March 8, 2007

Henry Law: Gnostic?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Theology :: Permalink

Henry Law was one of the leading evangelicals in the Anglican Church in the 19th century, according to the blurb on the back of the Banner of Truth edition of his The Gospel in Genesis.  I was surprised, though, by what he says about the creation of Adam from the dust (Gen. 2:7):

When we go back to the birth of him, who is this common birth [i.e., who is the father of the whole human race], we naturally ask, of what material is the work?  Pride would conclude, that no mean quarry could produce such frame.  But pride must lie low before the unerring word: “Dust thou art.”

Ponder this first truth.  The mightiest monarch, — the Lazarus at his gate, — are one in base original.  The common parentage is that of worms.  The flesh of each is but the filth, which our feet scorn.  Who, then, will boast of beauty or of strength?  There is a voice in dust which mocks such pitiable folly.

But man is more than a shell of clay.  The mean case holds a matchless jewel.  God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul.”  The flesh is of the earth and earthy.  The spirit is from on high and heavenly.  One is the clog of matter.  The other is a ray from God.  One soon crumbles back to vileness.  The other is a deathless principle.  One sinks as to the level of the beasts.  The other gives the wings of immortality.

Reader, you cannot think too highly of the soul.  It cannot cease to be.  Age after age imprints no wrinkle on it.  It neither withers nor decays.  Its time is timeless.  Its death is never (pp. 18-19).

Isn’t this the heresy of gnosticism?  While he doesn’t quite say that the body is bad, he does describe it as made out of “filth” and “vileness” and as “the clog of matter” as opposed to spirit.  Quite clearly, to Law “spirit” is good and the body not so good.

If he’s thinking of human nature after the Fall, then he’s forgetting that the whole man fell, not just his body, that the whole man, including the spirit, experiences death because of sin, and that the sins that Paul characterizes as “fleshly” include what we often think of as sins of the “spirit.”   But if he’s thinking of human nature before the Fall (which I assume he is, given that he’s meditating on Genesis 2:7), there’s an even greater problem, because he’s saying that even apart from sin, our bodies as God made them were mere clay shells and filthy, the kind of thing we scorn.  Of course, he’s also forgetting that the term “living soul” here is the same term that’s used for the animals and fish back in Genesis 1.

Weird stuff.  I’ll have to see if the book gets better later on.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:04 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Henry Law: Gnostic?”

  1. matthew Says:

    Not just weird, but horrible. Stephen Charnock says something similar:
    “Just as our soul is nobler than our body, so also must we ‘conceive of [God] by the perfections of our souls, without the vileness of our bodies’ and ‘raise our thoughts of God according to the noblest part’ of the divine image in us.” (Richard Muller, PRRD III.300, quoting Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God).


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