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Home arrow 50 Yrs Among The Baptists arrow Interpreting the Scriptures-Jewish-Heathenish “Ultraisms”
Interpreting the Scriptures-Jewish-Heathenish “Ultraisms” PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sylvester Hassell   

The Gospel Messenger--June 1893 

I now enter upon the consideration of the development of the JEWISH-HEATHENISH ULTRAISMS AND CORRUPTIONS of the pure and spiritual religion of Christ since the apostolic age.

I showed, in my last article, that the three great corrupters of the simplicity of the gospel of Christ are the Satanic and false principles of (1) human righteousness (Judaistic Legalism, Pharisaism, Pelagianism, Synergism, Arminianism), and (2) human wisdom (Pagan Philosophism, Rationalism, Mysticism, Speculatism, Pseudo-Spiritualim), and (3) the blending of human righteousness and human wisdom in varying proportions. While Judaism (salvation by human works) narrows and darkens and chills and buries Christianity in the grave; and Heathenism (salvation by human reason) widens and mystifies and freezes and buries Christianity in the clouds; and Judaeo-Heathenism divides Christianity, and buries it partly in the grave and partly in the clouds--all these three systems being equally fatal to the purity of Bible doctrine; True Christianity wisely remains on the plain ground of fact where God has placed her, and, in the light and warmth of the Sun of Righteousness, engages in the loving and blessed service of her Divine Master and of her generation according to His will.

The Jewish and Heathenish Ultraisms and Corruptions of Christianity are nearly always more or less blended, both being products of corrupt human nature, and both proceeding from carnal reason, which, under the influence of Satan, ignoring and hating God, disbelieves His word in regard to His holiness and its depravity, despises the Divine-Human Mediator, and atheistically deifies itself into a Saviour, either by something it can do or something it can think. Carnal reason is, therefore, the root-principle of doctrinal corruption. Both the Jew and the Heathen, in their opposition to Scripture truth, have been animated by this principle. "I fear lest, by any means," says Paul, "as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Cor. xi. 3). "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Colos. ii. 8).

The doctrine of salvation's depending, in part, if not in whole, upon human righteousness, upon the exercise of our own will, and the performance of our own works, is inborn in our depraved natures; it fought bitterly against the Apostle Paul; dragged down the Roman Catholic world into the darkness and self-torturing and corruption of the Middle Ages; was boldly assailed by the Protestant Reformers; was petrified, or permanently sanctioned, by Rome, in the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent; was adopted even by the Baptists, in their darkness, for a century after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and was then, in their better acquaintance with the Scriptures, abandoned by them; has been virtually re-affirmed by nearly all Protestants, and by New School Baptists, and even by a few hundred persons who, while claiming to be Primitive Baptists, regard Divine election as conditional, or make feet-washing a test of fellowship; but--thanks be alone rendered to the God of Israel--at least ninety-nine hundredths of Primitive Baptists stand fully and boldly upon the Bible platform of salvation alone by the free and sovereign and almighty grace of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ--that grace which freely loved and chose us in Christ before time began, and brought our Divine Redeemer to this world of sin and sorrow to die for us, and sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts to make us new creatures in Christ Jesus, and leads and teaches and disciplines and keeps us evermore, and will finally conform us, in soul and body, to the perfect image of the adorable Son of God. It is, therefore, not now necessary to speak further of the operation of the legalistic corruption of Christianity.

Larger space is, however, required to set forth the development of that subtle and ruinous corruption of Christianity that has been made by human carnal wisdom or philosophy, variously known as Rationalsm, Mysticism, Speculatism, and Pseudo (False) Spiritualism.

The Religious Philosopher (of whom the most brilliant examples professing Christianity are the Gnostics of the first centuries of the Christian Era, and the German Rationalists of the present century) springing from the soil of religious senility and decay, soars high into the clouds, where common mortals cannot follow him, and often cannot even see him--cannot find out what he really does or does not believe. He dwells among the idealities, the eternities, the infinities. Living in a misty element, his ideas are confused and confusing. Through seeming to claim omniscience, his vision of the past is not clear, and his perception of the future is still more beclouded; a dark veil, rarely lifted by the hand of faith, hangs for him over all the coming scenes of time and eternity. He cannot readily receive the simple testimony of the word of God on these momentous subjects; he vainly, doubtingly, and painfully tries to read between and beneath the lines and explain away the futurity and reality of the words, and, by lacking the humble, trustful spirit of the little child, he not only distresses himself and others, but dishonors the Divine Author of the Scriptures. History and observation show that Religious Philosophy tends to pass, on one side, into fatalism and annihilationism, and, on the other side, into Arminianism and Universalism.

