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wardly avow a belief of this doctrine: there the solicitations of pleasure, choke the word are pretenders who, while they profess to which they seem to receive, so that it brings believe in God, in works they deny him. forth no fruit to perfection : a part, however, But it has been so from the beginning The (usually the smallest part,) who are compared miscarriages of such persons are charged to the good ground, are disposed and enindiscriminately upon the societies among abled, by divine grace, to receive it thankwhom they are mixed, and upon the truths fully, as life from the dead. And though which they seem to approve; but there is a they meet with many difficulties, and, like righteous God, who in due time will vindi- the corn upon the ground, pass through a cate his own gospel, and his own people from succession of trying and changing seasons, all aspersions. St. Paul observed such things yet, having the love, promise, and power of in his day, and he spoke of them likewise, but God engaged in their behalf, in defiance of he spoke of them weeping. The true state frosts, and blasts, and storms, they are brought of the mind may be determined from the to maturity, and, when fully ripe, are safely temper with which the miscarriages of pro- gathered into his garner, Matth. 11. 12. This fessors are observed. The profane expatiate is an epitome of the ecclesiastical history of on them with delight, the self-righteous with every nation, and of every parish, to which disdain; but they who know themselves, and this word of salvation is sent. love the Lord, cannot speak of them without But the parable of the tares (Matth. xiii. the sincerest emotions of grief: they are con- 12,) teaches us farther to expect, that besides cerned for the honour of the gospel, which the general influence which Satan, as the God is defamed under this pretence; they are of this world, will exert to blind the eyes
of grieved for the unhappy and dangerous state mankind, lest the light of the glorious gospel of those by whom such offences come, and should shine upon them (2 Cor. iv. 4,) he they fear for themselves, lest the enemy will take occasion, from the knowledge of the should gain an advantage over them like truth, to insinuate a variety of errors. His wise, for they know they have no strength first attempts in this way are often so specious nor goodness of their own; therefore, avoid- and unsuspected, that they are compared to ing unnecessary reflections on others, they a man's sowing seed by stealth, and in the endeavour to maintain a watchful jealousy night, but, as the corn grew, a large crop of over themselves, and to fix their hearts and tares springing up with it, demonstrated that hopes upon Christ Jesus their
rd, who, an enemy had been there. This, in fact, has they are persuaded, is able to keep them been universally the case, in every country from falling, to save them to the uttermost, and age where the gospel has been received; and at length to present them faultless before and we may remark, that the sowing the the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy. good seed was the occasion of the tares being
cast into the same ground. When a people are involved in gross darkness and ignorance,
sleeping in a false peace, and buried in the CHAPTER IV.
pleasures and pursuits of the world, they have
neither leisure, nor inclination, to invent or Of the heresies propagated by false teachers attend to novelties in religion; each one is in the apostles' days.
satisfied with that form (if even the form of
godliness is retained,) which he has received The parables in the 13th chapter of St. from his parents, and neither pretends nor Matthew are prophetical of the reception and desires to be wiser than those who went before event of the gospel in succeeding ages. In him: but when the truth has shone forth and this view our Lord himself has explained been received, and seems to bid fair for farthem. Wherever it is preached, the hearers ther success, Satan employs all his power may be classed according to the distribution and subtlety, either to suppress or counterfeit in the parable of the sower: some hear with it, or both. "Much has been done in the former out understanding or reflection; in some it way; he has prevailed so far as to enkindle excites a hasty emotion in the natural affec- the fiercest animosities against the nearest tions, and produces an observable and sudden relatives, and persuaded men that they might change in their conduct, resembling the ef- do acceptable service to God, by punishing fects of a real conversion to God; but the his faithful servants with torture, fire, and truth not being rooted in the heart, nor the sword (John xvi. 2:) and no less industrious soul united to Christ by a living faith, these and successful has he been in practising hopeful appearances are sooner or later blast- upon the passions and prejudices of mankind ed, and come to nothing: others are really to admit and propagate, instead of the gospel convinced in their judgment of the truth and of Christ, and under that name, an endless importance of what they hear, but their hearts diversity of opinions, utterly incompatible cleave to the dust, and the love of this world, with it. Of these some are ingenious and the care of what they have, the desire of artful, adapted to gratify the pride of those what they have not, the calls of business, or who are wise in their own conceits; others
more gross and extravagant, suited to inflame against the light of truth and fact, they lathe imaginations, or to gratify the appetites boured to persuade the world, that these of such persons as have not a turn for specu- were the necessary consequences of Luther's lation and refinement.
