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among most of those to whom St. James wrote, no more than the form of godliness, if so much, was left.
20. St. Peter wrote about the same time "to the strangers," the Christians," scattered abroad through" all those spacious provinces of" Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia [Minor,] and Bithynia." These, probably, were some of the most eminent Christians that were then in the world. Yet how exceeding far were even these from being "without spot and blemish!" And what grievous tares were here also growing up with the wheat! Some of them were "bringing in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them," 2 Pet. ii, 1, &c: and " many followed their pernicious ways;" of whom the apostle gives that terrible character: "They walk after the flesh," in "the lust of uncleanness, like brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed. Spots they are, and blemishes, while they feast with you;" (in the "feasts of charity," then celebrated throughout the whole church;) "having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest, for whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever." And yet these very men were called Christians; and were even then in the bosom of the church! Nor does the apostle mention them as infecting any one particular church only; but as a general plague, which even then was dispersed far and wide among all the Christians to whom he wrote!
21. Such is the authentic account of "the mystery of iniquity," working even in the apostolic churches!—an account given, not by the Jews or heathens, but by the apostles themselves. To this we may add the account which is given by the Head and Founder of the church; Him "who holds the stars in his right hand;" who is "the faithful and true Witness." We may easily infer what was the state of the church in general, from the state of the seven churches in Asia. One of these indeed, the church of Philadelphia, had "kept his word, and had not denied his name," Rev. iii, 8; the church of Smyrna was likewise in a flourishing state: but all the rest were corrupted, more or less; insomuch that many of them were not a jot better than the present race of Christians; and our Lord then threatened, what he has long since performed, to remove the candlestick" from them.
22. Such was the real state of the Christian church, even during the first century; while not only St. John, but most of the apostles, were present with and presided over it. But what a mystery is this, that the All-wise, the All-gracious, the Almighty, should suffer it so to be, not in one only, but, as far as we can learn, in every Christian society, those of Smyrna and Philadelphia excepted! And how came these to be excepted? Why were these less corrupted, (to go no farther,) than the other churches of Asia? It seems, because they were less wealthy. The Christians in Philadelphia were not literally "increased in goods," like those at Ephesus and Laodicea; and if the Christians at Smyrna had acquired more wealth, it was swept away by persecution. So that these, having less of this world's goods, retained more of the simplicity and purity of the gospel.
23. But how contrary is this scriptural account of the ancient Christians to the ordinary apprehensions of men! We have been apt to imagine, that the primitive church was all excellence and perfection; answerable to that strong description which St. Peter cites from Moses:
"Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people." And such, without all doubt, the first Christian church, which commenced at the day of pentecost, was. But how soon did the fine gold become dim! How soon was the wine mixed with water! How little time elapsed, before the "god of this world" so far regained his empire, that Christians in general were scarce distinguishable from heathens, save by their opinions and modes of worship!
24. And if the state of the church in the very first century was so bad, we cannot suppose it was any better in the second. Undoubtedly it grew worse and worse. Tertullian, one of the most eminent Christians of that age, has given us an account of it in various parts of his writings, whence we learn that real, internal religion was hardly found; nay, that not only the tempers of the Christians were exactly the same with those of their heathen neighbours, (pride, passion, love of the world, reigning alike in both,) but their lives and manners also. The bearing a faithful testimony against the general corruption of Christians, seems to have raised the outcry against Montanus; and against Tertullian himself, when he was convinced that the testimony of Montanus was true. Ás to the heresies fathered upon Montanus, it is not easy to find what they were. I believe his grand heresy was, the maintaining that “without" inward and outward "holiness, no man shall see the Lord!"
25. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in every respect an unexceptionble witness, who flourished about the middle of the third century, has left us abundance of letters, in which he gives a large and particular account of the state of religion in his time. In reading this, one would be apt to imagine, he was reading an account of the present century: so totally void of true religion were the generality both of the laity and clergy, so immersed in ambition, envy, covetousness, luxury, and all other vices, that the Christians of Africa were then exactly the same as the Christians of England are now.
