As all we know of history comes to us
through books, I have examined, with some care, the authors which are
most esteemed in this country and considered the most reliable. And
although there is frequent reference to volume and page, this by no
means indicates all that has been gathered from those histories. It
would be impossible to say how many thoughts, words, and sentences, are
interwoven with my own. The references have been generally given, not so
much to verify what has been written, as to induce the reader to study
them or whatever works may now be available as he may have opportunity.
The materials are so varied and abundant, that the difficulty lies in
making a selection, so as to maintain a continued historic line, and yet
leave out what would now be neither profitable nor interesting.
Some of my earliest and valued friends,
such as Greenwood, Milman, and Craigie Robertson, conclude their
histories about the fourteenth century; Waddington, D'Aubigne, and
Scott, about the middle of the sixteenth; and Wylie closes his history
of Protestantism with its establishment under the reign of William and
Mary. Dr. M'Crie's special histories and biographies are extremely
valuable; and so is the history of Protestantism in France by Felice,
the history of the Reformation in the Low Countries by Brandt, the brief
history of the Middle Ages and the Reformation by Hardwick, and also
Cunningham's history of the Scotch Church; but good general histories
from the early part of the sixteenth to the present century are indeed
I have aimed at more than mere history.
It has been my desire to connect with it Christ and His Word, so that
the reader may receive the truth and blessing, through grace, to his
soul. And it will be observed that I commence with the Lord's revealed
purpose concerning His Church in Matthew 16. Other parts of the New
Testament have been carefully examined as to the first planting of the
Church, but its actual history I have endeavoured to trace in the light
of the addresses to the seven Churches in Asia. This, of course, must be
in a very general way, as I have been desirous to give the reader as
broad a view of ecclesiastical history as possible, consistently with my
plan and brevity.
May the Lord's blessing accompany the
volume that now goes forth.
LONDON - ANDREW MILLER
Many of our readers, we know, have
neither the time nor the opportunity for reading the voluminous works
that have been written from time to time on the history of the church.
Still, that which has been the dwelling-place of God for the last
eighteen hundred years, must be a subject of the deepest interest to all
His children. We speak not now of the church as it is often represented
in history, but as it is spoken of in scripture. There it is seen in its
true spiritual character, as the body of Christ, and as the "habitation
of God through the Spirit." (Ephesians 2)
We must always bear in mind, when
reading what is called a history of the church, that, from the days of
the apostles until now, there have been two distinct and widely
different, classes of persons in the professing church: the merely
nominal, and the real — the true, and the false. This was predicted.
"For I know this," says the apostle, "that after my departure 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." (Acts 20) His Second Epistle to Timothy is also
full of warnings and directions as to the various forms of evil which
were then but too plainly manifest. A rapid change for the worse had
taken place from the time that his first epistle was written. He exhorts
the truly godly to walk in separation from those who had a form of
godliness, but who denied the power thereof. "From such," he says, "turn
away." Such exhortations are always needed, always applicable — as much
now as then. We cannot separate ourselves from Christendom without
giving up Christianity but we can and ought to separate ourselves from
what the apostle calls "vessels to dishonour." The promise is, that, "if
a man . . . purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour,
sanctified and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good
It is interesting — though painfully so
— to mark the difference on this point between the First and the Second
Epistles to Timothy. In the first, the church is spoken of according to
its true character and blessed position on the earth. There it is seen
as the house of God — the depository and display of truth to man. In the
Second Epistle, it is spoken of as what it had become through the
failure of those into whose hands it had been entrusted.
Take one passage from each Epistle in
illustration. 1. "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto
thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou
oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, . . . the pillar and
ground of the truth." 2. "But in a great house there are not only
vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some
to honour, and some to dishonour." Here all is changed — sadly changed.
In place of divine order there is hopeless confusion; in place of
house of God, the pillar and ground of
truth," there is
great house" — practically "the mystery
of iniquity." In place of the house being kept according to the will of
God and suitable for Him, it was arranged and ordered according to the
will of man, and for his own personal advantage and exaltation. Thus
early had the evils, which have been the sin and the disgrace of
Christendom ever since, made their appearance. But this was overruled
for good. The Spirit of God, in great mercy, has supplied us with the
plainest directions for the darkest day of the church's history, and has
pointed out the way of truth for the worst of times; so that we are left
without excuse. Times and circumstances change, not the truth of God.
