« PreviousContinue »
TEMPLE CHEVALLIER, B.D.
LATE FELLOW AND TUTOR OF CATHARINE HALL, CAMBRIDGE,
FRANCIS & JOHN RIVINGTON,
ST. PAUL'S CHURCH YARD, AND WATERLOO PLACE; AND
In the history of the Christian Church, there are few periods of greater interest and importance than that which succeeded the death of the Apostles. As long as any of those holy men survived, who had personally received instruction from our Lord, they connected the Church on earth with its spiritual Head. The miraculous powers with which the Apostles were endowed, and the undisputed authority with which their high office invested them, placed them in a position, which none of their successors could ever occupy. In cases of difficulty and doubt, an appeal to their more than human wisdom was the last resource: in times of peril, their example and their prayers strengthened the wavering, and confirmed the faithful: and at all periods they were justly regarded as the pillars, on which the Christian Church securely rested.
But when the Apostles were removed from the scene of their earthly labours, the condition of the Church was changed. The efforts of its enemies were exerted with greater energy to suppress Christianity, as the numbers of those who professed the faith increased; while the apparent means of defence were
materially impaired. Our attention is therefore roused to inquire what men they were, who, on this trying occasion, stood forth in defence of Christianity; with what weapons they combated their enemies; with what zeal they laid down their lives for the sake of the Gospel.
These early ages of the Church claim our attention for another reason. In contemplating the history of that period, we view Christianity, as a system of ecclesiastical polity, in its nascent state. It was then that the Canon of Scripture was formed; that Church government took a consistent form. The oral teaching of the Apostles and their immediate successors was still vividly impressed upon the minds of those who had heard them; and many passages of Scripture, which to us appear ambiguous, might by such means be then clearly understood.
Hence the conclusions, which the primitive Christian Church formed, respecting questions, which in after ages have been fruitful subjects of controversy, are entitled to the highest regard: not, indeed, as infallible; but as representing the doctrines maintained by sincere and earnest inquirers after the truth, by men who were best able to form a sound determination, before their judgment was warped by prejudice, or modified by system.
The writings of the early Christian Fathers will therefore be carefully consulted by all who would trace the Scriptures up to the period in which they were written, and learn the doctrines which were taught as essential, in the times nearest to the Apostolic age.
These early ages of the Church possess also a charm peculiar to themselves. The records of ecclesiastical history in subsequent years too often display a melancholy picture. The turbulent passions of the worldlyminded, the fiery zeal of the intemperate, the arts of the designing, the follies of the weak, all present themselves in dazzling colours and in prominent positions: while it requires a practised eye and a patient investigation to discover the milder and retiring forms of unobtrusive Christian piety. The earlier Christians were not, as individuals, free from the infirmities and sins of human nature. But the primitive Christian Church did certainly stand forth in a purity and simplicity which it has never since enjoyed. And the contemplation of the age in which this goodly spectacle was presented to the world, has ever been a delightful employment to minds endowed with a kindred feeling.
Of late years a considerable impulse has been given, among ourselves, to the study of the early Christian writers. The labours of the learned Bishop of Lincoln, in elucidating the works of Justin Martyr and Tertullian, and those of Dr. Burton, are specimens of the valuable matter which is yet to be extracted from the stores of Christian antiquity.
The present work lays claim to no such pretensions. Its object is to put the English reader in possession of some of the genuine remains of Christian writers of the first and second centuries, and to furnish occasional information upon such points as seem to require explanation. For this purpose it appeared more advisable to give the whole of such pieces as should be