In reviewing the history of the Christian Church, from the first propagation of the gospel until the reign of Constantine it can scarcely fail to strike the reader's attention, that the Christian profession is marked, during this period, with a peculiar character in distinction from what it sustained after the accession of Constantine to the throne, when the Christian religion was taken under his fostering care, and supported by the civil government. The first propagation of the Christian faith was not only unaided, but directly opposed in most instances, by the civil government in the different countries in which it spread. The publishers of the gospel, were, in general, plain and unlearned men, destitute of all worldly influence and power; their doctrine was in itself obnoxious, and their appearance little calculated to procure it a favorable hearing; nor could they present to the view of men any other inducement to embrace their testimony, than the prospect of life and immortality in the world to come; with the certainty, that thru much tribulation believers must enter into the kingdom of God. The success of their doctrine stood in direct opposition to the power of princes, the wisdom of philosophers, the intrigues of courts, the enmity of the Pagan priesthood, with all the weight of an established system of idolatry and superstition; it could, therefore, only make its way by sustaining and overcoming the malice and rage of its enemies. * * *
The apostles of Jesus Christ gave many intimations in their writings of the corruptions which should arise under the Christian profession at a future period. There were not wanting symptoms of this even in their own days, as appears from the following passages. When the apostle Paul delivered to the elders of the Church at Ephesus, a solemn warning to take heed to themselves, and the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers, he adds, as the reason of it; "for I know this, that after my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock; also of your ownselves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." Acts 20:29,30. The jealousy and fear, which he entertained relative to the influence of false teachers, is manifest in the following passage. "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve, thru his subtility, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ: For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ; and no wonder, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light, therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed into ministers of righteousness," 2 Cor. ll:3,13-l5. The same general caution against the effects which should proceed from false teachers, is very plainly given by the apostle Peter. "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And thru covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you, whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not." 2 Pet.2:l-3. To these passages, and many others that might be adduced, as calculated to awaken the attention of Christians to the dangers they should be exposed to from corrupt teachers, we may particularly add the following, as it not only foretells but describes the nature of the apostasy that should take place, and at a period remote from the time when the predictions were delivered. "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their consciences seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God bath created to be received with thanksgiving of them who believe and know the truth." 1 Tim.4:l-3. * *
In this representation of the apostasy from the purity of the Christian faith and its influence, which terminated in the man of sin sitting in the temple of God, we may notice the following particulars: That the apostle describes its origin as taking place in his own day. "The mystery of iniquity doth already work," The seed was then sown; idolatry was already stealing into the churches, A voluntary humility, and worshiping of angels. Men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth, supposing that gain was godliness, and teaching things which they ought not, for filty lucre-sake. Men of this cast appear to have early abounded, and, as such were not wholly in direct opposition to Christianity, but corrupting it in the way of deceit and hypocrisy. During the whole progress towards the full revelation of the man of sin, there was no direct disavowal of the truth of Christianity; it was "a form of godliness without the power of it."
Thus writes the inquisitor concerning the Waldenses of Bohemia.
The first error of the Waldenses, says he, is, that they affirm the church of Rome is not the Church of Jesus Christ, but an assembly of ungodly men, and that she has ceased being the true church, from the time pope Sylvester, at which time the poison of temporal advantages was cast into the church – That all vices and sins reign in that church, and that they alone live righteously – That they are the true church of Christ, and that the church of Rome is whore mentioned in the Revelation. They despise and reject all the ordinances and statutes of the church, as being too many and very burdensome, They insist that the pope is the head and leader of all error – That the prelates are the scribes and seemingly religious Pharisees – That the popes and their bishops, on account of the wars they foment, are murderers – That our obedience is due to God alone, and not to prelates, which they found on Acts 4:9 - That none in the church ought to be greater than their brethren, according to Matt. 20:25. – That no man ought to kneel to a priest, because the angel said to John "See thou do it not" – that tithes ought not to be given to priests, because there was no use of them in the primitive Church – That the clergy ought not to enjoy any temporal possessions, because it was said in the law, "The tribe of Levi shall have no inheritance with the children of Israel, the sacrifices being their portion" – That it is wrong to endow and found churches and monasteries, and that nothing aught to be bequeathed to churches by way of legacy. They condemn the clergy for their idleness, saying they ought to work with their hands as the apostles did. They reject all the titles of prelates, as pope, bishop, &c. They affirm that no man ought to be forcibly compelled in matters of faith. They condemn all ecclesiastical offices, and the privileges and immunities of the church, and all persons and things belonging to it, such as councils and synods, parochial rights &c. declaring that the observances of the religious are nothing else than pharisaical traditions.
