« VorigeDoorgaan »
the church soon began to be greatly infested with beresies; the two principal, and those which did most infest the church, were the Arian and Pelagian.
The Arians began soon after Constantine came to the throne. They denied the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and the Holy Ghost, and maintained, that they were but mere creatures. This heresy increased more and more in the church, and prevailed like a flood which threatened to overflow all, and entirely to carry away the church, insomuch tbat before the close of the fourth century, the greater part of the Christian church were become Arians. Some emperors, the successors of Constantine, were Arians; so that being the prevailing party, and having the civil authority on their side, they raised a great persecution against the true church of Christ; so that this heresy might well be compared to a flood out of the mouth of the serpent, wbich threatened to overthrow all, and quite carry away the woman.
The Pelagian heresy arose in the beginning of the next century. It began hy one PELAGIUS, who was born in Britain : his British name was MORGAN. He denied original sin and the influence of the Spirit of God in conversion, and held the power of free will, and many other things of like tendency; and this heresy did for awhile greatly infest the church. Pelagius's principal antagonist, who wrote in defence of the orthodox faith, was St. Augustin.
2. The other kind of opposition which Satan made against the church, was in his endeavours to restore Paganism. His first attempt was by Julian the apostate. Julian was nephew to Constantine the Great. When Constantine died, he left his empire to three sons; and after their death, Julian the apostate reigned in their stead. He had been a professed Christian, but he fell from Christianity, and turned Pagan; and therefore is called the apostate. When he came to the throne, he used his utmost endeavours to overthrow the Christian church, and set up Paganism again in the empire. He put down the Christian magistrates, and set up Heathens in their room. He rebuilt the Heathen temples, set up the Heathen worship, and became a most notorious persecutor of the Christians. He used to call Christ, by way of reproach, the Galilean. He was killed by a lance in his wars with the Persians. When he saw that he was mortally wounded, be took a handful of his blood, and threw it up towards heaven, crying out, “ Thou hast overcome, O Galilean.” He is commonly thought by divines to have committed the unpardon-able sin.
Another way that Satan attempted to restore Paganism in the Roman empire, was by the invasions and conquests of Heathen nations. For in this space of time, the Goths and
Vandals, and other barbarous nations from the north, invaded the empire, and obtained great conquests. They even overran the empire, and in the fifth century took the city of Rome, and finally conquered, and took possession of the western half of the empire, and divided it amongst them. It was divided into ten kingdoms, with which began the ten horns of the beast; for we are told, that the ten borns are ten kings, who should rise in the latter part of the Roman empire : these are also represented by the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar's image. The invasion and conquests of these Heathen nations are supposed to be foretold in the 8th chapter of Revelation, in what came to pass under the sounding of the four first trumpets. Now, by their means, Heathenism was again for awhile restored after it had been rooted out. So much for the opposition of Satan against the success of the gospel during this space before the rise of Antichrist. I proceed,
II. To show what success there was of the gospel in this space, notwithstanding this opposition.
1. I would observe, that the opposition of Satan in those things was ba Med. Though the dragon cast out of his mouth such a flood after the woman to carry her away, yet he could not obtain bis design ; but the earth helped the woman, and opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. These heresies, which for awhile so much prevailed, after awhile dwindled away, and orthodoxy was again restored.
2. The gospel, during this space of time, was further propagated amongst many barbarous nations in the confines of The Roman empire. In the time of Constantine there was a considerable propagation of the gospel in the East Iudies, chiefly by the ministry of one Frumentius. Great mumbers of the Iberians were converted to Christianity by a Christian woman of eminent piety, whom they had taken captive. And some account is given of several other barbarous nations who were not within the Roman empire, that great numbers of them were brought to receive the gospel by the teaching and example of captives whom they had taken in war. About the year of Christ three bundred and seventy-two, the gospel was propagated among the barbarous inhabitants of Arabia ; and among some of the northern nations: particularly a prince of the Goths about this time became Christian, and a great number of his people with him. Towards the latter end of this century, the gospel was also further propagated among the Persians; and also the Scythians, a barbarous people, whom the apostle mentions, Col. iii. 11. Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free.
And after this, about the year four hundred and thirty, there was a remarkable conversion of the Burgundians, to the Christian faith. Now the gospel began to be propagated in Ireland ; and the Irish, who till now had been Heathen, began to receive the Christian faith. About the same time it was further propagated among some barbarous people in Scotland, and in some other places. In the next century, Zathus, a Heathen king, who ruled over the Colchians, was brought to renounce bis Heathenism, and to embrace the Christian religion. Several other barbarous nations are recorded to have renounced Heathenism and embraced Christianity about this time, that I cannot stand to mention.--Thus I bave briefly considered the principal events of providence which concern the success of the gospel of Christ from Constantine to the rise of Antichrist.
The Success of Redemption from the Rise of Antichrist to the
I come now to the darkest and most dismal day that ever the Christian church saw, and probably the darkest that ever it will see; from the rise of Antichrist till the Reformation by Luther and others. Thể true church in this space was for many hundred years in a state of great obscurity; like the woman in the wilderness, she was almost hid from sight and observation. In speaking of the events of this space of time, I would,-1. Take notice of the great machinations and works of Satan against the kingdom of Christ ;-2. How the church of Christ was upheld during this time.
