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share in these oblations, was part of the privileges of those who were in communion with the church, but it was denied to the lapsed, till restored by repentance, the public confession of their. sins', and the imposition of the hands of the bishop and clergy. “ The offering of their names,” or “ offering for them,” is connected with their receiving the elements in the Eucharists." But it is very far from being confounded with it, as in subsequent ages in the popish mass. The bread and wine presented in the daily offering, - for, till long after this period, the celebration of the Eucharist was daily in the Christian church, were considered as part of the oblation and sacrifice, as well as the alms of Christians, in the sense in which St. Paul uses the term“ sacrifice. The elements were then considered as consecrated to be the emblems of the body and blood of Christ; no longer “common bread and wine,” but effectual signs to the faithful, of their participation in the body and blood of Christ. Cyprian thought that the petition in the Lord's Prayer, respecting our daily bread, might spiritually be applied to the daily receiving of the Eucharist.
Into this holy fellowship, as externally representing the mystical body of Christ, believing penitents were still admitted by baptism. In the state of catechumens, or candidates for admission to the communion of the Christian church, they for some time received instructions respecting the “ principles of the doctrines of Christ.” Here were “ laid the foundations of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God.” In the character of believing penitents, they were admitted to the sacrament of baptism : at the same time no question whatever is made respecting the baptism of infants. When a difficulty is made about receiving them before the age of circumcision, Cyprian argues : “ To the greatest sinners, when they afterwards believe, remission of sins is given, and from baptism and grace no one is prohibited. How much more ought not an infant to be prohibited, who, recently born, has committed no sin, except that being born carnally after Adam, he has contracted in his first nativity the contagion of the ancient death? who for this very reason comes more easily to receive remission of sins, because to him are remitted not his own sins, but the sins of another.”
It was held that, by the sacrament of baptism, the corruptions — sordes — of the old man are washed away; the ancient sins of death — probably sins of the ancient death — are forgiven ; that
Epist. xxxiv. &c.
? Epist. xvii.
* Epist. Ixiv.
by a heavenly regeneration we are made the sons of God, and are restored to life eternal by the sanctification of Divine washing?
The doctrine of “the laying on of hands,” as betokening the reception of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, as it follows in “ St. Paul's catechism,” was visibly held forth in the rite of confirmation. Alluding to the transaction recorded in Acts, viii. 14, Cyprian observes : “ Which thing is now also performed amongst us, inasmuch as those who are baptised in the church should be presented to the bishops - prapositis — of the church, and by our prayer and the imposition of hands should obtain the Holy Spirit, and be perfected by the Lord's seals.” The ideas of the primitive Christians respecting the relation between baptism and confirmation, we perceive in another place : “ No one is born by the imposition of hands, when he receives the Holy Ghost.”—“ It is in baptism that the old man dies and the new man is born, the blessed apostle proves, when he says, ' he hath saved us by the washing of regeneration :' so that he that is already born receives the Spirit, like as was done in the first man Adam; for God first formed him, and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. For it is not possible that the spirit should be received, unless he exists first who may receive it.”
That the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment, was not yet corrupted by the doctrine of a purgatory, will be plain from the following short extract. “When we depart out of this life, there is then no place for repentance, no effect of satisfaction. Here, life is either lost or retained ; here, in the worship of God, and in the fruit of faith, provision is made for eternal salvation. Nor is any one stopped, either by sins or by years, from coming to obtain salvation. While we remain in this life, no repentance is too late. A way lies open to the mercy of God, and to those who seek and who know the truth, the access is easy. Thou, in the very departure of life, mayest pray for thy sins, and mayest invoke God,—the one and true God, by confession and by faith of the acknowledging of him. Pardon is vouchsafed to him that confesses, and to him that believeth, saving mercy is conceded from the Divine goodness, and in death itself a passage is found to immortality. This grace doth Christ impart, - this office he assigns to his own com. passion, in subduing death with the trophy of the cross,-in
redeeming the believer by the price of his blood, -in reconciling man to God the Father, -in quickening a mortal by heavenly regeneration. Him (if it can be done — si fieri poiest) we may all follow, by his sacrament and signal be enrolled; he opens to us the way of life—he restores us to paradise — he will conduct us to the kingdom of heaven. With him we shall ever live, being made by him the children of God : with him we shall ever triumph, being restored by his own blood. We shall be Christ's, glorified together with Christ, blessed of God the Father, with perpetual happiness, rejoicing always in the sight of God, and always rendering thanks to God. Nor can it be but that he should be always joyful and thankful, who, from having been obnoxious to death, is made secure of immortality?.”
