Antiquity of the Gospel[Page xxiii]
The History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also the history of the opening and progress of the Dispensation of the fulness of Times; and as that dispensation bears an important relation to all dispensations which have preceded it, let us here ascertain in what that relation consists. By doing so we shall have a better appreciation of the full import of those events which make up the history of the Church.
A dispensation, without reference to any specific application or limitation of the term, is the act of dealing out or distributing, such as the dispensation of justice by courts, the dispensation of blessings or afflictions by the hand of Providence. Theologically a dispensation is defined as one of the several systems or bodies of law in which at different periods God has revealed his mind and will to man, such as the Patriarchal Dispensation, the Mosaic Dispensation, or the Christian Dispensation. The word is also sometimes applied to the periods of time during which the said laws obtain. That is, the period from Adam to Noah is usually called the Patriarchal Dispensation. From Noah to the calling of Abraham, the Noachian Dispensation; and from Abraham to the calling of Moses, the Abrahamic Dispensation. But the word dispensation as connected with the Gospel of Jesus Christ means the opening of the heavens to men; the giving out or dispensing to them the word of God; the revealing to men in whole or the part the principles and ordinances of the Gospel; the conferring of divine authority upon certain chosen ones, by which they are empowered to act in the name, that is, in the authority of God, and for Him. That is a dispensation as relating to the Gospel; and the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times is the dispensation which includes all others and gathers to itself all things which bear any relation whatsoever to the work of God. Also it is the last dispensation, the one in which will be gathered together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him. 1 It is the dispensation which will see fulfilled all the decrees of God respecting the salvation of men and the redemption of the earth itself; and bears such relation to all other dispensations of the Gospel as the ocean does to all earth’s streams. It receives and unites them all in itself.
That there have been many dispensations of the Gospel, many times that divine authority has been conferred upon men, is apparent from the Scripture narrative of such events. And yet, strange as it may seem, in the face of such Scripture narratives, there are those among professing Christians who hold that the Gospel had no earlier origin than the time of Messiah’s ministry in the flesh. As a matter of fact, however, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has existed from the very earliest ages of the world. There are, indeed, certain passages of Scripture which lead us to believe that even before the earth was made or ever man was placed upon it, the Gospel had been formulated and was understood by the spirits which inhabited the kingdom of the Father; and who, in course of time, would be blessed with a probation on the earth—an earth-life. If this be not true, of what significance is the Scripture which speaks of Jesus as the Lamb ordained before the foundation of the world, but revealed in this day for the salvation of man? 2 What of the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”? 3 And further: “They that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world.” 4 “Where wast thou,” asked the Lord of Job, “when I laid the foundations of the earth? * * * When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” 5 There is evidence in these expressions found in Scripture that before the foundations of the earth were laid the sacrifice necessary to the redemption of men was understood, and the “Lamb” for the sacrifice was chosen, Jesus, the Messiah. There is evidence in these expressions from Scripture of the pre-existence of the spirits of men, and the names of some of them at least were written in the “Book of Life” from the foundation of the world, and it is not unlikely that the shouting of all the sons of God for joy at the creation of the earth was in consequence of the prospects which opened before them because of the earth-life and the salvation that would come to them through the Gospel—even in the prospects of that “eternal life, which God that cannot lie promised before the world began.”
The Gospel Revealed to Adam.
The Gospel, then, is of great antiquity. Older than the hills, older than the earth; for in the heavenly kingdom was it formulated before the foundations of the earth were laid. Nor were men left in ignorance of the plan of their redemption until the coming of the Messiah in the flesh. From the first that plan was known. Our annals are imperfect on that head, doubtless, but enough exists even in the Jewish scriptures to indicate the existence of a knowledge of the fact of the Atonement and of the redemption of man through that means. Abel, the son of Adam, is the first we read of in the Jewish scriptures as offering “the firstlings of his flock” as a sacrifice unto God. How came he to offer sacrifice of the firstlings of his flock? Doubtless behind Abel’s sacrifice, as behind similar offerings in subsequent ages, stood the fact of the Christ’s Atonement. 6 In it was figured forth the means of man’s redemption—through a sacrifice, and that the sacrifice of the first-born. But where learned Abel to offer sacrifice if not from his father Adam? It is reasonably certain that Adam as well as Abel offered sacrifices, in like manner and for the same intent; and to Adam, though the Jewish scriptures are silent respecting it, God must have revealed both the necessity of offering sacrifice and the great thing of which it was but the symbol. And here, to some advantage, may be quoted a passage from the writings of Moses, as revealed to Joseph Smith, in December, 1830. From what was then made known to the great latter-day Prophet of the writings of Moses, it appears that our book of Genesis does not contain all that was revealed to Moses respecting the revelations of God to Adam and his children of the first generation. According to this more complete account of the revelation to Moses, after Adam was driven from Eden, God gave commandments both to him and his wife, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks for an offering unto the Lord, and Adam was obedient unto the commandment:
And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why doest thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son for evermore. 7
After some time elapsed and men multiplied in the earth and wickedness increased; after Abel, the righteous, was slain and Cain was a vagabond in the earth for the murder; after Lamech had also become a murderer and Satan had great power among the disobedient—then, it is written:
And God cursed the earth with a sore curse, and was angry with the wicked, with all the sons of men whom he had made; for they would not hearken unto His voice, nor believe on His Only Begotten son, even Him whom He declared should come in the meridian of time, who was prepared from before the foundation of the world. And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by His own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost. And thus all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance, and the Gospel preached, and a decree sent forth, that it should be in the world, until the end thereof. 8
Establishment of the Ancient Church.
As the Gospel was thus preached there were those among the children of Adam who obeyed it, and a record of those men was kept, and they constituted the ancient Church of God. Enoch was of the number of righteous ones, and a preacher of righteousness. In these revealed writings of Moses he is represented in the course of his ministry as referring to the manner in which the Gospel was taught to Adam:
And he said unto them: Because that Adam fell, we are, and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe. Behold Satan hath come among the children of men, and tempteth them to worship him; and men have become carnal, sensual, and devilish, and are shut out from the presence of God. But God hath made known unto our fathers that all men must repent. And He called upon our father Adam by His own voice, saying: I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh. And He also said unto him: If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in His name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given you. 9
Adam was obedient to the commandments of the Lord, and taught them to his children, many of whom believed them, obeyed, and became the sons of God.
Enoch, we are told, “walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” 10 Paul, in speaking of him, says: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him.” 11 But the writings of Moses, as reveled to Joseph Smith, and from which I have been quoting, give information that not only was Enoch translated but the Saints inhabiting his city, into which he had gathered his people, and this city was called Zion; “And it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into His own bosom; and from thence went forth the saying, Zion is fled.” 12
The Gospel versus the Law.
Thus the gospel was taught to the ancients. Noah was a preacher of it as well as Enoch. So, too, was Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, King of Salem, who met Abraham in his day and blessed him. 13 Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, bears unmistakable testimony to the fact that the Gospel was preached unto Abraham; and also that it was offered to Israel under Moses before “the law of carnal commandments” was given. “I would not that ye should be ignorant,” he says, “how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”14
Referring again to the fact of the presentation of the Gospel to ancient Israel, Paul says that the Gospel was preached unto ancient Israel, as well as unto Israel in his day; but the preaching of the Gospel to ancient Israel was not profitable to them, because they received it not in faith, and as a result displeased God by their unbelief, and the rebellious perished in the wilderness. 15
Paul’s great controversy with the Christian Jews was in relation to the superiority of the Gospel to the law of Moses. Many of the Christian Jews while accepting Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah, still held to the law with something like superstitious reverence, and could not be persuaded that the Gospel superseded the law, and was, in fact, a fulfillment of all its types and symbols. This controversy culminated in Paul’s now celebrated letter to the Galatians, wherein he says:
Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed. * * * * Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many: but as of one. And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. * * * * Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. * * * Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 16
From Moses to John the Baptist and Messiah
In greater clearness, however, than in these sayings of Paul gathered up from his writings like scattered rays of light from a prism’s reflection, the antiquity of the Gospel, as far as it concerns ancient Israel, is stated in a revelation of God to the Prophet Joseph Smith. And not only the antiquity of the Gospel, but in greater clearness also is stated the reasons why, after the Gospel was first preached to ancient Israel, the law of carnal commandments was “added” to the Gospel, or given in its place, to act as a schoolmaster to bring Israel unto Christ. And by the knowledge imparted in that revelation the time between the Mosaic dispensation and the coming of John the Baptist, to prepare the way for the coming of the Christ, is spanned by a statement so rational, that the truth of it cannot be reasonably questioned. Speaking of the Melchizedek Priesthood and its powers in administering the ordinances of the Gospel, and how it came to disappear as an organization in Israel, the passage in question says:
This greater Priesthood administereth the Gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the Priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh: for without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God: but they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. Therefore he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also; and the lesser Priesthood continued, which Priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory Gospel: which Gospel is the Gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath, caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John, whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb; for he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power. 17
As before remarked, this passage spans the interval of time between Moses and John the Baptist, and gives a fuller explanation than can be found in the writings of Paul or elsewhere, for the reason why and in what manner the law supplanted the Gospel; and what measure of the Priesthood remained with Israel unto the coming of John; in what the mission of John consisted, and in what manner he was qualified to fulfil that mission.
It should be remarked, however, at while the Lord took Moses out of the midst of ancient Israel, and the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood also, as an institution, as an organization, it is evident that subsequently special dispensations of that Priesthood were given to individual prophets, such as Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel: for these men exercised powers and enjoyed privileges which belong exclusively to the Melchizedek Priesthood.
The Dispensation of the Meridian of Time.
With the period between Moses and John the Baptist spanned, we come to the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time. This dispensation begins with the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness. It was made glorious by the personal ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God; by His suffering and death, for the redemption of mankind; by His glorious resurrection from the dead; by His subsequent ministry among His followers, and His final ascension into heaven to the throne of His Father; by the faithful ministry of His Apostles, by whom the good tidings of man’s salvation were published to the world: by the establishment of the Church as the agency through which the Gospel was to be more widely proclaimed, and those who accepted the Gospel were more thoroughly instructed in its doctrines, guarded from error, and finally perfected in the Christian life. An inspired volume of Scripture, the New Testament, was also brought into existence, from the teachings of the inspired Apostles, in which the great fundamental truths of the Gospel were embodied and cast in a form that would be enduring, and to which men could appeal through all the ages to come, as an authoritative statement, not only of what Jesus said and what He did, but also a statement of what doctrines are to be believed; what precepts to be practiced; what ordinances to be observed. By thus embodying the chief doctrines of Christ in a volume of Scripture that should live forever, and be published in all the languages of the world, provision was made for such a dissemination of the knowledge of God, that the world would never again be wholly without that knowledge; and though the Church might become corrupted, as it afterwards did; though men ambitious of distinction and power might usurp authority and establish churches, in which they taught for doctrines the commandments of men, as they certainly did; still in this volume of Scripture men henceforth would have at hand a standard of truth by which to test the utterances of would-be teachers, while at the same time it would keep above the horizon of a world’s knowledge the great truths of the Gospel—the existence and character of God; the manifestation of Him through the person and character of Jesus of Nazareth; the relationship existing between God and man; the fall of man; and the redemption provided for him in the atonement of Jesus Christ. All this was achieved in the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time; a mighty work accomplished by the Son of God and His associates; a work sealed not only by the blood of Jesus Christ, but by the blood also of many faithful witnesses, which shall make their testimony of force in the world.
The Identity of the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time and the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times Considered.
At this point we are confronted with a question that must be settled before progress is possible with this Introduction. Owing to the phraseology of certain passages of Scripture, making reference to the coming of Messiah in the flesh, and to the work of God in those days, the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time is mistaken for the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. In Mark’s Gospel, for instance, John the Baptist is represented as saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” 18 The words in Italics are usually understood to make reference to the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. Again it is written: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” 19 The words, “when the fulness of the time was come,” are supposed to refer to the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. Other passages of Scripture referring to the days of Messiah’s personal ministry among men in the flesh, speak of them as the “last days.” Paul, in the opening sentence of his letter to the Hebrews, does this: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things.” 20 So St. John, in addressing the Saints in his day: “Little children, it is the last time. Of the special passages before referred to, and which I said would receive separate consideration, the first is Peter’s quotation from the Prophet Joel concerning the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon “all flesh in the last days.” This quotation from Joel is regarded as identifying the days in which the Apostle was speaking, as “the last days”; and the dispensation in which he was living as the Dispensation of the Last Days and of the Fulness of Times. The conditions existing when Peter was speaking, and the prophecy of Joel, however, admit of no such interpretation. The circumstances were as follows: The Holy Ghost in an extraordinary manner rested upon the Apostles and gave them the power of speaking in other languages than those they had learned. Some in the listening multitude attributed this singular manifestation to drunkenness, whereupon the Apostle Peter arose and refuted the slander, saying: “These are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel; and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 21 “For,” to finish the passage as it stands in Joel, but which is not in Peter’s quotation, “For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.” 22
Because Peter, referring to the Spirit that was then resting upon the Twelve Apostles, said, “this is that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel,” etc., the very general opinion prevails that Joel’s prophecy was then fulfilled; and hence the last days were come. This is an entire misapprehension of the purpose of Peter in making the quotation; as also of the quoted passage itself. Beyond all controversy Peter meant only: This Spirit which you now see resting upon these Apostles of Jesus of Nazareth, is that same Spirit which your Prophet Joel says will, in the last days, be poured out upon all flesh. Obviously he did not mean that this occasion of the Apostles receiving the Holy Ghost was a complete fulfilment of Joel’s prediction. To insist upon such an exegesis would be to charge the chief of the Apostles with palpable ignorance of the meaning of Joel’s prophecy. On the occasion in question the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the Twelve Apostles, who were given the power to speak in various tongues; Joel’s prophecy for its complete fulfilment requires that the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Ghost, shall be poured out upon all flesh; and undoubtedly refers to that time which shall come in the blessed millennium when the enmity shall not only cease between man and man, but even between the beasts of the forests and of the fields; and between man and beast, as described by Isaiah in the following language:
The wolf also shall dwell with the Lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. 23
Compare these conditions so vividly described with what Joel himself says of the period when the Spirit of the Lord shall be poured out upon all flesh, and it will at once be clear that the two Prophets are dealing with the same period, and not only dealing with the same period, but that the period itself is certainly far beyond, in time, the days of Peter; in fact is still in the future; for the sun has not yet been turned into blackness; nor the moon into blood; nor have the stars withdrawn their shining. It is obvious that the events upon the day of Pentecost did not fulfil the terms of this prophecy, except in those particulars already pointed out. The mention in this prophecy, however, of those special signs which Jesus refers to as immediately preceding His own second and glorious coming, clearly demonstrate that Joel was speaking of the last days indeed, and not of a circumstance that occurred in connection with a period more properly designated as the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time. Immediately following his prediction of the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon all flesh, Joel represents the Lord as saying: “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great end terrible day of the Lord come.” And later: The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake, but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
Compare this with the Savior’s description of conditions in the earth that will precede His own second coming:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 24
The same wonders in heaven and earth; the same changes in sun and moon, and stars; the same promises of the gathering of God’s people as are found in the prophecy of Joel. There can be no question, then, but that the prophecy of Joel refers to the same “last days” that Jesus here alludes to—the days of the coming of the Son of Man—and not to the days of Peter and the other Apostles in the Meridian of time.
