صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

ceived, and seems to bid fair for further success, Satan employs all his power and subtilty either to suppress or counterfeit it, or both. Much has been done in the former way: he has prevailed so far as to enkindle the fiercest animosities against the nearest relatives, and persuaded men that they might do acceptable service to God by punishing his faithful servants with torture, fire, and sword. And no less industrious and successful has he been in practising upon the passions and prejudices of mankind to admit and propagate, instead of the gospel of Christ, and under that name, an endless diversity of opinions, utterly incompatible with it. Of these, some are ingenious and artful, adapted to gratify the pride of those who are wise in their own conceits ; others more gross and extravagant, suited to inflame the imaginations, or to gratify the appetites of such persons as have not a turn for speculation and refinement.

As these appearances have always accompanied the Gospel, so they have always been a stumbling-block and offence to the world, and have furnished those who hated the light with a pretext for rejecting it; and the doctrines of truth have been charged as the source and cause of those errors, which have only sprung from their abuse and perversion. When popery, for a series of ages, detained mankind in darkness and bondage, and deprived them of the knowledge of the holy Scriptures, the tide of error ran uniformly in one great channel; when dead works were substituted in the place of living faith, and the worship and trust, which is due only to Jesus the great Mediator, was blasphemously directed to subordinate intercessors, to angels, and to saints, whether real or pretended;

• John, xvi. 2.

when forgiveness of sin was expected, not by the blood of Christ, but by penances, pilgrimages, masses, and human absolutions, by the repetition of many prayers, or the payment of sums of money : while things continued thus, the world was generally in that state of stupidity and blind security which is miscalled religious peace and uniformity; and the controversies of the times were chiefly confined to those points which immediately affected the power, wealth, ur preeminence of the several religious orders by whom the people were implicitly led. Some differences of opinion were indeed known; but the charge of heresy and dangerous innovations was seldom so much as pretended against any, but the few who refused to wear the mark of the beast upon their right hands and foreheads, and who, by the mercy of God, retained and professed the main truths of Christianity in some degree of power and purity. But when it pleased God to revive the knowledge of the Gospel, by the ministry of Luther and his associates, and many were turned from darkness to light, the eneiny of mankind presently changed his methods, and, by his influence, the sowing of the good seed was followed by tares in abundance. In the course of a few years the glory of the Reformation was darkened, and its progress obstructed, by the enthusiasm and infatuation of men, who, under a pretence of improving upon Luther's plan, propagated the wildest, most extravagant and blasphemous opinions, and perpetrated, under the mask of religion, such acts of cruelty, villany, and licentiousness, as have been seldon heard of in the world. The Papists beheld these excesses with pleasure. Many of them could not but know that Luther and the heads of the Reformation did all that could be expected from them, to show the folly and iniquity of such proceedings; but, against the light of truth and fact, they laboured to persuade the world that these were the necessary consequences of Lather's doctrine, and that no better issue could be justly hoped for when men presumed to depart from the authorized standards of

popes and councils, and to read and examine the Scripture for themselves.

This religious madness was, however, of no long duration. The people who held tenets inconsistent with the peace of society, were deservedly treated as rebels and incendiaries by the governing powers; the ring leaders were punished, and the multitudes dispersed; their must obnoxious errors were gradually abandoned, and are now in a manner forgot. After the peace of Passau, the Reformation acquired an establishment in Germany and other places; and since that time, error has assumed a milder form, and has been supported by softer methods and more respectable names.

In our own country the same spirit of enthusiasm and disorder has appeared at different times (though it has been restrained, by the providence of God, from proceeding to the same extremities,) and has been most notorious when, or soon after, the power of Gospel truth has been mosteninently revived ; for, as I have already observed, when religion is upon the decline, and only so much of a profession retained as is consistent with the love of the present world, and a conformity to the maxims and practices of the many, we seldom hear of any errors prevailing, but such as will find a favourable toleration, and may be avowed without exciting very strong and general expressions of contempt and ill-will against those who maintain them. But when

ever real religion, as a life of faith in the Son of God, is set forth upon the principles of Scripture, and by the operation of the Holy Spirit witnesses are raised up, who, by their conduct, demonstrate that they are crucified with Christ, to the law, to sin, and to the world, then is the time for Satan to discredit this work, by imposing a variety of false views and appearances upon the minds of the ignorant and unwary; and he is seldom at a loss for fit instruments to promote his designs. Since the late revival of the Reformation-doctrines amongst us, we have, perhaps, fewer things of this kind to apologize for than have been observable on any similar occasion; and the best apology we can offer for what has been really blameable, is, to show that it was even thus in the apostles' days; and that, if any arguments taken from these blemishes are conclusive against what some choose to call the novel doctrines now, they would, with equal reason, conclude against the validity of the New Testament.

And, not to confine myself to such things as the world is most prone to except against, I shall endeavour to show that the seeds of all errors and heresies, the fashionable, as well as those which are more generally despised, were sown in the first age, and appeared so early as to give occasion for the apostles' censures against them. I do not mean by this to parallel every name and every singularity that a subtle head or a warm imagination may have started; but to assign, in general, the principles to which all these delusions may be reduced, the sources to which these inebriating and dangerous streams may be traced: for, indeed, the operations of the human mind seem to be much more simple and limited than we are ordinarily aware. As there can be no. new truths, though every truth appears new to us which we have not known before, so it is probable that there can be now no new errors; at least it is certain that a competent knowledge of antiquity, or even a careful perusal of the apostles' writings, will furnish sufficient evidence, that some modern authors and teachers are, by no means, the inventors of the ingenious schemes they have presented to the public. Truth, like the sun, maintains a constant course; every thing would stagnate and die if we were deprived of it for a single day. But errors are like comets, which, though too eccentric -to be subject exactly to our computations, yet have their periods of approach and recess; and some of them have appeared and been admired, have been withdrawn and forgot, over and over again.

Error, in the simplest form, is a misapprehension of the truth. Some part of the Gospel must be known before any erroneous conceptions of it can take place. Thus we read, that Simon Magus was struck with Philip's preaching, and the effects which attended it. He was so far impressed, that, it is 'said, he believed, that is, he made a profession of faith; he was convinced there was something extraordinary in the doctrine, but he understood it not: and the event showed he had no part nor lot in the matter. He is thought by the ancients to have been the founder of that capital sect which is known in general by the name of the Gnostics, and which, like a gangrene, spread far and wide in various branches and subdivisions, each successive head refining upon the system of the preceding. In Sir Peter King's History of the Apostles' Creed, and Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, the English reader may see the sub

P Acts, viii. 9-22.

« السابقةمتابعة »