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Errors regarding religion and Thoughts on prayer at the present time online

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N E W Y O R K :






Sleight &. Robinson-, Prii.ters.
No. 2G Wiliiim .Street, c






L Fragments of the True Relig-ion among the Heathen.— 2.
Worship of the Visible Heavens and of the Elements. — 3.
Worship of Deceased Ancestors. — 4. Complex and Mytholo-
gical Worship. — 5. External Polytheism and Internal Mys-
teries.— 6. Out'ir and Inner Philoscphy.— 7. Emanation and
Pantheism. — 8. '.'"he Wo'la by Wisdom kixw not God. — 9.
The True Notion of Creation pcculiiar to the Hebrew Scrip-
tures. . . I ■'"'."'•'■)'•' ■■ 13



1. Corruption of Religion among the Jews,— 2. Jewish Corrup-
tions of Christianity. — 3. Gnostic Corruptions. — 4. Sabellian-
ism.— 5. Arian and Semi-Arian Heresies. — 6. Trinitarian



Disputes and Divisions. — 7. Corruptions from Gentile Philo-
phy. — 8. Corruptions from Gentile Superstition.— 9. Pre-
~ tenders to an additional Revelation.— 10. Mahommedanism 37



1 . Partial and General Corruption of Christianity. — 2. Chang'es
of the Primitive Churches. — 3. The Power of the Bishop of
Rome. — 4. Assimilation of Christianity to Judaism and Pa-
ganism. — 5. Final Identity of Paganism and Popery.— 6.
Popery contains a part of many Ancient Heresies. — 7. Absur-
dity of Popery impossible to be concealed.— 8. Popery a g-ross
counterfeit of true Religion. — 9. Persecutions of Pagan
and Papal Rome. — 10. Popes and Emperors of Rome. — 11.
Popery as described by Revelation. — 12. Destruction of Po-
Pery . .


1. As Popery proceeds from Polytheism, so Mysticism from
Pantheism.— 2. Mysticism flourishing in the East.— 3. Mys-
ticism less prevalent in the West. — 4. Pantheistic Mysticism.
— 5. Emanative Mysticism.— 6. Devotional Mysticism.— 7.
Mysticism now rather practical than speculative. — 8, Mys-
ticism natural to the mind.— 9. Its near resemblance to Truth,
and its essential difference. — 10. Mysticism first favourable
to the Reformation of Religion, then adverse . . . U5





1. Difference of Heresies before and after the Reformation. —
2. Continual protest ag-ainst the Church of Rome. — 3. Dif-
ferent Points of Prog-ress in the Reformation,— 4. Artificial
Systems of Truth. — 5. Scriptural System. — 6. Use of Rea-
son in Religion. — 7. Abuse of Reason. — 8. Gradual explain-
ing* away the Doctrines of the Gospel. — 9. All Error on a
Precipice. — 10. Process of Dr. Priestly's Changes.— II. La-
titudinarianism unfavourable to Morals and Philosophy. — 12.
Rational Divinity untenable in all its changes. — 13. Socini-
anism rapidly terminating in Infidelity .... 149



I. Opposition between the present and the future— the visible
and invisible. — 2. Practical Infidels many; speculative
few.— 3. Infidelity, ancient and modern.— 4. Spinoza or Anti-
supernatural Pantheism. — 5. Bayle or Academic Doubts. —
6, Hume or Absolute Scepticism. — 7. Voltaire or Ridicule. —
8. Gibbon or Historical Scepticism.— 9. Rousseau or Senti-
mental Infidelity.— 10. Peculiar Argument for Christianity
from Infidel Writing's.- 11. First source of Infidelity, the
Corruption of the Heart. — 12. Second source, the Narrow-
ness of the Understanding-. — 13. Third source, the Imperfec-
tion of Knowledge.— 14. Proofs of Christianity permanent ;
Objections varying.— 15. Evidence of Christianity indebted
to unbelievers.- 16. Increase of Infidelity.— 17. Consequent

increase of Christianity 181






1. Old Errors yielding- to Scepticism, or Christianity.— 2. Nevv-
Errors insig-nificant. — 3. Minute Sects and Differences. —
4. Superficial turn of mind. — 5. Systems discarded, yet the
Scriptures little studied. — 6. Unscriptural Experience and
Comfort. — 7. Unscriptural View of the Divine Law.— 8. Un-
scriptural View of the Gospel. — 9. Unscriptural View of the
King-dorn of Heaven. — 10. Study of the whole of Scripture.
— 11. Clear and full preaching of the Gospel. — 12. Avoiding
Novelty, and uniting with all good Men. — 13. The Spirit of
Light and Love poured out from on high .... 245

PART viir.


1. Christianity, liko every other system, has its easential Doc-
trines. — 2. The reception or rejection of these divides the
World into two Classes. — 3, The folly of Divisions amongst
those who are united in essentials. — 4. All who receive the
Bible in sincerity have one Faith. — 5. Variety of Views
without diversity of Faith.— 6. Mistake of Means for the
End. — 7. Sects will cease when no longer useful. — 8. Walk-
ing together as far as agreed. — 9. Catholic Christianity.— 10.
The Union of all by the bond of Charity.— 11. Revival frorr)
on High.— 12. Inductive Philossphy.-^13. General and Reli-
gious Education.— 14. Pure Study of the Word of God.— 15.
Study with Prayer of the Word of God.— 16. Promises witii
respect to the Prevalence of Truth. — 17. The Glory of the
Latter Days • .... 271



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 eiTors, 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 b}^ which the mind for-
sakes the straight way of truth. Hence the same sys-
tems are ever recurring in the most distant ages and coun-
tries. The cosmogonies of the Ionic schools of Philo-
phy in Greece are at this day flourishing among the
Chinese, and the transcendental Pantheism of the Ele-
atic school has its counterparts in the writings of the
Buddhists and the Burmans. And the mind in its nar
row revolution of changes, is ever presenting again the
same darkened phases of error.