The sum of the matter then is, that Peter was not living in the “last days”; that the prophecy of Joel was not in its entirety fulfilled in the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost; that at no time subsequent to the days of the Apostles has there existed such conditions in the earth as amount to a complete fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy; therefore at some time future from the days of the Apostles, we may look forward to a universal outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all flesh, resulting in a universal peace and widespread knowledge of God, brought about, unquestionably, by a subsequent dispensation from that in which Peter wrought—the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, in which God promises to “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; even in Him.” 25
Daniel’s Prophecy of the Rise of the Kingdom of God in the Last Days.
The second special Scripture to which I have promised a separate consideration is the prophecy of Daniel relative to the succession of the great earth empires; and the final establishment of the Kingdom of God, which in “the last days” shall fill the whole earth and remain for ever. By and error on the part of Christian writers Daniel’s Prophecy concerning the Kingdom of God to be set up in “the last days” is supposed to have been fulfilled by the founding of “The Spiritual Kingdom of Christ” in the days of Messiah’s earthly ministry; and therefore the conclusion is drawn that those days were “the last days,” and the dispensation then ushered in, the final dispensation of the Gospel. It is my purpose here to refute that error.
The prophecy in question is familiar, and comes from Daniel’s interpretation of the King of Babylon’s dream of the great image, whose “brightness was excellent, whose form was terrible.” The head of the image was of gold; his breast and arms were of silver; the body and thighs of brass; the legs of iron; and the feet and the toes part of iron and part of clay. The king in his dream also saw a little stone cut out of the mountain without hands, that smote the image upon the feet of mixed clay and iron, and broke it to pieces—until it became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloor, and the wind of heaven carried it away, that no place was found for it: but the little stone cut from the mountain without hands, which smote the image on the feet and ground it to dust, became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. This it the dream; and this is the prophet’s interpretation, addressed to the king of Babylon:
Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided: but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with the miry clay. And as the toes and the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, to the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And where thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms and it shall stand forever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold: the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretations thereof sure. 26
As understood by the learned, Daniel’s interpretation stands thus:
“(1) The Golden Head—the Assyrio-Babylonish monarchy (the 6th and 5th century, B.C.);
“(2) The Silver Breast and Arms—the Medo-Persian empire (from 538 B.C. to about 330 B.C.);
“(3) The Brazen Belly and Thighs—the Greco-Macedonian kingdom, especially after Alexander, those of Egypt and Syria (from about 330 B.C. to 160 B.C.);
“(4) The Legs of Iron—the power of Rome, bestriding the east and west, but broken into a number of states, the ten toes, which retained some of its warlike strength (the iron), mingled with elements of weakness (the soft potters’ clay), which rendered the whole imperial structure unstable.
“(5) The Stone cut without hands out of the Living Rock, dashing down the image, becoming a great mountain, and filling all the earth—The Spiritual Kingdom of Christ.”
The last phrase—”The Spiritual Kingdom of Christ”—meaning of course the “Christian churches” which have existed from the time of Christ, and that now exist, and which, taken together, form Christ’s spiritual kingdom.
On the foregoing exegesis, which is the one commonly accepted by orthodox Christians, I make the following several observations:
First, Second, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come: because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldst give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldst destroy them which destroy the earth. 27
And still again:
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. 28
It should be observed respecting the last passage and the one preceding it, that “the reign on earth” of the kingdom of God is connected with the resurrection of the righteous saints; so that it will be the “last days” indeed—not in the days of the Roman empire. And this reign of the saints on earth, this kingdom of God which they shall constitute shall be a reign of righteousness, but a veritable kingdom nevertheless.
Third, This failure to recognize the fifth political power represented by the feet and toes of Daniel’s image leads to serious errors with respect to this prophecy. It has led the theologians to assign the setting up of God’s kingdom spoken of in the prophecy to the wrong period of the world’s history. They say the kingdom represented by the stone cut from the mountain without hands is “the spiritual kingdom of Christ;” and that the said kingdom was set up in the days of Messiah’s earthly ministry in the meridian of time. This, however, cannot be correct; for the Church which Jesus established by His personal ministry and which, it is granted, is sometimes spoken of as the Kingdom of God, was founded in the days of the Roman empire, the fourth world power of Daniel’s prophecy; and at a time, too, when imperial Rome was at the very zenith of her glory and power. Whereas the terms of Daniel’s prophecy require that the kingdom which God shall establish, and which was represented by the stone cut from the mountain without hands, shall be set up in the days of the fifth political world power—in the days of the kingdom represented by the pieces of iron and clay in the feet and toes of the image. The language of the prophecy on this point is: “And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom [i. e. the political power so represented, and that succeeds the fourth power or Roman empire,] shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, * * * they [i. e., the kingdom represented by the pieces of iron and clay,] shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings [not in the days of the Roman empire]—in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which never shall be destroyed.”
Fourth, Fifth, Having considered the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time and corrected the popular error which confounds that dispensation with the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, it is necessary now to consider the decline of the Christian religion.
The Announcement of the Universal Apostasy
It is a most startling announcement with which the Prophet Joseph Smith begins his message to the world. Concerning the question, he asked God—”Which of all the sects is right, and which shall I join?” he says:
“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt; that they draw near to me with their lips, but there hearts are far from me; they teach for doctrines the commandments of men: having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” 29
This is a tremendous arraignment of all Christendom. It charges a condition of universal apostasy from God, especially upon Christendom that was dwelling in a fancied security of being the farthest removed from the possibility of such a charge; each division of the so-called Christian Church felicitating itself with the flattering unction that its own particular society possessed the enlightened fullness of the Christian religion. While the boldness of this declaration of the young Prophet is astounding, upon reflection it must be conceded that just such a condition of affairs in the religious world is consistent with the work he, under the direction of divine Providence, was about to inaugurate. Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of sects there were already enough in existence. Division and subdivision had already created of confusion more than enough, and there was no possible excuse for the introduction of a new Christian sect. But if men through apostasy had corrupted the Christian religion and lost divine authority to administer the ordinances of the Gospel, it was of the utmost importance that a new dispensation of the true Christian religion should be given to the world. It should also be observed at this point, that Joseph Smith, then but a boy, scarcely removed from childhood, was not himself pronouncing judgment upon the status of Christendom. It was not he who declared the sects to be all wrong, their creeds an abomination, and the professors thereof corrupt. He of all persons, both on account of his extreme youthfulness and his lack of general information, was among the least qualified to pronounce upon such a question. Indeed, he himself confesses his unfitness for such an office. His seeking knowledge from God upon this very question—”which of all the sects is right?” is a confession of his own inability to determine the matter. No human wisdom was sufficient to answer that question. No man in all the world was so pre-eminent as to be justified in proclaiming the divine acceptance of one church in preference to another. Divine wisdom alone was sufficient to pass judgment upon such a question; and there is peculiar force in the circumstance that the announcement which Joseph Smith makes with reference to this subject is not formulated by him nor by any other man, but is given to him of God. God has been the judge of apostate Christendom, Joseph Smith but His messenger, to herald that judgment to the world.
It now becomes my melancholy task to trace through the early Christian centuries the decline of the Christian religion. By this phrase I mean that a really unChristian religion was gradually substituted for the beautiful religion of Jesus Christ; that a universal apostasy from the Christian doctrine and the Christian Church took place. So tracing the decline of Christianity, I shall establish the truth of the first great message with which the modern prophet, Joseph Smith, came to the world; and shall also prove the fact, that a necessity existed for the establishment of such a work as he claims, under God, to have founded, and of which the several volumes of this work are the detailed history.
Character of the Early Christians.
First of all, it should be remarked that the early Christians were not so far removed from the possession of the common weaknesses of humanity as to preclude the possibility of apostatizing from the Christian religion. Owing to our being so far removed from them in time, by which many of their defects are obscured, and the exaggerated celebration of their virtues, extravagant ideas of the sanctity of their lives, and the holiness of their natures have very generally obtained, whereas a little inquiry into the character of the early Saints will prove that they were very human, and men of like passions with ourselves. The mother of Zebedee’s children exhibited a rather ambitious spirit, and the two brethren themselves gave much offense to their fellow Apostles by aspiring to sit one on the right hand of Jesus and the other on His left when He should come in His kingdom. 30 Even Peter, the chief Apostle, exhibited his full share of human weakness when he thrice denied his Lord in the presence of his enemies, through fear, and even confirmed that denial by cursing and swearing. 31 It was rather a heated controversy, too, that arose in the early Christian Church as to whether those who accepted the Christian faith were still bound to the observances of the law of Moses, and more especially to the rite of circumcision. Although there seems to have been an amicable and authoritative settlement of that question by the decision of what some learned writers have called the first general council of the Church held by the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem, 32 yet the old difficulty broke out again and again, not only between the Jewish saints and the Gentile converts, but even among the Apostles themselves, leading to serious accusations one against another, the straining of friendship between fellow-workmen in the ministry, through criminations and recriminations.
After the settlement of this very question of circumcision by the council at Jerusalem, Peter went down to Antioch and at first mingled unreservedly with both Gentile and Jewish converts without distinction, accepting both Jew and Gentile in perfect fellowship, departing entirely from the restraints placed on a Jew by the law of Moses, which rendered it unlawful for one who was a Jew to have such unrestricted fellowship with the Gentiles. But when certain ones came down from James, who resided at Jerusalem, then Peter, fearful of offending “them which were of the circumcision,” suddenly withdrew his social fellowship from the Gentile converts. Other Jewish brethren did the same; Barnabas, the friend of Paul, being among the number. Whereupon Paul, as he himself testified, withstood Peter to the face, directly charging him before all the brethren with dissimulation, saying: “If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” 33 Yet this same Paul notwithstanding his loyalty to the Gentile converts on that occasion, his zeal for the decision which had been rendered by the council of the Church at Jerusalem, and notwithstanding his usually strong moral courage subsequently showed, by his conduct, that he, too, was not beyond the weakness of “becoming all things to all men;” for a short time after the incident with Peter at Antioch. when in the province of Galatia, and he desired Timothy to be his companion in the ministry, Paul took him and circumcised him, because it was well known that while his mother was a Jewess, his father was a Greek, and all this for fear of the Jews. 34
This question continued to be a cause of contention, even after this sharp disputation at Antioch; for though the decision of the council at Jerusalem was against the contention of the Judaizing party, yet they continued to agitate the question whenever opportunity presented itself, and seemed especially to follow close upon the footsteps of Paul in his missionary journeys; and in Galatia, at least, succeeded in turning the saints of that province from the grace of Christ unto another gospel, perverting the Gospel of Christ. 35 This question continued to agitate the Church throughout the Apostolic age, and was finally settled through overwhelming numbers of Gentiles being converted, and taking possession of the Church, rather than through any profound respect for the decision of the council at Jerusalem.
The withdrawal of John Mark from the ministry while accompanying Paul and Barnabas on their first mission in Asia Minor, and which withdrawal grew out of a faltering of his zeal or a misunderstanding with his companions, will be readily called to mind. 36 Subsequently, when Paul proposed to Barnabas that they go again and visit the brethren in every city where they had preached while on their first mission, a sharp contention arose between them about this same John Mark. Barnabas desired to take him again into the ministry, but Paul seriously objected; and so pronounced was the quarrel between them that these two friends and fellow yokemen in the ministry parted company no more to be united. It is just possible also that in addition to this misunderstanding about John Mark, the severe reproof which Paul administered to Barnabas in the affair of dissimulation at Antioch had somewhat strained their friendship.
Turning from these misunderstandings and criminations among the leading officers of the Church, let us inquire how it stood with the members. The epistle of Paul to the church at Corinth discloses the fact that there were serious schisms among them; some boasting that they were of Paul, others that they were of Apollos, others of Cephas, and still others of Christ; which led Paul to ask sharply, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you?” 37 There were endless strifes as well as divisions among them, which caused Paul to denounce them as carnally minded. 38 Among them also was such fornication as was not named among the Gentiles, “that one should have his father’s wife!” And this shameful sin had not humbled the church at Corinth, for Paul denounced them for being puffed up in the presence of such a crime, rather than having mourned over it. 39 They were in the habit of going to law one with another, and that before the world, in violation of the teachings of Jesus Christ. 40 They desecrated the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper by their drunkenness, for which they were sharply reproved by the Apostle. 41 They ate and drank unworthily, “not discerning the Lord’s body; for which cause many were sickly among them, and many slept” (that is, died). There were heresies also among them, 42 some denying the resurrection of the dead, while others possessed not the knowledge of God, which the Apostle declared was their shame. 43 It is true, this sharp letter of reproof made the Corinthian saints sorry, and sorry, too, after a godly fashion, in that it brought them to a partial repentance; but even in the second epistle, from which we learn of their partial repentance, the Apostle could still charge that there were many in the church who had not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they had committed. 44 From this second letter, also, we learn that there were many in the Church at large who corrupted the word of God; 45 that there were those, even in the ministry, who were “false prophets, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the Apostles of Christ.” 46
Of the churches throughout the province of Galatia, it is scarcely necessary to say more than we have already said concerning the invasion of that province by Judaizing Christian ministers who were turning away the saints from the grace of Christ back to the beggarly elements of the law of carnal commandments; a circumstance which led Paul to exclaim: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that had called you unto the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 47
That there were two distinct parties in the Church at this time, between whom bitter contentions arose, is further evidenced by the letter of Paul to the Philippians. Some preached Christ even of envy and strife, and some of good will. “The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely,” says Paul, “supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the Gospel.” 48 “Beware of dogs,” said he again to the same people; “beware of evil workers; beware of the concision.” 49 “Brethren, be followers together of me,” he admonishes them, “and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” 50 To the Colossians Paul found it necessary to say: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. * * * Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” 51
But it is in Paul’s pastoral letters that we get a deeper insight into corruptions threatening the early church, and even beginning to lay the foundation for that subsequent apostasy which overwhelmed it. The Apostle sent Timothy to the saints at Ephesus to represent him, that he might charge some to teach no other doctrines than those which he had delivered to them: “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith,” for some had turned aside from the commandment of charity, out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned, unto “vain jangling: desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say nor whereof they affirm.” 52 Others concerning faith had made shipwreck, of whom were Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom Paul had delivered unto Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme. 53 Others had “erred concerning the faith”, and had “given heed to vain babblings, and opposition of science falsely so called.” 54 In his second letter to Timothy, Paul informs him that all the saints in Asia had turned away from him, “of whom were Phygellus and Hermogenes.” 55 He admonishes Timothy again to shun “profane and vain babblings,” “for,” said he, “they will increase unto more ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who, concerning the truth, have erred, saying that the resurrection is passed already, and overthrown the faith of some.” 56 Demos, once a fellow-laborer with Paul, had forsaken him, “having loved this present world:” 57 and at Paul’s first answer, that is, when arraigned before the court at Rome, no man stood with him, but all men forsook him; he prays that God will not lay this to their charge. 58
Paul admonished Titus to hold fast to the faith, for there were many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision; who subverted whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake; and were giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men and turning from the truth. 59
Peter also had something to say with reference to the danger of heresies and false teachers which menaced the Church. He declared that there would be false teachers among the saints, who “privily would bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” “And many,” said he, “shall follow their pernicious ways: by reason of whom the truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you; whose judgment now for a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them unto chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment”—he argued that the Lord would not spare these corrupters of the Gospel of Christ, who, like the dog, had turned again to his own vomit, and the sow who was washed to her wallowing in the mire. 60 He charged also that some were wresting the epistles of Paul, as they were some of the “other scriptures,” unto their own destruction. 61
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, also bears testimony to the existence of anti-Christs, false prophets, and the depravity of many in the early Church. “It is the last time,” said he, “and as ye have heard that anti-Christ shall come, even now there are many anti-Christs, whereby we know that it is the last time;” * * * * “They went out from us * * * * that they might be manifest that they were not all of us.” 62 “Try the spirits,” said he, in the same epistle, “whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” 63 Again: “Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver, an anti-Christ.” 64
Jude also is a witness against this class of deceivers. He admonished the saints to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints;” “for,” said he, “there are certain men crept in unawares, * * * ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” 65 The rest of the epistle he devotes to a description of their wickedness, comparing it with the conduct of Satan, and the vileness of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I have not given this review of the condition of the Church of Christ in the Apostolic age with the view of establishing the idea that the Church at that time was in a complete state of apostasy: nor have I dwelt upon the weaknesses and sins of the early saints for the purpose of holding them up for contempt. My only purpose has been to dispel, first of all, the extravagant ideas that obtain in many minds concerning the absolute sanctity of the early Christians; and secondly, and mainly, to show that there were elements and tendencies existing in the early Church, even in the days of the Apostles, that would, when unrestrained by Apostolic authority and power, lead to its entire over throw.
We have no good reason to believe that there occurred any change for the better in the affairs of the Church after the demise of the Apostles, no reason to believe that there were fewer heresies or fewer false teachers, or false prophets to lead away the people with their vain philosophies, their foolish babblings, and opposition of science falsely so called. On the contrary, one is forced to believe the prediction of Paul, viz., that evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived; 66 for who, after the Apostles were fallen asleep, would stand up and correct the heresies, that were brought into the Church, rebuke the schismatics, the false teachers and false prophets that arose to draw away disciples after them? If false teachers insinuated themselves into the Church, brought in damnable heresies by reason of which the way of truth was evil spoken of, and the pure religion of Jesus Christ corrupted even while inspired Apostles were still in the Church, it is not unreasonable to conclude that all these evils would increase and revel unchecked after the death of the Apostles.
The Rise of False Teachers.
I cannot, of course, in this introduction, enter into even a brief history of false teachers in the early Christian centuries. That of itself would be matter for a volume. I shall therefore content myself with making quotations from reliable authorities that will directly establish the fact of the rapid increase in the number of false teachers, and the Pernicious effects of their doctrines upon the Christian religion. It should be said before making these quotations, however, that Protestant writers are interested in maintaining that the Christian religion was perpetuated, even through the ages of apostasy, and given back to mankind by the agency of the so-called “Reformation” of the sixteenth century. Hence in their writings, when stating the corruptions of the early Church, they are especially guarded, lest too strong a statement would lead to the belief that the Christian religion had been utterly subverted. Indeed, it is well known that Milner wrote his Church History—which should be regarded not so much as the history of the Church as the history of piety—to counteract the influence of Mosheim’s Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, which work Milner considered too frank in its statements of perversions and abuses of religion. The Protestant writers must need set forth the theory that the Christian religion survived all the abuses and corruptions of it through ages of apostasy, else they would have no logical ground for the sixteenth century “Reformation” to stand upon. They seem not oblivious to the fact, though never mentioning it, that if the Christian religion was displaced by a paganized religion—a false religion—as is fully predicted, as we shall see later, in the New Testament prophecies, and of which the works of Protestant writers go far towards proving—then the only possible way in which the true Christian religion and the Church of Christ could be restored would be by re-opening of the heavens, and the giving forth of a new dispensation of the Gospel, together with a renewal of divine authority to preach it, and administer its ordinances of salvation. Catholics hold that there has been no great apostasy in the Church. Their theory is, that there has been a constant, unbroken, perpetuation of the Christian Church from the days of the Messiah and His Apostles until now; and that the Roman Catholic church is that very Church so perpetuated through the ages. Catholic writers admit that there have been very corrupt periods in the church and many wicked prelates, and some vile popes; yet they hold that the church has persisted, that the Christian religion has been preserved in the earth.
With these remarks on the position of the Protestant and Catholic churches respecting their attitude on the subject of the perpetuation of the Christian religion, I proceed with the quotations promised; and, first, a passage from Neander’s History of the Christian Religion and Church, on the very great difference between the writings of the Apostles and the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers, and the suddenness of that transition, to the disparagement of the productions of the Fathers:
A phenomenon, singular in its kind, is the striking difference between the writings of the apostles and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, who were so nearly their contemporaries. In other cases, transitions are wont to be gradual; but in this instance we observe a sudden change. There are here no gradual gradations, but all at once an abrupt transition from one style of language to another; a phenomenon which should lead us to acknowledge the fact of a special agency of the Divine Spirit in the souls of the Apostles. After the time of the first extraordinary operations of the Holy Ghost followed by the period of the free development of human nature in Christianity; and here, as in all other cases, the beginning must be small and feeble before the effects of Christianity could penetrate more widely, and bring fully under their influence the great powers of the human mind. It was to be shown first, what the divine power could effect by the foolishness of preaching. The writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers have unhappily, for the most part, come down to us in a condition very little worthy of confidence, partly because under the name of these men, so highly venerated in the Church, writings were early forged for the purpose of giving authority to particular opinions or principles; and partly because their own writings which were extant became interpolated in subservience to a Jewish hierarchical interest which aimed to crush the free spirit of the Gospel. 67
There is no authority of scripture for the supposition made here by Dr. Neander that the extraordinary operations of the Holy Ghost were to be confined to the Apostles; the whole tenor of scripture authority is to the contrary. It is the theory of the Gospel itself, that all who receive it, and particularly its ministers, shall have the divine Spirit as a special agency working in their souls, through all time, and there is no warrant for the belief that its operations were to be confined to those who first received it and became its first ministers. Therefore, this sudden transition in the matter of excellence and trustworthiness between the writings of the Apostles and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers indicates not only a deterioration in the character of the teachers in the Church and what is taught, but more especially indicates the progress of the “mystery of iniquity” which was at work subverting the Christian religion and destroying the Church of Christ.
On the question of forged books and writings mentioned in the passage from Neander, Dr. Nathaniel Lardner refers to a dissertation written by Dr. Mosheim, which shows the reasons and causes for the many forged writings produced in the first and second centuries, and then adds: “All own that Christians of all sorts were guilty of this fraud. Indeed we may say it was one great fault of the times; for truth needs no such defenses, and would blush at the sight of them.” 68
Eusebius, quoting Hegesippus on the subject of false teachers and referring to the condition of the Church about the close of the first century, says:
The Church continued until then [close of the first century] as a pure and uncorrupt virgin, whilst if there were any at all that attempted to pervert the sound doctrine of the saving Gospel, they were yet skulking in dark retreats: but when the sacred choir of Apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom had passed away, then also the combinations of impious errors arose by the fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there were none of the Apostles left, henceforth attempted without shame, to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth. 69
Dr. Mosheim has the following on the same subject:
Not long after the Savior’s ascension, various histories of his life and doctrines, full of impositions and fables, were composed by persons of no bad intentions, perhaps, but who were superstitious, simple, and piously fraudulent; and afterwards various other spurious writings were palmed upon the world, falsely inscribed with the names of the holy Apostles. 70
This condition of things with reference to the writers in the centuries under consideration, naturally leads one to the reflection, that if there were so much of fraud, and so many forged writings, what must have been the state of the Church at this time with reference to oral teaching? We are justified in believing, I think, that bad as was the state of things with reference to the writings of these early teachers of the Church, the discourses of such as preached may be depended upon as being much worse. In this view of the case, one can readily understand that the “authority of antiquity” so generally urged as a reason for accepting the testimonies of the Fathers, that “handmaid to scripture,” as “antiquity” is sometimes called, the whole body of it, written and oral, may indeed “be regarded,” as Dr. Jortin remarks, “as Briarean, for she has a hundred hands, and these hands often clash and beat one another.” 71
Moreover, it often happens that those who are condemned by some of these Fathers as heretics were not only censured for their heresies, but sometimes for the truths which they held. For example: Papias, a Bishop and Christian Father in the second century, is condemned by Eusebius for saying that he received from Apostolic men—meaning thereby men who were associated with the Apostles—the fact that there would be a corporeal reign of Christ on earth with the saints, after the resurrection, which would continue through a thousand years. 72
Prodicus is censured by Clement of Alexandria for holding that men are by nature the children of Deity. 73
Marcion, besides being condemned for his many errors, is also censured by Irenaeus for believing in salvation for the dead, concerning which, it must be acknowledged, Marcion did hold peculiar views; but that is no reason why the general principle should be condemned. 74 He taught that Jesus Christ went to hades and preached there, and brought hence all that believed on him. “The ancients” continue Irenaeus, as quoted by Lardner, “being of opinion that eternal life is not to be obtained but through faith in Jesus Christ, and that God is too merciful to let men perish for not hearing the Gospel, supposed that the Lord preached also to the dead, that they might have the same advantage with the living.” He further adds, “In the language of Marcion and the fathers, hell does not necessarily mean the place of the damned; in that place is Tartarus, the place of torment, and Paradise, or the bosom of Abraham, a have of rest and refreshment. In that part of Hades Jesus found the just men of the Old Testament. They were not miserable, but were in a place of comfort and pleasure.” “For Christ,” he continues, “promiseth the Jews after this life, rest in Hades, even in the bosom of Abraham.” This far the doctrine of Marcion is in strict agreement with the New Testament, though denounced as blasphemy by his opponent. The unfortunate part of Marcion’s doctrine on this head is that he taught that Cain and the wicked of Sodom and the Egyptians, and in fact all the nations in general, though they had lived in all manner of wickedness, were saved by the Lord, but that Abel, Enoch, Noah, and the patriarchs and prophets and other righteous men who walked with God and pleased Him in their earth life, did not obtain salvation because they suspected that in the preaching of Christ in the spirit world there was some scheme of deception to lead them away from their present qualified acceptance with God, and therefore they would not come to Christ nor believe in him, for which reason, as he says, “their souls remained in hell.” 75
Marcion is also condemned for believing in the eternity of matter. 76 So, too, Hermogenes is censured by Tertullian for the same cause, and for arguing that God made the world out of matter and could not have made it out of nothing. 77
And so throughout there is censure and counter censure between the orthodox and the heretics, and it is difficult at times to determine which are the orthodox and which heretics, so frequently do they change places. Nor was there any improvement in the ages that succeeded these that have been briefly considered. The editor of Dr. Jortin’s learned work on ecclesiastical history, William Trollope, on a passage of Jortin’s on the early fathers, says of the fathers of the fourth century:
After the council of Nice, 78 a class of writers sprang up, greatly inferior to their predecessors, in whatever light their pretensions are viewed. Sadly deficient in learning, prejudiced in opinion, and inelegant in style, they cannot be admitted for a moment into competition with those who were contemporary with the Apostles and their immediate successors. 79
The whole tenor of his remarks is to the effect that while the fathers of the second and third centuries, are not to be relied upon in their interpretations of scripture, were frequently deceived in opinions, and not always to be depended upon in matters of tradition, yet they were greatly to be preferred in all respects to the fathers of succeeding centuries.
The Development of False Doctrines After the Death of the Apostles.
Here, too, I shall rely very largely upon the conclusions of the learned. Dr. Lardner, referring to the development of the heresies, the seeds of which were sown in the days of the Apostles, says:
Eusebius relates that Ignatius, on his way from Antioch to Rome, exhorted the churches to beware of heresies which were then springing up, and which would increase; and that he afterwards wrote his epistles in order to guard them against these corruptions, and to confirm them in the faith. This opinion that the seeds of these heresies were sown in the time of the Apostles, and sprang up immediately after is an opinion probable in itself and is embraced by several learned moderns; particularly by Vitringa, and by the late Rev. Mr. Brekel of Liverpool. 80
A certain Mr. Deacon attempted to refute the Mr. Brekel referred to by Dr. Lardner, and to maintain the purity of the Church of the first three centuries. On this Mr. Brekel observed that “If this point were thoroughly examined, it would appear that the Christian Church preserved her virgin purity no longer than the Apostolic age, at least if we may give credit to Hegesippus.” Relying upon the support of the ecclesiastical history of Socrates, a writer of the first half of the fifth century, Mr. Brekel also says: “To mention the corruptions and innovations in religion of the four first centuries, is wholly superfluous; when it is so very notorious, that, even before the reign of Constantine, there sprang up a sort of heathenish Christianity which mingled itself with the true Christian religion.” 81
Of the impending departure from the Christian religion immediately succeeding the days of the apostles, Dr. Neander says:
Already, in the latter part of the age of St. Paul, we shall see many things different from what they had been originally; and so it cannot appear strange if other changes come to be introduced into the constitution of the (Christian) communities, by the altered circumstances of the times immediately succeeding those of St. Paul or St. John. Then ensued those strongly marked oppositions and schisms, those dangers with which the corruptions engendered by manifold foreign elements threatened primitive Christianity. 82
Dr. Philip Smith, the author of the Students’ Ecclesiastical History, in speaking of the early corruptions of the Christian religion, says:
The sad truth is that as soon as Christianity was generally diffused, it began to absorb corruption from all the lands in which it was planted, and to reflect the complexion of all their systems of religion and philosophy. 83
Dean Milman, in his preface to his annotated edition of Edward Gibson’s great work, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and commenting upon that great author’s attitude respecting the Christian religion, says:
If, after all, the view of the early progress of Christianity be melancholy and humiliating, we must beware lest we charge the whole of this on the infidelity of the historian. It is idle, it is disingenuous to deny or to dissemble the early depravations of Christianity, its gradual but rapid reparture from its primitive simplicity and purity, still more from its spirit of universal love. It may be no unsalutary lesson to the Christian world, that this silent, this unavoidable perhaps, yet fatal change shall have been drawn by an impartial, or even an hostile hand. 84
Dr. Mosheim, in his Institutes, deals at length with the abuses which arose in the Church in the second and third centuries, which I abridge to the following, and first as to the second century: Many rites were added without necessity to both public and private religious worship, to the great offense of good men; and principally because of the perversity of mankind who are more delighted with the pomp and splendor of external forms and pageantry than with the true devotion of the heart. There is good reason to believe that the Christian bishops purposely multiplied sacred rites for the sake of rendering the Jews and pagans more friendly to them. For both these classes had always been accustomed to numerous and splendid ceremonies, and believed them an essential part of religion. In pursuance of this policy, and to silence the calumnies of the pagans and the Jews against them—to the effect that the Christians were pronounced atheists, because destitute of temples, altars, victims, priests, and all that pomp in which the vulgar suppose the essence of religion to consist—the Christian leaders introduced many rites, that they might be able to maintain that they really had those things which the pagans had, only they subsisted under different forms. Some of these rites—justified, as was supposed, by a comparison of the Christian oblations with Jewish victims and sacrifices—in time corrupted essentially the doctrine of the Lord’s supper, and converted it into a sacrifice. To add further to the dignity of the Christian Religion, the churches of the east feigned mysteries similar to those of the pagan religions; and, as with the pagans, the holy rites of the mysteries were concealed from the vulgar: “And they not only applied the terms used in the pagan mysteries to the Christian institutions, particularly baptism and the Lord’s supper, but they gradually introduced also the rites which were designated by those terms.” This practice originated in the eastern provinces of the empire, and thence, after the times of Adrian (who first introduced the Grecian mysteries among the Latins), it spread among the Christians of the west. “A large part, therefore, of Christian observances and institutions, even in this century, had the aspect of the pagan mysteries.” In like manner many ceremonies and customs of the Egyptians were adopted. 85
Speaking of the third century the Doctor says that all the monuments of this century show that there was a great increase of ceremonies in the Church owing to the prevailing passion for the Platonic philosophy. Hence arose the public exorcisms, the multiplication of fasts, the aversion to matrimony, and the painful austerities and penances which were enjoined upon offenders. 86
The Revolution of the Fourth Century: Constantine.
