« AnteriorContinuar »
division, and so the reader may hereby be led into mistakes, by fancying that every verse completes the sense. Instances enough of this are to be met with the first moment we begin to read.
2. People are insensibly come to this notion, that every verse contains a mystery, or some essential point, though there is frequently no more than some incident or circumstance recorded in that place.
3. This hath proved the occasion of that wrong method which prevails among preachers.
Which is, that the generality of them imagine that one verse is sufficient to be the subject of a sermon ; but when they come to handle it, finding that it cannot furnish them with solid and instructive reflections enough, they are forced to go from their point, and in order to fill up their discourse, to display their wit and learning, which very often administer but little edification to their hearers, and is certainly contrary to the end of preaching. It is then much to be wished, that some able hand would divide the chapters otherwise than they are at present. If the verses were suffered to remain, they should be so divided as to make always a complete sense, though they happened to be upon that account either longer or shorter than they now are. But perhaps it would after all be better to suppress the verses entirely, and to divide the chapters into certain articles, which should contain such a number of verses as completes the sense. When any word or passage of scripture is quoted, it would be no great trouble to look over a whole article, which could not be very long. Add to all this, that such a method would be a vast ease to the memory, which cannot but be over-burdened with such a great number of verses as we are, upon occasion, obliged to remember. Besides, that we should hereby avoid the other inconveniences that have been mentioned before *.
* For a full and exact account of the division of the scriptures into chapters and verses, see Dr. Prideaux's Connect. Part. i. b. 5. under the year 446.
OF THE HERESIES THAT AROSE IN
THE APOSTOLICAL TIMES.
Nothing can be a greater help for the understanding of several places in the New Testament, and particularly in the epistles, than the having some notion of the heresies or sects, which arose in the time of the Apostles. The word heresy“, as used by ancient writers, properly signifies no more than à sect. It was one of those words which had a good or bad meaning, according as they were placed. In the first and original sense of this term it is, that Josephus • calls the sect of the Pharisees a heresy, though he was himself a Pharisee. St. Paul had no design of blaming this sect, [or heresy, as he styles it] when he said that it was the strictest of all. It is very probable, that when those Jews that were at Rome gave the Christian religion the name of heresy", they understood this word in its general and intermediate signification, since they expressed a great regard for St. Paul, and even desired to hear him: however this word is most commonly taken in an ill sense *, and thus it is frequently used in the New Testamento The fathers of the church have almost always affixed an odious idea to it: thus St. Irenæus wrote five books against the heretics. St. Hippolitus, disciple of Irenæus, made a collection of thirty-two heresies, as we learn from Phociust. Justin Martyr mentions a treatise of his own
(a) The word heresy is derived from a Greek verb, which signifies to choose. (1) Joseph Antiq.
(e) aipeolv. Acts xxvi. 5. (d) Acts xxviii, 22.
* Like the word tyrannus, which, in its original signification meant no more than a king, but was afterwards used to denote an usurper, or an ppressor.
(e) i Cor. xi. 19. Gal. v. 20. Tit. iij. 10. 2 Pet. i. 1. (f) Phot. Bibl. Cod. 121.
writing, wherein he had confuted all the heresies, and he offers to lay it before the emperor Antoninus. Tertullian composed a book against the heretics, which he entitled prescriptions. If we will believe St. Epiphanius, there had been, from the first rise of Christianity down to his own times, no less than fourscore heresies. It is true, this father is very apt to carry matters too far. St. Augustin and several others have given catalogues of the heretics.
It is certain, that there arose heresies, even in the time of the Apostles, as is manifest from the passages just before alleged, notwithstanding what some ancient writers seem to have said on the contrary”.
St. Paul, in his epistles to Timothy and Titus, gives us plainly enough to understand, what was the character of the heretics of those times : from whence we learn, 1. That these first heresies were broached by some of those persons that turned from Judaism to Christianity. 2. That they were profane and ridiculous fables, endless genealogies, questions about words, which served only to raise quarrels and disputes, very pernicious doctrines which spread themselves, and eat like a canker. 3. That those heretics were men of abominable principles. They were proud, crafty, hypocritical, mercenary, given to all sorts of vices, and consequently self-condemned It is no wonder therefore that St. Paul orders such persons to be avoided after the first or second admonition. 4. That they gave their tenets the specious name of knowledge, in Greek gnosis
From this word was the name of gnostics derived, Gnostics.
which was given to most of the ancient heretics in general, though they were divided
() Just. Apol. p. 54.
