The strength of paganism had been tested. Truth, eternal truth, had dwelt in the person of the Man of Nazareth. With the death of Christ, Satan lost hope. Looking forward to his crucifixion, Jesus said, "Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out." Satan, after his fall, had met from time to time with the representatives of other worlds. Some in that assembly, not comprehending the hideous nature of sin, had felt to question God's wisdom in expelling Satan from the heavenly courts, but when Christ's life was over, and they had seen the taunting of the enemy and his final act of murder, "the accuser of the brethren" was forever cast from the council of worlds. "And when the dragon saw that he was cast to the earth," he knew that his time was short, and with renewed energy he sought to overthrow the truth of God, and crush those who adhered to it. The remaining portion of the eleventh chapter of Daniel clearly reveals the truth of these statements.
After the ascension of Christ, his disciples spread the gospel throughout Judea and all Palestine, and many who heard the word spoken with power on the day of pentecost went into their own countries to proclaim the truth as it was in Christ. In less than thirty years the world was warned. But the Jews were exclusive,
and the disciples had not yet lost the idea that Christ was the Saviour of the Hebrew race, not the healer of all mankind. Persecution in Jerusalem scattered the believers, and then they went everywhere preaching the salvation of God. Quietly, yet steadily, the life-giving current of the stream of Christianity penetrated to the remotest corners of the vast Roman Empire. All nationalities were for the first time in all history united in Him, for with him and his followers there was neither "Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ was all, and in all."
As the truth spread, it was the growth of an empire; a spiritual kingdom within the confines of earth's strongest monarchy. It was with the whole church as with each individual within the church, a spiritual life, a new man, circled about by a human form. Well would it have been for the progress of truth if all oppression of the spiritual by the temporal had been only when the state opposed the church! Instead, the greatest, the only effectual drawback to the spread of the truth has been caused in individual experience when the physical man has limited the development of the spiritual, the abiding spirit, the Christ in you, the hope of glory.
The early church was zealous; their first love was strong, and the greatest difficulties were met and surmounted. Sometimes it meant an entire household, but oftener only one or two members of the home circle who stepped out of the darkness of paganism to stand against all attacks, for the truth of God. Mothers watched their children with the greatest care, for every custom and practice of the people from their
waking moment to the time when they committed themselves to sleep, from birth to death, was associated with the worship of some god.
One peculiar thing about the new sect, as they were viewed by the pagan worshipers, was the absence of images and forms which the senses could comprehend. When Christians gathered for worship, there was no altar, no god, no incense. When the Christians prayed, there was no priesthood, no vain repetition of words, no offering, but a simple petition in the name of Christ. An invisible power seemed to have taken control of the new converts, a power which never quailed, and which no pagan votary could gainsay. The life which God had so long searched for among the Jews was found among the early Christians.
The enemy of truth had sought by every means to blind the eyes of the Jews to the love of God; he had worked through every government for their destruction, and when their nation was at its lowest point, when spiritual vitality was almost exhausted, Christ came in person to revive their fainting hope. Then Satan used every device to deceive the Son of man. He tempted him in all points where human nature can be tempted; he sought to ensnare him with petty trials; he sought to induce him to accept high worldly honors; but he failed in all, and when he thought he had gained the victory by his crucifixion, he found it was only the physical form which could be thus bound, and that only for a time. An eternal spirit dwelt in mortal clay, and the bands of death were broken by his resurrection. Now from the midst of that down trodden people, that despised race, from the
very foot of the ignominious cross, God chose a people and sent them forth to conquer the world. "Such knowledge is too wonderful; it is high, I can not attain unto it." What wonder that the world awoke with a start, and that Satan sought new devices for the overthrow of truth.
Outward pressure, though tried again and again, had proved unavailing in stamping out the truth. In the fiery furnace was seen the form of a fourth; from the lions' den came forth a prime minister; from Joseph's new sepulcher arose a conqueror. Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome had attempted the overthrow of truth, but there had been a constantly increasing grandeur in place of defeat. A new plan was devised by Satan. If paganism could be placed in the heart, while Christian principles were acknowledged outwardly, the overthrow would be certain; for destruction worketh from within, outward. It was a repetition of Balaam's plan.
