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Our Scriptures were received by ancient Christians of different sects and persuasions, but many Heretics as well as Catholics, and were usually appealed to by both sides in the controversies which arose in those days.

The three most ancient topics of controversy amongst Christians were, the authority of the Jewish constitution, the origin of evil, and the nature of Christ. Upon the first of these we find, in very early times, one class of heretics rejecting the Old Testament entirely; another contending for the obligation of its law, in all its parts, throughout its whole extent, and over every one who sought acceptance with God. Upon the two latter subjects, a natural, perhaps, and venial, but a fruitless, eager, and impatient curiosity, prompted by the philosophy and by the scholastic habits of the age, which carried men much into bold hypotheses and conjectural solutions, raised, amongst some who professed Christianity, very wild and unfounded opinions. I think there is no reason to believe that the number of these bore any considerable proportion to the body of the Christian church; and, amidst the disputes which such opinions necessarily occasioned, it is a great satisfaction to perceive what, in a vast plurality of instances, we do perceive, all sides recurring to the same Scriptures.

I. Basilides lived near the age of the apostles, about the year 120, or, perhaps, sooner. (Lardner, vol. ix. p. 271.) He rejected the Jewish institution, not as spurious, but as proceeding from a being inferior to the true God; and in other respects advanced a scheme of theology widely different from the general doctrine of the Christian church, and which, as it gained over some disciples, was warmly opposed by Christian writers of the second and third century. In these writings there is positive evidence that Basilides received the Gospel of Matthew; and there is no sufficient proof that he rejected any of the other three: on the contrary, it appears that he wrote a commentary upon the Gospel, so copious as to be divided into twenty-four books. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, p. 305, 306.)3737The materials of the former part of this section are taken from Dr. Lardner’s History of the Heretics of the first two centuries, published since his death, with additions, by the Rev. Mr. Hogg, of Exeter, and inserted into the ninth volume of his works, of the edition of 1778.

II. The Valentinians appeared about the same time. Their heresy consisted in certain notions concerning angelic natures, which can hardly be rendered intelligible to a modern reader. They seem, however, to have acquired as much importance as any of the separatists of that early age. Of this sect, Irenaeus, who wrote A.D. 172, expressly records that they endeavoured to fetch arguments for their opinions from the evangelic and apostolic writings. Heracleon, one of the most celebrated of the sect, and who lived probably so early as the year 125, wrote commentaries upon Luke and John. Some observations also of his upon Matthew are preserved by Origen. Nor is there any reason to doubt that he received the whole New Testament. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, pp. 350-351; vol. i. p. 383; vol. ix. ed. 1788, p. 352-353.)

III. The Carpocratians were also an early heresy, little, if at all, later than the two preceding. Some of their opinions resembled what we at this day mean by Socinianism. With respect to the Scriptures, they are specifically charged, by Irenaeus and by Epiphanius, with endeavouring to pervert a passage in Matthew, which amounts to a positive proof that they received that Gospel. Negatively, they are not accused, by their adversaries, of rejecting any part of the New Testament. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, pp. 309 & 318.)

IV. The Sethians, A.D. 150; the Montanists, A.D. 156; the Marcosigns, A.D. 160; Hermogenes, A.D. 180; Praxias, A.D. 196; Artemon, A.D. 200; Theodotus, A.D. 200; all included under the denomination of heretics, and all engaged in controversies with Catholic Christians, received the Scriptures of the New Testament. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, pp. 455, 482, 348, 473, 433, 466.)

V. Tatian, who lived in the year 172, went into many extravagant opinions, was the founder of a sect called Encratites, and was deeply involved in disputes with the Christians of that age; yet Tatian so received the four Gospels as to compose a harmony from them.

VI. From a writer quoted by Eusebius, of about the year 200, it is apparent that they who at that time contended for the mere humanity of Christ, argued from the Scriptures; for they are accused by this writer of making alterations in their copies in order to favour their opinions. (Lardner, vol. iii. P. 46.)

VII. Origen’s sentiments excited great controversies, — the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, and many others, condemning, the bishops of the east espousing them; yet there is not the smallest question but that both the advocates and adversaries of these opinions acknowledged the same authority of Scripture. In his time, which the reader will remember was about one hundred and fifty years after the Scriptures were published, many dissensions subsisted amongst Christians, with which they were reproached by Celsus; yet Origen, who has recorded this accusation without contradicting it, nevertheless testifies, that the four Gospels were received without dispute, by the whole church of God under heaven. (Lardner, vol. iv. ed. 1788, p. 642.)

VIII. Paul of Samosata, about thirty years after Origen, so distinguished himself in the controversy concerning the nature of Christ as to be the subject of two councils or synods, assembled at Antioch, upon his opinions. Yet he is not charged by his adversaries with rejecting any book of the New Testament. On the contrary, Epiphanius, who wrote a history of heretics a hundred years afterwards, says, that Paul endeavoured to support his doctrine by texts of Scripture. And Vincentius Lirinensis, A.D. 434, speaking of Paul and other heretics of the same age, has these words: “Here, perhaps, some one may ask whether heretics also urge the testimony of Scripture. They urge it, indeed, explicitly and vehemently; for you may see them flying through every book of the sacred law.” (Lardner, vol. ix. p. 158.)

IX. A controversy at the same time existed with the Noetians or Sabellians, who seem to have gone into the opposite extreme from that of Paul of Samosata and his followers. Yet according to the express testimony of Epiphanius, Sabellius received all the Scriptures. And with both sects Catholic writers constantly allege the Scriptures, and reply to the arguments which their opponents drew from particular texts.

