Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ings, stated fasts, sacerdotal vestments, and other institutions, some of Jewish and others of Pagan origin, as Dr. Middleton has clearly shown in his “ Letter from Rome.” The sacrifice of the mass became a succedaneum for the ancient Levitical sacrifices. The celibacy of the clergy also was derived from the example of the old economy, under which the priests, while officiating on certain occasions, were enjoined to abstain from conjugal rites ; but as, according to the opinion of the fathers of the church, the priests of the new economy are to be considered as always employed in their sacred functions, perpetual abstinence from marriage became a natural consequence. :. It is unnecessary to pursue this subject further in detail at present, especially as we shall be compelled to resume it on future occasions; and yet I cannot dismiss it without directing your attention to one most deplorable evil which resulted from this perverse and unauthorized imitution of the old economy under the Christian form-I refer to the persecution and punishment of what are termed heretics, solely on account of a difference of opinion on articles of faith or the affairs of religion.

Under the Jewish law there were certain offences, clearly defined and explained, which were not the subject of toleration, but the authors and perpetrators of which were punishable with death. Such were idolators, blasphemers, false-prophets seducing men into idolatry, and sabbath-breakersthese persons were declared guilty of a capital crime, and it was enjoined on the magistrate to punish them to extremity. Disregarding the difference between the two dispensations, no sooner had the church escaped out of the hands of the heathen magistrates, than, her infatuated clergy began to inflict the same cruelties on their fellow Christians, who differed from, or did not follow with them as they themselves had formerly experienced from idolatrous Pagans. This persecuting spirit, to which we shall often have occasion to advert, is one of the most odious features of Popery. Who could believe that men professing Christianity should so far degenerate from the example of Jesus, the meek and merciful, who “came not to destroy men's lives but to save," as to imagine that they pleased God by murdering others for a difference of sentiment, or for worshipping God agreeably to the dictates of their own consciences ? But such has been the consé

THE JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN KINGDOMS CONTRASTED. 379

quence of mistaking the difference between the two dispensations. The reason why crimes of the description above alluded to were punished by the Jewish law is to be found in the peculiar nature of that dispensation. According to the genius of the old, and now abrogated economy, Jehovah was at once the God of the Israelites and their earthly Sovereign. Consequently, whoever rejected the God of Israel as the alone object of religious worship, by the very same act rejected him as King. In so doing, they violated the restraints and authority of the laws and government, were guilty of high treason, and subjected themselves to capital punishment. Sabbath-breakers were also considered in the same light; because in the Sabbath there was exhibited a public sign or testimony that the Israelites worshipped only the Creator of the heavens and the earth, who finished his work in six days and rested on the seventh.

How different now from all this is the genius and spirit of the kingdom of Christ! When the apostles, James and John, after the example of Elias of old, solicited their divine Master to allow them to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans for a supposed affront offered to him, what a reproof did he administer to them! “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save.” Illustrious in royal majesty, the King of Zion sits at the Father's right hand, as Head over all things to his churchthe government is upon his shoulders, and he has neither vicar nor representative on earth. His subjects are all brethren. His kingdom which is of heavenly origin, and wholly spiritual in its nature, founded in truth, and distinct from all the kingdoms of this world, leaves them wholly untouched ; it meddles not with their weapons, but, without any external force or constraint, makes use of no other instrument than divine truth to promote the cause of piety and virtue in the world. The language of its sublime Sovereign is, “ If any man hear my words and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my words hath one that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him at the last day.” No one is compelled to submit his neck to the yoke of this celestial monarch-no one is, or can be, intruded into the kingdom of Christ ; it neither has nor can have any other than voluntary subjects. These things are everywhere inculcated in the holy Scriptures, and are the acknowledged characteristics of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the new order of things, however, which took place under the emperor Constantine and his clergy, a state of things, in almost every respect the reverse of this, ensued. One of their first objects was to remodel the form and order of the Christian church, the administration of which was, as far as possible, arranged conformably to the government of the state. The emperor himself assumed the episcopal functions, and claimed the power of regulating its external affairs—in other words, he was constituted head of the church. He and his successors convened councils, in which they presided, and determined all matters of discipline. The bishops corresponded to those magistrates whose jurisdiction was confined to single cities; the metropolitans to the proconsuls, or presidents of provinces; the primates to the emperor's vicars, each of whom governed one of the imperial provinces. Canons and prebendaries took their rise from the societies of ecclesiastics, which Eusebius, bishop of Verceil, and after him Augustine, formed in their houses, and in which these prelates were styled their fathers and masters. Now, it may be worth our while to look at this new order of things and compare it with that which was instituted by the apostles of Christ, and which had hitherto generally obtained in all the churches for 300 years. Scarcely any two things can be more dissimilar. The learned Mosheim, speaking of the overseers of the apostolic churches, and those of the second century, says :-“ Let none confound the bishops of this primitive and golden period of the church with those of whom we read in the following ages. For, though they were both designated by the same name, yet they differed extremely in many respects. A bishop, during the first and second centuries, was a person who had the care of one Christian assembly, which at that time was, generally speaking, small enough to be contained in a private house. In this assembly he acted not so much with the authority of a master, as with the zeal and diligence of a faithful servant. The churches, also, in those early times, were entirely independent; none of them subject to any foreign jurisdiction, but each of them governed by

