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former religion. This is the less to be wondered at, as the Sadducees, a considerable sect among the Jews, and sufficiently attached to their religion in other respects, did likewise disbelieve the resurrection. But then they disbelieved a future state in any form, which the Christian Gnostics did not,
SECTION VIII. Of the Immoralities of the Gnostics, and their Sentiments
with respect to Marriage, fc. The contempt with which the Gnostics treated the body, was capable of two opposite applications, and would therefore naturally operate according as persons were previously disposed, or as they were influenced by other principles. For either they would think to purify and elevate the soul by neglecting or macerating the body, rigorously abstaining from all carnal gratifications; or, considering the affections of the body as bearing no relation to those of the soul, they might think it was of no great or lasting consequence whether they indulged the body or not. It is well known that principles similar to theirs have had this twofold operation in later ages, leading some to austerity and others to sensual indulgence.
That the principles of the Gnostics had, in fact, the worst of those influences, in the age of the apostles, their writings sufficiently evidence; and though it is probable, that the irregularities of the Gnostics were in a great measure repressed by these writings, so that we hear less complaint of these things afterwards ; yet charges of this kind are so generally and so strongly urged, and they are so probable in themselves, as to be entitled to some degree of credit. In the treatise ascribed to Hermas, we read that some thought, “ as the body was to perish, it might safely be abused to lust.” Eusebius says, that “the Nicolaitans, contemporary with Cerinthus, but a sect of no long continuance, were said to have their women in common, on the maxim that it was lawful to abuse the flesh.”+
But, perhaps, the most unexceptionable evidence in this case may be that of a heathen philosopher; and Plotinus represents the Gnostics as ridiculing all virtue. But as he
“ Atque etiam vide ne quando persuadeatur tibi interire corpus hoc, et abutaris eo in libidine aliqua." L. iii. Sect. vii. p. 106. (P.)
+ Ακολεθoν γαρ ειναι φασι την πραξιν ταυλην εκεινη τη φωνη τη 87ι παραχρασθαι τη capku Ôec. Hist. L. iii. C. xxix. p. 123. (R.)
intimates that the goodness of their dispositions might overrule the influence of their principles, it is possible that the Gnostics themselves might deny that supposed tendency of their doctrines. * It was also generally said, and probably with some foundation, that the calumnies of the Heathens against the Christians, as addicted to criminal indulgences, were occasioned by the practices of the Gnostics, who called themselves Christians, and were not distinguished from other Christians by the Heathens.*
That those who are considered as heretics in the New Testament were licentious in their manners, appears froin a variety of passages. The apostle Paul, applying to his own times the prophecies concerning the apostacy of the latter days, speaks (2 Tim. iii. 1, &c.) of some who,“ having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” were addicted to almost every vice, which he there enumerates. He expresses this with equal clearness, chap. iv. 3, 4 : “ For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but, after their own lusts, shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
But the most shocking picture of the irregularities of some professing Christians, though, perhaps, in a state of separation from those who were termed Catholic, is drawn by Peter in his second epistle, and also by Jude. It is evident, that they are the same persons who are described by them both; and one feature in the account of Jude seems to fix the charge upon the Gnostics. He says, ver. 3, 4, needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you, that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” This denying of God and of Christ in Jude, the “ denying the Lord that bought them” of Peter, and the
66 It was
“Ο δε λογος ούτος, είι νεανικωθερον, τον της προνοιας Κυριον, και αυτην την προνοιαν, μεμψαμενος και σανίας νομες τες ενλαυθα αλιμασας, και την αρελην την εκ πανloς τα χρονα ανευρημενην, το, τε σωφρονειν τε7ο εν γελωίθεμενος, να μηδεν καλον ενλανθα δη οφθειη υπαρχον. Ανειλε το, τε σωφρονειν, και την εν τοις ηθεσι συμφυ τον δικαιοσυνην, την τελεμενην εκ λογα και ασκησεως, και ολως καθ' ασπιδαιος ανθρωπο. αν γενοι7ο ας τε αυλοις καλαλείπεσθαι την ηδονης και το περι αυλας, και το 8 κοινον προς αλλος ανθρωπος και το της χρειας μονον, ει μηλις τη φυσει τη αυλα κρειτλων ειη των λογων τελων. Εn. L. ix. C. xiii. p. 218. (P.)
Η Τοις δε απιςοις έθνεσιν πολλης παρεχειν καλα τα θεια λογα δυσφημιας περιθσιαν της εξ αυλων φημης εις την τε παν7ο Χριςιανων εθνες διαβολην καταχεμενης. Euseb, Hist. L. iv. C. vii. p. 149. (P.)
denying “ that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,” or that Jesus is the Christ, of John, were probably phrases of the same import, as they nearly resemble each other, and then there can be no doubt of the persons so described being Gnostics.
