4th edition



In this chapter
Pages 217-246

- General purity of the apostolic churches
- The Bible their only standard
- Paul's prophecy of the mystery of lawlessness
- By letter, by spirit, by word
- False teachers arose in the church -- Gnosticism one of the factors
- Greek philosophy another source of false teachings
- Greater apostasy after the death of the apostles
- The Influence of philosophy
- Gnosticism becomes a doctrine of the church
- A striking prophetic prophecy fulfilled
- The doubtful character of the early writings of the church Fathers
- Introducation of evil practises under pleasing pretenses
- Age cannot change the fables of men into the truth of God
- Nature of tradition illustrated
- The two rules of faith which divide Christendom
- The first-day Sabbath can only be sustained by adopting the rule of the Romanists.
- The Bible as a sufficient Guide
- The Open Book with the Lamb of God

The book of Acts and the apostolic epistles present to us the only inspired history of the early church. From their pages we learn that the apostles and their fellow laborers raised up church after church, in many regions, by simple preaching, "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. " 1 After the example of their divine Teacher, they persuaded people concerning Jesus, from “the law and the prophets.” 2

The gospel was unto them “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” 3 Faith was the great requirement, which imparted cleansing power from every sin through the blood of Christ, and the power to righteous living by the Holy Spirit. Abraham, the “father of all them that believe,” saw the day of Christ, and believing, was made righteous and obeyed God’s requirements and law. 4 In him, as the “father of many nations,” “a great nation” was chosen, born not of the flesh, but of the Spirit; not of Hagar, but of Sarah. 5 In fulfilment of this promise, Paul could say of his kinsmen:

“Who are Israelites; to whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came,” 6 Whatever blessings should come in Abraham to the Gentiles, were to come through Israel; both the old and the new covenant pertain unto them; and in order to be partakers of these blessings the Gentiles must be grafted into this olive tree. And though Israel as a nation rejected the promised Messiah, yet their unbelief did not make the faith of God without effect. God did not cast away his people, whom he foreknew. To this fact the very apostles, being of Israel and carrying the gospel to all the world, were the living witnesses. 7

Thus the intimate historical connections existing between the old and the new Israel were plainly set forth; both were one, built on the same “foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.” 8

The canon of the Israel of God was fixed; the writings of the prophets and the apostles their all-sufficient guide, to the full knowledge of which the Holy Sprit would lead them. Their power of salvation was also defined to be the blessed gospel. The rule of life in this new covenant written in the heart was to be the same law that God inscribed in the heart of man in the beginning, which later was engraved on tables of stone, and which finally Christ set forth as the law of love and righteousness in his life and teachings. As a rest day they had the Sabbath, set apart as God’s own rest day in the beginning, blessed and sanctified for the good of man, kept by Christ, the apostles, and the prophets, and pointing forward to that eternal rest when the heavens and the earth are made new. As a fitting memorial of the death of chrism, they had the Lord’s supper; as a reminder of hi humiliation in behalf of man, the ordinance of feet washing and as a significant sign of his resurrection, the burial in the water grave, and the rising up to a new life.

Jew and Gentile, hearing these blessed truths, turned alike unto God, uniting as the true Israel all their efforts in giving this gospel inits purity and simplicity to a dying world, cheered by the bright hope that Jesus would soon come again, to give life everlasting to every believer on the bright morning of the resurrection. Yet as the apostles went forth, they met bitter opposition not only from the blindness of the Jews, but also from the wisdom of the Greeks. 9 The dangers threatening the little flock were not unknown to the apostles.

Prophets of old, like Daniel, had spoken of them, and the minds of the apostles themselves were enlightened by the spirit of prophecy. They accordingly felt it their duty to point out these dangers to their converts from the very beginning, as will be seen from the following;--

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth [will let], until he be taken out of the way. 10

“To wait for his Son from heaven,” was the blessed hope taught by Paul to the Thessalonians. But in 2 Thess. 2:3 we find that he plainly told them:
1) That this event would not take place until “there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed;”
2) That this man of sin could not be revealed until the hindering power that was restraining his manifestation should “be taken out of the way.”
But in spite of the apostle’s clear teachings as to just when, and when not, to expect the second advent, there were some who were trying to deceive the Thessalonians by teaching them that the day was at hand.

The methods of deception employed were, “by spirit” “by word,” and “by letter as from us.”

Some of these deceivers professed to have the sprit of prophecy, and to make their false statements under divine inspiration-- (by spirit). Others based their assertions on some “word” or saying alleged to have been orally communicated to them by the apostle Paul. A third class even went so far as to forge letters purporting to have been written by the hand of Paul himself-- “by letter as from us.”

The deceptions already then in vogue foreshadowed the future great deception; and these false teachers, by declaring that Christ’s advent was at hand, set aside the coming of the mystery of iniquity, although they themselves were the very first evidences of its development. Paul declares that “the mystery of iniquity,” or, as it is in the Revised Version, “the mystery of lawlessness,” “doth already work.” Thus the lawless methods employed to counteract the influence of his inspired utterances and sayings, and the forged statements alleged to have been written by one of the apostles, were really laying the foundation upon which the man of sin established himself. We should therefore consider each of these topics more closely.