doctrine; and that no better issue could be As these appearances have always accom-justly hoped for when men presumed to de. panied the gospel, so they have always been part from the authorised standards of popes a stumbling-block and offence to the world, and councils, and to read and examine the and bave furnished those who hated the light scriptures for themselves. with a pretext for rejecting it: and the doc This religious madness, was, however, of trines of truth have been charged as the no long duration : the people who held tenets 'source and cause of those errors which have inconsistent with the peace of society, were only sprung from their abuse and perver-deservedly treated as rebels and incendiaries sion. When Popery, for a series of ages, de- by the governing powers; the ring leaders tained mankind in darkness and bondage, were punished, and the multitudes dispersed; and deprived them of the knowledge of the their most obnoxious errors were gradually holy scriptures, the tide of error ran uni- abandoned, and are now in a manner forgot. formly in one great channel; when dead | After the peace of Passau, the Reformation works were substituted in the place of living acquired an establishment in Germany, and faith; and the worship and trust which is other places; and since that time error has only due to Jesus the great Mediator, was assumed a milder form, and has been supblasphemously directed to subordinate inter- ported by softer methods, and more respectacessors, to angels and to saints, whether real ble names. or pretended; when forgiveness of sin was In our own country, the same spirit of expected, not by the blood of Christ, but by enthusiasm and disorder has appeared at difpenances, pilgrimages, masses, and human ferent times, though it has been restrained absolutions, by the repetition of many prayers, by the providence of God, from proceeding or the payment of sums of money; while to the same extremities, and has been most things continued thus, the world was gene- notorious, when, or soon after, the power of rally in that state of stupidity and blind se- gospel-truth has been more eminently recurity which is miscalled religious peace vived; for, as I have already observed, when and uniformity; and the controversies of the religion is upon the decline, and only so much times were chiefly confined to those points of a profession retained as is consistent with which immediately affected the power, wealth, the love of the present world, and a conforor pre-eminence of the several religious or- mity to the maxims and practices of the many, ders by whom the people were implicitly we seldom hear of any errors prevailing, but led. Some differences of opinion were indeed such as will find a favourable toleration, and known; but the charge of heresy and dange- may be avowed without exciting very strong rous innovations was seldom so Auch as pre- and general expressions of contempt and illtended against any, but the few who refused will against those who maintain them. But to wear the mark of the beast upon their whenever real religion, as a life of faith in the right hands and foreheads, and who, by the Son of God, is set forth upon the principles of mercy of God, retained and professed the scripture, and, by the operation of the Holy main truths of christianity in some degree of Spirit, witnesses are raised up, who by their power and purity. But when it pleased God conduct demonstrate that they are crucified to revive the knowledge of the gospel, by with Christ, to the law, to sin, and to the the ministry of Luther and his associates, and world, then is the time for Satan to discredit many were turned from darkness to light, this work, by imposing a variety of false the enemy of mankind presently changed views and appearances upon the minds of the his methods, and, by his influence, the sow- ignorant and unwary; and he is seldom at it ing of the good seed was followed by tares loss for fit instruments to promote his designs. in abundance. In the course of a few years, Since the late revival of the Reformation the glory of the Reformation was darkened, doctrines amongst us, we have perhaps fewer and its progress obstructed, by the enthusiasm things of this kind to apologize for, than have and infatuation of men, who, under a pre- been observable on any similar occasion; and tence of improving upon Luther's plan, pro- the best apology we can offer for what has pagated the wildest, most extravagant, and been really blameable, is, to show that it was blasphemous opinions, and perpetrated, under even thus in the apostles' days; and that, it the mask of religion, such acts of cruelty, any arguments taken from these blemishes villany, and licentiousness, as have been sel are conclusive against what some choose to dom heard of in the world. The papists call the novel doctrines now, they would, beheld these excesses with pleasure: many with equal reason, conciude against the vaof them could not but know that Luther, and lidity of the New Testament. the heads of the Reformation, did all that And not to confine myself to such things could be expected from them, to show the as the world is most prone to except against, folly and iniquity of such proceedings; but, | I shall endeavour to show, that the seeds of
