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HISTORICAL SKETCH OF DEISM.
By Rev. Enoch Pond, D. D., Prof. Theol., Theol. Sem., Bangor, Me.
By Deism is meant that form of religion, which admits the existence of a Supreme Being, but denies that he has made a supernatural revelation of his truth and will to mankind, in the Scriptures. In other words, it is that form of religion which, while it admits the Divine existence, denies the truth and inspiration of the Bible.
Of Deism, as of most other forms of error, there are different degrees. There are those, who professedly and openly discard revelation, avowing that its claims to have come from God are without foundation. There are others, who, while they do not professedly discard the Bible, are yet its real opposers and enemies. They secretly reproach it, endeavor to undermine it, and labor to turn its doctrines into ridicule and contempt. It will be seen, that this second class of Deists has been much more numerous, in modern times, than the first.
There is still a third class of men, who fall fairly within the ranks of Infidelity, who, while they admit that the Bible contains a revelation from God, still leave it to each individ. ual to determine what, and how much, this revelation is. It is not the whole Bible, but is contained in the Bible; and every reader of the Bible is to judge for himself, what portions of it are to be regarded as of Divine origin, and what not. A principle such as this amounts obviously to a species of infidelity ; since it is a manifest rejection of the canonical Scriptures as an infallible rule of faith and life. One person sets aside this passage as constituting no part of the revelation, and another that; and we need a new Bible, to inform us what parts of the Old are to be received, and what rejected.
In presenting a brief account of discussions relative to the Divine authority of the Scriptures, I shall have no occasion
to go farther back than to the first age of Christianity. The Jews were a people by themselves. They held their Scriptures as a sacred deposit, which they were to keep, rather than circulate ; and the surrounding nations were either so entirely ignorant of these Scriptures, or they held them in so much contempt, as to enter into no controversy respecting them. The ancient idolaters would all have rejected the Jewish Scriptures; or, at best, would have placed them on a level with the responses of their own oracles, and the dreamings of their own diviners, but previous to the Christian era, I am not aware that there was any considerable controversy respecting them.
Near the close of the first century, Josephus published his Antiquities at Rome. They were written in the Greek language, and for the express purpose of vindicating the great antiquity of the Hebrew nation, and of making the Greeks and Romans acquainted with their history. But some of the learned Greeks, who read the books of Josephus, were very incredulous as to his statements; and entered into formal controversy with him on the subject. Their writings are now lost; but a triumphant refutation of them, from the pen of Josephus, is extant. His two books against Apion, in which he refutes the calumnies, not only of Apion, but of several others, and demonstrates, from the early records of the Chaldeans, Egyptians, and Phenicians, the high antiquity of the IIebrews, will remain as a monument of the learning of Josephus, and of his zeal for the honor of his people.
The earliest enemies of the Christian Scriptures were the Jews and heathens. With the Jewish unbelievers, several of the early fathers engaged in controversy. The dialogue of Justin with Trypho, the Jew, is still extant, in which the former endeavors to prove to the latter, from the writings of the Jewish prophets, that the Messiah has come, and that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ.
The first efforts of the Pagans against the Christians were directed, not so much to discredit their writings, as to defame their characters, and destroy their lives. Because these Christians had no images among them, and refused to worship the idols of the heathen, they were charged with atheism. And because they were constrained from a regard to their own safety, to hold their meetings in private, and often in the night season, they were accused of practising in them
the most foul and horrible crimes. To refute these calumnies, and stay the effusion of innocent blood, was the object of most of the Apologies for the Christian faith which were early written. Several of these Apologies, particularly those of Justin, Tertullian, and Minucius Felix, we have in our hands, and they should be diligently pondered by every Christian student. Next to the writings of the Apostles, they furnish the best exposition, and the most authentic monument, of primitive Christianity.
The first of the heathen philosophers who entered into formal controversy with the ancient Christians, was Celsus, an Epicurean, who lived about the middle of the second century. His work against Christianity, which he entitled “ The True Word,” is irrecoverably lost, except so much of it as may be extracted from the reply of Origen, which was published almost a hundred years after Celsus was dead. Enough of it, however, remains, to give us a pretty full idea of the character of the work. Amidst a multitude of frivo. lous objections, and much ridicule and reproach, he bears the most unequivocal testimony to the authenticity of our sacred books, and to some of the more material facts of the Scripture history. He speaks of the Pentateuch as an acknowledged writing of Moses. He was familiar with the books of the Old Testament, and represents them as having a Divine authority among Jews and Christians. He not only admits, but insists, that the Gospels were written by the early followers of Christ. “From your own writings ye have these things. We make use of no other witness. Ye fall in your own snare."
