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christ was first invented by the English translators of the New Testament. Equally remote from the truth is he in asserting that Paul himself is Antichrist; which in reality is a system opposed to Christianity, and intended to undermine it. The sentiments of those who framed it are detailed by Irenæus, Theodoret and Epiphanius, besides being incidentally noticed by Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertullian' and Jerome. No doubt, therefore, can remain as to the truth of the opinions imputed to its authors. They arrogated to themselves the title of Gnostics, Yvotixos, as pretending to possess wisdom superior to that taught by Christ and his Apostles. The Gnostics indeed are thought by modern divines to have been a sect of Christians betrayed into error by the pride of knowledge, and by the imperceptible influence of early prejudices on the human heart. But this is a mistaken notion. The Gnostics were Christians only in profession : but in reality Epicurean Jews, and the most deadly enemies of the Gospel. This will appear from a concise view of their principles and conduct*.
1. The Egyptians from the most early times, worshipped the serpent as the symbol of divine wisdom; and opposed it to the God of Israel, whom they arraigned as an evil imperfect Being. This was the first principle in the Gnostic system : and it is evident that those among the Jews, who adopted it, must have been apostates from the religion of Moses and the prophets.
2. The framers of Antichrist pretended to have revealed a Supreme Being hitherto unknown even to the Jews. This tenet demonstrates that their pretended religious creed was founded on Atheism. For it is not to be supposed that, if, in opposition to the strongest evidence from reason and revelation, they rejected the
* See Mosheim's Commentaries on the Affairs of the Christians, vol. i. p. 299 and forward ; the ninth volume of Lardner; Dr. Priestley's Early Opinions; the Preface to Jones's Illustrations of the Four Gospels, also his Ecclesiastical Researches, chap. xvii.
creator and governor of the world as an all perfect being, they seriously believed the existence and perfections of another being, without any proof from either. Besides, the supreme God of the impostors was the great Abyss mentioned in the beginning of the Mosaic history, whom therefore they called Bythos the depth ; while the description they gave of him, was copied from the school of Epicurus. He was not the Creator, nor had he any concern in the government of the world ; and his happiness consisted in silence, indolent tranquillity, and indulgencies, unruffled by disquietude or uninterrupted by
3. The grand object which the Gnostics had at heart, was to account for the miracles and resurrection of Christ, without supposing him to bave acted with the power of God, or to have been raised by God as a pledge of the resurrection of mankind. If he thus acted and appeared after death, as the son of God, as the favoured delegate of heaven, the doctrine of a future state became established on a solid foundation, and the call to repentance and reformation on the part of mankind was irresistible, and became audible to the extremities of the earth. And here the deceivers had recourse to the genius of heathenism, to effect their purpose. They maintained that Christ was a god, performing his miracles, and appearing after death by virtue of his own nature. By artfully ascribing divinity, not to the mission, but to the person of Christ, the signature of heaven was, as it were, wrested from his hands, and the edifice of faith and hope erected in the Gospel fell to the ground; as the survival of death by a being, who by virtue of his nature was superior to it, could not be deemed a rational proof that they shall finally triumph over the king of terror, who by the very condition of their being are subject to him.
Our Lord, they asserted, was not a man, but in the likeness of men; he having a body differing in nature from those of other men, it being composed of a subtle ethereal substance, which made him an object only of sight. In other words, according to them, he was a man only in appearance, a ghost or a phantom. And this idea the de. ceivers copied from the Epicurean school. For it was the opinion of Epicurus that the gods existed in a human shape, though they had no real bodies, but appeared to have bodies. As being a man in appearance only, Christ was born but in appearance and immaculate from the stains of birth. His mother, therefore, was still a virgin, and though espoused to Joseph, she continued a stranger to the usual effects of conjugal union. But this doctrine was taught only in countries remote from Judea. Had the authors of it maintained it among the people who had known the person and seen the works of Jesus, it would have been received by none. They therefore formed a fiction far more specious, namely, that Jesus was really a man, but a man distinct from the Christ; this being a god which had descended upon him at his baptism, and which left him when apprehended for crucifixion. Accordingly the deceivers affected to honour the divinity in the man Jesus, while they anathematized, cursed, or excommunicated Jesus himself. This was the very subterfuge adopted by the philosopher Amelius with his brethren of the Alexandrian school, to set aside the Gospel; and there can be no reasonable doubt, but that Cerinthus and his colleagues, who taught this doctrine in Judea and the neighbouring provinces, had the same object in view.
