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Besides the absurd traditions, the fatal blindness, and the groundless expectations of these Jewish sects, the Christian religion had to contend with the no less erroneous and dangerous principles of heathen philosophy, of which there were various sects among the Greeks and Eastern nations. From blending these false principles with Christianity arose the Gnostic sects, which, though not expressly mentioned in the New Testament, are frequently alluded to. The word Gnostic is of Grecian origin, and signifies a knowledge superior to that of other men.
The Nicolaitans, mentioned in the Revelation of St. John, were a Gnostic sect, who derived their name from one Nicolas, their founder. They taught, that lewdness and idolatrous sacrifices were lawful. They were of course, loose and profligate in their lives, and aimed at nothing but their own secular advantage.
The Cerinthians were another of the Gnostic sects. It took its name from one Cerinthus, who taught many extravagant and debasing notions of God, of the creation of the world, of Jesus Christ, and the worship, which he came to establish. To refute these dangerous errors, it is supposed, St. John, in a great measure, wrote his Gospel and Epistles.
It is against the philosophy of the Gnostics, and not against any true science, that those texts of scripture in the New Testament, are levelled, which seem to arraign and decry philosophy. This is that philosophy, which is described as vain, deceitful, traditionary, founded upon the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. These are the profane and old wives’ fables, the endless genealogies, vain babblings, and opposition of science falsely so called, which we are to reject, and not to give heed to. Of these Gnostics, or knowing ones, as they presumed to call themselves, the apostles write, when they say, there are certain men, crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lascivious. ness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. And again, Now if Christ be preached, that he rose from the dead, how say some among you, that there is no resurrection of the dead?
At the time our Saviour made his appearance upon earth, almost the whole human race seems to have lost the knowledge of the true God, and the nature of that worship, which he requires. The Jews, though in possession of the scrip-. tures, had perverted their meaning, and substituted for them
an endless variety of tedious ceremonies and traditions, little less absurd than the bloody rites of Paganism. The whole heathen world, even the most polite, learned, and civilized nations, were, with few exceptions, sunk in the grossest superstition and idolatry, and the most abominable corruption and depravity of manners. They neither understood the true nature of God, the worship due to him, nor the moral duties he required of his creatures. They had no clear notions or firm belief of the immortality of the soul, and a state of rewards and punishments in another life. They believed the world to be under the direction of a vast number of gods and goddesses, to whom they ascribed the very worst passions and vices. They worshipped dead men and women, birds and beasts, insects and reptiles, together with an infinite number of idols, the work of their own hands. In their conduct they were almost universally addicted to the most infamous vices. Even many of their most solemn ceremonies, and acts of devotions, were scenes of the grossest sensuality and licentiousness. Others of them were attended with the most savage and cruel superstitions, and sometimes even with human sacrifices. This is the state, in which our Saviour found the world; under the influence of superstition, false philosophy, and national prejudice; and in opposition to all these was his religion to be established. No wonder its progress was so slow, and that it was so soon contaminated by the systems, which it had to encounter.
The sacred writings, which Christians receive, as divinely inspired, are called in general scripture, or the scriptures, which literally signifies writing, or the writings. This title often occurs in the New Testament, and was commonly used, in the time of our Saviour, to denote the books received by the Jews, as the rule of faith. It has since been extended to the writings of the apostles and evangelists, as completing the whole of divine revelation; so that the writings of the Old and New Testaments are now indiscriminately called by Christians, by way of distinction, scripture, or the scriptures.
The whole collection of these sacred writings is called the Bible. This word, in the original, signifies book, and is given to the writings of prophets and apostles by way of eminence. These collectively are called the book or the Bible, as superior in excellence to all other books.
The Holy Scriptures are divided into the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament contains the books written
under the old dispensation of the law of Moses; the New Testament contains those published under the new dispensation of the Gospel.
The New Testament, containing the inspired books, written after Christ's ascension into heaven, is a title, which was early borrowed by the church from scripture, and authorized by St. Paul himself.
This title, according to the passages of scripture whence it is taken, should be rendered covenant. And in this view the new covenant signifies, “ A book containing the terms of the new covenant between God and man.” But according to the meaning of the primitive Church, which bestowed this title, it is not altogether improperly. rendered New Testament ; as being that, wherein the Christian's inheritance is sealed to him, as a son and heir of God, and wherein the death of Christ, as a testator, is related at large, and applied to his benefit. As this title implies, that in the Gospel unspeakable gifts are given, or bequeathed to us, antecedent to all conditions required of us; the title of testament may be retained, although that of covenant is most exact and proper.
The sacred writings of the New Testament are all handed down to us in the Greek language, which was that, most generally understood at the time they were written. They are historical, epistolary, and prophetical. Of the former are the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Acts of the Apostles.
The Greek word, which signifies joyful tidings, is exactly answerable to our English word gospel, which is derived from the Saxon word god, which signifies good, and spel, which signifies speech or tidings. În the New Testament this term is confined to the glad tidings of the actual coming of the Messiah ; and is even opposed to the prophecies con. cerning Christ, Rom. i. 1—2. So in Matt. xi. 5, our Lord says, the poor have the Gospel preached to them; that is, the coming of the Messiah is preached to the poor. Hence the church gave the name of Gospel to the histories of Christ, that is, to those sacred histories wherein the good news of the coming of the Messiah, with all its joyful cireumstances, are recorded.
The following table shows, at one view, the time when, the
places where, and the objects, for which the five historical books of the New Testament were written, according to Michaelis.
A. D. St. Matthew
Judea, or near it
61 In Greek for the use of the Romans, who did not
understand Hebrew. St. Luke Alexandria
63 or 64 In Greek for the use of the Gentile Christians in
Egypt, Greece, &c. St. John Ephesus
69 To refute the errors of Cerinthus and the Gnostics. The Acts by St. Luke Alexandria
For the use of the churches every where.
A Chronological Account of the books of the New
Romans - - - - -
sians, Ephesians, and Hebrews
the Second Epistle general of Peter The Epistle of James, and that of Jude, about John's Gospel -
- - Three Epistles St. John in the Isle of Patmos wrote the Revelations.
ORDER OF ALL THE BOOKS
WITH THEIR PROPER NAMES, AND NUMBER OF CHAPTERS.
MATTHEW hath chapters 28 || 1. Timothy
16 II. Timothy Luke .
24 | Titus John .
21 Philemon. The Acts
|| To the Hebrews Epistle to the Romans The Epistle of James 1. Corinthians,
|| 1. Peter II. Corinthians
|| II. Peter, Galatians
| I. John . Ephesians
II. John , Philippians
4 III. John Colossians . . 4| Jude
| Jude . I. Thessalonians
5 Revelation II. Thessalonians