We have here, therefore, a proof, that parties who were the most opposite and irreconcilable to one another acknowledged the authority of Scripture with equal deference.

X. And as a general testimony to the same point, may be produced what was said by one of the bishops of the council of Carthage, which was holden a little before this time: — “I am of opinion that blasphemous and wicked heretics, who pervert the sacred and adorable words of the Scripture, should be execrated.” Undoubtedly, what they perverted they received. (Lardner, vol. ix. p. 839.)

XI. The Millennium, Novatianism, the baptism of heretics, the keeping of Easter, engaged aim the attention and divided the opinions of Christians, at and before that time (and, by the way, it may be observed, that such disputes, though on some accounts to be blamed, showed how much men were in earnest upon the subject.); yet every one appealed for the grounds of his opinion to Scripture authority. Dionysius of Alexandria, who flourished A.D. 247, describing a conference or public disputation, with the Millennarians of Egypt, confesses of them, though their adversary, “that they embrace whatever could be made out by good arguments, from the Holy Scriptures.” (Lardner, vol. iv. p. 666.) Novatus, A.D. 251, distinguished by some rigid sentiments concerning the reception of those who had lapsed, and the founder of a numerous sect, in his few remaining works quotes the Gospel with the same respect as other Christians did; and concerning his followers, the testimony of Socrates, who wrote about the year 440, is positive, viz. “That in the disputes between the Catholics and them, each side endeavoured to support itself by the authority of the Divine Scriptures” (Lardner, vol. v. p. 105.)

XII. The Donatists, who sprung up in the year 328, used the same Scriptures as we do. “Produce,” saith Augustine, “some proof from the Scriptures, whose authority is common to us both” (Lardner, vol. vii. p. 243.)

XIII. It is perfectly notorious, that in the Arian controversy, which arose soon after the year 300, both sides appealed to the same Scriptures, and with equal professions of deference and regard. The Arians, in their council of Antioch, A.D. 341, pronounce that “if any one, contrary to the sound doctrine of the Scriptures, say, that the Son is a creature, as one of the creatures, let him be an anathema.” (Lardner, vol. vii. p. 277.) They and the Athanasians mutually accuse each other of using unscriptural phrases; which was a mutual acknowledgment of the conclusive authority of Scripture.

XIV. The Priscillianists, A.D. 378, the Pelagians, A.D. 405 received the same Scriptures as we do. (Lardner, vol. ix. p. 325; vol. xi p. 52.)

XV. The testimony of Chrysostom, who lived near the year 400, is so positive in affirmation of the proposition which we maintain, that it may form a proper conclusion of the argument. “The general reception of the Gospels is a proof that their history is true and consistent; for, since the writing of the Gospels, many heresies have arisen, holding opinions contrary to what is contained in them, who yet receive the Gospels either entire or in part.” (Lardner, vol. x. p. 316.) I am not moved by what may seem a deduction from Chrysostom’s testimony, the words, “entire or in part;” for if all the parts which were ever questioned in our Gospels were given up, it would not affect the miraculous origin of the religion in the smallest degree: e.g.

Cerinthus is said by Epiphanius to have received the Gospel of Matthew, but not entire. What the omissions were does not appear. The common opinion, that he rejected the first two chapters, seems to have been a mistake. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, p. 322.) It is agreed, however, by all who have given any account of Cerinthus, that he taught that the Holy Ghost (whether he meant by that name a person or a power) descended upon Jesus at his baptism; that Jesus from this time performed many miracles, and that he appeared after his death. He must have retained therefore the essential parts of the history.

Of all the ancient heretics, the most extraordinary was Marcion. (Lardner, vol. ix. sect. ii. c. x. Also Michael vol. i. c. i. sect. xviii.) One of his tenets was the rejection of the Old Testament, as proceeding from an inferior and imperfect Deity; and in pursuance of this hypothesis, he erased from the New, and that, as it should seem, without entering into any critical reasons, every passage which recognised the Jewish Scriptures. He spared not a text which contradicted his opinion. It is reasonable to believe that Marcion treated books as he treated texts: yet this rash and wild controversialist published a recension, or chastised edition of Saint Luke’s Gospel, containing the leading facts, and all which is necessary to authenticate the religion. This example affords proof that there were always some points, and those the main points, which neither wildness nor rashness, neither the fury of opposition nor the intemperance of controversy, would venture to call in question. There is no reason to believe that Marcion, though full of resentment against the Catholic Christians, ever charged them with forging their books. “The Gospel of Saint Matthew, the Epistle to the Hebrews, with those of Saint Peter and Saint James, as well as the Old Testament in general” he said, “were writings not for Christians but for Jews.” This declaration shows the ground upon which Marcion proceeded in his mutilation of the Scriptures, viz., his dislike of the passages or the books. Marcion flourished about the year 130.3838I have transcribed this sentence from Michaelis (p. 38), who has not, however, referred to the authority upon which he attributes these words to Marcion.

Dr. Lardner, in his General Review, sum up this head of evidence in the following words: — “Noitus, Paul of Samosata, Sabellius, Marcelins, Photinus, the Novatians, Donatists, Manicheans (This must be with an exception, however, of Faustus, who lived so late us the year 354), Priscillianists, beside Artemon, the Audians, the Arians, and divers others, all received most of all the same books of the New Testament which the Catholics received; and agreed in a like respect for them as written by apostles, or their disciples and companions.” (Lardner, vol. iii. p. 12. — Dr. Lardner’s future inquiries supplied him with many other instances.)

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