Page images

beyond the due bounds. That it did so afterwards surprizingly is well known, but I think the evil has begun already both in the east and west.

3d, There was at that time, among persons of real piety, a general propensity to extend discipline too far; Serapion ought doubtless to have been received into the church before. The Lord seemed willing to give him a token of his loving kindness, by fulfilling his desires before he left the world of his being re-admitted into the church. But how much more decent and proper had it been for him to have been received while in health? Satan always pushes us to extremes. Church-discipline was held then too high; with us it is reduced to little or nothing Without communion with a visible church established in form, it was scarce thought posible for a man to be saved, however impracticable it might be : many would have then had no hope of Serapion?s laivation, had the power of his diseale prevented the reception of the Eucharist. This miserable superstition increased, till by the ļight of the reformation it was destroyed. In our age the Lora's Supper itself is looked on as nothing by thousands who call themselves christians; and communion with a setțled ministry and church is esteemed as a thing of no consequence by numbers who profess the doctrines of vital godliness.

Dionysius wrote several other treatises men. ţioned by Eusebius; among the rest he wrote to Cornelius, bishop of Rome, having received his letter against Novatian *, and informs him that he had been invited by Helenus of Tarsus in Cilicia, and the rest of the bishops of his neighbourhood, by Firmilian of Cappadocia and Theoctistes of Palestine, to meet them in a synod at Antioch, where some attempts were made to strengthen the Novatian party. But all these churches united to condemn the schism; and Dionyfius wrote to the Roman confeffors both before and after they had returned to the church. On the whole, the east and west united in condemning the new diffenters, whose head having professed that some brethren had compelled him to the separation, Dionysius wrote to Novatian himself to this effect: “ If you were led unwillingly; as you say, you will prove it by returning willingly; for a man ought to suffer any thing rather than to rend the church of God. Even martyrdom on this account would be no less glorious, even more so than any other. For in common martyrdom a man is a witness for one foul, here for the whole church. 'And now, if you would compel or persuade the brethren to unanimity, your good conduct would be more laudable than your defection was culpable. The Jatter will be forgotten, the former will be cele- . brated through the christian world. But if you find it impracticable to draw over others, fave your own soul at least; I wish you, studious of peace, to be strong in the Lord."? Such was the zeal of the christian leaders at that time for the preservation of unity. Had there been a defection from christian purity of doctrine in the general church, or were the heads of it vicious men, for the moft part, in principle or practice, one might have fufpected that the Lord had forsaken these, and ihat his spirit had relied chiefy with the new separatiits. But that godliness in a considerable degree prevailed still in the church at large is evident. Cyprian, Dionysius, Cornelius, Firmilian, were holy men. Martyrs in abundance suffered for Christ's sake from their focks. A number of church-officers suffered in a very edifying

where Eusebius certainly calls him Novatus by mistake.


[ocr errors]



The lapsed were restored among them by the most christian methods of mildness and just discipline, and this with success in a variety of cases. Dionysius concurred with Cyprian in bis views on the subject; and though the fame of christian piety was considerably lowered since the days of Ignatius, I see not a shadow of proof that there was any just reason for diffent or any superior degree of spirituality with the Novatians. Had there been any persons among them of half the piety of Cyprian for instance, I think it probable that we must have had some account of them.

It is my duty to trace the work of the Divine Spirit wherever I can find it. Traces of his Spirit with the Novatians in general in these times I cannot discern; and yet it is improbable that they should be a people altogether forsaken of God. Wherever the real truth, as it is in Jesus, is professed, there some measure of his Spirit most probably is. Novatian himself is constantly reprehended both by Cyprian and Dionysius. Yet I observe they cait no imputations on his moral character. His schism alone is the object of their accusation. Cornelius indeed carries the matter ftill farther, as we have seen ; but I am not difposed to credit all he says. He was heated against him, and was in a state of personal competition with him. Let us, before we proceed to other instances of the Decian perfecution, finish the whole of Novatian's affairs, by collecting what we can on the other side, in order to form a just eftimate of his character. If after all the evidence be not satisfactory, let it be imputed to the scantiness of our materials.

Novatian from a stoic becoming a christian, feems to have contracted that severity which formed the basis of his fect. He was born à Phrygian, and came to Rome, where he received christianity. Having neglected some ecclesiastical forms after he had recovered from a sickness, he was objected to by the clergy and people when applying for the office of presbyter. The bishop, probably Fabian the predecessor of Cornelius, desired that the rules might be difpensed with in his case, and it was granted; a testimony surely rather in favour of his abilities and conduct than otherwise, though coming from the mouth of Cornelius his rival* That he excelled in genius, learning, and eloquence, is certain. I hence infer, that he must have been a man of good character. The evils of his schism were great, but no blot seems affixed to his conduct, nor any just suspicion to lie on the puricy of his intentions. One of the letters of the Roman ciergy to Cyprian is still extant in his collection I, in which he at that time coincided with the African prelate, and it is worthy of a Roman presbyter and a zealous chriftian. Eusebius, in his Chronicon, ranks him among the confeffors, and it is certain, that while he continued presbyter his fame was not only without a blot, but very fair in the church.

formed peated See his letter in Eusebius. # 3: Pam.

Perhaps it had been happy for him had he never consented to become a bihop. Cornelius being preferred before him in the election, was, probably enough, the grand cause of his fchifm; and, from a temperate degree of severity, he became intolerably inexorable in his ideas of discipline. It is not for man to say how far temper, stoicism, prejudice, and principle might all unite in this business. We must now behold him bishop of the Novatians, and spreading the schism 10 far as he can through the christian world. The re

[ocr errors][merged small]

( 428 ) peated condemnation of it in fynods hindered not its growth, and as purity of conduct, with inflexible severity of manners, were their favourite object, it is not to be apprehended that Novatian could have supported himself in the opinion of his followers without some exemplariness of conduct. The christian faith he is allowed to have preserved in soundness. In truth, there is extant a treatise of his on the Trinity, one of the most regular and most accurate that is to be found among the antients. It is astonishing that any should ascribe the ideas of the Trinity mainly to the Nicene Fathers. We have repeatedly seen proofs of the doctrine from the Apostles' days, being held distinctly in all its parts. This treatise of Novatian may be added to the list. I don't know how to abridge it better than to refer the reader to the Athanasian creed. The Trinity in Unity, and the Godhead and Manhood of Christ in one person, are not more plainly to be found in that creed than in this contemporary of Cyprian.

I with a more experimental view, a more practical use of christian doctrines, were to be seen in it. But churchmen or diffenters, all christians seem to have relaxed in this respect. The favour and simplicity of the life of faith in Jesus was not now so well known: yet, particularly under the article of the Holy Ghost, he speaks very distinctly of him as the author of regeneration, the pledge of the promised inheritance, and, as it were, the hand-writing of eternal salvation, who makes us the temple of God and his house, who intercedes for us with groanings which cannot be uttered, acting as our advocate and defender, dwelling in our bodies, and sanctifying them for immortality. He it is who fights against the flesh, hence the flesh fights against the spirit; and he goes on in the



« PreviousContinue »