« PreviousContinue »
raries, that they were able to reckon
in all the principal churches, the succession of bishops from the first* I remark these particulars concerning Irenæus with more formality than usual; because the testimony which this writer affords to the historical books of the New Testament, to their authority, and to the titles which they bear, is express, positive, and exclusive. One principal passage, in which this testimony is contained, opens with a precise assertion of the point which we have laid down as the foundation of our argument, viz. that the story which the Gospels exhibit, is the story which the apostles told. “ We have not received,” saith Irenæus, “ the knowledge of the way of our salvation by any others than those by whom the Gospel has been brought to us. Which Gospel they first preached, and afterwards, by the will of God, committed to writing, that it might be for time to come the foundation and pillar of our faith. For after that our Lord rose from the dead, and they (the apostles) were endowed from above with the power of the Holy Ghost coming down upon them, they received a perfect knowledge of all things. They then went forth to all the ends of the earth, declaring to men the blessing of heavenly peace, having all of them, and every one alike, the Gospel of God. Matthew then, among the Jews, writ a Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel at Rome, and founding a church there : and after their exit, Mark also, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, delivered to us in writing the things that had been preached by Peter ; and Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the Gospel preached by him (Paul). Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned upon his breast, he likewise published a Gospel while he dwelt at Ephesus in Asia.” If any modern divine should write a book
Adv. Hæres. l. ii. c. 3.
the genuineness of the Gospels, he could not assert it more expressly, or state their original more distinctly, than Irenæus hath done within little more than a hundred years after they were published.
The correspondency, in the days of Irenæus, of the oral and written tradition, and the deduction of the oral tradition through various channels from the age of the apostles, which was then lately passed, and, by consequence, the probability that the books truly delivered what the apostles taught, is inferred also with strict regularity from another passage of his works, “. The tradition of the apostles," this father saith, “ hath spread itself over the whole universe ; and all they, who search after the sources of truth, will find this tradition to be held sacred in every church, We might enumerate all those who have been appointed bishops to these churches by the apostles, and all their successors, úp to our days. It is by this uninterrupted succession that we have received the tradition which actually exists in the church, as also the doctrines of truth, as it was preached by the apostles *.” The reader will observe upon this, that the same Irenæus, who is now stating the strength and uniformity of the tradition, we have before seen recognising, in the fullest manner, the authority of the written records; from which we are entitled to conclude, that they were then conformable to each other.
* Iren, in Hær. l. iii. c. 3,
I have said, that the testimony of Irenæus in favour of our Gospels is exclusive of all others. I allude to a remarkable passage in his works, in which, for some reasons sufficiently fanciful, he endeavours to show, that there could be neither more nor fewer Gospels than four. With his argument we have no concern. The position itself proves that four, and only four, Gospels, were at that time publickly read and acknowledged. That these were our Gospels, and in the state in which we now have them, is shown, from many other places of this writer beside that which we have already alleged. He mentions how Matthew begins his Gospel, how Mark begins and ends his, and their supposed reasons for so doing. He enumerates at length the several passages of Christ's history in Luke, which are not found in any of the other evangelists. He states the particular design with which Saint John composed his Gospel, and accounts for the doctrinal declarations which precede the narrative.
To the book of the Acts of the Apostles, its author, and credit, the testimony of Irenæus is no less explicit. Referring to the account of Saint Paul's conversion and vocation, in the ninth chapter of that book, “ Nor can they,” says he, meaning the partics with whom he argues, “ show that he is not to be credited, who has related to us the truth with the greatest exactness." In another place, he has actually connected the several texts, in which the writer of the history is represented as accompanying Saint Paul; which leads him to deliver a summary of almost the whole of the last twelve chapters of the book.
In an author thus abounding with references and allusions to the Scriptures, there is not one to any apocryphal Christian writing whatever. This is a broad line of distinction between our Sacred Books, and the pretensions of all others.
The force of the testimony of the pe