(h) Firmal. ap. Cyprian. Epi. 75. Clem. Alex. Strom. l. vii. p. 549. (i) 1 Tim. i. 3-6. iv. 7. vi. 20, 21. 2 Tim. ii. 17, 18. Tit. i. 5-10. iii. 9.
* This word denotes the understanding of the deep and mystical senses of scripture. The Apostles were perfect masters of this sort of knowledge ; that which the heretics pretended to, was but falsely so called. 1 Tim. vi. 20. See our preface on that epistle.
into several branches. We do not find that the name of gnostics was known in the Apostles' time, but it is very plain that their opinions were then in being? It is very probable, that they had borrowed their system from the Jewish cabala *, and that their cones or generations had a great conformity with the sephiroth of the cabalistical doctors f. They seem afterwards to have adopted several of the errors which were in vogue among the heathens, since they acknowledged two Gods, one whereof they supposed to be the Supreme Being, the other they styled the Creator of the world. But it must be owned, that either their notions, or the representations that have been given of them, are so very confused, that it is not possible for us to say any thing of them that can be depended on. What they were, may partly be guessed at from the writings of St. Irenæus, Tertullian, Clemens of Alexandria, Theodoret, Epiphanius ", &c. It must only be observed, that since there are none of the books of the gnostics extant at this day, we ought not in justice to believe in every particular those ancient fathers that wrote against them, because they discover in their writings a great deal of prejudice and partiality. Perhaps the obscure and barbarous expressions which these heretics affected to use, made their notions appear much more extravagant and
(1) Rom. i, 21. 1 Cor. viii. 11. 1 Tim. vi. 20.
* Cabala signifies tradition, we have spoken of it elsewhere. There were abundance of Plato's and Pythagoras's notions in the Jewish cabala.
† The sephiroth of the cabala were certain numberings which were tised to represent the attributes of God, considered as the Creator and Governor of the world, and Protector of the church. The names of these sephiroth were crown, wisdom, understanding, magnificence, severity, glory, victory, foundation, and kingdom. These numberings are supposed to have been the genealogies which St. Paul condemns. Vitring. Obs. Sacr. Diss. 4. 1. i. c. 11.
(m) See also our preface on the epistle to the Colossians, § xi. and on 1 Tim. § xiv. The gnostics were otherwise called borborites, upon account of the impurity of their lives : it is perhaps to 'them St. Paul alludes, Phil, iii. 2, 18, 19.
dangerous than they really were, as a late learned author hath plainly shewn”. St. Irenæus tells us, that the gnostics owed their
rise to Simon Magus '. We read in Scripture P that this heretic had a mind to
be thought some mighty man, that he practised magic, and bewitched the people of Samaria, that they all gave heed to him from the least to the greatest, and called him, the great power of God. It is further said, that Simon was baptised by Philip, and that quite amazed at the wonderful works that were done by the Evangelist, he followed him everywhere. Finding that such miraculous operations tended to discredit his sorceries, he desired to be endued with the power of working miracles. As he undoubtedly used to be well paid for his impostures, he judged of the Apostles by himself, and offered them money to procure him the same privilege *. But for this he was severely rebuked by the Apostles, who had been taught by their divine Master, freely to give what they had freely received ; and therefore he had no other reward for his ambition and impiety, than shame and confusion. Terrified at the judgments of God which St. Peter denounced against him, he earnestly begged of the Apostles, that they would avert those judgments by their prayers. From that time forward we find no mention at all of Simon in holy scripture?. Justin Martyr, who was cotemporary with him, tells us in his apology for the
(n) Vitringa ubi supra.
(0) Iren. i. 20. It was undoubtedly by means of the cabala, that they pretended to exercise magic.
(p) Acts viii. 9, 10.
* From hence giving or promising any money or reward for holy orders, or to get a benefice is come to be called Simony.
(9) Just. Mart. Apol. p. m. 54. Justin says, that there was a statue at Rome with this inscription, SIMONI SANCTO. But several learned authors have proved that Justin was mistaken, and that the statue was dedicated SEMONI SANCO, which was one of the deities of the Sabines.