Paul, the great teacher of righteousness, as he visited from place to place among the saints, wrote thus to the Thessalonians: "The mystery of iniquity doth already work." "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 worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." This is Paul's description of the mystery of iniquity, the fourth beast of the vision of Daniel seven.
Then it was that into that church, noted for its purity, crept the life of paganism. Sheltered
in the folds of the Christian garb lay the serpent, the old dragon. As the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, was a mystery, and is to-day a mystery which none can fathom, it was met by another mystery, a mystery of iniquity whose machinations are too strong for the human mind to understand. It will deceive if possible the very elect. Only he whose eye is lightened by truth, whose heart is the abiding place of the Son of God; in other words, only he who has within his own being the mystery of godliness, will stand against the mystery of iniquity.
In Paul's day, that is, in the first century a. d., that power was at work. Hitherto the history as recorded in the book of Daniel dealt with earthly kingdoms, but from this time on history handles this "mystery of iniquity" which worked through the various governments. The distinction between the kingdoms of the north and the south remains as it was in the past, but we pass from governments as governments to a power which is swaying these governments. On one side in this controversy is the church of God; on the other side is the mystery of iniquity, which often lays hold of earthly governments for the purpose of destroying the church.
The expression "Church of God" does not refer to denominational names or lines. From the days of Christ, until the present, there has been a true church. Its members have often been scattered as far as human eye could discern, but on the record books of heaven they have been recognized as a single company.
The characteristic which marks the true church is adherence to the commandments of the God of heaven. Wherever a people has been true
to these, God has honored them with his presence. Moreover, to each denomination which has arisen, there have been offered the same opportunities which were offered to the four succeeding nations as they arose; that is, the privilege of walking in all the light, and by that very act becoming an everlasting company. As truth was rejected by the nations and they fell, so truth has been rejected by one denomination after another, and they have fallen, another people taking the vacant place. This succession will be kept up until a remnant people who will keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus will be made up. They will enter the eternal city to reign with Christ. It is this struggle which was revealed to Daniel in the latter part of his last vision. The history of Rome becomes the history of religious controversy, and the struggle between truth and error is greater than ever before.
The history of the church, as given to John, contains more details than the words of Gabriel to Daniel. To his followers of the first century, God says, "Thou hast left thy first love. Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works." Of the church in the second and third centuries, he says, "I know thy works, and tribulations, and poverty (but thou art rich). . . . Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulations." Christianity and paganism were in open conflict for three centuries following the birth of Christ, and at times the serpent reared his head to smite the truth to the ground. Some of the followers
of Christ were persecuted, and others grew cold and indifferent. But there was a power in the gospel which the pagans could not withstand. As its followers increased, their influence was felt even in political circles.
The close of the third century of the Christian era found the government of Rome greatly weakened. The evils of the empire, its oppression and cruelty, made it almost impossible for the emperors to control affairs. Authority was in the hands of the army, which seated and unseated rulers at will. Barbarian hordes pressed the empire on all sides, and the downfall of Rome was imminent. Some radical change was necessary to prevent complete disruption, and Diocletian, the reigning emperor, conceived the idea of partitioning the territory. Consequently he associated with himself a man by the name of Maximian, giving him the title of Augustus. Each of the two emperors then chose an assistant, called a CÊsar, whose duty it was to guard the frontiers. According to the plan of Diocletian, the CÊsars should become emperors on the death of the Augusti, and then other CÊsars would be appointed. For a while the four who stood at the head of the Roman empire worked together in harmony, but through a variety of complications war broke out.
Constantine was a CÊsar in the western division of the empire, and marching toward the East, he subdued, one by one, all rivals in the government. It was about the year 312, when, confronted by bitter foes, whose strength he recognized, this rising light assumed a policy never before followed.
There were many Christians scattered
throughout the empire who refused to fight under the banner of paganism. With these Constantine made a league. The story of his conversion is variously told, and perhaps the details are unimportant. The fact remains that he acknowledged the God of the Christians, proclaimed himself a follower of Christ, and immediately Christians from all over the empire flocked into his army, devout followers of the general who now fought in the name of Christianity.
