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Cerinthus and Ebion did not exactly agree in their respective creeds : and it has been doubted, whether Ebion ever existed. Nevertheless, it is certain, that some person so designated had introduced the heresy in question, and that St. John has been considered as directing certain allusions against him in his Epistles: witness the following passages, 1 John ii. 22; and iv. 15.
The fifth chapter begins with these words, “ Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” It will perhaps be allowed, that to be born of God means to be a Christian, to have that faith which Christ requires when he admits a person into his covenant. St. John therefore here says, Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, has the true faith of a Christian; from which it follows, that whosoever does not believe that Jesus is the Christ, has not the true faith of a Christian. Now this was precisely the point which all the Gnostics, whether Cerinthians or Docetæ, refused to believe. They would not say that Jesus is the Christ, at least they would not say that he was the Christ at his birth, or before his baptism. They held that Jesus was one person, and Christ another. The two were united for a time, when Christ had descended upon Jesus at his baptism : but they had existed separately before his baptism, and they were again separated before his crucifixion. It was with good reason therefore that St. John made this point the test of a Christian's belief: it was necessary for him to say explicitly that Jesus is the Christ: and St. John is only proposing a similar test, when he says in the fifth verse, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? In the fourth verse he had explained what he meant by overcoming the world. “ This is the victory," he says, “ that overcometh the world, even our faith.” So that to overcome the world, and to be born of God, are used by St. John for the same thing, for the true belief which it is necessary for a Christian to hold. He tells us therefore that the true Christian must believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that Jesus is the Son of God. The Gnostic would have said, that Christ was united to Jesus at his baptism, or he would have said, attaching his own meaning to the words, that Christ was the Son of God: but St. John rejected these imperfect and evasive confessions, and required the true Christian to say unequivocally that Jesus is the Christ, and that Jesus is the Son of God.-Pp. 187, 188.
We ought to have mentioned, that the Doctor considers the genealogy of Matthew and of Luke to have been given in contradiction to the Cerinthian heresy, and he brings into his service the testimony of Irenæus.
The object which St. John undoubtedly had in view, was to check the heresies of Ebion and Cerinthus ; at least this was the case with respect to the opening of his Gospel. But charges have been brought against him, that he also himself corrupted the simplicity of his message, by borrowing from the heresies of those times doctrines which did not belong to Christianity. This is a serious charge, but one which is readily answered.
The doctrines alluded to by the impugners are those of the Aóyos; which, say they, John found in Plato. Dr. Burton has established beyond doubt, that the Logos of St. John was not a word or essence, but an actual personification ; and that he used the word, in proving the actual existence and divinity of Christ against the assertions of those who maintained him to have been a phantom, or at most a mere human being, by adapting to his argument a word much in use at that time, and which was constantly brought forward by the enemies of the Gospel. The apology for this is well stated in an illustration from the Hindoo mythology:
We may put a parallel case, which might happen in our own days. We are told that the Avatar, or Incarnation of Vishnu, holds a conspicuous place in the Hindoo mythology. Now if a Christian missionary should find that the Indian notion of an incarnation was substantially the same with that of the Christians, would he introduce a new term, or would he not suffer his converts to speak of the Avatar of Christ as they had before spoken of the Avatar of Vishnu? There is no compromise of principles in an accommodation such as this. He would explain that the incarnation of Christ had happened only once : and he would also explain the causes which occasioned it: but if he was scrupulous in not using the term which had been profaned by superstition, we may be sure that his converts would use it for themselves: and at length he would be compelled, as we have supposed St. John to have been, to admit the heathen term, and consecrate it to a purer creed.-P. 220.
The explanation also is equally clear :
But what is the fact? Plato, as I have often observed, spoke of the Logos, or Reason of God, as the Deity himself in action : St. John speaks of the Logos as the begotten Son of God. He could not therefore have taken his meaning of the term from Plato: and I have also stated, that the latter Platonists charged the Christians with having borrowed the term, but altered its meaning. Neither could St. John have taken his doctrine of the Logos from the Gnostics. According to them there was a time when God or the first Cause existed alone in the Pleroma: though Christ as an Æon, was eternal, it was not as the schoolmen would say, a parte ante, but only a parte post : but St. John says, “ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God:” and he repeats it again, « The same was in the beginning with God.” Again, in most schemes of the Gnostics, the Logos and Christ were two separate Æons: both of them therefore could not be God; nor was it ever imagined by the Gnostics that the Logos or Christ was properly God. But St. John says, “ The Word was God.” Again, the Gnostics believed the world to have been made by an evil being or an inferior Æon, and Christ was sent to oppose the evil which was caused by the Demiurgus. St. John on the other hand says, “ All things were made by him," i. e. by the Logos: “and without him was not any thing made.” The time would fail me, were I to attempt to shew that every clause in this passage was directed against a Gnostic error: but enough perhaps has been said to prove, that though the term itself was borrowed from the Platonists, nothing could be more opposite than the Platonic or Gnostic doctrine concernthe Logos, and that which was declared by St. John.-P. 223, 224.
