Page images

such as the circumstances required. The difficulty is one still remaining to be solved in Christendom. The early Christian teachers appear to have evaded it by omitting all advertence to the sacrifice of Jesus, when they insisted on his divinity. I trace such a distinction in the records before us.

The Epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans, and the First Epistle of Peter, preach the sacrificial death, but not the divinity; the Book of Revelation, the Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Hebrews, and the Epistles of John, have the sacrificial death, and the pre-existence of Jesus before the world was made, but still not his essential divinity; the Epistles to the Philippians, Timothy, and Titus, the second Epistle of Peter, and the Gospel according to John, have the divinity, but not the sacrifice. Is this arrangement, common to so many of the scriptures in their several groups, fortuitous or designed ? The Gnostics evidently felt their difficulty when they had to associate even their Æon with the death of a mere mortal. The carnal image of Jesus was, they said, occupied by an Æon when the spirit (according to the ordinary version) descended on him at his baptism ; and at the time that he had to undergo death, this Æon withdrew, and ascended into heaven, and left the body to suffer. Have the Christian writers, conscious of the inconsistency, sought to evade the difficulty by silence ?

That the Christian movement, when it took a Gentile complexion, was advanced by Gentile teachers, is, I think, sufficiently apparent. I attribute the Synoptic Gospels, the book of Acts, the epistle of James, and the book of Revelation, which teem with Judaism, to those who were in faith, and, perhaps, also in race, merely Jews. The epistles to the Thessalonians, though not disclosing Jewish proclivities, was probably by a Jew, since its form of doctrine does not go beyond the precincts of Judaism. The religious nationality of the authors of the epistles of John and those to Timothy, is not determinable from any thing appearing in these epistles. The remaining scriptures all give evidence of the hand of a Gentile.

In advancing the Gentile movement, the name of Paul has been freely made use of. The book of Acts shows him in a position to be thus commended to notice. He had opened out the gospel to the Gentiles, and had successfully resisted the emissaries of the churches of Judea, who sought to repress his action and make Jews of them. When Gentile doctrines had to be recommended and made authoritative, it was natural, in the days before us, to father them on the renowned champion of the Gentile community. We have, accordingly, several very distinct Pauls, who may be thus enumerated.

1. Paul of the Acts of the Apostles, who is described as a pure Jew, in Jewish association. The Paul of the epistles to the Thessalonians also announced only what a Jew might receive, and therefore need not be classed as a different Paul.

2. Paul of the Galatians and Corinthians, in violent hostility with Judaism, disavowing all subjection to the apostles, or connection with the churches of Judea, and proclaiming an independent gospel.

3. Paul of the Romans, overthrowing Judaism with Gentilism, but not in the above spirit of excited hostility, and seen to have been all along in association with the Judean churches.

4. Paul of the epistle to the Ephesians, who, while preaching Gentilism, acknowledged the foundations of the church to have been laid down by the apostles and prophets. The epistle to the Colossians may have been by the same hand.

5. Paul of the Philippians, accepting Timothy as on a level with himself, and working with him.

6. Paul of the epistles to Timothy, holding Timothy under him in pupilage, and instructing him. The epistle to Titus may also be by this writer.

Those uncritical persons who accept the epistle to the Hebrews as the production of Paul, would introduce a seventh representation of him.

The canonical scriptures thus examined demonstrate to us that the doctrines of Christianity have owed their origin to no one solid recognizable source. Derived apparently from Essenism, and constituting at first mere Judaism, they ended in a purely Gentile demonstration. So completely were the first tenets cast off, that those who held them were reduced to the back ranks of heretical denominations. The Essenes were shelved as Encratites, and the Judaic Christians as Ebionites. The Jesus of the Synoptics, had he survived to this day, must have been so disposed of.

