We very properly interpret the "woman" of Revelation 12 to be the true church which dwelt in the "wilderness" from 538 to 1798 A. D., a period of 1260 years. Now the question arises, Where was she during the years from Pentecost to 538 A. D., a period covering half a millennium? Was she a separate church under her own government during these five hundred years? Was she to be found among the three hundred different sects which sprang out of the original organization? Or did God recognize the Ancient, or Post-Apostolic, Catholic Church as the true one from the time of the apostles to 538 A. D., notwithstanding the fact that the church had drifted from the original faith once delivered to the saints?
To answer the question we must define what the church is. First, The Saviour thus answers the question as relates to the individual member: "Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother." Matt. 12:50. Again, "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." John 14:23. Concerning the mode of that coming, we read: "Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." John 14:17. Comment is unnecessary on these defining words, as to who is a member of the invisible church of Christ. The evidence is clear that every person truly converted and born again receives the Holy Spirit and is a member of the- true church of God.
Secondly, God organized the Jewish church in the wilderness, and it was His own acknowledged, or official, church all through the centuries down to the time of Christ, irrespective of its backsliding. Not all, of course, on the roll of Israel were members of the true church of God, for only those who have spiritual communion with God constitute His true church.
John the Baptist was born of parents who lived a blameless life. (See Luke 1:5, 6.) Mary, the mother of Jesus, had found favor with God. (See verses 28, 30.) We do not know the exact number of the true spiritual
Erratum: In Article IV, the date for the Robber Synod of Ephesus should have read 449 instead of 438.--s. a. W. church at the time of the birth of John the Baptist and of Christ, but we find a few names are given,—Simeon, Hannah, and Joseph. Both John and Jesus were born of true followers of God. These were of the church which gave birth to the "man child" who was to share the throne of the universe with God.
The Pharisees and Sadducees, and others who knew not God, although nominal members of the large state church, could never have been chosen as parents of,John and Christ, for they had no spiritual connection with God. This Jewish spiritual church became the nucleus of the Apostolic Church on the day of Pentecost, laying the foundation for an organized church, with rules and regulations which were to govern them in the struggle against paganism. How shall we trace this church through the ages? In answering that question, we would call attention to the inspired prophetic chart of God as found in chapters 2, 3, and 6 of the book of Revelation. The "seven churches" give the internal history of the church, and the "seven seals" the external history.
The church of Ephesus describes the condition of the Apostolic Church during the first century of the Christian era. The white horse and its rider are also symbolic of this period of real missionary work. However, the admonition is given to the whole church to repent, for they had lost their first love. The mystery of iniquity was already working in 'the church to pervert true doctrine and lead people astray. While the church was persecuted it was kept pure; but when persecution ceased, the people became indifferent, careless, and world-loving, thus losing sight of God. In the latter part of this century heresies sprang up in the church, and a number of converts were drawn away from the truth, leaving the church. (See 2 Tim. 4:10; 1:15.)
Church of Smyrna (100-325 A. D.)
This church received as a whole a commendation for their works and tribulation; and they were told that persecution, prison, and tribulation were awaiting them, but if faithful they would receive a crown of life. Before going further into the history of this church it will be well to mention the attitude of the Roman government toward strange and foreign religions. We quote from the church historian:
"The Roman jurist, Julius Paulus, cites the following as one of the ruling principles of civil law in the Roman state: 'Whoever introduces new religions, whose tendency and character are unknown, whereby the minds of men might be disturbed, were, if belonging to the higher ranks, to be banished; if to the lower, punished with death.' "
The Romans exercised a certain amount of religious toleration toward those who would accept the gods of Rome into their worship.
In the Roman Pantheon were placed the gods of all the strangers who visited Rome. Many of these gods had been accepted by the Romans under different names. One thing was required of all Roman citizens in all provinces under Roman sway, and that was to offer incense to "Lord Caesar." Since the days of Augustus Caesar, 29 a. c., the emperors of Rome had been worshiped as heathen gods. In all prominent cities and places altars were placed upon which incense was thrown by the devotee in honor of the "Divine Caesar." The Christians could not take part in this practice of idolatry, and therefore refused so to honor Caesar.
The Christians preached the spiritual kingdom of Christ, which could in no way be modified or altered to suit the Roman religion. The Romans argued that the Christians could worship Christ just as much as they wished to, but they must also offer incense to Caesar and say, "I swear by the genius of Cmsar." One illustration will suffice: When the old bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, was asked to swear by the genius of Caesar, and revile Christ, he answered, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King that has saved me?"' Being resolute in his opposition to the emperor, he was burned at the stake about 180 A. D.