Speaking of the use of the cross, Gibbon says: "This same symbol sanctified the arms of the soldiers of Constantine; the cross glittered in their helmets, was engraved on their shields, was interwoven into their banners; and the consecrated emblems which adorned the person of the emperor himself were distinguished only by the richer materials and more exquisite workmanship." The standard which was borne before this (Christian) army "supported a crown of gold, which inclosed the mysterious monogram, at once expressive of the figure of the cross, and the initial letter of the name of Christ."
The humble followers of Christ, who immediately after his ascension had gone forth "conquering and to conquer," carrying with them his words, the sword of the Spirit, had been replaced by an army with helmet and sword, led by a commander who bound together the emblems of the cross and his own name.
The clothing of paganism in Christian garments was never more complete than in the days of Constantine. The mystery of iniquity was hard at work. Constantine conquered the Roman world; he sat as sole monarch of the empire
which was tottering in the hands of his predecessors. The PrÊtorian guard, which had been the terror as well as the protection of other emperors, was forever suppressed by Constantine. The dignity of the senate and people of Rome received a fatal blow, and they were thereafter subject alike to the insults or neglect of their master who resided in the new capital, Constantinople.
The character of Constantine, that first Christian emperor, is aptly described by Gibbon. In discussing the reason why he delayed baptism until he was on his deathbed, he says: "The sublime theory of the gospel had made a much fainter impression on the heart than on the understanding of Constantine himself. He pursued the great object of his ambition through the dark and bloody paths of war and policy; and after the victory, he abandoned himself without moderation to the abuse of his fortune. Instead of asserting his just superiority above the imperfect heroism and profane philosophy of Trajan and the Antonines, the mature age of Constantine forfeited the reputation which he had acquired in his youth. As he gradually advanced in the knowledge of truth, he proportionately declined in the practice of virtue; and the same year of his reign in which he convened the Council of Nice, was polluted by the execution, or rather murder, of his eldest son. . . . The gratitude of the church has exalted the virtues and excused the failings of a generous patron, who seated Christianity on the throne of the Roman world; and the Greeks, who celebrate the festival of the imperial saint, seldom mention the name of Constantine without adding the title of
Equal to the Apostles." These words alone offer a sad commentary on the decline of Christian virtue since the days of Christ. He who claimed the power of Christianity was less virtuous than the heroic pagan Trajan, and such pagan philosophers as the Antonines.
The first religious laws ever passed by Christians were edicts of Constantine. In 312 the edict of Milan granted universal toleration; in 321 the first law for the worship of Sunday was published; in 325 was convened at Nice the first ecumenical council which formulated a creed for the world. Then began the conflicts which tore the church asunder and exposed it to open shame. About the reign of Constantine cluster events of the greatest interest, not to Rome only, but to the church of God and to the world. It was the first and perhaps greatest object lesson illustrating the effects of the elevation of Christianity in name to the throne of the world. In the wake of this reign follow the years of darkness for all Europe, when the antichrist reigned supreme.
He indeed performed that which neither his father nor his father's fathers had performed. He left to his heirs "a new capital, a new policy, and a new religion." No one had before dared to think that Rome could be quitted. Constantine selected the site of Constantinople with more than human wisdom. It is formed by nature to be the center and capital of a great monarchy. It has been the contested point among the nations of Europe since the continent has had nations to contend, and according to the prophecy of Daniel, it will be the bone of contention to the end of time. It is a fact worth noting that the city was founded in the year 330 b. c., exactly
three hundred and sixty years, "a time," after the victory of Octavius over Antony at Actium, which placed him as sole ruler on the Roman throne.
