Page images
PDF
EPUB

LECTURE V.

Titus i. 16.

They profess that they know God, but in works they

deny him. BEFORE I proceed to consider the other points of the Gnostic system, which are alluded to in the New Testament, I should wish to notice an opinion of Tertullian, which, if correct, would go further to shew that the apostles referred to that false philosophy, than almost any instance which we could produce. Tertullian, in his work upon heresies, expressly discusses our present subject; and among the heresies which he represents as refuted by the apostles, he says, that “ St. Paul, when he con“ demned those who served, or were in bondage to elements, points to a doctrine something like that “ of Hermogenes, who taught that Matter was not “ produced, and put it on a level with God who is “ not produced ; and thus making a deity out of “ Matter, the parent of the elements, he brings him“ self to worship that which he put on a level with “ Goda.” I would observe upon these words, that Hermogenes appeared as the leader of a sect about the year 170; and taught, as we see from this passage, that matter is eternal, and that God did not create the world out of nothing. This we know to

* De Præscript. Hæret. 33. b Mosheim, de Rebus ante p. 214.

Const. Cent. II. 70,

have been the belief of many philosophers long before the days of Hermogenes; and Tertullian thought that St. Paul meant to expose this error, when he spoke of persons being in bondage to elements. There are two Epistles of St. Paul to which Tertullian may have alluded, that to the Galatians, and that to the Colossians; but in neither of them can it be supposed, that the elements, which are spoken of, relate to the elements of Matter, out of which the world was made. The error of the Galatians was evidently that of a fondness for Judaism : and St. Paul almost defines his use of the term elements, when he says, How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and yearsd. (iv. 9. 10.) So also in his Epistle to the Colossians, he explains himself in the same way, Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments (or elements] of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, Touch not, taste not, handle note? (ii. 20, 21.) No person can doubt, that in both these places allusion is made to the ordinances of the Mosaic law. It may be conjectured indeed, that the Gnostics, whose principle it was to borrow something from every creed, made a boast of observing these outward ordinances, and thus succeeded in gaining the Jews. In the Epistle to the Colossians, which was written

Chrysostom supposed St. 80 we, when we were children, Paul in Col. ii. 8. to allude to were in bondage under the elements the error of observing certain of the world. days, and to mean by otoixeia e So in v. 8. he had said, Bethe Sun and Moon. Serm. VI. ware lest any man spoil you, &c. in Col.

after the rudiments of the world, • He had said in v. 3. Even and not after Christ.

probably six years after that to the Galatians, there are many allusions to Gnostic errors': and it may have been these insidious teachers, (some of whom, it will be remembered, were Jews by birth,) who endeavoured to bring the Colossians into bondage, under the elements of the world. But the Galatians seem to have suffered merely from Jewish teachers, who wished scrupulously to enforce every precept and ordinance of their religion.

It is not difficult to see why St. Paul spoke of these ordinances as the elements of the world. An element is the first beginning or outline of any thing: as when St. Paul says to the Hebrews, Ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles (or elements] of the oracles of God. (v. 12.) It was thus that the letters of the alphabet were called elements : and so the component parts of Matter were called elements ; in which sense Tertullian supposes St. Paul to have used the term ; and in which sense it is unquestionably used by St. Peter, when he says, that at the last day the elements shall melt with fervent heat. (2 Pet. iii. 10.) But in the same manner the Mosaic dispensation was merely the element or imperfect beginning of the Christian dispensation. As St. Paul says in the

! Buddeus refers it generally (cont. Marcion. V. 19. p. 485.) to the Cerinthians, who may In another place he refers Col. be considered a branch of Jew. ii. 8. to Grecian philosophy. ish Gnostics. Eccles. Apost. (De Præscript. 7. p. 204, 5.) p. 461. 464. Clem. Streso re Grotius himself conceived St. ferred it to Jewish philoso- Paul to have used expressions phers. Medit. in Col. ad l. p. which might be applied to the

Grotius observes, that Jews and to philosophers, parCol. ii. 21. is said by Tertullian ticularly the Pythagoreans.not to refer to the Mosaic law. See Wolfius, Manichæismus anBut Tertullian only says, that it te Manichæos, II. 42. p. 181. does not refer to it exclusively.

49.

first of these two Epistles, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ: (Gal. iii. 24.) it taught merely the elements of that faith which was afterwards to be revealed. Tertullian appears to have been deceived by St. Paul speaking of the elements of the world; and to have understood him to mean the elements of matter, out of which the world was made. But the form of expression is one very common in Greek, and might perhaps be better rendered by worldly elements%. St. Paul calls them weak and poor elements; because, as he says in another place, the law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never make the comers thereunto perfect. (Heb.x. 1.) So also he says, that the Mosaic sacrifices could not make him that did the service perfect, because they stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings and carnal ordinances. (Heb. ix. 9, 10.) These ordinances of the flesh, or carnal ordinances, were precisely the same with the elements of the world, or worldly elements : and we may conclude, therefore, that it was to the elements of Christianity contained in the Mosaic ceremonies ", and not at all to the ele

8 So in Col. ii. 18. we find plainly, when speaking of the του νοός της σαρκός for σαρκικού law, ο μεν, παιδαγωγού τρόπον νοός: in James i. 25. ακροατής νηπιάζoντι των προτέρω λαό στοι. επιλησμονής for επιλήσμων ακροα- χεία της αρχής των του θεού παρετης. .

didov doyiwv. cont. Marcell. I. p. h This was evidently the in- 3. This shews in what sense terpretation of Eusebius, who, Eusebius understood tà otoixeia when speaking of τα πρώτα και του κόσμου, though in another ασθενή στοιχεία, calls them σύμ- place he quotes the words τοις βολα και εικόνας. Dem. Ευαng. I. κοσμικούς στοιχείοις with refer10. p. 37. He also uses the ence to the elements, which were expression rñis apórns otoLXELÓ- worshipped by the idolatrous Gews rñs katà Mwoéa larpeias, heathen. Prep. Evang. I. 9. p. ib. 6. p. 18: and still more 33. Clement of Alexandria

ments of Matter, that St. Paul referred in these places.

I am not aware of any passage in which the Apostles expressly declare, that God created the world out of nothing. This was one of the questions which exercised the learned in the Schools : but it was not one with which the Apostles chose to encumber the minds of their hearersi. Whether the world was created by God, or by an inferior being, was a very different question. It involved · directly the majesty of God, and indirectly the whole scheme of Christian redemption. All the practical errors, which arose out of a belief in the eternity of Matter, were exposed and condemned by the Apostles : but the belief itself, like other physical and metaphysical points, was left to the gradual developement of knowledge ; when at length it will be seen, as I have already observed, that to conceive God not to have the power of creating or annihilating Matter, is one of the most palpable inconsistencies which the human intellect can entertain.

There is another expression, which occurs frequently in the New Testament, but concerning which we cannot so easily decide, whether it is ever used with reference to the Gnostics. I allude to the

was wrong in interpreting the περικείμενοι και της κοσμικής θρηelements of the world to mean okelas katápxovtes. Bell.Jud. IV. " the Grecian philosophy,” but 5. 2. he was right in calling it στοι i I only know of one pasχειωτικήν τινα και προπαιδείαν της sage which contains any thing andelas. Strom. VI. 8. p. 771. like an allusion to a philosoKoo uiròs appears to be used in phical opinion about the creaHeb. ix. 1. with reference to tion; and that is 2 Pet. iii. 5: the Mosaic ritual: and the ex but this appears to contain an pression rò dylov KOOMIKÓY may ancient notion of the Jews. be compared with the following See Psalm xxiv. 2. cxxxvi. 6. in Josephus : την ιεράν εσθητα

« PreviousContinue »