SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Looking for free sermon messages?
Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video

SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XIII. THE THEORY OF THE CHURCH, AND THE HISTORY OF ITS PERVERSION.

The Ancient Church by William Dool Killen

CHAPTER XIII. THE THEORY OF THE CHURCH, AND THE HISTORY OF ITS PERVERSION.

CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS.

|I am the good Shepherd,| said Jesus: |the good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.... My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.| [636:1] The sheep here spoken of are the true children of God. They constitute that blessed community of which it is written -- |Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.| [636:2]

The society thus described is, in the highest sense, |the holy Catholic Church.| Its members are to be found wherever genuine piety exists, and they are all united to Christ by the bond of the Holy Spirit. Their Divine Overseer has promised to be with them |alway unto the end of the world,| [636:3] to keep them |through faith unto salvation,| [636:4] and to sustain them even against the violence of |the gates of hell.| [636:5] Though they are scattered throughout different countries, and separated by various barriers of ecclesiastical division, they have the elements of concord. Could they be brought together, and divested of their prejudices, and made fully acquainted with each other's sentiments, they would speedily incorporate; for they possess |the unity of the Spirit,| [637:1] |the unity of the faith,| [637:2] and |the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God.| [637:3] But these heirs of promise cannot be distinguished by the eye of sense; their true character can be known infallibly only to the Great Searcher of hearts; and for this, among other reasons, the spiritual commonwealth to which they belong is usually designated |the Church invisible.| [637:4]

The visible Church is composed, to a considerable extent, of very different materials. It embraces the whole mixed multitude of nominal Christians, including not a few who exhibit no evidence whatever of vital godliness. Our Lord describes it in one of His parables when He says -- |The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net which was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.| [637:5]

In the first century the profession of Christianity was perilous as well as unpopular, so that the number of spurious disciples was comparatively small; and so long as the brethren enjoyed the ministrations of inspired teachers, all attempts to alienate them from each other, or to create schisms, had little success. But still, even whilst the apostles were on earth, some of the Churches planted and watered by themselves were involved in error and agitated by the spirit of division. |It hath been declared unto me of you,| says Paul to the Corinthians, |that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ.| [638:1] The same writer had occasion to mourn over the apostasy of the Churches of Galatia. |I marvel,| said he, |that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.... O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you that ye should not obey the truth?| [638:2] The Church of Sardis in the lifetime of the Apostle John had sunk into an equally deplorable condition, and hence he was commissioned to declare to it -- |I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.| [638:3]

The circumstances which led to the organization of the Catholic system have already been detailed, and it has been shewn that the great design of the arrangement was to secure the visible unity of the ecclesiastical commonwealth. The Catholic confederation was supposed to comprehend all the faithful; and it was, no doubt, expected that, not long after its establishment, it would have rung the death knell of schism and sectarianism. According to its fundamental principle, whoever was not in communion with the bishop was out of the Church. To be out of the Church was soon considered as tantamount to be without God and without hope, so that this test condemned all who in any way dissented from the dominant creed as beyond the pale of salvation. Its assumptions, involving a decision of such grave importance and of such dubious authority, were acknowledged with some difficulty; and the question as to the extent and character of the Church seems to have led to considerable discussion; [639:1] but the horror of heresy which so generally prevailed strengthened the pretensions of the hierarchy, and at length every candidate for baptism was required to declare, as one of the articles of his faith -- |I believe in the holy Catholic Church.| [639:2]

According to one interpretation the sentiment embodied in this profession was perfectly unobjectionable. If by the holy Catholic Church we understand the Church invisible composed of all the true children of God, it must be conceded that every devout student of the Scriptures is bound to express his belief in its existence and its excellence. This Church is precious in the eyes of the Lord; it is the habitation of His Spirit; it is the heir of His great and glorious promises. But the holy Catholic Church, in the current ecclesiastical phraseology of the third century, had a very different signification. It denoted the great mass of disciples associated under the care of the Catholic bishops, as distinguished from all the minor sects throughout the Empire which made a profession of Christianity. A sincere and intelligent believer might well have scrupled to give such a title to the mixed society thus claiming its application.

