GNOSTICISM: THE COMING APOSTASY
“Take heed, lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ: for in Him dwelleth all the fullness – Pleroms – of the Godhead bodily, and in Him ye are made full, Who is the Head of all Principality and Power” (Col. 2: 8-10).
From these and other verses it is evident, that some Gnostic sect – probably a Judaeo-Gnostic – was spreading its pretended knowledge and vain philosophy among the Colossians; and Paul warns them, that such teaching was no message from God and His Son Jesus Christ, but flowed from a system of error, made up of human tradition, and a rudimentary discipline, such as would be suggested by the spirit of the world. Let them, then, beware of following leaders who would substitute the imaginary Aeons and their fabled Pleroma for the Only Begotten Son of God. For in Him ALONE doth all the Fulness – Pleroma – of the Godhead dwell, even in the body by the assumption of which He has united Himself with man.
The Gnostics did, indeed, teach that one of their Christs, such as he was, had effected the redemption of men: but from what did he redeem them? Not from their sins, from which the Lord Jesus saves His people (Matt. 1: 21); the Gnostics had very little to say respecting sin. Matter was the only evil, the cause of evil, which they recognized. If intellectual men did wrong, that was because of their compulsory imprisonment in houses of clay.
Hence the redemption was the separation of man’s spirit from the accursed matter which encumbered it. For the spirit had no sins from which it must needs be loosed by the expiating Blood of the Lord Jesus, but was altogether holy as soon as the fetters of flesh had been broken off and cast away, no matter how great evil it might have wrought while in the body.
The serous consequences of such teaching as this upon pure doctrine will be readily perceived. In the first place, because it enabled Gnostics, with logical consistency, TO DENY THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY, and, therefore, also, that of the Lord’s Body. They taught that resurrection took place during the earth-life, and was merely the awakening of the spirit to a consciousness of its own separate nature and present bondage. And this seems to have been the doctrine of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who, by affirming that the resurrection was past already, overthrow the faith of some (2 Tim. 2: 17, 18).
Yet, again, the principle that evil
resided only in matter and material flesh, took another direction, and branched
out into two divergent roads, of which men might make choice according to their
natural bent. And so, some affirmed,
that, since the body was utterly vile, and, as soon as the spirit left it,
would sink back into, and be forever
lost in, primeval chaos: therefore, it was unimportant to what use it was put
during their enforced association with it.
Hence they plunged into any kind of uncleanness to which their lust
inclined them, having taught, until they themselves believed it, that nothing
could possibly pollute the spirit, or prevent it from emerging as pure and holy
from the most degraded as from the chastest body. Of the practical results of such a doctrine, Irenaeus gives a vivid description in
his account of the filthy lives and conduct of the Gnostics of Gaul, among whom
his own lot was cast (Iren. Advers. Haer.,
As to those who took the other road, they, regarding the material body as despicable, evil, and the cause of all their woes, were ever striving to humiliate and mortify it, just as the Sadhus and Fikirs of Hindustan, and many devout Catholics of Christendom, are doing today; for they believed that by such means they would loosen its power over themselves, and the sooner escape altogether from its bondage. And this is just what the Judean Gnostics, or Essenes, were teaching at Colosse (Col. 2.). But Paul stigmatizes what they taught as precepts and doctrines of men, and adds:-
“Which things have, indeed, a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and severity of the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col. 2: 23).
Nevertheless, he warns them, that they have members upon the earth which they would do well to humiliate and mortify with all their strength – such as fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness (Col. 3: 5).
Thus from diverse applications of the same Gnostic doctrine, there resulted, on the one side, a gross libertinism, on the other, the severest asceticism.
says Dr. Burton, “was professed, in the
second century, in every part of the civilized world, and its schools were
as numerously and as zealously attended as any which
[* “in His baptism,” said Cerinthus, “the Christ descended into Jesus: during His suffering on the cross, the Christ flew up from Him.”]
The Christian Faith, Dr. Pusey has just observed, has
nothing to fear except from its defenders.
