Images de page
[blocks in formation]

proach God, and be reconciled to him. It is only in Christ God can look upon us with delight. And it is only as we have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us that we are Christians. And we may add, as we regard Christ so He regards us. We may form some idea, then, of what Christ thinks of us from what we think of Him.

II. The opinions advanced concerning Christ before the Council of Nicæa, which are denied and confuted in the Apostles' Creed.

The propriety of the condensed notices here offered arises not only from the vast importance of having correct and clear views concerning Christ, but also because it is hardly to be supposed that the majority of our Sabbath congregations or of general readers are familiar with the literature of theological dogmas, or acquainted with the na:nes and details of Church history. It seems necessary, therefore, here to help our readers to some acquaintance with a few of the most famous Judaizing and philosophizing teachers whose erroneous opinions and conceits are alluded to in the preceding Discourses, and which our Creed was intended to deny and refute by holding forth the true faith of God's people. And perhaps it will save us from some confusion to say at once that Cerinthians, Ebionites, Docetæ, and some other less known sects may all be classed under the general name of Gnostics. By this we do not mean that these sects were perfectly agreed. This was not the fact. Perhaps their only unity was in not believing in Jesus Christ as He is set forth in our received Creed. The name Gnostics is from a Greek word signifying knowledge.

· It is generally believed that they are referred to in 1 Tim. vi, 20; Col, ii. 8, and 1 John ii. 18. At first they were known as philosophers, or simply followers of Pythagoras and Plato, but in process of time they insisted on interpreting the Holy Scriptures according to their philosophy, and making the Scriptures bend to it. Their doctrines, in some shape or other, cover a wide field, and have prevailed more or less among the educated classes of the world from the beginning of the Christian era to this day; but the main point in the line of this volume is, that they agreed in denying the Divinity of our Lord, his equality with the Father, and for the most part denied his real humanity altogether.

The Doceto also have their name from a Greek word signifying to seem, imagine, and thus their very name proclaims their great error. They held that Jesus did not exist in reality at all, but only in appearance, just as the angels who appeared to Abraham; and, as a consequence, they denied that there was any reality in Christ's death and resurrection, and of course, then, there is no redemption by His blood. Some of the Docetæ taught that Jesus had a real angelic substance that was at his death resolved again into ethereal elements, and that therefore what we call his ascension into heaven was simply the returning of the angelic substance that constituted the man Jesus into the pleroma of the universe. The rise and history of the Ebionites and their influence on Christianity are points of extended and most critical inquiry in our day. Professor Fisher* declares “the Ebionites were degenerate Hebrew Christians.” Ebrardt thinks they were “Judaizing Unitarian Christians of the humanitarian type." They said. Jesus was the Messiah, and was only a man, and that his great mission was to give a new enforcement to the Mosaic law. They were divided into several sects. Bauer of Tübingen has written much and learnedly about the Ebionites, but is not to be relied on for orthodox views. The Ebionites and Cerinthians belong to about the same period of history, that is, some part of the second century. Some of our learned men say they were the ancient Essenes. This is doubtful. They held views widely differing among themselves on many points, but were essentially Gnostics both in philosophy and religion, and agreed in denying our Lord's proper Divinity. Irenæus positively declares that St. John wrote his Gospel expressly to confiite the errors of these Gnostic sects, especially of Cerinthus. Michælis, Waterland, and many other first-class authors entertain this opinion very decidedly. Cerinthus, it seems, admitted that Jesus had a real human body, but that he was born after the ordinary way, and was therefore nothing but a man, the son of Joseph and Mary; and that he became Christ at his baptism, when an con descended upon him. This æon, he said, was the first of the seven great æons, but a creature. Christ never was, therefore,

* Fisher's Supernatural Origin of Christianity, p. 320. + Ebrard's Gospel History, p. 522.

[blocks in formation]

in any true sense, properly God. It is believed that Cerinthus was the first person who taught an earthly millennium, promising a Mohammedan paradise to his followers during that period. Who can tell how much Mohammed borrowed from Cerinthus ?

Basilides was a Gnostic belonging to the second century, and thought to have been, as intimated in the foregoing pages, a disciple of Simon Magus. It is believed he studied at Alexandria, but spent his life chiefly in Persia. Like Cerinthus, he held that Jesus was a creature, the eldest of the æons, or the first of the seven æons of God, who took on himself the form or semblance of a man, but did not become a man. He admitted the crucifixion as a reality, but said that the person who was crucified was not Jesus, but Simon the Cyrenian. This view was adopted by Mohammed. Basilides of course, therefore, rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, of the Atonement, and of our Lord's resurrection.