The new policy was the outworking of a union of church and state. The kingdoms of the past had followed a policy somewhat similar to one another. Government was with them the central object. This was seen in its strongest light in pagan Rome, but with Constantine the policy changed. Paganism as paganism was laid low, and the "mystery of iniquity" was enthroned. The world was given Christianity, not as it came from the life of Him whose name it bore, but as it was corrupted and polluted by human and satanic minds. Gibbon says that hereafter the historian will describe "political institutions" before relating wars, and that "he will adopt the division unknown to the ancients of civil and ecclesiastical affairs." That is, future history must deal with church and state, not with kingdoms such as Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece.
History has changed. The devil is going about seeking whom he may devour, and the calm, determined plans for conquering the world which marked the nations before the days of Christ, have been replaced by a desperation which means the utter destruction, if possible, of all who serve the God of heaven. Any means is lawful in the hands of the prince of this world, and the greater the number who fall, the lighter the burden which he, the archenemy, must bear in the days of the final reckoning. The acts of Constantine started a series of movements which developed rapidly into the antichrist of the Dark Ages.
The council held at Nice was an important gathering alike to the church and the nation, for since the two have joined hands, whatever affects one affects the other.
The Christian world was torn asunder by theological factions. Alexandria, the center of all philosophical study, was also the center of theological activity. Here is where the Greek influence was most forcibly felt. Athanasius, the leader of one faction, was archdeacon, and afterward bishop of Alexandria, and his opponent, Arius, was presbyter in the same city.
Paganism and Christianity met on the battlefield when Constantine contended for the throne of Rome; paganism and Christianity met in more deadly conflict in Alexandria, where Christian and pagan schools stood side by side. Here it was that such men as Origen and Clement, recognized Fathers of the church, adopted the philosophy of the Greeks, and applied to the study of the Bible the same methods which were common in the study of Homer and other Greek writers. Higher criticism had its birth in Alexandria. It was the result of a mingling of the truths taught by Christ and the false philosophy of the Greeks. It was an attempt to interpret divine writings by the human intellect, a revival of the philosophy of Plato. These teachers, by introducing Greek philosophy into the schools which were nominally Christian, opened the avenue for the theological controversies which shook the Roman world, and finally established the mystery of iniquity.
So from this false teaching of the Word in Alexandria came two leaders-Athanasius and Arius. Each had his following, and yet no man could clearly define the disputed point over which
they wrangled. So great was the controversy that the Council of Nice was called to settle the dispute, and deliver to the church an orthodox creed. The emperor Constantine called the council, and was present in person. At this council the creed of Athanasius was recognized as orthodox, and Arius and his followers were pronounced heretics.
But announcing a creed is one thing, and having it adopted is another. The orthodox creed was published to the world, and then began the fight. In this strife armies fought and much blood was shed. But in spite of the fact that Arianism was heresy, the doctrine spread. It was popular among the barbarian tribes who invaded the western division of the Roman empire. The Vandals, who settled in Africa, were among the followers of Arius, and so also were the Heruli and Ostrogoths who settled in Italy. But while Arianism spread through Africa, Sardinia, and Spain, and was present at times in Italy, the recognized religion of the Roman emperor and the empire itself, the northern kingdom, which now had its seat at Constantinople, was the Catholic faith, as proclaimed at Nice. As Constantinople was the representative of this northern division in his day, so later, between 527 and 565, Justinian became champion of the Catholic cause.
According to the vision of Daniel 7, the Roman kingdom would be divided into ten parts, represented by the ten horns of the fourth beast, and three of these kingdoms should be plucked up by another power. It is this part of the history of the fourth kingdom which is related in Daniel 11, beginning with verse twenty-five.
Justinian's reign was the most brilliant period of Byzantine history after the death of Constantine, and historians agree that among his greatest military achievements must be classed his exploits against the south. The success of Justinian was due to the services, throughout the greater part of his reign, of the celebrated general Belisarius. He was the tool in the hands of the emperor for crushing out heresy.
