« PreviousContinue »
(for his works are lost), speaks "of the Scriptures of the Lord 5."
IV. And at the same time, or very nearly so, by Irenæus, bishop of Lyons in France, they are called "Divine Scriptures," "Divine Oracles,"-" Scriptures of the Lord, "-"Evangelic and Apostolic 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 "Evangelic Voice ;" 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 9."
VI. Tertullian, who joins on with Clement, beside adopting most of the names and epithets above noticed, calls the Gospels "our Digesta," in allusion, as it should seem, to some collection of Roman laws then extant 10
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 Oracles 11."
5 Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 298.
The reader will observe the remoteness of these two writers in country and situation.
7 Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 343, et seq.
9 Ib. vol. ii. p. 515.
11 Ib. vol. iii. p. 230.
8 Ib. p. 427.
10 Ib. p. 630.
VIII. In Cyprian, who was not twenty years later, they are "Books of the Spirit,"-" Divine Fountains,' "Fountains of the Divine Fulness 12
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 apos-> tles; 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 publicly read and expounded in the religious assemblies of the early Christians.
JUSTIN 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 emperor, of the Christian worship, has this remarkable passage:-
"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 1."
A few short observations will show 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.
12 Lardner, Cred. vol. iv.
Ib. vol. i. p. 273.
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 Word."
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 publicly in the church, though he was not yet ordained a presbyter3. This anecdote recognises 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 practice: "This," says he, "we do, when the Scriptures are read in the church, and when the discourse for explication is delivered to the people"." And, what is a still more ample testimony, many homilies of his upon the Scriptures of the New Testament, delivered by him in the assemblies of the church, are still extant.
IV. Cyprian, whose age was not twenty years lower than that of Origen, gives his people an account of having ordained two persons, who were before confessors, to be readers; and what they were to read ap3 Ib. vol. iii. p. 63.
2 Lardner, Cred, vol. ii. p. 628.
+ Ib. p. 302.
pears by the reason which he gives for his choice: "Nothing," says Cyprian, "can be more fit than that he, who has made a glorious confession of the Lord, should read publicly in the church; that he who has shown himself willing to die a martyr should read the Gospel of Christ, by which martyrs are made "."
V. Intimations of the same custom may be traced in a great number of writers in the beginning and throughout the whole of the fourth century. Of these testimonies I will only use one, as being, of itself, express and full. Augustine, who appeared near the conclusion of the century, displays the benefit of the Christian religion on this very account, the public reading of the Scriptures in the churches, "where," says he, “is a confluence of all sorts of people of both sexes; and where they hear how they ought to live well in this world, that they may deserve to live happily and eternally in another." And this custom he declares to be universal: "The canonical books of Scripture being read every where, the miracles therein recorded are well known to all people.
It does not appear that any books, other than our present Scriptures, were thus publicly read, except that the epistle of Clement was read in the church of Corinth to which it had been addressed, and in some others; and that the Shepherd of Hermas was read in many churches. Nor does it subtract much from the value of the argument, that these two writings partly come within it, because we allow them to be the genuine writings of apostolical men. There is not the least evidence, that any other Gospel, than the four which we receive, was ever admitted to this distinction.
' Lardner, Cred. vol. iv. p. 842.
Ib. vol. x. p. 276, et seq.
Commentaries were anciently written upon the Scriptures; harmonies formed out of them; different copies carefully collated; and versions made of them into different languages.
No greater proof can be given of the esteem in which these books were holden by the ancient Christians, or of the sense then entertained of their value and importance than the industry bestowed upon them. And it ought to be observed, that the value and importance of these books consisted entirely in their genuineness and truth. There was nothing in them, as works of taste, or as compositions, which could have induced any one to have written a note upon them. Moreover it shows, that they were even then considered as ancient books. Men do not write comments upon publications of their own times: therefore the testimonies cited under this head afford an evidence which carries up the evangelic writings much beyond the age of the testimonies themselves, and to that of their reputed authors.
I. Tatian, a follower of Justin Martyr, and who flourished about the year 170, composed a harmony, or collation of the Gospels, which he called Diatessaron, Of the Four'. The title, as well as the work, is remarkable; because it shows that then, as now, there were four, and only four Gospels in general use with Christians. And this was little more than a hundred years after the publication of some of them.
II. Pantænus, of the Alexandrian school, a man of great reputation and learning, who came twenty years Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 307.