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An Era of Spiritual Darkness
THE apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, foretold the great apostasy
which would result in the establishment of the papal power. He declared that the day of
Christ should 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." And furthermore, the apostle warns his brethren that
"the mystery of iniquity doth already work." 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 7. Even at
that early date he saw, creeping into the church, errors that would prepare the way for
the development of the papacy.
Little by little, at first in stealth and silence, and then more openly as it increased in
strength and gained control of the minds of men, "the mystery of iniquity"
carried forward its deceptive and blasphemous work. Almost imperceptibly the customs of
heathenism found their way into the Christian church. The spirit of compromise and
conformity was restrained for a time by the fierce persecutions which the church endured
under paganism. But as persecution ceased, and Christianity entered the courts and palaces
of kings, she laid aside the humble simplicity of Christ and His apostles for the pomp and
pride of pagan priests and rulers; and in place of the requirements of God, she
substituted human theories and traditions. The nominal conversion of Constantine,
in the early part of the fourth century, caused great rejoicing; and the world, cloaked
with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. Now the work of corruption rapidly
progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her spirit
controlled the church. Her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into
the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ.
This compromise between paganism and Christianity resulted in the development of "the
man of sin" foretold in prophecy as opposing and exalting himself above God. That
gigantic system of false religion is a masterpiece of Satan's power--a monument of his
efforts to seat himself upon the throne to rule the earth according to his will.
Satan once endeavored to form a compromise with Christ. He came to the Son of God in the
wilderness of temptation, and showing Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of
them, offered to give all into His hands if He would but acknowledge the supremacy of the
prince of darkness. Christ rebuked the presumptuous tempter and forced him to depart. But
Satan meets with greater success in presenting the same temptations to man. To secure
worldly gains and honors, the church was led to seek the favor and support of the great
men of earth; and having thus rejected Christ, she was induced to yield allegiance to the
representative of Satan --the bishop of Rome.
It is one of the leading doctrines of Romanism that the pope is the visible head of the
universal church of Christ, invested with supreme authority over bishops and pastors in
all parts of the world. More than this, the pope has been given the very titles of Deity.
He has been styled "Lord God the Pope", and has been declared infallible. He
demands the homage of all men. The same claim urged by Satan in the wilderness of
temptation is still urged by him through the Church of Rome, and vast numbers are ready to
yield him homage.
But those who fear and reverence God meet this heaven-daring assumption as Christ met the
solicitations of the wily foe: "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only
shalt thou serve." Luke 4:8. God has never given a hint in His word that He has
appointed any man to be the head of the church. The doctrine of papal supremacy is
directly opposed to the teachings of the Scriptures. The pope can have no power over
Christ's church except by usurpation.
Romanists have persisted in bringing against Protestants the charge of heresy and willful
separation from the true church. But these accusations apply rather to themselves. They
are the ones who laid down the banner of Christ and departed from "the faith which
was once delivered unto the saints." Jude 3.
Satan well knew that the Holy Scriptures would enable men to discern his deceptions and
withstand his power. It was by the word that even the Saviour of the world had resisted
his attacks. At every assault, Christ presented the shield of eternal truth, saying,
"It is written." To every suggestion of the adversary, He opposed the wisdom and
power of the word. In order for Satan to maintain his sway over men, and establish the
authority of the papal usurper, he must keep them in ignorance of the Scriptures. The
Bible would exalt God and place finite men in their true position; therefore its sacred
truths must be concealed and suppressed. This logic was adopted by the Roman Church. For
hundreds of years the circulation of the Bible was prohibited. The people were forbidden
to read it or to have it in their houses, and unprincipled priests and prelates
interpreted its teachings to sustain their pretensions. Thus the pope came to be almost
universally acknowledged as the vicegerent of God on earth, endowed with authority over
church and state.
The detector of error having been removed, Satan worked according to his will. Prophecy
had declared that the papacy was to "think to change times and laws." Daniel
work it was not slow to attempt. To afford converts from heathenism a substitute for the
worship of idols, and thus to promote their nominal acceptance of Christianity, the
adoration of images and relics was gradually introduced into the Christian worship. The
decree of a general council finally established this system of idolatry. To complete the
sacrilegious work, Rome presumed to expunge from the law of God the second commandment,
forbidding image worship, and to divide the tenth commandment, in order to preserve the
The spirit of concession to paganism opened the way for a still further disregard of
Heaven's authority. Satan, working through unconsecrated leaders of the church, tampered
with the fourth commandment also, and essayed to set aside the ancient Sabbath, the day
which God had blessed and sanctified (Genesis 2:2, 3), and in its stead to exalt the
festival observed by the heathen as "the venerable day of the sun." This change
was not at first attempted openly. In the first centuries the true Sabbath had been kept
by all Christians. They were jealous for the honor of God, and, believing that His law is
immutable, they zealously guarded the sacredness of its precepts. But with great subtlety
Satan worked through his agents to bring about his object. That the attention of the
people might be called to the Sunday, it was made a festival in honor of the resurrection
of Christ. Religious services were held upon it; yet it was regarded as a day of
recreation, the Sabbath being still sacredly observed.