It is quite true that there is no salvation out of the Church, if by the Church is meant that elect company which Christ died to redeem and sanctify; but the Word of God does not warrant us to assert that the eternal well-being of man depends on his connexion with any earthly society. Even in the days of the apostles, some who were subjected to a sentence of excommunication were the excellent of the earth. |I wrote unto the Church,| says John, |but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words, and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the Church.| [640:1] This Diotrephes seems to have been some wayward and domineering presbyter who took the lead among his fellow-elders, and who induced them by the influence of commanding talent, combined, it may be, with superior worldly station, to support him in his wilfulness. [640:2] But it would be very foolish to suppose that the brethren who were thus cast out of the Church were thereby eternally undone, for such certainly was not the judgment of the beloved disciple. Faith in Christ, and not a relation to any visible society, secures a title to heaven. Thousands, as well as the thief on the cross, have been admitted into paradise who have never been baptized, [640:3] and we might point out numberless cases in which individuals, in the wonderful providence of God, have been led to a saving knowledge of the truth who have never had an opportunity of joining a congregation of Christian worshippers. But those who now assumed the name of Catholics were continually dwelling upon the importance of a connexion with their own association; and, assuming that they were the Church, they appropriated to themselves whatever they could find in Scripture in commendation of its excellence. The promises addressed to the Church in the book of inspiration refer, however, not to any local and visible community, but to the |Church of the first-born which are written in heaven;| [641:1] and the Catholics, by misapplying them, were led to form very extravagant notions of the advantages of the position which they occupied. The ascription of the attributes of the Church invisible to their own association was, in fact, the fundamental misconception on which a vast fabric of error was erected. By reason of the indwelling of the Spirit in all believers the Church invisible is catholic, or universal, that is, it is to be found wherever vital Christianity exists; for the same reason it is holy, every member of it being a living temple of Jehovah; it is also one, as one Spirit animates all the saints and unites them to God and to each other; and it is perpetual, or indestructible, for the Most High has promised never to leave Himself without witnesses among men, and all His redeemed ones shall remain as trophies of His grace throughout all eternity. But these attributes were represented as belonging to the Church visible, and this radical mistake became the parent of monstrous delusions. The ecclesiastical writers who flourished towards the end of the second and beginning of the third century exhibit a considerable amount of inconsistency and vacillation when they touch upon the subject; [641:2] but, half a century afterwards, the language currently employed is much bolder and more decided. At that time Cyprian does not hesitate to express himself in the strongest terms of high-church exclusiveness. |All,| says he, |are adversaries of the Lord and antichrist who are found to have departed from the charity and unity of the Catholic Church.| [641:3] |You ought to know that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if any be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church.| [641:4] |The house of God is one, and there cannot be salvation for any except in the Church.| [641:5] |He can no longer have God for a Father, who has not the Church for a mother.| [642:1]

Though the Catholics were a compact body, forming the bulk of the Christian population, their system failed to absorb all the professors of the gospel, or perhaps even greatly to check the tendency towards ecclesiastical separation. In their controversies with seceders and schismatics, their own principles were more distinctly defined; and, as they soon found that they were quite an overmatch for any individual sect, their tone gradually became more decided and dictatorial. But the theological position from which they started was a sophism; and, like the movements of a traveller who has mistaken his way, every step of their progress was an advance in a wrong direction. Some of the more prominent errors to which their theory led may here be enumerated.