ail errors and heresies, the fashionable as well this point are fundamental, dangerous, and as those which are more generally despised, if persisted in, destructive; for as such a were sown in the first age, and appeared so knowledge of God as is connected with his carly as to give occasion for the apostles' favour and communion is eternal life, so none censures against them. I do not mean by can come to the Father but by the Son (John this to parallel every name and every singu- xvii. 3; and xiv. 6,) nor can any know him, larity that a subtle head or a warm imagina- but those to whom the Son will reveal him, tion may have started, but to assign, in Matth. xi. 27. On this account Satan's great general, the principles to which all these de- endeavour (and on his success herein the lusions may be reduced, the sources to which strength of his kingdom depends) is to darkthese inebriating and dangerous streams may en and pervert the minds of men, lest they be traced : for, indeed, the operations of the should acknowledge and understand what the human mind seem to be much more simple scriptures declare of his person, character, and limited than we are ordinarily aware. and offices, as well knowing, that if these As there can be no new truths, though every are set aside, whatever else is left of religion truth appears new to us which we have not will be utterly unavailing. Jesus Christ is known before, so it is probable, that there revealed in the scriptures, and was preached can be now no new errors; at least it is cer- by his first disciples, as God manifest in the tain, that a competent knowledge of anti- fesh, a divine person in the human nature, quity, or even a careful perusal of the apos- who, by submitting to ignominy, pain, and tles' writinys, will furnish sufficient evidence, death, made a full and proper atonement for that some modern authors and teachers are sin, and wrought out an everlasting righteby no meins the inventors of the ingenious ousness in favour of all who should believe in schemes they have presented to the public. his name; and he is set forth in that nature Truth, like the sun, maintains a constant in which he suffered, as the object of our sucourse; every thing would stagnate and die preme love, trust, and adoration. Other imif we were deprived of it for a single day; portant doctrines, largely insisted on in the but errors are like comets; which, though word of God, such as the demerit of sin, the too eccentric to be subject exactly to our obnoxiousness of sinners to punishment, and computations, yet have their periods of ap- the misery and incapacity of man in his fellen proach and recess, and some of them have state, are closely connected with this, and appeared and been admired, have been with cannot be satisfactorily explained without it. drawn and forgot, over and over again. The necessary method of our recovery exhi
Error, in the simplest form, is a misappre- bits the most striking view of the ruin in hension of the truth. Some part of the gos- which sin has involved us, and is the only pel must be known before any erroneous con- adequate standard whereby to estimate the ceptions of it can take place. Thus we read unspeakable love of God manifested in our (Acts viii. 9—22,) that Simon Magus was redemption. On the other hand, a knowtruck with Philip's preaching, and the ef- ledge of the true state of mankind, in consefects which attended it: he was so far im- quence of the fall, is necessary to obviate the pressed, that it is said he believed; that is, prejudices of our minds against a procedure, he made a profession of faith; he was con- which, though in itself the triumph of divine vinced there was something extraordinary in wisdom, is in many respects contradictory to the doctrine, but he understood it not: and our natural, and therefore false, notions of the event showed he had no part nor lot in the fitness of things. St. Paul declares, that the matter. He is thought by the ancients the natural man receiveth not the things of to have been the founder of that capital sect, the Spirit of God, neither can he discern them which is known in general by the name of (1 Cor. ii. 14;) and in another place, that Gnostics, and which, like a gangrene, spread no man can say (that is, sincerely, and upon far and wide, in various branches and subdi- solid conviction) that Jesus is the Lord, but visions, each successive head refining upon by the Holy Ghost, 1 Cor. xii. 3. To worthe system of the preceding. In Sir Peter ship him who had been hanged on a cross, King's History of the Apostles' Creed, and and to expect eternal happiness from his Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, the Eng- death, was to the Jews a stumbling-block; it lish reader may see the substance of the fig- offended their notions of the unity of the ments which these unhappy men, wise in their godhead, and opposed their high esteem of own conceit, vented under the name of the their own righteousness; and to the Greeks, christian religion.
or Heathens, it appeared the greatest folly The doctrine of Jesus Christ, and of him and absurdity imaginable. For these reacrucified, which St. Paul preached, and in sons the gospel was rejected by multitudes as which he gloried, is the pillar and ground of soon as proposed, and those who preached it truth, the rock upon which the church is were accounted babblers and madmen, not built, and against which the gates of hell because they were at a loss for propriety of shall never prevail, 1 Cor. ii. 2; Gal. vi. 14;l expression, or diseovered any thing ridiculous 1 Tim. iii. 15; Matth. xvi, 18. Mistakes in in their conduct, but because they enforced
tenets which were adjudged inconsistent with custom, and human authority, is very consithe common sense of mankind.