It will be observed that I have so far confined my quotations concerning the corruptions which arose in the Church to the first three centuries of the Christian Era. I have done so purposely; and chiefly that I might show by such quotations that the forces which were to bring about the destruction of the Christian Church were active during those ages; and also because an event took place in the first part of the fourth century that culminated in the triumph of those forces. This event was the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of Rome. Constantine the Great was the emperor under whose reign this unlooked for revolution took place. He was the son of Constantine Chlorus, emperor of the West in the preceding reign, which reign he had shared with Galerius Maximinus, who ruled the East. Constantine was an “emperor born of an emperor, the pious son of a most pious and virtuous father,” is the flattering announcement of his parentage on the paternal side, by his contemporary, Eusebius, the church historian; though he neglects to mention the obscure origin and humble vocation (that of inn keeper) of his mother, Helena, whom her husband repudiated when raised to the dignity of “Caesar” in the reign of Diocletian.
Constantine was proclaimed emperor by the army in Britain on the death of his father at York, 306 A. D.; but civil strife raged through the empire for eighteen years, occasioned by the contending aspirants for the imperial dignity. The future patron of Christianity, however, overcame all his rivals and reigned sole monarch of Rome from 323 A. D., to the time of his death, fourteen years later.
The policy of Constantine’s father towards the Christians in his division of the empire, the West, had been one not only of toleration but also of friendship; and this policy the son followed from the commencement of his career as emperor. The fact of both his own and his father’s friendliness toward the Church, on the one hand, and the hostility of his rivals against the Church on the other, brought to him the united support of the Christians throughout the empire; and though they were not so numerous as they are frequently represented to be, yet it cannot be denied that the Christians were important factors in determining the course of events in the empire at this time, and truly they were faithful allies to Constantine, and he, on his part, neglected not to meet their anticipations of reward.
A careful study of his life and character will force the conviction upon the mind that Constantine was a most suitable head for the revolution which ended by establishing a pseudo-Christianity as the state religion of the decaying empire. A professed Christian for many years, if we may believe Lactantius and Eusebius he postponed his baptism, after the fashion of his times, until the very last year of his life, in order that, purified at once from all the stains of sin by means of it, he might be sure of entering into bliss. Such the explanation of those who would defend this delay of the emperor’s; but one cannot fail to remember that it was quite customary at this time among many professing the Christian religion to put off baptism as long as they dared that they might enjoy a life of sin, and then through the means of baptism, just before death, as by magic, obtain forgiveness. 87 On the motives that prompted Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity, our historians are not agreed. According to Eusebius his conversion was brought about through seeing in the heavens a luminous cross at midday, and above it the inscription: “By this Conquer.” This miraculous sign was supplemented on the night following by the appearance of Jesus Christ to the emperor in a dream, with the same symbol, the cross, and directed him to make it the ensign of his banners and his protection against the power of the enemy. 88 According to Theodoret the emperor was converted through the arguments of his Christian mother. 89 According to Zosimus, it was through the arguments of an Egyptian Christian bishop—supposed to be Hosius, Bishop of Corduba—who promised him absolution for his crimes, which included a number of murders, if he would but accept Christianity. 90
It is as difficult to settle upon the time of Constantine’s conversion as it is the means and nature of it. Neander inclines to the opinion that he was early influenced in favor of Christianity through the example if not the teachings of his parents, who, if not fully converted to the Christian faith, were at least tolerant of it; and may be reasonably counted among that number who at least admitted Christ to be the pantheon of the gods. But an act of his in 308 A. D., after the death of his father, and he himself had been proclaimed emperor of the West, shows that he was at that time still attached to the pagan forms of worship; for hearing that the Franks who had been inclined to rebellion against his government had, on his preparations to make war upon them, laid down their arms, he offered public thanks in a celebrated temple of Apollo and gave a magnificent offering to the god. 91
The story of his conversion as related by Eusebius would fix that event in the year 312 A. D.; and surely if the open vision of the luminous cross and the subsequent appearing of Christ in his dream, were realities, Constantine had sufficient grounds for a prompt and unequivocal conversion to the Christian faith. But after that, if we consider the conduct of the emperor, we shall find him, however, astonishing it may seem, still attached to pagan ceremonies of worship. As late as 321, A. D., nine years after the visitation of Christ to him, we find him accused of artfully balancing the hopes and fears of both his pagan and Christian subjects by publishing in the same year two edicts; the first of which enjoined the solemn observance of Sunday; and the second directed the consultation of the Haruspices 92—the soothsayers of the old pagan religion. Of this circumstance, Neander, who is disposed to palliate the conduct of Constantine as far as possible, after intimating that this lapse might be accounted for on the grounds of state policy, says, “Yet the other hypothesis, viz., that Constantine had actually fallen back into heathen superstitions may indeed be regarded as the more natural.” 93 Five years after his supposed miraculous conversion “we find marks of the pagan state religion upon the imperial coins.” 94 “A medal was struck,” says Dr. John W. Draper, doubtless referring to the same thing, “on which was impressed his [Constantine’s] title of ‘God,’ together with the monogram of Christ.” “Another,” he continues, “represented him as raised by a hand from the sky while seated in the chariot of the Sun. But more particularly the great prophyry pillar, a column one hundred and twenty feet in height, exhibited the true religious condition of the founder of Constantinople. The statue on its summit mingled together the Sun, the Savior, and the Emperor. Its body was a colossal image of Apollo, whose features were replaced by those of Constantine, and around the head, like rays, were fixed the nails of the cross of Christ recently discovered in Jerusalem.” 95 While on the day Constantinople was formally made the capital of the empire, he honored the statue of Fortune with his gifts. In view of all these acts, ranging as they do over the greater part of the first Christian emperor’s life, and through many years after his supposed conversion, I think Gibbon is justified in his remarks upon this part of Constantine’s conduct: “It was an arduous task to eradicate the habits and prejudices of his education, to acknowledge the divine power of Christ, and to understand that the truth of his revelation was incompatible with the worship of the gods.” 96
Turning from the consideration of the equivocal conduct of the emperor to his character, we have a subject about which there is less disagreement among authorities; for even Christian apologists are compelled to admit the wickedness of this first Christian emperor. “Relying, with presumptuous confidence,” says Neander, “on the great things which God had done, through him, for the advancement of the Christian Church, he found it easy to excuse or extenuate to his conscience many a wrong deed, into which he had suffered himself to be betrayed by ambition, the love of rule, the arbitrary exercise of power, or the jealousy of depostism.” 97
“It is indeed true that Constantine’s life was not such as the precepts of Christianity required,” Dr. Mosheim remarks, but softens the statement against the emperor by saying that, “It is but too notorious that many persons who look upon the Christian religion as indubitably true and of divine origin, yet do not conform their lives to all its holy precepts.” 98
Dr. Lardner, after drawing a most favorable outline of Constantine’s person and character, and citing the flattery of contemporary panegyrists as a description of the man, says: “Having observed these virtues of Constantine, and other things, which are to his advantage; a just respect to truth obligeth us to take notice of some other things, which seem to cast a reflection upon him. 99 And then in the most naive manner he adds: “Among these, one of the chief is putting to death so many of his relatives!” He enumerates the victims of the first Christian emperor as follows: “Maximilian Herculius, his wife’s father; Bassianus, husband of his sister Anastasia; Crispus, his own son; Fausta, his wife; Licinius, husband of his sister Contantia; and Licinianus, or Licinius, the younger, his nephew, and son of the forementioned Licinius.” 100 The last named victim was a mere lad when put to death, “not more than a little above eleven years of age, if so much,” is Dr. Lardner’s own description of him. Fausta was suffocated in a steam bath, though she had been his wife for twenty years and mother of three of his sons. It should be remembered that this is the list of victims admitted by a most learned and pious Christian writer, not a catalogue drawn up by pagan historians, whom we might suspect of malice against one who had deserted the shrines of the ancient gods for the faith of the Christians. But this rather formidable list of murdered victims, admitted by Dr. Lardner, shakes not his faith in the goodness of the first Christian emperor. Some of these “executions” he palliates, if not justifies, on the ground of political necessity; and others on the ground of domestic perfidy; though he almost stumbles in his efforts at excusing the taking off of Crispus, the emperor’s own son; Fausta, his wife; and the lad Licinius. “These are the executions,” he says, “which above all others cast a reflection upon the reign of Constantine; though there are also hints of the death of some others about the same time, with whom Constantine had till then lived in friendship.” 101 After which the Doctor immediately adds—in the very face of all the facts he adduces, and after reciting the condemnation of both heathen and Christian writers of some of these murders—the following: “I do by no means think that Constantine was a man of a cruel disposition; and therefore I am unwilling to touch upon any other actions of a like nature: as his making some German princes taken captive, fight in the theatre; and sending the head of Maxentius to Africa, after it had been made a part of Constantine’s triumphal entry at Rome.” When one finds a sober Christian writer of the eighteenth century who can thus speak of Constantine; and further remembers that to this day a priest of the Greek church seldom mentions the name of the “imperial saint,” without adding this title, “Equal to the Apostles;” one is not surprised that while he lived, and at his court a Christian bishop could be found who “congratulated him as constituted by God to rule over all, in the present world, and destined to reign with the son of God in the world to come.” 102 Or that Eusebius, who is spoken of as one of the best bishops of the imperial court, “did not scruple for a moment to ascribe to the purest motives of a true servant of God all those transactions into which the emperor, without evincing the slightest regard to truth or to humanity, had suffered himself to be drawn by an ambition which could not abide a rival, in the struggle with Licinius; when he represents the emperor, in a war which, beyond a doubt, had been undertaken from motives of a purely selfish policy, as marshalling the order of the battle, and giving out the words of command by divine inspiration bestowed in answer to his prayer.” 103
Enough of this. Let us look no longer at this first of the Christian emperors through the eyes of churchmen seeking to extol his virtues and hide his crimes, all for the honor of the Church. So odious had he be come in Rome for his many murders that a pasquinade which compared his reign to that of the detested Nero was nailed to the palace gates. “The guilty emperor,” says one, “in the first burst of anger, was on the point of darkening the tragedy, if such a thing had been possible, by a massacre of the Roman populace who had thus insulted him.” His brothers were consulted on this measure of vengeance, however, and the result of their counsel was a resolution to degrade Rome to a subordinate rank, and build a metropolis elsewhere, and hence the new capital of the empire rose on the shores of the Bosphorus.
Reflecting upon the career of Constantine from the days of his young manhood, which had in it something of the quality that makes the successful leader of men, to the time when he fell under the influence of the false priests of a corrupted religion, Draper says:
From the rough soldier who accepted the purple at York, how great the change to the effeminate emperor of the Bosphorus, in silken robes stiffened with threads of gold, a diadem of sapphires and pearls, and false hair, stained of various tints; his steps stealthily guarded by mysterious eunuchs flitting through the palace, the streets full of spies, and an ever watchful police! The same man who approaches us as the Roman imperator retires from us as the Asiatic despot. In the last days of his life he put aside the imperial purple, and, assuming the customary white garments, prepared for baptism, that the sins of his long and evil life might all be washed away. Since complete purification can thus be only once obtained, he was desirous to procrastinate that ceremony to the last moment. Profoundly politic, even in his relations with heaven, he thenceforth reclined on a white bed, took no further part in worldly affairs, and, having thus insured a right to the continuance of that prosperity in a future life which he had enjoyed in this, expired. 104
And so Gibbon:
The sublime theory of the gospel had made a much fainter impression on the heart, than on the understanding, of Constantine himself. He pursued the great objects of his ambition through the dark and bloody paths of war and policy; and, after the victory, he abandoned himself, without moderation, to the abuse of his fortune. Instead of asserting his just superiority above the imperfect heroism and profane philosophy of Trajan and the Antonines, the mature age of Constantine forfeited the reputation which he had acquired in his youth. As he gradually advanced in the knowledge of truth, he proportionately declined in the practice of virtue; and the same year of his reign in which he convened the council of Nice, was polluted by the execution, or rather murder of his eldest son (Crispus). * * * * At the time of the death of Crispus, the emperor could no longer hesitate in the choice of religion; he could no longer be ignorant that the church was possessed of an infallible remedy, (baptism) though he chose to defer the application of it till the approach of death had removed the temptation and danger of a relapse. * * * * The example and reputation of Constantine seemed to countenance the delay of baptism. Future tyrants were encouraged to believe that the innocent blood which they might shed in a long reign would instantly be washed away in the waters of regeneration; and the abuse of religion dangerously undermined the foundations of moral virtue. 105
Such then, was the first Christian emperor. He uplifted “Christianity” from the condition of a persecuted religion, and made it the state religion of Rome; and also provided means for its wider acceptance. If for this it shall be claimed, as it is, that much in his evil life should be overlooked, it would still be pertinent to ask whether his acts in connection with Christianity did not debase rather than exalt it; and if his provisions for its wider acceptation did not tend rather to the corruption of what remained true in the Christianity then extant, than to the establishment of true religion.
