Page images

Thus, from very small beginnings indeed, the bishops of Rome rose to such a degree of rank and power, both in religious and civil society, as no human sagacity could have foreseen or imagined. But in proportion as they came to be possessed of this unrighteous and usurped supremacy, they sunk down from their proper place in the heavens of the church; and from being Christian bishops, they became the head of the Antichristian state, and the worst of tyrants.*

the dispute between Great Britain and Spain, about a certain district of country upon the north-west coast of America, the latter contended, that they had the exclusive right to the occupancy of that territory, or to trade with the natives, because they had obtained these lands by a grant from the Pope. This was a direct acknow. ledgment of the Pope's right to bestow the kingdoms of the earth upon whomsoever he had a mind.

* In this Lecture I have mentioned the steps, rather than attempted to point out the causes of Papal aggrandizement. But as these branches belong to the same subject, and are inseparably connected, it may not be improper in this Note to mention the following things, as having contributed to invest these ghostly fathers with the most despotic rule that ever was exercised over the minds and bodies of men. The imprudence of the church, in conferring upon the senior pastors & sort of jurisdiction over their younger brethren, as if the latter had not been invest." ed with powers of the same extent with the former, has been already noticed. We meet with no traces of the Independent form of government in the history of the church, for nearly fourteen hundred years after the death of the apostles; but we see the great lines of the Prelatic and Antichristian hierarchy soon after the removal of the apostles from the scene. It is plain almost to a demonstration, that there was a parity of power among the office-bearers of the primitive church. When this began to be infringed, by setting up one above another, it was a riola. tion of the fundamental principle of the ecclesiastical constitution. It was like the breach of the Magna Charta of a country, or the encroachments of prerogative, which, if not seasonably checked, may soon endanger the existence of the whole fabric of the legitimate government. Whatever diversity of sentiment may subsist among Presbyterians respecting the propriety of civil establishments of re. ligion, none of them, I think, will entertain a doubt of the impropriety of Constantine's establishment. He acted the part of a friend, when he protected the church against the insults and aggressions of persecution; but, from mistaken views of her character, and ignorance of her scriptural order and constitution, he proved indirectly and in the issue, to have been her most dangerous adversary, especially by the courtly favours and mistaken acts of munificence which he conferred upon the bishops and other dignitaries. The primitive church had no tithes, nor any settled revenues. Ministers were supported, as ministers of religion ought always to be, by the voluntary contributions of the people; which in some of the churches were made weekly, in others monthly, and in some after longer intervals. But, besides the salaries which Constantine ordered to be paid to ministers out of his exchequer, he multiplied the sources of their revenue, by other means, to such an impolitic extent, that the clergy soon became the most opulent and independent class of society in the state. He gave every encouragement to testators, when making a final settlement of their affairs, to bequeath a large por.

From the view which we have taken of this prophecy it appears, 1st, That the rise of Antichrist was gradual. He did not attain the zenith of his power in one day ; it was by slow, and often by very imperceptible degrees, that he rose to supremacy. It may therefore be presumed, that he will be tion of their goods to the church. The estates of martyrs and confessors, and of all ministers who had died a natural death, but had left neither heirs nor a will, he bestowed also upon the church. And as many noble and opulent families had been cut off in the persecutions, and the heirs and representatives of others had filed, no one could tell whither, she soon came to be the mistress of many a splendid mansion, and of many a rich inheritance. Most of the temples of the Heathen, together with the large revenues which belonged to the pagan institutions, were disposed of in the same way. In the year 412, Honorius made a similar decree respecting the houses and lands which had belonged to heretical conventions ; both the buildings and all the funds of these societies he ordained should be forfeited, and become the property of that church which he conceived to have embraced the orthodox faith. I may likewise mention, that the whole personal estates of ministers and of monks who had deserted their church or monastery, and become seculars again, were forfeited to the use of those churches or monasteries to which they had belonged. Thus, from a state that was little above want, the ministers of the church were put in possession of the most ample revenues. The dignitaries of the church were loaded with wealth; for generally one-third of the revenues was allotted to the bishops, another third to the rest of the ministers, and the remaining third to the poor, for keeping the churches in repair, and other purposes. (See Bingh. Ant. b. V.chap. 4. Cave's Prim. Christ. p. 1. chap. 6.) When thus the splendour and equipage of bishops became equal to that of patricians and governors of provinces, and they were possessed of revenues sufficient to support all this expenditure, the office of bishop became an object of ambition to some, and of avarice to others; and very often the most profligate men thrust themselves into this office for the sake of the emoluments. • Make me bishop of Rome,' said one, and 1 will be a Christian.'— The declining state of the empire contributed greatly to the aggrandizement of the Roman see. These intriguing prelates greedily seized every opportunity which the convulsed state of society afforded for the increase of their honours and emoluments. The chiefs of the Barbarians soon perceived the vast influence which the ministers of Christianity had over the minds of the people ; and when they wished to carry any great political measure, they seldom failed to procure the good-will of the Bishop of Rome, by some new grant to the church, as the surest method of obtaining their ultimate object. Accordingly, while the poor people were suffering by the depredations of armies, and the exorbitant demands of those that ruled over them, the ministers of religion were wallowing in wealth, and receiving daily accessions both of power and riches.—The gross igno. rance with which the minds of men were covered by the extinction of science, after the inroads of the Barbarians, induced them to pay a blind deference to their spiri. tual guides, and to comply with almost every requisition they thought fit to make upon them.—But what contributed more than any thing yet mentioned to the aggrandizement of the see of Rome, was an early opinion that all ecclesiastics should continue in a state of celibacy. Not having families to provide for, their attention was occupied only about their own order. Every bishop was eager to leave his see in greater opulence and splendour than he found it. A steady and persevering plan of aggrandizement was followed by all the different orders of the clergy.