A leading trait of the Religious Philosopher is what has been well called "THE ALLEGORICAL FURY." an arbitrary, elastic, audacious, and arrogant method of interpreting Scripture, which thrusts out what it pleases, and smuggles in what it pleases; which considers the literal sense meager, carnal, and puerile, and, if not actually holding, still irreverently treats the historical matter as a series of fables constructed to symbolize the doctrines of a divine philosophy; which gives the widest scope to the imagination, takes the greatest liberty with texts, and plays with words like the pieces on a draught-board; which, in a spirit of self-confident freedom, the essential spirit of the world, boldly breaks away from all the shackles of the letter and the bonds of even Divine authority; tears the truth, limb from limb; opposes confessions of faith, disparaging discriminating and accurate statements of Bible doctrine; turns all facts into uncertain and changing shadows, and the Scriptures into fables; soon runs itself into positive and dangerous errors, and finally sweeps everything away into original nothingness, like the Nirvana of Buddhism. Most appropriately is the spirit of such an extreme procedure called a FURY or MADNESS; and it will be wise in the people of God most carefully to avoid any approach or tendency to such a spirit. It is the voice, not of an enemy, but of a friend, that seeks to recall dear brethren from even the slightest disposition to yield to this ruinous temptation of the devil.

"Gnosticism" (a pretence of higher knowledge), as I have said on the 241st and 242d pages of the Church History, "was an aggregation of corruptions from all the countries where Christianity was disseminated--a combination of Platonic philosophy, Alexandrian Judaism, dualistic Parsism, pantheistic Buddhism, and phantasmal Christianity. A false Gnosticism exalted knowledge above faith, hope, love, humility, and every other Christian virtue. It represented God as an infinite, unfathomable unnamable abyss, eternally and unconsciously evolving attributes or aeons, the lowest of which combined with dead, empty, eternal matter, and produced a weak or evil Demiurgus or Artificer, who made this world; it represented Christ as the most perfect of the aeons, but declared his human life an illusion; and it represented the Holy Spirit as a subordinate aeon. The system degenerated into utter infidelity and sensuality, especially with the Ophite Gnostics. It originated in the first century, flourished in the second, and gradually lost importance after the middle of the third, but was to a great degree revived in the Manichaeism of the fourth and fifth centuries." "Gnosticism was the Rationalism of the ancient church. It was an effort of profound speculative thought to harmonize the Christian revelation with reason--Greek and Oriental Philosophy with Christianity." Just as the Platonists, or followers of Plato, spiritualized and dissipated the old mythology of Greece, denying its outward truth in order to vindicate its inner spirit, and thus hastened the destruction of whatever lingering faith in it yet survived in the minds of men, so the Gnostics hyper- or pseudo-spiritualized the Old Testament (which, like the creation, they referred, not to God, but to the Demiurge) in such a manner as to empty it of all its practical and salutary truths; and Marcion who founded the sect of Gnostics bearing his name, the Marcionites, the forerunners of the Paulicians, also rejected all the New Testament except a mutilated gospel of Luke and ten of Paul's epistles. Plato, Zoroaster, and Buddha were the heathen fathers of the central principles of Gnosticism--Plato teaching the eternity of matter as well as of God, and at times referring the origin of sin to God, the pre-existence and transmigration of the soul, the prototype, in the realm of Ideas, of everything in the realm of Fact, his intermediate Soul of the World being something like the Gnostic Demiurge; Zoroaster teaching the eternal existence of both a Good and an Evil Spirit, Light and Darkness, Ormuzd and Ahriman; and Buddha teaching the identity of matter, existence, and evil, God and the universe, evaporating everything finite into mere appearance, and glorifying the bliss of annihilation. Some of the principles and methods of incipient Gnosticism, of which Simon Magus, "giving himself out as some great one" (Acts viii. 9), was the founder, are plainly referred to and condemned by Paul in such passages as 1 Tim. vi. 20, 21 (the word rendered "science" here is gnosis, a higher knowledge, from which gnosticism is derived), 1 Tim. i. 4; iv. 7; 2 Tim. ii. 16; Titus iii. 9 (the "fables and endless genealogies," "profane and old wives' fables," "profane and vain babblings," here spoken of, are the aeons, the eternals, the emanations, the wild, tedious, false, and unprofitable cosmogonies and genealogies of Gnosticism, and foolish allegorical explanations of the genealogies in the books of Moses). Gnosticism was a superb and pretentious philosophy of evolution, imagining, in order to bridge the great impassable gulf from the Infinite to the Finite, thirty or even three hundred and sixty phantom-experiences (aeons) in pairs, male and female (Depth and Silence, parents of Mind and Truth, parents of Reason and Life, parents of Man and Church, etc.) Among the Gnostic sects are included the Docetae, Marcionites, Cainites, Carpocratians, Nicolaitians, Manichaeans, Paulicians, Cathari, Bogomili, Patarenes, and