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Sect. iv.] Concluding reflections on Antichrist. 211 spired apostle. Neither the corruption of Christianity, nor the reformation of its abuses were effected in a day; “evil men and seducers waxed worse and worse.” There was a course of mutually deceiving and being deceived. The conscience of man is not blunted all at once against the convictions of guilt; and there is something uncommonly expressive in the apostle's words, when he describes the blessed God as giving men up to strong delusions, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness; and this he represents as the necessary consequence of their not receiving the love of the truth that they might be saved.

In the sequel, it will appear, that when the bishops were once exalted to wealth, power, and authority, this exaltation was of itself the prolific source of every corrupt fruit. Learning, eloquence, and influence, were chiefly exerted to maintain their own personal dominion and popularity. Contests for pre-eminence over each other, became the succedaneum of the ancient contention for the faith, and its influence over the world. Power was an engine of support to the different factions; and the sword of

persecution, which, for three centuries, had been drawn by the pagans against the followers of Christ, the besotted ecclesiastics employed against each other in defence of what was now called “the holy catholic church."

The history of this church from the accession of Constantine to the period when the bishop of Rome was elevated to supreme authority, discovers a progressive approximation to that state of things, denoted in scripture by the revelation of " the man of sin sitting in the temple of God." All the violent contentions, the assembling of councils, the persecutions alternately carried on by the different parties, were so many means of preparing the way for the assumption of spiritual tyranny, and the idolatry and superstition of the Roman hierarchy. In all these transactions, the substitution of humán for divine authority, contentions about words instead of the faith once delivered to the saints; pomp and splendour of worship, for the primitive simplicity; and worldly power and dignity, instead of the self-denied labours of love and bearing the cross ;--this baneful change operated in darkening the human mind as to the real nature of true Chris. tianity, until, in process of time, it was lost sight of.

When Jesus Christ was interrogated by the Roman governor concerning his kingdom, he replied, “ My kingdom is not of this world.” This is a maxim of unspeak. able importance in his religion; and almost every corruption that has arisen, and by which this heavenly institution has been debased, from time to time, may be traced, in one way or other, to a departure from that great and fundamental principle of the Christian kingdom. It may, therefore, be of importance to the reader to keep his eye steadily fixed upon it, while perusing the following pages, as that aloné can enable him to trace the kingdom of the Son of God, amidst the labyrinths of error and delusion which he will presently have to explore.

213

CHAPTER III.

THE STATE OF CHRISTIANITY FROM THE ACCESSION OF

CONSTANTINE TO THE RISE OF THE WALDENSES.

A. D. 306-800.

SECTION I.

A view of the reign of Constantine, and the establishment of

Christianity as the religion of the Roman empire.

A.D. 306-337.

AT the commencement of the fourth century of the Christian æra, the Roman empire was under the dominion of four monarchs; of whom two, viz. Diocletian and Maximin Herculeus, were of superior rank, and each distinguished by the title of Augustus; while the other two, Constantius Chlorus and Maximinus Galerius, sustained a subordinate dignity, and were honoured with the humbler appellation of CÆSARS.

Diocletian was raised to the throne in the year 284, conséquently had swayed the imperial sceptre sixteen years; but, though much addicted to superstition, he entertained no aversion to the Christians; and during this period they had enjoyed a large portion of outward peace. Constantius Chlorus, to whose lot it fell to exercise the sovereign power in Gaul and the western provinces, was a mild and amiable prince, under whose government we find no traces of persecution. He had himself abandoned the absurdities of Polytheism, and treated the Christians with benevolence and respect. The principal offices of his palace were executed by Christians. He loved their persons, esteemed their fidelity, and entertained no dislike to their religious principles. This alarmed the pagan priests, whose interests were so intimately connect ed with the continuance of the ancient superstitions, and who apprehending, not without reason, that, to their great detriment, the Christian religion was becoming daily more universal and triumphant throughout the empire, addressed themselves to Diocletian, whom they knew to be of a timorous and credulous disposition, and by ficti. tious oracles and other perfidious stratagems, endeavoured to engage him to persecute the Christians.*

The treacherous arts of a selfish and superstitious priesthood, failed, however, for some time, to move Diocletian. Their recourse was next had to Maximinus Galerius, one of the Cæsars, who had married the daughter of Diocletian ; a prince, whose gross ignorance of every thing but military affairs, was accompanied with a fierce and savage temper, which rendered him a proper instrument for exe-" cuting their designs. Stimulated by the malicious insinuations of the heathen priests, the suggestions of a súperstitious mother, and the ferocity of his own natural temper, he importuned Diocletian in so urgent a manner, for an edict against the Christians, that hę, at length, obtained his horrid purpose. +

It seems to have been the practice of the Roman em. perors about this time, to take up their residence occasionally at Nicomedia, the capital of the province of Bythinia-the place from whence Pliny addressed his celebrated letter to Trajan. This city, for its beauty and greatness has been compared to Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria ; but, what is more to my purpose, it abound

Mosheim, Cent. iv, ch, 1.

+ Mosheim, Ubi supra.

See page 118.

SEÇT. 1.)

The Dioclesian persecution.

215

ed with Christians, even from the days of the apostles.* Diocletian having taken up his abode at Nicomedia, Galerius, his son-in-law, had come to spend the winter with him. In the year 302, the latter prevailed upon his colleague to grant an edict for pulling down all the places of worship belonging to the Christians, to burn all their books and writings, and to deprive them of all their civil rights and privileges, and render them incapable of any honours or civil promotion. This first edict, though rigorous and severe, did not extend to the lives of the Christians, for Diocletian was much averse to slaughter and bloodshed. It was, however, merely a prelude to what was to follow; for, not long after the publication of this first edict, a fire broke out at two different times in the palace of Nicomedia, where Galerius lodged with Diocletian. The former, though in all probability the real incendiary, threw all the odium of this upon the Christians, as an act of revenge, and the credulous Diocletian, too easily persuaded of the truth of this charge, caused the most inhuman torments to be inflicted upon multitudes of them at Nicomedia.

Soon after this, a new edict was issued, ordering all the bishops, pastors, and public teachers, throughout the empire, to bę apprehended and imprisoned ; hoping, probably, that if the leaders could be once effectually silenced, their respective flocks might be easily dispersed. Nor did his inhuman policy stop there; for, a third edict was presently issued, by which it was ordered, that all sorts of torments should be employed, and the most intolerable punishments resorted to, in order to force the disciples of Jesus to renounce their profession and sacrifice to the heathen gods. The consequence was, that an immense number of persons became the victims of this cruel stratagem throughout every part of the Roman em

* 1 Peter, i. 1.

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