Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

terest which is taken in the study of theology; but also, and more especially, because we believe that in exact proportion as the genuine remains of antiquity are studied, not for the purpose of promoting the interests of party, but with the simple view of the discovery of truth, in the same proportion will the conviction take root in the minds of those who are not blinded by preconceived prejudice, that whilst the historical testimony to the trutb of the great facts and doctrines of Christianity is irresistibly strong, the evidence which may bo adduced from the earliest writers in favour of certain characteristics of Roman doctrine and practice, is, for the most part, of a very doubtful character, and, in almost every instance, more than counterbalanced by conflicting evidence which may be adduced from the pen of the same writer.

The writings of Tertullian are, on very many accounts,amongst the most important and most interesting of the remains of Christian antiquity. Our knowledge of his personal history, except so far as it is elucidated by his own writings, is derived chiefly from the account given of him by Jerome, in his Catalogue of Ecclesiastical Writers. From these combined sources we learn, that Tertullian was a native of the province of Africa and city of Carthage; that he was the son of a proconsular centurion; that he flourished during the reigns of Severus and Antonius Caracalla; and, after Victor and Apollonius, that he was the earliest of the Latin Christian writers. He appears, from some passages in his writings (for there seems no sufficient reason for calling the fact in question), to have been a convert from heathenism. His ordination probably took place shortly after his conversion, and his secession to the Montanists must have followed at no distant period after his ordination. Whether he resided and officiated as a presbyter at Carthage or at Rome, is not quite certain; nor is there apparently any sufficient ground for the statement that his adoption of the opinions of Montanus was the result of the disappointment of his expectation of promotion to the see of one or other of those cities.

It has been justly observed by Bishop Kaye, that the value of Tertullian's writings arises, in no inconsiderable measure, indirectly from the errors into which he fell; inasmuch as it is from his endeavours to correct what he deemed faulty in the practice and discipline of the Church, that we learn indirectly what that practice and that discipline were.

We will endeavour, very briefly, to indicate some of the subjects on which the evidence furnished by the writings of Tertullian is of peculiar value.

I. Tertullian, in his Apology (chapters 18 to 21), vindicates the authority of the writings of the Old Testament Scriptures, by an appeal (1) to then- high antiquity—a consideration, as he shows in very forcible language, of great weight when regarded as an argumentum ad hominemi. e.t as calculated to arrest the attention and to attract the respect of the heathen, with whom (as he says in chap. 19) "it is a kind of religion to demand belief on this very ground"; and (2) to their majesty, in proof of which he adduces the evidence arising from the progressive fulfilment of prophecy.

2. After a short but vigorous defence of Judaism as a religion proceeding from God, and stamped with the impress of its Divine original, Tertullian (in his Apology, chap. 21) inBists briefly, but unequivocally, upon the belief of the new sect of the Christians in the Divinity of Christ. "Necesse est igitur pauca dicamus de Christo ut Deo." The fact that, within a hundred years after the death of St. John, a belief in the Divinity of Christ was thus propounded as the undisputed creed of His followers, is entitled to a high degree of consideration.

3. Tertullian's testimony to the miracles of Christ as facts universally admitted, ascribed indeed by the Jews to magic, but unquestioned on all hands as to the reality of their occurrence, is another fact deserving serious attention, and suggesting many important reflections as to the difference between ancient and modern forms of scepticism.

4. With regard to the much disputed question of the duration of miraculous powers in the Early Church, the testimony of Tertullian carries with it much weight. Now, it appears that in a passage in the Treatise De Pudicitia, to which Bishop Kaye refers in his valuable work on the writings of Tertullian, (pp. 100, 101, Note,) the whole of the argument turns on the supposition of the cessation of those miraculous powers which had been exercised by the Prophets and Apostles. And again, as has been observed by the same learned writer (Bishop Kaye), in the Treatise De Prsescriptione Hsereticorum, where the argument of Tertullian would naturally lead him to refer to the exercise of miraculous powers, if still in existence, we find that he makes no such appeal. On the other hand, we find, in the Apology (chap. 23), the most explicit assertion of Tertullian's belief that Christians generally (he makes no mention of Bishops or Priests) were able to dispossess evil spirits, and to compel them to admit their own deeds and character; and, in words which admit of no evasion, and which bear upon their very surface the most conclusive evidence of the undoubting faith of the writer in the success of the experiment, he boldly and confidently challenges his adversaries to the trial. "Bring," he says, "before your tribunals a man possessed with a demon: the evil spirit, if commanded by a Christian, will speak and confess himself a demon. In like manner, produce a person supposed to be inspired by one of your deities: he, too, will not dare to give a false reply to a Christian, but will confess that his inspiration proceeds from a demon."

5. The authority of Tertullian has been appealed to on the part of the advocates of the corporal presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and some strong expressions which occur in his, as in almost all other writings which preceded controversy on the subject, have been quoted in favour of that dogma. It is very clear, however, if the only sound canon of interpretation be adhered to,—viz., that passages which are of doubtful signification should be interpreted by those which are clear and explicit,—that we shall arrive at a very different conclusion on this subject; the difficulty being far greater of explaining away such expressions as "the figure of my body," and the "bread by which He represents His own body,"* than it is to assign a figurative sense to passages to which it would be easy to adduce parallels from the uncontroversial writings of those who, in modern times, have been farthest removed from the Romish school of theology.

