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gratification of their sensual appetites, without any fearful apprehension of future punishment.
But Christianity being opposed to all idolatry, and to all the fruits of the flesh; and refusing to make any compromise with any other system whatever, was itself found to be intolerable in Rome, when it had made such progress as to attract public notice. Had the Christians put an image of Christ in the pantheon, and had they consented to be neighbourlike; doing in Rome as the Romans did, they would have been no more molested on account of their religion than the worshippers of Jupiter were. But being like the Jews in the time of Haman, different from all other people, it was reckoned not fit that they should live. They were murdered by thousands, not by command of such monsters as Nero only, but also by authority of the more amiable and comparatively humane emperors and governors, some of whom declared plainly that they put the Christians to death, not as guilty of any crime, but solely because they refused to renounce what was called their superstition. Such obstinacy, in the opinion of the philosophical Pliny, was of itself worthy of death, as he says in his letter to the emperor Trajan.
With all this opposition, the word of God grew mightily and prevailed in every province of the empire. Pliny, in his letter above referred to, complains that in Bithynia, his province, the temples were deserted, and those who reared victims for sacrifices could scarcely find a purchaser. This was about the beginning of the second century, when, it is believed, all the apostles were dead; but the impulse which they had given to the cause of God, continued under the ministry of evangelists and others, their immediate successors, not as apostles, but preachers of the gospel. As Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and of the elders who overlived him; so there is reason to think the first generation of Christian pastors and teachers, after the apostles, held generally the faith in purity, and preached it with power; though we know there were corruptions in both faith and practice, in some churches, even while the apostles lived. See Paul to the churches in Galatia, and John to the seven churches in Asia. Had the impulse given by them continued a few ages longer, the world would have been filled with the knowledge of the true God, and his Son Jesus Christ. But when the
elders who had been Joshua's companions, and who had been witnesses of God's works on behalf of Israel, had been gathered to their fathers, the people began to fall away towards idol worship, and were soon made to feel the bitter consequence of their folly. The same seems to have been the case with some churches soon after the age of the apostles, and with almost all of them in a few ages more. Paul had expressly told them of this, particularly in his address to the elders of the church in Ephesus, Acts xx. 28-38. And here it is worthy of remark, that he speaks the sentiments, and almost the language of Moses in his valedictory address to Israel, Deut. xxxi. 28-30. It was the same Spirit of prophesy that spoke by both; and he spoke in reference to like events that should happen to the church under both dispensations.
We have not many authentic particulars of the persecution of Christians in the Roman empire in the first and second centuries; but there is enough to assure us that it must have been very dreadful, especially under Nero, and other emperors of a like ferocious character. It was then, notwithstanding, that the gospel triumphed in every place where it came; and the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. It was when the churches enjoyed comparative tranquillity, when the profession of Christianity began to become respectable in the world, and to be assumed by worldly men, who found admission into the churches, that far greater evils befell them than the most cruel persecutors could inflict. The two engines by which the devil works are deceit and violence. He had now given the one a fair trial. For about two centuries he laboured by cruelty and force to put down Christianity, and blot out the memory of Christ's name from the earth. He found himself foiled and disappointed; and then he had recourse to his other weapon; that is deceit, or as it is emphatically called by the Apostle Paul, "All deceivableness of unrighteousness." His first step was to get himself taken for a Christian; or which was virtually the same, to get his seed received as Christians, and so to obtain a lodgment in the fortress of God's house.
Few things appear more evident from scripture, than that the apostolic churches received none into their communion but those who made a credible profession of their faith in Christ, such a confession of the truth as induced a belief that they
were united to the Saviour, and saved by his grace. Hence they were addressed as saints and faithful in Christ Jesus. That persons of an opposite character crept in unawares, is admitted by the divine record; but the apostles instructed the churches to put away all such when their real character was discovered. While persecution continued, few would seek to be joined to the church who were not really converted to God; for one who does not really believe the gospel, who of course has no interest in it, can have no encouragement or motive to lay down his life for the gospel's sake. The devil, therefore, found it necessary for the attainment of his object, to stay the sword of persecution when he found he could not prevail by means of it; and his violence was stayed for a good while before his deceit was so manifest as to excite any alarm.
