« PoprzedniaDalej »
I cannot conclude this chapter without observing, in how unworthy a manner, and how unsuitably to their real character and conduct, these Fathers represent the apostles as acting. They were all plain men, far from being qualified, or disposed, to act so cunning a part, as is here ascribed to them. There is nothing like art or address in the conduct of any of them, as related in the scriptures, except that of Paul j and this was only with respect to his preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised Gentiles, before it was generally approved of at Jerusalem; on which account, he informed the chief of the apostles only with what he had done. But this was no secret long, and indeed a thing of that kind could not, in ijs own nature, have been much of a secret at any time. On all other occasions he failed not to inform those to whom he preached of the whole counsel of God; as he fays that he had done with respect to the church of Ephesus, Acts xx. 27. Much less can it be supposed that he would have concealed a doctrine of so great magnitude and importance as that of the pre-existent dignity
Pf of his master; and, communicating it only to a few, have left it to be taught after his death. For it is not to be supposed that the other apostles were in the secret os John's intending to do it after their deaths.
Besides, the instructions of the apostles enjoined them to teach all that they knew, even what their master had communicated to them in the greatest privacy. Whereas upon this scheme, they must have suffered great numbers to die in the utter ignorance of the most important truths of the gospel, lest, by divulging it too soon, the conversion of others should have been prevented.
To these observations I would add, that as among the twelve apostles, there must have been men of different tempers and abilities, it is not probable that they should all have agreed in conducting themselves upon this plan, viz. of not divulging the doctrine of the divinity of their master till their hearers should be sufficiently persuaded of his meffiahship. Some of them would hardly have been capable of so much refinement, and would certainly have differed about the time when it was proper to divulge so great a secret. Besides, the mother of Jesus, and many other persons of both sexes, must have been acquainted with it. For that this secret was strictly con^ fined to the twelve apostles, will hardly be maintained. And yet we have no account either of their instructions to act in this manner, or of any difference of opinion, or of conduct, with respect to it.
Never, sure, was a more improbable hypothesis ever formed to account for any thing, than this of the christian Fathers to account for the late teaching of the doctrines of the pre-existence and divinity of Christ. But their circumstances left them no alternative. They must have had some very cogent reason for admitting that the teaching of these doctrines was so late; and this could not have been any thing but the want of that general prevalence, which they would have had, if they had been taught with effect in the life-time of the apostles, and which would have continued to their own times. They must, therefore, have known that there were more Unitarians in she church jn the early ages than they could
account for on any other hypothesis than that of the doctrines of the pre-existence and divinity of Christ, not having been taught till very late. At present, the facts which forced the Fathers upon this hypothesis are forgotten, and the orthodox themselves wonder that they should have adopted a scheme so absurd and improbable. But the different manner in which such an hypothesis is received, is a proof of a great difference in the circumstances and views of things in the different periods. We fee nothing to make so strange an hypothesis necessary. They would not have had recourse to it, if it had not been necessary.
Of the Nazarenes and the Ebionites, flawing that they were the fame People, and that none of them believed the Divinity or Preexist ence of Christ.
E have seen that, according to the unanimous and very express testimony of the christian Fathers (a testimony which is greatly against their own cause, and therefore, the more to be depended upon) there could not have been many persons who believed the doctrines of the pre-existence and divinity of Christ in the age of the apostles; one of the last books of the canon, viz. the gospel of John, being the first in which those doctrines were clearly published.
If we look into the gospels, and the book of Acts, we shall find that one part of their testimony is true, viz. that those sublime doSrines, as they call them, were not taught in an early period. For none of the three first gospels make the least mention of any