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For there must be also heresies among you, that they who are approved may
be made manifest among you. 1 CORINTHIANS, xi. 19.
Though the church of Corinth came behind no other church in respect to the variety and richness of spiritual gifts, yet they were unhappily divided in their religious sentiments, which produced unchristian animosities and contentions which the apostle entreats them to lay aside. "Now I beseech you, breth
“ ren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that
ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.” Among other erroneous opinions and practices, he mentions in the chapter that contains the text, their unworthy views and unchristian conduct respecting the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. He says, “ Now in this that I declare unto you, I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear there be divisions among you, and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." Here the apostle first mentions divisions, and then also heresies; which plainly implies that heresies are distinct and different from divisions. Though divisions in a church may flow from heresies, yet they may flow from other causes. Both divisions and heresies have been in the Christian church from the beginning, and the text intimates that they must still be in the church. This, then, is the truth which now lies before us :
That it is necessary that there should be heresies in the church of Christ. I shall,
I. Explain heresies;
II. Show that they have been hitherto in the church of Christ;
III. Show in what sense it is necessary that they should be in the church of Christ; and,
IV. Show why they are necessary in the Christian church.
I. Let us consider what heresy is. There are but two different opinions upon this subject. One is, that it means a schism in a church, or a bitter contention, which brings about an unhappy and unchristian separation. But the apostle in the text and in the verse before it, makes a distinction between divisions or separations, and heresies. After mentioning divisions, he adds, “ There must be also heresies." By heresies, all denominations of christians mean such great errors and false doctrines, as they consider contrary to, and subversive of what they call the essential or fundamental doctrines of the gospel. The apostle, in his epistle to Titus, represents a heretic as a man who maintains and propagates corrupt and dangerous doctrines; and not as one who is only contentious, and causes animosities and disputes in a church.“ A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself." A heretic avows his false and corrupt sentiments, so that the church have no occasion to prove that he is a heretic, but only to censure him for his heresy; he having condemned himself by openly acknowledging and propagating his errors. The apostle gives the same description of heretics in his epistle to the church of Galatia. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel; which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” That is, let him be anathematized, , or excommunicated for his heresy. As there are various essential and fundamental errors which would pervert the gospel of Christ, so all these errors are so many heresies in a scripture sense. Though every error is not a heresy, yet every
. error which subverts the gospel is a heresy. Heresy essentially consists in any religious errors which are inconsistent with, and subversive of any of the first principles of the oracles of God; and heretics are those who openly avow and propagate such false and dangerous doctrines. I proceed to show,
II. That heresies have been in the christian church from the
beginning. Though the church of Christ was planted by his apostles, who admitted none into it but those who professed to believe and love the gospel sincerely; yet very soon error and heresy made their appearance among the professors of Christianity. Immediately after the gospel was preached by Philip in Samaria, Simon the sorcerer professed to believe and embrace it'; but he soon became an open enemy to Christianity, and propagated the grossest heresies. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, intimates that there were heretics in that church, and warns them to guard against their heretical opinions. “ Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them who cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrines which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such, serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” These persons were deceivers, which is the proper character of heretics, who are actuated by the spirit of the great deceiver. Our text assures us that there were heresies in the church of Corinth. Paul admonishes the church of Ephesus “not to be carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” This implies that there were heretics, who propagated heresies among the Ephesian church, and used every artifice to deceive and destroy. To the Philippians the apostle says, “ To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers." These were false teachers and dangerous heretics. The apostle says to the Colossians, “ As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him; rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of man, after the rudiments of the world, and not aster Christ." This was an admonition against heretics and heresy, to which the Colossians were exposed. The apostle instructs Timothy to charge some that they preach no other doctrine than he had preached. And he assures him that “the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” He concludes his epistle by saying, “ O Timothy, keep
” that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called; which some prosessing have erred concerning the faith.” In his second epistle to Timothy he says, “ Shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom are Hymeneus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some.' The apostle Peter says, " There were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” And the apostle John mentions various dangerous and destructive delusions and heresies in the seven churches of Asia in his day. If we now consult ecclesiastical history from the apostolic times to the present, we shall find that the Christian church has never been free from gross delusions and destructive heresies. Christ predicted that there would always be tares among the wheat to the end of the world. This prediction has been constantly fulfilling, and will be finally and completely fulfilled. There never has been, and never will be a pure church in this world. There must be heresies in it. This leads us to show,
III. In what sense it is necessary that heresies should be in the church. There never has been, and there never can be, any natural necessity of heresy in the Christian church. Those who enjoy the gospel may always know, and love, and profess the truth. They are at perfect liberty to embrace the truth, or to embrace error. They are never under any natural necessity of falling into any kind of heresy. Heresy is always the fruit of an evil heart of unbelief. If the Christian church had always followed the instructions and admonitions of Christ and the apostles, they never would have fallen into any essential errors or heresies, but would have remained pure and uncorrupt to this day. And if christians from this day forward would only regulate their sentiments by the rules of the gospel, they would never imbibe any fatal heresies to the end of the world. There is, therefore, only a moral necessity of the continuance of heresy; a necessity arising from the moral corruption of the heart. As long as there are any among professing christians who are under the dominion of a totally corrupt heart, they will love error better than truth, and will be disposed to imbibe fatal errors and heresies. And, as we have good reasons to expect that there will be some such persons in the church who will remain totally depraved, so we may believe that there will be in time to come, as in time past, heresies in the Christian church. Moral corruption will create a moral necessity of the perpetual continuance of heresy, as long as the world stands. It still remains to show,
IV. Why there is a moral necessity of heresies continuing in the Christian church to the end of time; or why God chooses, all things considered, that heresies should continue to exist.
God does not love, but hates heresies, in themselves considered. He forbids and condemns men for embracing them. But yet he chooses, all things considered, that they should exist. This Christ taught by the parable of the tares. The householder would not allow his servants to go and gather up the tares ; but said, " Nay, lest, while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” God has some wise and important purposes to answer, by always continuing heresies in the church. This is intimated in the text. “For there must be also heresies among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you.” Though we do not know all the good purposes which God intends to answer by the continuance of heresies in the church, yet some of the most plain and obvious ones it may be proper to mention.
1. One important purpose he means to answer by the means of heresies, is to distinguish truth from error. The leading and essential truths of the gospel have been revealed and taught ever since the first apostacy. The gospel was summarily preached to Adam, in the promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. The gospel was preached to the patriarchs, who all lived and died in the faith of it. The gospel was preached to Abraham, and to all his seed under the Old Testament. And it has been still more fully and plainly preached by Christ and his apostles, and their successors from his day to this time. The great and essential truths of the gospel have been a stream of light, which, like the rising sun, has been continually shining brighter and brighter unto the perfect day; while, at the same time, fatal errors, delusions and heresies have been increasing in number and magnitude, and involving all persons, and all nations destitute of the gospel, in worse than Egyptian darkness. God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions. The great mass of mankind have, for near six thousand years, been employing all their ingenuity and learning in devising and propagating new and false schemes of religion, by which they have involved the world in general, in the grossest errors and moral darkness. The light of divine truth has always shone in the midst of the darkness of human error. And we all know that darkness renders light more visible, and light renders darkness more visible. Just so, the darkness of error renders the light of truth more visible, and the light of truth renders the darkness of error more visible. The world that lies in moral darkness do not know that they lie in moral darkness, until the light of the glorious gospel shines among them. And those who have always enjoyed the light of the gospel, would not know that the rest of