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denied that Christ was come in the flesh; they pretended that Christ was sent from heaven by the Supreme God, and united himself to Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary, at his baptism ; and that, when the Jews apprehended the man Jesus, and nailed him to the cross, Christ returned to heaven, and left him to suffer by himself. Others ascribed a heavenly derivation to his body, affirming that it passed through the Virgin Mary without any participation of her substance; while others asserted that he had no substantial flesh, but that his body was a 'mere phantom, or apparition, which was neither really born, nor did nor could truly suffer. Again, there were others who held the reality of his human nature, yet maintained that Christ did not suffer at all ; but that Simon of Cyrene (the bearer of his cross), being taken by the Jews for him, was crucified in his stead, while he stood by and laughed at their mistake. A brief recital of these extravagances is sufficient for my present purpose. For a more particular account, I refer the reader to Sir Peter King's History of the Creed, already mentioned. Many passages in the apostles' writings are directed against these dangerous errors; for they strike at the root of the faith and hope of the Gospel, and are subversive of the whole tenour both of the Old and New Testament. It was believed by the ancients, that St. John wrote his Gospel with some view to these heresies; and it is certain that in his first Epistle, where (putting the disciples upon their guard against the many false prophets who were gone out into the world) he observes that the common point, in which all their divers opinions agreed, was a denial that Jesus Christ was come in the flesh;
51 John, ii. 22. ; iv. 3.
he reminds them that, as they had heard antichrist must come, even so now there were many antichrists,
me was applicable to all who denied that Jesus is the Christ. He admits that these false teachers went out from amongst themselves, that is, they had borne the Christian name; but he refers to the doctrines they taught, as a sufficient proof that they had never been of the number of true Christians; “ for if " they had been of us, no doubt they would have conti"nued with us.” If opinions, equally wild and extravagant, were at this time maintained and propagated by persons who, for a season, had been warm for truth and reformation, we are not afraid that they would prejudice our cause with any who will allow due weight to the reasoning of St. John; for if they had been really of us once, they would have still continued with us.
But the truth is, the teachers in our time whose leading tenets most nearly symbolize with these ancient heresies, are not charged, or even suspected, of having had any attachment to the doctrines which I am concerned to vindicate; nor is an apology expected from them, for they give but little offence. Since the fabulous disguise under which the Gnostics of old veiled their opinions has been laid aside, their opposition to the deity and atonement of Christ has been adopted by so many who are applauded for ingenuity, fine reasoning, and great learning, that it bids fair to be the fashionable divinity of the age; and though the sufferings of Jesus are not denied, yet their proper causcs and ends are openly exploded, and the attempt has often proved an easy path to acceptance, wealth, and dignity.
"1 John, ii. 19.
The attachment of the Jewish converts to the law of Moses was another source of error, which occasioned daily disputes in the churches, and gave rise, in the issue, to dangerous heresies, subversive of the true faith. Even those of them, who had sincerely received the Gospel, could not easily be persuaded that a law, given to Moses by God himself, with so much solemnity, from mount Sinai, was to be entirely abrogated, and that their obligation to it was, ipso facto, vacated the moment they believed in Jesus; who, by his obedience unto death, had accomplished all its types and ceremonies, and wrought out for his people an everlasting righteousness conimensurate to its utmost requirements. The apostles, who, after the pattern of their Lord, were gentle and tender to the weak of the flock, bore with their infirmities, and allowed them to retain a distinction of meats and days, and other observances, provided they did not consider these things in such a point of view, as to interfere with God's appointed method of justification by faith in his Son. But the matter was carried much farther; for no sooner was there a church formed at Antioch, than they were troubled with perverse teachers, who told them " that, " except they were circumcised and kept the law of “ Moses, they could not be saved f.” The Galatians were greatly hurt by teachers of this sorts; and, as the Jews were dispersed through all the provinces, the peace of the church was more or less affected by their attempts to enforce the observance of the law, in almost every place, till after the Epistle to the Hebrews was received, and obedience to the Levitical law rendered impracticable by the destruction of Jerusalem
and the temple". From that period, it is probable, the distinction of Jew and Gentile believers ceased, and both parties were firmly incorporated into one body; but a great number of the zealots for the law separated themselves, and were known in the following age by the name of Ebionites, adopting for their rule a mixture of law and Gospel, so very different from the Gospel St. Paul preached, that they openly expressed an abhorrence both of his person and writings.
We have an account likewise of some pretended teachers, who opposed the important doctrine of the Resurrection. Some expressly maintained that there was no resurrection'; whom St. Paul confutes at large in his first Epistle to the Corinthians. Others affirmed the resurrection is passed already k. Perhaps they pretended that a moral change was designed by the metaphorical expression of a resurrection; the philosophers had used the word in this sense; and this would be sufficient to gain it admittance with some, who would willingly reconcile their profession to the wisdom of the world. In either way, the very foundations of hope were removed. If this point is denied, the whole system of Christian doctrine falls to the ground, and that dreadful train of consequences must be admitted, which the apostle enumerates': “ If there be no resurrection of “ the dead, then is Christ not risen, then is our preach“ing vain and your faith also vain, ye are yet in your “ sins; then they also who are fallen asleep in Christ " are perished.” Since the fertile resurrection of ancient mistakes, which is the sin and scandal of the present age, we have been gravely told, that the word
signifies no more than the soul's awaking from the long sleep into which they suppose the period we call Death will plunge it; and that the body has no share in the revival, but dies without hope. But we may thank God for the Scripture, which brings comfort where philosophy gives up the cause as desperate. Faith in Christ is so closely connected with the doctrine of a resurrection, that it is common with those who oppose the former; to use all their address to explain the latter quite away; and whether they say it is past already, or it will never come, their motives, their design, and their manner of reasoning, are the same.
That there were persons who abused the doctrines of grace, as an encouragement to continue in the practice of sin, may be inferred from the Epistle of St. James, and several passages of the other apostles. Such, in our modern phrase, are styled Antinomians; a name, it must be confessed, of very indeterminate application : it is an epithet which many would fix indiscriminately upon all who preach a free salvation by faith in the blood of Jesus. “If it is all of grace, and “ we can do nothing of ourselves, if it is not of him that “ willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that "showeth mercy; then we may live as we please, en“ deavours are useless, and obedience unnecessary." These are the inferences which the unenlightened heart charges as unavoidable consequences from the Gospel doctrine; and from hence we obtain a corroborating proof, that we do not mistake St. Paul's sense, or preach a Gospel different from his, because he foresaw that the same objections would seem to lie against