The Mistakes of
Historians in General
Some historians, it is sorrowful to
say, have not taken into account this sad mixture of evil vessels with
the good — of true Christians and false. They have not themselves been
spiritually minded men. Hence they have rather made it their chief
object to record the many unchristian and wicked ways of mere
professors. They have dwelt at great length, and with great minuteness,
on the heresies that have troubled the church, on the abuses that have
disgraced it, and on the controversies that have distracted it. Much
rather would we endeavour to trace, all down through the long dark pages
the silver line of God's grace in true Christians;
though at times the alloy so
predominates that the pure ore is scarcely perceptible.
God has never left Himself without a
witness. He has had His loved and cherished though hidden ones in all
ages and in all places. No eye but His could see the seven thousand in
Israel who had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal, in the days of
Ahab and Jezebel. And tens of thousands, we doubt not, even from the
darkest ages of Christianity, will be found at last in the "glorious
church," which Christ will present to Himself, on the long-looked-for
day of His nuptial joy. Many precious stones from the rubbish of the
"middle ages" will reflect His grace and glory on that crowning day.
Blessed thought! even now it fills the
soul with ecstasy and delight. Lord, hasten that happy day for Thine own
The truly godly are instinctively
humble. They are generally retiring, and for the most part but little
known. There is no humility so deep and real as that which the knowledge
of grace produces. Such lowly and hidden ones find but a small place on
the historic page. But the insinuating or zealous heretic, and the noisy
or visionary fanatic, are too clamorous to escape notice. Hence it is
that the historian has so carefully recorded the foolish principles and
the evil practices of such men.
We will now turn for a little, and take
a general view of the first part of our subject, namely
The Seven Churches
These seven Epistles, so far, will
guide our future studies. We believe they are not only
Doubtless they are strictly historical,
and this fact must be allowed its full weight in studying their
prophetic character. Seven churches actually existed in the seven cities
here named, and in the condition here described. But it is equally
clear, that they were intended, by Him who knows the end from the
beginning, to bear a prophetic meaning, as well as a historical
application. They were selected from amongst many, and so arranged and
described as to foreshadow what was to come. To limit their application
to the seven literal churches then in Asia would be to mar the unity of
the Apocalypse, and to lose the promised blessing. "Blessed is he that
readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy." The character
of the whole book is prophetic and symbolic. The second and third
chapters are no exception to this. They are introduced by the Lord
Himself in their mystic character. "The mystery of the seven stars which
thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The
seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven
candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches."
is characteristic. It marks a complete
circle of the thoughts or ways of God as to time. Hence the seven days
of the week — the seven feasts of Israel — the seven parables of the
kingdom of heaven in mystery. It is often used throughout this book,
which takes up Jew, Gentile, and the church of God, as responsible on
the earth. Hence we have seven churches, seven stars, seven
candlesticks, seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials or
the seven last plagues. Only in chapters 2 & 3 is the church seen as
responsible on the earth, and the object of divine government. From
chapter 4-19 she is seen in heaven. Then she appears in full manifested
glory with her Lord. "And the armies which were in heaven followed Him
upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean."
In the body of the book, especially
from chapter 6, the Jews and Gentiles come before us, and are judicially
dealt with from the throne of God in heaven. But this will not take
place till after the church — the true bride of the Lamb — is caught up
to heaven, and the merely nominal corrupt thing finally rejected.
of the book, as given by the
Lord Himself, makes the order of events quite plain, and ought to have
immense weight as a principle of interpretation in the study of the
Apocalypse. In chapter 1: 19 He gives us the contents and plan of the
whole book: "Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which
are, and the things which shall be hereafter," — or, literally, "after
these things." "The things which thou hast seen" refer to the revelation
of Jesus as seen by John in chapter 1; "the things which are," to the
time-condition of the professing body as presented in chapters 2 & 3.
"The things which shall be hereafter" are from chapter 4 to the end. The
third division begins with chapter 4. A door is opened in heaven, and
the prophet is called to come up. "Come up hither, and I will show thee
things which must be hereafter," or "after these things." It is the same
phrase in chapter 4: 1 as in chapter 1: 19. The things which are, and
the things which shall be
after these things,
cannot possibly be concurrent.
