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There are other forms in the writings of this century, generally shorter than this. It will be observed that we have here a collection of facts rather than a statement of truths. The phraseology adopted in later creeds had not been thought of; at any rate, there was then no occasion for it. How different was this plain declaration from the wordy documents of the reformation, from the thirty-nine articles of the Church of England, from the Assembly's catechism, and even from some Baptist confessions of faith! The churches had not then learned to wrangle about words and syllables, or to “intrude into things which they had not seen.” A small beginning, indeed, had been made, and here and there an incautious expression may be detected; but, in general, there was as reverential silence respecting the modes of existence in the Deity, and other points of deep and inscrutable import. The believers of the second century would have been grievously perplexed by the Nicene Creed; they would have shrunk aghast from that which is termed “Athanasian." They held that “there is one God even the Father,” and that he
" created all things by his power and wisdom. They believed in the pre-existence and divinity of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, and in the divine power of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity, as expressed in modern creeds, was substantially taught, but not with that precision of language which has been now for ages employed. In fact, we note in some places a vagueness of expression, indicating that the Christians of those times might expect a severe crossexamination if they could possibly appear among us.
We read of the “internal Word," "the emitted Word,” the "uttered Word."? Athenagoras terms the Holy Spirit "an effluence of God."3 These, and other forms of speech, showed that while the Christian heart was deeply moved by the discoveries of the gospel, the Christian head lacked clearness; but the errorisms which sprung up tended to supply the deficiency, by inducing better habits of thinking and inquiry. It became necessary to use greater care in defining terms, and to avoid words and phrases that were liable to be misapprehended or wrongly applied. The theological terminology was in course of correction, and there was a manifest and improving development of thought, denoting accuracy and fulness, before the close of the century.
We might search in vain in the writing of the early fathers for satisfactory discussions on justification and other important doctrines. The sharp outlines of the systems of the reformation period
1 A collection of ancient creeds may be seen in Lord King's “ Enquiry into the Constitution, Discipline, Unity, and Worship of the Primitive Church." Part II, pp. 58–66. · Theophilus ad Antolyc., ii. c. 10, 22.
3 Apol., c. 10.
could not have been drawn in the age of Justin Martyr and his compeers. On some points their deliverances (to use a Scottish phrase) were cloudy. Their views of human depravity needed clarifying, or we should not have been told by Hermas of men being "born good,” and “not knowing what wickedness is," ? nor should we have met with sentences in which the meritoriousness of good works was not obscurely taught, and justification confounded with sanctification, which in fact was an error common to patristic theology. Irenæus and Clement of Alexandria appear to have held predestination in what is now called the "Arminian" sense; that is, that God chose to salvation those whose faith and holiness he foresaw. It is observable, too, that in eulogizing man's free-will, the necessity and power of divine grace seemed to be thrown into the background, while a multitude of technical distinctions with which divines now-a-days are familiar, or those of the last generation used to be, were not so much ignored as unknown. The middle-age theory builders, it may be here remarked, have much to answer for. We can afford to be ignorant of many things on which they set high value.
On many subjects, discussed at length in modern bodies of divinity, the writers of the second century are silent. They were not then brought into the prominence which was afterwards given them in the ages of dispute and division. The controversy on the five points, for instance, would have been utterly unintelligible to those days. Hence it follows that we ought not to be surprised if we meet with incidental allusions only to truths which are now considered important, and even fundamental. In their endeavors to trace the uninterrupted succession of doctrine, and the uniformity of belief, controversialists have sometimes strained the evidence, and represented the fathers as maintaining opinions which it was expected would be found in their writings, but which more impartial judges have failed to discover. It is of small consequence that we can class these ancient writers either with Calvinists or Arminians. On topics that have furnished abundant scope for hair-splitting, the fathers of the times of Justin Martyr and Irenæus were nowhere.
Nevertheless, those men, though unlearned in systematic theology, received with thankfulness the plain announcements of the Bible, and were content to believe that “ Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” On that point they were both clear and firm. Their hope of salvation rested on the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus, God-man, Mediator. Here they were all agreed. They were equally agreed on the question of the final doom of the ungodly. Passage after passage might be quoted from their writings showing, that the doubts and difficulties of modern times were not entertained by them."
