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THE COURSE OF INFIDELITY. “The Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils." Assuming that the term "latter times” embraces the whole period of the Christian dispensation, we propose to give a brief résumé of the various forms of error and infidelity which have sprung up within the borders of the Church during her marvellous existence in the midst of an ungodly world; and then to show the perfection of the antidote wherewith God has blessed us, for meeting and overcoming the tremendous bane which is so painfully manifesting itself in the present day.
That the germ of infidelity was in existence in apostolic times, we know from the express declaration of St. Paul, “The mystery of iniquity doth a ready work ;" and no sooner was the sword of persecution suspended, no sooner had the baptism of blood ceased, after three centuries of faithful endurance on the part of the Christian Church, than a plentiful crop of heresies sprang up to reward the unwearied zeal of mau's great enemy, the father of all the seducing spirits which have appeared in the world, whose constant aim has been to over, throw that fair fabric of Christ's own building, the spiritual temple of the living God.
Even long before persecution had ceased, the Gnostic heresy had spread its roots far and wide ; and it is a curious fact, that as early as the middle of the second century, a form of infidelity appeared at Rome (the “sink of all wickedness," according to Tacitus), which appears to have combined Popery and Pantheism in a singular way. Epiphanius* mentions certain heretics who possessed images of gold and silver, which
* Epiph. in Panar. Hær. xxvii.
Vol. 63.-No. 313.
they said were "representations of Christ, made under Pontius
“ Pilate, when he was here conversant among men ;” and relates that, subsequently, Carpocrates, and his disciple Marcellina, introduced the heresy at Rome in the days of bishop Anicetus, “having privily made images of Jesus and Paul, of Homer and Pythagoras, whom they worshipped” as deities deserving of equal honour. Hence Eusebius remarked, a century later, “ It is no wonder that those heathen who of old were cured by our Saviour should do such things, since we have seen the images of Christ, and Paul, and Peter preserved, painted with colours on tables, because they were wont of old, by a heathenish custom, thus to honour them whom they counted to be their benefactors and saviours."*
In looking back from our own age to that of the early Church, we may trace a remarkable resemblance between the ancient forms of infidelity and the philosophical and theological systems which are now current in Christendom. All the old heresies contained a certain element of truth ; but they all consistently excluded some other truth, and thus gave rise to the opposite error. Sabellianism rightly asserted the doctrine of the Divine Unity, but it excluded the doctrine of the plurality of persons, and so gave occasion to Arianism and Tritheism, which asserted the plurality of persons, but excluded the unity of substance. The Nestorians likewise contended, that because there were two natures in Christ, there were also two persons; and thus gave rise to the opposite error of the Eutychians, who argued that there was but ono nature, because there was only one person.
In opposition to these various forms of error, the Church of Christ, taught by the Holy Ghost, and having the written Word as an infallible guido, preserves and harmonizes the various, but not contrary, elements of truth. She accepts, and believes in, the unity of substance, together with a Trinity of coequal persons in the Godhead; she joins the unity of person with two natures in Christ.
There is another remarkable analogy between the ancient heresies and the forms of error prevalent in our days. The principal promoters of false doctrines in every age have been, for the most part, eminent in the annals of literature and science; but who, by "handling the word of God deceitfully, have perverted the sense of Scripture to the destruction of immortal souls. The Arian heresy, which denies that Christ is God, coequal and consubstantial with the Father, originated with a presbyter of the Church in Africa, famous for ready eloquence and logical acumen. The Nestorian heresy, which separated the Son of God from the Son of man, was propounded by a bishop celebrated for his learning. The Eutychian heresy, which confounded the human nature with the Divine in the person of Jesus Christ, is traced to the head of a monastic body. The Pelagian heresy, which asserted the sufficiency of the human will, independently of Divine grace, took its name from a man of rare personal endowments, and famed for the austerity of his life. The Socinian heresy, which rejects the atonement, and denies Christ's deity, was first promulgated, and has since been maintained, by persons gifted with considerable intellectual powers, and distinguished for the morality of their lives.
* Euseb. Eccles. Hist. lib. vii. c. 18.
The same may be applied with some truth to the most eminent Rationalists and Pantheists of modern days. Observe the character of the famous author of the “Pure Critic of Reason,” as drawn by the Chevalier Bunsen, in his “ Signs of the Times :"“ Modern history scarcely presents to us a more blameless and earnest moral character than that of Kant; and no one will deny that his deeply moral tone of thought was transmitted to his successors, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel." Bunsen himself, unhappily tainted with German scepticism, was a man eminent for his talents as well as purity of life, if we may judge from the record which Dr. Arnold has left of him, which however is too extravagant to be repeated here. Nor was Spinoza less noted for his virtues, according to the testimony of Schleiermacher, a leading German Rationalist. Sacrifice,” once exclaimed the enthusiastic Schleiermacher from the pulpit, “sacrifice with me a lock of hair to the manes of the pure and misunderstood Spinoza." So much for the eulogistic strains in which modern Rationalists are wont to speak of one another.
To return to the consideration of our subject. All the various phases which infidelity has assumed during the existence of the Christian Church may be comprised under two heads—the Dogmatism of the Church of Rome, and the Rationalism of man's unsanctified intellect. Both alike proceeding from a refusal to submit to the supremacy of the Scriptures; being the two extremes between which religious philosophy may be said to oscillate, when seeking independence of the Word of God.