1. “By spirit” To this same church Paul wrote as follows: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesying. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” 11

While it was the special privilege of the New Testament church to be filled with the Spirit, and the spiritual gifts were for its unity and perfection, 12 Yet those manifestations should be carefully tested by the Word of God, and the church should hold fast only to that which is in accordance with the Scriptures. On this basis the inspired Word of God still remains the infallible rule-- and not any person who claims to be led of the Spirit, but who sets himself above that authority.

2. “By word.” When Paul raised up the Thessalonian church, the New Testament was yet to be written, and the very epistles to the believers in Thessalonica were to form a part of the canon. As he was both apostle and prophet, the words of his mouth ought to have had special weight with the churches for whom he labored so untiringly. Having so carefully instructed them in all lines while he was presenting the gospel to them, he charges them: “Therefore brethren stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” 13

This text, instead of proving the reliability of tradition, shows how liable oral traditions were to perversion, even in apostolic days; and if the spirit of lawlessness used that method to practise deceit at the very time when the apostles were still living, how much more successfully it must have practised and prospered after the apostles passed off the stage of action, and the man of sin was fully revealed.

3. “By letter as from us.” One would scarcely think it possible that, at the very time when the apostles were still alive, men would arise who would dare to produce writings and claim for them apostolic authorship, although they knew them to be only a forgery: but how much more possible has it been since then! In order to protect himself, Paul gives this as a test by which his genuine letters are to be known: “The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write. 14

But this mystery of lawlessness, which was finally developed into the man of sin, was directly pointed out in the following admonition of Paul to Timothy: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to they trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called,” 15

A more literal rendering of the Greek is: “Avoid the antitheses of gnosis, falsely so called.”
The American Standard edition renders the Greek term gnosis by “knowledge,” There is a true and false gnosis, or knowledge of divine things. The true “knowledge” is a special gift of the Spirit. False teachers soon counterfeited this gift, claiming to be the sole possessors of it. True knowledge of divine things is the result of a full surrender to God, receiving the revealed Word of God in childlike faith, conscious that we of ourselves know nothing, and taking the Word as it is written. But if any one thinks himself wise and tries to put into the simple divine Word a higher spiritual meaning of his own, a flase gnosis will be the inevitable result. A humble, simple person becomes wise through the true gnosis, while the false gnosis makes the puffed-up wise man a fool. 16

The true nature of this false gnosis and its strong influence on the early church is best seen from the additional counsel of Paul to Timothy:--

But shun profane [and] vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. 17

The Bible teaches, in simple, plain words, that the resurrection of the body is future event, which takes place in close connection with the second coming of Christ. But some members, prominent among whom were Hymenaeus and Philetus, taught that the resurrection was then past. This could be only on the supposition that the resurrection was merely a spiritual process, which occurs at regeneration, and thus had already taken place. The “Portable Commentary” comments on this passage thus:

The beginnings of the subsequent Gnostic heresy already existed. They ‘wrested’ (2 Peter 3:16) Paul’s own words (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12) ‘to their own destruction,’ as though the resurrection was merely the spiritual raising of souls from the death of sin.” 18

The beginning of the Gnostic heresy being thus clearly pointed out in the Scriptures, we will consider its nature, and see if it meets the specifications given by Paul. Gnosticism, being in substance chiefly of heathen descent, rooted in Orientalism, antedated Christianity, took shape and form with it, and matured into a complete system at the beginning of the second century. Gnosticism overvalued knowledge to the depreciation of faith, its chief adherents constituting the intellectual aristocracy of the ancient church. From Philip Schaff we quote the following:--

“Gnosticism is, therefore, the grandest and most comprehensive form of speculative religious syncretism know to history. It consists of Oriental mysticism, Greek philosophy, Alexandrian, Philonic, and cabalistic Judaism, and Christian ideas of salvation, not merely mechanically compiled, but , as it were, chemically combined.” “The flourishing period of the Gnostic schools was the second century.” “It deals with the great antitheses of God and the world, spirit and matter, idea and phenomenon; and endeavours to unlock the mystery of creation; the question of the rise, development, and end of the world; and of the origin of evil,” “The highest source of knowledge, with these heretics, was a secret tradition,” “In interpretation they adopted, even with far less moderation than Philo, the most arbitrary and extravagant allegorical principles; despising the letter as sensuous, and the laws of language and exegesis as fetters of the mind. 19

The church historian Milman adds”--

“The later Gnostics were bolder, but more consistent innovators on the simple scheme of Christianity….In all the great cities of the East in which Christianity had established its most flourishing communities, sprang up this rival, which aspired to a still higher degree of knowledge than was revealed in the gospel, and boasted that it soared also met as much above the vulgar Christianity as the vulgar paganism….Gnosticism….was of a sublime and imposing character as an imaginative creed….It was pollution, it was degradation to the pure and elementary spirit to mingle with, to approximate, to exercise even the remotest influence over the material world…The whole of the Old Testament was abandoned to the inspiration of an inferior and evil demon; the Jews were left in exclusive possession of their national Deity, whom the Gnostic Christians disdained to acknowledge as bearing any resemblance to the abstract, remote, and impassive Spirit. To them the mission of Christ revealed a Deity altogether unknown in the dark ages of a world which was the creation and the domain of an inferior being.” 20

Now it is among the Gnostics that we find the false prophecies, secret oral traditions and epistles forged in the name of the apostles. The striking fulfilment of the three specifications given in 2 Thess. 2, is seen from the fact that Harnnack gives just these three characteristics of the Gnostics.