Sabellius was a Greek philosopher of Egypt of the third century. He taught that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were but emanations or functions of God—that it was God who was born of the Virgin Mary, and that, having accomplished the mystery of salvation in the form and work which we ascribe to Jesus, he diffused himself on the Apostles as in the fiery tongues of Pentecost, and was then called the Holy Spirit. According to Sabellius there is but one person in the Godhead, and the term Father, Son, and Holy Spirit signify not persons, but merely offices. One of the favorite illustrations of the Trivity among his followers was the sun representing God as the Father, while the illuminating properties of the sun are the Word, or God the Son, and the warming, creating power of the sun represents the Holy Spirit. Those who do not admit any distinction of persons in the Godhead, and yet believe in the reality of the Incarnation and sufferings of Christ, are known in the history of the Church as Patripassians, because they say it was God the Father who suffered as Christ. It is alleged that their founder was a Phrygian philosopher by the name of Praxeas. If he lived, as it is said, in the second century, then Sabellius probably adopted his opinions from him.

It is believed that the real father of Socinians lived about this time, namely, Paul of Samosata, who was Bishop of Antioch, in Syria, A. D. 262, whose followers are the Paulianists of history. They were strongly condemned by the Council of Nicæa. The distinguishing article of their faith, at least as far as our subject leads us to speak of, seems to have been this: the Son of God and the Holy Spirit exist in God the Father, just as the faculties of reason and activity do in man. Consequently they held that Christ was born a mere man, having been begotten as any other man, and that then the wisdom of the Father descended into Him, and by it He wrought miracles; and that it was only to express this union of the Divine reason or wisdom of the man Jesus that he was allowed to be called God.

of the Nestorians and Eutychians, as they come after the Council of Nicæa, I need not speak. But our line of investigation requires at this point some notice of Arius and the Council of Nicæa.

The COUNCIL OF NICÆ was held in the city of Nicæa, in Asia Minor, by command of Constantine the Great, then emperor of the world, in A. D. 325. Its title is the “Great and Holy Synod.” It is claimed, and not without just grounds, that this synod represented the voice, and the conscience, and the learning and piety of the whole Christian world. It was indeed a very august body, composed of the very choicest ministers of God, from many and distant parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa--men who were earnestly engaged in preaching the Gospel to the heathen, and in strengthening and comforting the scattered flocks of believers. Most of them had endured great hardships in the service of Christ. They professed in the decrees of the Council the faith they had suffered for, and had themselves received at their baptism into Christ; and as they believed this faith came to them on the authority of the Church, and was according to the Sacred Scriptures, so they believed they were setting forth and defending the true faith of the Holy Apostles themselves.

The occasion of the Nicene Council was the Arian controversy, but the influence of that sect was not wholly arrested by the Council. For at least three hundred years it had great influence in Christendom, and succeeded in having power enough to persecute and exile some of the leading members of the Council of Nicæa, that bad condemned Arius and his followers. And, although the name Arianism has sometimes been laid to rest, the views it symbolizes still live. The Arianism of the seventh century

[blocks in formation]

differs from that of the fourth, while that of our day differs from that of all preceding ages. The influence of Arius penetrates and pervades the enclosures guarded by all the three great and ancient creeds much more than is perhaps generally admitted. We have the authority of the Christian Examiner for saying that Dr. Bellows, in unfolding the Unitarian idea of Jesus Christ, admits that “ There are within the Unitarian ranks all shades of opinion about Jesus Christ, from a Modal or Sabellian Semi-Trinitarianism, through high and low Arianism, Socinianism), Priestleyism, down to pure Humanitarianism and Naturalism. But all these diverse parties do agree in one thing, and that is, in 'DENYING THE PROPER DEITY OF JESUS CHRIST.'”

It cannot then be considered unfair to say that the followers of Arius have “a coat of many colors," that fits easily all sizes. For however much the leading minds among them may differ, they all tend in the same direction. The shades of difference, and the modifications of views concerning Christ, from Cerinthus to Arius, and from Arius to Socinus, and from his day to this, do not essentially change the main points. They all say Christ is not equal with the Father, nor is his death a vicarious sacrifice for sin. The latitude observed in the varying views of those who oppose the doctrines of the orthodox creeds, may be accounted for from the fact, that they do not usually profess to attach importance to a positive articulated creed, although they are fond of dogmatizing; and also to the fact that their watchword is, “A fair stage and no favor!" And perhaps also the excessive prudence (shall we call it ?) of the founder, the shadow of Arius himself, still rests on his disciples. It is well known that the peculiarities of his dogmas arose originally out of his extreme and subtle and abstract views concerning the terms Father and Son. The difficulty was more in what he would not say, than in what he did say. He would never say when it was, but he would say there was a time when the Son was not," leaving the inevitable inference that the Son was not God, but a creature. “ His heresy," says Stanley, * “ was the excess of dogmatism founded upon the most abstract words, in the most abstract region of human thought.” And is not this truly characteristic of his followers, and similar

* Eastern Church, p. 173.

« PrécédentContinuer »