I. The theory of the Catholic Church recognized an odious ecclesiastical monopoly. Pastors and teachers are |for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ;| [642:2] and yet a sinner may be saved without their instrumentality. The truth when spoken by a layman, or when read in a private chamber, may prove quite as efficacious as when proclaimed from the pulpit of a cathedral. That kingdom of God which |cometh not with observation| is built up by |the Word of His grace;| [642:3] and so long as the Word exists, and so long as the Spirit applies it to enlighten and sanctify and comfort God's children, the Church is imperishable. The evangelical labours of the pious master of a merchant vessel have often been blessed abundantly; and among the tens of thousands afloat upon the broad waters, who seldom enjoy any ecclesiastical ministrations, may be found some of the highest types of Christian excellence. Though regularly ordained pastors are necessary to the growth and well-being of the Church, such facts shew that they are not essential to its existence. But, according to the Catholic system, they are the veins and arteries through which its very life-blood circulates. All grace belongs to the visible society called the Catholic Church, and of this grace the Catholic ministers have the exclusive distribution. Without their intervention, as the dispensers of divine ordinances, no one can hope to inherit heaven. No other ministers whatever can be instrumental in conferring any saving benefit. Was it extraordinary that individuals who were supposed to be entrusted with such tremendous influence soon began to be regarded with awful reverence? If the services which they rendered were necessary to salvation, and if these services could be performed by none else, they were possessed of absolute authority, and it was to be expected that they would forthwith begin to act as |lords over God's heritage.|

Under the Mosaic economy none save the descendants of a single individual were permitted to present the sacrifices or to enter the holy place. In the celebration of the most solemn rites of their religion the Jewish people were kept at a mysterious distance from the presence of the Divine Majesty, and were taught to regard the officiating ministers as mediators between God and themselves. This arrangement was symbolical, as all the priests were types of the Great Intercessor. But every believer may now enjoy the nearest access to his Maker, for the Saviour has made all His people |kings and priests unto God.| [643:1] The ministers of the gospel do not constitute a privileged fraternity entitled by birth to exercise certain functions and to claim certain immunities. They should be appointed by the people as well as for them, and no service which they perform implies that they have nearer access to the Divine Presence than the rest of the worshippers. In the New Testament they are never designated priests, [644:1] neither is their intervention between God and the sinner described as indispensable. But Catholicism invested them with a factitious consequence, representing them as inheriting peculiar rights and privileges by ecclesiastical descent from the apostles. According to Cyprian, |Christ says to the apostles, and thereby to all prelates who by vicarious ordination are successors of the apostles. 'He that heareth you, heareth me.'| [644:2] About the commencement of the third century the pastors of the Church began to be called priests, [644:3] and this change in the ecclesiastical nomenclature betokens the influence of Catholic principles on the current theology. The Jewish sacrificial system had now ceased, and the Hebrew Christians were perhaps disposed to transfer to their new ministers the titles of the sons of Levi; but, had not the alteration been in accordance with the spirit of the times, it could not have been accomplished. It was, however, justified by Catholicism, as that system set forth the clergy in the light of mediators between God and the people. This misconception of the nature of the Christian ministry generated a multitude of errors. If ministers are priests they must offer sacrifice, and must be entrusted with the work of atonement. It is true, indeed, that the monstrous dogma of transubstantiation was not yet broached, but it cannot be denied that forms of expression which were exceedingly liable to misinterpretation, now began to be adopted. Thus, the Eucharist was styled |a sacrifice,| [645:1] and the communion-table |the altar.| [645:2] At first such phraseology was not intended to be literally understood, [645:3] but its tendency, notwithstanding, was most pernicious, as it fostered false views of a holy ordinance, and laid the foundation of the most senseless superstition ever imposed on human credulity.