1) By faith in the continuance of prophecy, in which new things are always revealed by the Holy Spirit (the Basilidian and Marcionite prophets);
2) By the assumption of an esoteric secret tradition of the apostles (see Clem. Strom vii, 17,106, 108; Hipp,. Philos., vii, 20; Iren, I, 25,5; iii2,1; Tertull. De Praescr.25.Cf. the Gnostic book, which in great part is based on doctrines said to be imparted by Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection)
3) By the inability to oppose the continuous production of evangelic writings; in other words, by the continuance of this kind of literature and the addition of Acts of the Apostles (Gospel of the Egyptians (?), other gospels, Acts of John, Thomas, Philip, etc. ) 21

On this basis of apostolic tradition manufactured by themselves, the Gnostics built up their faith, rejecting the Old Testament, and consequently the Decalogue and the Sabbath, and declaring that ancient Israel and all its institutions were of the devil. The utterly destroyed the historical connections between the Old and the New Testament, and linked the new faith with Oriental mysticism and Greek philosophy. A new faith without historic connections with the Old Testament demanded a new spiritual law, and a spiritual Sabbath.

Paul, who had to meet the wisdom of the Greek philosophers (Acts 17:18), even in learned Athens itself, gives this definite warning, in Col. 2:8:--

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

What influence Greek philosophy had already on the Jewish scribes is thus set forth by Harnack:--

“This spiritualising was the result of a philosophic view of religion, and this philosophic view was the outcome of a lasting influence of Greek philosophy and of the Greek spirit generally on Judaism. In consequence of this view, all facts and sayings of the Old Testament in which one could not find his way were allegorized. ‘Nothing was what it seemed, but was only the symbol of something invisible.” 22

That Greek philosophy had the same influence on the early Christian interpretation, is thus plainly attested by the same writer:--

“Greek philosophy exercised the greatest influence not only on the Christian mode of thought, but also through that, on the institutions of the church. The church never indeed became a philosophic school: but yet in her was realized, in a peculiar way, that which the Stoics and Cynics had aimed at.” 23

We have now before us the dangers which beset the tender plant of Christianity, as it emerged from the overthrow of Jewish tradition, legalism, and spiritual interpretation: on the one hand, Gnosticism, with its forged secret tradition, oral or written; on the other hand, philosophy, with its vain deceit after the traditions of men, and after the rudiments of the world. Thus the spirit of iniquity was already on the stage of action, but as yet held in check by the presence of the apostles.

And if some of these dangerous influences made themselves felt “as doth a canker,” while the apostles themselves were yet alive, we need not wonder at Paul’s statement of what should take place after their death:

“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 24 To Timothy, in like manner, it is said: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." 25

As soon as we leave the period embraced in this inspired history, which bears in itself the divine imprint, when the churches which were founded and governed by inspired men, we find ourselves in a mire that becomes more and more bottomless, and surrounded by ever-increasing darkness. There is, unfortunately, great truth in the severe language of Gibbon:

"The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption, which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings." 26

In the earliest church history extant, though by no means altogether reliable, the realization of Paul’s fears are thus attested:--

“But when the sacred college of the apostles had suffered death in various forms, and the generation of those that had been deemed worthy to hear the inspired wisdom with their own ears, had passed away, then the league of godless error took its rise as a result of the folly of heretical teachers, who, because none of the apostles was still living, attempted henceforth, with a bold face, to proclaim, in opposition to the preaching of the truth, the knowledge (gnosis) which is falsely so called.” 27

The earliest Protestant church history, “The Magdeburg Centuries,” corroborates this statement;
“The apostles had hardly died ere the spirit of deception thought it could easily break into the churches as into an empty house left without a guard, as Hegesippus fitly states it.” “It may be conceived that in this second century originated nearly all the heresies which afterward raged in the church,” 28

Robinson, author of the “History of Baptism”, speaks as follows:--

“Toward the latter end of the second century most of the churches assumed a new form, the first simplicity disappeared; and insensibly, as the old disciples retired to their graves, their children along with new converts, both Jews and Gentiles, came forward and new modeled the cause.” 29

As the heathen maxim, “A lie is better than a hurtful truth,” so soon found entrance through Greek philosophy into the Christian teachings, it can easily be explained on what basis this new modeling was done. Speaking of the second century, Killen says:
“The code of heathen morality supplied a ready apology for falsehood, and its accommodating principle soon found too much encouragement within the pale of the church. Hence the pious frauds which were now perpetrated. Various works made their appearance, with some apostolic name appended to them, their fabricators thus hoping to give currency to opinions or to practises which might otherwise have encountered much opposition. At the same time many evinced a disposition to supplement the silence of the written word by the aid of tradition….During this period the uncertainty of any other guide than the inspired Record was repeatedly demonstrated; for, though Christians were removed at so short a distance from apostolic times, the traditions of one church sometimes diametrically contradicted those of another.” 30

