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the Hebrews ceased, and the murmuring of the Grecians: and “then had the churches rest, and were edified;" built up in the love of God and one another; "and, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied," Acts ix, 31.
16. It seems to have been some time after this, that “the mystery of iniquity” began to work in the form of zeal. Great troubles arose by means of some who zealously contended for circumcision, and the rest of the ceremonial law; till the apostles and elders put an end to the spreading evil, by that final determination,—" It seemeth good unto the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication,” chap. xv, 28, 29. Yet was not this evil so thoroughly suppressed, but that it frequently broke out again ; as we learn from various parts of St. Paul's epistles, particularly that to the Galatians.
17. Nearly allied to this was another grievous evil, which at the same time sprang up in the church; want of mutual forbearance, and, of consequence, anger, strife, contention, variance. One very remarkable instance of this we find in this very chapter. When“ Paul said to Barnabas, Let us visit the brethren where we have preached the word, Barnabas determined to take with him John;" because he was “his sister's son. “ But Paul thought it not good to take him who had deserted them before.” And he had certainly reason on his side. But Barnabas resolved to have his own way. Εγενετο ουν παροξυσμος,and there was a fit of anger. It does not say on St. Paul's side : Barnabas only had passion, to supply the 'want of reason. Accordingly he departed from the work, and went home; while St. Paul went forward “ through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches," verse 41.
18. The very first society of Christians at Rome were not altogether free from this evil leaven. There were “divisions and offences” among them also, chap. xvi, 17; although, in general, they seem to have “Walked in love.” But how early did the “ mystery of iniquity” work, and how powerfully, in the church at Corinth? Not only schisms and heresies, animosities, fierce and bitter contentions, were among them; but open, actual sins; yea, “such fornication as was not named among the heathens," 1 Cor. v, 1. Nay, there was need to remind them, that “ neither adulterers, nor thieves, nor drunkards," could "enter into the kingdom of heaven," chap. vi, 9, 10. And in all St. Paul's epistles we meet with abundant proof, that tares grew up with the wheat in all the churches; and that the mystery of iniquity" did every where, in a thousand forms, counterwork " the mystery of godliness."
19. When St. James wrote his epistle, directed more immediately “to the twelve tribes scattered abroad," to the converted Jews, the tares sown among this wheat had produced a plentiful harvest. That grand pest of Christianity, a faith without works, was spread far and wide; filling the church with a “wisdom from beneath,” which was
earthly, sensual, devilish,” and which gave rise, not only to rash judging and evil speaking, but to "envy, strife, confusion, and every evil work." Indeed, whoever peruses the fourth and fifth chapters of this epistle, with serious attention, will be inclined to believe, that even in this early period, the tares had nigh choked the wheat; and that among most of those to whom St. James wrote, no more than the form of godliness, if so much, was left.
20. St. Peter wrote about the same time “to the strangers," the Christians, “scattered abroad through” all those spacious provinces of " Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia (Minor,) and Bithynia.” These, probably, were some of the most eminent Christians that were then in the world. Yet how exceeding far were even these from being “ without spot and blemish !" And what grievous tares were here also growing up with the wheat! Some of them were “bringing in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them,” 2 Pet. ii, 1, &c: and “ many followed their pernicious ways;" of whom the apostle gives that terrible character: “They walk after the flesh,” in " the lust of uncleanness, like brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed. Spots they are, and blemishes, while they feast with you;” (in the “ feasts of charity,” then celebrated throughout the whole church ;) “ having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest, for whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.” And yet these very men were called Christians; and were even then in the bosom of the church! Nor does the apostle mention them as infecting any one particular church only; but as a general plague, which even then was dispersed far and wide among all the Christians to whom he wrote !
21. Such is the authentic account of “the mystery of iniquity,” working even in the apostolic churches !-an account given, not by the Jews or heathens, but by the apostles themselves. To this we may add the account which is given by the Head and Founder of the church; Him“ who holds the stars in his right hand ;" who is “the faithful and true Witness.” We may easily infer what was the state of the church in general, from the state of the seven churches in Asia. One of these indeed, the church of Philadelphia, had “ kept his word, and had not denied his name," Rev. iii, 8; the church of Smyrna was likewise in a flourishing state: but all the rest were corrupted, more or less; insomuch that many of them were not a jot better than the present race of Christians; and our Lord then threatened, what he has long since performed, to “ remove the candlestick” from them.
