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AN EXPOSITION OF THE APOCALYPSE
3. The Nikolaitanes.
But though fallen from his first estate, the Star-Angel had one redeeming characteristic; namely, that he "hated the works of the Nikolaitanes, which," says the Spirit, "I also hate." The word, Nikolaitanes, is used in no other book of the scriptures than this symbolical one of the Apocalypse; and in this, it only occurs twice -- that is, in 2:6,15. In the former verse, "the works" of the Nikolaitanes, and in the latter, their "doctrine," or teaching, is denounced. The word is a symbolical name, like Balaam and Jezebel, in the same chapter. In the original, it is (!greek!), a word compounded of (!greek!) victory, and (!greek!) people; and as a mystical name, signifies Vanquishers of the People. The class of men so designated, were the "grievous wolves" Paul predicted would stand up among the episcopals of the Presbyteries, and ravin upon the flock. These episcopal men, by their works, and by their teaching, would so bewitch, and deceive the people, as to get a complete ascendancy over them. They would persuade them at length, that they were "the ambassadors of Jesus Christ," and the true "successors of the apostles;" and that it was to them henceforth professors should look for the consolations of religion, and for a true exposition of the sacred writings, which were too holy and too recondite to
be interpreted by any save "the called and sent of God as Aaron was," which they affirmed themselves to be! The people, not holding on to their "first love," that they might be saved, and neglecting the study of the word for themselves, were easily beguiled by "the working of Satan with all power and signs, and lying wonders, and with all the deceivableness of unrighteousness," brought to bear upon them. They surrendered themselves to their spiritual guidance, selling themselves to the clergy for their "philosophy and vain deceit" (Col. 2:8). "For this cause, the Deity sent upon them a strong delusion to their believing in a lie, that all might be condemned who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in the unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:9-12). Such was the transgression into which they were beguiled by Hymeneus, Philetus, Alexander, Phygellus, Hermogenes, Demas, Diotrephes, and other men of their stamp; and such is the punishment that came upon them to their exclusion from the kingdom of the Deity. The delusion waxed stronger and stronger, as centuries increased the distance from apostolic times, until now the human mind is so enchained by the clerical system of unrighteousness extant, that the truth has scarcely any influence at all.
But the Judaizers were not alone the perverters and vanquishers of the people. Another faction arose from among the Gentile element of the Star-Angels. This was composed of the "wolves" referred to in Paul's first letter to Timothy (6:20), where he says to him, "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane, vain, babblings, and oppositions of (!greek!) Gnosis, or knowledge falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith." These came to be called Gnostics because of their professing what they called Gnosis, or knowledge, a false science, whose principles were subversive of the truth. The same thing is styled in our day "theological science," "divinity," "ethics," "hermeneutics," and so forth; terms invented to amaze the ignorant, and to impress them with the necessity of schools and colleges for the indoctrination of pious youth in the mysteries they learnedly conceal. Now the principles of this ancient and modern Gnosis are subversive of the truth; for "some professing them," says Paul, "have erred concerning the faith." He refers to them again in his second letter (2:16), saying, "Shun profane, vain, babblings; for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their word will eat as a gangrene; 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."
These Gnostics were a sort of immersed philosophers -- Gentile professors of "the wisdom" then current in the world among the
admirers of Plato, and other heathen speculators upon the unknown. They had acquired a smattering in the truth, and had been immersed, and so "brought in unawares." Having still a hankering after their old foolishness, and not relishing the mockery and persecution their new profession brought upon them from their old associates, they conceived the idea of so commingling the speculations, or fables, of heathenism with the doctrine of the apostles, as to make the compound palatable to the respectability and learning of the age. In this way, they conceived the offence of the cross of Christ would cease with the Gentiles, as it had done with the Jews by mixing up the Gospel with the law. Thus "the thinking of the flesh" set to work to elaborate a theology that would popularize Christianity, make it a respectable and fashionable profession, and acceptable to the learned world. And in this diabolical enterprize they succeeded but too well. Being of the world, they derived their inspiration from the feelings and imaginings of the flesh, from whatever it approved, and therefore "the world hears them" -- it heard them then, and it hears them to this day. Their word has eaten gangrenously into the body, reducing it to a mass of wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores; which represents the existing condition of what is "falsely called" Christianity in the world.
