Having effected his escape, he joined his father in Britain. In 306 Constantly died at York. He had nominated as his successor his son Constantine, who was accordingly saluted Augustus by the army. He continued and extended the toleration which his father had bestowed on the Christians. There were now six pretenders to the sovereignty of the empire Galleries, License, Maximal, Majesties, Maximal and Constantine. A scene of contention followed, scarcely paralleled In the annals of Rome.
Among these rivals. Constantine possessed a decided superiority in prudence and abilities, both military and political. In the year 312 Constantine entered Rome victorious. In 313 a new edict was issued, by which he persecuting edicts of Diocletian were repealed, the Christians encouraged, their teachers honored, and the professors of Christianity advanced to places of trust and influence in the state. This great change in the history of the church introduces us to The programs period A. D. 13-606 The Epistle to the church In Programs exactly describes, we believe, the state of things in Constantine time. But we will quote the address entire for the convenience of our readers, and then compare it: “And to the angel of the church in Programs write; These things gaits he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I now thy works, and where thou dwellers, even where Satin’s seat is: and thou holiest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipasti was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan twelfth.
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But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balsam, who taught Balzac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto Idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Necessitates, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will mom unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit gaits unto the churches; To him that overcome will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and In the stone a new name written, which no man knotted saving he that receive In Ephesus we see the first point of departure, leaving their “first love” the heart slipping away from Christ, and from the enjoyment of His love. In Smyrna the Lord allowed the saints to be cast into the furnace, that the progress of declension might be stayed. They were persecuted by the heathen.
By means of these trials Christianity revived, the gold was purified, the saints held fast the name and the faith of Christ. Thus was Satan defeated; and the Lord so ruled that the emperors, one after the other, in the most humiliating and mortifying circumstances, publicly confessed their defeat. But in Programs the enemy changes his tactics. In place of persecution from without, there is seduction from within. Under Diocletian he was the roaring lion, under Constantine he is the deceiving serpent. Programs is the scene of Satin’s flattering power; he is within the church.
Neocolonialism is the corruption of grace the flesh acting in the church of God. In Smyrna he is outside as an adversary, in Programs he is inside as a seducer. This was exactly what took place under Constantine. Historically, it was when the violence of persecution had spent itself when men had grown weary of their own rage, and when they saw that their efforts were to no purpose that the sufferers ceased to care for the things of the world, and became more devoted to Christianity; while even the numbers of the Christians seemed to increase; Satan tries another and an old artifice, once so successful against Israel.
Nun 25:0 ) When he could not obtain the Lord’s permission to curse His people Israel, he allured them to their ruin, by unlawful alliances with the daughters of Mob. As a false prophet he was now in the church at Programs, seducing the saints into unlawful alliance with the world the place of his throne and authority. The world ceases to persecute; great advantages are held out to Christians by the civil establishment of Christianity; Constantine professes to be converted, and ascribes his triumphs to the virtues of the cross.
The snare alas! Is successful, the church is lettered by his patronage, shakes hands with the world, and sinks into its position “even where Satin’s seat is. ” All was now lost as to her corporate and proper testimony, and the way to proper laid open. Every worldly advantage was no doubt gained; but alas! Alas! It was at the cost of the honor and glory of her heavenly Lord and Savior.
The church, we must remember, is an outselling (Act 1 5:14 ) called out from Jew and Gentile to witness that she was not of this world, but of heaven that she is united to a glorified Christ, and not of this world, even as He is not of this world. So He says Himself, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth. As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. ” Ooh 17:0 ) The Christian’s mission is on the same principle and of the same character as was Chrism’s. “As My Father hath sent Me,” He says, “even so send I you. They were sent, as it were, from heaven to the world by the blessed Lord, to do His will, to care for His the heavenly witness of the truth of God, especially of such truths as man’s total ruin, and God’s love in Christ to a perishing world; and thereby should seek to gather souls UT of the world, that they may be saved from the wrath to come. But when we lose sight of our high calling, and associate with the world as if we belonged to it, we become false witnesses; we do the world a great injury, and Christ a great dishonor. This, we shall see by-and-by, was what the church did as to her corporate position and action.