26. It is true, that during this whole period, during the first three centuries, there were intermixed longer or shorter seasons, wherein true Christianity revived. In those seasons the justice and mercy of God let loose the heathens upon the Christians. Many of these were then called to resist unto blood. And "the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church." The apostolic spirit returned; and many "counted not their lives dear unto themselves, so they might finish their course with joy." Many others were reduced to a happy poverty; and, being stripped of what they had loved too well, they "remembered from whence they were fallen, and repented, and did their first works."
27. Persecution never did, never could, give any lasting wound to genuine Christianity. But the greatest it ever received, the grand blow which was struck at the very root of that humble, gentle, patient love, which is the fulfilling of the Christian law, the whole essence of true religion, was struck in the fourth century by Constantine the Great, when he called himself a Christian, and poured in a flood of riches, honours, and power, upon the Christians; more especially upon the clergy. Then was fulfilled in the Christian church, what Velleius Paterculus says of the people of Rome: Sublatâque imperii æmulâ, non gradu, sed præcipiti cursu, à virtute descitum, ad vitia transcursum. Just so, when the fear of persecution was removed, and wealth and
honour attended the Christian profession, the Christians did not gradually sink, but rushed headlong into all manner of vices. Then the mystery of iniquity" was no more hid, but stalked abroad in the face of the sun. Then, not the golden, but the iron age of the church commenced: then one might truly say,
Protinus irrupit venæ pejoris in ævum
Omne nefas; fugêre pudor, verumque, fidesque,
And force, and thirst of gold, claimed universal sway.
28. And this is the event which most Christian expositors mention with such triumph! Yea, which some of them supposed to be typified in the revelation, by "the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven !" Rather say, it was the coming of Satan, and all his legions from the bottomless pit: seeing from that very time he hath set up his throne over the face of the whole earth, and reigned over the Christian, as well as the pagan world, with hardly any control! Historians, indeed, tell us, very gravely, of nations, in every century, who were by such and such, (saints without doubt!) converted to Christianity: but still these converts practised all kind of abominations, exactly as they did before; no way differing, either in their tempers or in their lives, from the nations that were still called heathens. Such has been the deplorable state of the Christian church, from the time of Constantine till the reformation. A Christian nation, a Christian city, (according to the scriptural model,) was no where to be seen; but every city and country, a few individuals excepted, was plunged in all manner of wickedness. 29. Has the case been altered since the reformation? Does "the mystery of iniquity" no longer work in the church? No: the reformation itself has not extended to above one third of the western church; so that two thirds of this remain as they were; so do the eastern, southern, and northern churches. They are as full of heathenish, or worse than heathenish abominations, as ever they were before. And what is the condition of the reformed churches? It is certain that they were reformed in their opinions, as well as their modes of worship. But is not this all? Were either their tempers or lives reformed? Not at all. Indeed many of the reformers themselves complained, that "The reformation was not carried far enough.' But what did they mean? Why, that they did not sufficiently reform the rites and ceremonies of the church. Ye fools and blind! To fix your whole attention on the circumstantials of religion! Your complaint ought to have been, the essentials of religion were not carried far enough! You ought vehemently to have insisted on an entire change of men's tempers and lives; on their showing they had "the mind that was in Christ," by "walking as he also walked." Without this, how exquisitely trifling was the reformation of opinions, and rites, and ceremonies? Now let any one survey the state of Christianity in the reformed parts of Switzerland; in Ger many, or France; in Sweden, Denmark, Holland; in Great Britain and Ireland. How little are any of these reformed Christians better than heathen nations! Have they more, (I will not say, communion with God, although there is no Christianity without it,) but have they more
justice, mercy, or truth, than the inhabitants of China, or Indostan ? Oh no! we must acknowledge with sorrow and shame, that we are far beneath them!
That we, who by thy Name are named,
30. Is not this the falling away or apostasy from God, foretold by St. Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, chap. ii, 3? Indeed, I would not dare to say, with George Fox, that this apostasy was universal; that there never were any real Christians in the world, from the days of the apostles till his time. But we may boldly say, that wherever Christianity has spread, the apostasy has spread also: insomuch that, although there are now and always have been individuals who were real Christians, yet the whole world never did, nor can at this day, show a Christian country or city.