Few voices, and voices so far little heeded, have as yet revealed
perhaps the deadliest peril – because internal – which now besets the
THE COMING APOSTASY GNOSTIC
It is of the utmost importance to gauge correctly and exactly the nature of apostasy. Apostasy is not corruption: it is a total change, or abandonment, of a faith previously held. … So Dr. Burton, in a treatise singularly suited for our day, says: “All these passages [including 1 Tim. 4: 1-3, and 2 Thess. 2: 3] apply to Gnostic teachers.” Here is the prophecy:-
“The Spirit saith expressly, that in latter times some shall fall away [apostatize] from the faith:” (1 Tim. 4: 1).
This, the only utterance the Holy Ghost has italicized – “the Spirit saith expressly” – proves the urgency of the crisis, when it shall arrive; and its pronouncement at least eighteen hundred years before fulfilment implies the colossal and portentous nature of this landslide from faith. The words definitely locate the Apostasy in the faithless (Luke 18: 8) and perilous (2 Tim. 3: 1) days which are to close the Christian era. Nor is this all.
“Giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons speaking lies in hypocrisy, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron.”…
The seduction will be so close a counterfeit, and so miraculous. As to be a peril to all, and even to God’s elect (Matt. 24: 24).
The ethical principles of the Apostasy are next unfolded.
Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats,* which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and [in addition] know [recognize] the truth [on this point].
[* That is, articles of diet, food or drink.]
Here are the basic principles which identify the final Apostasy. Prohibition of marriage* - on the ground that matter is evil, and propagation of the human race is thus both foolish and wicked, - and enforced abstinence from foods – on the ground that evil is inherent, not in the heart, but in the body, and in the foods on which the body feeds, - entered deeply into Gnostic thought: the momentum of the Apostasy, as all early Christian commentators on this passage foresaw, is to be a Gnostic momentum.. Thus the Apostasy, occurring at the end of the Age, is a deliberate renunciation of the Christian Faith, and, based on a philosophy consciously received from unseen intelligences, its fundamental principles and general character are Gnostic.
[*The Roman prohibition of marriage to a class, and that class church officers, in specific opposition to Scripture (1 Tim. 3: 2, 4) is tentatively Gnostic. Celibacy, solely with a view to the fullest devotion of time to God (1 Cor. 7: 35), is a gift (1 Cor. 7: 7), and strictly voluntary (1 Cor. 7: 37). “Not as if we superseded a bad thing by a good, but only a good thing by a better. For we do not reject marriage, but simply refrain from it.” (Tertullian Against Marcion, p. 561.)] …
The Gnostics had succeeded in corrupting many vital doctrines of the Church: they had introduced Sacerdotalism, and persuaded her to imitate Pagan ritual: they had assimilated her government to that of Pagan religions and states, and had foisted in not a few ideas and customs from the Gentile world. Under their influence, that which had once been a simple Evangelical and Apostolic body was becoming an ecclesiastical hierarchy, and was now fully prepared for the next move of Satan, which was to exalt it to earthly power by uniting it with, and subordinating it to, the great World-Empire of Rome.
For by the time the nominal church had been deprived of almost all that would have checked her ready participation in earthly things. Her enthusiasm had dried out: her miraculous powers had gone; for the guidance of worldly bishops, many of whom were also Pagan initiates, had superseded that of the Holy Spirit: there were no more speakings with tongues: prophesyings had ceased to startle the assemblies: and, worst of all, the Great Lord Himself was now far from being the sole hope of those who professed to be His people; for they had forgotten to look for His return, because they had lost all desire for it, AND WERE ACTUALLY BRANDING MILLENNARIANS AS HERETICS.
There was, indeed, a strong reaction against this lamentable state of things, even while it was developing, and the nominal Church was only beginning to lose her first love: the effect was, however, unsuccessful, and those who made it have, under the name of Montanists, been represented in ecclesiastical history as heretics and schismatics. But unworldly, fervent, and eager for their Lord’s return, as they were, it is not improbable that many of them will HEREAFTER BE FOUND AMONG “THE CALLED AND CHOSEN AND FAITHFUL.”
