Story of Hope

19/28

The Mystery of Iniquity

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul foretold the great apostasy that would result in the establishment of the papal power. He declared that the day of Christ would not come “unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” And furthermore, the apostle warns his fellow believers that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at 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. SH 93.2

Little by little, at first in stealth and silence and then more openly as it increased in strength and gained control of human minds, 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 held back for a time by the fierce persecutions that the church endured under paganism. But as persecution ended, 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, arrayed in robes 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. SH 93.3

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 on the throne to rule the earth according to his will. SH 94.1

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 taken to himself the very titles of Deity. SH 94.2

Satan well knew that the Holy Scriptures would enable people to discern his deceptions and withstand his power. It was by the Word that even the Savior 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 countered with the wisdom and power of the Word. In order for Satan to maintain his influence over people 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 and women in their true position. For this reason, its sacred truths must be concealed and suppressed. This logic was adopted by the Roman church. For hundreds of years it prohibited the circulation of the Bible. 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 claims. In this way the pope came to be almost universally acknowledged as the vicegerent of God on earth, endowed with supreme authority over church and state. SH 94.3

Times and Laws Changed—The detector of error having been removed, Satan worked according to his will. Prophecy had declared that the Papacy was to “intend to change times and law.” Daniel 7:25. This work it was not slow to attempt. To offer converts from heathenism a substitute for the worship of idols, and so 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, which forbids image worship, and to divide the tenth commandment, in order to preserve the number. SH 95.1

The spirit of concession to paganism opened the way for a still further disregard of Heaven’s authority. Satan tampered with the fourth commandment also, and purposed to set aside the ancient Sabbath, the day that God had blessed and sanctified, and in its place 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 all Christians had kept the true Sabbath. They were jealous for the honor of God, and, believing that His law is unchangeable, they zealously guarded the sacredness of its precepts. But Satan worked very subtly through his agents to bring about his objective. To call the attention of the people to the Sunday, it was made a festival in honor of the resurrection of Christ. Religious services were held on it, yet it was regarded as a day of recreation, and the Sabbath was still being sacredly observed. SH 95.2

While he was still a heathen, Constantine issued a decree requiring the general observance of Sunday as a public festival throughout the Roman Empire. After his conversion he remained a staunch advocate of Sunday, and he then enforced his pagan edict in the interests of his new faith. But the honor shown this day was not as yet sufficient to prevent Christians from regarding the true Sabbath as the holy of the Lord. Another step must be taken: the false sabbath must be exalted to be equal with the true. A few years after Constantine issued his decree, the Bishop of Rome conferred on the Sunday the title of Lord’s day. In this way the people were gradually led to regard it as having a degree of sacredness. Still the original Sabbath was kept. SH 95.3

The arch-deceiver had not completed his work. He was determined 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. From time to time vast councils were held, in which the dignitaries of the church convened from all the world. In nearly every council the Sabbath that God had instituted was pressed down a little lower, while the Sunday was correspondingly exalted. This is how 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. SH 96.1

The great apostate had succeeded in exalting himself “above ail 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, which distinguishes Him 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 always before human minds as the source of everything and the object of reverence and worship. Satan tries to turn people from their allegiance to God and from obedience to His law. Therefore he directs his efforts especially against the one commandment that points to God as the Creator. SH 96.2

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 has its origin in that “mystery of lawlessness” which had begun its work even in Pauls day. Where and when did the Lord adopt this child of the Papacy? What valid reason can be given for a change on which the Scriptures are silent? SH 97.1

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, his throne, and great authority.” Revelation 13:2. And now began the 1260 years of papal oppression foretold in the prophecies of Daniel and John. (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 dungeon cells, or suffer death by the rack, the flame, or the headsman’s ax. Now were fulfilled the words of Jesus, “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” Luke 21:16, 17. Persecution against the faithful began 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. The prophet said, “Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” Revelation 12:6. SH 97.2

The Dark Ages—The rise 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 mediator, and that none could approach God except through him, and further, that he stood in the place of God to them, and therefore must be obeyed implicitly. A deviation from his requirements was reason enough for the severest punishment to be inflicted on the bodies and souls of the offenders. SH 97.3

So the minds of the people were turned away from God to fallible, erring, and cruel men—and more than that, 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 human beings come to regard themselves as supreme, we need expect only fraud, deception, and debasing iniquity. Along with the elevation of human laws and traditions came the rcorruption that always results from setting aside the law of God. SH 98.1

Days of Peril—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 have total victory, and true religion would be banished from the earth. The church lost sight of the gospel, but the forms of religion were multiplied, and the people were burdened with rigorous requirements. SH 98.2

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 commanded in order to appease the wrath of God or to secure his favor, as if God were like human beings, to be angered at trifles, or pacified by gifts or acts of penance! SH 98.3

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 principles 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. This introduced serious errors 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 on which Rome established praying to the saints and the adoration of the virgin Mary. From this sprung also the heresy of eternal torment for those who die without repenting, which was early incorporated into the papal faith. SH 98.4

These things prepared the way for introducing still another invention of paganism, which Rome named purgatory, and employed it to terrify the gullible and superstitious multitudes. This heresy affirmed the existence of a place of torment in which the souls of those who have not earned eternal damnation are to suffer punishment for their sins, and from which, after being freed from impurity, they are admitted to heaven. SH 99.1

Still another fabrication was needed to enable Rome to profit by the fears and the vices of her adherents. The doctrine of indulgences met this need. Full forgiveness of sins—past, present, and future—and release from all the pains and penalties incurred were promised to all who would enlist in the pontiffs 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 kept in the tormenting flames. By such means Rome filled her coffers and sustained the magnificence, luxury, and vice of the pretended representatives of Him who had nowhere to lay His head. SH 99.2

The Scriptural ordinance of the Lord’s supper had been displaced by the idolatrous sacrifice of the mass. Priests pretended to convert the simple bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ. With blasphemous presumption they openly claimed the power to “create their Creator.” On pain of death, all Christians were required to avow their faith in this horrible, Heaven-insulting heresy. Those who refused were given to the flames. SH 99.3

The noontide of the Papacy was the worlds moral midnight. The Holy Scriptures were almost unknown, not only to the people, but to the priests. Like the Pharisees of old, the church leaders hated the light that would reveal their sins. Having removed God’s law, the standard of righteousness, they exercised power without limit and practiced vice without restraint. Fraud, greed, and immorality prevailed. People 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 tried to depose these dignitaries of the church as monsters too vile to be tolerated on the throne. For centuries there was no progress in learning, arts, or civilization. A moral and intellectual paralysis had fallen on Christendom. SH 100.1