Every genuine pastor has a divine call to the sacred office, and no act of man can supply the place of this spiritual vocation. God alone can provide a true minister, [645:4] for He alone can bestow the gifts and the graces which are required. Ordination is simply the form in which the existing Church rulers endorse the credentials of the candidate, and sanction his appearance in the character of an ecclesiastical functionary. But these rulers may themselves be incompetent or profane, so that their approval may be worthless; or, by mistake, they may permit wolves in sheep's clothing to take charge of the flock of Christ. The simple fact, therefore, that an individual holds a certain position in any section of the visible Church, is no decisive evidence that he is a true shepherd. Such, however, was not the doctrine of Catholicism. Whoever was accredited by the existing ecclesiastical authorities was, according to this system, the chosen of the Lord. When certain parties who had joined Novatian were induced to retrace their steps, they made the following penitential declaration in presence of a large congregation assembled in the Western metropolis -- |We acknowledge Cornelius bishop of the most holy Catholic Church chosen by God Almighty and Christ our Lord.| [646:1] Cyprian asserted that, as he was bishop of Carthage, he must necessarily have a divine commission. Nothing, indeed, can exceed the arrogance with which this imperious prelate expressed himself when speaking of his ecclesiastical authority. To challenge his conduct was, in his estimation, tantamount to blasphemy; and, to dispute his prerogatives, a contempt of the Divine Majesty. Once, in a time of persecution, he retired from Carthage, and he was, in consequence, upbraided by some as a coward; but when a fellow-bishop, Papianus, ventured to ask an explanation of a course of proceeding which apparently betokened indecision, Cyprian treated the inquiry as an insult, and poured out upon his correspondent a whole torrent of invectives and reproaches. He is God's bishop, and no one is to attempt, by the breath of suspicion, to stain the lustre of his episcopal dignity. |I perceive by your letter,| says he, |that you believe the same things of me, and persist in what you believed.... This is not to believe in God, this is to be a rebel against Christ and against His gospel.... Do you suppose that the priests of God are without His cognizance ordained in the Church? For if you believe that those who are ordained are unworthy and incestuous, what else is it but to believe that, not by God, or through God, are His bishops appointed in the Church.| [646:2] After indulging at great length in the language of denunciation, he adds, in a strain of irony -- |Vouchsafe at length and deign to pronounce on us, and to confirm our episcopate by the authority of your hearing, that God and Christ may give you thanks, that through you a president and ruler has been restored as well to their altar as to their people.| [647:1]

II. The Catholic system encouraged its adherents to cultivate very bigoted and ungenerous sentiments. They were taught to regard themselves as the |peculiar people,| and to look on all others, however excellent, as without claim to the title or privileges of Christians. How different the spirit of the inspired heralds of the gospel! When Peter saw that the Holy Ghost was poured out on men uncircumcised, he recognized the divine intimation by acknowledging the believing Gentiles as his brethren in Christ. Conceiving that God himself had thus settled the question of their Church membership, |he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.| [647:2] But men who professed to derive their authority from the apostle, now showed how grievously they misunderstood the benign and comprehensive genius of his ecclesiastical polity. The dominant party among the disciples had not long assumed the name of Catholics when they sadly belied the designation, for nothing could be more illiberal or uncatholic than their Church principles. All evidences of piety, no matter how decided, if found among the Nazarenes, or the Novatians, or the friends of Felicissimus, were rejected by them as apocryphal. The brightest manifestations of godliness, if exhibited outside their own denomination, only roused their jealousy or provoked their uncandid and malicious criticisms. The Catholic bishops acted as if they moved within something like a charmed circle, and as if a curse rested upon everything not under their own influence. Their proceedings often displayed alike their folly and inconsistency. Tertullian, for example, was a Montanist, and yet he was the writer from whom Cyprian himself derived a large share of his theological instruction. |Give me the master,| the bishop of Carthage is reported to have said, when he called for his favourite author. [648:1] Thus, an individual who, according to Cyprian's own principles, was beyond the pale of hope, was the teacher with whom he was daily holding spiritual fellowship! The bigotry of the party must appear all the more intolerable when we consider that some of those who differed from them taught the cardinal doctrines of the gospel, as zealously and as fully as themselves. The Novatians seceded from their communion merely on the ground of a question of discipline, and yet the Catholics could not believe that any grace could exist among these ancient Puritans. The Novatians in their lives might exhibit much of the beauty of holiness, and they might shed their blood in the cause of Christianity, [648:2] but all this availed them nothing in the estimation of their narrow-minded antagonists. |Let no one think,| says Cyprian, |that they can be good men who leave the Church.| [648:3] |He can never attain to the kingdom who leaves her with whom the kingdom shall be.| [648:4] |He cannot be a martyr who is not in the Church.| [648:5] Every man not blinded by prejudice might well have suspected the soundness of a theory which could only be sustained by such brazen recklessness of assertion.