Their third class of errors is as follows. They contemn all approved ecclesiastical customs which they do not read of in the gospel, such as the observation of Candle-mas, Palm-Sunday, the reconciliation of penitents, and the adoration of the cross on Good-Friday. They despise the feast of Easter, and all other festivals of Christ and the saints, and say that one day is as good as another, working upon holy-days, where they can do it without being taken notice of. They disregard the church fasts, alleging Isa.58: "Is this the fast that I have chosen?" They deride and mock at all dedications, consecrations, and benedictions of candles, ashes, palm-branches, oil fire, wax candles, Agnus Del's, churching of Rome, strangers, holy places and persons, vestments, salt and water. They look upon the church built of stone to be no better than a common barn, neither do they believe that God dwells there, quoting Acts 7:48: "God doth not dwell in temples made with hands" – and that prayers offered up in them are of no more efficacy than those which we offer up in our closets, according to Matt.6:6. "But thou when thou prayest, enter into thy closet." They set no value on the dedication of churches, and call the ornaments of the altar "the sin of the church," saying that it would be much better to clothe the poor than to decorate walls. Of the altar they say, that it is wastefulness to let so much cloth lie rotting upon stones; and that Christ never gave to His disciples vests, or rockets, or mitres. They celebrate the eucharist in their household cups, and say that the corporal, or cloth on which the the host is laid, is no holier than the cloth of their breeches. Concerning lights used in the church, they say that God, who is the true light, stands in no need of light, and that it can have no further use than to hinder the priests from stumbling in the dark. They reject all censings; estimating holy water no better than common water. The images and pictures in the church they pronounce to be idolatrous. They mock at the singing [chanting] in churches, saying that the efficacy is in the words and not in the music. They deride the cries of the laymen, and reject all festival processions, as those of Easter, as well as mournful processions at Rogation-week and at funerals. They laugh at the custom of bringing sick persons on a bench before the altar. They dissuade people from going on a pilgrimage to Rome, and other places beyond sea, tho they themselves pretend to go on pilgrimage, whereas it is only with a design to visit their bishops who live in Lombardy. They express no value for the Lord's sepulcher, nor for those of the saints, and condemn the burying in churches, which they found on Malt. 23:29: "Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, because ye build the tombs" and would prefer burying in the field to the church-yard, were they not afraid of the church. They maintain that the offices for the dead, masses for the deceased, offerings, funeral pomps, last wills, legacies, visiting graves, the reading of vigils, anniversary masses, and similar suffrages are of no avail to departed souls. They condemn watching with the dead by night, because of the folly and wickedness which are practiced on those occasions.
They hold all these errors because they deny purgatory, saying that there are only two ways, the one of the elect to heaven, the other of the damned to hell, according to Eccl. ll:3. "Which way soever the tree falleth there it must lie." They contend that a good man stands in no need of intercessions [of the priest], and that they cannot profit those that are wicked – That all sins are mortal, and none of them venial – That once praying in the words of the Lord's prayer is of more efficacy than the ringing of ten bells, yea, than the mass itself. They think that all swearing is sinful, because Christ says, Malt. 5:34, "Swear not at all, but let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay." They are against punishing malefactors with death, which they found on Rom.12:19. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay it, saith the Lord." – Thus far the testimony of this inquisitor.
Claudius Seisselius, was archbishop of Turin, towards the close of the fifteenth century, a little before the time of the reformation, and wrote a treatise against the Waldenses. He reports them saying, "The apostolic authority, the faith of Peter, which Christ said should not fail the catholic [that is, the true Church universal] church, and with which church He promises to abide forever, is to be found amongst us who walk after the example of the apostles, and according to our weak measure, observe the commands and ordinances they have given us. We are those of whom the apostle Paul speaks in his Epistle to the Corinthians, "Brethren consider your calling, that ye are not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble but God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise; and the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty; and the base things of this world, and things that are despised, yea, and the things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are." And the same apostle tells us that he was sent to preach the gospel, not in the mightiness of man's wisdom, but in plainness and simplicity; alleging to this purpose what the Lord saith elsewhere, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nought the prudence of the prudent."
Such is the description given us, by the archbishop of Turin, of the Waldenses of Piedmont, before Luther was born, or Calvin thought of, or the term of reformation even mentioned. And yet the Catholics have had the effrontery to ask us, "Where was your religion before Luther?" But let us further attend to the account which he gives us of the articles of their faith. On this particular he thus writes.