Corrupted Christianity Made a Persecuting Religion
The edict of Milan, by which was intended no more than the establishment of religious liberty in the empire, and which was issued in 313 A. D., by Constantine and his colleague, Licinius, was well enough. Freedom to teach and practice the truth is all the Christian church could ask or expect. Had he stopped here, his action in this particular would have met with universal applause. But he went beyond this. He not only protected the Christians by his laws, but prohibited by express edicts the free exercise of religion to the pagans. His proscriptions were mild at first, going no further than to prohibit soothsaying and divination in private houses or anywhere in secret. Later, however, if we may believe the words of Eusebius, he placed the pagan religion under the ban of the laws. Eusebius says:
The emperor proceeded to act with great vigor, gave the government of the provinces chiefly to Christians, and when any Gentiles were made governors they were prohibited to sacrifice. Which law comprehended not only presidents of provinces but also higher officers and even the praetorian praefects. If they were Christians, they were required to act according to their principles. If they were otherwise disposed, still the practice of idolatrous rites were forbidden. * * * * And soon after that were two laws published, at one and the same time, one prohibiting the detestable rites of idolatry hitherto practiced in cities and country places; and that for the future none should erect statues to the gods, nor perform the vain arts of divination, nor offer up any sacrifices. The other law was for enlarging Christian oratories and churches, or for rebuilding them more grand and splendid. 106
When contrasting the course of the first Christian emperor with the pagan emperors, Eusebius says, “They commanded the temples to be magnificently adorned; he demolished them to the foundation, especially such as were most respected by superstitious people.” 107 Later he expressly says that throughout the whole Roman empire, the doors of idolatry were shut to the commonalty and to the soldiery, and that “every kind of sacrifice was prohibited.” Again he says, that there were several laws, published for these purposes, forbidding sacrifices, divinations, raising statues, and the secret mysteries or rites of initiation. And he says further, that “in Egypt a sort of priesthood, consecrated to the honor of the Nile, was entirely suppressed.” 108 I am not unmindful that some respectable authorities question if Constantine really departed from the policy of toleration announced in his edict of Milan: and that even Gibbon is inclined to believe in his toleration of paganism. The statement here made by Eusebius, the contemporary and biographer of Constantine, however, together with reference to the edicts of suppression quoted by his son Constans in the succeeding reign, and which is quoted by Lardner, 109 establishes beyond question the policy of intolerance of Constantine toward paganism. Especially when what Eusebius has said is supplemented by the fact that the emperor destroyed a number of heathen temples, and peremptorily ordered the closing of the others. Among the heathen temples destroyed was one at Aegae, in Cilicia, erected to Aesculapius, celebrated for the number of sick that had been healed there, and held in high esteem by men of the better class among the pagans and philosophers. It is said that by its destruction and the public exhibition of certain images of the gods, many tricks of the priests were exposed and, became objects of sport to the populace. 110 But while this may have been the conduct of some insincere pagans, those who remained heathens, as LeClerc has well said, “were no doubt extremely shocked at the manner in which the statues of their gods were treated; and could not consider the Christians as men of moderation. For, in short, those statues were as dear to them, as anything, the most sacred, could be to the Christians.” 111 Eusebius taunted the philosophers about the destruction of the temple, without any interference on the part of the god to whom it had been erected, apparently all unmindful of the fact that just such taunts had been hurled at the Christian martyrs in the days that the “kingdom of God suffered violence, and the violent took it by force.” “Had not Eusebius,” remarked Lardner, “often heard with his own ears, and read in the history of ancient martyrs, the insults and triumphs of the heathens over the Christians, that they professed themselves the worshipers of the great and only true God, and yet everybody, that pleased, was able to molest and destroy them, as he saw good?” 112
The zeal of Christian writers has done all in its power to excuse or palliate the conduct of Constantine in his acts for the suppression of the pagan religion and worship; but after all is said by his apologists that can be said; after every allowance is conceded for the times in which he lived, and the previous conduct of the pagans through two centuries of violence towards the Christians, the fact remains that the first Christian emperor did by his edicts put the ancient religion of the empire under the ban of the law, and by acts of violence destroyed some of its temples and closed the rest by imperial decree, that the pagan gods might not be worshiped; and this, doubtless, with the approval—and it would not be difficult to believe, under all the circumstances, at the suggestion—of Christian bishops who thronged his court. On the foundation of intolerance thus laid by him, others hastened to build. In the succeeding reign, among the first laws enacted was this one against pagan sacrifices:
Let superstition cease; let the madness of sacrificing he abolished. For whoever shall presume contrary to the constitution of our father, a prince of blessed memory, and contrary to this command of our clemency, to offer sacrifices, let a proper and convenient punishment be inflicted, and execution presently done upon him. 113
This edict was supplemented a few years later 114 by the following edict:
It is our pleasure that in all places and in all cities, the temples be immediately shut, and carefully guarded that none may have the power of offending. It is likewise our pleasure, that all our subjects should abstain from sacrifices. If any one should be guilty of such an act, let him feel the sword of vengeance; and after his execution, let his property be confiscated to the public use. We denounce the same penalties against the governors of the provinces, if they neglect to punish the criminals. 115
It is not necessary to pursue the subject much further. It will be sufficient to say that during the fourth century, by following the policy of suppression inaugurated by this first Christian emperor, Christianity was changed from a persecuted to a persecuting religion. Without restraint from the ecclesiastical authorities, the Christian emperors issued edicts against the pagan religion, proscribed its followers, destroyed its temples, and confiscated its property to the uses of the rival religion. Even Neander, speaking of this revolution, and constrained as he is to say all that he can for the honor of the Christian Church, is compelled to admit that “the relation of things had become reversed. As in former times the observance of the pagan ceremonies, the religion of the state, had appeared in the light of a civil duty, and the profession of Christianity in that of a crime against the state; so now it was the case, not indeed that the outward profession of Christianity was commanded as a universal civil duty, for against this the spirit of Christianity too earnestly remonstrated; but that the exercise of the pagan religion was made politically dangerous.” 116 In the pages of this eminent Christian historian one may read that before the close of the century which witnessed the elevation of Christianity to the dignity of the state religion of the empire, wild troops of Christian monks were undertaking campaigns, especially in the country, for the destruction of the heathen temples in which sacrifices were alleged to have been performed; of bishops who not only superintended the destruction of heathen temples at the head of bands of soldiers and gladiators, but paraded through the streets of the cities the symbols of the heathen faith, provoking civil conflicts which Christian emperors did not hesitate to take advantage of for the more complete suppression of paganism. 117 Meantime a pagan apologist, Libanius, arises to plead the cause of religious toleration, and in the course of his address to the Christian emperor, Theodosius, he puts to shame the Christianity then in vogue, by showing the emperor how far the Church had departed from the spirit of the Christian religion, by saying: “Force is said not to be permitted, even according to the laws of your own religion: persuasion is said to be praised, but force condemned by them. Why then, do you wreak your fury against the temples, when this surely is not to persuade, but to use force? Thus, then, it is plain you would transgress even the laws of your own religion.” 118 Lardner calls attention to the fact that as under pagan emperors previous to Constantine Christianity had been in a state of persecution, so now, after Constantine, he proceeds to show that paganism under Christian emperors was all along in a state of persecution—”However, I would hope, not so severe and vigorous as that of the Christians in the foregoing period of near three hundred years.” 119 And so LeClerc, as quoted by Lardner:
Thus it was that the Christians continued to return to the pagans what they had suffered from them during the first three centuries, instead of gaining them by patience and mildness, which they had so much recommended when they were the weakest. This conduct was proper to make the pagans more obstinate, by teaching them that the Christians affected to speak of humanity and moderation from interest only, and not from a principle of religion as they pretended. At least it is certain, that thereby they lost the right to complain of the manner in which the pagans had treated them in times past, or to boast of the mildness of their religion, which they effectually disparaged by those persecutions. * * * Nor ought we to imagine that the penalties laid by Christians upon the pagans were light. If a sacrifice was offered in a private place, with the knowledge of the proprietor, the place was confiscated; if not, they were to pay a fine of twenty pounds of gold, as much as if it had been done in a temple; and in some cases the penalty of death was appointed. We may look into the oration of Libanius for the temples, where that orator sustains the same character before Theodosius as the Christians had formerly done before pagan emperors. I must acknowledge that this phenomenon, if I may so call it, gives me pain: for I could wish that they who defended the truth had preserved to themselves the honor of being the only persons that were persecuted for religion. 120
Persecution of “Heretics.”
Once started upon the policy of suppressing by force those of a different religion, Christianity did not stop with the persecution of the pagans; bad and un-Christian as that was, still more serious results occurred from the persecutions inflicted upon so-called heretics in the Church, by those who were considered orthodox. It is true that there were heretics in the Church before the days of Constantine; much progress had been made in the matter of paganizing Christianity, and more or less of intolerance was manifested by Christian sects towards one another; but it was the policy and example of this first Christian emperor that laid the real foundation for that monument of shame and disgrace to the Christian name which rises upon the plains of Christian discord and strife and war waged against heretics in the name and for the glory of Christ. It is this which constitutes the most melancholy page of ecclesiastical history.
In his office of supreme pontiff in the old pagan religion, which he held by virtue of being emperor of Rome, Constantine may naturally have supposed that the supreme headship of the religion he had protected and the Church he had elevated fell to him for the same reason; and with it the right to reconcile differences, compose factions, and determine what should be the orthodox faith. At any rate we find him acting somewhat in this capacity. When contending church parties appealed to him, he at first was indifferent to their disputes, and tried to shame them into harmony by referring to the conduct of the Greek philosophers, who never discussed difficult questions before ignorant multitudes; who could “maintain their arguments without losing their temper; and assert their freedom without violating any friendship.” 121 His efforts at reconciling the differences that arose among Christians over what is known as the Arian controversy were of no avail; and after six years of bitter strife, the emperor summoned the bishops of the Church to Nicea in Bithynia. After long deliberation Arianism was condemned, and orthodox Christianity was established by decree of the council, ratified by the emperor, to which all Christians must conform. Those who resisted the divine judgment of the synod must prepare themselves for immediate exile. 122 How effectual the argument, “belief or banishment,” even among the bishops at the council, was, may be determined from the fact that “the opposition to the decision of the council was almost instantly reduced from seventeen to two.” 123 In his zeal to enforce orthodoxy the emperor forgot his former moderation, and in 326 A.D.,—the year following the council of Nicea—he issued a general edict against heretics, in which, after condemning his own past forbearance as occasioning men’s being seduced, he says to the various heretical parties:
Wherefore, since this your pernicious wickedness is no longer to be endured, we by this present law command you, that you no more presume to meet together. And we have given orders that all those places where you are wont to hold assemblies should be taken away. Yea, our concern for this matter is such, that we not only forbid you to assemble to any public place; but we likewise forbid all assemblies of your foolish superstition in private houses, and in all private places whatever. All of you, therefore, who have any sincere love of truth, come to the Catholic church. And that this remedy may have its full effect, we ordain that all your superstitious conventicles, I mean oratories of all heretics, if it be fit to call such houses oratories, be forthwith taken away, and without any opposition delivered to the Catholic church: and that the rest of your places be adjudged to the public. 124
“Thus the dens of heretics were laid open by the imperial edict,” exultantly exclaims Eusebius, the Christian bishop, “and the wild beasts, the ring leaders of their impiety, were scattered.” 125 And thus was the paganized Christian church launched upon that career of persecution of heretics within the church, as well as upon the policy of persecuting those of a different religion; a policy that has filled the world with religious wars, and deeds of cruelty which would better become the reign of a Nero than Christian rulers of Christian nations. It is a terrible arraignment which Gibbon draws against apostate Christendom in the concluding paragraph of his review of the persecutions which had been endured by the followers of Christ in the Christian centuries preceding Constantine. He says:
We shall conclude this chapter by a melancholy truth, which obtrudes itself on the reluctant mind; that, even admitting, without hesitation or inquiry, all that history has recorded, or devotion has feigned, on the subject of martyrdoms, it must still be acknowledged that the Christians, in the course of their intestine dissensions, have inflicted far greater severities on each other than they have experienced from the zeal of infidels. During the ages of ignorance which followed the subversion of the Roman empire in the west, 126 the bishops of the imperial city extended their dominion over the laity as well as clergy of the Latin church. The fabric of superstition which they had erected, and which might long have defied the feeble efforts of reason, was at length assaulted by a crowd of daring fanatics, who, from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, assumed the popular character of reformers. The church of Rome defended by violence the empire which she had acquired by fraud; a system of peace and benevolence was soon disgraced by proscriptions, wars, massacres, and the institution of the holy office; and as the reformers were animated by the love of civil as well as religious freedom, the Catholic princes connected their own interest with that of the clergy, and enforced by fire and sword the terror of spiritual censures. In the Netherlands alone more than one hundred thousand of the subjects of Charles the Fifth are said to have suffered by the hand of the executioner; and this extraordinary number is attested by Grotius, a man of genius and learning, who preserved his moderation amidst the fury of contending sects, and who composed the annals of his own age and century, at the time when the invention of printing had facilitated the means of intelligence and increased the danger of detection. If we are obliged to submit our belief to the authority of Grotius, it must be allowed that the number of protestants who were executed in a single province and a single reign far exceeded that of the primitive martyrs in the space of three centuries, and of the Roman empire! 127
Both Guizot and Milman, eminent Christian scholars, annotated the work of Edward Gibbon, the former in French, the latter in an English edition; and at every point where they could modify a statement or soften a passage apparently unjust to Christianity, they did so; but in the presence of the important and terrible passages just quoted, they remained absolutely silent! Nor has any other Christian writer since their day, so far as I know, attempted to contradict the statement of Mr. Gibbon. It is proper to say, however, that in a note Mr. Gibbon himself cites the fact that Fra Paola, an Italian writer, places the number of Belgic martyrs at fifty thousand, but even that computation would still leave the conclusion of Mr. Gibbon’s reflections unimpaired.
The circumstance of the Church elevated by Constantine becoming a persecuting Church is a strong evidence of its paganized state; for the true Christian religion is not a persecuting religion; the true Church of Christ is not a persecuting Church. When the Samaritans would not receive the Messiah, some of the Apostles would have them consumed by fire from heaven; but the Master turned and rebuked them, saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” 128 It is true that Messiah said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” 129 This, however, is but a prediction of the effect of the proclamation of the Gospel, not an authorization to force the acceptance of Christianity by the sword; nor does it authorize the Church to invoke the arm of the civil authority to execute by force her doctrinal decrees. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is true, did not bring peace, but a sword; the sword, however, was found in the hands of those who rejected the Gospel, not in the hands of those who accepted and preached it. And when the Church departed so far from the spirit of Christ that she grasped the sword in her own hands, or dictated the civil authority to wield it in her behalf, and that became the policy of the Church, the adoption of that policy proclaimed her apostate condition to the world, in a manner to be known and read of all men.
Christianity Before and After Constantine.
I think sufficient has been said to justify the belief that the reign of Constantine marks the period when the paganization of Christianity had become complete. I do not mean by this that there is any particular date which one may set down to show that here true Christianity ceases, and there apostate Christianity begins; which is a point frequently insisted upon by those who contend for the unbroken perpetuity of Christianity from the days of Messiah. They demand to know on what night it was that the whole collection of Christians, of different nationalities and languages, went to bed sound in the Christian faith, to awake the next morning all pagans. 130 I claim no such sudden revolution brought about the apostasy which I am sure took place. We have seen by what has already been said, that even in the time of the Apostles there was a tendency on the part of the Christians to depart from the religion of Jesus Christ; that after the days of the Apostles there was a steady increase in the number and influence of false teachers; an insidious introduction of heresies; a multiplication of rites and ceremonies well known in the pagan celebration of religious mysteries, but entirely foreign to the Gospel; and an amalgamation of pagan doctrines with Christian principles. It remains to be shown that there was a steady increase of immorality among the professing Christians; a marked loss of spirituality; a rapid growth of pride and worldliness on the part of Christian bishops and other church leaders; and at last, an utter departure from the true and living God and Jesus Christ whom He had sent, and the establishment of a system in its place, as debasing to men as it was dishonorable to God.
Taking then the reign of Constantine as the period beyond which the true religion of Christ did not extend, nor the true Church of Christ exist, let us consider Christianity before his reign and after it. Here I shall ask the reader to take into account as part of the consideration of Christianity previous to Constantine what I have already set before him in this introduction concerning the tendency to division and heresies which existed in the Church in the days of the Apostles; and also those quotations I have made from eminent Christian authorities, which give evidence of the early corruption of Christianity, and which too plainly testify that it was in a state of steady decline through the second and third centuries, until it was fit only for such enthronement as a Constantine could give it, when he made it the state religion of a corrupt empire hastening to its decay. If the reader will do this, it will obviate the necessity of my referring to these matters again.
Decline in Moral and Spiritual Living Among Christians.