Doubtless there were many cases of individual faithfulness in the midst of the general declension. The Lord Himself speaks of His faithful Antipasti who was martyred. Heaven takes special notice of individual faithfulness, and remembers the dutiful by name. But the eye and the heart of the Lord had followed His poor faithless church to where she had fallen. “l know thy works,” He says, “and where thou dwellers, even where Satin’s seat is. ” What solemn words are these, and from the lips of her dishonored Lord! Nothing was hidden from His eye. I know, He says; I have seen what has happened.
But what alas! Had now taken place? Why, the church as a body had accepted the Emperor’s terms, was now united to the State, and was dwelling in the world. This was Babylon spiritually committing fornication with the kings of the earth. But He who walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks Judges her action and her condition. “And to the angel of the church in Programs write, These things gaits He which hath the sharp sword with two edges. ” He takes the place of one who was armed with the divine sword with the all-searching, piercing, power of the word of God.
The sword is the symbol of that by which questions are settled; whether it be the carnal sword of the nations of “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. ” It has been often said, that there is always a marked and instructive connection teen the way in which Christ presents Himself, and the state of the church which He is addressing. This is most true in the present address. The word of God evidently had lost its right place in the assembly of His saints; it was no longer the supreme authority in divine things.
But the Lord Jesus takes care to show that it had not lost its power, or place, or authority in His hands. “Repent ” He says, “or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. ” He does not say, observe, I will fight against thee but against them. As exercising discipline in the hurt the Lord acts with discrimination and with mercy. The public position of the church was now a false one. There was open association with the prince of this world, in place of faithfulness to Christ, the Prince of heaven.
But he that had an ear to hear what the Spirit said unto the church, had secret fellowship with Him who sustains the faithful soul with the hidden manna. “To him that overcome will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knotted saving he that receive it. ” The general defection would, no doubt isolate the faithful few a remnant. To them the promise is given. The manna, as we learn from Joy 6:0 , represents Christ Himself, as He came down heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever. As the lowly One who took the place of humiliation in this world, He is our provision for the daily walk through the wilderness. The manna was to be gathered daily, fresh from the dewdrops every morning. The “hidden manna” refers to the golden pot of manna that was laid up in the ark as a memorial before the Lord. It is the blessed remembrance of Christ who was the humbled, suffering Man in this world, and who is the eternal delight of God, ND of the faithful in heaven. Not only has the true-hearted saint communion with Christ as exalted on high, but with Him as the once humbled Jesus here below.
But this cannot be if we are listening to the flatterers and accepting the favors of the world. Our only strength against the spirit of the world is walking with a rejected Christ, and feeding on Him as our portion even now. Our high privilege is to eat, not of the manna only, but of the “hidden manna. ” But who can speak of the blessedness of such communion, or of the loss of those who slip away in heart from Christ, and settle down in worldliness? The “white stone” is a secret mark of the Lord’s special favor.
As the promise is given in the address to Programs it may mean the expression of Chrism’s approval of the way the “overcomes” witnessed and suffered for Him, when so many were led away by the seductions of Satan. It gives the general idea of a secret pledge of entire approbation. But it is difficult to explain. The heart may enter into its blessedness and yet feel unable to describe it. Happy they who so know it for themselves. There are Joys which are common to all, but there is a Joy, a special Joy, which will be our own peculiar Joy in Christ, and that for ever. This will be true of all. And in the stone a new name written, which no man knotted saving he that receive it. ” What an unknown source of calm repose, sweet peace, true contentment, and divine strength, we find in the “white stone,” and in the “new name,” written by His own hand. Others may misunderstand us, many may think us wrong, but He knows all, and the heart can afford to be quiet, whatever may be passing around. At the same time we must judge everything by the word of God the sharp sword with two edges even as we ourselves are Judged. “There on the hidden bread Of Christ once humbled here – God’s treasured store for ever fed, His love my soul shall cheer.
Called by that secret name Of undisclosed delight Blest answer to reproach and shame – Having thus briefly glanced at the Epistle to Programs, we shall be better able to understand the mind of the Lord as to the conduct of Christians under the reign of Constantine. The professing church and the world had Joined hands, and were now enjoying themselves together. As the world could not rise to the high level of the church, she must fall to the low level of the world. This was exactly what took place. Nevertheless the fair form of Christianity was maintained, and there were doubtless any who held fast the faith and the name of Jesus.