Gnosticism and philosophy being the influences already at work in Paul’s days, when admitted into the church and fostered by it, developed fully the mystery of iniquity within the church. But Paul, after naming the very elements producing it, thus specified the exact time when this mystery would become fully manifest, and take form in the church. In our quotation from 2 Thess. 2, we found that this revelation would not occur until the restraining power be removed. Further, he states that the Thessalonians well knew what restrained it. In confirmation of the apostle’s statement that the early Christians knew what this hindrance was, we have the consenting testimony of the early church Fathers, from Irenaeus down to Chrysostom, that it was the persecuting imperial pagan power ruling and residing at Rome. Tertullian Comments on this passage: “Who else but the Roman state can be meant -- after the partition of which among the ten kings we are brought to the Antichrist?” 31
And when this very partition had taken place, and the barbarians were overrunning the Roman empire, Jerome wrote (A.D. 409): “The hindrance is being removed (i.e. the Roman empire is being dissolved), and should we not recognize in this the approach of the Antichrist?” 32

The prophet Daniel foretold that out of the ten horns of the divided fourth, or Roman, empire, a little horn would arise, waxing great above all the ten others. Paul saw the beginnings of this mystery of lawlessness in his day, although apparently hidden; and in perfect harmony with Daniel’s prophecy, he was fully aware that it would not be manifest ere the hindering persecuting power-- pagan imperial Rome-- was removed. John the revelatory foresees the seat and power of pagan Rome, then existing, transferred to this second power, so much worse in its persecuting nature. The early Christian believers and commentators were all persuaded that, after the dissolution of the Roman empire, there would arise an even worse power, with its seat in Rome.

And how Rome, with the aid of Greek philosophy, conquered the Christian world, and set itself up in the church of god, is thus set forth by Harnack:

“We have to show how, by the power of her constitution and the earnestness and consistency of her policy, Rome, a second time, step by step, conquered the world, but this time the Christian world.” “That the old bearers of the Spirit--apostles, prophets, teachers-- have been changed into a class of professional moralists and preachers, who bridle the people by counsel and reproof, that this class considers itself and desires to be considered as a mediating kingly divine class, that its representatives became “lords” and let themselves be called “lords”, all this was prefigured in the Stoic wise man and in the Cynic missionary. But so far as these several “kings and lords” are united in the idea and reality of the church, and are subject to it, the Platonic idea of the republic goes beyond the Stoic and Cynic ideals, and subordinates them to it. But this Platonic ideal has again obtained its political realization in the church through the very concrete laws of the Roman empire, which were more and more adopted, or taken possession of. Consequently, in the completed church we find again the philosophic schools and the Roman empire.” 33

The next factor is Gnosticism, which one writer fitly calls a strange imager “generated by the rising sun of Christianity in the fogs of declining paganism” In the vain hope of fortifying the tender organism against this infection, unsanctified teachers inoculated the church with this very poison, with this result; “the old Catholic Church plainly shows in her belief, customs, and rites, the influence which conquered paganism had over the lucky victor.” 34

The proof is thus set forth by Harnack:

“The assumption of a secret apostolic tradition…first appeared among the Gnostics, i.e. among the first theologians, who had to legitimatize as apostolic a world of notions alien to primitive Christianity. It then was found quite logically among the Alexandrians, and from them passed to Eusebius, who not only accepted it (H.E.ii,1..4) but also vindicated it against Marcellus (lib. I.c.1).” 35
“The Catholic Church afterward claimed as her own those writers of the first century (60-160) who were content with turning speculation to account only as means of spiritualising the Old Testament, without, however, attempting a systematic reconstruction of tradition…The great distinction here consists essentially in the fact that the Gnostic systems represent the acute secularizing of Hellenising of Christianity, with the rejection of the Old Testament; while the Catholic system, on the other hand, represents a gradual process of the same kind with the conservation of the Old Testament…It is therefore no paradox to say that Gnosticism, which is just Hellenism, has in Catholicism obtained half a victory.” 36
“’Gnosticism’, which the church had repudiated in the second century, became part of her own system in the third.” 37

According to Daniel and Paul this hierarchy would not arise in Rome and within the church until the Roman empire had been divided into ten parts. The striking fulfilment of this third part of our evidence, we will let the great Catholic historian tell:
“There it (at Rome) silently grew in secret as a tree in course of time; and in the oldest time it only showed itself forth on peculiar occasions; but the outlines of the power and the ecclesiastical authority of the Roman bishops were ever consistently becoming more evident, and more prominent. . . Out of the chaos of the great Northern migrations, and the ruins of the Roman empire, there gradually arose a new order of states, whose central point was the Papal See. There from inevitably resulted a position not only new, but very different from the former. The new Christian empire of the West was created and upheld by the Pope. The Pope became constantly more and more (by the state of affairs, with the will of the princes and of the people, and through the power of public opinion) the chief moderator at the head of the European commonwealth--and as such, he had to proclaim and defend the Christian law of nations, to settle international disputes, to mediate between princes’ and people, and to make peace between belligerent states. The curia became a great spiritual and temporal tribunal. In short, the whole of Western Christendom formed, in a certain sense, a kingdom, at whose head stood the Pope and the emperor -- former, however, with continually increasing and far preponderating authority.,” 38