It will be conceded that the Gospel of Jesus Christ commands a very high order of moral and spiritual living, and that the Apostles enjoined this moral law upon the early saints as essential to the favor of God. Others also after the days of the Apostles, followed in the same admonition, and indeed the sharp contrast that existed between the lives of converts before and after their acceptance of Christianity was a matter of pride not only to St. Paul, 131 but to Justin Martyr of the second century who, in reference to the change produced in the lives of Christian converts, said:
We, who were once slaves of lust, now have delight only in purity of morals; we, who once practiced arts of magic, have consecrated ourselves to the Eternal and Good God; we, who once prized gain above all things, give even what we have to the common use, and share it with such as are in need; we, who once hated and murdered one another, who on account of differences of customs would have no common hearth with strangers, do now, since the appearance of Christ, live together with them; we pray for our enemies, we seek to convince those that hate us without cause, so that there may order their lives according to Christ’s glorious doctrine and attain to the joyful hope of receiving like blessings with us from God, the Lord of all. 132
It was not long, however, before there was a marked departure from this high moral level among the Christians. In tracing that decline I shall use chiefly the History of the Church by Joseph Milner, published in 1794. My reason for doing so is as follows: I have already stated in this writing, that Milner wrote what some regard as his “great history of the Church,” to counteract the influence of Dr. Mosheim’s splendid Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, which is evidently by some regarded as too much a history of the perversions and abuses of religion. Milner plainly informs his readers that he intends to write the history of those only who have been real, not nominal, Christians, irrespective of the external Church to which they belonged, proceeding upon the theory that these good men constitute the Church of Christ. His history, in other words, is a history of piety, not of the Church. It will be his purpose therefore to exalt the morality of the Christians in all ages; and I quote his work respecting the moral deteriorations of the Christians that I may not be charged with quoting authorities who some think have made too much of Christian shortcomings. Milner says that a gloomy cloud, concerning moral conditions, hung over the close of the first century, and proceeds to argue that the first impressions made by the effusions of the spirit are the strongest; that human depravity overborne for a time arose afresh, particularly in the next generation, and hence the disorders of schisms and heresies in the Church. Neander does not agree with the philosophy of Milner. He says, “Christianity, since it first entered human nature, has operated, wherever it has struck root, with the same divine power for sanctification; and this divine power cannot be weakened by the lapse of ages. In this respect, therefore, the period of the first appearance of Christianity could have no advantage over any of the following ages of the Christian Church.” 133 And he follows this declaration with a statement, that the change which Christianity produced in the lives of those who accepted it appeared so strongly marked by the contrast it presented with what they had previously been when pagans. The correctness of the philosophy I shall leave these two great Christian authorities to settle between themselves. I am concerned more particularly with the facts in the case.
In consequence of the prominence that has been given to the persecutions of the Christians during the first three centuries, the impression very extensively prevails that the early Christian Church was constantly under the hard pressure of continuous and relentless persecutions. This, however, is not the case. There were many periods of peace granted to the Christians. Indeed their periods of persecution were only occasional, and it is a question if these periods of peace were not more detrimental to Christianity than the seasons of persecution. Milner, under the authority of Origen, says that the long peace granted the Church in the third century, during the reign of the several emperors, from about 260 A. D., to the opening of the fourth century, produced a great degree of luke-warmness and religious indecorum. “Let the reader,” he says, “only notice the indifference which Origen here describes and the conduct of Christians both in the first and second centuries, and he will be affected with the greatness of the declension.” Then he quotes Origen: “Several come to church only on solemn festivals, and then not so much for instruction as diversion. Some go out again as soon as they have heard the lecture, without conferring or asking the pastors questions. Others stay not till the lecture is ended, and others hear not so much as a single word, but entertain themselves in a corner of the church.” 134
Coming to the middle of the third century, just previous to that severe persecution inaugurated by the emperor Decius, and speaking of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, Milner exclaims: “A star of the first magnitude, when we consider the time in which he lived! Let us recreate ourselves with the contemplation of it. We are fatigued with hunting for Christian goodness, and we have discovered but little and that little with much difficulty. We shall find Cyprian to be a character who partook indeed of the declensions which we have noticed and lamented, but who was still far superior, I apprehend, in real simplicity and piety, to the Christians of the East.” 135 This same Cyprian, in whom Milner delights, speaking of the effects of the long peace upon the Church which preceded the Decian persecution, says:
Each had been bent on improving his own patrimony, and had forgotten what believers had done under the Apostles, and what they ought always to do. They were brooding over the arts of amassing wealth; the pastors and the deacons each forgot his duty; works of mercy were neglected, and discipline was at the lowest ebb; luxury and effeminacy prevailed; meritricious arts in dress were cultivated; fraud and deception practiced among brethren. Christians would unite themselves in matrimony with unbelievers; could swear, not only without reverence but without veracity. With haughty asperity they despised their ecclesiastical superiors; they railed against one another with outrageous acrimony, and conducted quarrels with determined malice. Even many bishops, who ought to be guides and patterns to the rest, neglected the peculiar duties of their stations, gave themselves up to secular pursuits. They deserted their places of residence and their flocks; they traveled through distant provinces in quest of pleasure and gain; gave no assistance to their needy brethren, but were insatiable in their thirst of money. They possessed estates by fraud and multiplied usury. What have we not deserved to suffer for such conduct? Even the divine word hath foretold us what we might expect: “If his children forsake my law and walk not in my judgments, I will visit their offenses with the rod and their sins with scourges.” These things had been denounced and foretold but in vain. Our sins had brought our affairs to that pass, that because we had despised the Lord’s directions, we were obliged to undergo a correction of our multiplied evils and a trial of our faith by severe remedies. 136
Referring to the long reign of peace in the closing decade of the third century, Milner says:
This new scene [the toleration of Christianity by a pagan government] did not prove favorable to the growth of grace and holiness. In no period since the Apostles was there ever so great a general decay as in this. Not even in particular instances can we discover during this interval much of lively Christianity. 137
Here I drop Milner to take up Eusebius, who was an eye witness of the moral declension among the Christians previous to the last great pagan persecution under the emperor Diocletian. Referring to the long period of peace which the Church had enjoyed—a period of forty years—he says:
But when, by reason of excessive liberty, we sunk into negligence and sloth, one envying and reviling another in different ways, and we were almost, as it were, upon the point of taking up arms against each other with words as with darts and spears, prelates inveighing against prelates, and people rising up against people, and hypocrisy and dissimulation had arisen to the greatest height of malignity, then the divine judgment, which usually proceeds with a lenient hand, whilst the multitudes were yet crowding into the Church, with gentle and mild visitations began to afflict the episcopacy; the persecution having begun with those brethren in the army. But as if destitute of all sensibility, we were not prompt in measures to appease and propitiate the Deity; some indeed like atheists, regarding our situation as unheeded and unobserved by a Providence, we added one wickedness and misery to another. But some that appeared to be our pastors deserting the law of piety, were inflamed against each other with mutual strifes, only accumulating quarrels and threats, rivalship, hostility and hatred to each other, only anxious to assert the government as a kind of sovereignty for themselves. 138
Here I shall avail myself of some reflections upon this condition which I have elsewhere expressed. 139 Let it be remembered that what is said in the foregoing quotation is from a writer contemporary with the events, and who says, in the very chapter following the one from which I have just quoted, that it was not for him to record the dissensions and follies which the shepherds of the people exercised against each other before the persecution. He also adds: “We shall not make mention of those that were shaken by the persecution, nor of those that suffered shipwreck in their salvation, and of their own accord were sunk in the depths of the watery gulf.” 140 Then in his Book of Martyrs, referring to events that occurred between the edicts ordering the persecution, he says: “But the events that occurred in the intermediate times, besides those already related, I have thought proper to pass by: I mean more particularly the circumstances of the different heads of the churches, who from being shepherds of the reasonable flocks of Christ, that did not govern in a lawful and becoming manner, were condemned by divine justice, as unworthy of such a charge, to be the keepers of the unreasonable camel, an animal deformed in the structure of his body; and condemned further to be the keepers of the imperial horses. * * * * Moreover, the ambitious aspirings of many to office, and the injudicious and unlawful ordinations that took place, the divisions among the confessors themselves, the great schisms and difficulties industriously fomented by the factions among the new members, against the relics of the Church, devising one innovation after another, and unmercifully thrusting them into the midst of all these calamities, heaping up affliction upon affliction; all this, I say, I have resolved to pass by, judging it foreign to my purpose, wishing, as I said in the beginning, to shun and avoid giving an account of them.” 141 Hence, however bad the condition of the Church is represented to be by ecclesiastical writers, we must know that it was still worse than that; however numerous the schisms; however unholy the ambition of aspiring prelates; however frequent and serious the innovations upon the primitive ordinances of the Gospel; however great the confusion and apostasy in the Church is represented to be; we must know that it is still worse than that, since the Church historians contemporaneous with the events refused to record these things in their fulness, lest it should have disastrous to the Church; just as some of our modern scholars professing to write Church history express their determination to close their eyes to the corruption and abuses which form the greater part of the melancholy story of ecclesiastical history, for fear that relating these things would make it appear that real religion scarcely had any existence. 142
I shall say no more upon the matter of moral declensions among Christians, except this: If there was such moral declensions among Christians as is represented by the foregoing high authorities on Christian affairs in the centuries preceding Constantine, what moral declension must have prevailed when from a proscribed religion Christianity was exalted to the dignity of the state religion of the empire; and her prelates and clergy were recalled from exile and suffering, poverty and disgrace, and loaded with the wealth and honors that the lord of the Roman world could bestow? Consider, in this connection, the propositions of Constantine at the council of Nicea for the propaganda of Christianity, and pass a candid judgment upon the moral or rather immoral effect they would produce upon the Church. Neander thus states them:
“The heathen would be most easily led to salvation, if the condition of the Christians were made to appear to them in all respects enviable.
“They [the bishops] should consider, that the advantage to be derived from preaching could not belong to all.
“Some, he said, might be drawn to the faith by being seasonably supplied with the means of subsistence.
“Others were accustomed to repair to that quarter where they found protection and intercession (alluding to the intercessions of the bishops).
“Others would be won by an affable reception.
“Others by being honored with presents.
“There were but few who honestly loved the exhibitions of religious doctrine; but few were the friends of truth (therefore but few sincere converts),
“For this reason they should accommodate themselves to the characters of all, and like skillful physicians, give to each man that which might contribute to his cure, so that in every way the saving doctrine might be glorified in all.” 143
The effect of adopting such methods for the more rapid propagation of Christianity, as is here proposed by the emperor to the bishops assembled at the council of Nicea, must be apparent to all, and is quite universally lamented by Christian writers of later ages. “A course of proceeding upon such principles,” remarks Neander himself, “must entirely have thrown open a wide door for all manner of hypocrisy. Even Eusebius, the panegyrist of Constantine, blinded as he was by the splendor which the latter had cast over the outward Church—even he is obliged to reckon among the grievous evils of this period, of which he was an eye witness, the indescribable hypocrisy of those who gave themselves out as Christians merely for temporal advantage, and who, by their outward show of zeal for the faith, contrived to win the confidence of the emperor, which he suffered them to abuse.” 144 “The piercing eye of ambition and avarice ” says Gibbon, “soon discovered that the profession of Christianity might contribute to the interest of the present as well as of a future life. The hopes of wealth and honors, the example of an emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible smiles, diffused conviction among the venal and obsequious crowds which usually fill the apartments of a palace. The cities which signalized a forward a zeal by the voluntary destruction of their temples, were distinguished by municipal privileges and rewarded with popular donatives. * * * As the lower ranks of society are governed by imitation, the conversion of those who possessed any eminence of birth, of power, or of riches, was soon followed by dependent multitudes. The salvation of the common people was purchased at an easy rate, if it be true that in one year twelve thousand men were baptized at Rome, besides a proportionable number of women and children; and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the emperor to every convert. 145
Under all these circumstances it is small wonder if men exclaimed as Augustine did somewhat later in his commentary on St. John—”How many seek Jesus only that He may benefit them in earthly matters! One man has a law suit, so he seeks the intercession of the clergy: another is oppressed by his superior, so he takes refuge in the Church. Others are seeking, one in this way and another in that, to be interceded for in some quarter where they have but little influence themselves. The Church is daily full of such persons. Seldom is Jesus sought for Jesus’ sake!” 146 After nicely balancing the possibility and probability of those who came into the Church for present worldly advantage being converted in time to a true faith in the Christian religion, Neander says: “Beyond all doubt the number was far greater of those who grew hardened in that worldly sense by which from the first they had profaned a holy profession, and who were thus the means of introducing into the Church a great mass of corruption.”
“Unhappily,” he adds, “there were bishops whose only wish was to make the conversion to Christianity a right easy thing for the pagans. * * * Hence they baptized even those who lived in open sin, and who plainly enough manifested that it was not their purpose to forsake it. They imagined that when these were only baptized and introduced into the fellowship of the Church, it was then time enough to admonish them against sin.” 147 Surely it was not difficult among such a mass of unconverted members thus brought into the Church to find elements that would foster the errors, both in ethics and in doctrine, which about this time arose in the Church. It is small wonder that it was well nigh publicly adopted in this age—as we are informed by Mosheim—”That to deceive and lie is a virtue when religion can be promoted by it, and that error in religion ought to be visited with penalties and punishments.” The first of these evils resulted in the accumulation of that mass of myth and fable that burdens the annals of the dark ages; the second established the “holy inquisition,” alike the shame of the Roman Catholic church and the so-called Christian civilization she has influenced. “It is almost incredible,” continues Mosheim, speaking of the first evil referred to, “what a mass of the most insipid fables, and what a host of pious falsehoods have, through all the centuries, grown out of it, to the great detriment of true religion. If some inquisitive person were to examine the conduct and the writings of the great and most pious teachers of this century, I fear he would find about all of them infected with this leprosy.” “Those idle fictions,” he adds, “which a regard for the Platonic philosophy, and for the prevailing opinions of the day had induced most theologians to embrace, even before the time of Constantine, were now in various ways confirmed, extended and embellished. Hence it is that we see, on every side, evident traces of excessive veneration for departed saints; of a purifying fire for the soul when separated from the body; of the celibacy of the clergy; of the worship of images and relics; and of many other opinions, which in process of time almost banished the true religion, or”—and here the Doctor perhaps remembered that he was a Protestant and that his position as such would not admit of conceding the utter subversion of the Christian religion, and hence added—”or at least very much obscured and corrupted it.” “Genuine piety” he continues, “was supplanted by a long train of superstitious observances which originated partly from opinions inconsiderately embraced partly from a preposterous disposition to adopt profane rites and combine them with Christian worship, and partly from the natural predilections of mankind in general for a splendid and ostentatious religion.” 148
The Loss of Spiritual Gifts.
Not only did the moral declensions in the Church, which started soon after the demise of the Apostles, proceed with accelerated pace after Constantine became the patron of the Church, and with such resulting evils as I have pointed out, but there was a like declension in the enjoyment of spiritual gifts in the Church. It is well known that the Apostles promised the Holy Ghost to those who received the Gospel, and the enjoyment of those supernatural gifts which go with it. In deed Jesus Himself said in His last commission to His disciples:
Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. 149
Paul, in speaking of the spiritual gifts promised in the Gospel says:
Now there are diversities of gifts, by the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues; but all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 150
It is well known that the spiritual gifts here enumerated were enjoyed by the saints in the early Christian centuries; and especially in Apostolic times. The New Testament books are replete with reference to the enjoyment of these gifts of the Spirit among the saints. Nor is there any intimation of the discontinuance of them. On the contrary it is reasonable to conclude that so long as the saints shall continue in the enjoyment of the Holy Ghost, that long also will they enjoy the spiritual gifts which proceed from a possession of Him. Moreover, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” 151 Such are the effects of the operations of the Holy Ghost upon the nature of man. These fruits of the Spirit indicate the change that the Spirit of God may effect in human nature; by which that which is corrupted through sin may be conformed to that which is pure and holy, according to the working whereby the Spirit is able to subdue all things unto Himself, in them that give place for His indwelling in their souls. This effectual working of the Spirit in the souls of men, by which they were transformed from vileness to holiness, was the boast of the early saints. And, upon reflection, all will concede that the victories of the Spirit in reforming the lives of men and making them in their very nature conform to the likeness of Christ in righteousness, are more to be desired and more to be celebrated than those victories which are physical or intellectual merely in their nature. Indeed these latter fruits of the Spirit derive their chief value from the extent to which they contribute to the production of the former—that is, to the extent that they establish men in the faith, enable them to crucify the flesh with the lusts thereof, and help them to live in harmony with the sweet influence of the Spirit of God. When men live in harmony with that Spirit there will righteousness obtain; there will love abound; there will the Gospel of Christ appear triumphant. Where these fruits do not appear, there the Gospel of Christ is not; there the powers of darkness, for the time being, are triumphant. Yet notwithstanding this promise, concerning the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts of the Gospel, the evidence is abundant and conclusive that when all the Apostles were deceased, then there was a marked declension in the manifestation of the spiritual powers of the Gospel. “With the close of the New Testament records,” says Dr. Phillip Smith, author of The Students’ Ecclesiastical History, “and the death of the last surviving Apostle, the history of the Church passes from its sacred to its purely human phase. The miraculous gifts which attested the divine mission of the Apostles ceased; not indeed by any formal record of their withdrawal, but by the clear evidence that they were possessed no longer. 152
Dr. Jortin bears witness to the same fact. He says:
The words of Eusebius intimate that he thought those extraordinary powers to be, at least, not very common afterwards—[i. e., the beginning of the second century]. “They went about,” says he, “with God’s co-operative grace, for even then the divine Spirit performed many miracles by them.” * * * This brings the probability of miracles down to the beginning of the second century, in the middle of which Justin Martyr says: “There are prophetic gifts among us even until now:” and amongst these gifts he reckons up miraculous powers, as healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, etc. His words imply an opinion that such gifts were not only exercised in his time, but had been continued down to his time, and he may be justly supposed to speak the sense of his contemporary Christians; and that is all that I cite him for. It seems probable that if we bad a full and authentic history of the propagation of the Gospel, from the time of the Apostles to the middle of the second century, composed by eye witnesses and by the preachers of Christianity, we should find miracles wrought for the conversion of the pagans. But from A. D. 70 to 150 is a dark interval, and we have very short accounts of the transactions of those days, unless we should accept of groundless rumors and frivolous tales. 153
So, also, Dr. Mosheim, speaking of the second century, and after commenting on the extent to which the extraordinary divine gifts contributed to the extension of the limits of the Church, says; “The gift of foreign tongues appears to have gradually ceased, as soon as many nations became enlightened with the truth; * * * but the other gifts with which God favored the rising Church of Christ, were, as we learn from numerous testimonies of the ancients, still conferred upon particular persons here and there.” And when writing of the fourth and succeeding centuries, he, too, bears witness of the declension, and final cessation of these spiritual powers among the Christians; and, indeed, the most of our ecclesiastical writers form the same conclusion.
Thus the Christians lost the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts of the Gospel, such as inspired dreams, prophecies, healings, speaking in new tongues, ministering of angels, and, most to be lamented of all, direct revelation from God, by which the will of God might be made known to His people and his Church preserved from error, from decadence, and from destruction: and by the absence of these spiritual gifts and powers among the Christians of the third and fourth centuries, we may know that a mere man-made religion, having indeed a form of godliness but denying the power thereof, had succeeded to the spiritually gifted religion, of Jesus Christ, wherein the power of God is ever present and outwardly as well as inwardly manifested.
Departure of “Christendom” from the True Doctrine of Deity.
In nothing perhaps was there a wider departure from the real truth of Christianity than in the doctrine concerning God defined by the general council of the Church held within the lifetime of Constantine, and which, in fact, he assembled upon his own authority. This was the celebrated Council of Nicea, in Bithynia, Asia Minor, held in 325 A.D. The main purpose for which the first general Council of the Church was assembled was to settle a dispute between one Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, and his bishop, Alexander, of the same city, respecting the doctrine of the Godhead. The dispute proved to be far-reaching in its effects, and for three hundred years the rivalry of the contending factions disturbed the peace of Christendom. We shall have clearer conceptions of the subject, however, and be better able to judge of the extent to which there was a departure from the true doctrine respecting the Godhead, by the definitions formulated and enforced upon the Church by the council of Nicea, if we first consider the doctrine of the Godhead as found in the Testament.
The Christian Doctrine of God.
The existence of God both Jesus and the Apostles accepted as a fact. In all the teachings of the former He nowhere seeks to prove God’s existence. He assumes that, and proceeds from that basis with His doctrine. He declares the fact that God was His Father, and frequently calls Himself the Son of God. 154 After His resurrection and departure into heaven, the Apostle taught that He, the Son of God, was with God the Father in the beginning; that He, as well as the Father, was God; that under the direction of the Father He was the Creator of worlds; that without him was not anything made that was made. 155 That in him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; 156 and that He was the express image of the Father’s person. 157 Jesus Himself taught that He and the Father were one; 158 that whosoever had seen Him had seen the Father also; 159 that it was part of His mission to reveal God, the Father, through His own personality; for as was the Son, so too was the Father. 160 Hence Jesus was God manifested in flesh—a revelation of God to the world. 161 That is, a revelation, not only of the being of God, but of the kind of being God is.
Jesus also taught (and in doing so showed in what the “oneness” of Himself and His Father consisted) that the disciples might be one with Him, and also one with each other, as He and the Father were one. 162 Not one in person—not all merged into one individual, and all distinctions of personality lost; but one in mind, in knowledge, in love, in will—one by reason of the indwelling in all of the one spirit, even as the mind and will of God the Father was also in Jesus Christ. 163
The Holy Ghost, too, was upheld by the Christian religion to be God. 164 Jesus ascribed to Him a distinct personality; as proceeding from the Father; as sent forth in the name of the Son, as feeling love; experiencing grief; as forbidding; as abiding; as teaching; as bearing witness; as appointing to work; and as interceding for men. All of which clearly establishes for Him a personality.
The distinct personality of these three individual Gods (united however into one Godhead, or Divine Council), was made apparent at the baptism of Jesus; for as He, God the Son, came up out of the water from His baptism at the hands of John, a manifestation of the presence of the Holy Ghost was given in the sign of the dove which rested upon Jesus, while out of the glory of heaven the voice of God the Father was heard saying, “This,” referring to Jesus, “is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The distinctness of the personality of each member of the Godhead is also shown by the commandment to baptize those who believe this Gospel equally in the name of each person of the Holy Trinity. That is, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. 165 And again, also, in the Apostolic benediction, viz., “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” 166
These three personages constitute the Christian Godhead, the Holy Trinity. In early Christian theology they were regarded as the Supreme Governing and Creating Power in heaven and in earth. Of which Trinity the Father was worshiped in the name of the Son, while the Holy Ghost bore record of both the Father and the Son. And though the Holy Trinity was made all of three distinct persons, yet did they constitute but one Godhead, or Supreme Governing Power.
This outline of the doctrine of God derived from the New Testament represents Him as anthropomorphic; that is, like a man in form; or, rather, it re-affirms the old doctrine found in the book of Genesis, viz., that man is created in the image of God, and after His likeness. The outline of New Testament doctrine of God also ascribes to Him what are called human attributes and feelings; but as in the foregoing we first say that God is represented as being in human form, and then to get the exact truth say: “Or, rather, man was created in the image and likeness of God,” so in this latter case, when we have said that the doctrine of the New Testament ascribes human attributes and feelings to God, to get the exact truth we should say: “Or, rather, man possesses the attributes of God”—the attributes of knowing, willing, judging, loving, etc.—though it should be stated, of course, that man does not possess these attributes in their perfection, as God does. The same may also be said of the physical perfections. While man has been created in the image and likeness of God, yet our bodies in their present state of imperfection—sometimes stunted in growth, diseased, subject to sickness, wasting decay, and death—cannot be said to be like God’s glorious, perfect physical body, yet we have the Divine word that our bodies shall be like His:
“For our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” 167
So also the attributes of the spirit of man—the attributes of the mind—now imperfect, impure, unholy, and limited in the range of vision and apprehension of things, owing largely to the conditions in which man finds himself placed in this earth-life (and all for a wise purpose in God’s economy); yet the time will come that it will be with the spirit as with the body; for God shall change our vile spirit that it may be fashioned like unto His own glorious spirit, “according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.” That whereas now we see only as through a glass, darkly, then we shall see as we are seen; that whereas now we know but in part, then we shall know even as we are known. 168
The foregoing doctrine of God, taught to the Christians in Apostolic times, awakened their pious reverence without exciting their curiosity. They dealt with no metaphysical abstractions, but were contented to accept the teachings of the Apostles in humble faith, and believed that Jesus Christ was the complete manifestation of Deity, and the express image of God His Father; and hence a revelation to them of God; while the Holy Ghost they accepted as God’s witness and messenger to them.
Paganization of the Christian Doctrine of God.
But Christianity, as is well known, came in contact with other doctrines concerning Deity. It was almost immediately brought in touch with the mysticism of the Orient and also with the philosophy of the Greeks, who took so much delight in intellectual subtleties. In the Oriental philosophies, and in the Greek, there was conceived the idea of a trinity in Deity; an idea which possibly may have come down from the doctrines revealed to the patriarchs concerning the Godhead, but which had been corrupted and rendered unintelligible by the vain philosophizings of men. In some of the Oriental systems the trinity or Trimurti consisted of Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Siva, the Destroyer. It will be seen, however, that this trinity is not necessarily one of persons, or individuals, but may be one of attributes, qualities, or even a trinity of functions in one being; and in this way it is usually understood. 169
Plato’s trinity is sometimes stated in the terms, “First Cause; Reason, or Logos; and Soul of the Universe;” but more commonly in these: “Goodness, Intellect, and Will.” The nature of the Greek trinity has long been a matter of contention among the learned, and one indeed that is not settled to this day. Is there indicated in his system “a true and proper tri-personality, or merely a personification of three impersonalities,” a trinity of attributes or functions? The answers to these questions are varied, and would require too much space for consideration here. Christians having been taught to accept the New Testament doctrine of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as constituting one Godhead, Christianity no sooner came in contact with the philosophies of the Greeks and Egyptians than there was an effort made to identify the Christian trinity with that of the Greek and other philosophies. The temptation to do this was very great. Christianity was a proscribed religion and its followers detested. Whenever it could be sown, therefore, that under new symbols the Church really taught the same doctrines that the old philosophers, which were held in esteem, did, it was regarded as a distinct gain to Christianity. The mere fact of Christianity teaching a trinity of any kind was a sufficient basis of comparison, under the temptation offered, and hence in a short time we have the alleged followers of Christ involved in all the metaphysical disputations of the age. The chief difficulty in those speculations was to define the nature of the Logos, or Word of God; a title that is given to our Savior by the Apostle St. John, 170 be it remembered. Adopting absolute “being ” as the postulate of their conception of God, absolute oneness, and therefore absolute singleness, their difficulties arose in trying to reconcile the existence of three persons in the Godhead to the postulate of unity. The disputations were carried on chiefly concerning Christ, the “Word,” in His relationship to the Godhead; and the disputants concerned themselves with such questions as these: “Is Jesus the Word?” “If He be the word, did He emanate from God in time or before time?” “If He emanated from God, is He co-eternal and of the same, that is identical, substance with Him, or merely of a similar substance?” “Is He distinct from the Father, that is, separate from Him, or is He not?” “Is He made or begotten?” “Can He beget in return?” “Has He paternity, or productive virtue without paternity?” Similar questions were asked as to the other Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. These questions were violently agitated at Alexandria by the bishop of that city, Alexander, and one of the presbyters, Arius, 318-321 A. D.; thence spread throughout Christendom, and culminated finally in the Council at Nicea, 325 A. D. Arius held the doctrine that Logos or Word was a dependent or spontaneous production created out of nothing by the will of the Father, hence the Son of God, by whom all things were made, begotten before all worlds; but there had been a time when the Logos was not; and also He was of a substance, however similar it might be, different from the Father. This doctrine, in the minds of the opponents of Arius, detracted from the divine nature of Christ, in fact, denied Him true Deity and relegated Him to the position of a creature, against which the piety of a large number of Christians rebelled. After six years of hot disputation and frequent appeals by the contestants to the emperor, the council of Nicea was assembled and the mysteries of the Christian faith submitted to public debate, a portion of the time, at least, in the presence of the emperor, who, to some extent, seemed to exercise the functions of president over the assembly. The doctrine of Arius was condemned, and after “long deliberations, among struggles, and scrupulous examinations,” the following creed was adopted:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, creator of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of the same substance with the Father, by whom all things were made in heaven and in earth, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate, was made man, suffered, rose again the third day, ascended into the heavens, and He will come to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Ghost. Those who say there was a time when He was not, and He was not before He was begotten, and He was made of nothing (he was created), or who say that He is of another hypostatis, or of another substance (than the Father), or that the Son of God is created, that he is mutable, or subject to change, the Catholic church anathematizes. 171
Arius himself was condemned as a heretic and banished into one of the remote provinces, Ilyricum, his friends and disciples branded by law, with the odius name of “Porphyrians,” because it is supposed that Arius, like Porphyry, had sought to injure Christianity. His writings were condemned to the flames and a capital punishment was pronounced against those in whose possession they should be found. Three years later, however, through the influence of the women at the imperial court, Constantine softened in his demeanor towards Arius and his followers. The exiles were recalled and Arius himself was received at court and his faith approved by a synod of prelates and presbyters at Jerusalem; but on the day that he was to be publicly received in the cathedral church at Constantinople, by the order of the emperor, who, by the way, received the sacrament at the hands of Arius, he expired under circumstances which have led many to believe that other means than the prayers of the orthodox against him were the cause of his death. The leaders of the orthodox party, Athanasius of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, and Paul of Constantinople, were now to feel the wrath of the first Christian emperor. They were deposed on various occasions and by the sentence of numerous councils, and banished into distant provinces. In fact, so far from the adoption of the Nicene creed ending the conflict which had arisen, it was more like the opening of that controversy which agitated Christendom for so long, and resulted in so many shameful conflicts. Councils were arrayed against councils, and though they never could convince one another of error, they never failed, in the spirit of such Christian charity as was then extant, to close their decrees with curses. Votes were bartered for and purchased in those councils, and facts justify the latent sarcasm in Gibbon’s remark, that “the cause of truth and justice was promoted by the influence of gold.” There were persecutions and counter-persecutions, as now one party and then the other prevailed; there were assassinations and bloody battles over this doctrine of Deity, the accounts of which fill, as they also disgrace, our Christian annals. The creed which was adopted at Nicea, however, became the settled doctrine of orthodox Christendom, and remains so to this day.
It is difficult to determine which is really the worst, the creed itself or the explanations of it. At any rate, we do not clearly see the impiety of its doctrines until we listen to the explanations that have been made of it. Athanasius himself has left on record a creed explanatory of the one adopted at Nicea. True, among the learned, many doubt Athanasius being the author of the creed which bears his name; but, however much doubt may be thrown upon that question, no one hesitates to accept it as the orthodox explanation of the doctrine of Deity, and, in fact, it is accepted as one of the important symbolic of the Christian faith, and is as follows:
We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreate, but one uncreate and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty; and yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.
