Subject of the present work.
As it is my purpose to record the successions of the holy apostles, together with the times since our Saviour, down to the present, to recount how many and important transactions are said to have occurred in ecclesiastical history, what individuals in the most noted places eminently governed and presided over the church, what men also in their respective generations, whether with or without their writings, proclaimed the divine word; to describe the character, times and number of those who, stimulated by the desire of innovation, and advancing to the greatest errors, announced themselves leaders in the propagation of false opinions, like grievous wolves, unmercifully assaulting the flock of Christ; as it is my intention, also, to describe the calamities that swiftly overwhelmed the whole Jewish nation, in consequence of their plots against our Saviour; how often, by what means and in what times, the word of God has encountered the hostility of the nations; what eminent persons persevered in contending for it through those periods of blood and torture, beside the martyrdoms which have been endured in our own times: and after all, to show the gracious and benign interposition of our Saviour; these being proposed as the subjects of the present work, I shall go back to the very origin and the earliest introduction of the dispensation of our Lord and Saviour the Christ of God.
But here, acknowledging that it is beyond my power to present the work perfect and unexceptionable, I freely confess it will crave indulgence, especially since, as the first of those that have entered upon the subject, we are attempting a kind of trackless and unbeaten path. Looking up with prayer to God as our guide, we, trust indeed, that we shall have the power of Christ as our aid, though we are totally unable to find even the bare vestiges of those who may have travelled the way before us; unless, perhaps, what is only presented in the slight intimations, which some in different ways have transmitted to us in certain partial narratives of the times in which they lived; who, raising their voices before us, like torches at a distance, and as looking down from some commanding height, call out and exhort us where we should walk, and whither direct our course with certainty and safety. Whatsoever, therefore, we deem likely to be advantageous to the proposed subject, we shall endeavour to reduce to a compact body by historical narration. For this purpose we have collected the materials that have been scattered by our predecessors, and culled, as from some intellectual meadows, the appropriate extracts from ancient authors. In the execution of this work we shall be happy to rescue from oblivion, the successions, if not of all, at least of the most noted apostles of our Lord, in those churches which even at this day are accounted the most eminent; a labour which has appeared to me necessary in the highest degree, as I have not yet been able to find that any of the ecclesiastical writers have directed their efforts to present any thing complete in this department of writing. But as on the one hand I deem it highly necessary, so also I believe it will appear no less useful, to those who are zealous admirers of historical research. Of these matters, indeed, I have already heretofore furnished an epitome in my chronological tables, but in the present work I have undertaken a more full narrative. As I said above, I shall begin my treatise with that dispensation, and that doctrine of the divinity which in sublimity and excellence surpasses all human invention, viz. that of our Saviour Christ. And indeed, whoever would give a detail of ecclesiastical history to posterity, is necessarily obliged to go back to the very origin of the dispensation of Christ, as it is from him, indeed, that we derive our very epithet, a dispensation more divine than many are disposed to think.
Summary view of the pre-existence and Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
As the mode of existence in Christ is twofold, the one resembling the head of the body, indicating his divinity; the other compared to the feet, by which he, for the sake of our salvation, assumed that nature which is subject to the same infirmities with ourselves; hence our account of the subsequent matter may be rendered complete and perfect, by commencing with the principal and most important points in his history. By this method, at the same time, the antiquity and the divine dignity of the Christian name will be exhibited to those who suppose it a recent and foreign production, that sprung into existence but yesterday, and was never before known.