Beyond the canonical scriptures we have the works of numerous writers who embody the early doctrines of Christianity, and show us what these were. Dr Donaldson exhibits them to us in two classes, namely, the so-called Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists, whose era, according to current acceptation, extends to the latter part of the second century, or a time comprehending one hundred and fifty years from the asserted death of Christ. My conclusions would place the very earliest of these at an interval removed by at least a hundred years from the alleged event, and possibly considerably more. The learned doctor says of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, “nowhere is Christ directly called God in them. Nowhere is a relief from punishment spoken of as the result of his life or death. His work from beginning to end is a purely moral work. There is no curious prying into the peculiar nature of Christ's death.” “The Apologists do not speak of the doctrine of original sin, and they speak sometimes in language apparently opposed to it, because as yet the Church had no theory on the matter. .... The same observation has to be made in regard to many other doctrines, such as those relating to the death of Christ. The Apologetic writings contain no theory on this subject. There is no indication that they looked on his death as a satisfaction to God as moral governor for sin. . ... The idea of personal happiness becomes more prominent in some of these writings than it is in the earlier. The idea, indeed, of personal holiness is still uppermost, but it is conjoined with that of personal happiness; and thus the way was opened up for the two questions, -how, on the one hand, Christ's life and death wrought holiness; and, on the other hand, bow his life and death procured happiness. Attempted solutions of the first question will appear in the next age. The Church had to go through many phases of feeling and life before it was led to attempt a full solution of the last. .... The doctrine which the Apologists discuss fully is that of the Logos, and the relation of the Son to the Father. . ... They feel content with the assertion that He was in a peculiar sense the Son of God, the bearer of the Divine message to men, the revelation of the Divine being to men. They make various assertions with regard to Him ; such as that all power was given Him in heaven and earth ;

tp to the middle of this gospel, mature. The

that to Him every knee should bow; that through Him the world was created; that He was the first-born of all creation ; and that the Father had given up all things into His hands. But in none of them occur express and unmistakable assertions of the divinity of Christ” (Hist. of Christ. Lit. and Doct. I. 86; II. 39, 40). “The first form of Christianity was Ebionitism, seen in the Apostles Peter, James, and John, and represented by the gospel of the Hebrews, which was the only gospel in use up to the middle of the second century. The gospel of Matthew is a form of this gospel, marking the catholic conclusion of the Ebionitic gospel literature. The church was Ebionitic up to the middle of the second century' (meaning for the space of a hundred years). ...“ The first literary document of the Roman Church, the Pastor of Hermas, is Judaic." Afterwards “ appeared Hegesippus, the earliest historian of the church, and thoroughly Ebionitic. ... The writings of Justin Martyr exhibit a peculiar phenomenon-a mixture of Ebionitism with Platonism, the Logos-doctrine being Platonic. .... Ebionitic is Justin's whole view of the original connection and object of the incarnation of Christ; Ebionitic his complete silence in regard to the Apostle Paul, whose letters he never quotes, into whose peculiar doctrines he nowhere enters, and whose apostolic authority he consequently seems to have rejected ; Ebionitic his rough form of Chiliasmus, his Demonology, and the horror at the eating of sacrificial flesh connected therewith ; his view of the Holy Ghost, whom he seems to have reckoned among the angels; his angel-worship; his valuing the Old Testament so much above the New. The second stage of the church's progress finds the church Ebionitic, but arguing with a peaceful tendency. This is seen in the Clementine Homilies, in which the foundation is thoroughly Ebionitic; but they form an intermediate step in the process of the development of Ebionitism into Catholicism.” The Letters of Ignatius “ express a desire for unitythe main idea by which the Pauline and Ebionitic elements were reconciled” (Ibid. I. 39-41, citing Schwegler).

In a later publication, the same author gives us other citations. Dr James Bennet, in a work entitled The Theology of the Early Christian Church, he informs us, says, "The incarnation, atonement, and intercession of the Redeemer, are not taught by the Fathers in the formal, systematic manner which professed theologians afterwards adopted ; but the elements of a system are scattered with rude simplicity and perplexing vagueness over their works.” Then he refers to Vaughan's Causes of the Corruption of Christianity, and Stoughton On the Ages of Christendom, saying that in both “ the defective theology of the writers of the first three centuries is made a matter of lamentation.” After this the learned doctor himself observes, “If it be true, as they (the writers of the evangelical school) say, that the early writers were heterodox on the Trinity ; if they knew nothing of a satisfaction of Divine justice, but spoke only in a vague way of this matter; if they wavered in regard to original sin, some denying it entirely, and others expressing themselves with great uncertainty ; if their testimony to the inspiration of the New Testament is unsatisfactory and inconclusive where was Christianity in those days ? Did it really sleep for three centuries ? Are we to suppose that there were Christians in those days, but that they never wrote books? Or how is the chasm to be bridged ?" (The Apostolical Father's, 78-80).

The solution is simple and decisive. The error is on the part of the modern theologians, who judge the pioneers of their faith by matters present now in Christianity and commonly accepted, but which, in the times of these early men, had not · yet been invented.

« PreviousContinue »