According to the former scheme, Christ, being a man only in appearance, was born and crucified in appearance, and not in reality; but with regard to the latter, Jesus being a real man, he was left to be the legitimate son of Joseph and Mary; and being really crucified, he continued for ever a tenant of the tomb.
4. The grand object of the Gospel is to save mankind, by inducing them to forsake their sins, and to lead a life of virtue and holiness, as preparatory to a higher and better state of existence. Against this object, the leading tenets of the Gnostics were immediately directed. They maintained that Christ came into the world, not to reform or purify the world, but to rescue it from the arbitrary laws of the Creator: that, however obligatory it might be on the apostles and their converts to practise self-denial, and submit to hardships and persecutions for the sake of the Gospel; they and their true followers had no such obligations, but were free to indulge in every practice, in every inclination, however enormous. Asserting with the Epicureans that the distinctions of virtue and vice were unfounded in truth, but arose from the arbitrary institutions of society, they reduced immorality into a system, and gloried in deeds which reflected shame and infamy on human nature. It was for this reason that, while they pretended to extol the Saviour as a divine being, they boldly refused to acknowledge his claims as their divine master, and artfully evaded the necessity of following his precepts and example, by expressly dem, nying him the title of Lord.
5. Finally. The teachers of Antichrist allowed that the Jewish dispensation came from the Creator, but was, like bim, partial and imperfect. On the contrary, the Gospel was of a higher and purer origin ; the object of it being not to fulfill, but to destroy the law and the prophets. In their own language, the Christ of the old covenant was not the same with that of the new. The design of that artful dogma was to subvert the proofs which Christianity derived from the predictions of the prophets, and from the types and symbols of the law, as shadows of a more refined and rational system to come. The Jewish Gnostics, however, maintained the validity of the Levitical code, and the indispensable necessity, on the part of all proselytes, to adopt the law of Moses. But calling on the converts from heathenism' to submit to the rite of circumcision, and other odious and oppres
sive customs, they hoped greatly to retard, if not entirely to stop, the progress of Christianity in the world.
The blessed Jesus foresaw the formation and prevalence of this artful system, pointed out its base authors, and cautioned his disciples against them. I shall briefly notice what he says on this important subject.
“ He put forth to them another parable, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field : but while the men (i. e. the labourers) slept, the enemy came, and having sowed tares among the wheat, went away. But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came, and said unto him, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field ? whence then hath it tares? And he said unto them, The enemy hath done this,' &c. Under the figure of tares we may here recognise the origin of Antichrist. For the sower is not a mistaken friend, but one who, though disguised, is a real enemy. In the original he is called o ex@gos, the enemy, and in the explanation of the parable he is still more emphatically stiled the devil or Satan, the principle of evil personified, and comprehending those wicked men who sought to destroy the Gospel. The tares were sown in secret, with the design of injuring the good seed, of preventing it altogether from appearing, or at least from producing its proper fruits, in the conduct of those who should receive it. The period in which the Antichristian system was to be framed, is also hinted at in this parable.
The tares were sown before the good seed appeared above the ground, i. e. before the word was yet disse *** minated in the world at large, and before the apostles were sufficiently awake from the slumber of Jewish prejudices.
Nor is our Lord less distinct in regard to the persons who should sow the tares of Antichrist. · Addressing his followers, he says, “ Beware of false teachers, who come to" you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenousi