Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the lamb, for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand ?" * The same thing seems to be intended, when the writer says, “ There was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven; and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”+ In this highly-wrought figurative language we are taught to conceive of the dreadful conflict which subsisted between the Christian and heathen professions, the persecutions which for three centuries had been inflicted upon the former, with the issue of the whole, in the ultimate overthrow of the pagan persecuting powers, and the subversion of that idolatrous system in the empire.

From the time of the establishment of Christianity under Constantine to the end of the fourth century, a period of more than seventy years, the disciples of Jesus were highly privileged. They were in general permitted to sit under their own vine and fig-tree, exempt from the dread of molestation. The clergy of the Catholic church, indeed, persisted in waging a sanguinary and disgraceful contest with each other, about church preferments, and similar objects of human ambition; but, notwithstanding

• Rev. vi. 19–17.

+ Chap. xii. 7-9.

the squabbles of those men of corrupt minds, it must have been a season of precious repose and tranquillity to the real churches of Christ, which stood aloof from such scandalous proceedings, and kept their garments unspotted from the world.

There are few things more gratifying to the friend of TRUTH, than to have an opportunity of recording the disinterested labours of such as, under circumstances of discouragement, and frequently at the expense of all that men in general account valuable, have stood forth the champions of her noble cause, against a prevailing torrent of error. We have already adverted to the rise of the Novatianist churches, which stood firmly attached to the simple doctrine and order of the first Christian churches, and maintained a public testimony against the corrupt state of the Catholic party. Towards the close of the fourth century arose Lucifer, bishop of Cagliari, in the island of Sardinia, a man remarkable for his prudence, the austerity of his character, and the firmness of his mind in all his resolutions. Though he wrote in defence of the doctrine of the Trinity against the Arians, he refused all religious fellowship with both parties, on account of the corruption of their doctrine and the laxity of their discipline; while he and his followers were content to suffer the persecution of either party.*

About the same time rose up Eric's, the founder of a new sect, who propagated opinions different from those that were commonly received, and collected various societies throughout Armenia, Pontus, and Cappadocia. We are indebted to Epiphanius, bishop of Cyprus, who died early in the fifth century, for recording the discriminating tenets of this denomination of Christians. Ærius was an elder of the church of Sebastia in Pontus; and, as

Mosbein, rol. I. p. 386.

Epiphanius, who undertook to confute him and all other heretics, informs us, obstinately defended four great errors. These were, 1. That bishops were not distinguished from presbyters or elders, by any divine right, for that, according to the New Testament, their office and authority were absolutely the same. 2. That it was wrong to offer up any prayers for the dead, which it seems was become customary in those days. 3. That there was no authority in the word of God for the celebration of Easter, as a religious solemnity; and 4. That fasts ought Dot to be prefixed to the annual return of days, as the time of Lent and the week preceding Easter. Such seems to have been the heresy of Ærius, and his writings in defence of which, we are told, met with the most cordial reception from his cotemporaries. “We know with the utmost certainty," says Mosheim, “that it was highly agreeable to many good Christians, who were no longer able to bear the tyranny and arrogance of the bishops of this century.”

The reader, it is hoped, will excuse a remark or two upon this subject before we proceed. The learned historian, whom I have just quoted, informs us that—“The great purpose of Ærius seems to have been that of reducing Christianity to its primitive simplicity;" he then adds, “ a purpose indeed laudable and noble, when considered in itself; though the principles from whence it springs, and the means by which it is executed, are generally, in many respects, worthy of censure, and may have been so in the case of this reformer.”* I camot forbear subjoining the comment of his erudite translator, Dr. Maclaine, upon the text of this historian. " The desire,” says he, “ of reducing religious worship to the greatest possible simplicity, however rational it may

Mosheim, vol. i. cent. iv, part ii. ch. iii.

appear in itself, and, abstractedly considered, will be considerably moderated in such as bestow a moment's attention upon the imperfection and infirmities of human nature in its present state. Mankind, generally speaking, have too little eleration of mind to be much atlected by those forms and methods of worship in which there is nothing striking to the outward senses. The great difficulty here lies in determining the lengths which it is prudent to go in the accommodation of religious ceremonies to human infirmity; and the grand point is to fix a medium, in which a due regard may be shewn to the senses and imagination, without violating the dictates of right reason, or tarnishing the purity of true religion. It has been said, that the church of Rome has gone too far in its condescension to the infirmities of mankind-and this is what the ablest defenders of its motley worship have alleged in its behalf. But this observation is not just; the church of Rome has not so much accommodated itself to human weakness, as it has abused that weakness, by taking occasion from it to establish an endless variety of ridiculous ceremonies, destructive of true religion, and only adapted to promote the riches and despotism of the clergy, and to keep the multitude still hoodwinked in their ignorance and superstition."

Now according to Dr. Mosheim's manner of espressing himself on this subject, the reader will readily perceive, that, however much some of the friends of truth might labour to stem the torrent of corruption, and restore Christianity to its original simplicity, such attempts were almost certain to be condemned by both this eminent historian and his translator. With them nothing is more common than to extol the simplicity of gospel worship during the apostolic age, and in a few pages afterwards

• L'bi Supra, p. 589.

to censure the efforts of those who have laboured to retrieve it from the corruptions to which the folly and wickedness of men have subjected it. Hence we invariably find persons of this description ranked in the class of “heretics,” and reprobated as troublers of “the church!” The design of Erius, it is admitted, was laudable and noble in itself, nor is it affirmed that the means which he made use of were actually worthy of censure ; but they may have been so. But surely a cordial attachment to the simplicity of primitive Christianity would have prompted the historian to evince some few grains of allowance for the conduct of Ærius, even though in the prosecution of a “laudable and noble design,” he had been betrayed into some little indiscretion in regard to the means of effecting it, which, after all, in the present instance, is not pretended. This is only what might have been reasonably expected; since to impute, without evidence, the worst motives that can be assigned to the actions of men, is not the immediate operation of that charity which thinketh no evil. The learned translator, however, takes up the subject in a somewhat different point of view; for upon his principle, the simplicity of gospel-worship, as established in the apostolic churches, must be considered as altogether unsuitable to the exigencies of human nature; for, that the constitution and worship of the first churches were remarkable for a divine simplicity, none will deny. Now if it be lawful for men to depart from this simplicity, and to accommodate the forms of Christian worship to the ignorance, infirmities, or prejudices of men, according as these may happen to prevail in different ages, then, indeed, a power to decree rites and ceremonies in matters of religion, is quite necessary to adapt the Christian profession to the incessant fluctuations of the state of this world, though it will not be very easy, when this

« PreviousContinue »