Christianity being legally constituted the religion of the empire, it followed as a thing of course, that the empire should be all of one church, and subject to one pastor. Bishops, especially metropolitans and patriarchs, as the chief among them were now called, were men of great power and influence. The emperors found it necessary for the peace of their dominions, to stand on good terms with them. But if every
kingdom had had a church and bishop of its own, independent of every other, there would have been danger of that kingdom pursuing its own separate interests, and so breaking the peace and integrity of the empire. This was soon perceived, and he who had the honour to be the emperor's own pastor, or bishop of the imperial city, began to put forth a claim of jurisdiction over all other bishops, and to be head of the universal or Catholic church, as that of Rome has ever since called herself. But it required almost two hundred years of incessant intrigue, and persevering encroachment, to get this claim legally admitted and established; and after all, it was so established in the western part of the empire only, and never extended to the Catholic Church; for the patriarch of Constantinople retained his claim to the primacy of the Greek church, or eastern empire.
On the breaking up of the empire, the western part of it, comprehending almost all Europe, settled down into ten distinct sovereignties, which are usually understood to be prefigured by the ten horns of the Apocalyptic Beast, Rev. xiii. 1-9. This beast, I suppose, signifies the Roman empire in
this state of disruption; for the ten kingdoms, though distinct and separate, were not insulated or altogether independent of one another; but had a bond of union, besides religion, in their acknowledgment of one superior, called the Head of the Holy Roman Empire, and in their adoption of the same or nearly the same civil institutions, which they had all received from Rome, their common parent. These and the Roman church were co-extensive; and this church is represented by another beast, which John saw in the same vision, rising up out of the earth. The former beast rose out of the sea, that is, the commotions by which the integrity of the empire was destroyed, and its organized frame broken up. But this second beast, Rev. xiii. 11-15. is seen rising up out of the earth. This was a spiritual power or tyranny, rising not out of commotions and revolutions, like the other. It rose up gradually and silently, and almost imperceptibly, till it got the command of the whole ten kingdoms, and exercised all their power. Thus he became in a manner identified with the first beast. This is evidently the head of the Romish church, who by his usurped spiritual authority over the ten kingdoms wielded their power and disposed of them at his pleasure.
This beast is very characteristically described-He had two horns like a lamb, professedly all meekness and gentleness, while he exercised the two kinds of power meant by the two horns; that is, the spiritual and the temporal, for he became a temporal prince too; and besides his sway over the empire generally, he acquired a temporal sovereignty of his own, which extended to three of the ten horns, or kingdoms, which were broken off from the rest, and were called the states of the church, and the patrimony of St. Peter. But with all his professed meekness, humility, and gentleness, we are told, “he spake as a dragon." His voice was that of the devil himself, when he was pleased to issue his curses and excommunications. consigning individuals and sometimes whole nations to perdition.
He called himself "Servant of the servants of God," while, by his actions, he proclaimed himself the prince of the kings of the earth. The first beast was eventually merged in this second one; for henceforward the apostle speaks of one beast only, chap. xv. 2. where he is called emphatically, "The Beast." In him was combined all the power and craft and cruelty of the dragon, which is the symbolical name for the
devil, chap. xii. 7. and all directed against Christ, his cause and people, so as to be called by the spirit of prophecy, "the Antichrist:" which does not signify the pope alone in his individual person, but the system of which he is the head.
In the exercise of his sovereign power over the ten kingdoms, the beast caused each of them to make an image of himself," Saying to them that dwell on the earth that they should make an image of the beast," Rev. xiii. 14. By the earth, I suppose we are to understand the Roman territory, in all its divisions, as become subject to papal Rome; and the making of an image of the beast in each of them, was the organizing of a national church, which should be the very picture, or representation of the great Catholic one. The great monster with the seven heads and ten horns, was the whole empire or ten kingdoms united in spiritual subjection to the reigning power at Rome, sitting upon the seven mountains, chap. xvii. 19. forming a catholic or universal church, as she has all along pretended to be. Now every kingdom made an exact image of this; that is, a national church, organized in all its members, so as to represent the great catholic one. In short, each kingdom had a little beast of its own, the very picture of the great one, deriving all its life and vigour from the great one, who "had power to give life unto the image of the beast, cause it to speak," &c. Ver. 15. for all the faculties of every ecclesiastica! functionary were derived from Rome, and exercised under the authority of the Pope. What he was to the whole body of Christendom, that the primate of every national church was to it. Thus the image of the beast in England, had his seat in Canterbury, in Scotland, at St. Andrews, and sometimes Glasgow. I believe Scotland by itself is not reckoned among the ten horns of the beast; but it had an image of him like the
The second beast that came up out of the earth, exercised all the power of the first one, which rose up out of the sea. That is, by means of his usurped spiritual authority over the consciences of kings and princes, he influenced and directed all their movements, exciting them to make war, and commanding them to make peace, all according to his own good pleasure. He commanded, or "caused the earth and them which dwell therein, to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed." His spiritual influence over the conscien