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the writers of Ecclesiastical History to hold it up as a proof of the remorse and repentance of Galerius; but I confess myself unable to find any traces of either the one or the other in it, What, for instance, does this edict say of the conduct of the Christians in adhering to the worship of the one living and true God, and rejecting the worship of idols ? why, that they were a “ deluded” people, who had renounced the religion and ceremonies instituted by their forefathers—that they presumptuously despised the practice of antiquity; in other words, they are stigmatized as presumptuous fools, for rejecting the doctrines and commandments of men, renouncing a system of the vilest superstition and the most abominable idolatry, and purifying themselves from all connexion with it: this is denominated « impious folly” on the part of these “ unhappy men.” But what could Nero or Caligula, Celsus or Porphyry, have said of them beyond this? It is indeed freely admitted, by the framers of this edict, that the Christians had been most cruelly treatedtheir opportunities of public worship had been denied them—they had been subjected to danger, distress, and death for following out their convictions of duty; yet the emperor talks of his wonted clemency, forsooth, and hopes his indulgence will engage the Christians to pray for his safety and prosperity! What a strange request, after denouncing their religion as “impious folly,” and themselves as unhappy, deluded persons, who had “invented extravagant laws and opinions, according to the dictates of their fancy !” Is it possible to discover greater ignorance of the first principles of Christianity than is here betrayed ? Mr. Gibbon, remarking on this edict, says, “ It is not usually in the language of edicts and manifestoes that we should search for the real character or the secret motives of princes : but, as these were the words of a dying emperor, his situation, perhaps, may be admitted as a pledge of his sincerity.” Be it so: but, after all, to what does it amount ? simply, a declaration that he entertained the same opinion of Christianity and its professors that he did while inflicting torture and death upon them--that he was himself the still decided idolatrous heathen, though the intensity of his own sufferings had awakened in him the voice of humanity. But to proceed :
This important edict was issued and set up at Nicomedia, on
CONDUCT OF THE EMPEROR MAXIMIN.
the 13th April, 311; but the wretched Galerius did not long survive its publication; for he died about the beginning of May, under torments the most excruciating, and in the nature of his complaint, and manner of his death, very much resembling the case of Herod. “ His body,” says Mr. Gibbon, “swelled by an intemperate course of life to an unwieldy corpulence, was covered with ulcers, and devoured by innumerable swarms of those insects which have given their name to a most loathsome disease.”
On the death of Galerius, Maximin succeeded to the government of the Asiatic provinces. In the first six months of his new reign he affected to adopt the prudent counsels of his predecessor as expressed in the edict of toleration above recorded. He caused a circular letter to be addressed to all the governors and magistrates of the provinces, expatiating on the imperial clemency, acknowledging “ the invincible obstinacy of the Christians,” and directing the officers of justice to cease their ineffectual prosecutions, and to connive at the secret assemblies of those “ enthusiasts.” In consequence of these orders, says Mr. Gibbon, “ great numbers of the Christians were released from prison and delivered up from the mines. The confessors, singing hymns of triumph, returned into their own countries ; and those who had yielded to the violence of the tempest solicited, with tears of repentance, their re-admission into the bosom of the church.”
This treacherous calm, however, was soon followed by a threatening storm. Cruelty and superstition were the ruling passions of the soul of Maximin; the former suggested the means, the latter pointed out the objects of persecution. He was devoted to the worship of the Heathen deities--to the study of magicand the belief of oracles. But, fortunately, while this superstitious and bigoted monarch was preparing fresh measures of violence against the Christians, with deliberate policy, a civil war ensued between himself and his colleague Licinius, which occupied his whole attention ; and his defeat and death, which soon after took place, freed the Christians from his implacable enmity.
