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this again is divided into THREE, viz. the Arminian, the Calvinist, and the Unitarian.
A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE DIFFERENT SECTS OF THE
Those small parties, which in the first age of the Christian church have hitherto been called sects, do not appear to have been sufficiently numerous to claim that appellation. They were but half-converts, mixing the old practices of the idolaters with the pure doctrines taught by Christ and the apostles. The second and third chapters of the Revelation were directed to the churches of Asia, to warn them from falling into these pernicious practices. If we turn to the writings of the first Christian fathers, and compare what they have said concerning the doctrines and worship of those half-christians, we shall be able to determine who they were that are alluded to by the apostle in the messages to the seven churches, which has escaped the notice of every writer I have met with on that subject.
The Gnostics appear to have been the immediate successors of the apostles. The word Gnostic, from Tværtixos, means knowledge.
The first Gnostics were certainly the best philosophers, and the most learned among the original descendants of the apostles, who called themselves by this name, because of the true knowl
edge communicated to them in the gospels, concerning religion and the worship of God.
According to Clemens Alexandrinus, there were two sorts of Gnostics; the true Gnostic, or the true follower of Christ; who preserved the doctrine pure, as it was delivered by the apostles: and the various sects of professing Christians, who corrupted the doctrines of the gospel, by incorporating therewith the opinions and practices of the heathen worshippers. The chief of these were, the Nicholaitans, Carpocratians, Cerinthians, Ebionites, Simonians, Valentinians, and Nazarenes ; all originally Gnostics, but who changed this name for that of the leader of each respective sect. The doctrines put forth by these men, appear to have drawn the churches from the truth as preached by the apostles; and were the cause of the revelation being given to John, who was directed to write to the seven churches.
Among the professors of Christianity at this early period, there appears to have been a serious falling away from the truth, as delivered by the apostles. Even the first church, to which John was directed to write, had fallen from the simplicity of the gospel. It is called on to do its first works ; to repent; from which we are authorized to conclude, that, as first works are repentance; and as pride is the opposite of humility, or a state of repentance; pride must have been the true characteristic of the church of Ephesus at this period; therefore it is called on to repent and to do its first works.
But the second church, that is, the church of Smyrna, was highly approved, viz. “I know thy works, and tribulation and poverty, (but thou art rich) fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer, behold the devil shall cast some of you in prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days ; be thou faithful
unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” From which we learn, that the churches of Smyrna (over which the angel or he who was sent, which is its meaning, to preside,) were at this time in a state of persecution for the sake of the gospel ; but they are here encouraged to hold out to the end.
At the time when the apostle was directed to communicate these things to the seven superior churches, there was a violent persecution of the christians. For the third church, that is, the church in Pergamos, was highly approved; and although it was surrounded by persecutors, yet it was steadfast in the faith, condemned the abomination of idol-worship, and sealed the truth with its blood. Rey. ii. 13. “ I know thy works and where thou dwellest even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you where Satan dwelleth."
But we find that this church is accused of keeping those in her connexion, who were of the opinion of Nicholas; who held the doctrine of Balaam, and taught the people to eat of the sacrifices, which the idolaters offered to their idols: This was an accommodating system, a joining of idolatry with Christianity.
The fourth church noticed by the apostle, was the church of Thyatira, highly spoken of for its charity, faith, works, service, and patience. Patience, no doubt, because of its steadfastness in the faith under the persecutions of the heathen emperors. But, like the church of Pergamos, the angel (or he who was sent to govern the church) permitted those to be connected with them, who also were worshippers of idols; ver. 20. “ Notwithstanding ! have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess,
to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols." This woman,
Jezebel, seems to have been a person of considerable consequence among the people of Thyatira, who had not forsaken the idolatrous worship, but who joined it with the Christian worship. This is also called fornication, a scripture term for those who were idolaters, in allusion to departing from virtue. This church, as well as the church of Pergamos, was charged with keeping in its connexion some of the sect of Nicholaitans.
The fifth church, or the church of Sardis, was in a very low state, when the apostle wrote the Revelation. But yet there were some among them, who held fast their faith in the Redeemer, ch. iii. 4. “ Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy." Worthy, because they were steadfast, notwithstanding they were persecuted by the heathens, and kept themselves unspotted from the world.
The sixth church, or the church of Philadelphia, was also in a low state, on account of the persecutions. But, nevertheless, they had not departed from the faith. We find from this passage that the idolaters had attempted to shut up their places of worship, but they were told, Rev. iji. 8, 9, 10. “I know thy works : behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, (i. e. the idolatrous worshippers) which, say they, are Jews, and are not, but do lie ; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep the
from the hour of temptation :” viz. during the persecutions of the Roman tyrants.
But the seventh church, or the church of Laodicea, was in that state, equally disposed either to join the idolatry of the Laodiceans, or the profession of Christianity; for the apostle was commanded to write, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Nevertheless, we find that this church had been earnest in promulgating the truths of the Christian religion, as it is said in the following verse : as I love I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent ;' but had greatly fallen away. Neither does it appear, that they had fallen away from principle, because it is said, “ as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten :" therefore, it must have been occasioned by the very severe persecutions, which the Christians suffered from the Pagan worshippers of that day.
The first society of professing Christians after the apostles, which began to distinguish itself as the founder, or inventor of something new, was formed by
66 As many
The Nicholaitan prostitution of the truths of the Christian religion, began at a very early period. Nicholas, the founder, we are informed, was born at Antioch, before the evangelist John was banished to Patmos. He