Thus we collect, that “the form of true doctrine delivered to the saints, is still retained and set forth to view, not only in the instructions of her ministers, but, as I conceive they ought to be, in the public solemnities of the church. That popery afterwards arose from the distortion and perversion of these ancient ceremonies and solemn observances, affords no argument against their sacred origin, and ought not to dissuade from their proper use, according to the original design. There was something of weight in the censure which the popish bigots passed on some alterations of the more zealous reformers, that they had reduced religion to a “ mere preachment.”
Respecting the order and the leading rites of the church, in this
age, I think there is no reason to suspect that they were of recent origin. No one can use a language more abhorrent of any innovation, or of following the commandments and doctrines of men, in these matters, than Cypriano. And if, in the space of a hundred and fifty years, from the times of the apostles, some few innovations and corruptions had crept into the external forms of the administration of the Christian religion, it is but fair to conclude, that the great outline of a Christian society, and all its great and leading ordinances, had as yet preserved the same place and symmetry as in the original fabric erected under the care and superintendence of the apostles of Christ. That the form would remain entire, when the life and spirit had almost departed, is more than probable ; and also, that in these circum. stances forms and ceremonies would be too much magnified, perhaps by many the shadow taken for the substance, and the outward and visible sign confounded with the inward and
1. Ad Demetrianum.
: Epist. lxvii.
spiritual grace - is but analogous with whạt generally happens in the history of churches.
We arise from the perusal of Cyprian, with reflections of the following nature. It is not, indeed, easy to estimate the proper force of the phrases of an ancient language, but we occasionally observe, in this father of the church, a style which is hardly consistent with a clear view of the doctrines of the Gospel. The high-fraught praises of martyrs and confessors, of alms deeds, and of the merits of a single life, though there were no compulsory vows, sound to us very un-evangelical, and savour of the leaven of the Alexandrian school.
We clearly perceive the retention of a strict moral discipline, with respect to the exclusion of notorious delinquents ; but this was far from being sufficient to retain that purity which some have demanded in the external church. The parable of the tares, and 2 Tim. ii. 20, was then applied to describe its state ; and to attempt to separate the tares from the wheat, by human judgment, is spoken of as a sacrilegious presumption'. We find, too, that in this age of martyrdom, to have withstood all the trials and tortures of confession, was not always a safeguard against the more common seductions of pride or licentiousness.
Several documents discover, that about the middle of this century, the purity of morals had much fallen in the Christian church, and, it should seem, in exact proportion as the doctrines of Divine grace were lowered, and the spirituality of her sacred ordinances were lost sight of. In the following complaint of Cyprian, much, doubtless, must be charged to the feelings of the zealous pastor, but it affords a sad picture of the corruptions of the external church, long before it could have been injured by incorporation with the state. “ Each studied to increase his property, and forgetting what believers actually did formerly under the apostles, and ought always to do, they, with the ardour of insatiable avarice, lent themselves wholly to the multiplying of their wealth. Religious devotion was not in the priests, nor uncorrupted faith in the ministers ; in works was no mercy, in manners, no discipline. Among the men was the corrupted beard', among the women, the painted countenance forma fucata ;— the eyes adulterated from the workmanship of God, the hair falsely coloured. Cunning were the frauds to deceive the hearts of the simple, crafty the stratagems to circumvent the brethren. They abstained not from uniting in the bond of matriEpist. liv.
mony with infidels, prostituting the members of Christ to Gentiles. Not only rash swearing was not unknown, but even perjury. With swollen pride would they despise those who were set over them, with envenomed lips curse each other, and with obstinate hatred separate one from another. Many bishops, who ought to have been for an admonition and example to others, despising the superintendence of divine things, became the superintendents of secular affairs : leaving their episcopal seats cathedras — deserting their people, and wandering in other provinces, they occupied themselves in some gainful business; they cared not to relieve the hungry brethren in the church, but to accumulate a great deal of money, to seize estates by fraudulent pretences, and to increase their wealth by multiplied usury'.”
This refers to the corruption in the church before the persecution under Decius, which broke out about the middle of the century, and in which the faithful saw and owned the chastening judgment of God. No doubt, this awful visitation in some measure checked for a time the vicious contagion ; but after a season of peace and prosperity which followed, contemporary writers, towards the close of the century, do not afford a more favourable picture of the visible church in their days. But it is not reasonable to suppose that the subjects of these complaints were general, or to be taken notice of in all parts of the universal church; still, they are sufficient to mark a considerable declension in the piety and moral purity of Christians,
CHAPTER THE FOURTH.
HISTORY OF THE LAST PAGAN PERSECUTION, AND THE
SUBSEQUENT ESTABLISHMENT OF CHRISTIANITY, UNDER
IN narrating the history of the church in the preceding centuries, we have had little occasion to dwell much upon the civil history of the state ; but we are now arrived at an era when the
' De Lapsis.