The Vandals were Arians, but Hilderis, the grandson of their chief warrior, the noted Genseric, favored the Catholic faith. The disaffection of his subjects made it possible for Hilderis to be dethroned by Gelimer, who had some title to the Vandal throne. Under pretense of protecting the dethroned Hilderis, the emperor Justinian prepared for a war in Africa. While still undecided as to the advisability of making the attack because of the weakness of the Roman army, and the cost of the undertaking, his purpose was confirmed by the words of a Catholic bishop. Said he in prophetic tones, "It is the will of Heaven, O emperor, that you should not abandon your holy enterprise for the deliverance of the African church. The God of battles will march before your standard, and disperse your enemies, who are the enemies of his Son." This was sufficient, and the holy war for the extermination of Arianism was undertaken.
A force of Romans, the largest Belisarius could command from the weakened empire, aided by recruits from the east, landed in Africa. The Vandal army numbered 160,000 fighting men. Belisarius was hastened in his march toward Carthage by enemies of Gelimer and friends of the Catholic creed. The armies met near the
city, and victory came to the Romans through the folly and rashness of the brother of the Vandal king. Gelimer fled, and Carthage opened her gates, and admitted Belisarius and his army. "The Arians, conscious that their reign had expired, resigned the temple to the Catholics, who rescued their saint from profane hands, performed the holy rites, and loudly proclaimed the creed of Athanasius and Justinian." The Catholic faith had triumphed. Arianism fell, and Sardinia and Corsica surrendered, and other islands of the Mediterranean yielded to the arms and creed of Justinian.
In the autumn of 534 Justinian granted a triumph to Belisarius. Gibbon thus described the scene: "From the palace of Belisarius the procession was conducted through the streets to the hippodrome. . . . The wealth of nations was displayed, the trophies of martial or effeminate luxury; rich armor; golden thrones, and the chariots of state which had been used by the Vandal queen; the massive furniture of the royal banquet, the splendor of precious stones, the elegant forms of statues and vases, the more substantial treasures of gold, and the holy vessels of the Jewish temple, which, after their long peregrination, were respectfully deposited in the Christian church of Jerusalem. A long train of the noblest Vandals reluctantly exposed their lofty stature and manly countenance."
"The Arians deplored the ruin of their church triumphant above a century in Africa; and they were justly provoked by the laws of the conqueror, which interdicted the baptism of their children, and the exercise of all religious worship." It is not much to be wondered at that those
who remained plotted against the government and the general who represented Justinian. The loss of life was terrible in those wars for the supremacy of one creed above another, and the path to the papal crown was bloodstained. It is stated that five million Africans were consumed by the wars and government of the emperor Justinian.
For the sake of brevity, the wars between the Catholic empire and the Vandals may be taken as an illustration of the extermination of the other two kingdoms-that of the Heruli and the Ostrogoths. Justinian was the reigning emperor. and most of the work was done by Belisarius, this same general, between the years 533 and 538.
The last contest with paganism was in 508 when the Britons accepted Christianity; the "daily" spoken of in Daniel had been taken away. By 538 the way was clear for the papacy to sit enthroned in Rome. The new capital established by Constantine left Rome that it might be occupied by the head of the church. The new religion-Christianity-we have seen mingled with paganism, which it crushed, and gave birth to the papacy. The new policy, a union of church and state, gave civil aid to that paganized Christianity called the papacy. The harvest of the seed sown in the days of Constantine was reaped in the reign of Justinian, whose military and civil power supported "the abomination that maketh desolate."
A striking feature of this history is the fact that the very code of law which Rome has bequeathed as a legacy to later times, is the work of this same Justinian. Is it to be wondered at that the laws of this emperor, who reigned at the
time when the papacy was formed, and who was the one who supported it by arms, should contain some principles of the papacy? Fisher says, "Humane principles are incorporated into the civil law, but likewise the despotic system of imperialism." The laws of Justinian form the basis of national laws to-day; likewise the religion of Justinian is the recognized religion of most countries today.
Constantine and Justinian were the two men instrumental above all others in forming the papacy, and giving it civil power. The contest between Arianism and the orthodox Catholicism was the means of enthroning the papacy. A power soon to be recognized as the personification of all tyranny swayed the scepter of Rome, and the followers of the One who proclaimed a covenant of peace to Israel, would for the period of 1260 years struggle for existence. Every principle of truth was crushed, and with 538 was ushered in the Dark Ages.