PROCEEDINGS OF CONSTANTINE AND HIS CLERGY. 381

its own rulers and its own laws. Nothing is more evident than the perfect equality that reigned among the primitive churches ; nor does there ever appear, in the first century, the smallest trace of that association of provincial churches from which councils and metropolitans derive their origin.” So far my author-to which I take leave to add, that nothing could be more abhorrent to the first churches than to acknowledge any earthly potentate as their head. “Be not ye called Rabbi,” said Jesus to his apostles; “ for one is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant; and whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." These divine maxims, which may be regarded as forming the constituent principles of the Christian kingdom, were lost sight of by the ecclesiastics who undertook to remodel the churches under the auspices of the emperor Constantine, whom they, as a matter of courtesy, condescended to make their earthly head.

The conduct of the clergy of that age is calculated to furnish us with a useful and instructive lesson on the subject of the corruption of human nature. In proportion as they enjoyed any intervals of exemption from persecution, they became more litigious in their tempers, and more worldly-minded. But now that the restraint was entirely taken off by the emperor, the churches endowed, and riches and honours profusely heaped on the clergy; when he authorized them to sit as judges upon the consciences and faith of others, he confirmed them in the spirit of this world -the spirit of pride, avarice, domination, and ambition ; the indulgence of which has, in all ages, proved fatal to the purity, peace, and happiness, of the kingdom of Christ. The glaring inconsistency which marked the conduct of the leading ecclesiastics, in professing a religion the prominent characteristics of which are humility and self-denial, and at the same time pursuing the pleasures and aspiring after the honours of this world, seems to have struck the very heathen themselves. Hence an historian of that class, who lived shortly after the days of Constantine, remarked concerning some of the leading bishops—“ It would be well if, despising the magnificence of the city, they would copy the example of some of the bishops of provincial towns, whose temperance, plainness of dress, and heavenlymindedness, must recommend them to the Deity as his sincere worshippers.”*

The short sketch now exhibited of the proceedings of the leading ecclesiastics of that day may suffice to show us how “the mystery of iniquity” was then working, and busily working, in the churches, gendering the “ man of sin, the son of perdition,” as well as the powerful hand which the clergy had in it. Restored to the full possession of their liberty, the places of worship rebuilt and secured to them, and the imperial edicts every where published in their favour, these new bishops soon gave the emperor convincing proof what manner of spirit they were of ! As their several revenues became augmented, they grew more and more ambitious, less disposed to endure contradiction, more arrogant and haughty in their behaviour, more litigious, and more reckless of the simplicity and gravity of their character and profession. Constantine's letters afford ample proof of the jealousies and animosities which reigned among them. Adverting to a violent quarrel that had arisen between Miltiades, bishop of Rome, and Cæcilianus, bishop of Carthage, in which the principals had enlisted a host of their colleagues as auxiliaries ; he tells them, that it was a very grievous thing to him to see such a number of persons divided into parties, and even bishops disagreeing among themselves. He earnestly wished to compose their differences ; but, in defiance of all his efforts, they persisted in their quarrels, which drew from him a feeling complaint, that those who ought to have been the foremost in maintaining a brotherly affection and peaceable disposition towards each other, were the first to separate from one another in a scandalous and detestable manner, giving occasion to the common enemies of Christianity to scoff at and deride them. To put an end to such disgraceful proceedings, Constantine summoned a council to meet at Arles, in France; in order, if possible, to bring to a friendly and Christian compromise this long-pending altercation, at which the emperor condescended to be present, and there exerted

all his influence to restore peace and harmony between them, · but it proved to be with little effect. He had unfortunately sown

* Ammianus Marcellinus, lib. 27.

« ZurückWeiter »