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thrones and in their palaces, were not ashamed to acknowledge themselves the disciples of Jesus. A comparison betweep those and our times, will furnish us with a reason for the aversion which worldly minded professors manifest to the church in the days of her triumph. That events took place in that period which are greatly to be deplored, cannot be questioned. That Constantine, who was made the instrument in the hand of providence, to introduce the chris. tian religion to the throne of the Cæsars, was a man of genuine piety, rests upon testimony very equivocal. His views of church order and of the doctrine of grace were at least very imperfect. He was more ambitious of his own glory, than to promote the welfare of the church of God, and the interests of truth and holiness: He modelled the government of the church after the forms of civil order in the empire, and assumed to himself the supreme government of the church, which a faithless or misguided bishop deliver. ed into his hands without one effort to preserve the inde. pendence of the judicatories of God's house. Thus there were entailed upon the church, miseries under which she yet groans.
But of all the evils which date their rise from that period, none are more to be deplored than those which arose from the corruption or denial of the doctrine of the atonement. Before that time no one who had any claim to be a disciple of Jesus, had dared to deny this fundamental article of the christian faith. Celsus who vehemently attacked the Holy Scriptures as a fiction, imposed upon the world for truth, had masked the doctrine of atonement. But he was an infidel. No error indeed, of any great consequence, had disturbed the peace of Zion, without assailing in some point this doctrine. In the time of Constantine it was totally denied; or at least a foundation was laid for its entire rejection, by a sect who called themselves christians. This sect arose in Alexandria in Egypt.
There had existed in the church, from an early period, considerable variety of opinion, relative to the doctrine of the trinity. The Sabellians denied that there are three persons
in the Godhead, and held the opinion that the Deity acts in three capacities: that as Father, he plans the work of man's salvation, as Son, accomplishes it, and as Holy Spirit, ap. plies it for the actual redemption of sinners. This doctrine was condemned by the church as heretical. A great majority of the christian bishops, while they believed in a trinity of persons and unity of essence, considered the doctrine a mystery beyond human comprehension, and contented themselves generally with the use of the very words of scripture, in stating their views.
In an assembly held at Alexandria, Arius, one of the pres byters, a turbulent man, denied that the Son, or Christ Jesus, was of the essence of the Father, and affirmed that the doc. trine which he opposed, was nearly allied to the Sabellian he. resy. He did not stop here. He boldly asserted that the Son was not a divine person, that he was a mere creature, which Godhad created before any other, and that he possessed only an angelic nature, more exalted in power or intellect than any other created intelligence. Thus did this man opena fountain from which copious streams of error and heresy have flowed in all succeeding ages. The rejection of Messiah's atonement, was necessarily a part of the system of Arius. If Christ was a mere creature, he must like all other crea. tures, be subject to the law for himself, and so his fulfilment of its precepts could not be imputed to fallen sinners for their justification. Error is congenial to the depraved heart of man. The heresy of Arius was soon embraced by great numbers of professors in the African churches, and in the neighbouring Asiatic churches; and a flame of dissention was lighted up, which fifteen centuries have not been able to extinguish.
Vigorous exertions were made by the friends of truth to check the progress of these baleful heresies. A general council was summoned and met in 325, at Nice in Bythinia. The council was well attended. Many of the members endeavoured to defend the tenets of Arius. But they were condemned, and Arius himself banished. At this council
was formed the famous Nicene creed, in which it is assert. ed that the Son is consubstantial, or of the same essence with the Father. The object of the council, in forming this creed, was to draw a distinct line of demarkation between the heretical and the orthodox. They believed that the dogmas of the turbulent Egyptian, were utterly subversive of the very foundations of the christian system, and tore away every pillar upon which the building of mer. cy is erected. They were strangers to that pretended liberality, which mingles heresy and truth in one mass of disorder, and renders the church a scene of confusion, more confounded than that at the tower of Babel. Every minister of religion was ordered, under pain of the church's highest censure, to sign the creed. Errorists and heretics were generally as pliable in that age as they have been since. Many signed the creed, but did not renounce the heresy. This council was called and the proceedings sanctioned by the emperor Constantine, the great.