Here was the real cause for the struggle between Christianity and Roman imperialism. Two kings were at war to the bitter end,—King Jesus, with His spiritual kingdom made up of the newborn from all nations, and the Roman emperor, with his state united to the pagan religion. This latter was an invention of Satan, as we shall presently see. Whosoever compromised and lowered the standard of faith would in the end be conquered. The early Christians refused to serve in the Roman army and engage in Roman politics. Celsus, the Roman jurist, upbraided the Christians for not serving in the Roman armies in the defense of the emperor. This was about 177 A. D. (See Neander, "Church History," Vol. I, p. 377.) The early Christians abstained from the theaters and pagan feasts. These were so intimately associated with heathen worship that Christians could not indulge and remain pure.*
The fires of persecution served to winnow the chaff from the wheat, for during the days of tribulation a large number of nominal members. of the church apostatized, and were called lapsi. These, when the persecution was over, wanted to rejoin the church. Some of the ante-Nicene Fathers died as martyrs. For instance, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was thrown to the beasts in the Roman Amphitheater; Justin Martyr died a martyr, and there is strong evidence that Irenus, bishop of Lyons, died in the massacre instituted by the emperor Severus. Persecution followed persecution in different parts of the empire. Christians fled from one part of the realm to the other, seeking a haven of rest. They were hunted like beasts in the fields. The Decian persecution, in the middle of the third century, lasting for nearly ten years, was one of the most severe in the empire. About fifty years after that, the last and the most terrible persecution broke out under Diocletian, lasting ten years, or from 303-313, in fulfillment of Revelation 2:10.
About two hundred fifty heretical sects broke out from the Apostolic Church between 34 and 314 A. D. Some of these sects, such as the Montanists, had many martyrs for the cause of God and shared in the persecutions of the Apostolic Church. There is no denying the fact that there was a gradual apostasy of the dominant church, yet the historian has this to say concerning the godly people in the church:
"Some, indeed, most certainly and truly cast out demons, so that frequently those persons themselves that were cleansed from wicked spirits, believed and were received into the church. Others have the knowledge of things to come, as also visions and prophetic communications; others heal the sick by the imposition of hands, and restore them to health. And, moreover, as we said above, even the dead have been raised and continued with us many years."'
The historian quotes from Irermus, who lived in the beginning of the third century as bishop, of Lyons.
Even as late as the Council of Nice, 325 A. D., a number of bishops were godly men who had suffered under the Diocletian persecution. Let us quote from another historian:
"Then came the two bishops of the same name, Eusebius of Nicomedia and of Caesarea; Potammon of Heraclea in Egypt, who had lost one eye in the last persecution; Paphnutius of the higher Thebais, and Spiridion of Cyprus, both celebrated for their miracles. Paphnutius had one eye bored out and his legs cut off during Maximin's persecution. Another bishop, Paul of Neocsarea, had had his hands burnt, by the red-hot irons that Licinius had commanded to be applied to them. James of Nisibis was honored as a worker of miracles: it was said that he had raised the dead. There was also seen among the foremost, Leontius of Caesarea, a man endowed with the gift, of proph-• ecy, who during the journey to Nice had baptized the father of S. Gregory of Nazianzus. . . . Theodoret adds: 'Many shone from apostolic gifts, and many bore in their bodies the marks of Christ.' "4
As stated before, three hundred eighteen bishops attended this council. They had assembled from all parts of the empire, mostly from the East. There was an immense number of presbyters also. Another ancient church historian says: "Some of these ministers of God were eminent- for their wisdom,- -some--for the strictness of their life and patient endurance of persecution, and others united in themselves all these distinguished characteristics."
First.—The church of Ephesus, from Pentecost to about 100 A. D., was reproved by God because it had lost its first love.
Second.—It was commended for its labor and patience and works.
Third —It hated the heresy of the Nicolaitanes, which the Lord also hated.
Fourth.—It was admonished to repent, or the candlestick would be removed.
The Church of Smyrna, 100-325 A. D.
First.—God knew their tribulation and poverty. "But thou art rich," said He. And who dares change that declaration of God?
Second.—There were false brethren in that church whom the Lord called the synagogue of Satan.
Third.—This church, the Ancient, or Post-Apostolic, Catholic Church, organized by the apostles, was rich in patience, tribulation, faith, etc., and God had no reproof for them, notwithstanding there were many false Christians among them. They were not asked to repent like the churches of Ephesus, Pergamos, Jezebel in Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea.
Fourth.—The whole Roman Empire hurled its mighty power against the Post-Apostolic Catholic Church to annihilate it, but all in vain. The Post-Apostolic Church triumphed, and humbled to the dust by the power of God the mighty host of pagan Rome,—for moral suasion is stronger than civil power.
(To be continued) Washington, D. C.
1 Neander, "Church History," Vol. I, p. 120 (Torrey-Morrison edition).
2 Eusebius, "Church History," book 4, chap. 15.
3 Id., book 5, chap. 7.
4Hefele, "Church Councils," Vol. I, p. 272. See also Theodoret's "Ecclesiastical History," book 1, chap. 7.
5 Socrates, "Ecclesiastical History," book 1, chap. 8.
* For further reading on the life and manners of the early Christians see Coleman's "Christian Antiquities ;" Guericke's "Christian Antiquities ;" Bing-ham's "Christian Antiquities ;" and "The Ante-Nicene Fathers."