« EelmineJätka »
tus and Bithynia, that Christianity had near
about A.D. 107. ly caused the heathen worship in' those countries to be deserted. Consulting the Emperor Trajan as to the mode of dealing with Christians, he says, “Therefore, suspending all judicial proceedings, I have recourse to you for advice; for it has appeared to me a matter highly deserving consideration, especially upon account of the great num. bers of persons who are in danger of suffering; for many of all ages,
and every rank, of both sexes likewise, are accused, and will be accused. Nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but the lesser towns also, and the open country. Nevertheless it seems to me that it may be restrained and corrected. It is certain, that the (heathen) temples, which were almost forsaken, begin to be more frequented; and the sacred solemnities, after a long remission, are revived. Victims (for the sacrifices) likewise are every where bought up, whereas for some time there were few purchasers.” It appears from this remarkable testimony, that Christianity had, in the course of about fifty years, almost subverted idol. atry in those provinces.
Little is known of the progress of Christianity for some years after the death of the apostles. The Church was probably engaged chiefly in the labour of converting the population more immediately around it; and we hear little of new missions to the heathen; yet Justin Martyr
about A.D 150. wrote in his Apology, that “there is no race of men, whether barbarian or Greek, or by whatever other name they be designated, whether they wander in wagons, or dwell in tents, amongst whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered to the Father and Creator of all, in the name of the crucified Jesus." We learn from Irenæus,
about A.D. 178. bishop of Lyons, that the light of the Gospel had, at that time, been received in Germany, France, Spain, and in Libya : and Tertullian, a few
about A.D. 198. years later, declares that Parthia, Media, Armenia, the Getuli and Moors in Africa, all the borders of
Spain, many nations of Gaul, those parts of Britain which were inaccessible to the Romans, the Sarmatians, Dacians, Germans, Scythians, and other nations and islands innumerable, were then subject to the dominion of Christ.
66 We are but of yesterday," he said ; " yet we have filled your empire, your cities, your islands, your castles, your corporate towns, your assemblies, your very camps, your tribes, your companies, your palace, your senate, your forum; your temples alone are left to you.” 66 We constitute,” he elsewhere says, “almost the majority in every town."
In the succeeding century new nations were gathered within the fold of Christ. The assiduous labours of Origen con
verted many of the Arabs to Christianity. The A.D. 214.
Goths of Mysia and Thrace followed their example; and a number of pious missionaries successfully dis
seminated the Gospel throughout Gaul, and about A.D. 280.
founded several churches in Germany. So great was the progress of religion, notwithstanding the violent and cruel persecutions to which it was continually exposed, that it became no less the interest than the duty of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, to relieve the Church from persecution, to act as the defender of its faith, and to distinguish its ministers and members by marks of his favour and generosity.
ON THE FAITH OF THE CHURCH.
The promises of our Lord to his disciples, that the Spirit of truth should lead them into all truth and abide with them for ever, that the gates of hell should not prevail against his Church, and that he would himself be always with his disciples,-imply that the faith revealed by Jesus Christ should,
in every age, continue to purify and sanctify the hearts and lives of his real followers; and we may hence infer, that the belief which has, in all ages, been derived by the Church from holy Scripture; the great truths which Christians have always unanimously held to be essential to the Christian profession; which have supported them under the tortures of martyrdom, and transformed them from sin to righteousness ; that such doctrines are, without doubt, the very same which God himself revealed for the salvation of man.
What, then, was the belief received by all Christians from the beginning ? Let the martyr Irenæus, the friend of St. John's disciple Polycarp, reply: “ The Church,” he says,
though disseminated throughout the whole world, even unto the ends of the earth, hath received from the apostles the belief in one God, the Father Almighty, who made heaven and earth, and the seas and all that in them is; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made man for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who, through the prophets, an. nounced the dispensations (of God,) the advent of the beloved Christ Jesus our Lord, his birth of a virgin, his suffering, resurrection from the dead, and bodily ascension into heaven, and his coming (again) from the heavens in the glory of the Father, to gather together all things in one, and to raise up all flesh of mankind, in order that, according to the invisible Father's will, every knee of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, may bow to Christ Jesus our Lord, our God, our Saviour, and our King, and every tongue confess unto him; and that he may exercise righteous judgment on all-may send spiritual wickedness, and the an. gels that transgressed and became apostate, and the impious, unrighteous, wicked, and blasphemous among men, into eternal fire; and bestow life and immortality and eternal glory on the righteous, the pious, and those who observe his commandments, and continue in his love, either from the beginning, or from the time of their repentance.
“ This preaching, and this faith (as we have said,) the
Church, though disseminated throughout the whole world, guards as carefully as if she dwelt in one house; believes as if she had but one soul ; and proclaims, teaches, and delivers, as if she possessed but one mouth.”
Such was the universal belief of Christians in the second century, as it still continues in the nineteenth. We here find the most plain assertions of the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; the incarnation and satisfaction of our Lord; the resurrection and future judgment; and the necessity of obedience and the love of God. That Christians worshipped our Lord Jesus Christ as God, is attested even by
the heathen writer Pliny. “They affirmed,” he A.D. 107.
6 that the whole of their fault lay in this, that they were wont to meet together on a stated day, before it was light, and sing among themselves, alternately, a hymn to Christ as God." The condemnation of heresies in these
affords an ad. ditional illustration of the belief of the Church. When
Theodotus and Artemon, heretics, taught at Rome A.D. 196.
that our Lord Jesus Christ was not God, but a mere man, they were expelled from communion by Victor, bishop of Rome, and by the Roman Church; and they were universally rejected and abhorred by all Christians. When Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, endeavoured to revive this error, a council or meeting of seventy bishops, from all
parts of the East, assembled at Antioch, and ex. A.D. 270.
pelled him from the Church. In their epistle, ad. dressed to all the bishops, priests, and deacons, throughout the whole world, and still extant, they declared that “he re. fused to confess with them that the Son of God came down from heaven;" that he said, “ that Jesus Christ is of the earth ;” and that he had thus “ abjured the faith, and gloried in the accursed heresy of Artemon.” Nothing can more plainly show the belief of the Church. The error of Praxeas,
Noëtus, and Sabellius, in the third century, A.D. 198-258.
who affirmed that the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Ghost, are but one person, thus virtually denying that the Son, or the Holy Ghost, could have been “sent” by the Father,' or
come from,' or “ be with,” intercede with,” the Father, were also universally rejected by the Church, as contrary to the Christian faith. The belief of Christians in the incarnation and real bodily existence of Jesus Christ was manifested in their opposition to the Gnostics and Manichæans, who held that our Lord's body was not real, but a mere phantom, and that he did not die on the cross : errors destructive at once of the truth of the Gospel history, of the atonement of Christ, and of the great miracle of his resurrection from the dead.
FRUITS OF FAITH EXEMPLIFIED IN THE MARTYRS.
may suffice to show the belief which was unanimous. ly received by the primitive Church. Let us now proceed to observe its fruits. The power of true faith has never been more wonderfully exhibited than in the patience, the courage, , and magnanimity of the martyrs. Animated by the promises of their Saviour, “whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father in heaven-he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it-rejoice and be exceeding glad, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you,”—they believed, and triumphed in the belief, that their short affliction was to work for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
But the afflictions which they suffered were enough to have broken down the strongest heart. Every thing that malice and ingenuity could devise was employed to shake their reso
1 John v. 23. 8 John i. 1,
a John XV. 26, xvi. 28. 4 Heb. vii. 25.