The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
We have next to inquire for external evidence of this early date for their publication.
1. The most eminent of the present school of opposers of Christianity, in Germany and in France, confess that many of the Epistles of St. Paul were undoubtedly written by him. M. Rènan (I allude to him as his name is familiar to the most of us), in his Life of St. Paul, thus summarises St. Paul's Epistles:—1. Those which are indisputable and undisputed. 2. Those which are certainly authentic, notwithstanding some objections. 8. Those probably authentic. 4. One, a doubtful Epistle. 5. Those that are falsely ascribed to St. Paul. In the first class he places the Epistle to the Romans, the two to the Corinthians, and that to the Galatians. Thus, four of the Epistles of St. Paul are confessedly, to use M. Rènan's words, undisputed and indisputable. No one would dream of objecting to these Epistles that they were not written by him. It is further certain that St. Paul was put to death at Rome, when Nero was Emperor, about A.D. 68. But this can be proved from these Epistles:—That Christianity was firmly established in the Imperial City of Rome;—that it was as thoroughly established at Corinth, another centre of that day;—that this had occurred in about twenty-five years after the death of Jesus;—and that the facts of Christianity were thoroughly accepted as true by very many in the Roman Empire at that early date. Even then supposing for an instant that our Gospels were written later than we assert, still the page 14 main facts given in those Gospels had already won their way. I would quote a well-known passage to remind you of the particularity of the facts to be gathered from St. Paul's Epistles. "I," he writes to the Corinthians, "delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. And that He was seen of Cephas, then of the Twelve. After that He was seen of about five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that he was seen of James, then of all the Apostles." Thus the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus are here established. But if He hath thus lived, Who was dead, then is our Faith not vain; then were the Apostles not false witnesses of God, when they testified of God that He raised up Christ. I cannot, I confess, see how this argument can be shaken. If these Epistles of St, Paul are true, then is our Faith true. Then are the Gospels true, for they but give fuller accounts of what St, Paul has summarised. Let men object as they ever have objected, as they ever will object, they cannot disprove that in a very few years after the public condemnation of Jesus, at the sentence of a Roman tribunal, the assertion that He had risen from the dead was firmly believed by very many:—and that a very large number of them could have disproved the story had it been untrue. The thing was not done in a corner.
Amongst these, the evidences of our Faith, St. Paul's Epistles, acknowledged to be his by men who would rather have proved them to be falsely written, and based, as they evidently are, upon a widely spread acceptance of Christian doctrine, occupy the first place. They could not have been thus written had there not page 15 been this spread of Christianity. And this is the especial point we are insisting upon, the early spread of Christianity, while the facts upon which Christianity rests had but lately occurred: and that the Gospels are but the early records of these facts.
2. We pass on to later writers; and from out the number of names that could be given of Christians who mention the Gospels I purpose to select two only, partly because of the well-known character of these two, and of the value, therefore, of their testimony. I mean Justin Martyr and Irenæus.
Justin, surnamed Martyr, as having suffered death for his faith, was born A.D. 90 at Sichem, in Samaria, in the very land in which Christ preached. He was converted to Christianity A.D. 138. Of his writings, the two Apologies for Christianity, and his Dialogue with Trypho, are still extant. In the Dialogue he tells that he had carefully studied the then prevalent forms of Heathen Philosophy, and had at last embraced Christianity as the only safe philosophy. Justin teaches that Christ was miraculously conceived, and born of a Virgin in Bethlehem, in the time of Cyrenius; that He lived for thirty years an ordinary life, being regarded as a carpenter and a carpenter's son; that He was baptized of John in Jordan, when the Holy Ghost descended upon Him like a dove; that He was tempted of Satan in the wilderness; that He established the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper; that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; that He rose again from the dead on Sunday; that He will come again to judge the world. He records many of the sayings of Christ; quotes His prophecies; and mentions His miracles.
In the Dialogue he thus bears witness to the spread of Christianity:—"There is no race of men * * * * among whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered page 16 up to the Father and Maker of the Universe in the name of the Crucified Jesus." He tells that new converts were continually added to the Church through the admiration excited by the virtuous practices and enduring constancy of the Christians.
But, further, Justin was acquainted with our Gospels. His exact words on this matter are—" The Apostles, in "the Memoirs written by them, which are called Gospels." And of these Memoirs he says that two were written by Apostles, and two by companions of the Apostles; that these Memoirs, or the writings of the Prophets (writings acknowledged by all Christians to be part of the Word of God), were read in the assemblies of the Christians every Sunday. Sometimes he quotes from these Memoirs exactly. Sometimes his quotations are given somewhat carelessly. Sometimes he only alludes to passages in them. But in what he was doing there was no especial need for exact quotation. He was not writing for Christians, but for the enemies of the Christian Faith. He is desirous to give them an outline of Christianity, and his purpose would be as well served by this general reference as if he had given the very words of writings which were not valued by others than Christians. But if he does not refer to our present Gospels—which are read in our churches, just as these Memoirs were read—there were then, at that day, some other Scriptures giving exactly the same account of the Gospel facts as do the Gospels, which were held in highest esteem by the Church, and which yet have, in some most unaccountable way, vanished utterly; while these spurious Gospels of ours have, in some most unaccountable way, occupied the very position of the old writings, which are lost. Those who say that Justin did not use our Gospels only create a difficulty which is insurmountable. We have only, to get rid of the page 17 difficulty which they have professed to find, to surmise that Justin, when he quotes inexactly, is quoting from memory; and that he has done what every writer is likely to do when he does not think it necessary for his purpose to put down the very words of Scripture. I have found, when correcting my first manuscript, that in quoting from the Sermon on the Mount, familiar as that Scripture is, I have done much the same thing. I have purposely left the error uncorrected, as an illustration of my meaning; and I do not think that I am likely to be charged with not accepting the Gospel of St. Matthew as the writing of the Apostle.
The second writer that I would select is Irenœus, made Bishop of Lyons A.D. 177. He wrote many books, of which his work against Heresies remains to this day. Irenæus declares that in his youth he had been well acquainted with Polycarp, who is known to have been the disciple and intimate friend of St. John. Thus his testimony is especially valuable, not only as coming from a learned man, from one who has written largely upon Christianity, and the heresies that had so early arisen in the Church, but as reaching through Polycarp so far backward. In his writings he then repeatedly mentions the Four Gospels. He ascribes them to St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John. And as if to make the matter the more certain, he gives many fanciful reasons why these Were four in number only. In short, testimony more explicit there could not be to the writings of the Evangelists;—to the estimation in which they were held;—to the dates at which they were written. It is difficult, indeed, to imagine how any one can gravely urge that the Gospels were not written until the beginning or the middle of the second century, when Irenæus, so competent a witness, directly asserts the very contrary.page 18
This, then, is our third point. Early Christian writers have quoted the Gospels. And of those the testimony of Justin Martyr and Irenœus is especially valuable.