When the prophecy and the recorded facts of human history so closely agree in every particular, we can plant our feet firmly on the more sure world of prophecy. This perfect harmony of historical testimony to its very fulfilment leaves no doubt as to the correctness of the position taken. We now know positively where this mystery of lawlessness is to develop, -- first in secret, then openly, -- and where it is to take form and be fully revealed. We must and shall find it in the Roma Church. Bearing this information in mind, we must turn our attention to the writers of the early church -- not to establish any Bible truths, for the Bible suffices for this, but to show by their testimony that such an apostasy has taken place in the exact manner described. But that we may understand the uncertainty of these early writings, and what has been done through the apostasy to corrupt the, we quote the following lengthy statements from Harnack:--
“As they did not hold themselves bound to stick to the truth in dealing with an opponent, and thus had forgotten the command of the gospel, so they went on in theology to impute untruthfulness to the apostles, citing the dispute between Paul and Peter, and to Christ (he concealed his omniscience, etc.) . They even charged God with falsehood in dealing with his enemy, the devil, as is proved by the views held by Origen, Gregory of Nyss, and most of the later Fathers, of redemption from the power of the devil. But if God himself deceived his enemy by stratagem (pia faus), then so also might men. Under such circumstances it can not be wondered at that forgeries were the order of the day. And this was the case. We read, even in the second century, of numerous falsifications and interpolations made under their very eyes on the works of still living authors. Think of the grievances of the church Fathers against the Gnostics, and the complaints of Dionysius of Corinth and Irenaeus. But what did these often na´ve and subjective innocent falsifications signify compared with that spirit of lying which was powerfully at work even in official compositions in the third and fourth centuries? Red Rufinus’s ‘De adulterat. Libr.Origenis,’ and weigh Rufinus’s principles in translating the works of Origen. And the same spirit prevailed in the church in the fifth and sixth centuries; see a collection of the means employed to deceive in my ‘Altchrit.Litt.-Gesch.’ I.p.42 ff.

In these centuries no one continued to put any trust in a documentary authority, a record of proceedings, or protocol. The letters by bishops of this period throng with complaints of forgeries; the defeated party at a synod almost regularly raises the charge that the acts of synod are falsified; Cyril and the great letter writers complain that their letters are circulated in a corrupt form; the epistles of dead Fathers--e.g., that of Athanasius to Epictetus were falsified, and foreign matter was inserted into them; the followers of Apollinaris and Monophysites, e.g. systematically corrupted the tradition. See the investigations of Caspari and Draseke. Conversely, the simplest method of defending an ancient church Father who was cited by the opposition or on whose orthodoxy suspicion was cast, was to say that the heretics had corrected his work to suit themselves, and had sown weeds among his wheat. The official literature of the Nestorian and Monophysite controversy is a swamp of mendacity and knavery, above which only a few spots rise on which it is possible to find a firm footing. 39

We shall first consider the so-called Apostolic Fathers, a careful reading of which suffices to convince any Bible student that the name is unsuited. “This class consists of Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and, in a broader sense, Hermas, Papias, and the unknown authors of the Epistle to Diognetus, and of the Didache.” All their writings combined form but a small volume, and much of that little is spurious. There is a “a sudden spring” between the writings of the apostles and theirs. “Their very mistakes enable us to attach a higher value to the superiority of inspired writers. They were to wiser than the naturalists of their day who taught them the history of the Phenix and other fables,” Neander remarks

“The writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers are, alas! Come down to us, for the most part, in a very uncertain condition; partly because I early times writings were counterfeited under the name of those venerable men of the church, in order to propagate certain opinions of principles; partly because those writings which they had really published were adulterated.” 40

After the Apostolic Fathers and before the council of Nicaea A.d. 325, we have the ante-Nicene Fathers, -- Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprain, etc. How much all the Fathers were influenced in their writings by philosophy and Gnosticism, Mosheim testifies:--

“They all believed the language of Scripture to contain two meanings, the one obvious and corresponding with the direct import of the words, the other recondite and concealed under the words, like a nut by the shell; and neglecting the former as being of little value, they bestowed their chief attention on the latter; that is, they were more intent on throwing obscurity over the Sacred Writings by the fictions of their own imaginations than on searching out their true meaning.” 41

As to their contents Archdeacon Farrar says:-- “There are but few of them whose pages are not ripe with errors-- errors of method, errors of fact, errors of history, of grammar, and even of doctrine.” “Their acquaintance with the Old Testament is incorrect, popular, and full of mistakes; their Scriptural arguments are often baseless; their exegesis -- novel in application only -- is a chaos of elements unconsciously borrowed on the one hand from Philo, and on the other from rabbis and cabalists. They claim a ‘grace’ of exposition, which is not justified by the results they offer and they suppose themselves to be in possession of a Christian gnosis, of which the specimens offered are for the most part untenable.” 42
As to their teachings and how even the Catholic Church regards some, Philip Schaff makes the following statement:==
“There dogmatic conceptions were often very indefinite and uncertain. In fact, the Roman Church excludes a Terrullian for his Montanism, an Origen for his Platonic and idealistic views, and Eusebius for his semi-Arianism, also Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius., Theodoret, and other distinguished divines, from the list of Fathers, and designates them merely ecclesiastical writers….We seek in vain among them for the evangelical doctrines of the exclusive authority of the Scriptures, justification by faith alone, the universal priesthood of the laity; and we find instead as early as the second century a high estimate al ecclesiastical traditions, meritorious and over meritorious works, and stron sacerdotal, sacrament Arian, ritualistic, and ascetic tendencies, which gradually matured in the Greek and Roman types of Catholicity.” 43