It is possible, also, that, by “ denying the only Lord God,” Jude might mean their ascribing the making of the world to some other being than the only true God, which was the blasphemy against God with which the Gentile Gnostics were charged; though this is the only circumstance that can lead us to think that the apostles had to do with any such Gnostics. But this is very possible, as there is no circumstance in this epistle that shews these particular Gnostics to have been Jews; no hint being given of their bigotted attachment to the law of Moses. If the Gnostics that Jude alludes to were Gentiles, this may also have been the case with those of whom John writes. That they were the same description of persons there can be no doubt; and even John says nothing of their attachment to the law.
Also, the same persons whom John characterizes, by saying, they denied that Jesus is the Christ, and that “ Christ is come in the flesh,” he represents, i John iv. 5, as “ of the world,” and that “ they speak of the world ;” and says that therefore " the world heareth them.” It was, probably, in opposition to the licentious maxims of the Gnostics that John enlarged so much on the moral influence of true Christianity in his first epistle ; as, 1 John iji. 3—9:“ Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Whosoever committeth sin, transgresseth also the law, for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not. Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness, is righteous, even as he is righteous.— Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin, for his seed reinaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
Here seems to be an allusion to licentious principles, as well as practices. “ The deeds of the Nicolaitans," who were Gnostics, mentioned Rev. ii. 6, were probably some impurities, or vicious practices; and as it is sometimes called “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans,” ver. 15, that is spoken of with such abhorrence, it is probable that they vindicated their practices by their principles. Besides, vices would hardly be laid by the apostles to the charge of men, as known
And we may
by a particular name, if they were not vices avowed by those who bore that name.
In general, however, it must be acknowledged, that the Gnostics, at least those of a later period, were advocates for bodily austerity and mortification ; thinking the body, in all cases, a clog to the soul, and that all sensual indulgence, even such as was deemed lawful by others, had an unfavourable operation. Saturninus, as Theodoret says, taught that “ marriage was the doctrine of the devil.” clearly perceive, from Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, and other parts of his writings, that similar principles were inculcated by the false teachers of his day. Hence, probably, the questions about marriage proposed to him by the Christians at Corinth, and his decision, Heb. xiii. 4, that “ marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled.”
That he might allude to the Gnostics in the epistle to the Hebrews, is not impossible, as they were Jewish Gnostics that he had to do with, and they were strenuous advocates for the law of Moses; and against that part of their system much of the epistle is directed. But towards the conclusion he seems to descant upon other parts of it; and presently after the above-mentioned observation concerning marriage, he says, “ Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines;” which, no doubt, alludes to the Gnostics, as in similar expressions he certainly does refer to them in various parts of his writings.
This doctrine of the prohibition of marriage, it is evident that Paul thought very ill of, by his making it one of the characters of the great apostacy of the latter times, 1 Tim. iv. 3: “ Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats," &c.
SECTION IX. Of the Gnostic Teachers giving Lectures for Money. The Gnostics were not only persons addicted to the philosophy of their times (many of them being, as we may presume from this circumstance, in the higher classes of life), but, having had the advantage of a liberal education, many of them had studied eloquence, and, like the philosophers of antiquity, gave lectures, or harangues, for money. It has been seen, in the passages quoted from Origen and others,
γαμον ουτος πρωθος το διαβολο διδασκαλιαν ωνομασε. Ηer. Fab. L. 1. C. iii. Opera, IV. p. 194. (P.)
that the preaching of the Gnostics was said to be calculated to please, rather than to edify their hearers, which was probably done by delivering such discourses as Plato and other philosophers did, who received money from their pupils. To this custom there are many allusions in the New Testament, especially in the two epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, in which he opposes his own conduct (he having worked with his own hands among them, to maintain himself, while he preached to them gratis) to that of these teachers, who made a gain of them.
They are thus described, Titus i. 9–11: “ That he (viz. the bishop) may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort, and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision, whose months must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.” Those also who, Peter says (2 Pet. ii. 1, &c.) “shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them,” did likewise, ver. 3, “ through covetousness, with feigned words, make merchandize" of their hearers.
THERE is another circumstance which distinguished the Jewish Gnostics of the apostles' times, and perhaps those of no other, which was the high sense they had of the dignity of their nation, their aversion to the Roman government, and indeed to all subordination. On this account the apostles frequently urged the necessity of a due subjection to supe. riors, and the propriety of prayer being made for all men, as for kings, &c. This Paul particularly enjoins Timothy with respect to the church at Ephesus, where there were many Gnostics, 1 Tim. ii. 1: “I exhort, therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men : for kings, and for all that are in authority.” The same charge he gives to Titus, ch. iii. 1: “ Put them in mind to be subject to principalities, and powers, to obey magistrates,” &c. Peter also speaks of them, 2 Pet. ii. 10, as " them that despise government, presumptuous, selfwilled, -not afraid to speak evil of dignities ;” and, ver. 19, as promising men liberty. Jude also describes them, ver. 8, as despising dominion, and speaking evil of dignities.
This promise of liberty they might extend to the Gentile