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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 3


5. Sardian State.



The state of things deplored by Cyprian was that which resulted in the Sardian, characterized by the Spirit as a death-state. By the generation of professors contemporary with it, it was not so considered. Peace and prosperity reigned, as they regarded it; and they flattered themselves that they were in the enjoyment of great spiritual life "thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." The Deity did not see as they saw themselves. He pronounced them dead. That is, christianity was on the verge of extinction; or, as the Spirit explains in the next verse, "ready to die." Very little of genuine apostolic christianity could be found among the christians in the last half of the third century. The Platonism of the Alexandrian school had corrupted every thing, and eaten out its vitals as a cancer; so that the christian maid was prepared for any absurdities and follies in the name of true religion, as in our day.

Valerian reigned A.D. 253, and for upwards of three years was the friend and protector of the christians. His palace was full of them, and he appears to have had a strong predilection in their favour, which was not at all promotive of spiritual health and vitality.

During the tranquillity under this reign, a council was held in Africa by sixty six bishops with Cyprian at their head. They came together to consider certain questions in agitation. In a letter to Fidus, Cyprian informs the reader of things which will convince him how far they had now departed from the genius, spirit, and principles of the faith. Fidus had denied that infants should be immersed within the second or third day after birth; and maintained that the ancient law of circumcision should be so far adhered to that they ought not to be immersed till the eighth day. But Cyprian and the Sixty Six were all of a very different opinion. He calls infant immersion "spiritual circumcision; and says it ought not to be impeded by the law of carnal circumcision for that it was essential to the salvation of the soul, which would be lost if death ensued before the second or third day. The following is his argument, upon which the "divines" of our century have made no advance. "If even to the foulest offenders," says he, "when they afterwards believe, remission of sins is granted, and none is prohibited from baptism and grace; how much more should an infant be admitted, who, just born, hath not sinned in any respect, except that, being carnally produced according to Adam, he hath, in his first birth, contracted the contagion of the ancient deadly nature; and who obtains the remission of sins with the less difficulty, because not his own actual guilt, but that of another, is to be remitted.

"Our sentence, therefore, dearest brother, in the council was, that none, by us, should be prohibited from immersion and the grace of God, who is merciful and kind to all."

In these few lines from Cyprian, there is a striking illustration of the Sardian state of spiritual death. We learn from them that the leaders of the ecclesias believed, and therefore taught,

1. The immortality of the soul according to Plato;

2.That said soul, if but two or three days old, would be lost, if the infant owner were not immersed;

3. That immersion and grace, without faith, imparted remission of sins to infants;

4. That infants were damned for a sin committed by Adam over four thousand years before;

5. That immersion and grace in the case of infants was not for the remission of their own sins, but for that of another -- of Adam.

Hence, Adam must have been pardoned every time an infant was dipped and regenerated by "grace!"

6. That infant immersion was "spiritual circumcision."

Such were the dogmata gravely affirmed by this African Council, A.D. 253, all its members pious professors of christianity, who had recently emerged from the horrors of the Decian trial. "They had a name to live." We know what this means when we look at the clergy around us, and their dupes on every side. All these believe with Cyprian and the Sixty Six, excepting that they think the Roman Africans used too much water. Our Cyprianites have substituted the sprinkling of the face for the immersion of the infants, in obedience to the See of Rome, on the plea that a few drops of water with "grace" is as good as an ocean; and so it is in the case before us; for water, much or little, is of no account at all, for infant or adult, where faith exists not in the subject; as it is written, "without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that cometh to him must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

"They had a name to live," and are thus spoken of by a Cyprianite historian. "Here is an assembly of sixty six pastors, men of approved fidelity and gravity, who have stood the fiery trial of some of the severest persecutions ever known, and who have testified their love to the Lord Jesus Christ, in a more striking manner than any Antipedobaptists have had an opportunity of doing in our day; and, if we may judge of their religious views by those of Cyprian -- and they are all in perfect harmony with him -- they are not wanting in any fundamental of godliness." Thus Milner commends them, and pronounces them christians of a holy and vital sort, But the Spirit gives a very different judgment in the case; and saith to the presbytery of the Sardian state, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. I have not found thy works perfect before the Deity. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent." In A.D. 253, they had let slip the gospel originally preached by the apostles. The majority of professors, as in our day, had become oblivious of the truth; and only "a few names" in the Sardian state remained "who had not defiled their garments" with Origenism and Cyprianism.

Another dogma started about this time was, that "those whose weak state of health did not permit them to be washed in water, were yet sufficiently baptized by being sprinkled." Cyprian observes, that "the virtue of baptism ought not to be estimated, in a carnal manner, by the quantity of external apparatus." All "christendom," now called "orthodox," is essentially agreed with Cyprian; for even baptists admit the christianity of Quakers who repudiate the use of water altogether.

Dionysius of Alexandria, a pupil of Origen, flourished at this time. He opposed the truth that the Millennium is introduced after the resurrection; and finding how much use had been made of the Apocalypse in supporting the doctrine, he gave his thoughts upon it, and confessed, that though he reverenced its contents, he did not understand their scope.

Paul of Samosata was another Sardian. He flourished A.D. 264, as bishop of Antioch, and instructor of Zenobia, the Queen of the East, in his own notions of christianity. He taught that Jesus Christ was by nature a common man like others. He was artful, eloquent, deceitful, and otherwise immoral. He was deposed A.D. 269 by a council of seventy bishops whose indictment against him argues an awful degeneracy from the truth in this primitive arena of the labors of Saul of Tarsus and his companions in the gospel.

By this time Monkery, introduced by Paul the first hermit, received considerable impetus through Anthony the Egyptian. The spirit of Paul the Hermit was first incorporated by Anthony A.D. 270, whose biography was written by Athanasius, who was contemporary with monasticism in full blast. Anthony's austerities were excessive, and the most ridiculous stories are told of his contests with the Devil, which forcibly illustrate the self-righteous pride and vain-glory of his disposition. But, as we are not writing a history of monkery, but only citing examples illustrative of the "falling away" in the successive stages of its development to the revelation of the Man of Sin-Power, we shall leave this celebrated monk busily engaged in the Sardian state of Christendom propagating the monastic disposition, and extending its influence not only into the fourth century, but for many ages after. We therefore dismiss him with the remark, that "the faith and love of the gospel received towards the close of this century a fatal blow from the encouragement of this unchristian practice."



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