After these critical statements, we can the better indorse the following from Martin Luther:--
“When God’s Word is expounded, construed, and glossed by the Fathers, the, in my judgement, it is even like unto one that strained milk through a coal-sack; which must needs spoil the milk and make it black; even so likewise, God’s Word, of itself is sufficiently pure, clean, bright, and clear, but through the doctrines, books and writings of the Fathers it is very surely darkened, falsified, and spoiled.” 44

Also the sever words of Dr. Adam Clarke:--
“But of these we may safely state that there is not a truth in the most orthodox creed that cannot be proved by their authority; nor a heresy that has disgraced the Romish church, that may not challenge them as its abettors. In points of doctrine, their authority is, with me, nothing. The word of God alone contains my creed. On a number of points I can go to the Greek and Latin fathers of the church to know what they believed; and what the people of their respective communions believed; but after all this, I must return to God's word to know what he would have me to believe”. 45

In his autobiography, he uses the following strong language:,
"We should take heed how we quote the fathers in proof of the doctrines of the gospel; because he who knows them best, knows that on many of those subjects they blow hot and cold.” 46

After such testimonies concerning the writings of the so-called Fathers, we are better prepared to understand how, at so early a date, the mystery of iniquity could sow seeds of error of almost every variety. Within fifty years of the apostolic age Justin Marty bears witness that they cup was mixed with water, and that a portion of the elements was sent to the absent. 47 Within a century Tertullian writes about works of penance, such as fasting, and that thereby one could atone for his transgressions, give satisfaction to God, and merit forgiveness yea, even offer a sacrifice of atonement. 48 He sets forth the efficacy of prayer for the dead, to relieve their sufferings. He advocates the sign of the cross "at every forward step and movement". 49

By the end of the third century we find all the material to erect a complete hierarchy; also the invocation of the saints, the superstitious use of images and relics and pretended miracles were confidently adduced in proof of their supposed efficacy.

The leading motives prompting the early introduction of these errors are thus enumerated by Mosheim:--

“1. There is good reason to suppose that the Christian bishops purposely multiplied sacred rites for the sake of rendering the Jews and the pagans more friendly to them. For both had been accustomed to numerous and splendid ceremonies from their infancy.
2. The Christians were pronounced Atheists because they were destitute of temples, altars, victims, priests, and all that pomp in which the vulgar suppose the esence of religion to consist.
3. In the books of the New Testament, various parts of the Christian religion are expressed in terms borrowed forom the Jewish laws, or are in some measure compared with the Mosaic rites. In time, either from inconsideration, or from ignorance, or from policy, the greater part maintained that such phraseology was not figurative, but proper, and according with the nature of the htings. The bishops were at first innocently called high priests, and the presbyters, priests and the deacons, Levites..

In like manner, the comparison of the Christian oblations with the Jewish victims and sacrifices, produced many unnecessary rites, an by degrees corrupted the very doctrine of the holy supper, which was converted, sooner, in fact, than one ould think, into a sacrifice.
4. Among the Greeks and the people of the East, nothing was held more sacred than what were called the mysteries This circumstance led the Christians, in order to impart dignity to their religion, to say that they also had similar mysteries,, or certain holy rites concealed from the vulgar; and they not only applied the terms used in the pagan mysteries to Christian institutions, particularly baptism and the Lord’s supper, but they gradually introduced also the rites which were designed by those terms. A large part, therefore, of the Christian observances and institutions, even in this (second) century, had the aspect of the pagan mysteries.
5. Many ceremonies took their rise from the custom of the Egyptians, and of almost all the Eastern nations, of conveying instruction by images, actions, and sensible signs. The Christian doctors, therefore, thought it likely to help their cause, if things which men must know in order to salvation, were placed, as it were, before the eyes of the unreflecting multitude, who with difficulty contemplate abstract truths. The new converts were to be taught that those are born again who are initiated by baptism into the Christian worship, and that they ought to exhibit in their conduct the innocence of infants; therefore milk and honey were given to them. 50

This statement concerning the second century, taken from Mosheim, contains the explanation of the fact that in this same period annual festivals and a weekly holy day were introduced, for which we find no Bible evidence. Both Jews and pagans had their memorial festivals, be they annual or weekly, in superabundance; why should not the very same motives as stated above prompt the introduction of such mingling of Jewish and pagan festivals, converting their former meaning and changing them into memorials of important events of the gospel, such as the resurrection, the crucifixion, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the birth of Christ, etc.

When once the flood-gates were opened, memorial days of saints and of the Virgin Mary rushed I after them, completely covering the weekly memorial of God’s rest, given to man for his welfare at the beginning.