All the power of the church and state thus exerted, did not avail to root out and destroy the Arian heresies. Arius continued with the most indefatigable zeal to propagate his doctrines among the Illyrians, to whose country he had been banished; and had his efforts been confined to that region, the evil would not have been so deplorable. He, and his friends, found means to gain the imperial favour. Constantine, who recalled Arius from banishment, embraced his heresy, and reinstated him in his dignities.
The opposition made by the bishops of the church to the opinions of Arius, the extraordinary agitation into which the church was thrown by their promulgation, their condemnation by a general council, and the creed framed by the same council, prove incontestably that they were new. Had they been, previously to that time, the commonly received opinions of the church, it is utterly impossible that the avowal of them, in the assembly of Alexandria, could have procured such a general excitement. Their novelty, as well as their destructive tendency alarmed the church, which would probably have purged herself effectually of
these monstrous corruptions, had it not been for the unholy and tyrannical interference of the emperor.
The high favour into which Arius was taken by Constantine, and the adoption of his heresies by that prince, greatly hastened the corruption of the church, in relation to her worship, discipline and government. All nations have had sacrifices. A sense of the imperfections of their works, and a sense of their sins, have taught them that some other means than those of their own good works, must be resorted to, in order to secure the favour of Heaven. As Arianism, comprehending a denial of the doctrine of atonement, became the religion of the imperial court, and consequently fashionable, a reliance upon the merit of good works was the only expedient for procuring the pardon of sin, and the favour of Heaven. This was soon found to be inadequate. Hence originated a prodigious number of superstitious observances. This heresy as well as all others, cools the ardour of devotion, and diminishes the love of professing christians for God; thus a pompous worship must be established to excite the admiration of the gaping multitude. A general profligacy of manners, both among the faithless priesthood who ministered at the altar, and among the laity soon followed. All these paved the way, and accelerated the approach of the “man of sin” and “ mystery of iniquity" who made his appearance in all his ghostly honours in the year 606, when Phocas emperor of Constantinople, completed, by declaring Gregory, bishop of Rome, universal head of the church, what Constantine had begun.
From that period, and indeed for'a considerable time before, the hopes of salvation possessed by many nominal christians, were not placed in the righteousness of Messiah; but in penances, monastic seclusion, the benedictions of cunning and avaricious priests, and the minute observance of an endless variety of childish, unmeaning, or vitious ceremonies. When men cease to look to God for salvation, they must have recourse to other means, of their own foolish invention, to appease the clamours of a guilty conscience. The whole history of the Roman Catholic
church, from the days of Constantine, to the commencement of the reformation in Germany, affords ample illustration and confirmation of this truth.
The persecutions which the christians endured under the reign of the Cæsars, before the empire became christian, drove many of the most excellent and faithful of the servants of Heaven, into the valleys of the Alps, where, in worldly poverty, they enjoyed in its pristine purity, the religion of the bible. There they worshipped Christ as God. There they reposed in the hope of a blessed immortality, founded
upon the glorious atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. There they lived in peace, far from the heresies, idolatries, heathenish ceremonies, and other corruptions, which deformed and degraded the great national churches of the remainder of Europe.
The history of this excellent people is little known. They were not numbered among the nations. We know however, that on the doctrine of the atonement and other capital articles of the christian system, they did not depart from the ancient purity and simplicity of gospel truth. For nearly one thousand years they lived in a great measure un. noticed and unknown. They were discovered by the Roman pontiff and his satellites in the thirteenth century. A warlike spirit had been awakened during the preceding centuries, when all the power of Europe had directed its energies against the Turks of Asia. This military spirit and power were governed by fanaticism, and by a blind and furious zeal. With a view to exterminate those friends of peace and truth from the face of the earth, a crusade was proclaimed against them by Innocent III; and from that date they had no rest. The fury of their adversaries poured itself upon them, like the resistless torrent from their native mountain sides. They were no warriors. They were soon scattered into all the kingdoms of Europe. Persecution followed them, wherever they fled. In Bohemia, where they were collected in great numbers, the rage of persecution was peculiarly furious. Long they resisted, but were compelled at last to yield. The Bohemian brethren, rejected all other