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CONSTANTINE SOLE EMPEROR.
barians obtained peace by promising to supply forty thousand auxiliaries, whenever the Roman emperor should require their services.
On account of his mighty deeds, Constantine was honoured with the appellation of the Great: and he became so great in his own eyes that he could no longer endure a partner in the empire. Some say that he covered his ambitious designs with the pretence of furthering the interests of the Christians, and that Licinius put the truth or falsehood of the Christian religion on the event of the battle. But it appears that the old age and vices of Licinius made him an unpopular ruler, and that Constantine was the universal favourite. Still bearing the figure of a cross in shining jewels for his labarum or standard, Constantine put forth the whole powers of his mind and body in conducting his forces against the more numerous arthy of Licinius. A great battle was fought both by sea and land, near Adrianople. Constantine was wounded in the thigh during the engagement; but, in the end, was entirely victorious. Licinius took refuge in the fortified town of Byzantium ; and it was, probably, in besieging him there, that Constantine was first struck with the beauty and advantages of the position, and formed a design of making it the capital of his empire. Licinius escaped to Bithynia, before Byzantium was taken, and raised a second army in the East, which was defeated by Constantine. The vanquished emperor then retreated to Nicomedia, and sent his wife, Constantia, to entreat her brother to spare his life, and to permit him to retire into a private situation. She obtained her request; and Licinius, after prostrating himself at the feet of Constantine, and owning him as his lord and master, was allowed a residence at Thessalo. nica with a solemn assurance of safety. But Constantine, perhaps from his former experience of the conduct of Maximinian, was afraid of keeping an old lion, even though he appeared to be tamed; and Licinius was put to death shortly afterwards upon the suspicion that he was in treasonable correspondence with the barbarians. The charge was never proved: but Constantine tried to make his memory as hateful as possible ; caused his statues to be thrown down, and even threatened to erase his name from all the public inscriptions and edicts, but afterwards concluded it was safest not to do so.
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.
By the execution of Licinius, Constantine obtained his desire of becoming sole head of the Roman empire, A. D. 324. This event caused such an astonishing revolution in the state of the Christians, that we must now consider the affairs of the Church at this period.
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.- REMARKS ON THE APOSTASY. -THE
FATHERS.-BOOKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.-STATE OF THE CHURCH IN THE REIGN OF CONSTANTINE. THE EDICTS OF CONSTANTINE. — THE DONATISTS. -- ARIUS. — THE NICENE COUNCIL.-HELENA.-PROGRESS OF SUPERSTITION.-SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL. —DOMINION OF RABBINISM.
The Church of Christ remains essentially the same, whatever may be done under that name on earth, or whatever form it may take in the world, And it is very necessary, while considering the falling away, or apostasy, of that which we call the Church, to keep distinctly in view the Scriptures concerning the Church as it is in the purpose of God, and as it will be presented to the whole universe at the Lord's glorious appearing.
After the inspired record of the failures of the churches on earth (Rev. ii. and iï.), the believing reader rejoices at the description of the Church in heaven (chap. iv. and v). That the elders and living creatures (lit. Greek) represent the redeemed Church, is clear from verses 9 and 10 compared with other parts of Scripture : and however wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked these redeemed ones might appear on earth, however tempted by their own lusts, by the world, or by the devices of Satan, they are here seen as having overcome and escaped all. They are on thrones (seats Greek, thronoi), clothed in white raiment, crowned, full of eyes, having every one of them harps and golden vials full of odours, perpetually giving glory where glory is due, and worshipping for ever God and the Lamb. The Church is the body of Christ, “ the fulness of him that filleth all in all ” (Eph. i. 23). And in the end he will “ present it unto himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing” (chap. v. 27). The
DEPARTURE FROM THE TRUTH.
security for this is in the unfailing Head of the Church. It is as impossible for one member of Christ to perish, as it is for death or Satan to touch His glorious body, now at the right hand of God.
I would therefore guard you, my dear young friends, from confounding the Church, of which we are about now to speak, with the Church spoken of in the New Testament : and the term is only used, after its original signification is gone, because there is no other that would be generally intelligible. It must also be remembered, that we have now to speak of churches, not as gatherings of believers, but as stone buildings.
