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The author of this able and admirable work, in answer to the Oxford tracts, has traced the influence of Gnosticism in the church, and of "that awful mistress of the ancient world, the Oriental theosophy," with more discernment and acuteness than any other writer on the subject. It is the knowledge of Gnosticism, not as a heresy, but as a feeling, with which he investigates the labyrinth, and traces the progress of that "Gnostic sentiment, which, even when the Gnostic heresies were the most strenuously resisted, held possession of the religious mind, almost universally, along the shores of the Mediterranean, and during a full seven hundred years." "It is to this Gnostic feeling, preoccupying all minds religiously disposed, that we must trace most of those peculiarities of sentiment and practice, which make up the striking contrast between the apostolic and the Nicene church."
GNOSTICISM IN THE ROMISH CHURCH.
A more severe yet just delineation of the Romish system never was penned in so short a compass as the following sentence. "Gnosticism surviving in principle, and polytheism in ritual, make up together the bastard religion of the middle ages, otherwise called Popery." It would not be difficult to prove this in detail, by tracing the extent and influence of the errors of the Gnostics as adopted and canonized in the mighty kingdom of the MAN OF SIN. They deserve also to be traced and noted as, in essence, the same with the systems of modern Unitarianism and Antinomianism. Not unfrequently modern heresies are nothing but the old ones cobbled and vamped, or put together with more ingenuity and refinement.
The first and grandest in the combination of error and iniquity, in the monstrosities of Gnosticism, was its utter annihilation of the doctrine of the atonement. This was practical and pervading. And whatever influence Gnosticism, in the mass, exerted upon Christianity, this feature of its errors must have been powerful. One would think there had never been any spiritual idea of an atonement for sin developed in the minds of the authors of some of these systems, that they had never formed a conception of this as the grand truth of Christianity. And we doubt if they ever had. There must, otherwise, have been some little care taken to preserve something like an avowal of this doctrine, some little appearance of regard for it. And we
are compelled to draw an inference, very unfavorable to the prevalent mode of preaching, or of expounding the Christian doctrine, when systems, destitute of this truth, could be palmed upon the world, for a moment, as the exhibition of Christianity.
The ruling principle of Gnosticism, which was the essential evil of matter, forbade the acknowledgment of an atonement for sin by the sufferings and death of Christ, had this doctrine been ever so clearly understood or conceived of by the Gnostics. It implied, of necessity, a real existence of Christ in the flesh, and this the Gnostics denied, if on no other ground, on that of the inherent malignity of matter. The whole created universe, and all material forms or mediums of existence in it, they asserted to have been the work of a malicious being, who had linked men themselves with matter, from the bondage of which Christ had come to deliver them. While, therefore, they "confessed not that Christ Jesus had come in the flesh," denying his bodily death, resurrection and ascension, they maintained a form of belief in him as a Saviour, that is, a deliverer from the dominion of matter, and thus preserved, in this direction, the appearance of a link attaching their system to Christianity. The expiatory sacrifice of Christ they must deny; because, if that had been admitted, their whole system must fail. But they must, in some way or other, retain a Saviour in their system, and profess to derive authority from him, because, without this, their system, pretending to be the Christian system, must equally fail also.
There is a striking resemblance here between the Gnostics and that sect, which, in modern times, professing a similar regard to Jesus Christ as a teacher and deliverer by precept and example, and thus retaining the word Christian for their scheme, does yet reject wholly the distinguishing tenet of Christianity, the expiatory sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world. The Gnostics did this because the admission of that tenet supposed the union of Christ, a spiritual being, with a base material body; the Unitarians do this, because its admission supposes a higher nature for the Redeemer of the world, than they are inclined to grant him. The Gnostics denied the atonement, because it degraded Christ to the level of a man; the Unitarians deny it, because it elevates him to an equality with God. On other points, as their treatment of the Scriptures, and their salvation by a system of morality, there is an equally striking similarity. Extremes meet.