No language, then, is sufficient to express the origin, the dignity, even the substance and nature of Christ. Whence even the divine Spirit in the prophecies says, "who will declare his generation?" For as no one hath known the Father, but the Son, so no one on the other hand, can know the Son fully, but the Father alone, by whom he was begotten. For who but the Father hath thoroughly understood that Light which existed before the world was—that intellectual and substantial wisdom, and that living Word which in the beginning was with the Father, before all creation and any production visible or invisible, the first and only offspring of God, the prince and leader of the spiritual and immortal host of heaven, the angel of the mighty council, the agent to execute the Father's secret will, the maker of all things with the Father, the second cause of the universe next to the Father, the true and only Son of the Father, and the Lord and God and King of all created things, who has received power, and dominion with divinity itself, and power and honour from the Father. All this is evident from those more abstruse passages in reference to his divinity, "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God." "All things were made by him, and without him nothing was made." This, too, we are taught by the great Moses, that most ancient of all the prophets, when under the influence of the divine Spirit, he describes the creation and arrangement of all things, he also informs us that the Creator and maker of the universe yielded to Christ, and to none but to his divine and first begotten word, the formation of ail subordinate things, and communed with him respecting the creation of man. "For," says he, "God said let us make man according to our image and according to our likeness." This expression is confirmed by another of the prophets, who, discoursing of God in his hymns, declares, "He spake, and they were made; he commanded, and they were created." Where he introduces the Father and maker as the Ruler of all, commanding with his sovereign nod, but the divine word as next to him, the very same that is proclaimed to us, as ministering to his Father's commands. Him too, all that are said to have excelled in righteousness and piety, since the creation of man; Moses, that eminent servant of God, and Abraham before him, the children of the latter, and as many righteous prophets as subsequently appeared, contemplated with the pure eyes of the mind, and both recognized and gave him the worship that was his due as the Son of God. The Son himself, however, by no means indifferent to the worship of the Father, is appointed to teach the knowledge of the Father to all. The Lord God, therefore, appeared as a common man to Abraham, whilst sitting at the oak of Mamre. And he, immediately falling down, although he plainly saw a man with his eyes, nevertheless worshipped him as God, and entreated him as Lord. He confesses, too, that he is not ignorant who he is in the words, "Lord, the judge of all the earth, wilt not thou judge righteously?" For as it were wholly unreasonable to suppose the uncreated and unchangeable substance of the Almighty God to be changed into the form of a man, or to deceive the eyes of beholders with the phantom of any created substance, so also it is unreasonable to suppose that the Scriptures have falsely invented such things as these. "God and the Lord who is judge of the whole earth, and executeth judgment" appearing in the shape of man, who else can he be called, if it be not lawful to call him the author of the universe, than his only preexisting word? Concerning whom also in the Psalms it is said, "He sent his word and healed them, and delivered them from their corruptions." Of Him, Moses obviously speaks as the second after the Father, when he says, "The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord." Him also again appearing to Jacob in the form of man, the sacred Scriptures call by the name of God, saying to Jacob, "Thy name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name, because thou hast prevailed with God." Whence also Jacob called the name of that place the vision of God, saying, "I have seen God face to face, and my soul has lived." To suppose these divine appearances the forms of subordinate angels and servants of God, is inadmissible; since, as often as any of these appeared to men, the Scriptures do not conceal the fact in the name, expressly saying that they were called not God nor Lord, but angels, as would be easy to prove by a thousand references. Joshua also, the successor of Moses, calls him as the ruler of celestial angels and archangels, of supernal powers, and as the power and wisdom of God, intrusted with the second rank of sovereignty and rule over all, "the captain of the Lord's host," although he saw him only in the form and shape of man. For thus it is written: "And it came to pass when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold there stood a man over against him, with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries. And he said, Nay but as captain of the Lord's host am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto his servant? And the captain of the Lord's host, said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot: for the place whereon thou standest is holy." Josh. 5.
Here then you will perceive from the words themselves, that this is no other than the one that also communicated with Moses, since the Scriptures in the same words, and in reference to the same one says, "When the Lord saw that he drew near to see. the Lord called to him from the midst of the bush, saying, Moses, Moses. And he answered, Here am I. But he said, Draw not nearer, loose thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place on which thou standest is holy ground. And he said to him, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."
