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a pledge of the resurrection of the dead, the incarnation of the Deity, were certainly unnecessary.
So the Ebionites thought, and their system was but the error of the pharisaical heresy, which Paul had termed «
and beggarly elements,” grown to its full form'. They were of the circumcision, and held justification by the works of the law. They accordingly rejected the epistles of St. Paul, and deemed him an apostate from the law and the prophets.
The Docetæ, or Gnostics, to whom, it is said, belonged Simon Magus, Menander, Cerinthus, and others, were a very numerous and extensive sect, and branched out afterwards into a variety of ramifications. They were called Gnostics, or “men of knowledge," from their arrogating to themselves alone the true knowledge of God and spiritual things. They had embraced a system, that had been invented among the philosophers of the East, a leading principle of which was, that all matter the worlds and human bodies — was essentially evil; not the workmanship of the true God, but the creation of an evil spirit, who with his genii ruled over it. The Gnostics, who professed themselves Christians, wickedly confounded this evil architect of the universe, with the God of the Old Testament. Christ they considered as an emanation from the supreme God, and they had. endless genealogies' about the emanations from the Deity; but they abhorred the idea that he had really taken a material body upon him, all matter with them being intrinsically evil. They taught that Christ was come to destroy the dominion of the god and maker of this world, not by becoming a sacrifice for sins, and a regenerating principle for the purifying and redemption both of soul and body, but, by the instructions of a new discipline, to free, through their own exertions, the immaterial spirits of men from that bondage to which they were subjected in consequence of their union with material bodies, and thus to raise them to the knowledge and contemplation of the true God. The doctrine of a resurrection of the body they of course denied, or explained away; and all their religion consisted in abstinence and self-mortification, and the affected abstraction of the mind from all material things; since, according to their notions of the origin of our corporeal frames, to obey any instinct of nature, or to indulge in any sort of bodily gratification, was contrary to reason, and criminal. Hence, the
1 Ebionite is derived from a term which signifies . poor, beggarly.' · Eusebius.
generality of them were a set of very austere and gloomy mystics, commanding indeed the admiration of the ignorant, by their apparent self-denial, their mortified habits, and most sanctimonious demeanour; but utter strangers to the sanctifying influences of the Spirit of Christ.
Such were the generality of these heretical teachers, and to such St. Paul alludes in several places. But others of them had drawn different conclusions from the same premises ; they inferred that the immaterial spirit in man could not be defiled by the deeds of the body, nor was it amenable for its actions ; and accordingly they felt themselves warranted to indulge in every species of libidinous excess. Thus, on the one hand, the true holiness of the Christian, and the mortification of sinful affections, enjoined in the Gospel discipline, became opposed by a counterfeit of much louder pretensions — for even perfection was believed to be attainable ; and, on the other hand, the liberty of the Gospel might be confounded with this “ cloak of maliciousness," and interpreted as affording “ an occasion to the flesh.”,
Respecting both these classes of Gnostics - men of knowledge falsely so called,”—both the mystic perfectionist, and the Gnostic antinomian, - many precepts in this first epistle of St. John are delivered. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin" “ If we say that we have no sin, we deceiye ourselves, and the truth is not in us If we say that we have not sinned, we make” God
—“ He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk as he walked ”—“ He that saith I know, him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him”—“ He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” It was with respect to these antinomian seducers, who were, on principle, avowed apos logists for sin, that Șt. John uses that remarkable language, -in other circumstances inapplicable to frail man,—“ Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not; whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, neither known him”—“ Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God,” &c. &c.
These things the apostle “ wrote concerning those that would seduce them.” He tells them that " it is the last time; and as ye
have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; thereby we know that it is the last time.”
i See Mosheim de Rebus Christianorum.
St. John means, it is the last period of the dispensation of the Gospel : Christ's second coming was to be preceded by that notorious person, the “ man of sin,” that wicked one,'
,"—the great opposer or supplanter of Christ -- and there were already many that answered to that description. This would soon lead to that state of the church, which would only give place to the coming of Christ. St. John says of these false teachers,
They went out from us, but they were not of us : for if they had been of us, they doubtless would have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." He does not hesitate also to say to the real Christian brethren, “ But ye have an unction of the Holy One, and ye know all things”—“ ye know that no lie is of the truth.” All, therefore, who were sealed by the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, would be safe from these delusions.
