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THE attempt to enumerate and class errors might at first view appear to be merely a waste of time. Truth is one and the same, but error appears infinite and ever varying; from its very nature it would seem to have no limits and no end. But the limits which it has not in itself, it receives from the nature of belief, and from the nature of the mind. Error, in order to be believed, must include a considerable proportion of truth. And errors, in order to be received, must either have a similitude to the reality of things, or an adaptation to the disposition or state of the mind which embraces them.
Thus, in philosophy, as well as in religion, there are only a certain number of outlets by which the mind forsakes the straight way of truth. Hence the same systems are ever recurring in the most distant ages and countries. The cosmogonies of the Ionic schools of Philophy in Greece are at this day flourishing among_the Chinese, and the transcendental Pantheism of the Eleatic school has its counterparts in the writings of the Buddhists and the Burmans. And the mind in its narrow revolution of changes, is ever presenting again the same darkened phases of error.
The origin of all departures from the true religion consists in the want of spirituality in the fallen mind of man. "God is a spirit and those that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth;" but in the darkened understanding of man, the glory of the divine character is soon obscured. He that lives to God, and would retain the divine knowledge, must walk by faith, and not by sight. Men, unless renewed in the spirit of their minds, walk by sight and not by faith. If a revelation of the will of God is granted to them, they either forsake it en
tirely, or cover and conceal its true import with vain traditions and lying fables.
The first departure from true religion, after the deluge, consisted in imperceptibly substituting a visible object of worship for the true and invisible God. The visible heavens, and the spirit that was supposed to animate them, received the homage of the early tribes of mankind, (by a gradual departure which they themselves scarcely perceived,) instead of that pure and holy Being, whom "heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain, whom the eye of man cannot behold, and who must be discerned and approached by faith alone. This worship of the heavens, and their animating power, is traced in the texture of primitive language, and in the remains of the most ancient worship.
The transition from the worship of the heavens to the worship of the heavenly bodies is easy and obvious.
The belief in the immortality of the soul naturally led to the belief that the dead, though divested of their grosser body, have not laid aside their cares and solicitudes for the living, but that they are still present with their posterity, and are become the protectors of their families and of their nations.
As the heavenly bodies were worshipped either when visible in the heavens, or if in the gloom of temples, by their emblem, the sacred fire; so deceased heroes were worshipped by rudely carved images or teraphim, and hence the origin of idolatry.
As long as the world was considered merely in parts, these parts alone were deified; but when philosophy arose, the world began to be considered as a whole; the scattered parts and their animating principles were reunited, and the separate deities of Polytheism were either absorbed into the soul of the world, or considered as emanations from the fountain of mind.
But philosophy took a second step, and from reducing all the portions of the world to two eternal substances, matter and mind, reduced these two into one, Mind which alone has real existence, and which becomes matter, by defect merely, as it flows dark and languid around
its circumference, though glowing and energetic and spiritual at its centre or heart; and hence the Emanative system.
Philosophy took a third step, and considered that that which in itself is infinite, and one, can never in reality be many and finite; and that if we do not perceive in all things the one and absolute being, this must be attributed to a peculiar illusion, the Maia of the Hindoos; and hence the strict Pantheistic system.
In the above classes are included all the systems that have ever prevailed among nations destitute of revelation. When Christianity was proclaimed, there were two ways of receiving it, either for men to forsake their superstitions, and their systems of philosophy, falsely so called, and to receive in sincerity "the truth as it is in Jesus" or to endeavour to form an alliance between Christianity and their former opinions. The latter attempt gave rise to the early heresies. The Jewish heresies consisted chiefly in endeavouring to preserve the authority of Moses and their ancient law, by reducing the Messiah and the Christian revelation to the same level. The early Gentile or Gnostic heresies consisted in attempting to incorporate Christianity with that modification of the Emanative system then prevalent in the west of Asia.
The Gnostic philosophy consisted in the belief of the stream of existence flowing from its divine fountain through a number of personifications, such as life, light, and wisdom, which they named Eons, till it reached its dark and impure termination in becoming matter; or in beings possessed of those malignant qualities which union with matter was supposed to occasion. And the whole of their practical religion and philosophy consisted in endeavouring to escape from matter, and in purifying the heavenly spark within them, that it might return to the original source of light.
After the Gnostics had perished, less by the opposition of Christians than by the powerful arms of Porphyry, who attacked both Christianity and Gnosticism at once, the heresies among Christians arose chiefly from the wish to explain and ascertain the doctrine of the
Trinity, and the equality or inferiority of the three Persons, by the help of the philosophy most prevalent in those days. And, accordingly, their reasonings concerning the Trinity, and the various disputes that occurred in consequence, proceed chiefly upon some modification of the Emanative system.
But, while Gentile philosophy was thus distracting the learned, Gentile superstition was making rapid inroads upon the vulgar. In addition to the high mysteries of Christian Pantheism, there were also introduced the mummeries of a Christian Polytheism. Popery, which is merely baptized Paganism, began to rear its head, and to replace the ancient idols under new names.
In the Mysticism of the dark ages, we have a milder Pantheism united to the doctrines of Christianity, and, in the midst of many mistakes, often breathing sentiments of true and fervent piety.
The Reformation was a gradual work; the whole body of error was not cast off at once, but one error was rejected after another. Of course, the sooner the reformation in any country came to a stand, the more numerous were the errors that were retained. The reformers are, however, superior to their disciples; they were more freed from the trammels of human authority, and appealed more directly to the very words of Scripture. Scholastic theology and artificial systems began to revive amongst the reformed, perhaps a good deal from the example and influence of Melanchton, the first systematic writer among the reformed, whose genius was of a tamer cast, though his scholarship was great, and who, too submissive to former authority, wanted the fervid and commanding mind of Luther, or the philosophic understanding of Calvin.
The freedom of the reformation gave rise to the latitudinarian theology, and the self-entitled rational divines, falsely so called,-men who misinterpreted the maxim, that the Scriptures could contain nothing contrary to reason, and supposed that the Scriptures were to retain nothing which was contrary to their ignorance and prejudice. That a truth should be agreeable to reason, is
one thing, and that it should be agreeable to the reason. ing of every shallow thinker, is another. True theology is conformable to reason enlarged and enlightened by revelation; but rational theology, as it is called, conforms itself to the reasonings and the mistakes of each individual, and changes its shape continually, like a cloud blown by the wind. Rational theology at its birth is Arminianism; in its growth it passes through the different shades of Arianism; and its short-lived maturity is Socinianism. While Socinianism itself is handing over its pupils, with more rapidity than it receives them, to the inner school of infidelity; and infidelity, without any stable tenets of its own, is accelerating the progress of the initiated, through its slight variety of changes, towards total scepticism or Atheism; and the want of all principles or belief is predisposing the mind to the reception of any tenets that may present themselves, however absurd, in order to fill up the rayless and hopeless vacancy of unbelief.
With respect to the errors in religious belief which are peculiar to the present time, we may remark, that they are very insignificant, when compared with those of ancient times. They are the offspring of men who possess no great vigour of mind or originality of thought. They proceed from narrow views of the truth, and are more reprehensible for exaggeration than for falsehood. The old errors are in a sickly and declining condition; they are chiefly believed because they have been frequently repeated, and because it is convenient to hold them. There is much that is promising in the present appearance of things, whenever the truth shall be brought to bear with a divine energy upon the world at large. The fastnesses of falsehood, as well as the strong holds of tyranny, are mouldering away; and many circumstances and events appear to be forwarding that great change, when the knowledge of God and of the Saviour shall overspread the world as widely as the light of day.