The eighth Lecture, which concludes the work, takes for its text, Heb. x. 23; and after recapitulating the testimony of the preceding Lectures to the fact, that almost all the passages in the New Testament directed against hereties were applicable to the Gnostics, proceeds to state, that the present inquiry may be useful in the Unitarian controversy. Those modern heretics, it is well known, are constantly appealing to the opinions of the Ebionites and Cerinthians ; but they are either ignorant of the real nature of the doctrines held by those ancient dogmatists, or are wilfully obstinate in the blindness of their appeal to what actually is in contradiction to their tenets.
We are often told (says Dr. Burton) of the mysteries of Christianity: and the Unitarians would persuade us, that the pure and simple Gospel has been overlaid by a successive mass of unintelligible corruptions. But let us contrast the belief of the Ebionites, to whom the Unitarians appeal, with our own. I speak not now of those Ebionites who held the miraculous conception ; for they are supposed to be in error like ourselves; but the other Ebionites and Cerinthians believed that Jesus for thirty years of his life was the same as any ordinary murtal; and that then, when he was baptized, Christ descended upon him, and continued united to him till just before his crucifixion. The sole cause assigned for this unprecedented union was to reveal to mankind the knowledge of God. The redemption of a lost and ruined world never formed a part of their visionary creed : and we may say with truth, that whatever is mysterious in the two natures of Christ, was retained by the Ebionites; but they rejected that which the mind is able and willing to comprehend, the mercy of God, and the salvation of our souls.-P. 245.
The fact, that there was not one heretic in the first century who did not maintain the divinity of Christ, has not been sufficiently attended to. The Ebionites, it is true, believed in the human nature of Jesus : but that Christ was born of human parents, or that in any sense of the term he was a mere man, would have been treated by the Ebionites as the most irrational and impious error. So long as we know from history that the first Gnostics believed Jesus to be a phantom; and that they, who acknowledged his human nature, yet held that Christ descended upon him from heaven; so long we have a right to argue that the apostles could not have preached the simple humanity of Christ. So far from the Socinian or Unitarian doctrine being supported by that of the Cerinthians and Ebionites, I have no hesitation in saying, that not one single person is recorded in the whole of the first century, who ever imagined that Christ was a mere man. I have observed, that one branch of the Ebionites resembled the first Socinians, i.e. they believed in the miraculous conception of Jesus, though they denied his pre-existence: but this was because they held the common notion of the Gnostics, that Jesus and Christ were two separate persons; and they believed in the pre-existence and divine nature of Christ, which Socinus and his followers uniformly denied.-P. 246.
In closing the notice of this truly learned work, we cannot refrain from adding one more and final quotation on this subject;- a subject, which is interesting, through the awful prevalence of those heretical and impious notions which Professor Burton has so admirably combated.
The early heretics rejected some parts of the New Testament, because they would not believe that Christ was born of human parents. The attempt was bold, but it was consistent. In our own day we find the same passages of scripture rejected, and upon the authority of the same heretics : but the objects proposed in the two cases are diametrically opposite. The Ebionites are appealed to by the Unitarians as denying the divinity of Christ, which they never did. So convinced were they of Christ's descent from heaven, so wholly irreconcilable was it with their creed to question or deny it, that they would not believe even an inspired apostle, when he said that Christ was born of a human mother. What shall we say then of men who follow the Ebionites in mutilating the scriptures, but with a purpose which would have filled the Ebionites with horror or with contempt? "Let us say in charity, and with humble hope, that blindness in part is happened unto them, but that the time will come, when the dayspring from on high shall visit them; and when the Son of God, whose nature they have mistaken, will shew to them, not in terror, but in inercy, that he indeed is God, and mighty to save.-Pp. 251, 252.