That there is also a certain antemundane, living, and self-existing substance, ministering to the Father and God of all unto the formation of all created objects, called the word and the wisdom of God, besides the proofs already advanced, we may also learn from the very words of wisdom, speaking of herself in the clearest manner, through Solomon, and thus initiating us into her mysteries. Prov. 8 "I wisdom make my habitation with prudence and knowledge, and have called to understanding. By me kings reign and princes define justice. By me the great are magnified, and rulers subdue the earth." To which he subjoins the following: "The Lord created me in the beginning of his ways, for his works; before the world he established me, before the formation of the earth, before the waters came from their fountains, before the foundation of the mountains, before all hills, he brought me forth. When he prepared the heavens, I was present with him, and when he established the fountains under the heavens, I was with him, adjusting them. I was his delight; daily I exulted before him at all times, when he rejoiced that he had completed the world." That the divine word, therefore, preexisted and appeared, if not to all, at least to some, has been thus briefly shown.
The reason, however, why this was not also proclaimed before in ancient times, to all men and all nations, as it is now, will appear from the following considerations. The life of men, in ancient times, was not in a situation to receive the doctrine of Christ, in the all-comprehensive fulness of its wisdom and its virtue. For immediately in the beginning, after that happy state, the first man, neglecting the Divine commands, fell into the present mortal and afflicted condition, and exchanged his former divine enjoyment for the present earth, subject to the curse. The descendants of this one, having filled our earth, and proved themselves much worse, excepting one here and another there, commenced a certain brutal and disorderly mode of life. They had neither city nor state, no arts or sciences, even in contemplation. Laws and justice, virtue and philosophy they knew not, even in name. They wandered lawless through the desert, like savage and fierce animals, destroying the intellectual faculty of man, and exterminating the very seeds of reason and culture of the human mind, by the excesses of determined wickedness, and by a total surrender of themselves to every species of iniquity.
Hence, at one time they corrupted each other by criminal intercourse; at another, they murdered; and at others, fed upon human flesh. Hence too, their audacity, in venturing to wage war with the Deity himself; and hence those battles of the giants, celebrated by all. Hence too, their attempts to wall up the earth against heaven, and by the madness of a perverted mind, to prepare an attack upon the supreme God himself. Upon these men, leading a life of such wickedness, the Omniscient God sent down inundations and conflagrations, as upon a forest scattered over the earth. He cut them down with successive famines and pestilence, with constant wars and thunderbolts, as if to suppress the dreadful and obdurate disease of the soul, with his more severe punishments. Then it was, when the excess of malignity had nearly overwhelmed all the world, like a deep fit of drunkenness overshadowing and beclouding the minds of men—then it was, that the first begotten wisdom of God, existing before all creatures, and the self-same preexisting word, induced by his exceeding love of man, appeared at times to his servants, in visions of angels; at others, in his own person. As the salutary power of God, he was seen by one and the other of the pious in ancient times, in the shape of man, because it was impossible to appear in any other way. And as by these pious men, the seeds of godliness had been already scattered among the mass of mankind, and the whole nation that claimed its origin from those ancient Hebrews, continued devoted to the worship of God—to these, therefore, as to a multitude still affected by former corrupt practices, he imparted, through Moses, images and signs of a certain mystical Sabbath and circumcision, and instructions in other spiritual principles, but did not yet grant the privilege of an immediate initiation. But when their law obtained celebrity, and like a fragrant odour was spread abroad among all men; and by means of this law, the dispositions of men, even among most of the gentiles, were improved by legislators and philosophers every where, who softened their wild and savage ferocity, so as to enjoy settled peace, friendship, and mutual intercourse; then it was, when men at length throughout the whole world, and in all nations had been, as it were, previously prepared and fitted for the reception of the knowledge of the Father, that he himself again appeared, the master of virtue, the minister of the Father in all