The book of the Revelation, which closes the sacred volume, though filled chiefly with prophecies of the future, contains an important document for completing the history of the church in the apostolic times, as it exhibits a view of the state of religion at that time in seven of the Asiatic churches, and of the members of these churches, as societies or bodies politic ; the public character of the society is also given, and in many respects with strong expressions of disapprobation.
From a perusal of this part of the sacred writings, we perceive how varied was the face of religion, in seven of the primitive churches, at the close of the apostolic age, as exposed to the scrutiny of the Divine inspection. Individual churches, as to their associate character, differed much from each other, in their degrees of purity and spirituality. None were absolutely “ fallen from grace,” - the profession of its doctrine; they were still candlesticks in the sanctuary, and their ministers stars in the right hand of the Saviour ; but the causes which might operate to their rejection, were pointed out in several of them. In the worst of them, however, a faithful few were found, whom the Lord knew how to preserve in the midst of a corrupted society; but not the least intimation is given, that they were free from their religious allegiance to their respective churches and pastors, or that they might form themselves into new and purer societies. Such a procedure, unless where foundations are cast down, can certainly plead no scriptural warrant.
Two institutions of the church, referred to apostolic times by the general voice of antiquity, seem to be confirmed in their claims to this high authority, by what we find in this part of the Revelation :—the consecration of the first day of the week as the Christian sabbath—and the appointment, in individual churches, of an order of pastors superior to presbyters. St. John calls the day on which he saw the heavenly vision, “the Lord's day.” And each of the epistles to the seven churches is addressed, not to the presbyters, nor to the presbyters and the people, but to an individual -" to the angel of the church," &c. And these angels, or messengers of God, are considered, in some sort, as the representatives of their respective churches, and are symbolically distinguished as “stars in the right hand of Christ.” This, when compared with what is said respecting “James and the presbytery,' in the church of Jerusalem, and with the tradition and uniform practice of the universal church in all ages, certainly establishes on very high grounds, the claims of the episcopal office, as it is now termed, to be of apostolic origin.
We cannot, indeed, define from Scripture, the prerogatives and legal rights of this high office, any more than we can ascertain with what solemnities and degree of sanctity the holy rest of the Christian sabbath was observed in the apostles' time; but the existence of the two institutions, bearing some analogy to what they were known to be in subsequent ages, may fairly be inferred.
To conclude the history of the apostolic age, and of the first century. Very nearly with its close, St. John is thought to have finished his protracted life and ministry. As in the book of Joshua we read, “ Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord that he had done for Israel,” implying, that soon after that, their corruptions began to take place; so, Hegesippus remarks, “ Unto those times”. about the year one hundred and ten “ the church of God remained a pure and uncorrupted virgin : for such as endeavoured to corrupt the perfect rule, and sound preaching of the word if then there were any such - hid themselves until that time in some secret and obscure place; but after that the sacred company of the apostles was worn out and come to an end, and that generation was entirely spent, which by special favour had heard with their ears the heavenly wisdom of the Son of God, then the conspiracy of detestable error, through deceit of such as deli
· Eusebius, when describing the Ebionites, says, that, at the same time they observed the Jewish sabbath, they celebrated Sunday, in memory of our Lord's resurrection, like the church. — E. H. lib. iii. xxiv.
vered strange doctrine, took root. And because not one of the apostles survived, they published boldly, as far as they could, the doctrine of falsehood, and impugned the open, manifest, and known truth 1."
The words of this author are thought to apply particularly to the church of Jerusalem ; but they may serve as a warning as to what we have to expect in the history of the visible church universal, soon after this period, though with different degrees of progress in different communities.
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH UNDER THE MINISTRY OF THE
APOSTOLIC FATHERS, AND THEIR SURVIVERS AND IM-
The Church of Christ, whose rise we have seen in the last chapter, was now become a very widely extended body; and those who sowed the good seed, were gone forth into all nations. • The field was” now the world;" in every part the good seed was sown; and every where, as we shall soon have occasion to lament, tares that an enemy had sown, sprang up with it.
The situation of the civilised parts of the earth was, at this time, very favourable for the planting of a universal church. The Roman arms had nearly subdued all the principal nations, and had formed them into one great state. From the remotest parts of the empire public roads had been opened, and an easy intercourse established between the sovereign city and all her dependent provinces. The world had never before presented such a scene in the history of mankind ; and we cannot but see the overruling hand of a Divine Providence in this, “ who hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation ?."
The times of ignorance had been long. God had suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, but he now “ visited them to take out of them a people for his name ;” and accordingly a command had been issued from his throne, that "all men every
| Eusebius, iii. 29.
? Acts, xvii.