The one must end before the other begins.
When the number seven is used, not in a
literal but in a symbolic sense, it always signifies completeness. It is
evidently thus used in chapters 2 & 3. There were other churches, we
know, besides those named; but seven are selected and associated to
present a complete picture of what would afterwards be developed in the
church's history on earth. The more important moral elements which then
existed, the Lord foresaw, would reappear in course of time. Thus we
have a sevenfold or divinely perfect picture of the successive states of
the professing church during the entire period of her responsibility on
We will now take a rapid glance at the
outline of the seven churches, and give a general idea of the different
periods in history to which they apply.
Outline of the Seven
In Ephesus the Lord detects the root of all declension. "Thou hast left
thy first love." It is threatened with the
removal of the candlestick
unless there be repentance.
from the apostolic age to the close of
the second century.
The message of Ephesus is general, to Smyrna it is specific. And though
it applied at that time to the assembly there, it shadowed forth, in the
most striking way the repeated persecutions through which the church
passed under the heathen emperors. Yet God may have used the power of
the world to arrest the progress of evil in the church.
from the second century to Constantine.
Here we have the establishment of Christianity by Constantine as the
religion of the State. Instead of persecuting the Christians, he
patronized them. From that moment the downward course of the church is
rapid. Her unholy alliance with the world proved her saddest and deepest
fall. It was then that she lost the true sense of her relationship to
Christ in heaven, and of her character on earth as a pilgrim and a
Period — from the beginning of
the fourth to the seventh century, when popery was established.*
In Thyatira we have the popery of the
middle ages, Jezebel-like, practising all kinds of wickedness, and
persecuting the saints of God, under the disguise of religious zeal.
Nevertheless there was a God-fearing remnant in Thyatira;, whom the Lord
comforts with the bright hope of His coming, and with the promise of
power over the nations, when He Himself shall reign. But the word of
exhortation to the remnant is, "That which ye have already,
hold fast till I
come." Period — from the
establishment of popery to the Lord's coming. It goes on to the end, but
is characterised by the dark ages.
Here we see the Protestant part of Christendom that which followed the
great work of the Reformation. The foul features of popery disappear,
but the new system itself has no vitality. "Thou hast a name that thou
livest and art dead." But there are true saints in these lifeless
systems, and Christ knows them all. "Thou hast a few names even in
Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with
Me in white: for they are worthy."
from the eventful sixteenth century
onwards. Protestantism after the Reformation.
of Philadelphia presents a
feeble remnant, but they are faithful to the
of the Lord Jesus. That which
characterised them was keeping the word of Christ's patience, and not
denying His name. Their condition was not marked by any outward display
of power nor of anything externally great, but of close, intimate
personal communion with Himself. He is in their midst as the Holy One
and the True, and is represented as having charge of the house. He has
"the key of David." The treasures of the prophetic word are unlocked for
those inside. They are also in the sympathies of His patience, and in
the expectation of His coming. "Because thou hast kept the word of My
patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall
come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."
especially from an early part of this
century but activity on all hands is now rapidly developing the last
phases of Christendom.
*The title "Pope" was first adopted by
Hyginus in 139; and Pope Boniface III induced Phocas, Emperor of the
East, to confine it to the prelates of Rome in 606. By the connivance of
Phocas also the pope's supremacy over the Christian church was
Dictionary of Dates.
In Laodicea we have lukewarmness —
indifference — latitudinarianism; but with high pretensions, a boastful
spirit, and great self-sufficiency. This is the last state of that which
bears the name of Christ on the earth. But alas! it is intolerable to
Him. Its final doom has come. Having separated every true believer from
the corruptions of Christendom to Himself, He spues it out of His mouth.
That which ought to have been sweet to His taste has become nauseous,
and it is cast off for ever.
beginning after Philadelphia, but
especially the closing scene.
Having thus taken a general view of the
seven churches, we would now endeavour, through the Lord's help, briefly
to trace these different periods of the church's history. And we purpose
examining more fully, each of the seven Epistles as we go along, that we
may ascertain what light is shed on the different periods by these
addresses; and how far the facts of church history illustrate the
scripture history of these two chapters. May the Lord guide for the
refreshment and blessing of His own beloved ones.