goodness; the divine and celestial word of God. He appeared in a human body, in substance not differing from our own nature, at the commencement of the Roman empire; performed and suffered such things as were to follow, according to prophecy, viz. that man and God, the author of miraculous works, would dwell in the world, and would be exhibited to all the nations as the teacher of that piety which the Father will approve. In these prophecies, also, were foretold the extraordinary fact of his birth, his new doctrine, and his wonderful works; as also the manner of his death, his resurrection from the dead, and finally his divine return to the heavens. The prophet Daniel, under the influence of the divine Spirit, foreseeing his kingdom in the end, was inspired thus to write and describe his vision, in adaptation to human capacity, in the following language: "I beheld," said he, "until the thrones were placed; and the Ancient of Days sat, and his garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head was as pure wool; his throne was a flame of fire, his wheels burning fire; a river of fire rolled before him; thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand thousands stood near him. He appointed judgment, and the books were opened." "And next, I beheld," says he, "and lo! one coming with the clouds as the Son of Man, and he advanced as far as the Ancient of Days, and he was brought into his presence. And to him was given the dominion, and the glory, and the kingdom, and all people, tribes, tongues shall serve him. His power is an everlasting power, which shall not pass away; and his kingdom shall not be destroyed." These passages can evidently be referred to no one but to our Saviour, that God word which was in the beginning with God; called the Son of God, by reason of his final appearance in the flesh. But having collected the prophetic declarations concerning our Saviour Jesus Christ, in distinct commentaries on this subject, and having elsewhere digested whatever is revealed concerning him, in a more demonstrable form, what has been said upon the subject here may suffice for the present.
The name Jesus, as also that of Christ, was both known and honoured from ancient times, by the inspired prophets.
It is now the proper place to show that the very name of Jesus, as also that of Christ, was honoured by the pious prophets of old. And first, Moses himself, having intimated how exceedingly august and illustrious the name of Christ is, delivering types and mystical images, according to the oracle which declared to him, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern which was shown thee on the mount,"—the same man whom, as far as it was lawful, he had called the high priest of God, the self-same he calls Christ. And in this way, to the dignity of the priesthood, which surpasses with him, all superiority among men, as additional honour and glory, he attaches the name of Christ. Hence he evidently understood that Christ was a Being divine. The same Moses, under the divine Spirit, foreseeing also the epithet Jesus, likewise dignifies this with a certain distinguished privilege. For this name, which had never been uttered among men, before Moses, he applies first to him alone who, by a type and sign, he knew would be his successor after his death, in the government of the nation. His successor, therefore, who had not assumed the appellation Jesus, (Joshua,) before this period, being called by his other name Oshea, which his parents had given, was called by Moses Jesus, (Jehoshua, Joshua.) Num. 13:17. This name, as an honourable distinction, far superior to any royal diadem, was conferred on Joshua, because Joshua the son of Nun bore a resemblance to our Saviour, as the only one after Moses, and the completion of that symbolical worship given through him, that should succeed him in a government of pure and undefiled religion. Thus Moses attaches the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ, as the greatest honour to two men, who, according to him, excelled all the rest in virtue and glory; the one to the high priest, the other to him that should have the government after him. But the prophets that lived subsequently to these times, also plainly announced Christ before by name; whilst at the same time they foretell the machinations of the Jews against him, and the calling of the Gentiles through him. Jeremiah bears testimony, speaking thus: "The breath (the spirit,) before our face, Christ the Lord, was taken away in their destructions; of whom we said, under his shadow will we live among the nations." Lam. 4:20. David also, fixed in astonishment, speaks of him as follows: "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ." To which he afterwards adds, in the person of Christ himself: "The Lord said to me, thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee; ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." Ps. 2.
Nor was the name of Christ among the Hebrews, given solely as an honour to those that were dignified with the priesthood, in consequence of their being anointed with oil prepared for the purpose, as a sacred symbol; the same was done also to the kings, whom the prophets, after anointing them under a divine impulse, constituted certain typical Christs, as they themselves also were, the shadows of the royal and princely sovereignty of the only and true Christ, of that divine word which holds sovereignty over all. Moreover, we are also told respecting the prophets, that some were typical Christs, by reason of their unction; so that all these have a reference to the true Christ, the divine and heavenly word, the only high priest of all men, the only king of all creation, and the Father's only supreme Prophet of the prophets. The proof of this is evident, from the fact that none of those anciently anointed, whether priests, kings, or prophets, obtained such power with divine excellence as our Saviour and Lord Jesus, the only and true Christ, has exhibited. For these, although illustrious among their countrymen in dignity and honour, and for a long series of generations, never called their subjects after themselves by a similar epithet, Christians, and neither was there ever divine honour paid to any of these from their subjects; nor even after their death, was there ever so strong a disposition in any, as to be prepared to die for the honoured individual. And never was there so great a commotion among the nations of the earth, respecting any one then existing, since the mere force of the type could not act with such efficacy among them, as the exhibition of the reality by our Saviour. Though He received no badges and emblems of priesthood from any; though he did not even derive his earthly origin from a sacerdotal race, nor was raised to empire under the escort of guards; nor installed a prophet, like those of old; nor obtained a peculiar, or even any dignity among the Jews, yet notwithstanding all this, he was adorned by the Father with all these, not merely typical honours, but with the reality itself. Although He did not obtain then the same honours with those mentioned above, yet he is called Christ by a far superior claim; and as he is the only and the true Christ of God, he has filled the whole world with a name really august and sacred, the name of Christians. To those who are admitted among these, he no longer imparts mere types and similitudes, but undisguised virtues, and a heavenly life, in the doctrines of truth. He received an unction, not formed of material substances, but that which comports with Deity, the divine Spirit itself, by a participation of the uncreated divinity of the Father. This is shown by Isaiah, who seems to exclaim in the very person of Christ: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, wherefore he hath anointed me, (he hath sent me) to proclaim glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the recovery of sight to the blind." And not only Isaiah but David also, addressing him, says, "Thy throne, O God, is from everlasting to everlasting. A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity. Therefore hath God, thy God, anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.'' In which words, he calls him God in the first verse; and in the second he ascribes to him the royal sceptre, and thus proceeding after the divine and royal power, in the third place, he represents him as Christ, anointed not by the oil of material substances, but by the divine oil of gladness. By this also, he shows his excellence and great superiority over those who, in former ages, had been anointed as typical images with the material substance. The same speaks of him in another place, thus: "The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool;" and a little after, "From the womb before the morning star did I beget thee; the Lord hath sworn and he will not repent, thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech." This Melchisedek is mentioned in the holy Scriptures, as a priest of the Most High God, not consecrated by any unction prepared of any material substance, and not even succeeding to the priesthood of the Jews, by any descent of lineage. Hence, Christ our Saviour is denominated, with the addition of an oath, Christ and priest after his own order, but not according to the order of those who received merely the badges and emblems. Hence, also, neither does history represent him anointed corporeally among the Jews, nor even as sprung from a tribe of the priesthood, but as coming into existence from God himself before the morning star; that is, before the constitution of the world, obtaining an immortal priesthood, subject to no infirmity of age, to all endless ages. But the great and convincing evidence of that incorporeal and divine power in him, is the fact that he alone, of all that have ever existed to the present day, even now is known by the title of Christ, among all men over the world; and with this title he is acknowledged and professed by all, and celebrated both among Barbarians and Greeks. Even to this day, he is honoured by his votaries throughout the world, as a king; he is admired as more than a prophet, and glorified as the only true high priest of God. In addition to all these, as the preexisting word of God, coming into existence before all ages, and who has received the honours of worship, he is also adored as God; but what is most remarkable, is the fact, that we who are consecrated to him, honour him not only with the voice and sound of words, but with all the affections of the mind; so that we prefer giving a testimony to him, even to the preservation of our own lives.