Here then we quit the work, with thanks for the information it
contains, and with admiration of the talents and learning which the author has thus consecrated to the service of his Saviour. With such a power as this volume affords us of refuting and disproving, the Church of England may defy the malice of those enemies who would .charge her dignitaries with ignorance and supineness.
They who doubt the justice of our eulogies may be referred, and not unsatisfactorily, to the mass of references, and the multiplicity of detail comprehended in the Notes and Illustrations, which in themselves are a complete library of ecclesiastical and historical records. It is, undoubtedly, the most learned work which has recently issued from the theological press.
Art. II.- Protestant Errors and Roman Catholic Truths ; a Tale.
By Noel Thomas ELLISON, M. A. Rector of Huntspill, Somerset, and late Fellow and Tutor of Balliol College, Oxford. London: Rivington. 1829. Price 6s.
The great question, which has been so often before us, is almost exhausted, and it seems unnecessary to recur to it, till some champion arises to defend the cause which he has supported, and to point out the benefits derived from the atrocious measure that he approved. But the author of this work has opened another field of discussion, and we are called upon not only to descrt the principles which our fathers loved, and the constitution of our government had sanctioned, but also to become converts to the faith which we have all solemnly abjured. The book itself would be unworthy of attention, if it were not an attempt to feel the pulse of the public on the subject to which it relates ; and the present situation, as well as the former office of Mr. Ellison, while they increase the magnitude of his offence, give an importance to his opinions which otherwise they would not deserve.
The title, which is intended ad captandum, might at first appear to be ironical, but it in fact expresses the true object of this interesting tale, which is neither more nor less than to palliate the errors of the Papists and to depreciate the value of Protestant truth. The heroine is a Roman Catholic maiden, who is of course a paragon of excellence ; but the representative of the Church of England is a family of loose religionists or philosophical sceptics. The eldest son of this hopeful stock breaks the heart of his bigoted father by persisting in his attachment to the Romish saint. His brother is a Latitudinarian in principle, and dies at an early age the victim of his debaucheries, while his sister, knowing nothing of godliness but its outward form, marries a member of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, a sect which is declared to be worse than the Papists ; and this youth, having had his heart corrupted and his head turned by an English University
VOL. XII. NO. 1,
of their respectivich he holds. He chargest to Infidelity,”
education, not at Balliol, in Oxford, but at — , in Cambridge, after a life of gambling extravagance, shoots himself through the head at Geneva.
This is the story which Mr. Ellison presents to the world as a picture of the influence which these several religions have on the manners of their respective professors, and it is an appropriate vehicle of the sentiments which he holds. He charges us, in the first place, with making “ the word Protestant a passport to Infidelity,” forgetting, that for one Infidel in Protestant countries, there are a thousand among the Papists ; and, what is the main point, that they are made so by disgust at the frauds and delusions of the church in which they were born. He complains, that there are “still amongst us persons who call the Church of Rome idolatrous and superstitious ;" that is, there are still people who agree in opinion with all the first reformers, all the English martyrs, and all the best Protestant divines for nearly three hundred years ; nay more, who agree with Mr. Ellison himself, who, at least five or six times in his life, has declared that very opinion under the solemnity of an oath. He insinuates that we cannot reject Roman Catholic errors without "repudiating the prime articles of the Christian faith ;” and he more than once ignorantly asserts, that all our truths were derived from the church we have deserted, though it is well known to all but Mr. Ellison, that at the Reformation we adhered only to those essential doctrines which bore the sanction of the primitive ages ; and though that church had in some shape or other retained them by not having quite abandoned the early creeds, yet we drew from the fountain of truth, without any regard to the corruptions which had polluted the stream that flowed from it.
But Mr. Ellison is not contented with general remarks; he descends to particulars, and there is not a superstition, however degrading, that he does not excuse. Auricular confession is described as “ pouring your sorrows into the ears of God's authorized ministers," without a hint at the abuses connected with it. To venerate an Agnus Dei, or hang it as an amulet round your neck, cannot be wrong, if you did but know, on the authority of Ainsworth, that when properly translated, " it means only the Lamb of God;" and to pray for the dead, is merely to “ carry your social affections beyond the grave," and to beseech the Son of God " to protect those that are gone to their long home.” But he does not tell us, that masses for the dead were first invented and are still retained for the emolument of the church, nor does he think of warning his readers against the moral influence of so baneful a practice; for why should I be careful of my conduct while I live, if I can purchase salvation by the prayers of others, offered up to God after I am dead? He not only does not