1 Similitud., c. 29, 30.
I proceed to the consideration of the worship of the church in the second century. Pliny's celebrated letter to Trajan is the first account we have, derived from independent sources. It is imperfect and coloured by heathen prejudices; yet it is extremely interesting. He says, referring to the statements of certain Christians who had been brought before him for examination :
They affirmed that the whole of their fault or error 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 to God; and to bind themselves by an oath not to commit any wickedness, not to be guilty of theft, or robbery, or adultery; never to falsify their word, nor to deny a pledge committed to them when called upon to return it. When these things were performed, it was their custom to separate, and then come together again to a meal, which they ate in common, without
The "stated day” was the Lord's day; the “oath” referred, probably, through Pliny's misapprehension, to the Lord's supper, which, at that time, was a regular part of the public worship; the “meal” was the love feast.
Justin Martyr's description is more complete and accurate. It must be borne in mind, however, that it was written for the perusa! of the Roman Emperor, and formed part of a document which was advisedly conciliatory in its tone. Thus he writes :
On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country, gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayers are ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayer
and thanksgiving, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons, and they who are well-to-do and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widowe, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, or want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us; and, in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world, and Jesus Christ our Saviour, on the same day rose from the dead. For he was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to his apostles and disciples, he taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.'
1 Justin Martyr, Apol. i. c. 8, 12, 18, 45, 57; ii. c. 1. Trypho, c. 5, 45, 117, 120. Tertull; de Pænit. c. 12.
1 Plin. Epist. Lib. x. Epist. 96. Gieselin's Eccles. Hist., Period 1. Division 1, 833.
In this account there is no mention of singing, which occupies a prominent place in Pliny's notice, and which, as we gather from other authorities, was a favorite exercise among the Christians.” The mixing of water with the wine, and the practice of sending portions to the absent, are novelties, denoting the beginnings of willworship.
The same tendency appeared in connection with the ordinance of baptism. Justin Martyr speaks of it as follows:
As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray, and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water.
After some further remarks, explanatory, according to his judgment, of John iii. 5, which he interprets of baptism, Justin adds :
This washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost who, through the prophets, foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.
Baptism being the ordinance of initiation in and by which the candidate entered into the Christian profession, and then commenced a new life, it became common to refer to it under the figure a new
1 A pol. i. c. 67.
* Dr. Schaff quotes from Eusebius (v. c. 28) the following passage, cited by him from an author of the second century: "How many psalms and odes of the Christians are thore not, which have been written from the beginning by believers, and which, in their theology. praise Christ as the Logos of God!" (History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, ở 102). * Apol. i. c. 61.
birth. Not that regeneration, spiritually considered, was accomplished by the water, but that in the act of baptism, the person baptized was transferred to another state of existence,-symbolized also by the cleansing character of the element; as the water cleansed the body, the Holy Spirit cleansed the soul. In process of time, there was a change in the use of words. The solemnity and importance of the ceremony led to confusion and mistake. Baptism, instead of being treated as a service, was exalted into an operation, and was supposed to effect that which it represented. As forgiveness of sins resulted from submission to Christ, and baptism was the outward act of that submission, the ordinance itself came to be looked upon as the fountain of forgiveness, and the gate of eternal life. Unwarrantable expressions, savoring of superstition, were brought into use, and at the end of the period now under review, sundry additions had been made to the simple ceremonial of the New Testament. In the times of the apostles, the believer was immersed in water, and thus consecrated to the service of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. A hundred years after the death of the apostle John, baptism was quite another thing. It is described by Tertullian in these words:
When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation, and under the hand of the president, we Bolemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon, we are therein immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the gospel. Then, when we are taken up, we taste first of all, a mixture of milk and honey, and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week.'
The candidate was also signed with the sign of the cross, and received the imposition of hands, equivalent to the modern confirmation.
There were other additions to the ceremonial of the gospel. Christians prayed toward the east. Frequent fastings were practised. Second marriages were discountenanced, and continence lauded as a virtue. Easter began to be observed. The sign of the cross was in constant use.
At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes or shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign of the cross.'
Kneeling was forbidden on the Lord's day, because it is a token of humiliation, and the Lord's day is a joyful season. The anniversaries of martyrdoms were regularly observed.
1 Tertull. Adous. Tuarc., c. 28. 2 De Corona, c. 3. Ibid.