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casioned so great a rent, we should not be surprised at the schisms which followed.
With regard to those sects or heresies of the purer ages, we should be aware, that our information con cerning their lives and opinions is derived from those who wrote against them; and writers in that situation are not entitled to implicit confidence. The Ebionites, Gnostics, and others, who induced many weak Christians to apostatize in the first and second centuries, seem to have been philosophical societies, who paid some kind of worship to the Deity, and received such parts of the sacred scriptures as coincided with their favorite opinions. But having no proper code of discipline, we may reasonably believe their morals were very much depraved.
IV. Previous to the Dioclesian persecution, the churches had enjoyed repose for forty years, and had been increased by a new generation, not inured, like their fathers, to suffer for righteousness sake. No sooner were edicts published for every person to sacrifice to the gods, and to honor, that is, worship the emperor's statue, than crowds of Christians in every city, apostatized to save their lives and property. The lapsed, on the return of peace, emboldened by their numbers, became clamorous with the bishops and confessors to be restored to the peace of the church. When the lapsed of Carthage addressed Cyprian on this subject, he replied in a very paternal manner, and agreeably to the usage of the church. He acquainted them with his grief, on hearing that the high road to Carthage was thronged with Christians to offer incense; but, that he was willing to admit them as soon as their course of penance was performed, and to admit them before would do them no good; and he blamed the confessors who had been induced to grant the peace of the church prematurely to some, as more compassionate than wise.
Cornelius, bishop of Rome, took a quite different course; setting aside the ancient discipline of penance, he admitted the lapsed at once; and wrote let
ters to Gaul, to Asia, and Egypt, to do the same: This occasioned a schism at Rome. The poor who had saved their souls by fidelity, separated from the rich, who had saved their estates by apostacy. Novatus, and five more presbyters of Rome, espoused their cause, and wrote letters to all the churches concerning the steps they had taken. Schisms were consequently occasioned in Byzantium, now Constantinople, in Alexandria, and in all those churches in which the apostolic discipline was superseded. The Catharians, or ancient Puritans, every where united with the Novatians, and the sect became great and flourishing for several ages. Theodosius, the pious emperor, seems to have entertained a high regard for them, and to have conferred many favors on their bishops, because they were peaceful subjects, and adhered to the true faith, that Christ is one substance with the Father.
Schism, it must be acknowledged, is a deplorable evil, to which recourse should never be had, but in the foulest cases, where conscience is deeply concerned, and where redress cannot be obtained. And even in those sad cases, men should be cautious how they proceed: it is often better to bear one evil than occasion many. We cannot view this great sect without emotions of anxiety. They were exposed to the fury of the heathen, on the one hand, which sometimes extended to martyrdom, and to unkind offices of those Christians from whom they had separated. Surely nothing could have induced them to do this, but a tender conscience. Indeed, it does not appear that the Novatians had any alternative, but either to separate or be corrupted, and no consideration can compensate for the loss of purity.
Much as the circumstances which led to the Novatian schism are to be deplored, in the next age a rent of a far more awful nature divided the church at large. The influx of the heathen into the church, during the reign of Constantine, has been already noficed; and it was not long before she had severely to
repent of her incaution in having opened her bosom to a multitude of unregenerate children. Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, published to the world, that Jesus Christ was but a creature, though the first and highest of all created spirits. He seems to have been led into this error by some unguarded discourse of his bishop, and following the Septuagint's corrupt translation of Proverbs viii. 22. "the Lord possessed me,' which the seventy read, "invieμe. The Lord created me in the beginning of his ways." And admitting the Septuagint were a true reading, it was very preposterous to rest so weighty a doctrine on a single text. When seeking the truth, we should humbly follow the general scope of revelation. Some of the ancient Christians really understood this passage to speak of the Logos, or word, which was made flesh; but others regarded it only as a grand personification of the divine wisdom, which could no more be created than the only begotten of the Father.
This controversy was as delicate as interesting; for the incomprehensible nature of God cannot be defined. "Now we see through a glass darkly;" that is, by analogy—by the reverence we owe to an earthly father, we are taught to reverence our Father who is in heaven; and by the idea of an earthly sovereign, we contemplate and worship the Sovereign Majesty of the universe.
"What can we reason but from what we know ?"
The Logos, therefore, is not understood to be begotten of the Father, as in human procreation; he is the brightness, or beaming forth of his glory, and the express image of his person.
On this subject, the Arians displayed a wanton wit. They appealed to reason, as though reason had been competent to decide, that a father must be older than his son, that three persons could not be one person. But the Catholics appealed to the divine scriptures, that the doctrine of the one true and eternal God, was there copiously revealed under the persons and names
of Father, Son, and Spirit. The doctrine implied no absurdity by being incapable of definition; and it was as impossible for the Arian, and Socinian, to define the nature of God, as the Christian to define the ex istence of the godhead. It discovers a most delightful sociality in the Deity, and shines forth with peculiar glory in the human redemption. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself; by whom we have access to the Father, through the Spirit. If any man keep my word, the Father and I will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter that he may abide with you for ever. Know ye not, that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost? And if any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy. Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit; for the Spirit revealeth all things; yea, the deep things of God."
The doctrine of the trinity, or godhead, supersedes all imaginary demonstrations of its absurdity, by its perfect unity. This renders our addresses to each of the triune God, proper and perfectly safe. When we address the Father, we worship the God who made the world; when we address the Son, we worship the same Creator and Lord, John i. 3. And when we address the Holy Spirit, we worship him who moved on the face of the great deep, who regenerates our nature, and who shall quicken our mortal bodies. Hence the doctrine is scriptural, and free from all absurdity. But Arianism implies absurdities both real and blasphemous that the Logos, a creature, is the express image of God; that a creature created all creatures; that he receives the incommunicable names of God without horror; that he upholdeth all things by the word of his power; and that he thought it no robbery to be equal with God!!!
But the disputes were not confined to the clergy; the laboring people were seen disputing in the streets and markets on these sublime topics, and sometimes ready to fight. Sad signs that piety had lost her influence in the church.
To compose these troubles, Constantine convened the celebrated council of Nice, which consisted of three hundred and eighteen bishops, and more than that number of priests and deacons. Here they established the Homoöusian faith, that the Son is one substance with the Father; which term became, for the future, a test-word, and formed an insuperable barFier against the inundation of error.
After the death of Constantine, the succeeding emperor was persuaded by a priest to embrace the errors of Arius, and to give his followers possession of most of the churches in Asia and Egypt. The Arians possessed the churches in Constantinople also for the space of forty years. But the Homoöusian faith finally prevailed, and it will ever prevail while the scriptures are considered as the word of God. In Alexandria, Athanasius stood like a rock; and though he was banished three times, and loaded with calumnies without number, nothing could move him from the truth. In Gaul and the west, the Arians could do nothing; the churches being warned on the commencement of the controversy, to hold fast the pure apostolic faith, as once delivered to the saints.
In the issue, the Arians quarrelled and divided among themselves on this curious question, whether the Father could be called Father before the creation of the Son? And after troubling the church three hundred years, these sects were totally suppressed. O blessed and adorable Lord Jesus! hast thou condescended to assume our frail humanity, and to officiate as our prophet, priest, and king; and have men, seeing thee in the form of a servant, and in these subordinate offices, overlooked thy divine character, and withheld the homage due to thy eternal majesty? Pity their weakness, enlighten their minds, and par