31. I would now refer it to every man of reflection, who believes the Scriptures to be of God, whether this general apostasy does not imply the necessity of a general reformation? Without allowing this, how can we possibly justify either the wisdom or goodness of God? According to Scripture, the Christian religion was designed for "the healing of the nations;" for the saving from sin by means of the second Adam, all that were "constituted sinners" by the first. But it does not answer this end it never did; unless for a short time at Jerusalem. can we say, but that if it have not yet, it surely will answer it? time is coming, when not only "all Israel shall be saved, but the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in." The time cometh, when " violence shall no more be heard in the earth, wasting or destruction within our borders;" but every city shall call her "walls salvation, and her gates praise;" when the people, saith the Lord," shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified," Isa. lx, 18, 21.
32. From the preceding considerations, we may learn the full answer to one of the grand objections of infidels against Christianity; namely, The lives of Christians. Of Christians, do you say? I doubt whether you ever knew a Christian in your life. When Tomo Chachi, the Indian chief, keenly replied to those who spoke to him of being a Christian, "Why there are Christians at Savannah! There are Christians at Frederica!"-the proper answer was, "No; they are not; they are no more Christians than you and Sinauky." "But are not these Christians in Canterbury, in London, in Westminster?" No; no more than they are angels. None are Christians, but they that have the mind which was in Christ, and walk as he walked. Why, if these only are Christians," said an eminent wit, "I never saw a Christian yet.' "I believe it: you never did; and, perhaps, you never will; for you will never find them in the grand or the gay world. The few Christians that are upon the earth, are only to be found where you never look for them. Never, therefore, urge this objection more: never object to Christianity the lives or tempers of heathens. Though they are called Christians, the name does not imply the thing: they are as far from this as hell from heaven!
33. We may learn from hence, secondly, the extent of the fall; the astonishing spread of original corruption. What, among so many thou sands, so many millions, is there none righteous, no, not one? Not by
But including the grace of God, I will not say with the hea
Rari quippe boni, numero vix sunt totidem quot
As if he had allowed too much, in supposing there were a hundred good men in the Roman empire; he comes to himself, and affirms there are hardly seven. Nay, surely, there were seven thousand! There were so many long ago in one small nation, where Elijah supposed there were none at all. But allowing a few exceptions, we are authorized to say, "The whole world lieth in wickedness;" yea, "in the wicked one;" as the words properly signify. Yes, the whole heathen world." Yea, and the Christian too; (so called ;) for where is the difference, save in a few externals! See with your own eyes! Look into that large country, Indostan. There are Christians and heathens too. Which have more justice, mercy, and truth? The Christians or the heathens? Which are most corrupt, infernal, devilish, in their tempers and practice? The English or the Indians? Which have desolated whole countries, and clogged the rivers with dead bodies?
Oh sacred name of Christian! how profaned!
Oh earth, earth, earth! how dost thou groan under the villanies of thy Christian inhabitants!
34. From many of the preceding circumstances we may learn, thirdly, what is the genuine tendency of riches: what a baleful influence they have had, in all ages, upon pure and undefiled religion. Not that money is an evil of itself: it is applicable to good as well as bad purposes. But, nevertheless, it is an undoubted truth, that "the love of money is the root of all evil;" and also, that the possession of riches naturally breeds the love of them. Accordingly, it is an old remark, Crescit amor nummi, quantum ipsa pecunia crescit :
"As money increases, so does the love of it;" and always will, without a miracle of grace. Although, therefore, other causes may concur; yet this has been, in all ages, the principal cause of the decay of true religion in every Christian community. As long as the Christians in any place were poor, they were devoted to God. While they had little of the world, they did not love the world; but the more they had of it, the more they loved it. This constrained the lover of their souls, at various times, to unchain their persecutors; who, by reducing them to their former poverty, reduced them to their former purity. But still remember, riches have, in all ages, been the bane of genuine Christianity!
35. We may learn hence, fourthly, how great watchfulness they need who desire to be real Christians; considering what a state the world is in! May not each of them well say,
"Into a world of ruffians sent,
I walk on hostile ground:
Wild human bears on slaughter bent,
And ravening wolves surround."
They are the more dangerous, because they commonly appear in sheep s clothing. Even those who do not pretend to religion, yet make fair professions of good will, of readiness to serve us; and, perhaps, of truth and honesty. But beware of taking their word! Trust not any man, until he fears God! It is a great truth,
"He that fears no God, can love no friend :"