Page images

just notions of Christ. "They denied his Deity, looking upon him as the Son of God, and consequently inferior to the Father; and they rejected his humanity, upon the supposition that every thing concrete and corporeal is in itself essentially and intrinsically evil. From hence the greatest part of the Gnostics denied that Christ was clothed with a real body, or that he suffered really." Some of them subjected themselves to the greatest austerities; but others gave themselves up to almost unbounded licentiousness." (See Mosheim's Eccles. His.) It is presumed that none, at the present day, will contend that their sentiments were congenial with those of the apostles; or that they had not corrupted the doctrines of the Gospel. John undoubtedly had this class of Christians in view, when he wrote his first epitsle. "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God. And every spirit, that confesseth not, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God; and this is that spirit of Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world," 1 John 4:2,3.

The Ebionites made their first appearance near the close of the first century. These Jewish Christians are thought to have derived their name from their poverty. They disbelieved the miraculous conception of Jesus; but held that he was the son of Joseph and Mary, according to the ordinary course of nature. They denied his divinity. But what evidence is there that this class of Christians had kept the faith, as it was delivered to the saints? They were members of the church at Jerusalem, which had been planted by the apostles, therefore, it is inferred, they must have retained the doctrines taught by the apostles. This inference is not conclusive, if the premises were correct, because even in the apostle's days, many had departed from sound doctrine; and had imbibed gross opinions of the Gospel. The church of Laodicea had

departed from her first faith before the apostle John had passed off from the stage. Of course, their proximity to the apostles does not prove the correctness of their sentiments.

The Ebionites believed that the ceremonial law of Moses was of universal obligation; and that an observance of it was essential to salvation. They held the apostle Paul in abhorrence, and treated his writings with the utmost disrespect. They incorporated with the ceremonial law the superstitions of their ancestors, and the ceremonies and the traditions of the Pharisees. They denied that Christ made a propitiatory sacrifice for sin; and they believed that justification came by the works of the law. (See Mosheim's Eccles. His. vol. i, p. 174; and Milner, vol. i, p. 138.) Is it to this class of Christians we are to look for sound doctrine? Is it to those, who discarded a considerable part of the New Testament, we are to look for primitive faith; for right sentiments of Jesus Christ? There appears to be as much authority for admitting the correctness of the sentiments of the Gnostics and Docetæ, as for admitting the correctness of those of the Ebionites. Suppose then we admit them both. They counteract each other. One maintains the humanity of Christ; the other denies it. One maintains his derived divinity; the other denies it. Between them both, they deny his existence.

The writings of St. John were evidently levelled against these two denominations of Christians. It is generally admitted that his First Epistle was directed against the Gnostics or Docetæ. He was very particular; and very decisive. "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God," 1 John 4: 2,3. These declarations bear also, directly against the Ebionites. The Jews expected that the Messiah was the Christ; that the Christ was the Son of God; and that the Son of God was divine. Andrew said to

[ocr errors]


his brother, "we have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ." A woman of Samaria said unto Jesus at a certain time, "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ," John 1:4]; and 4:25. Peter, at a certain time, expressed his belief in the most decisive manner. "We believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God," John 6:69. When Jesus was tried before Caiphas, "the high priest, he answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the the living God, that thou tell us, whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God," Mat. 26:63. In both these texts, Christ and Son of God, are equivalent. When Christ called God his Father, or himself the Son of God, the Jews understood him to make himself God, or equal to God," John 5:18; and 10:33. From this it is evident that it was an opinion among the Jews, that the Christ had existence before he came into the world, and that he was divine. With this in view we easily get the meaning. of John, when he applies his observations to the Ebionites, who were Jews. "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God." In the flesh, expresses the manner, in which he came. Is come in the flesh, conveys an idea, that he had existence before he appeared in this manner.

If Christ had been a mere man, and John had believed him to be no more, it is not probable he would have used this phraseology. That he did consider him to be more than a man, appears evident from the beginning of his epistle. Here he speaks of the Word of life, which he had heard, seen, contemplated on, and handled. In the next verse he calls the Word of life, the Life. "For the Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us." What, or who was the Word of life; that Life; that eternal Life, which was with the Father, which was manifested to the apostles, and of which they testified? It is evident that it was Jesus

[ocr errors]

Christ. Christ, according to the record which John made of him, called himself the Life. But we will let St. John speak for himself. In the beginning of his Gospel he says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. In him was life; and the Life was the light of men. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," John 1:1,2,4,14. It appears evident that St. John exhibited the same personage in the beginning of his Epistle, which he exhibited in the beginning of his Gospel; and it is evident that he, whom he introduced in the beginning of his Gospel was Jesus Christ. If St. John designed, by the names, the Word, God, eternal Life, to convey an idea of a mere man, he used these words in an unusual sense. If a belief of the divinity of Christ had been the prevailing heresy of the time, it is not probable that St. John would have endeav ored to discountenance this error by applying a divine attribute, a divine name, a divine work to Jesus Christ. It cannot be supposed he would have used this language to establish the mere humanity of Christ.


It is evident that the doctrine of the Ebionites respecting the mere humanity of Christ, was considered heretical by the church in the time of Irenæus, "who wrote his books against heresies in the 176 or 177. For in the list, which he hath given of heretics, lib. 1, he places the Ebionites between the Cerinthians and Nicolaitans, both of them acknowledged heretics. And in his third book, he refutes by testimonies from the scriptures, the opinion of those, who affirmed that Christ was a mere man, engendered of Joseph; which was precisely the opinion of the proper Ebionites." (Macknight.) "It is certain that Gnostics and Ebionites were always looked on as perfectly distinct from the Christian church. There needs no more evidence to prove this than their arrangement by Irenæus and Eusebius under heretical parties." (Milner.) If this doctrine was so early considered heretical, it is

[ocr errors]

not probable that it was a doctrine taught by the apostles. (See Horseley's third Sup. Disq.)

In the second century Christianity suffered much by attempts to blend with it the oriental and Egyptian philosophy. Praxeas, a man distinguished for genius and learning, undertook to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, so that it might be understood. "He denied any real distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and maintained that the Father, sole Creator of all things, had united to himself the human nature of Christ." (Mosheim.) His followers were called Monarchians, and also Patropassians, because they believed, or it was inferred from their belief, that the Father was so intimately united with the man Christ, that he actually suffered with him. But "it does not appear that this sect formed to themselves a separate place of worship, or removed themselves from the ordinary assemblies of Christians." From this circumstance it does not follow that they were sound in faith; or that they were not considered heretics. The orthodox and the heterodox have, more or less, worshipped together from the first century. But this is essentially different from retaining in the bosom of the church those, who had perverted the doctrines of Christianity. Praxeas was persecuted for the sentiments he inculcated respecting the Father, Son and Spirit. If this cast a shade upon the disposition of his opponents, it proves that he was in the minority; and the church esteemed his doctrine heretical. It can hardly be supposed that the church generally, at so early a period, had lost the knowledge of the nature and character of Jesus Christ; and that this knowledge was preserved among those, who denied the Lord Jesus Christ. It is more probable that sound doctrine could, at this early period, be found in the body of the church, than among those individuals and parties, who had blended philosophy with Christianity; and attributed real suffering to the Father. The opinion of Praxeas is not very different from the

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »