« AnteriorContinuar »
see evidence to preponderate this way or that, to no man or any number of men, to no Church, or Council, Synod or Assembly. We think we are answerable to God alone for the faith we adopt, or the faith we reject, and that man has no power to meddle in the case. And we trust that from this place no man or woman will be denounced for their faith in Christ, be that faith what it may. And ere one such anathema should be uttered within these walls, we pray they may crumble to their foundations.
We build this church in perfect charity, we hope, with Christendom and the world; for we build it as Christians; and Christians should love not only one another, but mankind. We wish indeed that our own peculiar opinions should every where prevail, for we believe them to be the pure, undoubted truth of God; but we would not make one convert by violence, or the sacrifice of peace. An overheated zeal has been a principal source of the miseries the church has endured. Christian sects have been willing to propagate their opinions at any cost, from mistaken ideas of their importance. They have forced, not followed, Providence. May we avoid their error; and though persuaded that our opinions are true, and important as true, and must ultimately prevail, let us not hasten too fast, but wait the fit concurrence of times and circumstances. God watches over his truth as he does over his material creation, and in his own time, and in his own way, will raise it to honour and universal empire.
And now, brethren-I use the words of another on a similar occasion-let us depart from this spot, from this moment holy ground, set apart henceforth from ordinary uses, and consecrated to things divine. Where the heavens now swell above us, declaring their Maker's glory, shall soon be interposed a roof of human workmanship, beneath which shall be declared the bright glory of his redeeming love. It shall intercept the light of yonder sun, whose beams shall no more fall upon this place, but the more reviving beams of the sun of righteousness shall rest there without a cloud. The dews of night shall come down on this spot no more, and the winds of the ocean shall henceforth be excluded; but the dews of divine grace, as we trust, shall plenteously visit it, and the gentle breathings of the Holy Spirit shall never cease to shed upon it life and peace. And from this place, where now perhaps for the first time the voice of Christian worship has ascended to heaven, there shall go up, generation after generation, to the end of time, incense and a pure offering from multitudes of humble and believing hearts.
WE have received the communication of Mr. J. Francis, Brede, Sussex, and will reconsider his former letter.
Though we give in this number half a sheet more than the usual quantity of letter-press, we regret that we are in arrear with some of our correspondents.
Dr. Middleton's Remarks on the Story concerning St. John, the Evangelist, and Cerinthus, the Heretic.
[THE long-rejected fable of the apostle John and Cerin thus, at the Bath, has been revived for an intolerant purpose by the Rev. Robert Hall in his funeral sermon for Dr. Ryland. Some animadversions upon this part of the sermon will be found in the last number of the Monthly Repository XXI. 176. This new attempt to give currency and credit to the bigoted tale, induces us to reprint the following excellent Dissertation on the story, by the learned Dr. Conyers Middleton, Principal Librarian of the University of Cambridge, from his Works (8vo.) II. 415-436.]
The story which I am going to examine, is told by Irenæus in the following manner: "That there were some who had heard Polycarp relate, how St. John, the disciple of our Lord, going one day to the public bath in Ephesus, and finding the heretic Cerinthus in it, started back instantly without bathing, crying out, Let us run away, lest the bath should fall upon us, while Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is in it."
This story is applied by Dr. Berriman, in one of his sermons, to enforce the duty of shunning Infidels and Heretics and by Dr. Waterland, to recommend a practice, which he warmly presses upon all Christians, of rejecting from their society and communion, all the impugners of fundamentals: and it is sure to be thrown in our way, either from the pulpit or the press, by all angry divines, as oft as they find occasion, to inflame the people against an antagonist whom, through zeal or heat of controversy, they are disposed to treat as an adversary to the Christian faith.
Since this story then, as it is commonly applied, naturally tends, to excite prejudices and uncharitable aversions in the minds of men, and is considered generally by zealots as an apostolic rule and precedent for the exercise of all kinds of rudeness towards those who differ from them in matters of religion, I cannot but think it of use to the public quiet to inquire into the real state of it, and not to suffer it to have any other credit or influence, than what is
strictly due to it for in that great uncharitableness which reigns among the sects of Christians in these days, there is no occasion to ransack antiquity for any additional motives of strife and mutual hatred. I shall consider, therefore,
1st, What objections may reasonably be offered to the truth of it, as well from the nature of the evidence, as the matter of the story itself.
2dly, Shall shew, that though we allow it to be true, it cannot justify the use to which the doctors above-mentioned, and many others, have applied it.
1. As to the evidence of the story, it rests on the single testimony of Irenæus, and that given to us, at second hand only, or from hearsay: for he does not say, that he received it himself from Polycarp, though when young he had seen and conversed with him, but that some of Polycarp's disciples had heard him relate it; of which number there were many, who had conversed with him more familiarly and frequently than Irenæus. Since he received it, then, from certain persons unknown, who received it from Polycarp, who received it from St. John, there is room enough to suppose, that he might possibly be deceived in it: which, considering the character of the man, and of the age wherein he lived, can hardly be thought an unreasonable supposition.
But if we should allow, what many are apt to infer from this passage, that Irenæus meant here to signify that it was he himself who heard the story from Polycarp, we are then to consider what degree of credit may be due to his testimony. But this I have already considered at large in a former treatise; in which I have shewn, that though of all the fathers whose works now remain to us, he was the most diligent collector of apostolic traditions, and had gathered them, as he affirms, from the mouths of ancient men, who had conversed with the Apostles themselves; yet in every single instance of them which he has particularly recorded, and peremptorily attested, he was either deluded himself, or has wilfully deluded others, by a false and forged pretence of apostolic authority. Among many examples which I have here produced in the support of this charge, the following one will sufficiently teach us how far we may depend upon his fidelity.
There were certain Heretics in those days, with whom Irenæus was disputing, who allowed but one and thirty years to our Saviour's life, and the last of them alone to his
ministry: in contradiction to whom, Irenæus roundly affirms, that our Saviour actually lived to an old age, and was fifty years old at least at the time of his death: for which he alleges the unanimous testimony of all the old men who had lived with St. John in Asia, and received this account from him; some of whom, he says, had seen the other Apostles also, and heard the same from them all, and bore witness accordingly to the truth of it. Now it is not possible that any tradition can be more authentically delivered than this, by one of the most venerable bishops of the primitive church, who lived within a few years after the apostles themselves; - yet it is certain, as the warmest admirers of antiquity in general, and of Irenæus in particular, must own, that neither St. John, nor any other of the apostles, could ever declare such a story to any one; and that the whole therefore must be a mere fiction, either of those ancient men who had conversed with the apostles, or of Irenæus himself, who pretended to have heard it from them, as being utterly inconsistent with the history of the gospel.
But the gospel was then only in a few hands; and apostolic tradition the shortest way of silencing those Heretics; being an argument of the greatest weight with those who believed it, and what could not easily be confuted by those who did not. The pious editor of Irenæus's works makes the following remark upon the place: "Irenæus," says he, "affirms in express words, that Christ continued to teach beyond the fortieth, or even the fiftieth year of his age; which he endeavours to confirm by texts of Scripture, and by reasons also, though weak ones, which the common judgment of the church has rejected. We ought, however, to judge candidly of the blessed martyr, who, by an impetus of confuting the Heretics, was carried into the contrary extreme : a case which, as it is mauifest, has frequently happened to the most holy and learned men." But since Irenæus's whole life and writings were peculiarly devoted to the confutation of heresy, what is it that the most candid can possibly judge on this occasion, but that the same impetus of confuting them, which carried him beyond the truth in one case, would carry him the same length in another, and prompt him to use every argument which could promote so good a cause?
This suspicion will be confirmed, not only by the conduct of Irenæus in other similar cases, but by the matter of the story itself, which on many accounts seems to imply
a behaviour unworthy of the character of an Apostle; to whose dignity it would have been more agreeable, instead of running out of the bath himself, to have driven Cerinthus out before him. Resist the Devil and he will fee, is an injunction given to every private Christian: and it is much more the part of an apostle, to resist and disarm an Heretic; whereas so precipitate a flight betrays fear and diffidence, and gives an occasion of triumph to the adver
The reason also, said to be given by him for his flight, is childish and superstitious: lest the bath should fall, because Cerinthus was in it. As if it had been usual with God, to exert his judgments in that manner on notorious sinners, by burying them under the ruins of walls and houses: a notion which seems to be expressly discouraged and exploded by Christ himself. Or, if there was any cause to apprehend that God would take so extraordinary a method of punishing the heretic, there was a greater still to be assured, that he would provide at the same time, in some way as extraordinary, for the safety of the apostle : it being weak to imagine, that when he had spared the life of so profligate an enemy to that day, he should be in such haste at last to destroy him, as to involve his old and faithful servant in the same ruin.
The conduct of the other apostles towards the professed adversaries of the gospel was quite contrary to this of St. John, as we find it described in the History of their Acts; where we read how Peter rebuked and confounded the prince and leader of all Heretics, Simon Magus, who had bewitched the people of Samaria, by his sorceries, and was revered by them as a Deity. And if any credit be due to ecclesiastical history, we are there told, that when the same Simon, was playing his magical tricks again in Rome, in defiance and opposition to the gospel, and, by the help of his familiar dæmons, was flying briskly in the air, St. Peter, by the force of his prayers, brought him down from the sky, with so precipitate a tumble, that he was dashed to pieces by the fall, in the sight of all the people. Thus, when St. Paul likewise was opposed and obstructed in preaching the gospel, by another sorcerer and false prophet, called Elymas, he first reproached him sharply for his diabolical practices, and then, in the name of the Lord, struck him instantly blind. And this is the conduct which one would have expected from an apostle, upon an encounter