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History of Christianity,
IN THE EAST.
THE APOSTOLIC AGE.
A.D. 32 to 100.-THE records of the human race furnish no parallel to the history of the Apostolic age, whether we regard the magnitude of the event which distinguished it, or the means whereby this was accomplished. The religion of the world was changed, without external force, or any obvious means beyond the native energy of truth. Paganism, a fabric raised by human skill, which had stood for thousands of years, fell before the word of God,
The simple narrative of twelve plain and illiterate men effected this revolution; the earnestness of self-devotion, and the persuasive eloquence of conviction being the chief means they employed; for the efficacy of their miraculous powers, was frequently rendered abortive, as appears from their own statement, by the universal belief in magic and the agency of demons. To the character of the apostles, as plain and illiterate men, one exception alone presents itself in Saint Paul, who from being the most virulent enemy, became after his conversion, the most powerful and successful defender of Christianity.
The history of the Acts of the Apostles, well known to every christian, supercedes the neces= sity for further detail. The simplicity of truth
appears in every page of this narrative, presenting a picture of constancy unshaken amidst severest trials, of courage that no dangers could appal, of virtue the most heroic, with an utter contempt for riches and honors, a purity of heart and mind, and an integrity of life and conduct, which will in vain be sought for at any subsequent period. By such means did the simple truths of the gospel triumph over the mysterious doctrines, and gorgeous rites of Paganism.
At this time all the nations of the earth, except the Jews, had long been addicted to idolatry; but each avoided the imputation of worshipping inanimate objects, by pretending that the divinity adored under an image of brass, wood, or stone, was actually present in it, when duly and properly dedicated. The deities represented by these statues, were as often men distinguished for their vices, as eminent for their virtues; and the form of worship paid to them was not unfrequently such as violated outward decency; consequently such a religion was ill calculated to exalt the mind, or improve the morals of mankind.
Nor were the more enlightened of the heathens blind to its vices and absurdities; but in vain attempted to dispel this cloud of darkness by various systems of philosophy, some of which were not devoid of reason, nor even destitute of sublimity. To accomplish this change was in the power of christianity alone, and the utmost efforts of heathen genius served only to mislead, and subsequently be
come the means of corrupting the more simple and sublime doctrines of the gospel.
The systems of philosophy that chiefly prevailed at this time, may be comprised under the two following heads, one including that of the Greeks, adopted also by the Romans, and the other that of the Orientals, which had its votaries in Persia, Syria, Chaldea, Egypt, and even among the Jews.
The Grecian and Roman philosophy was divided into different sects; as the Epicureans, the Academics, the Stoics, the Eclectics, and others. Among their philosophers, no one was held in higher estimation than Plato; who taught that the universe was governed by a Being glorious in power and wisdom, and possessed of perfect liberty and independance.' He extended also the views of mortals beyond this life, and shewed them prospects in futurity, adapted to excite their hopes, and to work upon their fears—thereby to deter them from vice, and to impel them to virtue.
The Oriental philosophy was also divided into different sects. The doctrine of the Magi, which flourished in Persia, and was received among the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrians, and Egyptians, and by some of the Jews, taught that the universe was governed by two principles, one good, and the other evil.
But the system which was afterwards most detrimental to Christianity, was the doctrine dignified by the title of gnosis or science, from the Greek word whence is derived the term Gnostics.
This doctrine, which from its resemblance to Pla tonism was erroneously supposed by some to be derived from it, admitted the existence of an Eternal Nature, in whom dwelt the fulness of wisdom and goodness, but supposed the world to have been created by some inferior intelligence, to whom the human race also owed their existence. Man was supposed to be formed out of matter and spirit; the spirit pure and celestial in its origin, but joined to, or imprisoned in the body, formed out of corrupt matter. All the baser passions and impurer desires were ascribed to the latter, while the more noble feelings, were believed to owe their origin to the former, which was regarded as an emanation from the Deity. It was also taught, that as this union with matter was liable to currupt the purity of the spirit, so to prevent this effect, various means had been adopted by the Supreme Being, especially by divine messengers, sent to admonish and reform the human race. Those who disregarded these admonitions were supposed, at the dissolution of their mortal bodies, to pass into new bodies, until their purification was effected; while those who resisted the corruption, were conceived to ascend and revert to their supreme parent.
Whatever may be thought of these refined speculations, they could have little influence over the multitude, addicted to the grossest superstitions, and accustomed to the practice of rites, which tended to destroy rather than inculcate morality and virtue.
Far otherwise was it with the religion of Jesus; its morality comprised in this short maxim, 'do unto others as you would they should do unto you,' was not only perfect, but adapted to the meanest capacity; and the reward he promised, of eternal life, was assured by his own resurrection, and thus furnished an adequate motive for compliance with his precepts.
By the Jewish nation, the advantages of an eternal but distant reward were not duly appreciated; their expectation having long been fixed on the advent of a temporal prince in the person of the Messiah; and this blessing, rejected by God's chosen people was offered to, and accepted by the Gentile or Pagan nations.
A. D. 100 to 150.-The consequent corruptions of Christianity were not however unforeseen by omniscience, and that foreknowledge is amply displayed in the book of prophecy. The apostolic age had scarcely elapsed before the seeds of corruption were sown, and christians began to divide themselves into different sects, each striving to force the doctrines of the gospel into conformity with the philosophical system, which they had previously embraced. During the lives of the apostles, these attempts towards the perversion of christianity were attended with little success; they, however, acquired strength by degrees, and imper