To prepare the way for the work which he designed to accomplish, Satan had led the Jews,
before the advent of Christ, to load down the Sabbath with the most rigorous exactions,
making its observance a burden. Now, taking advantage of the false light in which he had
thus caused it to be regarded, he cast contempt upon it as a Jewish institution. While
Christians generally continued to observe the Sunday as a joyous festival, he led them, in
order to show their hatred of Judaism, to make the Sabbath a fast, a day of sadness and gloom.
In the early part of the fourth century the emperor Constantine issued a decree making
Sunday a public festival throughout the Roman Empire. The day of the sun was reverenced by
his pagan subjects and was honored by Christians; it was the emperor's policy to unite the
conflicting interests of heathenism and Christianity. He was urged to do this by the
bishops of the church, who, inspired by ambition and thirst for power, perceived that if
the same day was observed by both Christians and heathen, it would promote the nominal
acceptance of Christianity by pagans and thus advance the power and glory of the church.
But while many God-fearing Christians were gradually led to regard Sunday as possessing a
degree of sacredness, they still held the true Sabbath as the holy of the Lord and
observed it in obedience to the fourth commandment.
The archdeceiver had not completed his work. He was resolved to gather the Christian world
under his banner and to exercise his power through his vicegerent, the proud pontiff who
claimed to be the representative of Christ. Through half-converted pagans, ambitious
prelates, and world-loving churchmen he accomplished his purpose. Vast councils were held
from time to time, in which the dignitaries of the church were convened from all the
world. In nearly every council the Sabbath which God had instituted was pressed down a
little lower, while the Sunday was correspondingly exalted. Thus the pagan festival came
finally to be honored as a divine institution, while the Bible Sabbath was pronounced a
relic of Judaism, and its observers were declared to be accursed.
The great apostate had succeeded in exalting himself "above all that is called God,
or that is worshiped." 2 Thessalonians 2:4. He had dared to change the only precept
of the divine law that unmistakably points all mankind to the true and living God. In the
fourth commandment, God is revealed as the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and is thereby distinguished from
all false gods. It was as a memorial of the work of creation that the seventh day was
sanctified as a rest day for man. It was designed to keep the living God ever before the
minds of men as the source of being and the object of reverence and worship. Satan strives
to turn men from their allegiance to God, and from rendering obedience to His law;
therefore he directs his efforts especially against that commandment which points to God
as the Creator.
Protestants now urge that the resurrection of Christ on Sunday made it the Christian
Sabbath. But Scripture evidence is lacking. No such honor was given to the day by Christ
or His apostles. The observance of Sunday as a Christian institution had its origin in
that "mystery of lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:7, R.V.) which, even in Paul's
day, had begun its work. Where and when did the Lord adopt this child of the papacy? What
valid reason can be given for a change which the Scriptures do not sanction?
In the sixth century the papacy had become firmly established. Its seat of power was fixed
in the imperial city, and the bishop of Rome was declared to be the head over the entire
church. Paganism had given place to the papacy. The dragon had given to the beast
"his power, and his seat, and great authority." Revelation 13:2. And now began
the 1260 years of papal oppression foretold in the prophecies of Daniel and the
Revelation. Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5-7. Christians were forced to choose either to
yield their integrity and accept the papal ceremonies and worship, or to wear away their
lives in dungeons or suffer death by the rack, the fagot, or the headsman's ax. Now were
fulfilled the words of Jesus: "Ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren,
and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye
shall be hated of all men for My name's sake." Luke 21:16, 17. Persecution opened
upon the faithful with greater fury than ever before, and the world became a vast battlefield. For hundreds of years the church of Christ found
refuge in seclusion and obscurity. Thus says the prophet: "The woman fled into the
wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a
thousand two hundred and three-score days." Revelation 12:6.
