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lated to establish upon earth universal philanthropy, inviolable NOTA
friendship, uninterrupted peace ;-a morality so pure and subfan
lime, as to place man under the special protection of a Supreme Pho
and All-powerful Being, who hateth iniquity, and cherisheth the virtue with infinite complacency ;--a Being that rewardeth with de never-ending felicity, the reasonable service rendered unto him,
and the good offices done to our fellow-creatures for his sake, and our patience and resignation under the evils incident to humanity; and who punisheth impiety with endless misery ;-impiety, that most unnatural of crimes; a vice as degrading to man, as it is baneful to the dearest interests of society. This noble morality the christians alone exemplified in their conduct, and chose rather to expire under torments, than to transgress its precepts, or to withhold its doctrines from their fellow men. Miracles and grace seconded their pious efforts ; and a prodigious number of jews and pagans embraced the christian religion.We will now proceed briefly to examine, what were the heresics which first began to ruffle its tranquillity.
The Messiah was to be recognised by the peculiar characteristics under which the prophets had long before announced him, not less than by the miracles which accompanied his actual appearance among men. Hence certain impostors affected to
realize them in their own persons; while others who could not EX with the smallest semblance of probability apply them to them
selves, denied the authority of the ancient prophets, and combated the doctrine of Jesus Christ by the principles of the philosophers; vainly attempting to explain consistently with the incoherent theories which they had invented, whatever facts they could not but concede in favor of christianity. Of this description were, for instance,
-Simon Magus, Menander and Theodorus.
Others, again, received the doctrine of the apostles, but pretended to reconcile it, sometimes with the Jewish religion; at other times, with the philosophy of the Chaldees. Such were those christians whom St Paul reproaches for suffering themselves to be deluded with silly fables and endless genealogies. Many had recourse to allegorical explanations, to do away whatever did not tally with that system of religion which they had previously adopted for themselves. Thus the Nazareans pretended, like many methodists of the present day, that the apostles had not understood the doctrine of Jesus Christ; and joined together the code of christianism with the ceremonious observances of the Jews: thus Hymeneus, Alexander, Philetus and Hermogenes, rejected the dogma of the resurrection, because they deemed the union of the soul with the human body a state of degradation which, in their ideas, could not stand with the recompence of virtue.
Grounded upon these principles, some saw nothing in the
christian institute but a system of morality the most excellent in its tendency, capable of elevating man above the dominion of the senses.
These carried all its counsels to an extreme, and a judged it criminal to be concerned for the nourishment of the body: while others, imagining that the soul is of its own nature incapable of being corrupted by bodily defilement, abandoned themselves without remorse to every kind of sensual indulgence. Some regarded Jesus Christ as one of the genii descended from heaven, who had assumed humanity in outward appearance only, the better to instruct mankind; others believed him to be a man more perfect than the rest of mortals, directed and assisted by a genius from above: of this class were the Nazareans, Cerinthus, the Ebionites, and those whom St Paul reproves for starting questions calculated to cause disputes, rather than to administer edification in faith. (1 ep. ad Tim. 1. 4.)
All these were condemned by the apostles, and separated from their communion as the corruptors of its faith. All of them, however, had their disciples and sectarians, who, like their masters, severally pretended that they taught nothing but the pure doctrines of Christ: and, to justify their pretensions, some maintained that Jesus Christ had delivered a twofold doctrine, the one in public, proportioned to the capacity of the people, and which was contained in the New Testament; the other he had confided to a small number only, of privileged disciples, which was to be understood by none but enlightened men, and which had heen transmitted down to them by certain chosen pupils
. 2. St Matthew and St Paul. (Iren. advers. hær. Others there were, who boldly retrenched from the canonical books of the New Testament, whatever ill accorded with their own particular opinions, and fabricated new gospels and epistles, which they ascribed to the apostles, or to Moses, Zoroaster, Noah and Abraham; whose names they affixed to their supposed productions respectively.
All these various sects, abounding with fanatics and enthusiasts, used their utmost efforts to propagate their religious reveries, and succeeded but too well in many provinces of the East.
The Pythagorean philosophers of this age regarded Jesus Christ as a superior being, who presided over the genii or demons by his profounder skill in the magic art; they affected to rival his miracles, and to practise a kind of morality more perfect than that of the christians. Of this number were Apollonius Thyaneus, and his disciples. (Vit. Apol. Thyan.)
The Epicurean philosophers, who acknowledged no other divinity in nature than mere matter endowed with eternal motion, rejected without any previous examination whatever they heard reported concerning christianity. The Academics, whose system led them to doubt of every thing, troubled not their heads
about the christian faith. The idolatrous priests and devotees; all in a word, who gained their livelihood by the worship of false gods; architects, musicians, perfumers, statuaries, and sculptors, to a man rose up against the christians; imputed to them alone every calamity, and every species of wickedness; and left nothing unattempted to render them the objects of public hatred. Magistrates and politicians, under the erroneous idea that christianity, by the introduction of a new doctrine, must of course disturb the peace of the state, looked upon
professors with a jealous eye. Laws were enacted against them, and executed with the utmost rigour, under the bloody reign of Nero. Galba, Otho and Vitellius, Vespasian and Titus, suspended the persecution, which again broke out with equal fierceness under the tyrant Domitian. The peaceable reign of Nerva was favourable to the christians, as well as to every
other description of men. But, in the very worst of times, and in the midst of persecution itself, the church of Christ, founded by the apostles, unalterable in its doctrine, and incorruptible in its morality, had made rapid progress over the whole extent of the Roman empire, while the greatest part of the sects above-mentioned had dwindled to insignificance, and nearly sunk into oblivion. Had the christian religion been an impostare, its progress, and the annihilation of the various sects which attacked it at its very birth, would have been not only an effect without any possible cause, but a fact which took place in defiance of the combined assemblage of every possible cause which, in the natural course of things, must have prevented it. The learning, the ingenuity, and the malice of its numerous adversaries; the terrors of persecution, the impenetrable mysteriousness of its doctrines; its contradiction to every sentiment of flesh and blood, and the want of all the ordinary qualifications requisite in its founders to recommend it to the veneration of mankind, are all of this nature.
