Tracts for the Times/Record XV

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TRACTS FOR THE TIMES.




RECORDS OF THE CHURCH.

No. XV.


THE HOLY CHURCH THROUGHOUT ALL THE WORLD DOTH ACKNOWLEDGE THEE.




The temporal condition and the principles of Christians.
From the Epistle to Diognetus.

The writer of the Epistle to Diognetus was either Justin Martyr, or some disciple of the Apostles themselves, a contemporary of Justin Martyr, i. e. about A.D. 130.




Christians differ not from other men in country, or language, or customs. They do not live in any peculiar cities, or employ any particular dialect, or cultivate characteristic habits of life. The truths which they hold result not from the busy ingenuities of human thought; the counsels of man in them possess no champion. They dwell in cities, Greek and barbarian, each where he finds himself placed, and while they submit to the fashion of their country in dress and food and the general conduct of life, they yet maintain a system of interior polity, which beyond all controversy is full of admiration and wonder. The countries they inhabit are their own, but they dwell like aliens; they take their part in all privileges, as being citizens; and in all sufferings they partake as if they were strangers. In every foreign country they recognise a home; and in their home they see the place of their pilgrimage. They marry like other men, and exclude not their children from their affections: their table is open to all around them; they live in the world, but not according to its fashions; they walk on earth, but their conversation is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their lives transcend all law; they love all men, and are persecuted by all; they are unknown, and yet are condemned. Death to them is life; of their poverty they make many rich, and in the extremity of want they still possess all things. They are treated with dishonour, and by dishonour are made glorious; their integrity is insured by the insults which they suffer; when cursed they bless, and reproaches they pay with respect. When doing good they are punished as evil-doers; and when they are punished they rejoice as men that are raised unto life. By Jews they are treated as aliens and foes, by Greeks they are persecuted; and none of their enemies can state a ground for their enmity.

In good truth, Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body. The soul is transfused through the members of the body, and Christians through the cities of the world: the soul dwells in the body, but is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world. The soul unseen is treasured up in the visible body; and Christians visibly are in the world, but their faith is a guest unseen in it. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it without provocation, because it forbids the enjoyment of its pleasures; and the world hates Christians without provocation, because they are at enmity with its enjoyments. The soul loves that flesh and those limbs that hate it; and Christians love all that hate them. The soul is shut up in the body, but itself is to the body a protector; and Christians are included in the world as in a prison house; and yet they are the guardians of the world. The immortal soul resides in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell amidst corruption, but are waiting for incorruption in heaven. By loss of meat and drink the soul is strengthened; and Christians abound more and more, though suffering every day. Such is the station in which God has planted them, and it is not lawful for them to retire from it.

I have already said, that their faith was not a discovery of this world. It is not a human counsel which they support with this anxiety; nor are they entrusted with the stewardship of mysteries which proceed from man; but God Himself, the Almighty and Invisible Creator, has sent down from heaven to men His holy and incomprehensible Truth and Word, and fixed it in their hearts; not, as might, perhaps, be anticipated, sending any minister to man, angel, or principality, (whether of those whose functions belong to the earth, or of such as are engaged in the economy of Heaven,) but Him, who was the very Maker and Builder of all: by whom He built the heavens, and marked the bounds of the ocean; whose mysterious ordinances the elements all faithfully obey; from whom the sun receives the measure of its daily career, and at whose will the obedient moon puts forth her mighty lustre, with the stars that move attendant on her course. He is the universal Counsellor, and Lawgiver, and Monarch; His are the heavens, and all that is in heaven; His the earth, and all in the earth; the sea, and all that is in the sea; fire, air, and depth; the height above, and the deep beneath; all are His. Him God sent to man: but was it, as man might anticipate, to overrule, to terrify, and to strike? Not so; but in meekness and in mercy. He sent Him, as a king might send his royal son: as God He sent Him; as a Messenger and a Saviour to mankind, to persuade, but not to compel. Violence is not an attribute of God. He sent Him in love, not in judgment: in judgment He will hereafter send Him, and who will bear His coming? …… See you not how Christians are cast to the beasts, that they may be made deny their Lord, and are not overcome? See you not how they abound, in proportion with the increase of their sufferings? These things seem not like the work of man; but they are the power of God, and indications of His presence.

What mortal man could tell what God was, before He came among us? Would you admit the vain and trifling fables of such empty philosophers, as say that the Deity is composed of fire (calling that a Deity, to which themselves are tending); or of water, or of any other of those elements which God has created? And yet, if any of these fables is admissible, each and every of the creatures might similarly be called a God. These things are the trickery and deceit of impostors. Man had never seen or known Him, but He manifested Himself. He manifested Himself by faith, by which alone it is possible to see God. For that God, who is the Master and Architect of all, who made all things, and disposed them in their place, was found not only benevolent, but also patient. Such, indeed, He always has been, and is, and will be,—kind, and good, and mild, and true: and only He is good; and having conceived that great and unspeakable counsel, which He communicated to His Son alone, so long as He retained the project of His wisdom, and reserved it in concealment, He seemed to be without care or consideration for us; but when, through his beloved Son, He revealed and made manifest the things which, from the beginning, were prepared, He at once presented to us all the scheme, so that we partake and behold His benefits. Who among us could conceive these things? But He, in Himself, and with His Son, foreknew the course of His Providence.