22. Such was the real state of the Christian church, even during the first century; while not only St. John, but most of the apostles, were present with and presided over it. But what a mystery is this, that the All-wise, the All-gracious, the Almighty, should suffer it so to be, not in one only, but, as far as we can learn, in every Christian society, those of Smyrna and Philadelphia excepted! And how came these to be excepted? Why were these less corrupted, (to go no farther,) than the other churches of Asia ?. It seems, because they were less wealthy. The Christians in Philadelphia were not literally " increased in goods,” like those at Ephesus and Laodicea; and if the Christians at Smyrna had acquired more wealth, it was swept away by persecution. So that these, having less of this world's goods, retained more of the simplicity and purity of the gospel.
23. But how contrary is this scriptural account of the ancient Christians to the ordinary apprehensions of men! We have been apt to imagine, that the primitive church was all excellence and perfection; answerable to that strong description which St. Peter cites from Moses: “ Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people." And such, without all doubt, the first Christian church, which commenced at the day of pentecost, was. But how soon did the fine gold become dim! How soon was the wine mixed with water ! How little time elapsed, before the “god of this world” so far regained his empire, that Christians in general were scarce distinguishable from heathens, save by their opinions and modes of worship!
24. And if the state of the church in the very first century was so bad, we cannot suppose it was any better in the second. Undoubtedly it grew worse and worse. Tertullian, one of the most eminent Christians of that age, has given us an account of it in various parts of his writings, whence we learn that real, internal religion was hardly found; nay, that not only the tempers of the Christians were exactly the same with those of their heathen neighbours, (pride, passion, love of the world, reigning alike in both,) but their lives and manners also. The bearing a faithful testimony against the general corruption of Christians, seems to have raised the outcry against Montanus; and against Tertullian himself, when he was convinced that the testimony of Montanus was true. As to the heresies fathered upon Montanus, it is not easy to find what they were. I believe his grand heresy was, the maintaining that “without” inward and outward "holiness, no man shall see the Lord !''
25. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in every respect an unexceptionable witness, who flourished about the middle of the third century, has left us abundance of letters, in which he gives a large and particular account of the state of religion in his time. In reading this, one would be apt to imagine, he was reading an account of the present century : so totally void of true religion were the generality both of the laity and clergy, so immersed in ambition, envy, covetousness, luxury, and all other vices, that the Christians of Africa were then exactly the same as the Christians of England are now.
26. It is true, that during this whole period, during the first three centuries, there were intermixed longer or shorter seasons, wherein true Christianity revived. In those seasons the justice and mercy of God let loose the heathens upon the Christians. Many of these were then called to resist unto blood. And “ the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church." The apostolic spirit returned ; and many “counted not their lives dear unto themselves, so they might finish their course with joy.” Many others were reduced to a happy poverty ; and, being stripped of what they had loved too well, they “remembered from whence they were fallen, and repented, and did their first works.”
27. Persecution never did, never could, give any lasting wound to genuine Christianity. But the greatest it ever received, the grand blow which was struck at the very root of that humble, gentle, patient love, which is the fulfilling of the Christian law, the whole essence of true religion, was struck in the fourth century by Constantine the Great, when he called himself a Christian, and poured in a flood of riches, honours, and power, upon the Christians; more especially upon the clergy. Then was fulfilled in the Christian church, what Velleius Paterculus says of the people of Rome : Sublatâque imperii æmulâ, non gradu, sed præcipiti cursu, à virtute descitum, ad vitia transcursum. Just so, when the fear of persecution was removed, and wealth and
honour attended the Christian profession, the Christians did not gradually sink, but rushed headlong into all manner of vices. Then the “ mystery of iniquity" was no more hid, but stalked abroad in the face of the sun. Then, not the golden, but the iron age of the church commenced : then one might truly say,
Protinus irrupit vene pejoris in ævum
And force, and thirst of gold, claimed universal sway. 28. And this is the event which most Christian expositors mention with such triumph! Yea, which some of them supposed to be typified in the revelation, by “the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven!” Rather say, it was the coming of Satan, and all his legions from the bottomless pit : seeing from that very time he hath set up his throne over the face of the whole earth, and reigned over the Christian, as well as the pagan world, with hardly any control! Historians, indeed, tell us, very gravely, of nations, in every century, who were by such and such, (saints without doubt!) converted to Christianity : but still these converts practised all kind of abominations, exactly as they did before; no way differing, either in their tempers or in their lives, from the nations that were still called heathens. Such has been the deplorable state of the Christian church, from the time of Constantine till the reformation. A Christian nation, a Christian city, (according to the scriptural model,) was no where to be seen; but every city and country, a few individuals excepted, was plunged in all manner of wickedness.
