« PreviousContinue »
time, and who all, in the imperfect remains of their works, either cite the historical scriptures of the New Testament, or speak of them in terms of profound respect; I single out Victorin, bishop of Pettaw in Germany, merely on account of the remoteness of his situation from that of Origen and Cyprian, who were Africans ; by which circumstance, his testimony, taken in conjunction with theirs, proves that the scripture histories, and the same histories, were known and received from one side of the Christian world to the other. This bishop* lived about the year 290 : and in a commentary upon this text of the Revelations, “ The first was like a lion, the second was like a calf, the third like a man, and the fourth like a flying eagle," he makes out that by the four creatures are intended the four gospels ; and, to show the propriety of the symbols, he recites the subject with which each evangelist opens his history. The explication is fanciful, but the testimony positive. He also expressly cites the Acts of the Apostles.
XVI. Arnobius and Lactantiust, about the year 300, composed formal arguments upon the credibility of the Christian religion. As these arguments were addressed to Gentiles, the authors abstain from quoting Christian books by name ; one of them giving this very reason for his reserve: but when they come to state, for the information of their readers, the outlines of Christ's history, it is apparent that they draw their accounts from our Gospels, and from no other sources ; for these statements exhibit a summary of almost every thing which is related of Christ's actions and miraciès by the four evangelists. Arnobius vindicates, without mentioning their names, the credit of these historians, observing that they were eye-witnesses of the
facts which they relate, and that their ignorance of the arts of composition was rather a confirmation of their testimony, than an objection to it. Lactantius also argues in defence of the religion, from the consistency, simplicity, disinterestedness, and sufferings of the Christian historians, meaning by that term our evangelists.
XVII. We close the series of testimonies with that of Eusebius, * bishop of Cæsarea, who flourished in the year 315, contemporary with, or posteriour only by fifteen years, to the two authors last cited. This voluminous writer, and most diligent collector of the writings of others, beside a variety of large works, composed a history of the affairs of Christianity from its origin to his own time. His testimony to the scriptures is the testimony of a man much conversant in the works of Christian authors, written during the three first centuries of its æra; and who had read many which are now lost. In a passage of his evangelical demonstration, Eusebius remarks, with great nicety, the delicacy of two of the evangelists, in their manner of noticing any circumstance which regarded themselves, and of Mark, as writing under Peter's direction, in the circumstances which regarded him. The illustration of this remark leads him to bring together long quotations from each of the evangelists; and the whole passage is a proof that Eusebius, and the Christians of those days, not only read the gospels, but studied them with attention and ex. actness, In a passage of his ecclesiastical history, he treats, in form, and at large, of the occasions of writing the four gospels, and of the order in which they were written. The title of the chapter is “Of the Order of the Gospels ;” and it begins thus : “Let us observe the writings of this apostle John, which are not contradicted by any; and, first of all, must be mentioned, as acknowledged by all, the gospel according to him, well known to all the churches under heaven: and that it has been justly placed by the ancients the fourth in order, and after the other three, may be made evident in this manner."
* Lardner, vol. viii. p. 33.
Eusebius then proceeds to shew that John wrote the last of the four, and that his gospel was intended to supply the omissions of the others; especially in the part of our Lord's ministry, which took place before the imprisonment of John the Baptist. He observes, “ that the apostles of Christ were not studious of the ornaments of composition,nor indeed forward to write at all, being wholly occupied with their ministry.”
This learned author makes no use at all of Christian writings, forged with the names of Christ's apostles, or their companions.
We close this branch of our evidence here; because, after Eusebius, there is no room for any question upon the subject; the works of Christian writers being as full of texts of scripture, and of references to scripture, as the discourses of modern divines. Future testimonies to the books of scripture could only prove that they never lost their character or authority.
When the scriptures are quoted, or alluded to, they are
quoted with peculiar respect, as books sui generis ; as possessing an authority which belonged to no other books, and as conclusive in all questions and controversies
amongst Christians. Beside the general strain of reference and quotation, which uniformly and strongly indicates this distinction, the following may be regarded as specifick testimonies : Vol. II.
I. Theophilus*, bishop of Antioch, the sixth in succession from the apostles, and who flourished little more than a century after the books of the New Testament were written, having occasion to quote one of our gospels, writes thus : “ These things the holy scriptures teach us, and all who were moved by the holy spirit, among whom John says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” Again : “ Concerning the righteousness which the law teaches, the like things are to be found in the prophets and the gospels, because that all, being inspired, spoke by one and the same spirit of Godt.” No words can testify more strongly than these do, the high and peculiar respect in which these books were holden.
II. A writer against Artemont, who may be supposed to come about one hundred and fifty-eight years after the publication of the scriptures, in a passage quoted by Eusebius, uses these expressions : “ Possibly what they (our adversaries) say, might have been credited, if first of all the divine scriptures did not contradict them; and then the writings of certain brethren more ancient than the times of Victor.” The brethren mentioned by name, are Justin, Miltiades, Tatian, Clement, Irenæus, Melito, with a general appeal to many more not named. This passage proves, first, that there was at that time a collection called divine scriptures ; secondly, that these scriptures were esteemed of higher authority than the writings of the most early and celebrated Christians.
III. In a piece ascribed to Hippolitusy, who lived near the same time, the author professes, in giving his correspondent instruction in the things about which he inquires,
* Lard. Cred. part ii. vol. i. p. 429. # Lard. Cred. vol. iii. p. 40.
† Lard. Cred. vol.i. p. 448. s Lard. Cred. vol. iii. p. 112.
"to draw out of the sacred fountain, and to set before him from the sacred scriptures, what may afford him satisfaction.” He then quotes immediately Paul's epistles to Timothy, and afterwards many books of the New Testament. This preface to the quotations carries in it a marked distinction between the scriptures and other books.
IV. “Our assertions and discourses,” saith Origen*,
are unworthy of credit ; we must receive the scriptures as 'witnesses.”
After treating of the duty of prayer, he proceeds with his argument thus: “What we have said
may be proved from the divine scriptures." In his books against Celsus, we find this passage : “ That our relig teaches us to seek after wisdom, shall be shown, both out of the ancient Jewish scriptures, which we also use, and out of those written since Jesus, which are believed in the churches to be divine.” These expressions afford abundant evidence of the peculiar and exclusive authority which the scriptures possessed.
V. Cyprian, bishop of Carthaget, whose age lies close to that of Origen, earnestly exhorts Christian teachers, in all doubtful cases, “to go back to the fountain; and, if the truth has in any case been shaken, to recur to the gospels and apostolick writings.”—“The precepts of the gospel,” says he in another place,“ are nothing less than authoritative divine lessons, the foundations of our hope, the supports of our faith, the guides of our way, the safe-guards of our course to heaven.”
VI. Novatust, a Roman, contemporary with Cyprian, appeals to the scriptures, as the authority by which all errours were to be repelled, and disputes decided.
" That Christ is not only man, but God also, is proved by the sa
* Lard. Cred. p. 287, 288, 289. # Ibid . y. p. 102.
| Lard. Cred. vol. iv. p. 840.