We now return to the conversion and history of Constantine the Great. The Conversion of Constantine A. D. 312 The great event in the religious history of Constantine took place in 312. He was marching from France to Italy against Majesties. The approaching contest was one of immense moment. It was likely either to be his ruin or to raise him to the highest pinnacle of power. He was in deep thought. It was known that Majesties was making great preparations for the struggle, by enlarging his army, and by scrupulously attending to all the customary ceremonies of paganism.
He consulted with great pains the heathen oracles, and relied for success on the agency of supernatural powers. Constantine, though a wise and virtuous heathen, was a heathen still. He knew what he had to give battle to; and while considering to what god he should betake himself for protection and success, he thought on the ways of his father the Emperor of the West. He remembered that he prayed to the God of the Christians and had always been prosperous, while the emperors who persecuted the Christians had been visited with divine Justice. He resolved therefore to forsake the service of idols, and to sky the aid of the one true God in heaven.
He prayed that God would make Himself known to him, and that He would make him victorious over Majesties, notwithstanding all his magical arts and superstitious rites. While engaged in such thoughts, Constantine imagined that he saw, soon after mid- day, some extraordinary appearance in the heavens. It assumed the sign of a glittering cross and above it the inscription, “By This Conquer. ” The Emperor and the whole army, who were witnesses of this wonderful sight, stood awestruck. But while the Emperor was gravely meditating on what the vision could signify night came on, ND he fell asleep.
He dreamed that the Savior appeared to him, bearing in His hand the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and directed him to cause a banner to be made after the same pattern, and to use it as his standard in war, assuring him that while he did so he would be victorious. Constantine, on awakening, described what had been shown to him while asleep, and resolved to adopt the sign The Banner of the Cross According to Subsets, the workers in gold and precious stones were immediately sent for, and received their orders from the lips of Constantine. Subsets had seen the standard and gives a long account of it.
As the greatest interest has been thrown around this relic of antiquity by all ecclesiastical writers, we will give our readers a brief but minute sketch of it. The shaft, or perpendicular beam, was long, and overlaid with gold. On its top was a crown, composed of gold and precious stones, with the engraving of the sacred symbol of the cross and the first letters of the Savior’s name, or the Greek letter X intersected with the letter P. * Just under this crown was a likeness of the Emperor in gold, and below that a cross-piece of wood, from which hung a square flag of purple cloth, embroidered and covered with precious stones.
It was called the Laburnum. This resplendent standard was borne at the head of the imperial armies, and guarded by fifty chosen men, who were supposed to be invulnerable from its virtues. *(Christofis), Christ. Constantine now sent for Christian teachers, of whom he inquired concerning the God that appeared to him, and the import of the symbol of the cross. This gave them an opportunity of directing his mind to the word of God, and of instructing him in the knowledge of Jesus and of His death on the cross. From that time the Emperor declared himself a convert to Christianity. The superstitious hopes and confidence of
Constantine and his army were now raised to the highest pitch. The decisive battle was fought at the Million bridge. Constantine gained a signal victory over his enemy, though his troops did not number one-fourth of the troops of Majesties. The Edict of Constantine and License A. D. 313 The victorious Emperor paid a short visit to Rome. Amongst other things which he did, he caused to be erected in the forum a statue of himself, holding in his right hand a standard in the shape of a cross, with the following inscription: “By this salutary sign, the true symbol of valor, I freed your city from the yoke of the tyrant.
Majesties was found in the Tiber the morning after the battle. The Emperor evidently felt that he was indebted to the God of the Christians and to the sacred symbol of the cross for his victories. And this, we dare say, was the extent of his Christianity at that time. As a man he had not felt his need of it, if ever he did, as a warrior he embraced it earnestly. Afterwards, as a statesman, he owned and valued Christianity; but God only knows whether as a lost sinner he ever embraced the Savior. It is difficult for princes to be Christians. Armed a secret alliance before going to meet Majesties. The two emperors met at Milan, where their alliance was ratified by the marriage of License to Constantine daughter. It was during this quiet moment that Constantine prevailed upon License to consent to the repeal of the persecuting edicts of Diocletian, and the issuing of a new edict of complete toleration. This being agreed upon, a public edict, in the Joint names of Constantine and License, was issued at Milan, A. D. 313, in favor of the Christians, and may be considered as the great charter of their liberties.