Under what inocent garb the mystery of iniquity hid itself while these very errors were introduced, Dowling, in his “History of Romanism,” tells us:--

“There is scarcely anything which strikes the mind of the careful student of ancient ecclesiastical history with greater surprise than the comparatively early period at which many of the corruptions of Christianity, which are embodied in the Romish system, took their rise; yet it is not to be supposed that when the first originators of many of these unscriptural notions and practices planted those germs of corruption, they anticipated or even imagined they would ever grow into such a vast and hideous system of superstition and error, as is that of popery. . . . Each of the great corruptions of the latter ages took its rise in a manner which it would be harsh to say was deserving of strong reprehension. . . . The worship of images, the invocation of saints, and the superstition of relics, were but expansions of the natural feelings of veneration and affection cherished toward the memory of those who had suffered and died for the truth.” 51

The early introduction of a certain practise into the Christian church is often adduced as an argument in favor of its genuineness. But every such argument is simply another prop for every sort of error. The Catholic Church prides itself upon its origin in apostolic time, but while the prophecy of 2 Thessalonians 2 fully bears them out in their claim as far as the genesis of the Romish Church is concerned, yet it most emphatically denies the apostolic character. To those who, forgetting that custom without truth is only time-honoured error, love to worship at the shrine of venerable error, we commend the following saying of Luther:--
“He who has been wrong for one hundred years was not right for one hour. If the years should make wrong right, the devil would well deserve to be the most just one on earth, for he is now over five thousand years old.” 52

For the benefit of some who regard the tradition of the early church quite as reliable as the Bible itself, we quote the following from Archibald Bower, the learned historian of the popes:-- "To avoid being imposed upon, we ought to treat tradition as we do a notorious and known liar, to whom we give no credit, unless what he says is confirmed to us by some person of undoubted veracity. . . . False and lying traditions are of an early date, and the greatest men have, out of a pious credulity, suffered themselves to be imposed upon by them." 53 The following instance, taken from the Bible, will also show how unreliable tradition is:- "Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved, following (which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?); Peter seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die; yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" 54
Here is the account of a tradition which actually originated in the very bosom of the apostolic church, which nevertheless handed down to the following generations an entire mistake. Observe how carefully the word of God corrects this error.

Two rules of faith really embrace the whole Christian world. One of these is the word of God alone; the other is the word of God and the traditions of the church. Here they are:


"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 55

“The sacred and holy, ecumenical, and general synod at Trent. . . Following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with equal affection of piety and reverence, all the books both of the Old and the New Testament-- seeing that one God is the author of both-- as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated either by Christ’s own word of mouth or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved by a continuous succession in the Catholic Church. 56

Also noted in the Douay Bible "If we would have the whole rule of Christian faith and practice, we must not be content with those scriptures which Timothy knew from his infancy, that is, with the Old Testament alone; nor yet with the New Testament, without taking along with it the traditions of the apostles and the interpretation of the church, to which the apostles delivered both the book and the true meaning of it." 57

It is certain that the first-day Sabbath cannot be sustained by the first of these rules; for the word of God says nothing respecting such an institution. The second of these rules is necessarily adopted by all those who advocate the sacredness of the first day of the week. For the writings of the fathers and the traditions of the church furnish all the testimony which can be adduced in support of that day.

One of the strongest arguments of Catholicism, that the Bible alone does not suffice as the Christian rule of faith, is deduced from the fact that Christendom in general observes a day which is not commanded by the Bible, but rests solely on tradition. This is verified by the following statement from the pen of Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore:--

“A rule of faith, or a competent guide to heaven, must be able to instruct in all the truths necessary for salvation. Now the Scriptures alone do not contain all the truths which a Christian is bound to believe, nor do they explicitly enjoin all the duties which he is obliged to practise. Not to mention other examples, is not every Christian obliged to sanctify Sunday, and to abstain on that day from u necessary servile work? Is not the observance of this law among the most prominent of our sacred duties? But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctified.” 58
To adopt the first rule is to condemn the first-day Sabbath as a human institution. To adopt the second is virtually to acknowledge that the Romanists are right; for it is by this rule that they are able to sustain their unscriptural dogmas. Mr. W. B. Taylor, an able anti-Sabbatarian writer, states this point with great clearness:
"The triumph of the consistent Roman Catholic over all observers of Sunday, calling themselves Protestants, is indeed complete and unanswerable. . . . It should present a subject of very grave reflection to Christians of the reformed and evangelical denominations, to find that no single argument or suggestion can be offered in favor of Sunday observance that will not apply with equal force and to its fullest extent in sustaining the various other `holy days' appointed by `the church.' 59

Listen to the argument of a Roman Catholic:
"The word of God commandeth the seventh day to be the Sabbath of our Lord, and to be kept holy: you [Protestants] without any precept of Scripture, change it to the first day of the week, only authorized by our traditions. Divers English Puritans oppose against this point, that the observation of the first day is proved out of Scripture, where it is said `that the first day of the week. 60
Have they not spun a fair thread in quoting these places? If we should produce no better for purgatory and prayers for the dead, invocation of the saints, and the like, they might have good cause indeed to laugh us to scorn; for where is it written that these were Sabbath days in which those meetings were kept? Or where is it ordained they should be always observed? Or which is the sum of all, where is it decreed that the observation of the first day should abrogate or abolish the sanctifying of the seventh day, which God commanded everlastingly to be kept holy? Not one of those is expressed in the written word of God." 61

In this controversy before us, the honor of God’s Word is at stake, and its ample sufficiency is questioned. As children of the Most High, we must hold aloft his standard of truth at any cost; as true Protestants, the Bible alone must be our constant watchword; as true followers of the lowly Christ, we must walk in his footsteps as marked in his writing Word. Should we accept a single doctrine upon the mere authority of tradition, we would leave the narrow path, step down from the platform of Protestantism, and increase the doubt concerning the all-sufficiency of the Book of books, but disregarding its heavenly light.