There are many other points—as, e. g., the testimony of Tertullian to the Canon of Scripture, his reference to the Tradition of the Church to the orders of the ministry, the marriage of Priests, and the independence of Churches—to which we should gladly refer, did our space permit.

It is no depreciation of the general fidelity and ability displayed in the translation of this "harshest and most obscure of writers," to say that we have observed some passages in which we think the exact sense of the writer has not been clearly expressed; and, with regard to the justly celebrated "Apology," some places in which use might advantageously have been made of the learned notes appended to Mr. Woodham's edition of that Treatise.

We are glad to see the names of Oxford and Cambridge scholars associated with those of the two learned Editors of the general series of the Ante-Nicene Library; and we heartily wish the publishers abundant success in the important and responsible undertaking in which, as the readers of the Christian Observer will be aware, they have already made considerable progress.

"TAKE HEED AND BE QUIET."

Among all the changes of this changing world, and the many causes for disquietude that constantly arise, it is sometimes a very difficult thing to be quiet. We cannot do so without con

* Sec Bishop Kaye's Tertullian, p. 455, Netc.

stant study. "Study to be quiet, and to mind your own business." Such a frame of mind and heart can neither be obtained nor preserved, without diligent heed. "Take heed and be quiet." This short but most important command was addressed originally to Ahaz, king of Judah. At that time his situation was very peculiar, and the dangers that were impending over him and his family were very alarming. "It was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim." The two kings of Syria and of Israel had formed a powerful confederacy against the kingdom of Judah. They had taken evil counsel together against the descendant of David, who was then reigning upon his throne in Jerusalem; and their design was to enter into his city, and, having dethroned the reigning sovereign, to set up a king of their own making, to sit upon his throne. To the outward eye there was little or nothing to prevent the execution of their plan. It seemed almost as easy to be done as to be formed. We cannot be surprised that the report of this great confederacy should produce the utmost consternation in Jerusalem, and more especially in the king's household. Such an effect it actually had, both upon the king and his people. We are told, "His heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind." Ahaz, it must be remembered, was a wicked man. Of him it is recorded, "In the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord: this is that king Ahaz." But because he was the lawful heir of King David, and because God had many gracious purposes to be accomplished in his family, he would not suffer the confederate kings to fulfil their threatenings. He declared concerning their counsel, "It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass." In addition to this, he was pleased to send the prophet Isaiah, with this express message to the king of Judah, in the midst of his terror and alarm, "Take heed and be quiet." He and his people were assured that the adversaries of whom they were afraid were only two smoking firebrands, whose power to do mischief was past, and that they both, within a limited period, should be entirely quenched. Ahaz and his people, in order to have the full benefit of this great deliverance, had only simply to stay themselves upon the sure word of promise by which it was proclaimed. It was told them by the word of the Lord, "If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established."

Let our readers endeavour to receive the soothing message, which was sent to the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the day of their perplexity, as a message from God to themselves, in these divided and distracted times: "Take heed and be quiet."

I. Take heed to your faith, and be quiet from all tormenting

fear, so long as you have, for the ground of your confidence, the faithful promise of the God of truth. You see at once that the fear of Ahaz and his people was not unfounded, when their hearts were moved, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind. They had no resources of their own either to resist or avoid the powerful confederacy that was formed against them, and ready at any moment to burst upon their unprotected heads. But after they had been expressly told by the God of truth to be quiet and still, that He would undertake their defence, that He would break the league, and defeat the counsel, and extinguish the rage of their adversaries, what had they then to fear? When He assured them so expressly that their strength was to sit still, and that by quietness and simple trust in His promise they should be saved,—what would you have thought of them, if they had either presumptuously gone forth against their enemies in their own strength, or else if, giving way to their unbelieving fears, they had determined to abandon the city, and to seek safety by flight? How could they escape the impending danger,—how could they be established, if they would not believe?

Now, let this thought sink deep into our hearts. The frame of mind, and the part to act, which became these trembling Jews, as soon as they heard the gracious promise of God, points out exactly what is right and proper for the awakened penitent, as soon as he hears the message of reconciliation proclaimed by the Gospel. He is not now the thoughtless trifler that he once was. He has come to himself. His heart has been touched; and his soul is disquieted within him. He knows that Almighty God has a controversy with him, because of his sins. He cannot calmly look death, and judgment, and eternity in the face. The things that are coming upon him fill him with the most painful apprehension. What must he do to be saved? Where must he turn for deliverance? He cannot by any device of his own mind, or any work of his own hand, either escape the condemnation to which he is exposed, or meet the demands which the law of the Lord has against him. What must he do? Here is the answer, the true answer, the answer of God, to his momentous enquiry: "Take heed to your faith," and see that you rely altogether and entirely for pardon, and peace, and eternal life, as the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Do not go about to establish a righteousness of your own. Put not your trust in anything you have done, or can do, or intend to do. But, confessing and bewailing your utter inability either to atone for your offences that are past, or to render the obedience that is due for the future, put yoor whole trust and confidence in Him who is the propitiation for our sins, and whose perfect obedience is reckoned for righteousness to all that truly believe in His name. You must be a

« ZurückWeiter »