The accession of the Roman Church to power marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. As her
power increased, the darkness deepened. Faith was transferred from Christ, the true
foundation, to the pope of Rome. Instead of trusting in the Son of God for forgiveness of
sins and for eternal salvation, the people looked to the pope, and to the priests and
prelates to whom he delegated authority. They were taught that the pope was their earthly
mediator and that none could approach God except through him; and, further, that he stood
in the place of God to them and was therefore to be implicitly obeyed. A deviation from
his requirements was sufficient cause for the severest punishment to be visited upon the
bodies and souls of the offenders. Thus the minds of the people were turned away from God
to fallible, erring, and cruel men, nay, more, to the prince of darkness himself, who
exercised his power through them. Sin was disguised in a garb of sanctity. When the
Scriptures are suppressed, and man comes to regard himself as supreme, we need look only
for fraud, deception, and debasing iniquity. With the elevation of human laws and
traditions was manifest the corruption that ever results from setting aside the law of
Those were days of peril for the church of Christ. The faithful standard-bearers were few
indeed. Though the truth was not left without witnesses, yet at times it seemed that error
and superstition would wholly prevail, and true religion would be banished from the earth.
The gospel was lost sight of, but the forms of religion were multiplied, and the people
were burdened with rigorous exactions.
They were taught not only to look to the pope as their mediator, but to trust to works of
their own to atone for sin. Long pilgrimages, acts of penance, the worship of relics, the
erection of churches, shrines, and altars, the payment of large sums to the church--these
and many similar acts were enjoined to appease the wrath of God or to secure His favor; as
if God were like men, to be angered at trifles, or pacified by gifts or acts of penance!
Notwithstanding that vice prevailed, even among the leaders of the Roman Church, her
influence seemed steadily to increase. About the close of the eighth century, papists put
forth the claim that in the first ages of the church the bishops of Rome had possessed the
same spiritual power which they now assumed. To establish this claim, some means must be
employed to give it a show of authority; and this was readily suggested by the father of
lies. Ancient writings were forged by monks. Decrees of councils before unheard of were
discovered, establishing the universal supremacy of the pope from the earliest times. And
a church that had rejected the truth greedily accepted these deceptions.
The few faithful builders upon the true foundation. (1 Corinthians 3:10, 11) were
perplexed and hindered as the rubbish of false doctrine obstructed the work. Like the
builders upon the wall of Jerusalem in Nehemiah's day, some were ready to say: "The
strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are
not able to build." Nehemiah 4:10. Wearied with the constant struggle against
persecution, fraud, iniquity, and every other obstacle that Satan could devise to hinder
their progress, some who had been faithful builders became disheartened; and for the sake
of peace and security for their property and their lives, they turned away from the true
foundation. Others, undaunted by the opposition of their enemies, fearlessly declared:
"Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible"
(verse 14); and they proceeded with the work, everyone with his sword girded by his side.
The same spirit of hatred and opposition to the truth has inspired the enemies of God in
every age, and the same
vigilance and fidelity have been required in His servants. The words of Christ to the
first disciples are applicable to His followers to the close of time: "What I say
unto you I say unto all, Watch." Mark 13:37.
The darkness seemed to grow more dense. Image worship became more general. Candles were
burned before images, and prayers were offered to them. The most absurd and superstitious
customs prevailed. The minds of men were so completely controlled by superstition that
reason itself seemed to have lost its sway. While priests and bishops were themselves
pleasure-loving, sensual, and corrupt, it could only be expected that the people who
looked to them for guidance would be sunken in ignorance and vice.
Another step in papal assumption was taken, when, in the eleventh century, Pope Gregory
VII proclaimed the perfection of the Roman Church. Among the propositions which he put
forth was one declaring that the church had never erred, nor would it ever err, according
to the Scriptures. But the Scripture proofs did not accompany the assertion. The proud
pontiff also claimed the power to depose emperors, and declared that no sentence which he
pronounced could be reversed by anyone, but that it was his prerogative to reverse the
decisions of all others.
A striking illustration of the tyrannical character of this advocate of infallibility was
given in his treatment of the German emperor, Henry IV. For presuming to disregard the
pope's authority, this monarch was declared to be excommunicated and dethroned. Terrified
by the desertion and threats of his own princes, who were encouraged in rebellion against
him by the papal mandate, Henry felt the necessity of making his peace with Rome. In
company with his wife and a faithful servant he crossed the Alps in midwinter, that he
might humble himself before the pope. Upon reaching the castle whither Gregory had
withdrawn, he was conducted, without his guards, into an outer court, and there, in the
severe cold of winter, with uncovered head and naked feet, and in a miserable dress, he awaited the pope's permission to come into his
presence. Not until he had continued three days fasting and making confession, did the
pontiff condescend to grant him pardon. Even then it was only upon condition that the
emperor should await the sanction of the pope before resuming the insignia or exercising
the power of royalty. And Gregory, elated with his triumph, boasted that it was his duty
to pull down the pride of kings.