For the time past, therefore, He suffered us to be borne along as we would by irregular impulses, led astray by pleasures and desires; not that He feels complacence in our sins, but He permits them, from no gratification in the times of unrighteousness, but because He is working out the purposes of His justice:—that, during the time past, convicted by our own works of unworthiness to enter into life, we might now be rendered worthy through the goodness of God; and being proved of ourselves unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might, by the power of God, be made able. But when our unrighteousness was assured, and it was clearly manifested that the wages of sin is punishment, and death was before our eyes, then came the time, which God foreordained for the manifestation of His goodness and power, forasmuch as, in the abundance of His beneficence, love was alone displayed; He hated not, nor rejected us, nor remembered our guilt; but showed Himself long-suffering, and forbearing, and, in His own words, bare our sins. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the just for the unjust, the guileless for the guilty, the righteous for the wicked, the incorruptible for the corrupt, the immortal for the dying. For what other thing, except His righteousness, could cover our guilt? In whom was it possible for us lawless sinners to find justification, save in the Son of God alone? Oh, sweet exchange! Oh, counsel untraceable, and mercies out of thought!—that the guilt of many might be covered by one that was righteous, and the righteousness of one might justify many who were guilty. Having, then, in the times past, ensured the incapacity of our nature for the attainment of life, and sending a Saviour afterwards, who is able to save those who of themselves are incapable of salvation, He has pleased, from both these truths, to make us rely on His goodness, and regard Him as our Guardian, our Father, our Teacher, our Counsellor, our Physician, our Mind, our Light, our Honour, and Glory, and Strength, and Life; and so take no thought for raiment or for food.

If, then, you are anxious to know and accept this Faith, first learn that God has love for mankind, and for their sake made the world, and gave them dominion over all things in it: He gave them reason and perception; them only He permits to look upward towards Himself, and made them in His own image, and sent to them His only-begotten Son, announcing a kingdom in Heaven, which He will give, if they love Him. When you learn this, with what joy, think you, will you be filled, or how will you love one who first loved you so well? And if you love Him, you will imitate His kindness. Nor wonder that man can be an imitator of God; by God's gift, he can; for happiness does not rest in the possession of authority over others, or in aiming at advantages which others possess not, or in wealth or superior power: in these things it is not possible for man to imitate God; but he who bears a brother's burden, and shares of his abundance to them that want, does the work of God towards those, who at his hands receive what God had given him: and that man is an imitator of God. Thus shall you discover, while you dwell on earth, that God works His purposes in Heaven; you will begin to tell of the hidden things of God, and will love and admire those who are punished for refusing to deny Him; you will discern the deceitfulness and crafts of the world: for you will learn truly to live in Heaven, and despise that seeming death here, when you are afraid of the very death, which is kept for those who are condemned to eternal fire, the endless punishment of all who are cast to it; and you will esteem such as endure this world's fire for righteousness sake, and reckon them happy, when you know of the other fire.

I deal not in vain or foolish questions: but, whereas I was a disciple of the Apostles, I teach the Gentiles: I administer those doctrines which have been granted to all worthy disciples of the truth. For what man who has been taught aright and nurtured in the kindly word, does not feel an increasing desire clearly to know those things, which by the Word were directly spoken to the disciples, and which He manifested fully to them?—not being understood by unbelievers, but explaining them to His disciples; for they were reckoned worthy by Him to learn the mysteries of the Father. And for this cause the Word was sent forth, that He might be manifested to the world; and when His nation rejected Him, He was believed in by the Gentiles through the preaching of the Apostles. This is He that was from the beginning, and appeared in the latter days; and His advent is continually renewed in the hearts of His saints. This is He that is from everlasting, the Son this day declared: and of His riches the Church receives; for His expansive grace is shed abundantly among the saints, conferring wisdom, declaring mysteries, enouncing the times, rejoicing with the faithful, and giving to all that ask: and these break not the rule of faith, nor transgress the rule of the fathers. And thus the fear of the Law is proclaimed, and the inspiration of the Prophets acknowledged, and faith in the Gospels confined, and the Apostles' tradition secured; and the Church rejoices in her grace: wherefore if you grieve not that grace, you shall be taught the truths which the Word communicates by those whom He chooses in His own good time. For those things which we have been moved to declare by the will of the Word commanding us, we will with all diligence communicate to you, because we love the lessons which have been revealed to us.

Ye then who are admitted to these truths, and accept them with a ready heart, shall learn what God has prepared for them that truly love Him, how that they grow into a paradise of pleasure, and lift within themselves a rich luxuriant tree, adorned with many fruits. It is in such ground that the tree of knowledge and the tree of life are planted; and knowledge is not that which brings death, but disobedience in the way of gaining it. For we are taught in plain words, that God in the beginning planted the tree of life in the midst of Paradise, showing that knowledge is the way to life; and they who did not use it aright at first, were robbed by the deceits of the serpent. For life cannot be separate from knowledge; nor can any knowledge be perfect, unless the true life be with it. For this cause they were planted side by side; and the Apostle perceiving this intent, and condemning all knowledge that is pursued otherwise than with a view to discovering the conditions of eternal life, says: knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth. For he who thinks that he knows any thing, apart from the true knowledge which is attested by having the life within it, is without knowledge, deceived by the serpent, and a hater of life. But he who learns with fear, and studies to attain unto life, plants in hope, and may look for the fruit. Let your heart be a heart of knowledge, and in life perceive that understanding is granted, true and simple; its tree shall rise within you, and of its fruit you shall be filled with those enjoyments which are in the hand of God: which the serpent never touches, nor does any deceit come nigh: no Eve betrays them, but she to whom they are committed is the Virgin Church. Hereby is salvation manifested, and hence the Apostles find wisdom; while the Easter-feast of our Lord is solemnized, and congregations are gathered together in decency and order, and the Word, by whom the Father is glorified, teaches His saints with joy. To whom be glory everlasting. Amen.


OXFORD.
The Feast of the Ascension.



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