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Saviour of mankind: a work which would advance him to be Lord and Judge of the world ;-cause him to be for ever admired, reverenced, and adored by men and angels,—and highly exalted and glorified by God himself. If either the work of redemption was too stupendous for a creature to undertake, or the honours of it were too high for å creature to aspire after ; then, certainly, the very notion of condescension is merged and lost, upon every hypothesis which does not make Christ truly and properly God, God eternal. In fact, “ to become man, to suffer and die for the redemption “ of the world, and to be made the Lord and Judge “ both of the quick and of the dead, can be an act of “ condescending love and goodness only in God. So “s that to deny the Divinity of Christ alters the very “ foundation of Christianity, and destroys all the “ powerful arguments of the love, humility, and con. 6 descension of our Lord, which are the peculiar “ motives of the Gospel.” (y)
IV. The prevailing opinion among Christians during the first three centuries was, that Jesus Christ was really a Divine Person, and not a mere man.
I assume it here as a position which cannot with any justice be disputed, that the opinions held by the majority of real and pious Christians in the early ages, when, as Jerome finely observes, “ the blood of Christ 66 was yet warm in the breasts of Christians, and the 6 faith and spirit of religion were brisk and vigorous," were those that were taught by the apostles, and con
(y) Sherlock's Vindication of the Defence of Stillingfleet, p. 268.
stituted the fundamental doctrines of the Christiani religion. The observable harmony and unanimity of the several churches in their most public acts is a circumstance which irresistibly confirms this position. It is scarcely probable that any large church of those early ages should vary, in things of moment, from the apostolical doctrines; and it is quite absurd to imagine that all the churches should combine in the same error, and conspire together to corrupt the doctrine of Christ. This argument is much and justly insisted upon both by Irenæus and Tertullian against the heretics of their respective times. (x) They both affirm that the true disciple (that is, according to their own interpretation, one who believes that He who wrought their salvation upon earth was God) " is a follower of the public doc“ trine of the church.”
Now, they are well known facts, that soon after the middle of the first century (that is, about A. D. 60 and 72), Cerinthus and Ebion impugned the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ; that John wrote his Gospel with a view to refute their errors; and that both were condemned for openly impugning this doctrine, by the whole church at that time, and frequently afterwards, before the establishment of Christianity by Constantine; this doctrine being then reckoned a fundamental and essential part of the Gospel faith. It is also equally notorious, that Theodotus, Artemon, Berillus, Paul of Samosata, and Arius, did in succession, before the year 320, deny the proper
(*) Iren. 1. iï. c. 3. 1. iv. c. 53–59.
Tertul. Præscript. c. 20, 28.
Divinity of Jesus Christ in a greater or less degree, making him a creature ; that they were all in their turns censured by the church: the sentiments of the latter, for example, being strongly censured at the council of Nice, by 315 out of 318 bishops, the wisest, worthiest, and every way most excellent, which the Christian world could then furnish, (a) called together out of Europe, Asia, and Africa; constituting a free council under no secular influence, or awe of superior human control. Reverting to the first of these deniers of Christ's Divinity, the substance of his opinion was, that Jesus and Christ were two persons: Jesus a mere man, conceived, in the natural way, of Joseph and Mary; Christ a celestial spirit, which descended from above, and resided in the man Jesus, not constantly, but occasionally. Here the proper Divinity of our Lord was denied ; and this was condemned, as error and heresy, by the bishops of Asia, and others of Cerinthus's contemporaries, who went in a body to St. John, and importuned him to bear his testimony against these sentiments. (6) Now the only question for consideration relative to Cerinthus is this. Was he the first who truly understood that doctrine of the new religion which respected the person of its founder ; or had the great body of the churches which were converted by the apostles received from them the true doctrines, and was Cerinthus the first who had sufficient boldness, to pro mulgate erroneous sentiments ? This question admits
(a) Euseb. de Vit. Constantin. 1. iii. c. 7, 9.
(O) Victorin in Assoc. Bibl. PP. Tom. i. p. 576. Hieronyın. Prolog. in Matt. p. 3. Opp. Tom. iv. Ed. Bened.
but of one rational answer; and that will accord with the decision of the primitive Christians against Cerinthus. Similar observations will apply, mutatis mutandis, to Ebion, and the other heresiarchs down to Arius: I beg to confirm them by a remarkable concession of Mr. Bayle's. He allows that, “ in the days of “ the apostles or their disciples, it had been easy to “ detect those who gave the Scriptures a wrong inter. “ pretation, because the infallibility of the apostles “ (who might have been consulted by word or by 6 letter), and the fresh remembrance of the verbal in“ structions they had given their disciples and pastors, 66 whom themselves had consecrated, furnished ready “ means for clearing any doubt, or disputed point." (©)
It would be easy to cite proofs that the sentiment of whole churches in the primitive times agreed, on the subject of Christ's Divinity, with what is now denominated the orthodox doctrine. But I shall select only two. And first let me direct your attention to the epistle written by the church of Smyrna to other churches, in which they describe the sufferings and martyrdom of Polycarp; for there is related this remarkable circumstance: viz. That as soon as Polycarp was dead the Jews suggested to the heathen judge the expediency of not permitting the Christians to take the martyr's body, “ lest they should forsake their cruci“ fied master, and begin to worship Polycarp,” “ not “ considering (add those early Christians taught by a “ bishop, who was the disciple of St. John) that we “ can never either forsake Christ, who suffered for the
(c) Bayle's Sup. to Phil. Comment. p. 692.
á salvation of all such as shall be saved throughout the 6 whole world, the righteous for the ungodly, or wors
ship any other. For him as the Son of God, we “ WORSHIP; but the martyrs we only love, as the dis66 ciples and followers of our Lord.” (d).
To this remarkable testimony allow me to add that of Caius, who, in his book called “ the Labyrinth," written against Artemon, in refutation of the assertion that Artemon's doctrine was coeval with Christianity, points first to the then well-known sentiments of Justin, Miltiades, Tatian, Clemens, Irenæus, Melito, in favour of Christ's Divinity, and then asks, “ How 6 many Psalms, Hymns, and Canticles were written
from the beginning by the brethren, and transcribed " by the faithful, in which Christ the Word of God is 66 celebrated for no other than God in deed? And 66 these being adopted in the churches, how is it pos“ sible that our ancestors until the time of Victor “ should have so preached, when the true ecclesiastical “ sentiment for so many years is certainly known unto 6 all the world? How can they thus shamelessly re“ port of Victor, when they know for certainty that 56 Victor excommunicated Theodotus the Tanner, who “ denied the Divinity of Christ, because he was the “ first who affirmed that Christ was a mere man ? If 66 Victor, as they report, had been of their blasphemous 66 opinion, how is it likely that he would have excom6 municated Theodotus ?" (e)
(d) Smyrn. Eccles. Epist. ap. Euseb. lib. iv. cap. 15. Wake's Fathers, p. 150.
(e) Euseb. Hist. Eccles. lib. V. cap. 28. In farther describing these