intervals of repose occasionally intervëning, 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 professors 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 situated, its sụccess 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 honours
and dignity, and the holy and heavenly religion of Jesús 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, in former periods, were most conspicuous for sustaining the opposition of the persecu. ting powers, and animating their flocks to a patient contipuance in bearing the cross--no sooner do we see them invested with secular honours, great wealth, and elevated dignity, than the whole object of their lives seems to have been absorbed in maintaining their power and pre-eminence, and aspiring at dominionover the bodies and consciences of men.
From the days of Constantine, the corruptions 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 secular 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, and which 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 the greatest astonishment. Many, indeed, without discriminating between Christianity and the corruption of it, have found what they conceive a sufficient justification of their own infidelity, 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 sceptical 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 SECT. Iv.]
The rise of Antichrist foretold.
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 confirma, tion 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 eventsgradually 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 the Son of God gave many intimationsin 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 for it " for I know this, that after my departure shall grieyous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock; also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”. Acts XX. 29; 30. The jea. : lousy and fear which he entertained relative to the influ: ence of false teachers, is manifest in the following 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