III. Nothing, however, more clearly revealed the anti-evangelical character of the Catholic system than its interference with the claims of the Word of God. The gospel commends itself by the light of its own evidence. The official rank of the preacher cannot add to its truth, neither can the corrupt motives which may prompt him to proclaim it, impair its authority. As a revelation from heaven, it possesses a title to consideration irrespective of any individual, or any Church; and God honours His own communication even though it may be delivered by a very unworthy messenger. [649:1] |Some indeed,| says Paul, |preach Christ even of envy and strife, and some also of good-will.... What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.| [649:2] But Catholicism taught its partizans to cherish very different feelings, for they were instructed to believe that the gospel itself was without efficacy when promulgated by a minister who did not belong to their own party. They could not challenge a single flaw in the creed of Novatian, [649:3] and yet they strongly maintained that his preaching was useless, and that the baptism he dispensed was worthless as the ablution of a heathen. |You should know,| says Cyprian, |that we ought not even to be curious as to what Novatian teaches, since he teaches out of the Church. Whosoever he be, and whatsoever he be, he is not a Christian who is not in the Church of Christ.| [649:4] |When the Novatians say -- 'Dost thou believe remission of sins and eternal life by the Holy Church?' they lie in their interrogatory, since they have no Church.| [649:5]

Strange infatuation! Who could have anticipated that one hundred and fifty years after the death of the Apostle John, such miserable and revolting bigotry would have been current? The Scriptures teach us that, in the salvation of sinners, ministers are as nothing, and the gospel everything. |Whosoever,| says Paul, |shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.... Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.| [650:1] Cyprian did not understand such doctrine. He imagined that the Word of God had no power except when issuing from the lips of the ministers of his own communion. The Catholic Church must put its seal upon the gospel to give it currency. Without this stamp it was all in vain to announce it to a world lying in wickedness. The Catholic pastor might be a man without ability; he might be comparatively ignorant; and he might be of more than suspicious integrity; and yet the King of the Church was supposed to look down with complacency on all the official acts of this wretched hireling, whilst no dew of heavenly influence rested on the labours of a pious and accomplished Novatian minister! When men like Cyprian were prepared to acknowledge such folly, it was not strange that a darkness which might be felt soon settled down upon Christendom.

