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There was still a subtler danger in store for the Church, connected indeed with the desires of the natural man, but raised and stimulated by the Author of evil. False Christs and false prophets were to arise, and to shew great signs; insomuch that, if it were possible, they should deceive the very elect. Damnable heresies were to be secretly introduced ;2 false teachers and antichrists, carried away by the desire of a godless pre-eminence, were to subvert the faith of the unstable.3 As the apostle said, “ There must be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."
Such were to be the infirmities, such the dangers of the Church; and had she been left alone and unaided amidst them all, “the waters had overwhelmed her, the stream had gone over her soul.”5 Nothing but the Spirit of God within her could have saved her from speedy destruction. But it had been decreed of old, that in the seed of Abraham “all the nations of the earth should be blessed.”6 It had been foretold by the Spirit, that He “should be for salvation to the end of the earth ;” that He “should have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth." It had been declared that his kingdom should endure “for ever, that “of the increase of his government and peace there should be no end."10 And therefore when the Son of God came into the world, he said unto his disciples, “ On this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it:"11 and therefore did he console them in the prospect of his departure; “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you:"12 “I will pray the Father, and he
1 Matt. xxiii. 24.
2 2 Pet. ii. 1. 3 Acts xx. 30; 1 Tim. iv. 1; 2 Tim. iii.; 1 John ii. 18, iv. 3. 4 1 Cor. xi. 19. 5 Ps. cxxiv. 4. 6 Gen. xxii. 18. 7 Is. xlix. 6.
8 Ps. lxxii. 8. 9 Daniel ii. 44. 10 Isaiah ix. 7. 11 Matt. xvi. 18. 12 John xiv. 18.
shall give you another Comforter, that he may
abide with you
ever, even the Spirit of truth.” And when about to ascend up on high, he left to them that encouraging and blessed promise, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”2
* The history of the Church, then, is not like other histories, in which the progress and fate of human enterprises is described; it is the fulfilment of God's will for the salvation of man, the accomplishment of prophecies, the triumph of grace over the imperfection and sins of nature. The perpetuity of the Church; its propagation in all nations; the succession of the true faith ; the manifestations of the Holy Spirit's assistance in the lives of Christians ; the calamities, errors, afflictions, which, in all ages, beset it—afford new proofs of the truth of Christianity itself, and inspire the devout mind with humility and faith.
The principal periods of ecclesiastical history may be arranged under the following divisions: First, the ages of persecution, which terminated with the accession of the Emperor Constantine to universal empire, in A.D. 320, and during which the Church was purest. Secondly, the ages (A.D. 320680,) when heresies invaded the Church, and were repelled by the six holy ecumenical synods; and when the ravages of barbarians and heathens were counterbalanced by the conversion of many nations. Thirdly, the period (680-1054) in which ignorance, worldliness, and superstition, began to fail thickly upon the Church, though an earnest spirit of piety still continued to produce evangelists, saints, and martyrs, and to add wide regions to the Church of Christ. Fourthly, the times (1054-1517) when the East and West were estranged by the ambition of
2 John xiv. 16.
2 Matt. xxviii. 20.
the Roman pontiffs; when those bishops, elevated to the summit of temporal and spiritual power in the West, introduced numberless corruptions and innovations; and when their power began to fade away. Fifthly, the epoch (1517-1839) when a reformation being called for, was resisted by those who ought to have promoted it; when the Western Church became divided; and at length infidelity came to threaten universal destruction.
ON THE EARLY PROGRESS OF CHRISTIANITY.
HEREUNTO shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it ?—said our Lord. “ It is like a grain of mustard-seed,
which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth. But when it is sown,
it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.”! The Holy Spirit, by the mouth of the prophet Daniel, had many ages before predicted the same wonderful origin and diffusion of the kingdom of Christ, under the figure of “the stone cut out of the mountain without hands,” which “became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”2 Thus was Christianity destined to spring from a small and obscure beginning, and to overspread the earth in the luxuriance of its growth. And so it came to pass. From Judæa, the least of
1 Mark iv. 30-32.
? Dan. ii. 35, 44, 45.
the nations of the earth, and from twelve of its poorest and most illiterate children, a “sound went into all the earth, and words unto the ends of the world.”l
The Son of God, when about to depart, had given to them that lofty commission : “ All power is given to me in heaven and on earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you :" and they “went forth and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following."
The number of the disciples assembled in the upper room at Jerusalem, after our Lord's ascension, was only a hundred and twenty ; but the miracles of the day of Pentecost, and the sermon of St. Peter, added three thousand souls; and ere long, Lord adding to the Church daily such as should be saved," the number of the men was five thousand.2 In vain did the priests and their adherents endeavour to prevent the progress of true religion, by inflicting punishments on its preachers. The next account is, that “the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests was obedient to the faith.”
The Gospel was, as yet, preached at Jerusalem only—in one city of a remote and obscure province of the Roman empire. What mere worldly calculation could then have imagined the triumphs which were in store for it? Who could then have expected that philosophies, idolatries, and superstitions, the growth of so many long ages, were to be prostrated and annihilated before it, and that the kingdoms of the earth were to bow beneath its dominion ?
i Rom. x. 18.
2 Acts ii. 47.
The destruction which Satan meditated against the Church in its infancy, was made the means of disseminating it more widely. The great persecution at Jerusalem, A.D. 37, and in which the first martyr, St. Stephen, afforded so noble an instance of the power of faith, dispersed abroad the disciples, who preached throughout Judæa, Samaria, Phænicia, Cyprus, and Syria. The apostles alone remained at Jerusalem, where they probably continued to preach for several years after this time. Samaria, convinced by the miracles and the doctrine of Philip, with one accord embraced the Gospel: even the sorcerer Simon, deserted by his followers, and amazed at the gifts of the Holy Spirit, received baptism, in the vain hope of obtaining powers so far superior to his own. Tyre and Sidon now stretched forth their hands to the Lord; and at Antioch was a great multitude of believers.
Thus was the first great impulse to the dissemination of Christianity given by the persecution at Jerusalem. The next arose from the preaching of the apostle Paul to the Gentiles, which commenced about A.D. 44, fourteen years after our Lord's ascension. The result of his first mission with Barnabas was the establishment of Churches in Pamphylia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, and Cilicia, constituting the southern portion of Asia Minor. His next circuit, A.D. 4952, had the effect of extending the Church in Phrygia, Galatia, and Troas, or the centre of Asia Minor; and in Macedonia and Greece. Another journey added the coasts of Asia towards Greece; and the Church of Ephesus was formed, over which St. Paul presided for several years. Carried to Rome, about A.D. 59, he found Christianity already existing in several parts of Italy; and the Roman Church, which had lately been edified by his epistle, was now rapidly extended by his preaching. Released from prison