Having thus brought down the narrative to the times of Constantine the Great—as, by common courtesy, he is now called it is not my intention to pursue it further in the present lecture. We have explored our way through “ the times of the martyrs," and have seen Christianity rising from small beginnings in the preaching of the fishermen of Galilee, feeble at first as the tender plant issuing from the grain of mustard-seed (Matt. xiii. 31, 32), then rising gradually and majestically from the earth, shooting out its branches on every side, budding and blossoming, and unfolding its leaves—constantly assailed by obloquy and persecution from the heathen magistrates, yet, like the current of a riyer, winding its way silently and slowly through evil report and good report - little indebted to emperors, kings, or statesmen, at any time, beyond that of simple toleration—continually scattering her blessings on the sons of destitution and misery—and never so much annoyed as by the injudicious efforts of pretended friends, who would strip her of her pristine simplicity, and encumber her with meretricious ornaments, or the traditions of men. Such was Christianity for the first three hundred years. But the period was now arrived when the “let,” or hindrance, mentioned by the apostle Paul, 2 Thess. ii. 7, was to be taken out of the way, and the man of sin was to be revealed, the son of perdition, who was to oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God, or is worshipped. This was the bringing forth of the “ mystery of iniquity,” the kingdom of Antichrist, of which you read so much in the book of Daniel and the Apocalypse, as well as in the writings of Paul and John. As the emperor Constantine was a notable instrument in concocting, and maturing, and perfecting this system of abominations, I must, in justice to the importance of the subject, prosecute it somewhat in detail, and with that view shall probably occupy one or two lectures upon it; for I feel fully assured that, unless you are tolerably well informed on the events of this period, you will read or study ecclesiastical history to no valuable purpose. In the mean time, allow me to suggest to such of you as are in possession of my “ Lectures on the Apocalypse" to turn, at your leisure, to the eighteenth Lecture, which is upon the opening of the sixth seal, and you will find it to treat of the very same subject as that which we have now had under consideration—the downfall of Paganism in the Roman empire, and the introduction of an entirely new order of things, brought about by the inscrutable workings of Providence, through the elevation of Con
REFLECTIONS ON THE BOOK OF THE APOCALYPSE. 341
stantine to the imperial throne. These extraordinary events were set forth by the Spirit of prophecy, in the truly sublime language contained in Rev. vi. 12–17, which I have endeavoured to illustrate in the lecture above mentioned. Pardon me if I further add, in this place, that the completest and most authentic history of the Christian church with which the world was ever favoured, or ever will be favoured in this militant state, is comprised in the book of the Revelation. The whole of that astonishing portion of the oracles of God is taken up with a prophetical delineation of the events which were to befall the church of Christ from the period of his ascension to the final consummation of all things. It is true, indeed, that these events are couched under language that is peculiar to prophecy-symbols and hieroglyphics. We have the opening of seals, the sounding of trumpets, and the pouring out of vials ; and to decypher these was the immediate object of my lectures on that book. I may add, that to illustrate the very same subject more at large-to show the correspondency that exists between history and prophecy, in relation to the kingdom of Christ, is my design in the present course of Lectures. Should it please the Lord to lengthen out the brittle thread of life so as to enable me to complete the undertaking, the two works will, I hope, be found to form one entire whole, reflecting light on each other, and jointly contributing to trace the hand of the Lord in his dealings with the children of men. Some over-wise individuals have thought proper to censure this course of lectures as an unfit exercise for the Lord's day, because the subject of them is not “ Christ crucified ;" but with equal propriety may they censure the Holy Spirit for communicating visions and revelations of these same events to the apostle John on “the Lord's day,” Rev. i. 10– and, for my own part, so long as I can plead that as a precedent, I am not greatly solicitous about any more laboured apology.
In the next lecture, I purpose to lay before you a sketch of the life and character of that extraordinary man (Constantine the Great)-his pretended conversion to Christianity—and the unhappy result of that event, namely, his establishing Christianity by law, as the religion of the Roman empire.
Some account of Constantine the Great— Reasons assigned by him
for embracing Christianity-Marches into Italy and Defeats Maxentius—Issues several Edicts in favour of the Christians
-Builds Constantinople-Convenes the Council of Nice-Proceedings of the Council--Its Decrees sanctioned by the Bishop of Rome_Constantine visits Jerusalem–His Baptism, Death, and Character. A. D. 312–337.
In the preceding Lecture I had occasion to mention the name of Constantine, surnamed the Great,a person whose history is entitled to particular notice in the annals of the Christian church, on account of the very important part he was destined to act in its affairs, but whose character and the quality of his exploits have greatly divided the opinions of mankind. By the advocates of National Establishments of Christianity, he is extolled to the skies, as the achiever of one of the greatest and most memorable revolutions which ever took place in the world—the subversion of the Pagan, and the establishment of the Christian Religion; while to myself and others, who think the religion of Christ incapable of receiving support from an arm of flesh, or of establishment from human laws, the character and conduct of Constantine must of necessity appear in a different light.*
* In proof of the very high estimation in which the character of Constantine is held, by the advocates of Ecclesiastical establishments, I will present the reader with two instances. The first is that of the learned Bishop Newton, who in his very popular Dissertations on the Prophecies, illustrating Rev. xii. 5, “She brought forth a man-child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and his throne, &c.”—thus proceeds : “It should seem