The Gnostics commenced their department of the Nikolaitan University, with the dogma first enunciated by the Serpent in the Eden Paradise. By this dogma the lie was given direct to the truth of God. The Spirit has declared, that man, without qualification, was dust; and that he should return to dust, if disobedient to the law of Him who created him; in other words, that "dying" he should "die." But the Serpent, the most sagacious of all animals under man; and endowed with the faculty of speech to express the perceptions and reasonings of its observant brain; by which argumentation it might be proved, whether man would believe and obey the Eternal Spirit, rather than the sophistry of the flesh -- the Serpent, I say, denied that death should be the consequence of disobedience. "Ye shall die no death," said he; "ELOHIM knows that in the day of your eating from it your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as ELOHIM knowing of good and of evil." The Serpent had seen "Elohim" in Paradise; he had listened to their discourse with man; and was aware of the existence of "the Tree of the Lives in the midst of the Garden." His brain being merely percipient, reasoning, and propensitive, and therefore utterly devoid of a moral sense, he spoke in harmony with its ratiocination. He had learned, that the Elohim had experienced evil as well as good; and that consequently their eyes had been opened
to evil: that the eating from the tree of knowledge would have a like effect upon the human eaters; and that, as to their dying, any death at all was quite out of the question, seeing that all they would have to do was to eat from the tree of their lives, which would prove an antidote to all mortal and corrupting tendencies, the other tree might possibly impart. Such was his speculation upon the premises before his mind. It was a speculation not entirely devoid of truth; for on eating their eyes were opened; they did become as Elohim; and they did know evil as well as good. This is proved by the testimony which says in Gen. 3:7, "the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;" and in 3:22, "Behold, said YAHWEH Elohim, the man has become like one of US for to know good and evil; now therefore lest he put forth his hand, and take also from the Tree of Lives, and eat and live during the Olahm; therefore YAHWEH Elohim sent him forth from the Garden of Eden."
But this was an arrangement not provided for in the Serpent's speculation. He did not imagine that they would be expelled from Paradise, and a guard be stationed at the life-imparting tree to prevent all access to it by every living thing. This appointment converted his speculation into a lie; and made him "a liar, and the father of a lie" (John 8:44). His assertion, then, "(!Hebrew!) YE SHALL DIE NO DEATH," was the first lie, which, when believed and acted upon, brought the believer under sentence of death. It was a Nikolaitane, or people-vanquishing principle, which tells the Deity that he lies; and that "the soul that sinneth shall" not "die;" and that "the wages of sin are" not "death."
From the day of the first transgression to the time we are now writing, the Serpent's Seed have taken their stand upon their old father's principle, that the Eternal Spirit's thinking and purposes are in accord with the feelings and imaginings of unenlightened flesh. Men are lying, unstable, and changeful creatures; and they think that God is such an one as themselves. But He denies this, and affirms that "in Him there is no variableness nor shadow of a turning." They admit that he says "the soul that sinneth shall die;" but in all their reasonings maintain, in effect, that he does not mean what he says, but the very reverse -- that when he uttered those words, he meant, "the body of the soul that sinneth shall die; but the soul itself, when disembodied, shall live for ever" -- or, as their father the devil hath it, "It shall die no death."
Dark-minded sinners of all orders of foolishness have been endeavoring, from the beginning, to satisfy themselves that this is true. Pagans, Catholics, Mohammedans, Papists, Protestants, and Jews, with all sorts
of nondescript professors of pietism, declare it to be their conviction that every human being has within the body a divine and immortal entity, which is the real man that thinks and acts, and is either virtuous or wicked; that this man lives without a body from the time it ceases to breathe, and is buried; that this immortal man, having "shuffled off his mortal coil," finds himself instantly in heaven's bliss, or hell-torments; that he remains there ages without end; though upon this point they are not all agreed: some supposing that after being in bliss some few or many thousands of years, as it may happen, immortal men will come back to earth, and, in some way or other, be reclothed with their old grave-eaten mortalities, and then fly back again in all haste to re-enter upon their skyanian bliss: and that the same process occurs with respect to the immortals in hell-torments; who, as Cain for example, having lived in fire and brimstone for five thousand years, more or less, are reclothed with their bodies, and straightway find themselves in a breathing body respiring the fumes and flame of burning brimstone. This class of sinners entangles itself, and encumbers its theory, with this body-snatching speculation, to save itself from a point-blank denial of a resurrection. But the subterfuge will avail nothing. The assertion that the immortal enjoys heaven's bliss or hell's torments without a body for hundreds or thousands of years, effectually abolishes the body for ever; and makes the doctrine of its resurrection a gratuitous absurdity.
Others, more consistent in their foolishness, unhesitatingly reject all idea of disembodied immortals being brought back to earth to be reclothed with bodies fabricated out of the old dust. Their theory having disembodied them with a Shakespearean shuffle, dismisses them from earth for ever, which they annihilate at some convenient season in a conflagration of the universe itself!
But real Christianity has nothing whatever to do with all this trash, which, in the days of the apostles and many ages before, constituted "the wisdom of the world;" a prime element of which is the dogma, that the real man is in the body; and that he shall die no death at all. This dogma is commonly expressed by the phrase "the immortality of the soul" -- the indispensable and vital principle of Nikolaitane theology.
Being bewitched by this pagan myth, the Gnostics were impelled to the assertion of many things utterly subversive of the gospel of Christ. The first thing they affirmed was that "the resurrection is past already." This was tantamount to saying that "there is no resurrection of dead ones" (1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Tim. 2:18). Upon what ground could they affirm that "it is past"? By falling back upon the resurrection of the
saints, who came out of their graves after Jesus rose (Matt. 27:52). This was a past resurrection, which was admitted by the deniers of a future one. But upon what principle could they deny a future resurrection? Either by affirming that when men died they perished, without exception, as the beasts; or that, having "immortal souls" in their bodies, which passed into heaven or hell instanter, the resurrection and a post-resurrectional judgment were unnecessary and superfluous. There is no other ground for the denial than these. They did not deny it upon the first assumption; because they believed in the salvation of men; not that they all perished as the beasts. They must, therefore, have based their denial upon the assumed immortality of something in the body the heathen called "the soul." Their argument was, "There is an immortal soul in the body which is the real man; when he puts off the body he goes to his reward beyond the skies, which is his judgment. Men are judged only once, therefore, being judged, there is no necessity for resurrection to judgment; consequently, we deny that there is hereafter any resurrection of the dead."
The next thing these Nikolaitanes were impelled by their gnosis to affirm was, that the real Son of the Deity was "the Immortal Soul" that tabernacled in the body, which body was nothing else than the son of Joseph and Mary, consequently, that the Son of the Deity had no real humanity. That it was the son of Joseph who died on the cross, was buried, and rose again, while the Son of God being immortal, did not, and could not, die upon the cross, but only appeared to die. Now this was tantamount to saying, that Jesus was not the Christ; because the Christ was to be both Son of Deity and Son of Man, in a special sense, at the same time; but they allowed that Jesus was no more than Son of Man, and therefore, could not be the Christ promised in the prophets.
Some of the Gnostics, however, admitted that Jesus was really the Son of God; but then they nullified this admission by affirming that "He did not come in flesh." They would not allow that he had the same kind of flesh and blood, nor "in flesh," as we. They considered it a holy and immaculate appearance, entirely free from all the emotions and affections of our nature. The operation of this heresy upon the truth, was to destroy it, and to annihilate the hope of all that confided in it. For, if Jesus Anointed did not partake of our nature, but obtained, somehow or other, a pure physical organization, or was only "a similitude," such as Daniel beheld by Ulai, then Paul's testimony is untrue; for he has testified, that "forasmuch as the children (of the Deity) are partakers of flesh and blood, Jesus also himself likewise
took part of the same;" and "in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren;" and "God sent his own Son in likeness of Sin's flesh, and for sin condemned the sin in the flesh" (Heb. 2:14,17; Rom. 8:3); but if the principle of corruption had not pervaded the flesh of Jesus, or if he were not flesh, he could not have been tried in all points as we; nor could sin have been condemned there; nor could he have "borne our sins in his own body on the tree."