We note, moreover, that they do not seem to have been accused of heresy in doctrine, but only of separation from the Catholic Church, and from fanaticism. Those, however, who love the Lord Jesus first and best, must needs sever themselves from an apostatizing Church; and experience teaches us, that the holy fervour of such as are energized by the Spirit of God is usually regarded as fanaticism by men who have never fealt it. …
Yet, if the charge of fanaticism were to some extent true, we could not, on that account, consent to treat as heretics those who left the great professing body because they deemed, that, as believers, they must maintain the simplicity of Christ, keep themselves unspotted from the world, strive for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and ever watch and pray for the coming of the Lord and the establishing of His Kingdom.
The Gnostics were ever assailing the Old Testament, while many of them hypocritically professed to believe in the New; for they were well aware, that, if they could but overthrow [Divine prophecies and] the faith of men in the Hebrew Scriptures, they would be able to make short work of the Greek. …
All heresies are propagated by these disguised agents of the Evil One; for every kind of evil comes from one source alone, even as all love comes from One Source Alone; and, from time to time, they have originated and established various religions, sects, and societies, either for the direct purpose of leading men further and further from the Truth, or in order to distract, bewilder, and reduce to feebleness, the real children of God.
The Church of Rome is their presentation
of Christianity to those who will have Christianity; but, in her teachings, they have completely
deprived the gospel of its meaning and life-giving power. For, if the doctrines of
Now, in reviewing the present aspect of things, we must not forget, that the great movements of Spiritualism and Christian Science are, both of them, developments of Gnosticism; for both despise matter, DENY THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY, and either obscure, or altogether rid themselves of, the Lord Jesus and His loving expiation of the sins of men. And, if we add to this the fact, that the Roman Church, also, belongs to the same group, how can we refuse to admit, that Gnosticism is to-day in possession of the field throughout the whole of Christendom?
The experience of the Church in its earlier conflict with Gnosticism suggests a fourfold answer. (1) we must press, as the Apostles did, the objective reality of our Saviour’s virgin birth, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection, and the objective reality of His miracles; “that which [apostles] have seen with [their] own eyes, and [their] hands handled, the Logos” (1 John 1: 1); Jesus, the Christ, come (1 John 4: 2) and coming (2 John 7) in flesh. Ours is no phantasmal Christ: in a true humanity He offered a Divine sacrifice. The implied motto of the Gnostic is Fichte’s – “Men are saved, not by the historical, but by the metaphysical”; the motto of the Christian Faith is – “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” (2) We must press on all a whole Bible, rightly divided, yet all tenaciously retained. The peril of confounding the dispensations is Sacerdotalism, which imports the Law into the Gospel: the peril of too sharp a sundering of the dispensations is Gnosticism, which introduces deadly antithesis between the Old Testament and the New. The whole Book is essential to reveal Jehovah Elohim: in carrying the Scriptures, we are priests that bear the ark. “O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee, turning away from the profane babblings and antitheses of the Gnosis which is falsely so called” (1 Tim. 6: 20). (3) We must replace the false Gnosis with the true. In Gnosticism it is Gnosis, or knowledge, which saves; in Theosophy, it is “the hidden wisdom”; in Christian Science, it is Mind:- “he that loveth not,” answers the great anti-Gnostic Apostle, “knoweth not God” (1 John 4: 8). Saving Gnosis is the inrush of the love of God into the heart simultaneously with the inrush of the light of God into the mind. The “depths of Satan,” as our Lord calls these metaphysical subtilties and philosophical abysses (Rev. 2: 24), are best overthrown by the deep things of God; and no depth of God is profounder, or more essential, than that without regeneration in the heart no salvation is possible in the personality, the character, or the destiny. Finally (4) we need to be charged anew with the infinite compassions of God. We must withdraw ourselves from the praise of men the more effectually to serve them; and if we would speak to them in the language of Heaven, we must live much in the land where that language is spoken. The crisis can be met adequately only by those who speak out of eternity into time, because they live much with Him Who, when He spoke to a guilty world, spoke the Logos. “Love is of God; and everyone that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4: 7). It is most remarkable that our Lord, in singling out a Gnostic sect – as the Fathers were unanimous in defending the Nicolatians – says He hates their deeds, He does not say He hates them: “thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2: 6) “Bernard loved Jesus as much as any man,” said Luther, “but when he enters into controversy he is Bernard no more”: let us learn, upon our knees, how to present the truth of God with the atmosphere of God, and with the patient, tireless grace of the love of God.