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clusive in questions of religion. For example, Irenæus, born about A. D. 97, calls them “Divine Oracles;" “ Scriptures of the Lord.” He says that the gospel was “committed to writing, by the will of God, that it might be, for time to come, the foundation and pillar of our faith."'* “He fled to the gospels, which he believed no less than if Christ had been speaking to him; and to the writings of the apostles, whom he esteemed as the presbytery of the whole Christian church.” Origen, born about A. D. 184, says, “Christians believe Jesus to be the Son of God, in a sense not to be explained and made known to men, by any but by that Scripture alone which is inspired by the Holy Ghost; that is, the evangelic and apostolic Scripture, as also that of the law and the prophets.”+ Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, born about the end of the second century, earnestly exhorts "all in general, but especially Christian ministers, in all doubtful matters to have recourse to the gospels and epistles of the apostles, as to the fountain where may be found the true original doctrine of Christ.” “ The precepts of the gospel,” he says, “are to be considered as the lessons of God to us; as the foundations of our hope, and the supports of our faith."
2. The books of the New Testament were united at a very early period in a distinct volume. Not to mention, in evidence of this, that in all the earliest writers, the gospels and epistles are spoken of as constituting a well-known collection of sacred authorities,
* Lardner 1. 372. † Ibid. 1. 545. # Ibid. 2, 27, 592–3.
divided into those two parts; we have Tertullian, born only fifty years after the death of St. John, calling the collection of the gospels the “Evangelical Instrument;" the whole volume, the “ New Testament;" and the two parts, the “Gospels and Apostles.”
3. The books of the New Testament were, at a very early period, publicly read and expounded in the congregations of Christians. Chrysostom, born about A. D. 347, testifies that “the gospels, when written, were not hid in a corner or buried in obscurity, but made known to all the world, before enemies as well as others, even as they are now." Irenæus, about two hundred years earlier, says, that in his time, “ all the Scriptures, both prophecies and gospels, are open and clear, and may be heard of all.”* Still earlier, we find Justin Martyn giving the emperor an account of the Christian worship, in which it is written, “ The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, according as the time allows; and when the reader has ended, the president makes a discourse, exhorting to the imitation of so excellent things.”+ The custom here mentioned is evidently spoken of as notorious and universal. This was about the year 140. But a practice thus general and familiar could hardly have grown up in less than forty years before the writing of this last witness. Thus we reach the life of St. John, and may therefore consider it as satisfactorily proved, that at a period as early as the last years of St. John, the Scriptures of the New Testament were * Lardner 1, 372.
† Ibid. 1, 345.
publicly read and expounded in the churches of Christians. Such is the natural inference, from many passages in the works of Augustine, of the fourth century. For example, " The canonical books of Scripture being read everywhere, the miracles therein recorded are well known to all people.” “The epistles of Peter and Paul are daily recited to the people. And to what people? And to how many people ? Listen to the Psalm, Their sound hath gone out into all the earth.?" Again, " The genuineness and integrity of the same Scriptures may be relied on, which have been spread all over the world, and which from the time of their publication were in the highest esteem, and have been carefully kept in the churches."*
4. During the primitive ages of Christianity, commentaries were written upon the books of the New Testament ; harmonies of them were formed, copies diligently compared, and translations made into different languages. In proof of these assertions, it is needless, after the citations already made, · to call up testimony. It may be found abundantly in Paley's Evidences ;t where it is well said, that “no greater proof can be given of the esteem in which these ancient books were holden by the ancient Christians, or of the sense then entertained of their value and importance, than the industry bestowed upon them. Moreover, it shows that they were then considered as ancient books. Men do not write comments upon publications of their own times; therefore * Lardner 2, 593–4.
† Page 1, ch. 9, sec. 6.
the testimonies cited under this head afford an evidence which carries up the evangelic writings much beyond the age of the testimonies themselves, and to that of their reputed authors.” There is but a single example of a Christian writer during the three first centuries, composing comments upon any other books than those in the New Testament. Clement of Alexandria is mentioned by Eusebius as having written short notes upon an apocryphal book called the Revelation of Peter ; but that he did not consider it as having authority, may be inferred from the fact mentioned by Eusebius, that in his other works it was nowhere quoted.*
5. From the view we have taken of primitive testimony, it appears that the agreement of the ancient church as to what were the authentic books of the New Testament is complete. Out of twelve catalogues, the earliest of which was furnished by Origen, living within a hundred years of St. John, and all of which were drawn up either by solemn councils or distinguished heads of the church residing in various and widely remote parts of the world-out of twelve, seven, including the earliest, agree exactly with our New Testament list; three others differ only in the omission of the book of Revelation, for which they had a special reason not implicating its authenticity; and in the two which remain, the books omitted, and spoken of as doubtful in the estimation of some, were acknowledged and quoted as authentic by the framers of the catalogues. The fathers, in all their writings and of all ages and countries, appeal to the same Scriptures as infallible authority. The consent of the ancient church was therefore universal. So far as the argument for the divine revelation of the gospel is connected with the authenticity of any of the books, it was without exception. The books omitted in some writers and catalogues, have no essential reference to the great question whether the gospel of Christ is of divine revelation.
* Lardner 1, 410.
6. The agreement among the various sects of heretics in the earliest centuries, is as entire as that of the orthodox fathers. The authenticity of the books of the New Testament was acknowledged even by those to whose sectarian interest their authority was extremely detrimental. Instead of venturing to dispute their having been written by their reputed authors, they sought refuge in arbitrary interpretations of such passages as opposed their favorite views. Some among the Gnostics, for example, unable to escape the apostolic character of the sacred books, maintained the necessity of giving an allegorical turn to their declarations. And when, in the course of time, heretics did undertake to question the authenticity of some portions of the New Testament, their accusation was not based upon any historical or testimonial objections, but confined to some trifting and pretended internal causes of exception, which only their own convenience could discover. Some of these later heretics, being opposed to the doctrine of the influences of the Holy Spirit, denied the gospel of St. John, because it contains the promise of that divino