« AnteriorContinuar »
between the law and the prophets, the apostles and the gospel*.”
VI. The same division, “ Prophets, Gospels, and Apostles," appears in Tertulliant, the contemporary of Clement. The collection of the gospels is likewise called by this wri. ter the “ Evangelick Instrumentf;" the whole volume, the “New Testament ;" and the two parts, the “Gospels and Apostles.”
VII. From many writers also of the third century, and especially from Cyprian, who lived in the middle of it, it is collected, that the Christian Scriptures were divided into two codes or volumes, one called the “Gospels or Scriptures of the Lord,” the other, the “ Apostles, or Epistles of the Apostles.
VIII. Eusebius, as we have already seen, takes some pains to shew, that the Gospel of St. John had been justly placed by the ancients “ the fourth in order, and after the other three**." These are the terms of his proposition : and the very introduction of such an argument proves incontestably, that the four Gospels had been collected into a volume, to the exclusion of every other; that their order in the volume had been adjusted with much consideration ; and that this had been done by those who were called ancients in the time of Eusebius.
In the Diocletian persecution in the year 303, the scriptures were sought out and burntft; many suffered death rather than deliver them up; and those who betrayed them to the persecutors were accounted as lapsed and apostate. On the other hand, Constantine, after his conversion, gave directions for multiplying copies of the divine oracles,
* Lard. Cred. vol. ii. p. 516.
# Ib. vol. vii. p. 214, et seq. VOL. II.
+ Ib. vol. ii. p. 631.
and for magnificently adorning them at the expense of the imperial treasury*. What the Christians of that age so richly embellished in their prosperity, and, which is more, so tenaciously preserved under persecution, was the very volume of the New Testament which we now read.
Our present sacred writings were soon distinguished by ap
propriate names and titles of respect. 1. POLYCARP. “I trust that ye are well exercised in the holy scriptures ;-as in these scriptures it is said, be ye angry and sin not, and let not the sun go down upon your wratht.” This passage is extremely important; because it proves that, in the time of Polycarp, who had lived with the apostles, there were Christian writings distinguished by the name of “ holy scriptures,” or sacred writings. Moreover, the text quoted by Polycarp is a text found in the collection at this day. What also the same Polycarp hath elsewhere quoted in the same manner, may be considered as proved to belong to the collection; and this comprehends St. Matthew's, and, probably, St. Luke's Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, ten epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of Peter, and the first of Johnt. In another place, Polycarp has these words : “Whoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says there is neither resurrection nor judgment, he is the first-born of Satang.”—It does not appear what else Polycarp could mean by the oracles of the Lord, but those same . holy scriptures,' or sacred writings, of which he had spoken before. II. Justin Martyr, whose apology was written about thirty years after Polycarp's epistle, expressly cites some of our present histories under the title of Gospel, and that not as a name by him first ascribed to them, but as the name by which they were generally known in his time. His words are these :- “ For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called gospels, have thus delivered it, that Jesus commanded them to take bread, and give thanks*.” There exists no doubt, but that, by the memoirs above-mentioned, Justin meant our present historical scriptures ; for, throughout his works, he quotes these and no others.
* Lard. Cred. vol. viii. p. 432. # Ib. p. 233.
† Ib. vol. i. p. 203. $ lb. p. 222.
III. Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, who came thirty years after Justin, in a passage preserved in Eusebius (for his works are lost), speaks “ of the scriptures of the Lordt.”
IV. And at the same time, or very nearly so, by Irenæus, bishop of Lyons in Franceť, they are called divine scriptures,'— divine oracles,'— scriptures of the Lord,'evangelick and apostolick writings%. The quotations of Irenæus prove decidedly, that our present Gospels, and these alone, together with the Acts of the Apostles, were the historical books comprehended by him under these appellations.
V. St. Matthew's Gospel is quoted by Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, contemporary with Irenæus, under the title of the evangelick voices; and the copious works of Clement of Alexandria, published within fifteen years of the same time, ascribe to the books of the New Testament the various titles of sacred books,'— divine scriptures, divinely inspired scriptures,'—'scriptures of the Lord, —
the true evangelical canon**.?
Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 271. + Ib. p. 298. # The reader will observe the remoteness of these two writers in country and situation.
§ Lard. Cred. vol. i. p. 343, et seq. Ib. p. 427. ** Ib. vol. ii. p. 515.
VI. Tertullian, who joins on with Clement, beside adopting inost of the names and epithets above noticed, calls the gospels our digesta,' in allusion, as it should séem, to some collection of Roman laws* then extant.
VII. By Origen, who came thirty years after Tertullian, the same, and other no less strong titles, are applied to the Christian scriptures; and, in addition thereunto, this writer frequently speaks of the Old and New Testament,'— the ancient and new scriptures, the ancient and new oraclesti'
VIII. In Cyprian, who was not twenty years later, they are books of the spirit,'— divine fountains,'-'fountains of the divine fulnesst.'
The expressions we have thus quoted, are evidences of high and peculiar respect. They all occur within two centuries from the publication of the books. Some of them commence with the companions of the apostles ; and they increase in number and variety, through a series of writers, touching upon one another, and deduced from the first age of the religion.
Our scriptures were publickly read and expounded in the
religious assemblies of the early Christians. JUSTI
USTIN MARTYR, who wrote in the year 140, which was seventy or eighty years after some, and less, probably, after others of the gospels were published, giving, in his first apology, an account, to the emperour, of the Christian worship, has this remarkable passage :
* Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 630. # Ib. vol. iv. p. 844.
† Ib. vol. iii. pi 230:
“ The memoirs of the apostles, or the writings of the prophets, are read according as the time allows : and, when the reader has ended, the president makes a discourse, exhorting to the imitation of so excellent things*.”
A few short observations will shew the value of this testimony.
1. The 'memoirs of the apostles,' Justin in another place expressly tells us, are what are called 'gospels :' and that they were the gospels which we now use, is made certain by Justin's numerous quotations of them, and his silence about any others.
2. Justin describes the general usage of the Christian church.
3. Justin does not speak of it as recent or newly instituted, but in the terms in which men speak of established customs.
II. Tertullian, who followed Justin at the distance of about fifty years, in his account of the religious assemblies of Christians as they were conducted in his time, says, “We come together to recollect the divine scriptures; we nourish our faith, raise our hope, confirm our trust, by the sacred wordt."
III. Eusebius records of Origen, and cites for his authority the letters of bishops contemporary with Origen, that, when he went into Palestine about the year 216, which was only sixteen years after the date of Tertullian's testimony, he was desired by the bishops of that country to discourse and expound the scriptures publickly in the church, though he was not yet ordained a presbytert. This anecdote recognizes the usage, not only of reading, but of expounding, the scriptures; and both as subsisting in full force. Origen also himself bears witness to the same prac
* Lard. Cred. vol. i. p. 273. † Ib. vol. ii. p. 628. * Ib. vol. iii. p. 68.