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



Chapter 3


6. Philadelphian State




ln the apostolical state of the christian community the faith, hope, and love of the brethren was conspicuous and strong. But after the One Body had passed through the Ephesian, Smyrnean, Pergamian, Thyatiran, and Sardian, states, it was greatly enfeebled in all its primitive forces; so that when it was fairly established in the Philadelphian, its brightest examples, who had kept the word and had not denied the name of the Spirit, constituted but "a little strength" for the whole. This "little strength" was the succession of the "few names" of the Sardian state which had not defiled their garments -- the few grains of salt that preserved the body from utter, or Laodicean, corruption.

"An open door" was set before those who constituted this little strength of the christian community, which "no man could shut." The emperor Valerian, who for the first three years of his reign, had been the friend and protector of christians, in the year 257, became their enemy. A magician, named Macrianus, a man of diabolical wickedness and folly, having gained an ascendancy over the mind of Valerian, induced him to persecute them with deadly animosity. The persecution lasted three years and a half, when Valerian was taken prisoner by Sapor king of Persia, who detained him the rest of his life, and made use of his neck in mounting his horse; and at last commanded him to be flayed and salted.

After Valerian's captivity a door was opened to the christian community, through which entered rest and peace, which continued forty years. About the year 262, Valerian was succeeded by his son Gallienus, who proved a sincere friend to the christians, though in other respects, an emperor of no repute. By edicts he stopped the persecution, and gave the bishops letters of license to return to their pastorates. One of these letters, as preserved by Eusebius, runs thus:

"The emperor Caesar Gallienus to Dionysius the bishop of Alexandria, and to Pinna and Demetrius, with the rest of the bishops. The benefit of our favour we command to be published through the world; and I have, therefore ordered every one to withdraw from such places as were devoted to religious uses; so that you may make use of the authority of my edict against any molestation; for I have sometime since, granted you my protection; wherefore Cyrenius the governor of the province will observe the rescript which I have sent." He directed also another edict to certain bishops, by which he restored to them the places in which they buried their dead.

Thus the Spirit set an open door before the little strength, which no man in power could shut for forty years. Gallienus, the instrument in the hand of Providence through which this opening was effected, seems to have been more like a modern than an ancient sovereign -- a man of taste, indolence, and philosophy -- disposed to cherish everything that looked like knowledge and liberty of thinking; by no means so kind and generous in his constant practice as his profession might seem to promise; he was the slave of his passions, and led away by every sudden feeling that seized his imagination. The christians appear to have been considered by him as a sect of new philosophers; and as he judged it improper to persecute philosophers of any sort, they found a complete toleration under a prince, whose conscience seems to have been influenced by no religious attachment whatever.

We now behold in the full development of the Philadelphian state, a new scene -- Christians legally tolerated under a pagan government for forty years! How they must by this time have approximated in their principles to those of the tolerating power. The tolerance of Gallienus was adopted as the policy of the succeeding emperors to the end of the third century. It was violated only in one instance; the effect of which was presently dissipated by the Spirit who could not permit the door to be shut. The moral influence of this long peace was, however, exceedingly disastrous. "This new scene," says Milner, "did not prove favourable to the growth of grace and holiness. In no period since the apostles was there ever so great a general decay as this; not even in particular instances, can we discover during this interval, much of lively christianity" -- so very small was the "little strength."

The profession of christianity was now becoming fashionable. Diocletian began to reign A.D. 284. For the space of eighteen years he was extremely indulgent to its professors. His wife Prisca, and his daughter Valeria were in some sense christians secretly. The eunuchs of his palace and his most important officers were also "christians;" and their wives and families openly professed the faith. Christians, so-called, held honorable offices in various parts of the empire; innumerable crowds attended christian worship; the old buildings could no longer receive them; and in all cities wide and large edifices were erected. [Ref Eusebius Book VIII. Ch. 1.]

If Christ's kingdom were "the church," and had been of the pre-Constantinian ages; and if its strength and beauty were to be measured by secular prosperity, the era of its greatness might be fixed in these earlier ages of Diocletian. But, on the contrary, it was pre-eminently an era of great declension. During the whole of this third century the work of faith in purity and power, had been in rapid decay. The connexion with philosophers was one of the principal causes; outward peace and secular advantages completed the corruption. Discipline was now relaxed exceedingly; bishops and people were in a state of malice; endless quarrels were fomented among contending parties; and ambition and covetousness had, in general, gained the ascendancy in the christian body. Some there doubtless were who mourned in secret, and strove in vain to stop the abounding torrent of the evil. They were the "little strength, who kept the word, and denied not the Spirit's name;" but with this exception, all the rest called "christian" were "of the Synagogue of the Satan who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie." The hour of temptation was concurrent with this period of forty years; a trial, from which the generation of believers in Philadelphia contemporary with John, were kept; as well as this "little strength" coeval with the embryo formation of the Laodicean consummation of the Apostasy. For the space of thirty years there was an extreme dearth of real christian excellencies. No bishop or pastor eminent for intelligence, faith, zeal, and labor, appears in the history of the times. But notwithstanding this decline of zeal and principle, still christian worship was constantly attended; and the number of nominal converts was increasing; but the faith of Christ itself was now an ordinary business.

Eusebius, the ecclesiastical historian, who was born about the year 259, flourished in the transition of the Philadelphian into the Laodicean state, in which last he died, A.D. 340. He was the most learned of all the christians, whose learning and philosophy were inimical to the simplicity which is in Christ. Plato and Origen were the masters in the school of his divinity.

In this Philadelphian state, which merged into the Laodicean fully developed at the opening of the Seventh Seal, "TERMINATED, or nearly so, as far as appears, that great first effusion of the "Spirit of God which began at the day of Pentecost. Human depravity effected throughout a general decay of godliness; and one generation of men elapsed," says Milner, "with very slender proofs of the spiritual presence of Christ with his Church."

Eusebius confesses this declension in the following words: -- "The heavy hand of God's judgments began softly, by little and little to visit us after his wonted manner. The persecution which was raised against us, took place first among the christians who were in military service; but we were not at all moved with his hand, nor took any pains to return to God. We heaped sin upon sin, judging, like careless Epicureans, that God cared not for our sins, nor would ever visit us on account of them. And our pretended shepherds, laying aside the rule of godliness, practised among themselves contention and division." He goes on to observe, that "the dreadful persecution of Diocletian was then inflicted on the church (A.D. 303-13), as a just punishment, and as the most proper chastisement for their iniquities." This persecution will be treated of in illustration of the Fifth Seal.




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