Full and unlimited toleration was granted to them; their churches and property were restored thou compensation; and, outwardly, Christianity flourished. But peace between the emperors, which seemed to be established on a firm foundation, was soon interrupted. Jealousy, love of power, and ambition for absolute sovereignty in the Roman empire, would not allow them to remain long in peace. A war broke out in the year 314, but License was defeated with heavy losses, both in men and territory. A peace was again concluded, which lasted about nine years.
Another war became unavoidable, and once more it assumed the form of a religious strife between the rival emperors License attached the pagan priesthood to his cause, and persecuted the Christians. Many of the bishops he put to death, knowing they were special favorites at the court of his rival. Both parties now made preparations for a contest the issue of which should be final. License, before proceeding to war, sacrificed to the gods, and extolled them in a public oration. Constantine, on the other hand, relied upon the God whose symbol accompanied his army. The two hostile armies met.
The battle was fierce, obstinate, and sanguinary. License was no mean rival, but the commanding genius, activity, and courage of Constantine prevailed. The victory was complete. License survived his defeat only about a year. He died, or rather was privately killed, in 326. Constantine had now reached the height of his ambition. He was sole master absolute sovereign of the Roman empire, and continued so until his death in 337. For a description of the political and military career of this great prince we must refer the reader to civil history; we will briefly glance at his religious course.
The Religious History of Constantine All that we know of the religion of Constantine up to the period of his conversion, so- called, would imply that he was outwardly, if not zealously, a pagan. Subsets himself admits that he was at this time in doubt which religion he would embrace. Policy, superstition, hypocrisy, divine inspiration, have been in turn assigned as the sole or the predominant influence, which decided his future religious history. But it would surely be unjust to suppose that his profession of Christianity, and his public declarations in its favor, amounted to nothing more than deliberate and intentional hypocrisy.
Both his religious and ecclesiastical course admit of a far higher and more natural explanation. Neither could we believe that there was anything approaching o divine inspiration, either in his midday vision or in his midnight dream. There may imagination converted into a miraculous sign of the cross; and the other appearance may have been the exaggeration of a dream from his highly excited state: but the whole story may now be considered as a fable, full of flattery to the great Emperor, and very gratifying to his great admirer and panegyrics, Subsets. Few will now be found to give it a place among the authentic records of history.
Policy and superstition, we have no doubt, had a great deal to do with the change that was wrought in the mind of Constantine. From his youth he had witnessed the persecution of the Christians and must have observed a vitality in their religion which rose above the power of their persecutors, and survived the downfall of all other systems. He had seen one emperor after another, who had been the open enemies of Christianity, die the most fearful death. His father only of all the emperors the protector of Christianity during the long persecution, had gone down to an honored and peaceful grave.
Facts so striking could not fail to influence the superstitious mind of Constantine. Besides, he might appreciate with political sagacity the moral influence of Christianity, its tendency to enforce peaceful obedience to civil government; and the immense hold which it obviously had on the mind of something like the one-half of his empire. The Emperor’s motives, however, are no part of our history, and need not occupy us longer. But, in order to have this most important period or great turning-point in church history clearly before our minds, it may be well to look at the state of the church as he found it in 313, and as he left it in 337.
The Church as Constantine Found Her Up to this time the church had been perfectly free and independent of the state. She had a divine constitution direct from heaven and outside the world. She made her way, not by state patronage, but by divine power, against every hostile influence. In place of receiving support from the civil government, she had been persecuted from the first as a foreign foe, as an obstinate and pestilent superstition. Ten times the devil had been permitted to stir up against her the whole Roman world, which ten times had to confess weakness and defeat.
Had she kept in mind the day of her espousals, and the love of Him who says, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but resources and cherisher it, even as the Lord the church,” she never would have accepted the protection of Constantine at the cost of her fidelity to Christ. But the church as a whole was now much mixed up with the world, and far away from her first love. We have already seen, that since the days of the apostles there had been a growing love of the world, and of outward display. This tendency, so natural to us all, the Lord in love checked by allowing Satan to persecute.