The infidelity of that communion which has boastingly proclaimed herself as “mother and mistress of all Churches”. ever since Pope Boniface III. usurped the title of “ Universal
' Bishop”-was manifested too clearly in the act by which his immediate successor and namesake transferred the Roman Pantheon, and all the gods of the Empire, to the worship of the Virgin Mary and all the Saints. By this act, the invocations once addressed to Juno are now, in the same spot, transferred to the mother of our Lord. Romulus and Remus are still worshipped under the more modern names of St. Romolo and St. Remigio. Even Bacchus is adored under the ecclesiastical name of St. Bacco. And the statue of Jupiter, the tutelary divinity of ancient Rome, which once stood, thunderbolt in hand, to impress the beholders with awe, has now, by a species of monkish legerdemain, been converted into an image of St. Peter, holding instead the keys of heaven, to exclude all who refuse submission to the supremacy of the Pope. The dogma of another Boniface, which is now part of the Canon Law, is sufficiently clear on this point :-“We declare, say, define, and pronounce it to be of necessity to salvation, for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff.” Hence the famous saying of Cardinal Bellarmine, that “ Papal supremacy was the sum and substance of Christianity.”
These, and a multitude of other similar “extravagances, must be traced to the infidelity which is inherent in all men; and which has been rampant in Rome for upwards of twelve centuries, under the form of submission to the dogmas of a sinner like ourselves. How truly has the warning attributed to saintly Chrysostom on this subject been fulfilled: “When thou seest the Holy Scriptures abominated by men pretending to be Christians, and those that preach faithfully God's Word be hated; specially, if they who profess to be Christian pastors do this ; then remember the saying, “In the last days some shall apostatize from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines concerning deified men, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and enforcing abstinence from certain food which God has commanded to be received with thanksgiving by them who believe and know the truth.'"
Socinianism, Materialism, Neologianism, Pantheism, or by whatever name it may be denominated, like its antithesis Dogmatism, must be traced to this one abiding principle, which is the cause of all error-the rejection of Scripture infallibility. “If," said a notorious Socinian author, “if any one could succeed in proving the doctrine of the Atonement from Scripture, then would I rather reject the Scriptures altogether than believe such a doctrine." The ablest organ of the Rationalistic school in this country at the present day declares that, “ in the matter of doctrine, three articles of faith have, more than any other, prevented the cordial and grateful reception of ecclesiastical Christianity by the most pure and honest minds; viz., Vicarious Punishment, Salvation by Faith, and Eternal Damnation. Of these doctrines, as now promulgated and maintained, three things may, in our judgment, be confidently asserted,—that they were undreamed of by Christ; that they
can never be otherwise than revolting and inadmissible to all whose intuitive moral sense has not been warped by a regular course of ecclesiastical sophistry; and that no Christian or sensible divine would teach them, were it not held that every text of Scripture is authentic, authoritative, indisputably true, and, in some sense or other, inspired and divine.”*
Rationalism, or the Neo-Theology, as its advocates prefer to term it, is in reality a covert and disguised atheism. Its dis. ciples in the present day avoid shocking men's common sense by putting forth the blasphemies of Voltaire and Paine. The Rationalists avoid these blasphemies; nor do they venture, when looking abroad upon “ Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers : the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained,” to say, “These all made themselves.” They are willing to admit as much as Plato,t unaided by a revelation from on high, discovered and asserted in opposition to the Eleatic philosophersthat they are the work of an intelligent Architect—that some Divine Being may have put all these things in motion ; but having admitted so much, they are resolved to go no further.
In the early stages of Rationalism, the philosophy of some of its advocates, such as Descartes and Leibnitz, was employed on the side of revealed religion. It sought to prove the reasonableness of Christianity. It then applied human reason to demonstrate that the supernatural truths of Christianity might be proved by mathematical reasoning. Applying itself thus to the interpretation of Scripture, and aided by philology, criticism, and history, it proclaimed itself sent into the world to shed new light on the Bible. It scrutinized the sacred records of the miracles related in Holy Writ. It would tolerate nothing supernatural. It wearied itself, with subtle ingenuity, to explain away all that is marvellous in the records of Scripture, and to reduce miracles to the low level of physical phenomena.
Thus Kant, in his great folly, endeavoured to explain that "Christ's healing the sick was by medical skill; raising the dead, premature interment; feeding five thousand people with a few barley loaves and fishes, the rich sharing with the poor; stilling the tempest, by steering round a point which cut off the wind; our Lord's death on the cross, a mere swoon, restored by the warmth of the sepulchre and the effects of the
Westminster Review, vol. xlvi. pp. 510, 511, April, 1863. This reasoning is like that of certain Rationalists at Gröningen in Holland, who are pleased to call our recognition of Scripture Infallibility.“Bibliotary," the inspiration of the New Testament, “ Apostle-deitication."
t Yet who that has read Plato's la.
boured attempt in describing Creation, as it appears in chapters xii.- xviii. of the Timæus, and compares it with the unarvellous simplicity of the Mosaic cosmogony as recorded in the first chapter of Genesis, will not confess that Moses could not have spoken but as be was inoved by the Holy Ghost ?