If you were suddenly led out of the broad light of the noontide sun, down several flights of steps, and through subterraneous passages into a cavern of pitchy darkness, and I asked you how you should get into the light again, you would naturally answer, “I must retrace my steps. I must creep through all those dark passages, led by such glimmerings of light as I can find, and ascend those steps, and I shall find the sun shining as bright as ever.” And supposing another person said you might get light by means of a multitude of lamps in the place where you were, you would smile at the idea of setting up any thing as preferable to the light of the sun. Now this has been our experience in tracing the history of the Church : we have gradually withdrawn from the light, and descended, as it were, so easily step after step, winding through so many artfully contrived passages, that we are surprised at the darkness. The departure from the word of God was so gradual that persons seemed scarcely to miss the light to their path, or were contented with other guides. We may now be told there are a multitude of writings which will serve as guides through the darkness, or at least explain or fill up what is wanting in the written word: but we smile, as we should at the idea of the lamps, either in the place of the sun, or as helps to make it give a better light. And our smiles are turned into sighs, when we find erring men, who were perhaps less instructed in the truth than many children are now, set up and trusted to, under the venerable name of “The Fathers.” The term, “ Fathers,” can only be scripturally applied by converted persons to those who have been the means of their spiritual birth, by instructing them in the Gospel (see 1 Cor. iv. 15); and the Lord said to his disciples, “ Call no man your father upon earth (that is, in the sense of a
teacher); for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matt. xxiii. 9).
By " the Fathers ” are to be understood certain teachers who lived in the first few centuries after the apostles, and whose writings still remain, as if to prove to the candid and intelligent reader how vast a difference there is between the laboured compositions of these learned men, and the writings of the unlearned men who were moved by the Holy Ghost, or those of Paul, whose eloquence and learning were not suffered to hinder the full flow of the living waters. But some, who would not generally depend on the Fathers as the depositaries of the truth, say, that we at least cwe to them the settlement of our received Scriptures ; for they arranged the books of the New Testament as they at present stand, and separated the inspired from the uninspired. To this it may be simply replied, that any spiritually minded person, who has so tasted of the word of God as to find it sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, could do the same : and he would not mistake the words which man's wisdom teacheth for the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth. In the present day there is a false revelation (that of Mormon, in America); and at many periods there have been false gospels and false epistles, as well as an attempt to add to the books of the Old Testament such as were not inspired: but the children of God know the difference between bread and a stone, between a fish and a serpent-in other words, “he that is spiritual discerneth all things” (1 Cor. ii. 15).
There is many a source of fresh springing water, the streams whereof may be very foul by flowing through earthy channels : but by going higher up, even to the source itself, we shall find the water in its natural purity. It is so with the Scriptures : they may be ever so much perverted by human interpretations; but as soon as one who is taught of the Spirit goes back to the simple truth, he will find it untainted, and as clear as when first given by the Holy Ghost.
In concluding these prefatory remarks, it may be said, that it is far more easy to point out what is wrong in the condition of the Church at any time, than to show how it may be set right. The rebuilding of a ruined edifice would be comparatively easy, if the whole of it were simply in the dust, and not one stone left upon another : but if the several parts of it were so artfully combined with foreign materials, and built up in such novel
and fantastic forms that the fragments of the original could hardly be discovered, it would be impossible.
And this is exactly what has happened to the Church on earth at the present period of our history. Some traces of the scriptural ideas and practices of the Church still remain : but they are so strangely mixed up with Jewish and Pagan ideas and practices, that it seems impossible to disentangle them, and we can only describe things as we find them. But let it be always remembered, “what is impossible with man is possible with God.” He will gather his living stones out of mountainous heaps of rubbish, and each will have its right place in His temple. He will find his jewels, hidden as they may be in the deepest obscurity, and bring them forth to the light in the day of His glorious appearing.
When Constantine and Licinius met at Milan, in A.D. 312, their joint edict annulled all the former laws against the Christians ; but gave perfect liberty to their subjects to profess whatever religion they thought best. But Constantine, from his after-acquaintance with Christianity was undoubtedly convinced of its vast superiority to Paganism, both in its nature and in its effects : and it is probable he also saw that it was the best instrument of government, and that the influence of the clergy over the minds of the people would make them the most effectual supporters of his authority.
In A.D. 313, a quarrel which had arisen concerning the election of an African bishop became so violent, that the emperor was requested to interfere. He first appointed the bishop of Rome and then the pro-consul of Africa to settle the matter; but as their decisions did not satisfy the complaining parties, he called together an assembly of bishops at Arles, in A.D. 314, to give a final judgment.
The discontented party, who were called Donatists, from their leader Donatus, caused the greatest tumults in Africa and elsewhere ; and this ecclesiastical war was not entirely at an end for fifty years. In many cities there were two bishops of different parties; and when those of the Donatist faction were banished, or put to death, by order of Constantine, their followers became more enraged ; and a party of them, under the name of Circumcelliones, took up arms, and over-ran Africa, filling that province with slaughter and rapine. Constantine tried in vain every method of accommodation ; and at last, by