He admits that our Saviour performed many miracles, though, like most of the idolaters of that age, he ascribes them to magic. “Supposing these things to be wrought by him, they are of the same nature with the works of enchanters, and of them who have learned of the Egyptians.” On the whole, I regard the work of Celsus as one of great interest to the Christian student. It furnishes a most important link in that strong chain of evidence, which goes to establish the authenticity and Divine authority of our sacred books.
Cotemporary with Celsus was the Greek critic and satirist, Lucian. He satisfied himself with ridiculing the Christians, without any very serious attempts at opposition.
Near the middle of the next century flourished Porphyry, a learned eclectic philosopher and voluminous author. He published a work in opposition to the Christians, in fifteen books, which was replied to, at great length, by Methodius, Eusebius the historian, and Apollinaris of Laodicea. Through the mistaken zeal of some of the Christian Emperors, particularly of Theodosius, the work of Porphyry was suppressed and extirpated, so that no copies of it were left. We can judge of it, therefore, only from some scattered fragments, which may be collected from Eusebius, Jerome, and other ancient writers. It seems that Porphyry had strong objections to the prophecies of Daniel. These productions were so remarkable, and had been so remarkably fulfilled, that Porphyry insisted, in opposition to the strongest historical proofs, that the book of Daniel must have been written subsequent to the reign of Alexander, and after the principal events purporting to be foretold in it, had been accomplished.
At the period of which we now speak (the middle and latter part of the third century), when Christianity had made great progress, and was exciting attention and interest every where, numerous heathen philosophers and rhetoricians took
in earnest to refute it ; but in most instances, not only their works, but their names have perished! I shall notice but two or three of them--the only ones, however, of whose writings we have any knowledge.
Hierocles flourished near the beginning of the fourth century, and was a principal adviser and promoter of the Diocletian persecution. Not content with destroying the innocent Christians, he took up his pen to oppose and revile them. He endeavored to show, that the sacred Scriptures destroy themselves, by means of their numerous self-contradictions. He reviled the Apostles as ignorant and illiterate propagators of falsehood, some of whom got their livelihood by fishing. He does not deny our Saviour's miracles, but supposes, with Celsus, that they were performed by magic; alleging that Apollonius Tyanæus was as great a magician and miracle-worker as he. In proof of this, Hierocles abridged and republished a life of Apollonius, which had been previously written by Philostratus, an Athenian.
As much was said of this Apollonius, at the period of which we here speak, and as he has been referred to by infidels in modern times as the rival and compeer of our Sav
iour, it may not be improper to annex a brief account of him. He was born at Tyana, a city of Cappadocia, near the commencement of the Christian era. He early joined himself to the Pythagoreans, and faithfully practised all the requisite austerities, in order to an initiation into that community. He endeavored to imitate Pythagoras as closely as possible, and like him travelled extensively in foreign lands. At length, he established himself at Ephesus, and there gathered a school after the manner of the ancient Pythagorean college. He practised magical arts, and professed to have much intercourse with the gods; but the wonders recorded of him, and the stories which he told, are so absolutely incredible and ridiculous, as to render him entirely unworthy of confidence. Thus he affirms, that the Bramins of India, among whom he travelled, keep tubs full of rain, wind, and thunder, constantly by them, which they bestow upon their friends, or inflict upon their enemies, according to their pleasure--that the earth swells and rolls, like the waves of the sea, only with the touch of a Bramin's wand; --that at the feasts of the Bramins, there is no need of servants, since the chairs, stools, pots, cups, dishes and plates understand every one its own office, and move spontaneously, hither and thither, as the case requires. He asserts that, in the course of his travels, he found, in one country, the women half black and half white; in another, a nation of pigmies, living underground ; in another, apes as large as men, and a kind of beasts which had faces like men, and bodies like lions. In another country which he visited, he found wool growing out of the ground like grass, and dragons as plenty as sheep in other places. Apollonius pretended to be familiar, not only with all the languages of men, but also with those of beasts and birds ; which gift he assures us he acquired instantly, in consequence of eating a dragon's heart. Such are some of the narrations of Apollonius; all gravely related by his veracious biographer; and this is the man whom unbelievers, in ancient and in modern times, have undertaken to hold up, as the compeer of our blessed Saviour.
I shall notice but another of the ancient enemies of Christianity, and this is the Emperor Julian. This man was born, A. D. 331, and educated among the Christians. He was a nephew of Constantine the great, and upon the death of the sons of Constantine, became sole Emperor of Rome. In the time