Among the sectaries who opposed it, many invented systems to explainin what sense Jesus Christ might be termed the only Son of God. This, then, had been an article of belief taught by Christ, and confirmed by miracles. In fact, the apostles retrenched from the communion of the church, all those who believed that Jesus Christ was merely the most perfect among creatures. Consequently, in the very times of the apostles the faithful believed that Jesus Christ was true God, and from eternity; and this belief was a fundamental article of christianísm. Hence it is most evident, that all the Socinian interpretations of scripture passages relative to the divinity of Jesus Christ, are in direct contradiction to the sense which the apostles affixed to them; and one solitary instance of a single individual separated by them from the communion of the church, for maintaining that Jesus Christ was only a creature,
and not from eternity, is abundantly sufficient to do away all the boasted comments of the anti-christian school of Socinus.
Second century of the christian æra.
The disorders which prevailed in the Roman empire, inclufively from the reign of Tiberius to that of Domitian, seemed to forebode its speedy dissolution. The choice of a virtuous emperor at this crisis saved it.
His reign was truly the commencement of a golden age; and all his moments appeared to be employed in laying the foundations of perpetual prosperity to the empire. He succeeded in reconciling together two things hitherto esteemed absolutely incompatible; the sovereignty of the prince, and the liberty of the subject.
Nerva had relatives, and even children of his own. Nevertheless he adopted for his colleague in the empire, one whose person was to him an utter stranger, save by the fame of his military and social virtues. This was Trajan ; under whose reign the power and magnificence of Rome was at its zenith. He caused the laws to be respected within the empire ; subdued the Dacii ; gave kings to the Parthians; conquered Armenia, the two Arabias, Felix and Petrea, Assyria, and an incredible number of nations, till then unknown. In a word, he traversed and subjected all those immense tracts over which Alexander the Great had heretofore extended his domain. But these barbarians had imbibed a strong aversion for the Roman name; and fear alone prevented them from rising in a mass against their haughty conquerors. Egypt, Arabia and Lybia, were on the eve of insurrection; and the Marcomanni and Sarmatians were actually making inroads into the empire--when Adrian assumed the purple. This prince, though himself a great captain, aban: doned all the conquests of his predecessor, and fixed the boundaries of the empire within the banks of the Euphrates. He turned his whole attention towards peace, and the administration of impartial justice in the interior of the state ; he even granted pensions to several barbarian kings ; although, at the same time, he entertained a numerous body of troops, to which he gave an admirable discipline, and which he kept in constant exercise, as if preparing for immediate war. Antoninus, who succeeded him, did not recede from this wise plan; and he too, thought more of defending, than of extending, the limits of the empire. Never had pagan Rome an emperor more strictly just, or more scrupulously virtuous; nor did ever emperor possess so much authority and influence over foreign nations, or had fewer wars to sustain than Antoninus.
The reign of Marcus Aurelius was not so peaceable. In the East the Parthians and Armenians commenced hostilities, while
the Marcomanni, the Narisqui, the Hormonduri, the Quadi, the Moors and other barbarous hordes, in incredible numbers poured into the Roman territories, and plundered and dismantled the towns and provinces in the West: over all these enemies Marcus Aurelius obtained considerable advantages, but was eventually constrained to allow many of them to settle in the provinces of the empire. His son Commodus exceeded, if possible, all the vicious emperors who had preceded him, in every species of profligacy, of cruelty and extravagance. Under his inauspicious reign, the empire was on every side assailed with a destruc
The efforts, however, of these numerous hosts of enemies from without, it courageously withstood; but at home it was torn in pieces by the fury of Commodus, and the intolerable exactions of his rapacious governors. The hands of conspirators rid the earth of this monster, born for the calamity and the disgrace of human nature. He was succeeded by Pertinax, who himself after a short reign was assassinated by the Prætorian guards. The insolence of these bands was at the highest pitch ; and they publicly offered the empire to the best bidder. Julian, a man of pleasure and immensely rich, but equally void of principle, of talents, and of learning, made the splendid purchase, and was accordingly proclaimed emperor at Rome. The armies of the East, Illyricum, and Great Britain, severally chose their respective emperors. These were Niger, Albinus and Severus, who waged a furious war against each other till the close of this century. Severus triumphed eventually over all his competitors, and remained sole master of the empire.
Such was the political state of things during the second century. The religion universally established over the Roman empire, and indeed, over the whole earth till the birth of christianity, was Polytheism or rank idolatry. Every where the people, as heretofore, adored dumb idols of wood and stone, and offered to their imaginary deities sacrifices of human blood. The cmperor Claudius, it is true, abolished the last mentioned impious and cruel rites. But Trajan, who affected to revere a supreme Being, permitted his infatuated subjects to immolate victims even to his own statues, and to swear by his life and immortality, Human sacrifices, notwithstanding their prohibition, were again renewed in his reign ; and two male Greeks, with two Gallic females, were buried alive in the market place at Rome, in order to avert the evils impending over the empire. (Plut. quest. sur les Rom.) Adrian, though one of the most enlightened scholars of the age, had recourse on all occasions to divination and magic: he consecrated temples to his own divinity, and even deified after death his infamous favorite Antinous. (Spart. Adriani vit.) Antoninus, too, was a scrupulous observer of all the ceremonies of paganism: nor was his successor Marcus Aurelius a less bigotted devotee to every species of superstition. Severus