I. I would take notice of the great machinations and works of Satan against the kingdom of Christ during this time. Satan had done great things against the Christian church before, but had been baffled once and again. Michael and his angels had obtained a glorious victory. How terrible was bis opposition during the continuance of the Heathen empire; and how glorious was Christ's victory and triumph over him in the time of Constantine ! It pleased God now to prepare the way for a yet more glorious victory over him; he is suffered to renew his strength, and to do the utmost that his power and subtilty can effect. He has a long time to lay his schemes, to establish his interest, and make his matters strong. "God suffers him to carry his designs a great length indeed, almost to the swallowing up of his church; and to exercise a high, proud, and almost uncontrouled dominion in the world, a long time before Christ finally conquers, and utterly ruins bis visible kingdom. This he will do in the time of the destruction of Antichrist : thus gloriously triumphing over Satan, after he has done to the utmost of his power and subtilty; after he has lifted himself highest of all, and dealt most proudly.
The two great works of the devil, in this space of time, against the kingdom of Christ, are his creating his Antichristian and Mahometan kingdoms; which both together comprehend the ancient Roman empire; the kingdom of Anticbrist the Western, and the Mahometan kingdom the Eastern empire. As the scriptures in the book of Revelation represent it, it is in the destruction of these that the glorious victory of Christ, at the introduction of the glorious times of the church, will mainly consist. And here let us briefly observe how Satan erects and maintains these two great kingdoms of his in opposition to the kingdom of Christ.
1. With respect to the kingdom of Antichrist. This seems to be the masterpiece of all the contrivances of the devil against the kingdom of Christ, and is evidently so spoken of in scripture. Antichrist is that man of sin, (2 Thess. ii. 3.) empbatically, as though he were so eminently. He is called Antichrist, which signifies the opponent or adversary of Christ, not because he is the only opponent of Christ ; for the apostle John observes, that in his days there were many Antichrists. But yet this is called the Antichrist, as though there were none but he, because he was so eminently, and above all others. So this contrivance of the devil, is called the mystery of iniquity, 2 Thess. ii. 7. We find no enemy of Christ one half so much spoken of in the prophecies of Revelation as this; and the destruction of no enemy is spoken of as so glorious, and so happy for the church.
This is a contrivance to turn the ministry of the Christian church into a ministry of the devil, and the angels of the churches into fallen angels. In the tyranny, superstition, , idolatry, and persecution, which he sets up, he contrives to make an image of ancient Paganism, and more than to restore what was lost by the overthrow of Paganism in the time of Constantine. By these means, the head of the beast, which was wounded unto death in Constantine, has his deadly wound healed in Antichrist, Rev. xiii. 3. And the dragon, that formerly reigned in the Heathen Roman empire, being cast out thence, after the beast with seven heads and ten horns rises up out of the sea, gives him his power, and seat, and great autho. rity; and all the world wonders after the beast.
I am far from pretending to determine the time when the teign of Antichrist began, which is a point that has been se
much controverted among divines and expositors. It is certain that the twelve hundred and sixty days, or years, which are so often in scripture mentioned as the time of the continuance of Antichrist's reign, did not commence before the year of Christ four hundred and seventy-nine; because if they did, they would have ended, and Antichrist would have fallen before now. The rise of Antichrist was gradual. , The Christian church corrupted itself in many things presently after Constantine's time; growing more and more superstitious in its worship, and by degrees bringing in many ceremonies into the worship of God, till at length they brought in the worship of saints, and set up images in their churches. The clergy in general, and especially the bishop of Rome, assumed more and more authority to himself. In the primitive times, he was only a minister of a congregation; then a standing moderator of a presbytery; then a diocesan bishop; then a metropolitan, which is equivalent to an archbishop; then a patriarch. Afterwards be claimed the power of universal bishop over the whole Christian church; wherein he was opposed for awhile, but afterwards was confirmed in it by the civil power of the Emperor in the year six hundred and six. After that he claimed the power of a temporal prince, and so was wont to carry two swords, to signify that both the temporal and spiritual sword was his. He claimed more and more authority, till at length, as Christ's vicegerent on earth, he claimed the very same power that Christ would have done, if he was present on earth reigning on his throne; or the same power that belongs to God, and was used to be called God on earth; to be submitted to by all the princes of Christendom. He claimed power to crown princes, and to degrade them at his pleasure; and this power was owned : yea, kings and emperors used to kiss his feet. The emperors received their crowns at his hands; and princes were wont to dread the displeasure of the Pope, as they would dread a thunderbolt from heaven. If the Pope was pleased to excommunicate a prince, all bis subjects were at once freed from their allegiance to him; and obliged not to own him any more, on pain of excommunication; and not only so, but any man might kill him wherever he found him. Further, the Pope was believed to have power to damn men at pleasure; for whoever died under bis excommunication, was looked upon as certainly damned. Several emperors were actually deposed, and ejected, and died miserably by his means; and if the people of any state or kingdom did not please him, be had power to lay that state or kingdom under an interdict, which was a sentence pronounced by the Pope against that state or kingdom, whereby all sacred administrations among them could have no validity. There could be no valid baptisms, or sacraments, or prayers, or preaching, or pardons, till that