As already stated, this creed of St. Athanasius is accepted as one of the symbols of the orthodox Christian faith. It is understood that these two creeds teach that God is incorporeal, that is to say, an immaterial being. The Catholic church says: “There is but one God, the creator of heaven and earth, the supreme incorporeal, uncreated being who exists of Himself and is infinite in all his attributes.” 172 While the Church of England teaches in her articles of faith “that there is but one living and true God everlasting, without body, 173 parts, or passions, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness.” This view of God as an incorporeal, immaterial, bodiless, partless, passionless being is now and has been from the days of the great apostasy from God and Christ, in the second and third centuries, the doctrine of Deity generally accepted by apostate Christendom. The simple doctrine of the Christian Godhead, set forth in the New Testament is corrupted by the meaningless jargon of these creeds, and their explanations; and the learned who profess a belief in them are wandering in the darkness of the mysticisms of the old pagan philosophies. No wonder that Athanasius himself, whom Gibbon with a quiet sarcasm calls the most sagacious of the Christian theologians, candidly confessed that whenever he forced his understanding to mediate on the divinity of the Logos (and which, of course, involved the whole doctrine of the Godhead), his “toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves; and the more he thought, the less he comprehended: and the more he wrote, the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts!” It is a fine passage with which Gibbon closes his reflections upon this subject, and hence I shall give it place here:
In every step of the inquiry, we are compelled to feel and acknowledge the immeasurable disproportion between the size of the object and the capacity of the human mind. We may try to abstract the notions of time, of space, and of matter, which so closely adhere to all the perceptions of our experimental knowledge; but as soon as we presume to reason of infinite substance, or spiritual generation; as often as we deduce any positive conclusions from a negative idea, we are involved in darkness, perplexity, and inevitable contradiction. 174
Recurrence to the New Testament doctrine of God, and a comparison of it with the doctrine of Deity set forth in the Nicean and Athanasian creeds, will exhibit the wide departure—the absolute apostasy—that has taken place in respect of this most fundamental of all doctrines of religion—the doctrine of God. Truly “Christians” have denied the Lord that bought them, 175 and turned literally to fables. They have enthroned a conception of a negative idea of “being,” which can stand in no possible relationship to man, nor man to it; and to this they ascribe divine attributes and give it title, knee and adoration which belong to God alone. Small wonder that the angel whom John saw flying in the midst of heaven having the everlasting Gospel to commit to the earth in the hour of God’s judgment, in the last days, should cry aloud to the inhabitants of the earth, saying, “Fear God, and give glory to Him; * * * and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” 176—small wonder, I repeat, that such should be part of this great message, for truly the whole world had departed from the worship of the true and living God.
The Church of Christ Displaced by the Churches of Men.
The departure from the form and spirit of church government was no less marked than the moral and spiritual declension among the Christians of the early centuries of the era, or the departure from the true doctrine of Deity. Beyond filling the vacancy in the council of the Twelve Apostles, occasioned by the fall of Judas, there is no clear and satisfactory evidence that other successors of the Apostles were ever chosen, though the fair implication is that the organization of the Church with Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Seventies, Bishops, Teachers, etc., was to be perpetuated as at first established. At least this organization was given for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, until the saints should come to a unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God; 177 so that the plain inference is that so long as there are saints to be perfected, or edified, or united, or brought to the knowledge of God; so long as there is work for a ministry, or the necessity of a Church through the agency of which the truth is to be taught to the world so long it will be necessary to perpetuate the organization given of God for the achievement of those high purposes. To say that man could devise a better organization for the accomplishment of these several objects would be to challenge the wisdom of God. To say that any of these means provided in the Church organization could be dispensed with, would be to contradict the plain teaching of scripture, which, in this very connection forbids the eye to say to the hand, I have no need of thee; or the head to the feet, I have no need of you; that is, one officer of the Church may not say to another officer, I have no need of thee. 178 The doctrine of scripture is that all the officers of the Church together with their several gifts are essential to the Church of Christ; essential to its perfection; essential to the performance of the sacred functions assigned to it. Yet it must be conceded that the organization described in the New Testament did not survive the last of the Apostles; or preserve much beyond that time, the spirit which the Master had impressed upon it. 179
The Apostles, while they lived, exercised a general jurisdiction over the Church, to which all submitted without question. In the exercise of their general authority they organized branches of the Church, appointed Elders or Bishops to take the oversight of them, and instructed them in Church government, and discipline, and doctrine. After the demise of the Apostles, there seems to have been left no central authority to exercise the functions of general supervision or presidency over the entire Church, such as the Twelve had exercised. That center of unity, together with the power thereof, seems to have vanished from the Church with the Apostles. The bishops and some subordinate officers remained, it is true, but these were local, not general authorities. The Church in each city or district of country after the Apostolic age, seems to have been regarded as a sort of independent republic of itself, without any bond of consociation with any other church beyond that which was the result of possessing a common faith in Christianity, which bond was one of sympathy merely, not of hierarchal association. The rise of the hierarchy with the centralization of its powers in the bishop of Rome, and which ultimately dominated the whole Church, and not only the Church but, directly or indirectly, the western civilized world, came later, and was of gradual development; and when it was finally established, it was not the organization described in the New Testament, the Church with an inspired priesthood of Apostles, and Prophets, Evangelists, Seventies, and Pastors, etc., but a hierarchy fashioned by man out of such remnants of Church organization as survived Apostolic times. As the number of Christians increased, the bishops of large cities organized new branches of the Church in the suburbs of their cities, and in the towns and villages adjacent, and ordained for them a ministry. It was but natural perhaps that the officers of these new branches of the Church, both the bishops and the subordinate clergy, should look to the one who had brought them into existence as a sort of general presiding authority over them. And hence, in time arose what were called metropolitan bishops, bishops who had under their direction the bishops of neighboring towns and villages—bishops of the “suburbs and the fields,” they were sometimes called—and perhaps of the entire province of which the metropolitan city was recognized as the center. As the bishops of the metropolis of a province, in the manner described, became the center of ecclesiastical unity for that province, so, too, in time, the bishops of cities which were the capitals of the three great divisions of the empire—Antioch, Alexandria and Rome—asserted a superior dignity over metropolitan bishops. It was in these cities that the exarchs of the empire resided, and if we may trust the authority of Neander, the bishops of these cities also, at first, took that title, but later made choice of the more ecclesiastical name of Patriarch. 180 In addition to the importance attached to these cities as the capitals of the great divisions of the empire, a superior dignity in the minds of Christians attached to the Churches founded by the Apostles as the surest depositories of the Apostolic teaching and doctrine; and as Apostolic origin could be claimed for the churches in the three cities named, it is not surprising, when their political importance is added, that the bishops of those cities claimed superior dignity for their office, and united under their jurisdiction the metropolitan bishops of the respective three great divisions of the empire. Subsequently the same title was granted to the bishop of Jerusalem, and to the bishop of Constantinople; to the former it was granted in virtue of the peculiar sanctity which attaches to Jerusalem, and the fact that the first Christian Church was planted there; to the latter, because it was made the capital of the empire, “New Rome;” and because also it was peculiarly the city of the first imperial patron of Christianity. Thus five patriarchates were established.
Through circumstances too numerous and intricate to detail here, the bishops of Rome changed the primacy of mere precedence which had been accorded them among associated brethren, to a primacy of power and jurisdiction, which resulted in the bishops of Rome becoming recognized as the supreme head of the Christian Church, and the papacy entered upon that marvelous career which by the impartial can but be regarded as the shame of the Christian name.
Attention has already been called to the corruptions which prevailed in that period of peace in the closing decades of the third century, where bishops are represented as being full of pride and ostentation; as deserting the law of piety and being inflamed against each other with mutual strifes, only accumulating quarrels, threats, rivalships, hostilities, hatred towards each other, and only anxious to assert the Church government as a kind of sovereignty for themselves. 181 And all this when Christianity was a proscribed religion; and when the Church, and especially its leaders, the bishops, were liable to severest persecution. Reason and a due consideration of human nature both combined to fix upon us the conviction that the bitterness of rivalry, of hatred, of ambition, must have greatly increased when metropolitan and patriarchal bishops, formerly proscribed and hunted like wild beasts, rose to the dignity of civil princes, and took upon them more and ever more of the spirit of worldliness as wealth and honor and popular applause were made the accompaniments of their ecclesiastical offices. History confirms what reason and a knowledge of human nature suggests; for the history of the Church after the elevation of proscribed Christianity to the dignity of the state religion of the Roman empire, is but the melancholy history of unholy ambitions, jealousies, strifes, contentions, murders, and wars between rival bishops and their adherents, on the one hand; and equally unholy struggles for worldly advantages with kings and rulers of this world, on the other. The spirit that actuated the bishops of the Church after their elevation through the policy of Constantine is admirably illustrated by a remark of Gregory of Nazianzus, made in Constantinople, 380 A. D., when deploring the evils of the Church. He says:
Would to heaven there were no primacy, no eminence of place, and no tyrannical precedence of rank; that we might be known by eminence of virtue alone! But, as the case now stands, the distinction of a seat at the right hand or the left, or in the middle; at a bigger or a lower place; of going before or aside of each other, has given rise to many disorders among us, to no salutary purpose whatsoever and plunged multitudes in ruin. 182
Matters in Church government did not mend with time, but grew worse and worse. Pride increased; rivalship between contending prelates grew more embittered; ambition mounted higher and ever higher in the breasts of the shepherds of the flock of Christ. In his association with his Apostles—to whom he committed the keys of His kingdom—the Master had discouraged ambition and had said that he who would be great among his followers must be their minister; and whosoever would be chief among them, was to be their servant; and the government of His Church was to be distinct in these particulars from the governments of this world. 183 But all in vain were the instructions of Messiah to the worldly, ambitious prelates of an apostate Christianity which had gradually supplanted the religion of Jesus Christ; and henceforth we may see in that hierarchy which usurped the place of the Church of Christ from the time of Constantine, all the spirit of pride, envy, jealousy, contention, strife, selfishness, bitterness, and unholy ambition which characterized the princes and rulers of this world; attended, too, with all the evils that wait upon these passions of rulers when once let loose, viz., secret plottings, usurpations of authority, corrupt elections, cruel imprisonments, banishments, secret and public murders, and wars; all undertaken, of course, in the interest of the gentle religion of Jesus Christ, and the maintenance of that authority which is based on love, and whose control over men is through the means of persuasion and the teaching of true knowledge. Is it not evident that the kingdom of peace, wherein was to dwell righteousness and truth, had become merely one of the kingdoms of this world? And were not the Fratriceli of the thirteenth century, though denounced as heretics, right when they loudly proclaimed their conviction that “the fatal gift of a Christian emperor had been the doom of the true Christian religion?”
The Testimony of Prophecy to the Universal Apostasy.
Clear as the fact is made in this historical view that there was a complete and universal apostasy from the religion established in the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time; and clear as is the proof from the same review that the Church of Christ then established was destroyed, there is yet another line of evidence pointing to the same solemn fact that I can not altogether omit, though often used in our literature, viz., the testimony of prophecy to the apostasy from the Christian religion, and the destruction of the Church of Christ.
The Apostles themselves through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost were fully aware that such an apostasy would take place, as the following several predictions bear witness: Paul passing through Ephesus admonished the Elders of that Church to take heed to the flock “over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers; * * * * * for I know this, that after my departing shall grievous 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.” 184
To Timothy Paul said: “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 conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats.” 185 And again: “I charge thee, * * * preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth; and shall be turned unto fables.” 186
And still again he said to Timothy: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times 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, highminded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” 187
Peter’s prophecy concerning the rise of false teachers among the saints, who privately would bring in damnation heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and by reason of whom the way of truth would be evil spoken of, we have already quoted. 188
Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians gives utterance to a prophecy which covers the whole ground of the absolute and universal apostasy of Christendom. A prophecy which, if the apostasy of so-called Christendom has not been complete and universal, proves beyond all question that the great Apostle of the Gentiles is a false prophet; or if fulfilled, then it proves that the Church of Christ, so far as it existed in the earth was to be destroyed; that another and different religion was to be substituted for the Christian religion: that another church, one founded by men, was to take the place of the Church of Christ, a worldly church dominated by the very spirit of Lucifer, who, under its rule, would oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God; and sit in the temple of God showing himself, so far as this world is concerned, that he is God. Moreover Paul declared in this very prophecy I am about to quote that the forces which would ultimately bring to pass this universal apostasy from the Christian religion—”the mystery of iniquity—” was already at work even in his day. With this introduction, which is also to be considered as my comment upon and interpretation of the passage, I quote Paul’s great prediction on the universal Apostasy:
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our 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 worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing 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 (hindereth) will let (hinder), 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 receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 189
A more ancient prophet than Paul also predicted a like condition of the world in the last days: “Behold,” says Isaiah, “the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest, * * * The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled; for the Lord hath spoken this word. The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.” 190
Clearly all this prophecy of Isaiah’s has not yet been fulfilled; for the earth, however much it may have been defiled under the inhabitants thereof, has not yet been burned, and but few men left. That is a judgment that still hangs over the world; and will come upon it as sure as the Lord has spoken the word; and that, too, because men have transgressed the laws; because they have changed the ordinances, because they have broken—not the covenant made with Moses, or with Abraham—but because they have broken the everlasting covenant; of which covenant the blood of Christ is the sign and seal. 191 In other words, they have broken the Gospel covenant—departed from the Gospel faith—hence the predicted judgment.
If I did not think these two great prophecies foretold completely the universal apostasy of Christendom, I should be tempted to enter into the consideration of the great prophecies to be found in the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation, and show how to both of these prophets, as well as unto Paul and other New Testament writers, the Lord revealed the rise of an earth power that would not only open his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name and them who dwell in heaven; 192 who would speak great words against the Most High, and so magnify himself as to stand up against the Prince of princes 193—but who would also make war with the saints and “prevail against them;” 194 who would “wear out the saints of the Most High;” 195 “destroy the mighty and the holy people;” 196 “make war with the saints and overcome them.” 197 But believing that the two Passages quoted at length entirely cover the subject prophetically, I shall not here enter into further prophetic proofs either as to the corruptions of the Christian religion or the destruction of the Christian Church, deeming that what has already been set forth sufficient on that head.
The sum of the whole matter is:—The purpose of man’s creation, and the plan of his redemption, were known to God and the immense host of the spirits of men before the creation of the earth. Adam came to the new creation, the earth, under the divine commandment to people it with his offspring. From Adam to Messiah numerous dispensations of the Gospel were given to men; but these dispensations were limited in their effectiveness, owing to the proneness of men to reject the truth, and to walk in darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. Yet God left not Himself without witnesses in the earth; for there were a few in all dispensations who honored Him and His righteous laws. Finally, when the appointed time was come, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, came and made the appointed Atonement for the sins of the world and brought men under the dominion of His mercy. He taught the Gospel; He brought life and immortality to light; He brought into existence His Church, and then ascended on high to His Father. For a time the Gospel in its purity was preached in the world by the chosen Apostles, though even in their day men began to mar it with their vain philosophies, their doctrines of science, falsely so called; and when the Apostles were all fallen asleep, then corruptions ran riot in the Church, doctrines of men were taught for the commandments of God! a church made by men was substituted for the Church of Christ; a church full of pride and worldliness; a church which while it clung to forms of godliness ran riot in excesses and abominations—until spiritual darkness fell like a pall over the nations; and thus they lay for ages. In vain men sought to establish reforms, and through them bring back the religion of Jesus Christ, and the Church of Christ. To do that, however, was beyond the power of these men, however good their intentions. The Gospel taken from the earth, divine authority lost, the Church of Christ destroyed, there was but one way in which all these could be restored, viz.: By re-opening the heavens and dispensing again a knowledge of the Gospel; by once more conferring divine authority upon men, together with a commission to teach all the world, and re-establish the Church of Christ on earth. In a word, it would require the incoming of the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times to restore all things, and gather together in one all things in Christ, both in heaven and in earth. Such Dispensation is promised of God, as we have seen; and now it only remains to add that the History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as set forth in these volumes, is the history of that series of events which has resulted in the restoration of the Gospel in its fullness, and the re-establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ on earth.