* * * * *

In the preceding pages the history of the ancient Church for the first three centuries has passed under review, and a few general observations may now be not inappropriately appended to this concluding chapter. The details here furnished supply ample evidence that Christianity was greatly corrupted long before the conversion of Constantine. It is true, indeed, that much of the superstition which has since so much disfigured the Church was yet unknown. During the first three centuries we find no recognition of the mediatorship of Mary, or of the dogma of her immaculate conception, [650:2] or of the worship of images, or of the celebration of divine service in an unknown tongue, or of the doctrine of the infallibility of the Roman bishop. But the germs of many dangerous errors were distinctly visible, and when the sun of Imperial favour began to shine upon the Christians, these errors rapidly reached maturity. The Eucharistic bread and wine were viewed with superstitious awe, and language was applied to them which was calculated to bewilder and to confound. A system of penitential discipline alien to the spirit of the New Testament was already in existence; rites and ceremonies unknown in the apostolic age had now made their appearance; and in the great towns a crowd of functionaries, whom Paul and Peter would have refused to own, added to the pomp of public worship. Some imagine that in the times of Tertullian and of Cyprian we may find the purest faith in the purest form, but a more intimate acquaintance with the history of the period is quite sufficient to dispel the delusion. A little consideration may, indeed, convince us that, in the second or third century, we could scarcely expect to see either the most brilliant displays of the light of truth or the most attractive exhibitions of personal holiness. The waters of life gushed forth, clear as crystal, from the Rock of Ages; but, as their course was through the waste wilderness of a degenerate world, they were soon defiled by its pollutions; and it was not until the desert began |to rejoice and blossom as the rose,| that the stream flowed smoothly in the channel it had wrought, and partially recovered its native purity. At the present day we would not be warranted in expecting as high a style of Christianity in a convert from idolatry as in one who had been trained up from infancy under the care of enlightened and godly parents. By judicious culture the graces of the Spirit, as well as the fruits of the earth, may be improved; but when a section of the open field of immorality and ignorance is first added to the garden of the Lord, it may not forthwith possess all the fertility and loveliness of the more ancient plantation. [652:1] A large portion of the early disciples had once been heathens; they had to struggle against evil habits and inveterate prejudices; they were surrounded on all sides by corrupting influences; and, as they had not the same means of obtaining an exact and comprehensive knowledge of the gospel as ourselves, we cannot reasonably hope to find among them any very extraordinary measure either of spiritual wisdom or of consistent piety.

When the Church towards the middle of the second century was sorely harassed by divisions, its situation was extremely critical and embarrassing. Christianity had appeared among men bearing the olive branch of peace, and had proposed to supersede the countless superstitions of the heathen by a faith which would bind the human race together in one great and harmonious family. How mortified, then, must have been its friends when Basilides, Marcion, Valentine, Cerdo, Mark, and many others began to propagate their heresies, and when it appeared as if the divisions of the Church were to be as numerous as the religions of paganism! Had the ministers of the gospel girded themselves for the emergency; had they boldly encountered the errorists, and vanquished them with weapons drawn from the armoury of the Word; they would have approved themselves worthy of their position, and acquired strength for future conflicts. But whilst they did not altogether neglect an appeal to Scripture, they were tempted in an evil hour to think of sequestrating their own freedom that they might overwhelm heresy with the vigour of an ecclesiastical despotism. By investing their chairman with arbitrary power and by making communion with this functionary the criterion of discipleship, they at once sanctioned a perilous arrangement and endorsed a vicious principle. From this date we may trace the commencement of a career of defection. The bishop and the Church began to supplant Christ and a knowledge of the gospel. Bigotry advanced apace, and conscience found itself in bondage.

The establishment of the hierarchical system, though imparting, as was thought, greater unity to the structure of the Church, did not really invigorate its constitution. The spiritual commonwealth is very different from any merely earthly organization, for it has no statute-book but the Bible, and it owes explicit obedience to no ruler but the King of Zion. Freedom of conscience, in obedience to the Word, is the heritage of all its members; and every one of them is bound to exercise the privilege, and to resist its violation. Its unity appears, not in adhesion to any visible head, but in cordial submission to its one great Lord and Sovereign. When a change was made in its primitive framework, its essential unity was impaired. After the elders had handed over a considerable share of their authority to their president, they could not be expected to take such a deep interest in its government as when they were themselves individually responsible for its official administration. They still, indeed, acted as his counsellors, but as they no longer held the independent footing they had once occupied, they could neither speak nor act so freely and so energetically as before. Thus, whilst one member of the ecclesiastical body was permitted to attain an unnatural magnitude, others ceased to perform their proper functions, and the whole eventually became diseased and misshapen. And the new arrangement entirely failed in checking the growth of the errorists. After its adoption heresies sprung up as rapidly as ever, and the multitude of its sects continued to be the scandal of Christianity even in the time of Constantine. [654:1] Their suppression is to be attributed, not to the potency of Prelacy, but to the stern intolerance of the Imperial laws. By the rigid enforcement of conformity the Catholic Church at length reigned without a rival.