The Roman Catholic church, while abjuring in form this
heresy of the denial of the atonement, has as effectually, in practice, abolished the doctrine. Her daily sacrifice of the mass does this in one direction; her system of penances and works of self-righteousness does it in another. And in this latter direction the influence of Gnosticism becomes visible. It was apparent long before the church was named Roman Catholic. "The Catholic church," remarks Mr. Taylor," while vigorously repelling the openly pronounced and more distinct forms of the Gnostic delusion, too soon yielded itself to the undefined and the more seductive Gnostic principle, which made the conditions of animal life, and the common alliances of man in the social system, the antithesis of the divine perfections, and so to be escaped from and decried by all who panted after the highest excellence. It was this Gnostic leaven, which, through the medium of some ardent minds, gained at length a firm hold of the Christian community, and became the germinating cause of so much of the ascetic institution, as was not expiatory, as well as of many of those superstitions which have continued to oppress Christianity, even to the present time." "The existence at any time, or in any community, of penitential and expiatory ascetic sacrifices, affords a sufficient and unquestionable proof of a corresponding compromise of that first principle of Christianity, the full and free pardon of sin through the expiatory and vicarious sufferings of him, who was made a sinoffering for us." The last of the apostles had not departed from the world, when already this compromise began to take place. That it wholly and exclusively originated in the Oriental philosophy, we are not prepared to assert; on the contrary, we believe it would, at some period or other, have been manifested, if the Oriental belief of the sinfulness of matter had never existed. That belief passing into the Christian church, through the medium of Gnosticism, sustained and fostered an original disposition of human depravity, till it usurped the place of the whole Christian system.
The same belief in the inherent turpitude of matter, which led the Gnostics to reject the atonement, and to deny that Christ had come in the flesh, was likewise the parent of a monstrous Antinomianism. This belief led them to regard all evil as of the body only, the soul not participating in it. From this to the
* Ancient Christianity and the Doctrines of the Oxford Tracts, p. 215.
tenet that whatever pollution of sensuality the body is guilty of, the soul is superior to it, and unaffected by it, the passage was plain and easy. Where the consequences of this feature of the Oriental philosophy did not make their appearance in actual Antinomianism, it was not less fatal to religion in preventing and weakening the conviction of spiritual wickedness, the conception of that carnal mind which is enmity against God. We doubt if the nature of sin was any better understood, or any more faithfully expounded, as a spiritual evil, than the nature of the atonement. This all-prevailing, all-powerful Gnostic tenet of the turpitude of matter led to corporeal flagellations and mortifications, asceticism and penance in all its forms; and "bodily exercises" innumerable, which the apostle condemns, filled the church as the means and essence of righteousness; but of that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord, there was as little true spiritual conception, as there was of the meaning of the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanseth from all sin.
Here we must close our discussion of this deeply interesting and important subject, as involved, and intricate, in some respects, as it is important. We might, indeed, carry it down clear through the scholastic philosophy and theology, and the Roman Catholic idolatry and morality of the middle ages. The investigation legitimately demands this; nor can any man understand the middle ages, without viewing them in the light, or rather in the darkness, of the Oriental-Platonic-Gnostic philosophy and religion that preceded them. The following diagram may be taken as a condensation, not only of the course of our present discussion, but of the entire result of all ecclesiastical history down to the Reformation. Christianity married to Polytheism, through the medium of Philosophy in Orientalism, Platonism and Gnosticism, and then in the Romish hierarchy, canonized as Popery and Antichrist.
REVIEW OF CLARK'S SERMONS.
By the Rev. George Shepard, Prof. of Sac. Rhet. in the Theol. Sem., Bangor, Me.
Sermons; by Rev. Daniel A. Clark, Author of "Conference Sermons," "Church Safe," &c. &c. In three volumes. New-York: John S. Taylor. 1836, 1837. pp. 323, 328, 324.
REV. DANIEL A. CLARK deservedly takes a place in the first rank among American preachers. We are glad that, though dead, he is speaking so eloquently and so extensively through the press. We wish the volumes contained more sermons of the spirit and stamp of those before us. There is very little reason to fear that too many good sermons will be published from the press. It is admitted that the appetite for printed sermons in the community is not very keen. The majority prefer something lighter and more frothy. Yet there are many who keep up the taste of the olden time, who love to read well constructed sermons; and they are intellectually the sounder and more solid part of the community. Indeed it takes a good mind to compass and relish a good sermon; and the reading and relishing of one makes the mind stronger, clearer and better. It is profitable reading, mentally as well as spiritually. The reasoning power is improved by studying well arranged and well reasoned sermons. The rhetorical perception becomes quicker and truer, from dwelling upon those that bear the simple elegance of a Nevins, or the more splendid combinations of a Hall. We do not remember to have heard an individual declare that he took pleasure in perusing discourses, at once close, argumentative and eloquent, but we found out, upon acquaintance, that that person had a mind, in many respects, far above the common level.
We might remark upon the spiritual benefit, the amount of biblical and doctrinal knowledge gained by this species of reading. But we pass these topics, that we may come at once to other things.
It is proposed to give, in the first place, a rapid sketch of