derable : nor is even persecution a sufficient But, notwithstanding these prejudices, the bar against hypocrites and intruders. They energy of their preaching, and the miracu- who suffer for the gospel, though despised by lous powers with which it was accompanied, the world, are highly esteemed and considermade an impression upon many persons, so ed by their own side; it procures them an far as to induce them to profess the name of attention which they would not have otherJesus, though they were not spiritually en- wise obtained; it may give them an importlightened into the mysteries of his religion, ance in their own eyes, furnish them with nor their hearts thoroughly subdued to the something to talk of, and make them talked obedience of the faith. There are other points of by others. There are people who, for the within the compass of the gospel-ministry sake of these advantages, will, for a season, more adapted to affect the minds of men in venture upon many hardships, though, when their natural state. Few are so hardened, the trial comes very close, they will not enbut they have a conscience of sin, some fears dure to the end. In a word, there is no reawith respect to its consequences, and a pre-son to doubt but that, amongst the numbers intimation of immortality. Such are capable who professed the gospel at first, there would of being greatly affected and moved by a pa- be found the same variety of tempers, cirthetic declaration of the terrors of the Lord, cumstances, views, and motives, as have the solemnities of a future judgment, the joys ordinarily appeared amongst a great number of heaven, or the torments of hell. We can- of people, suddenly formed in any other penot doubt that these topics, when insisted on riod of time; and the apostles' writings prove with that strength of argument and warmth that it was really so. From these general of spirit, of which the apostles were capable, principles, we may easily account for the would engage the attention of many who early introduction and increase of errors and were not partakers of that divine light, by heresies, and that they should be in a manner which alone the whole scheme of truth, in the same as they have sprung up with, or its harmony and beauty, can be perceived. followed succeeding revivals of the truth. Nor The seed sown upon the rock sprang up im- is it just cause of surprise, if sincere chrismediately, the quickness of its growth, and tians have been, in some instances, entanthe suddenness of its decay, proceeding from gled in the prevailing errors of the times: the same cause, a want of depth in the soil. designing no harm themselves, they suspect Not a few of these hasty believers presently none, and are therefore liable to be imposed renounced the faith altogether, and others, on by those who lie in wait to deceive, who went not so far as to disown the naine, Ephes. iv. 14. endeavoured to accommodate the doctrine to When christianity first appeared, the Heatheir prepossessions, and to explain or reject then wisdom, known by the name of Philowhat they could not understand, in such a sophy, was in the highest repute: it had two manner as to form a system upon the whole principal branches, the Grecian and the Eastagreeable to their own wills. Men of corrupt ern. The former admitted (at least did not and prejudiced minds thus tampered with the condemn) a multiplicity and subordination of truth; and their inventions, when made deities; amongst whom, as agents and mediknown, were adopted by others of the same ators between their supreme Jupiter and morcast of thought: as they were differently in- tals, the care and concerns of mankind were clined, they directed their inquiries to dif- subdivided, to each of which homage and saferent points, and each found partizans and crifices were due: their mythology, or the adherents in their respective ways. Thus pretended history of their divinities, was errors, and in consequence, sects and divi- puerile and absurd, and many of their relisions, were multiplied; for when men depart gious rites inconsistent with the practice of from the unerring guidance of God's word, public decorum and good morals. Some of there is no end of their imaginations; one the philosophers endeavoured to guard against singularity produces another, and every new the worst abuses, and to form a system of leader is stimulated to carry his discoveries religion and morality, in which they seem to farther than those who have gone before him. have proceeded as far as could be expected Farther, as human nature is universally the from men who were totally ignorant of the same, we may judge from what we have true God, and of their own state: some truths seen, that there always have been persons they were acquainted with, truths in theory, inclined to join in a religious profession; from but utterly impracticable upon any principles the unworthy motives of worldly interest, but those of revelation. Amongst a vast and a desire to stand fair with their fellow- number of opinions concerning the chief good creatures. Temptations to this were not so of man, a few held, that man's honour and strong indeed at first, nor so general, as they happiness must consist in conformity to, and have often been since; yet the force of friend- communion with, God; but how to attain ship, relation, (and when christianity had these desirable ends, they were entirely ig. been of some years standing,) education, noranta
The eastern philosophy was solemn and though equally, remote from the truth. The mysterious, and not less fabulous than the one thing in which they all agreed was, in other; but the fables were of a graver cast. It perverting and opposing the scripture-docseemed to mourn under the sense of moral trine concerning the person of Christ. On evil, and laboured in vain to account for its this point their opinions were as discordant entrance; its precepts were gloomy and se as absurd: some denied that Christ was come vere; and a perfect course of bodily mortifi- in the flesh; they pretended that Christ was cation was recommended as the great expe- sent from heaven by the supreme God, and dient to purify the soul from all its defilements, united himself to Jesus, the son of Joseph and to re-unite it, by degrees, to its great and Mary, at his baptism; and that, when Author.