After the careful investigation of the history of the early church, guided by prophecy, we have only been led to plant our feet the firmer upon the more sure Word. In its marvellous light we behold the Lamb of God open a sealed book; a rider on a white horse goes forth to conquer; but, alas! The vision changes, the white horse, the symbol of purity, is followed by a red one, the symbol of strife, and then by a black one, the symbol of darkness and spiritual famine., And true to the letter, the mystery of lawlessness finds its way into the fold of the apostolic church, genders strife, and darkens the light of the gospel; while the man of sin, professing to shield the church against error, takes away the Word of life, replacing it by showy ceremonies; substitutes tradition for the Holy Spirit, man’s ordinances for God’s commands, and then, when all this has been accomplished, it questions the all-sufficiency of God’s Word, and challenges Christendom for its inconsistency!

As we behold the Lamb of God opening the book, and see the marvellous light streaming from its sacred page, even piercing the darkness of the mystery of lawlessness, we trust the final outcome of this controversy to the Lord, and join the heavenly chorus: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” 62

1. 1 Cor. 2:4 Return>

2. Luke 24:44,45 Return>

3. Romans 1:16 Return>

4. Romans 4:9-12, John 8:56; Gen. 26:5 Return>

5. Gen. 12:2 Galatians 4 Return>

6. Romans 9:4,5 Return>

7. Romans 11 Return>

8. Eph. 2:19-22 Return>

9. 1 Cor. 1:22,23 Return>

10. 2 Thess. 2:2-7 Return>

11. 1 Thess. 5:19-21 Return>

12. Eph. 4:8-14 Return>

13. 2 Thess. 2;15 Return>

14. 2 Thess. 3:17; 1 Cor, 16:21; Col. 4:18 Return>

15. 1 Tim 6:20 Return>

16. 1 Cor. 8:1, 12:8, 14:6 Return>

17. 2 Tim. 2:16-18 Return>

18. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Return>

19. History of the Church” Edinburgh, 2nd period, par. 116, pp 448-452 Return>

20. History of Christianity, vol. 1, p. 208 Return>

21. History of Dogma,” London, 1905, vol. 1 chap. 4. p. 256 Return>

22. Id., Vol., 1 chap. 4. p 224 Return>

23. Id., Vol., 1 p. 128 Return>

24. Acts 20:29,30 Return>

25. 2Tim.4:2-4; 2Pet.2; Jude 4; 1John2:18 Return>

26. “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” chap. 15. Par.2 Return>

27. Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical History,” vol. 3 chap. 33 Return>

28. Magdeburg Centurien, Jena, 1560, chap.1 p.2 Return>

29. “ecclesiastical Researches,” chap. 5. P.51 edition 1792 Return>

30 “Ancient Church,” second period, sec. 2 chap. 5. Par.7 Return>

31. De Resur. Carnis, cap. 24 Return>

32. Ad Ageruchiam, epist. 123.16 Return>

33. “History of Dogma” vol. 1, chap. 2 pp. 127-128 Return>

34. “Hauck Herzog, Realencyclopedia, article, “Gnosticism.” vol. 6, p. 737 Return>

35. “History of Dogma” vol. 3, chap. 3, p. 213 Return>

36. Id., vol. 1, chap. 4, pp. 227, 228. Return>

37. Id., vol. 2, chap. 3. P. 131 Return>

38. Dollinger, “The Church and the Churches” London, 1862, pp. 42,43 Return>

39. “History of Dogma” vol. 3, chap. 11, pp. 184,185Return>

40. “Church History,” Rose’s translation, vol. 1, p. 407 Return>

41. “Ecclesiastical History,” b.1,c.2,pt.2, chap. 3. Sec. 5 Return>

42. “History of Interpretation” pp. 162, 163 Return>

43. “Ante-Nicene Christianity,” vol. 2 sec. 160, pp. 627, 628 Return>

44 “Table Talk,” p. 228 Return>

45. “Commentary on Proverbs 8 Return>

46. “Autobiography of Adam Clarke,” p. 134 Return>

47 “First Apology,” chap. 65 Return>

48. De Jejunio 3; De Poenitentia 12; Scorpiace 7; De Resurrectione 6. Return>

49. De Corona,” chap. 3. Return>

50. “Ecclesiastical History,” b. 1, c.2 pt. 2, chap.4 Return>

51. Book ii. chap. i. sect. 1 Return>

52. Walch, vol., 28. P. 358 Return>

53. Hist. of the Popes, vol. i. p. 1, Phila. ed., 1847Return>

54. John 21:20-23 Return>

55. 2 Tim. 3:16,17 Return>

56. “Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent,” T.A. Buckley, London, 1851, pp 17,18. Opening words of the decree at the fourth session, April 8, 1546. Return>

57. Note in the Douay Bible on 2Tim.3:16,17 Return>

58. “Faith of Our Fathers,” American edition, p. 111 Return>

59. “Obligation of the Sabbath, pp. 254,255 Return>

60. Acts 20:7; 1Cor.16:2; Rev.1:10 Return>

61. A Treatise of Thirty Controversies Return>

62. Rev. 5:12 Return>

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