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course of time the rich, the accomplished, and the learned take up the cross of Christ, rejoicing in its ignominy, asserting its atonement, and advocating its glory. And at length we behold the Gospel, at the beginning of the fourth century, and after a series of trials and conflicts that must have overwhelmed a merely human cause, triumphing over all its enemies, and, protected by the arm of power, taking its ascendant station as the religion of the empire.
If all this is not to be considered as the counsel and work of God, connected as it is with the economy of preparation from the beginning, what events in the history of mankind can be deemed the acts and effects of Divine Providence? But it is the Christian's joy and glory to believe that Christ was the Son of God, his Gospel the word of God, and its success in the world the work of God. In the enlargement of the church against the most violent opposition of cruelty and power, he contemplates the mighty agency of the Holy Spirit, and in the triumphs of the cross over spiritual wickedness and human persecution he beholds the victories of the Lamb in the war which he waged for his people.
THE PURITY OF THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH-THE RISE OF SCHISMS AND DIVISIONS -A TRUE CHURCH PRESERVED
IN THE WORLD THE FAITH EMBRACED BY MANY FROM
THE PURITY OF THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH.
DURING the earliest ages of Christianity, and amidst the most cruel persecutions, the highest purity both of faith and practice was observed by the church; and to the preservation of this purity the fiery trial, no doubt, very materially contributed. The primitive Christians were burning and shining lights to the world around them. And they were content in the hour of trial to lay down their lives for the testimony which they held, encouraged and supported by the words of Jesus; "Whosoever will save his
life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it."* And again, "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also."†
THE RISE OF SCHISMS AND DIVISIONS.
But heresies and schisms began even in the Apostles' time to disturb the peace and hurt the interests of the church. Some of the Jewish Christians, still retaining their attachment to the Mosaic law; and not properly distinguishing between that part of it which was incorporated with the new covenant, and that part which was given for temporary purposes, and was to pass away when the substance which it represented was come, were desirous of observing their ancient ceremonies in conjunction with the faith, and even of imposing them upon the Gentiles who had embraced Christianity. Hence arose an unhappy separation which interrupted the harmony of the brethren, and rent the body of
* Matthew, xvi. 25.
+ John, xiv. 1–3.
Christ; nor had the solemn decision of the council at Jerusalem the effect of settling this question to the satisfaction of the Jewish converts, or of allaying altogether the irritation that had been excited. Some of the Gentile Christians on the other hand, whose minds were still infected with the poison of the Oriental philosophy, mixed up their old fancies with the simplicity of the Gospel, and entangled it with the subtleties of heathen superstition.
From these two sources originated the numerous divisions which were so prejudicial to the interests of Christianity in the earlier ages; and which in all periods of its existence have furnished its adversaries with so powerful an argument against it. It is not intended to enter into the subject of these divisions, nor to discuss the various questions relative to the heresies and erroneous interpretations of the word of God, that have all along been agitated to the great detriment of the church of Christ. Suffice it on this point to observe that, numerous as have been the absurdities and wild the vagrancies of human opinion, the Gospel is in no way chargeable with the aberrations of the human understanding, nor with the uncharitable and often rancorous accusations with which religious parties have assailed one another. Revealed truth
is plain and simple, requiring indeed faith in declared mysteries, but disallowing the authority of human reason to build upon it any fancies or inventions of its own. When men choose to encumber it with new devices, or suffer their imaginations to refine upon its simplicity, or to trespass beyond the prescribed limits, the cause of error lies not in it but in them, and theirs only is the reproach for whatever mischief may ensue. It must ever be lamented that Christians cannot be brought "to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace;"* and that, considering the infirmities of human nature and the fallibility of the human judgment, they have frequently been so unwilling to "forbear one another in love."†
But when we look at man as he is, an imperfect being; and when we reflect upon the various causes that tend to prevent a complete coincidence and concurrence of opinion in all things, we must not be surprised that truth itself is sometimes perverted, or that mankind will not, especially in abstruse points, view things and doctrines exactly in the same light. While a sense of duty forbids our compromising any article of faith which, in our conscience after a
* Ephesians, iv. 3.
+ Hebrews, iv. 2.