the Jews apprehended the man Jesus, and St. Paul, in several passages (Col. ii. 8; nailed him to the cross, Christ returned to 1 Tim. vi. 20,) cautions the christians against heaven, and left him to suffer by himself. corrupting the simplicity of their faith, by Others ascribed a heavenly derivation to his admitting the reasoning and inventions of body, affirming that it passed through the vain men. In some places (1 Tim. i. 4; 2 Tim. Virgin Mary, without any participation of her vii. 9) he seems to speak more directly of the substance; while others asserted, that he had Gnostics, whose heresies were little more no substantial flesh; but that his body was a than the fables of the eastern philosophy, in mere phantom, or apparition, which was nei
ess, with an cknowledgment of ther really born, nor did or could truly suffer. Jesus Christ as an extraordinary person, yet Again, there were others who held the reality so as utterly to exclude and deny all the im- of his human nature, yet maintained, that portant truths revealed in the scriptures con- Christ did not suffer at all, but that Simon of cerning him. They dignified their scheme Cyrene, the bearer of his cross, being taken with the name of Gnosis, or Science; but it by the Jews for him, was crucified in his was falsely so called, and stood in direct op- stead, while he stood by, and laughed at their position to the gospel. On other occasions mistake. A brief recital of these extrava(Rom. i. 21—233; 1 Cor. i. 20—23,) he ap- gancies is sufficient for my present purpose: pears to have had the Grecian philosophy for a more particular account, I refer the chiefly in view. But, notwithstanding his reader to Sir Peter King's History of the admonitions, it was not long before the errors Creed, already mentioned. Many passages in of philosophy had an ill influence upon the the apostles' writings are directed against professors of the christian faith; and even these dangerous errors; for they strike at the several of the fathers darkened the glory of root of the faith and hope of the gospel, and the truth, by endeavouring to accommodate are subversive of the whole tenor both of the it to the taste and genius of that Heathen Old and New Testament. It was believed by wisdom which they had before admired, and the ancients, that St. John wrote his gospel still thought might be useful to embellish with some view to these heresies; and it is and recommend the gospel.
certain that, in his first epistle, where, putBut to confine myself to the apostles' times, ting the disciples upon their guard against it is plain, from the epistles of St. Paul, John, the many false prophets who were gone out Jude, and Peter (Tit. i. 10; 1 John iv. 1; into the world, he observes, that the common 2 Pet. ii. 18, 19; Jude 4,) that many false point, in which all their divers opinions prophets and teachers had, in their days, crept agreed, was a denial that Jesus Christ was in, who propagated damnable heresies, even come in the flesh, 1 John ii. 22, and iv. 3. denying ihe lord who bought them, turning He reminds them, that as they had heard the grace of God into licentiousness, speak- Antichrist must come, even so now there ing great swelling words of vanity, boasting were many Antichrists; and that the name themselves of freedom, while they were in was applicable to all who denied that Jesus bondage to their own lusts. And in the epis- is the Christ. He admits that these false tle to the church of Ephesus (Rev. ii. 6,) our teachers went out from amongst themselves, Lord himself mentions a sect, who bore the that is, they had borne the christian name; name of Nicolaitans, and expresses his dis- but he refers to the doctrines they taught, as approbation of them in these awful terms: a sufficient proof that they had never been of
Whom I also hate!" The peculiar tenets the number of true christians; for if they had of the people condemned in these passages of been of us, no doubt they would have conscripture are not expressly mentioned; but tinued with us, 1 John ii. 19. If opinions, from these sources were most probably de- equally wild and extravagant, were at this rived the sects which, in the second century, time maintained arid propagated by persons were known by the names of their several who, for a season, had been warm for truth leaders, Cerinthus, Saturninus, Cerdo, Mar- and reformation, we are not afraid that they cion, Basilides, Valentinus, and others: who would prejudice our cause with any who will all, building upon the common foundation of allow due weight to the reasoning of St. the eastern philosophy, or Gnosis, superadded John; for if they had been really of us once, their own peculiarities, and were differently, they would have still continued with us.