29. Has the case been altered since the reformation? Does “the mystery of iniquity” no longer work in the church ? No: the reformation itself has not extended to above one third of the western church; so that two thirds of this remain as they were; so do the eastern, southern, and northern churches. They are as full of heathenish, or worse than heathenish abominations, as ever they were before. And what is the condition of the reformed churches ? It is certain that they were reformed in their opinions, as well as their modes of worship. But is not this all ? Were either their tempers or lives reformed ? Not at all. Indeed many of the reformers themselves complained, that“ Thereformation was not carried far enough.” But what did they mean? Why, that they did not sufficiently reform the rites and ceremonies of the church. Ye fools and blind! To fix your whole attention on the circumstantials of religion! Your complaint ought to have been, the essentials of religion were not carried far enough! You ought vehemently to have insisted on an entire change of men's tempers and lives; on their showing they had “the mind that was in Christ,” by “ walking as he also walked.” Without this, how exquisitely trifling was the reformation of opinions, and rites, and ceremonies ? Now let any one survey the state of Christianity in the reformed parts of Switzerland; in Germany, or France; in Sweden, Denmark, Holland; in Great Britain and Ireland. How little are any of these reformed Christians better than heathen nations ! Have they more, (I will not say, communion with God, although there is no Christianity without it,) but have they more
justice, mercy, or truth, than the inhabitants of China, or Indostan? Oh no! we must acknowledge with sorrow and shame, that we are far beneath them!
That we, who by thy Name are named,
The heathens unbaptized out-sin! 30. Is not this the falling away or apostasy from God, foretold by St. Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, chap. ii, 3? Indeed, I would not dare to say, with George Fox, that this apostasy was universal; that there never were any real Christians in the world, from the days of the apostles till his time. But we may boldly say, that wherever Christianity has spread, the apostasy has spread also : insomuch that, although there are now and always have been individuals who were real Christians, yet the whole world never did, nor can at this day, show a Christian country or city.
31. I would now refer it to every man of reflection, who believes the Scriptures to be of God, whether this general apostasy does not imply the necessity of a general reformation ? Without allowing this, how can we possibly justify either the wisdom or goodness of God? According to Scripture, the Christian religion was designed for “the healing of the nations ;" for the saving from sin by means of the second Adam, all that were “constituted sinners” by the first. But it does not answer this end: it never did; unless for a short time at Jerusalem. What can we say, but that if it have not yet, it surely will answer it? The time is coming, when not only "all Israel shall be saved, but the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in.” The time cometh, when“ violence shall no more be heard in the earth, wasting or destruction within our borders;" but every city shall call her“ walls salvation, and her gates praise;" when the people, saith the Lord, “ shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified,” Isa. Ix, 18, 21.
32. From the preceding considerations, we may learn the full answer to one of the grand objections of infidels against Christianity; namely, The lives of Christians. Of Christians, do you say? I doubt whether you ever knew a Christian in your life. When Tomo Chachi, the Indian chief, keenly replied to those who spoke to him of being a Christian, "Why there are Christians at Savannah! There are Christians at Frederica !”-the proper answer was, “No; they are not; they are no more Christians than you and Sinauky.” “But are not these Christians in Canterbury, in London, in Westminster ?” No; no more than they are angels. None are Christians, but they that have the mind which was in Christ, and walk as he walked. “Why, if these only are Christians," said an eminent wit, “I never saw a Cliristian yet.' I believe it: you never did; and, perhaps, you never will; for you will never find them in the grand or the gay world. The few Christians that are upon the earth, are only to be found where you never look for them. Never, therefore, urge this objection more: never object to Christianity the lives or tempers of heathens. Though they are called Christians, the name does not imply the thing: they are as far from this as hell, from heaven!
33. We may learn from hence, secondly, the extent of the fall; the astonishing spread of original corruption. What, among so many thousands, so many millions, is there pone righteous, no, not one ? Not by VOL. II.