How striking the contrast between the overbearing pride of this haughty pontiff and the
meekness and gentleness of Christ, who represents Himself as pleading at the door of the
heart for admittance, that He may come in to bring pardon and peace, and who taught His
disciples: "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." Matthew
The advancing centuries witnessed a constant increase of error in the doctrines put forth
from Rome. Even before the establishment of the papacy the teachings of heathen
philosophers had received attention and exerted an influence in the church. Many who
professed conversion still clung to the tenets of their pagan philosophy, and not only
continued its study themselves, but urged it upon others as a means of extending their
influence among the heathen. Serious errors were thus introduced into the Christian faith.
Prominent among these was the belief in man's natural immortality and his consciousness in
death. This doctrine laid the foundation upon which Rome established the invocation of
saints and the adoration of the Virgin Mary. From this sprang also the heresy of eternal
torment for the finally impenitent, which was early incorporated into the papal faith.
Then the way was prepared for the introduction of still another invention of paganism,
which Rome named purgatory, and employed to terrify the credulous and superstitious
multitudes. By this heresy is affirmed the existence of a place of torment, in which the
souls of such as have not merited eternal damnation are to suffer punishment for their
sins, and from which, when freed from impurity, they are admitted to heaven.
Still another fabrication was needed to enable Rome to profit by the fears and the vices
of her adherents. This was supplied by the doctrine of indulgences. Full remission of
sins, past, present, and future, and release from all the pains and penalties incurred,
were promised to all who would enlist in the pontiff's wars to extend his temporal
dominion, to punish his enemies, or to exterminate those who dared deny his spiritual
supremacy. The people were also taught that by the payment of money to the church they
might free themselves from sin, and also release the souls of their deceased friends who
were confined in the tormenting flames. By such means did Rome fill her coffers and
sustain the magnificence, luxury, and vice of the pretended representatives of Him who had
not where to lay His head.
The Scriptural ordinance of the Lord's Supper had been supplanted by the idolatrous
sacrifice of the mass. Papal priests pretended, by their senseless mummery, to convert the
simple bread and wine into the actual "body and blood of Christ."--Cardinal
Wiseman, The Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed
Eucharist, Proved From Scripture, lecture 8, sec. 3, par. 26. With blasphemous
presumption, they openly claimed the power of creating God, the Creator of all things.
Christians were required, on pain of death, to avow their faith in this horrible,
Heaven-insulting heresy. Multitudes who refused were given to the flames.
In the thirteenth century was established that most terrible of all the engines of the
papacy--the Inquisition. The prince of darkness wrought with the leaders of the papal
hierarchy. In their secret councils Satan and his angels controlled the minds of evil men,
while unseen in the midst stood an angel of God, taking the fearful record of their
iniquitous decrees and writing the history of deeds too horrible to appear to human eyes.
"Babylon the great" was "drunken with the blood of the saints." The
mangled forms of millions of martyrs cried to God for vengeance upon that apostate power.
Popery had become the world's despot. Kings and emperors bowed to the decrees of the Roman
pontiff. The destinies of men, both for time and for eternity, seemed under his control.
For hundreds of years the doctrines of Rome had been extensively and implicitly received,
its rites reverently performed, its festivals generally observed. Its clergy were honored
and liberally sustained. Never since has the Roman Church attained to greater dignity,
magnificence, or power.
But "the noon of the papacy was the midnight of the world."--J. A. Wylie, The
History of Protestantism, b. 1, ch. 4. The Holy Scriptures were almost unknown, not only
to the people, but to the priests. Like the Pharisees of old, the papal leaders hated the
light which would reveal their sins. God's law, the standard of righteousness, having been
removed, they exercised power without limit, and practiced vice without restraint. Fraud,
avarice, and profligacy prevailed. Men shrank from no crime by which they could gain
wealth or position. The palaces of popes and prelates were scenes of the vilest
debauchery. Some of the reigning pontiffs were guilty of crimes so revolting that secular
rulers endeavored to depose these dignitaries of the church as monsters too vile to be
tolerated. For centuries Europe had made no progress in learning, arts, or civilization. A
moral and intellectual paralysis had fallen upon Christendom.
The condition of the world under the Romish power presented a fearful and striking
fulfillment of the words of the prophet Hosea: "My people are destroyed for lack of
knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee: . . . seeing
thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children." "There
is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and
killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth
blood." Hosea 4:6, 1, 2. Such were the results of banishing the word of God.
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