Page images

ing. At the present day, there are very many sincere Christians, who consider that the evangelical doctrines are the appointed instruments of conversion, and, as such, exclusively attended with the Divine blessing. In proof of this position, with an inconsistency remarkable in those who profess a jealous adherence to the inspired text, and are not slow to accuse others of ignorance of its contents, they appeal, not to Scripture, but to the stirring effects of this (so-called) Gospel preaching, and to the inefficiency, on the other hand, of mere exhortations respecting the benevolence and mercy of God, the necessity of repentance, the rights of conscience, and the obligation of obedience. But it is scarcely the attribute of a generous faith, to be anxiously inquiring into the consequences of this or that system, with a view to decide its admissibility, instead of turning at once to the revealed word, and inquiring into the rule there exhibited to us. God can defend and vindicate His own command, whatever it turn out to be; weak though it seem to our vain wisdom, and unworthy of the Giver; and that His course in this instance is really that which the hasty religionist condemns as if the theory of unenlightened formalists, is evident to careful students of Scripture, and is confirmed by the practice of the Primitive Church.

As to Scripture, I shall but observe, in addition to the remarks already made on the passages in the Epistles to the Corinthians and Hebrews, that no one sanction can be adduced thence, whether of precept or of example, in behalf of the practice of stimulating the affections, such as gratitude or remorse, by means of the doctrine of the Atonement, in order to the conversion of the hearers ;—that, on the contrary, it is its uniform method to connect the Gospel with Natural Religion, and to mark out obedience to the moral law as the ordinary means of attaining to a Christian faith, the higher evangelical truths, as well as the Eucharist, which is the visible emblem of them, being received as the reward and confirmation of habitual piety ;-that, in the preaching of the Apostles and Evangelists in the Book of Acts, the sacred mysteries are revealed to individuals in proportion to their actual religious proficiency; that the first principles of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, are urged upon Felix; while the elders of Ephesus are reminded of the divinity and vicarious sacrifice of Christ, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the Church ;-lastly, that among those converts, who were made the chief instruments of the first propagation of the Gospel, or who are honoured with especial favour in Scripture, none are found who had not been faithful to the light already given them, and were not distinguished, previously to their conversion, by a strictly conscientious deportment. Such are the divine notices given to those who desire an apostolical rule for dispensing the word of life; and as such, the ancient Fathers received them. They received them as the fulfilment of our Lord's command, not to give that which is holy to dogs, nor to cast pearls before swine; a text cited by Clement and Tertullian", among others, in justification of their cautious distribution of sacred truth. They also considered this caution as the result of the most truly chari

8 Ceillier, Apol. des Pères, ch. ii. Bingh. Antiq. x. 5.

[ocr errors]

table consideration for those whom they addressed, who were likely to be perplexed, not converted, by the sudden exhibition of the whole evangelical scheme. This is the doctrine of Theodoret, Chrysostom, and others, in their comments upon the passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Should a catechumen ask thee what the teachers have determined, (says Cyril of Jerusalem,) tell nothing to one who is without. For we impart to thee a secret and a promise of the world to come. Keep safe the secret for Him who gives the reward. Listen not to one who asks, 'What harm is there in my knowing also ?' Even the sick ask for wine, which, unseasonably given, brings on delirium ; and so there come two ills, the death of the patient and the disrepute of the physician.” In another place he says, “ All may hear the Gospel, but the glory of the Gospel is set apart for the true disciples of Christ. To all who could hear, the Lord spake, but in parables; to His disciples He privately explained them. What is the blaze of Divine glory to the enlightened, is the blinding of unbelievers. These are the secrets which the Church unfolds to him who passes on from the catechumens, and not to the heathen. For we do not unfold to a heathen the truths concerning Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; nay, not even in the case of catechumens, do we clearly explain the mysteries, but we frequently say many things indirectly, so that believers who have been taught may understand, and the others may not be injured "."

The work of St. Clement of Alexandria, called Stro

9 Suicer. Thes. in verb. otoixelov.

Cyril. Hieros. ed. Milles, præf. § 7 catech. vi. 16.


mateis, or Tapestry-work, from the variety of its contents, well illustrates the Primitive Church's method of instruction, as far as regards the educated portion of the community. It had the distinct object of interesting and conciliating the learned heathen who perused it; but it also exemplifies the peculiar caution then adopted by Christians in teaching the truth,—their desire to rouse the moral powers to internal voluntary action, and their dread of loading or formalizing the mind. In the opening of his work, Clement speaks of his miscellaneous discussions as mingling truth with philosophy; “or rather,” he continues, "involving and concealing it, as the shell hides the edible fruit of the nut.” In another place he compares them, not to a fancy-garden, but to some thickly-wooded mountain, where vegetation of every sort, growing promiscuously, by its very

abundance conceals from the plunderer the fruit-trees, which are intended for the rightful owner. “We must hide,” he says, " that wisdom, spoken in mystery, which the Son of God has taught us. Thus the Prophet Esaias has his tongue cleansed with fire, that he may be able to declare the vision; and our ears must be sanctified as well as our tongues, if we aim at being recipients of the truth. This was a hindrance to my writing; and still I have anxiety, since Scripture says, ' Cast not your pearls before swine;' for those pure and bright truths, which are so marvellous and full of God to goodly natures, do but provoke laughter, when spoken in the hearing of the

The Fathers considered that they had the

many ?"

• Strom. i. 1. 12; v. 3; vi. 1; vii. 18.

pattern as well as the recommendation of this method of teaching in Scripture itself.


This self-restraint and abstinence, practised, at least partially, by the Primitive Church in the publication of the most sacred doctrines of our religion, is termed, in theological language, the Disciplina Arcani ; concerning which a few remarks may here be added, not so much in recommendation of it (which is beside my purpose), as to prevent misconception of its principle and limits.

Now, first, it may be asked, How was any secrecy practicable, seeing that the Scriptures were open to every one who chose to consult them? It may startle those who are but acquainted with the popular writings of this day, yet, I believe, the most accurate consideration of the subject will lead us to acquiesce in the statement, as a general truth, that the doctrines in question have never been learned merely from Scripture. Surely the Sacred Volume was never intended, and is not adapted, to teach us our creed ; however certain it is that we can prove our creed from it, when it has once been taught us", and in spite of individual producible exceptions to the general rule. From the very first, that rule has been, as a matter of fact, that the Church should teach

3 “ Bonæ sunt in Scripturis sacris mysteriorum profunditates, quæ ob hoc teguntur, ne vilescant; ob hoc quæruntur, ut exerceant; ob hoc autem aperiuntur, ut pascant.” August. in Petav. præf. in Trin. i. 5.

4 Vide Dr. Hawkins's original and most conclusive work on Unautho. ritative Tradition, which contains in it the key to a number of difficulties which are apt to perplex the theological student.

« PreviousContinue »