"They receive only what is written in the Old and New Testaments. They say that the popes of Rome and other priests have corrupted the Scriptures by their doctrines and glosses – that they owe neither tithes nor first-fruits to the clergy – that the consecration of churches, indulgences, and similar benedictions, are the inventions of false priests. * * They say that we ought not to have any kind of [set form] prayer, except it appear that it was composed by some certain [inspired) author, and approved of God. Their barbs have often preached this doctrine to abolish the service of the glorious Virgin and other saints. They do not think that Christians aught to say the angelical salutation to the mother of God, alleging that it has not the form of a prayer, but a salutation: but that they do only that they may rob the Virgin of this service, saying, that it is not lawful to worship or serve her any more than the rest of the saints. They affirm the blessings of the priests are of no virtue at all. Did not Christ bless the bread in the desert? When the apostles sat down to eat bread, they blessed what was set upon the table. They say there is no need of holy water in the churches, because neither Christ nor His apostles either made it or commanded it: as if we ought to say or do nothing but what we read was done by them. * *
In the year 1508, about ten years before Luther began the Reformation, and during the reign of Ladislaus, king of Hungary and Bohemia, a dreadful persecution broke out against that class of his subjects, who held the principles of the Waldenses. The latter, to justify themselves from several charges erroneously imputed to them by their adversaries, drew up an apology addressed to the king, which was still extant in the time of Perrin, and as he has handed down to us the substance of it, I shall here extract a few of the more interesting particulars.
1. It was said of them, by their adversaries, that a man might leave his wife when he pleased, On which they reply, that "matrimony is a bond which nothing but death can dissolve, except the crime of fornication, as saith the Lord Jesus Christ;" and also the apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 7: saith, "Let not the wife depart from her husband, nor the husband put away his wife."
2. A second calumny regards a community of goods and wives – to which they reply, "that marriage was of old ordained by God in Paradise; that it was designed as an antidote against adultery; and that it is recorded by the apostle, when speaking of this subject, "Let every man have his own wife, and every woman her own husband," Also, that "the husband ought to love his wife as Christ loveth the Church," and that such as are married ought to live holily together with their children in the fear of God. That as for goods, every one bath possessed his own at all times and in all places – they never having had any such intercommunity among them, as tended in the smallest degree to derogate from that lawful propriety which every one has by right to his own estate.
3. Another scandalous charge was that they worshiped their barbs or pastors. The grossness of this calumny, indeed, sufficiently refuted itself. At one time they are represented as sitting aside the necessity of the pastoral office altogether, and making its peculiar duties common to every member – at others they are charged with holding their pastors in such estimation, that they paid them divine honors. The Waldenses refer, on this subject, to their own writings, in which they have shown that God alone is the object of worship, and that they never intended to give that to any creature. And that as to their pastors, regarding them as those whom they consider themselves as bound in conscience and duty to treat them with kindness, and to esteem them in love for their work's sake. * *
4. One more charge against them is that they compelled their pastors to follow some trade. Their answer to this is surely a very satisfactory one. "We do not think it necessary, say they, that our pastors should work for their bread. They might be better qualified to instruct us if we could maintain them without their own labour; but our poverty has no remedy.
5. Commenius, who published a Synopsis of the discipline of the churches of Bohemia, dwells particularly upon this article; and shows that "a stated ministry was always considered as a matter of great importance among the Waldensian churches." A dreadful persecution broke out against the Bohemian brethren, in the days of Commenius, which produced such havoc among them, that he himself was "The only surviving bishop that escaped." The scattered brethren, in process of time, elected three persons as qualified for the pastoral office, but "found themselves greatly perplexed about their ordination." Having understood that there were some Waldensian churches on the confines of Moravia, and Austria, to satisfy their own scruples, as well as those of others, they resolved to send Michael Zambergius, one of their pastors, with two other persons, to find, out those Waldenses, and give them an account of what had passed among them, and especially to ask their advice upon the matter in hand. They met with one Stephen, a Waldensian bishop, who sent for others also residing in that quarter, with whom they had a conference upon the doctrines of the gospel, and the state of their churches, and by them the said three pastors were ordained by the imposition of hands. "Hence," says Dr. Allix, "it is abundantly evident, that as the Waldenses have preserved the faith that was committed to them, so have they been as careful to preserve entire amongst them the ancient discipline of the church – and, hence it will follow, that nothing can be more false than what is pretended, viz., that they had no kind of lawful ministry among them, but that laymen took upon themselves the power of preaching, of ordaining ministers, and administering ordinances." * *