But in place of the church accepting the trial as chastening from the hand of the Lord, and owning her worldliness, she ere weary of the place and path of rejection, and thinking she might still please and accomplished by Constantine, though he knew not what he was doing. “Whatever the motives of his conversion,” says Mailman, “Constantine, no doubt, adopted a wise and judicious policy, in securing the alliance, rather than continuing the strife, with an adversary which divided the wealth, the intellect, if not the property and the population of the empire. The Union of the Church and State In the month of March 313, the banns of the unholy alliance between the Church and the State were published at Milan. The celebrated edict of that date conferred on the Christians the fullest toleration, and led the way to the legal establishment of Christianity, and to its ascendancy over all other religions. This was publicly displayed on the new imperial standard the Laburnum. Besides the initials of Christ,* and the symbol of His cross, there was also an image of the Emperor in gold.
These signs, or mottoes, were intended as objects of worship for both heathen and Christian soldiers and to animate them to enthusiasm in the day of battle. Thus he who is called the great Christian Emperor publicly united Christianity to idolatry. The letters usually employed to represent the Savior’s name are, LA. S. , which mean Jesus Hominid Salvatore- Jesus the Savior of men. But if we have read the mind of Constantine aright, we should have no hesitation in saying, that at this time he was a heathen in heart, and a Christian only from military motives. It was only as a superstitious soldier that he had embraced Christianity.
At that moment he was ready to welcome the assistance of any tutelary divinity in his struggles for universal empire. We can see no trace of Christianity, far less any trace of the zeal of a new convert: but we can easily trace the old superstition of euthenics in the new dress of Christianity. Were it not for such considerations, the Laburnum would have been the display of the most daring dishonor to the blessed Lord. But it was done in ignorance. He was also anxious to meet the mind of his heathen soldiers and subjects, and to dissipate their fears as to the safety of their old religion.
The earlier edicts of Constantine, though in their effects favorable to Christianity, were given in such cautions terms as not to interfere with the rights and liberties of paganism. But the Christians gradually grew in his favor, and his acts of kindness and liberality spoke louder than edicts. He not only restored to them the civil and religious rights of which they had been deprived, the churches and estates which had been publicly confiscated in the Diocletian persecution; but enabled them, by his own munificent gifts, to build many new places for their assemblies.
He showed great favor to the bishops and had them constantly about him in the palace, on his journeys, and in his wars. He also showed his great respect for the Christians, by committing the education of is son Crisps to the celebrated Lactating, a Christian. But with all this royal patronage he assumed a supremacy over the affairs of the heir debates, and controlled the settlement of religious questions. From this time forward the term Catholic was invariably applied, in all official documents, to the church.
Constantine as Head of the Church and High Priest of the Heathen After the total defeat of License already referred to, the whole Roman world was reunited under the scepter of Constantine. In his proclamation issued to his new subjects in the East, he declares himself to be the instrument of God for spreading the true faith, and that God had given him the victory over all the powers of darkness, n order that His own worship by his means might be universally established. Freedom,” he says, in a letter to Subsets, “being once more restored, and, by the providence of the great God and my own ministry, that dragon driven from the ministration of the State, I trust that the divine power has become manifest to all, and that they, who through fear or unbelief have fallen into many crimes, will come to the knowledge of the true God, and to the right and true ordering of their lives. Constantine now took his place more openly to the whole world as the head of the hurt; but at the same time retained the office of the Pontiffs Maximum the high priest of the heathen; this he never gave up, and he died head of the church and high priest of the heathen. This unholy alliance, or unhallowed mixture of which we have spoken, and which is referred to and mourned over in the address to Programs, meets us at every step in the history of this great historical prince.
But having given some explanation of the address, we must leave the reader to compare the truth and the history in a godly way. What a mercy to have such a guide in studying this remarkable period in the story of the church! Among the first acts of the now sole Emperor of the world was the repeal of all the edicts of License against the Christians. He released all prisoners from the dungeon or the mine, or the servile and humiliating occupation to which they had been contemptuously condemned.
All who had been deprived of their rank in the army or in the civil service he restored, and restitution was made for the property of which they had been despoiled. He issued an edict addressed to all his subjects, advising them to embrace the gospel, but pressed none; he wished it to be a matter of conviction. He endeavourer, however, to render it attractive by bestowing places and honors on proselytes of the higher classes and donations on the poor- a course which, as Subsets acknowledges, produced a great amount of hypocrisy and pretended conversion.
He ordered that churches should be everywhere built, of a size sufficient to accommodate the whole population. He forbade the erection of statues of the gods, and would not allow his own statue to be set up in the temples. All state sacrifices were forbidden, and in many ways he exerted himself for the elevation of Christianity and the suppression of heathenism.