The hands which held the reins of administration might change, but the spirit. which conducted them was always the same.' VOL. II.


brought gradually down; that some of those means which may be employed to sap the foundations of his throne, may be as little perceived at first, as were many of those which contributed to its establishment; and that, as there were different remarkable seasons in the history of his rise, we may expect to find corresponding æras in the history of his fall.

2d, From this prophecy it appears, that even those churches which have been most deservedly esteemed for their faith and practice, may, in progress of time, become the most corrupted and wicked associations. We have a melancholy proof of this in the history of the church of Rome. From being a faithful city, she has long since become an harlot, yea, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.

3d, Whatever the boundless charity of the present age may think of Popery, this prophecy seems to represent it as a damnable system ; for the name of this star was wormwood, and a third part of the men that had drunk of the waters died, because they were impregnated with its poisonous qualities. When I speak of Popery, I do not mean the Pope only, or the hierarchy of the church of Rome, or this or that article of her faith or worship; I am to be understood as including the whole system of the doctrine and worship of that church, as summed up in her own creeds and formularies, and by which she is distinguished from all other religious associations. Now that system must be dangerous in the extreme, because it diverts the attention from the only grounds of a sinner's hope for eternity. A thorough Papist is a man who trusts to the merits of the saints, or to his own penances, confessions, and mortifications, as the grounds of hope ; along with these he places much confidence in the prayers of priests, provided be has done his own duty to them, in having paid them well for their trouble ; but, above all, he is disposed to confide in the prayers of the Pope, who makes daily intercession for all Catholics, and who carries the keys both of heaven and of hell at his girdle.-If this be the true way to be saved, what need of the mediation of the Saviour ? If the reading of a few paragraphs to the dying, written in a language which perhaps neither the priest nor the dying man understands; or the heaving a few senseless groans over his departing spirit, accompanied with crossings and gesticulations without number ;-if these, together with the ceremony of extreme unction, be sufficient to secure against the pains both of hell and of purgatory, and to set the departing spirit in perfect safety within the threshold of heaven, what could be the necessity for the bloody sweat of the Saviour in the garden, or the piercing cries which he uttered upon the cross ? If this be not the scriptural way of salvation, it must lead to perdition. Need we therefore be surprised, that Antichrist, like another Judas, is called The son of perdition ? 2 Thess. ii. 3.




Rev. viï. 12, 13. And the fourth angel sounded, and the third

part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars ; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it,

and the night likewise. And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of

heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe to the inhabiters of the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound !

The symbol of this trumpet is an eclipse of the heavenly bodies: The third part of the sun was smitten, the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars. The figure is manifestly intended to intimate, that some very great calamity was to befall the church under this trumpet. Viewed as referring to the Christian church (for we can conceive of no other society that can be meant), the sun of this system must be understood of Christ. What the natural sun is to the different parts of the planetary system, is Jesus Christ to the church. He is both the centre of her union, and the fountain of her light and heat, and of all her comfort. By him the dead soul is quickened, the dark mind illuminated, the cold icy heart dissolved, and the decayed saint revived. It is through his influence that the church is the valley of vision; and that the different members of which she is composed are united into one body, and preserved in the closest connexion with one another. -The moon of that system of which Christ is the sun cannot be meant of any other society than the church. Her lustre, like that of the moon, is wholly of a derived kind, and is much

« PreviousContinue »