Thus the dogma of immortality inherent in Sin's flesh, impelled the Gnostics to a denial of the faith, and to the subverting of the souls of all who heeded them. They, in concert with the Ebionites, set up a Jesus and a Gospel which were totally at variance with "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" by the apostles. As a whole, it constituted the Nikolaitanism of the first century, and became the foundation of the kingdom of the Clergy, which, as the deadly upas, poisons everything beneath its shade. Well might the Spirit say, "the works and doctrine of the Nikolaitanes I hate." They had "a form of godliness, but they denied its power." These were they "who crept into houses, and led captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts. Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. And as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so did these also resist the truth; men of corrupt minds, of no judgment concerning the faith" (2 Tim. 3:8). They blended law, gospel, and heathen philosophy all together in one indiscriminate hodge-podge, and called it "Christianity." They founded schools, of which that at Alexandria in Egypt became the most notable, for the education of beardless youths on its mysteries, and from which went forth a multitude that filled the world with strife, debate, and bloodshed in the name of Christ, so that every succeeding century proved the truth of Paul's words, that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."
The heresies of the Nikolaitane Ebionites and Gnostics were the germ of what Paul terms "THE APOSTASY," and John, "The Deceiver and THE ANTICHRIST." "Many deceivers are entered into the world," saith the latter, "who do not confess that Jesus Anointed is come in flesh. This is the Deceiver and the Antichrist" (2 John 7). And again, "Every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Anointed came in flesh, is not from the Deity; and this is that of the Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it comes, and is now already in the world" (1 John 4:3). The spirit of a thing precedes the thing itself. First, the idea, and then its embodiment. The ideas of Nikolaitanism were its spirit. These were first conceived in the brains of corrupt and shallow men, who sought a present distinction and position in the world, at all hazards. Their ideas were perverse and perverting, and were spoken for the purpose
of drawing away disciples after them. All who received their dogmata imbibed their spirit, and as they increased in number and influence among the people, became a power which continued to grow, until it was prepared to contend with older powers for the ascendancy, and in the struggle gain the victory. This has been the career of the Nikolaitane heresy. It began by affirming the insufficiency of the gospel without the law for salvation; affirming, also, the immortality of an inner man; and denying the proper humanity of Jesus; and it prevails as the ANTICHRISTIAN APOSTASY embodied in the Beasts, False Prophet, and appendices thereto belonging, as apocalyptically exhibited in the book in hand. If men had been faithful to the principle of "the gospel being the power of God for salvation to the believer" (Rom. 1:16), they would not have tried to commend themselves to the Deity by Mosaic observances in respect of sabbaths, meats, drinks, holy days, &c. If they had closed their ears against the dogma of an immortal man in the mortal body, they would not have denied the resurrection and the judgment taught in the scriptures; nor would they have believed in going to heaven when the body ceases to breathe; nor in purgatory; nor in wicked impostors, called priests, praying souls out of its flames for a fee or retaining them in its fires for want of it; nor would they have worshipped the ghosts of dead men, they call saints. If some of them, while admitting that Jesus was flesh, had not affirmed the spotlessness of that flesh, "the immaculate conception of the Virgin" would not have been invented in order to account for it. All these old wives' fables, and lying traditions, are embodied in the ecclesiastical institutions of the world. The Protestant abominations are all based upon immortal-soulism. With respect to this dogma, they are as pagan as Plato and the papists. Their superstitions are all Gnostic schemes to save a "soul" that has no existence, save in the imagination of the flesh. Their heaven and hell are as fabulous as purgatory, and the paradise of Mohammed. In short, "the Mother of Harlots and All the Abominations of the earth" -- the Babylonish Jezebel of Rome, and all her Protestant and Sectarian progeny, are Nikolaitanism fully manifested -- the plant of the first century become a tree in the midst of the earth, in whose boughs the fowls of the heaven rest, and by which all the beasts of the nations are sheltered and fed. "I hate it," saith the Spirit. Then hew it down as a cumberer of the ground! This is its coming fate.