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it most obviously followed, that a being, who, by virtue of his superior nature, survived death, is no proof of the future resurrection of an inferior race of beings, who by nature are subject to death. Now my object is to shew, that the ene mies of the Gospel had recourse to the divinity of Christ, in order to set aside the great principle of repentance and reformation, namely, the doctrine of a future state, contained in it. This will appear to have been the case with regard to the Gnostics; "And all the multitude were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said; This man could not cast out these demons, but through Beelzebub, the prince of the demons.' Matt. xii. 23. By this, they meant to say not only that Beelzebub assisted Jesus, but that he resided within him. This is evident, from the words of Mark, who represents the Pharisees as saying, that he had an unclean spirit. Chap. iii. 28. This appears to me an incident of great importance; and the consequence to which it points, has not been sufficiently observed by learned men. For it clearly shews, that the surest and most plausible way which the enemies of Jesus had to undermine his claims, was to represent him as himself a supernatural being, or having a supernatural united with him. The Pharisees as yet opposed him without disguise, and they therefore scrupled not to say, that the divinity within him was Beelzebub, the chief of the evil spirits.
But did they really believe, that his works proceeded from Beelzebub, or was this a subterfuge, of the falsehood of which they were fully convinced in their hearts? It appears to me an indisputable
fact, that in the opposition they made to our Lord, they acted throughout contrary to their conviction. His reply imputes to them the heinous guilt of sinning against the Holy Ghost; and this is no other than the sin of ascribing to an evil spirit those benevolent works, which they knew to have been produced by the spirit of God. When they were assured that Jesus was risen, they gave money to the soldiers for saying, that his disciples had stolen his body from the grave. Their conduct at this juncture was not the effect of error or prejudice, but of a stubborn determination to resist the truth; and since they acted contrary to their conviction on this occasion, we may rest assured, that they did so on all occasions, when they resisted the claims of Jesus.
When these implacable enemies of truth and virtue found themselves unable to oppose the Gospel by open violence, they disguised their enmity, and endeavoured to substitute in the room of it an artful system, which, while it flattered the prepossessions of the Jews, gave free scope to the worst propensities of human nature. In this system, the authors affected to extol and honour Christ, thus classing with his followers, and pretending to teach his religion, though their real object was to undermine it, by blending with it their own impious notions. These teachers are known in ecclesiastical history under the name of Gnostics, so called from their supposed superior knowledge. Their claims were very lofty; and it appears from the Scriptures, that the effects of their imposture were so baleful and extensive as to threaten the total subversion of the Gospel, even in the churches established by the apostles.
The Gnostics are thought by modern divines to have been a sect of Christians, betrayed into error by the pride of wisdom, and by the imperceptible influence of vice and prejudice on the human heart. But this is a mistaken notion. The Gnostics were Christians only in profession; in reality they were Atheists or Epicurean Jews, and the worst and most deadly enemies that the Gospel encountered. The truth of this assertion appears from their immoralities, which, though well attested, almost exceed credibility, from their system, which was too impious and absurd to be seriously believed, even by those who framed it, and from the declarations of Christ and his apostles respecting them, who were too discerning to mistake, and too candid to misrepresent their sinister designs.
Our Lord (Matt. vii. 15), warns the people against them as wolves in sheep's clothing. In Matt. xxiv. he holds them forth as false prophets and false Christs. In John x. 8. he calls them thieves and robbers; and when he represents his Gospel as first corrupted, he intimates, that the authors were disguised enemies. For he says, The adversary did this, and to this adversary he gives the name of SATAN. The language of Paul is so strong and direct in regard to these impostors as to leave no reasonable doubt but their object in professing Christianity was to overthrow it. "I wonder," says he to the Galatians, "that ye have so soon removed from him who called you in the grace of Christ to another Gospel, which is not indeed a Gospel, but the fiction of some who harass you, and wish to subvert the Gospel of Christ.' Gal. i. 6. And again to
the Corinthians he writes: "For such are false apostles, men of deceitful actions, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder; for Satan himself putteth on the appearance of an angel of light; so that it is no strange thing, if his ministers also put on the appearance of ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works." 2 Cor. xi. 13. The beloved disciple considered these impostors in the very same light with Paul, and so directly opposite to the Gospel did he regard their system, that he repeatedly applies to them exclusively the name of Antichrist. The character given of them by Peter and Jude, by the Christian fathers, and by Josephus, justifies the same conclusion. "They trampled," says this last writer," upon all the rights of men, derided the divine laws, and scoffed at the oracles of the prophets; for the prophets have given many preeepts in favour of virtue and against vice, which the zealots violated, and thereby brought upon themselves the accomplishment of a prediction delivered against our country."
These wicked men, as pretended believers in Christ, had the prediction here mentioned in their hands; and this must have been Josephus's meaning, when he adds in the sequel, that the zealots did not disbelieve the prediction, yet employed themselves as the ministers of its accomplishment.
The fundamental principle of their system shews, that in their hearts they were determined Atheists. It was natural in men, who could be base enough to ascribe to an evil being the works which they knew to have been done by the finger
of God, to proceed a step farther, and represent the Almighty himself as evil and imperfect. Accordingly, they taught, that the Creator was a malevolent, inferior being, and professed to reveal a supreme God, who had lived in eternal, inactive, solitude, and hitherto unknown to mankind. It is not to be supposed, that if in opposition to the strongest evidence from reason and from revelation, they rejected the perfections of Jehovah, they could seriously believe the existence and perfections of any other being without evidence from either. Having thus degraded the Universal Father, they exalted the Son in the opposite scale of power and divinity, representing him as a god in the shape of a man, or a man inhabited by a god. By this two-fold impiety, they endeavoured at once to destroy the sanctions of virtue, as founded in the belief of an all-wise and righteous governor, to account for the miracles of Christ, independently of that Great Being who sent him, and to preclude the doctrine of a future state as the grand principle of reforming the world. This principle is the soul of the Gospel, and forms the leading object which the impostors sought to destroy. They maintained, that Christ did not come with instruction from God; that he was not authorized to encourage the penitent with the hope of pardon, or to support virtue with the assurance of immortality; that on the other hand, he came to destroy the works of God, and to set his followers at liberty to pursue their inclinations, without any restraint from those oppressive and arbitrary laws prescribed by Moses and the prophets. They reasoned in this manner. "Christ is a god; he therefore did his wonderful works