Luther, in the year 1533, published the Confessions of the Waldenses, to which he wrote a preface. In that preface he candidly acknowledges that, in the days of his popery he had hated the Waldenses, as persons who were consigned over to perditon. But having understood from their confessions and writings the piety of their faith, he perceived that those good men had been greatly wronged whom the Pope had condemned as heretics; for that, on the contrary, they were rather entitled to the praise due to holy martyrs. He adds, that among them he had found one thing worthy of admiration, a thing unheard of in the Popish church, that, laying aside the doctrines of men, they meditated in the law of God, day and night; that they were expert, and even versed in the knowledge of the Scriptures; whereas, in the papacy, those who are called masters wholly neglected the Scriptures, and some of them had not so much as seen the Bible at any time, Moreover, having read the Waldensian Confessions, he said he returned thanks to God for the great light which it had pleased Him to bestow upon that people. * *
* * The blessed God bath never left Himself without witnesses in the world; and even during the reign of Antichrist – a period of the most general and awful defection from the purity of his worship, he had reserved to Himself thousands and tens of thousands of such as kept His commandments and the faith of Jesus, Nor is there anything in this to occasion our surprise. The real followers of Christ are subjects of a kingdom that is not of this world. And having no national establishment, nor aiming at worldly power, their principles and conduct have seldom been thought worthy of regard by the world, except in so far as their public testimony against it has subjected them to persecution The true profession of Christianity leads its friends to cultivate peace and union among themselves, and like its divine author, to avoid all turbulence and faction in the state. * * For a further and more detailed account of this most interesting history of the Waldenses and the Church see Church History by Jones or Hassell.
"The Apostles and primitive saints were endowed with a holy boldness and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit went in all directions preaching the gospel of the kingdom. They stood in no fear of man, but feared God, and, at the risk of their lives, determined to serve Him. They planted churches after the pattern of the one at Jerusalem, and they were independent bodies, distinct from each other, though all of the same faith and order. Each was a little "republic" within itself, governed by the rudiments of Christ and not of the world." – Hassell, p 297.
* * By the influence of the Baptists, the first Amendments to the Constitution of the United States was adopted in 1789, forbidding Congress to make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, Even the very idea of the local independence of the state governments is believed to have been derived by Thomas Jefferson from a small Baptist church whose monthly meetings he attended for several months in succession about ten years before the American Revolution; Mr. Jefferson declared that their form of church government was the only form of true democracy then existing in the world. * * President Washington declared that "the Baptists had been, throughout America, uniformly the firm friends to civil liberty;" just as Mr. Locke had said that "the Baptists were from the first the friends of just and true, equal and impartial liberty;" and as Sir Isaac Newton had said that "the Baptists were the only denomination of Christians that never symbolized (held the same faith with) Roman Catholics." "In the code of laws established by the Baptists in Rhode Island," says Judge Story, "we read for the first time since Christianity ascended the throne of the Caesars, the declara tion that conscience should be free, and that men should not be punished for worshiping God in the way they were persuaded He requires," In all the States and Territories of the United States there is now an entire separation of church and state, accompanied by universal liberty of conscience. This is a peculiar and inestimable boon which we at present enjoy, and for which we should be devoutly thankful to the merciful providence of God. The time will come, no doubt, when the blessed privilege will be denied even the people of this now free country (Dan.7:25; 2 Thess.2:l-12; Rev. ll:7-13; 8;ll-18). The apostolic churches did not persecute human beings on any account, much less for their religion; and the true successors of those churches have never engaged in persecution. – Hassell, p296-7. "It is for their "obstinacy" they are hated, for their "selfishness," for their want of "sociability," for their refusing "intercommunity of worship" with the numerous establishments around them, they are held to be un-christian and ignorant and barbarous. It is not only because they refuse connection with all other denominations and will have nothing to do with their religious movements, but because they maintain that all others are wrong and they are right; that all others are unscriptural and they alone are scriptural; that all others are disregarding the pattern given by the primitive saints, and they are the only people copying and following that pattern as clearly set forth in the first and second centuries. The early Christians did not believe that Jupiter or Mars, Venus or Diana, or even the image of Caligula or Trojan, could save a sinner from sin and eternal punishment, and would not therefore, under forfeiture of their lives throw one grain of incense upon their altars, or speak one word or make one sign of adoration of them. The Primitive Baptists of the nineteenth century do not believe that a fair or a festival, a Missionary society or a state Convention, a theological seminary or a Sunday School, a tract society or a raffling bag, is a means of grace, or can save a sinner any better or quicker than either of the idols above mentioned; therefore they refuse to throw one grain of incense upon their altars, or give any sign or speak one word in adoration of them." – Hassell, p364.