The origin of all departures from the true religion con-
sists in the want of spirituality in the fallen mind of man.
" God is a spirit and those that worship him must wor-
ship him in spirit and in truth ;" but in the darkened un-
derstanding 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 mind,=;,
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 tra-
ditions 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 hea-
vens, 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 per-
ceived,) 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 hea-
vens, 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 solici-
tudes 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 v;as 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 re-
united, and the separate deities of Polytheism were either
absorbed into the soul of the world, or considered as ema-
nations 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 mat-
ter, by defect merely, as it flows dark and languid around


Its Circumference, though glowing and energetic and spi-
ritual at its centre or heart ; and hence the Emanative

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 Hin-
doos ; and hence the strict Pantheistic system.

In the above classes are included all the S3^stems that
have ever prevailed among nations destitute of revelation.

Wlien Christianity was proclaimed, there were two
ways of receiving it, — either for men to forsake their su-
perstitions, 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 at-
tempt gave rise to the early heresies. The Jewish here-
sies 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 mo-
dification 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 di-
vine fountain through a number of personifications, such
as life, light, and wisdom, which they named iEons, till
it reached its dark and impure termination in becoming
matter ; or in beings possessed of those mahgnant qua-
lities which union with matter was supposed to occa-
sion. And the whole of their practical rehgion and phi-
losophy 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 opposi-
tion of Christians than by the powerful arms of Por-
phyry, 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 Per-
sons, by the help of the philosophy most prevalent in
those days. And, accordingly, their reasonings concern-
ing 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 in-
roads upon the vulgar. In addition to the high myste-
ries 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 senti-
ments 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 refor-
mation in any country came to a stand, the more nume-
rous 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 ap-
pealed 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 ex-
ample 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 under-
standing of Calvin.

The freedom of the reformation gave rise to the lati-
tudinarian 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 pre-
judice. That a tiuth 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 theolo-
gy is conformable to reason enlarged and enlightened by
revelation ; but rational theology, as it is called, con-
forms 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 dif-
ferent 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 pro-
gress 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 them-
selves, however absurd, in order to fill up the ray less 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 gi*eat 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 declin-
ing condition ; they are chiefly believed because they
have been firequently repeated, and because it is conve-
nient 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.



I. Fragments of the true Religion among the Hea-


II. "Worship of the Visible Heavens and of the Ele-

ni. Worship of Deceased Ancestors.

IV. Complex and Mythological Worship.

V. External Polytheism and Internal Mysteries*

VI. Outer and Inner Philosophy.

VII. Emanation and Pantheism.

VIII. The World by Wisdom knew not God.

IX. The true Notion of Creation pecuhar to the

Hebrew Scriptures.



I. Traces of primeval revelation, and of the wor
ship of the true God, are found dispersed in scattered
fragments over the habitable earth. Even tribes
30 rude as to be enumerated among the instances of
men who had no religion, are yet discovered, from
subsequent information, to retain vestiges, however
faint, of the primitive condition of man. These
fragments of ancient knowledge are striking in
themselves, but would appear much more wonderful
if they were carefully collected and reunited by some
skilful hand.

Works upon this subject are sufficiently nume-
rous, but in general they receive every thing with-
out discrimination, and the gi'oss credulity with which
they are written, has thrown considerable discredit,
upon the whole subject.

Recollections of the principal events of antedi
luvian history may be clearly and easily traced, and
the deluge itself, as might be expected, holds a very
prominent place in universal tradition. The crea
lion of the world; paiadise, or the golden age ; the
fall of man, or the loss of his first happy state ; the


wickedness of the antediluvians, and their almost
universal destruction by a deluge, are rumours of
past events which have reached the new as well as
the old world ; and which, in the language of the
old poet, are ever sounding over earth and sea.
These traditions gradually assume a greater consis-
tency, and more nearly resemble the truth in propor-
tion as we approach the ancient abodes of mankind
in the east. The Syrians, as we see by Lucian,
preserved a very accurate account of the deluge, and
commemorated the escape of the remnant of the
race who were preserved by him whom the Greeks
call Deucalion, in his ark, along with the inferior
animals who entered by pairs. Nor less accurate is
the account which Ovid gives of the creation of the
world in wonderful accordance with the Scriptures :
an account which appears to be derived from the
early tribes which peopled Greece and Italy, united
to notices received from the Phenicians. Each
quarter of the world had its mythological gardens,
and the golden age appears partly as the state from
which man had fallen, at other times, as the happy
condition to wliich he was to be restored. There
are also many traditions cunent respecting the
Deity, and the divine government of the world, of
which Plato has preserved several samples, that may
be traced to early revelation, though they are more
disfigured, as may be supposed, than recollections
that relate to the events of history. Even in posi-
tive rites, as in the respect attached to the seventli


day, and most of all, in the observance and mannei
of sacrifice, there are marked and striking connex-
ions between the various tribes of mankind. It i&
observable, that after the deluge, when the human
race were separated and dispersed, their traditions
also separate, and each nation commences a series of
fables of its own.

II. But though mankind separated, they all car-
ried along with them the same evil heart of unbe-
lief, an equal proneness to sense, and tendency to
forget the true and living God. They had within
them the same faculties, and without them the
:^ame nature. The course of error had thus a won-
derful similarity in its rise and progress, as much so
as if the first nations had proceeded with common
consent, and a premeditated design, to the adoption
of those superstitions which spread one universal

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Online LibraryJames DouglasErrors regarding religion and Thoughts on prayer at the present time → online text (page 1 of 20)