It is easy to see from the extant ecclesiastical writings of the third century that the doctrine of the visible unity of the Church as represented by the Catholic hierarchy already formed a prominent part of the current creed. As there is |one God, one Christ, and one Holy Ghost,| it was affirmed that there could be but |one bishop in the Catholic Church.| [654:2] This theory seemed somewhat inconsistent with the fact that there were many bishops in almost every province of the Empire; but the ingenuity of churchmen attempted a solution of the difficulty. It was alleged that the whole episcopacy should be regarded as one, and that each bishop constituted an integral part of the grand unit. |The episcopacy is one,| says Cyprian, |it is a whole in which each enjoys full possession.| [654:3] |There is one Church from Christ throughout the whole world divided into many members, and one episcopate diffused throughout an harmonious multitude of many bishops.| [654:4]

We have seen that the Roman prelate was already recognized as the centre of ecclesiastical unity. A misunderstood passage in the Gospel of Matthew [654:5] was supposed to sanction this ecclesiastical primacy. |There is,| said the bishop of Carthage, |one God, and one Christ, and one Church, and one chair founded by the Word of the Lord on the Rock.| [654:6] Though the Roman chief pastor might be considered theoretically only the first among the Catholic bishops, his zeal for uniformity had now more than once interrupted the peace of the Christian community. The erection of a new capital and the subsequent dismemberment of the Empire considerably affected his position; but, within a certain sphere, he steadily endeavoured to carry out the idea of Catholic unity. The doctrine reached its highest point of development after the lapse of upwards of a thousand years. Then, the bishop of Rome had become a sovereign prince, and was the acknowledged ruler of a vast and magnificent hierarchy. Then, he swayed his spiritual sceptre over all the tribes of Western Christendom. Then, verily, uniformity had its day of triumph; for, with some rare exceptions, wherever the stranger travelled throughout Europe, he found the same order of divine service, and saw the ministers of the sanctuary arrayed in the same costume, and practising even the same gestures. Then, wherever he entered a sacred edifice, he heard the same language, and listened to the same prayers expressed in the very same phraseology. But what was meanwhile the real condition of the Church? Was there love without dissimulation, and the keeping of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Nothing of the kind. Never could it be said with greater truth of the people of the West that they were |foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.| There were wars and rumours of wars; nation rose up against nation and kingdom against kingdom; and the Pope was generally the cause of the contention. The very man who claimed to be the centre of Catholic unity was the grand fomenter of ecclesiastical and political disturbance. The Sovereign Pontiff, and the Catholic princes with whom he was engaged in deadly feuds, were equally faithless, restless, and implacable. Freedom of thought was proscribed, and the human mind was placed under the most exacting and intolerable tyranny by which it was ever oppressed.

The mutilation of this Dagon of hierarchical unity is one of the many glorious results of the great Reformation. The sooner the remaining fragments of this idol be crushed to atoms, the better for the peace and freedom of Christendom. The unity of the Church cannot be achieved by the iron rod of despotism, neither can the communion of saints be promoted by the sacrifice of their rights and privileges. |Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.| [656:1] Christ alone can draw all men unto Him. The real unity of His Church is, not any merely ecclesiastical cohesion, but a unity of faith, of hope, and of affection. It is the fellowship of Christian freemen walking together in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. It is the attraction of all hearts to one heavenly Saviour, and the submission of all wills to one holy law. Looking at the past condition or the present aspect of society, we may think the difficulties in the way of such unity altogether insurmountable; but it will, in due time, be brought about by Him |who doeth great things and unsearchable, marvellous things without number.| Its realization will present the most delightful and impressive spectacle that the earth has ever seen. |Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.| [656:2] |Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice, with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.| [656:3] |And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Lord, and His name one.| [656:4] AMEN.

THE END.

<<  Contents  >>





©2002-2019 SermonIndex.net
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Privacy Policy