Albigenses. All held dualism (two-seedism, an eternal devil with his eternal children, and the eternal pre-existence of the people of Christ with Him), docetism (denying the real humanity of Christ, regarding His entire earthly life and death as a deceptive show or mere vision), pseudo-spiritualism (denying the literal truth of the Scriptures), pseudo-Paulinism (an abuse of Paul's doctrine of a free spirit), the evil of matter, no true incarnation of Christ, and no resurrection of the body; but they all held the true principles of anti sacerdotalism and simplicity of worship. Gnosticism was not a power to save man from sin, but a method of gratifying his curiosity about the universe, the origin of existence and of evil. It dissolved ethics into metaphysics; gave speculation, on all subjects, an unbounded range; ignored, like Mohammedanism, the distinction between the Divine permission and causality of sin, referring the origin of moral evil to God, introducing fatalism into Christianity, adopted the motto, tome koluon aition estin (that which does not prevent is responsible), thus throwing all the responsibility for sin upon God (see Neander's Church History, vol. 1, page 374; and Pressense's Early Years of Christianity, vol. 3, page 34); and substituted illumination for redemption, holding that Christ saves, not by His death, but by His teaching. The Gnostics allegorized away the life of Christ into a myth or symbol of the Divine life in man, explaining away the incarnation (the manifestation of Christ in the flesh), and the doctrine of the repugnance between matter and spirit, and that matter is the source of evil. Thus denying these two most important and fundamental truths of Christianity, the incarnation and the resurrection (although they persistently called themselves Christians), they prepared the way for the open infidelity of Neo-Platonism, which declared that "the hopes of a resurrection are the hopes of worms," and furnished, in the persons of Celsus and Porphyry, the ablest and bitterest enemies of Christianity in the early centuries. "Gnosticism made evil physical instead of moral, annihilating the nature of evil as the conscience apprehends it—the willful violation of Divine law," and, in some of the sects professing it, showing its contempt of matter, scoffed at the letter of the Scriptures, the Ten Commandments, the ordinance of baptism and the Lord's Supper, prayer, marriage, property, and government, forbidding the eating of flesh and even of food, carrying its madness even to the point of deliberate starvation. The Cainite Gnostics completely inverted the truth of the Scriptures, worshiping the serpent as the symbol of wisdom, who first gave true knowledge to Eve and Adam, and regarding such diabolical characters as Cain, Balaam, and Judas as the only true saints. The Bogomili represented Satanael as the first-born of God, and that he rebelled against God, and drew other spirits or angels with him, and created man, and of Eve had Cain, the representative of the evil principle in humanity, while Abel was the offspring of Adam and Eve, and the representative of the good principle; that Satanael induced the Jews to believe him to be their Supreme God, employed Moses as his instrument, and gave his law through him; and that God, in the 5500th year after the creation of the word, caused to emanate from Himself a Spirit called the Son of God, Logos (the Word), the Archangel Michael, who came down in an ethereal body through Mary, and seemed, but only seemed, to suffer and die, and changed Satanael's name to Satan, and then reascended to God, and occupied, at his right hand, the place of the ruined Satanael; that then God caused a second aeon or power, the Holy Ghost, to emanate from Himself, and come down to apply and complete the work of Christ, and save all the elect; and that, after that was done, God would receive back into Himself the Son and the Spirit, and all things would return to their original unity (as taught by the Sabellians of the third century, the Swedenborgians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the German Rationalists of the nineteenth century). They believed that they ought to pay some adoration to Satanael as long as his empire subsists.

The devil's first and strongest attempt is to get men to deify and worship him; and, when he fails in that, to get them to deny his personality (as the German Rationalists of the present century do), to throw them off their guard against his wiles, so as the more easily to ruin them. The denial of the personality of Satan is one of the first steps in the denial of the sinfulness and destructiveness of sin, and of the necessity of an unintermitting and uncomprominsing warfare against sin. If there is no personal devil, the fall of Adam and Eve from a state of innocence, as recorded in Genesis, and the temptation of a holy Jesus in the wilderness and in Gethsemane, and many of the words of Christ and of His Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, are myths and fables, and the Bible, from beginning to end, is a tissue of lies.

May Divine grace enable us to be perpetually and vigilantly on our guard against these and all other seductive and ruinous wiles and temptations of the Arch-Enemy of God and man--these and all such subtle and destructive Ultraisms and Corruptions of the simplicity of the gospel of Christ.

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