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general persecution, i. e. about the year 107, Ignatius, having asserted the divinity of the Christian religion in the emperor Trojan's own presence, was sentenced to be thrown to wild beasts, on an amphitheatre at Rome: which was accordingly executed.
On his way from Antioch to Rome, this blessed prisoner of Christ, loaded with chains, and led as a sheep to the slaughter, wrote those six epistles (of whose authenticity there seems no just reason to doubt), addressed to the Christians in Ephesus, Magnesia Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna. As to the epistle inscribed to Polycarp, though thought genuine by Vossius, it is rejected as spurious by archbishop Usher; and considered as doubtful, even by Dr. Cave.
In the exordium of his epistle to the Smyrneans, Ignatius addresses them as “ Filled with faith and love, and indefectible in every gift of grace (a).” And, indeed, the gifts of grace would stand us in little stead, if indefectibility were not their certain attendant. So far was this holy bishop from doubting the final perseverance of those who are really endued “ with faith and love;" that he tells them, in terms of the fullest assurance, “ I glorify Jesus Christ our God, who hath made you thus (spiritually] wise. For I have understood that ye are knit firmly together in immoveable faith, even as though ye were both in flesh and spirit nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord; and that ye are made stedfast in love, through the blood of Christ (6).”
He believed the redemption wrought by Christ, to be co-extensive with the church of God's peculiar people: “ Christ,” says he, “suffered all these things on our account, that we might be saved (c)." He would not allow the grace of true repentance to
(a) Ignat. ad. Smyrn. p. 1. Edit. Vossii, Lond. 1680. (6) Ibid. p. 1, 2.
(c) Ibid. p. 2.
be in a man's own power : for, speaking of some persons, whom he styles “ wild beasts in human shape,” he adds, you ought not only to refuse receiving such, but, if possible, you should even avoid meeting them. You ought only to pray in their behalf, if they may by some means repent; which, however, is exceeding difficult : but the power of this” (viz. of making them repent] “ rests with Jesus Christ our true life (d).”
Sensible of his inability to undergo the tortures of martyrdom, in his own strength, he thus expresses bis reliance on the strength of grace:
“ The nigher to the sword, the nigher to God. When surrounded with wild beasts, I shall be encompassed with God. It is only by the name of Jesus Christ, that I shall so endure all things, as to suffer with him; he enduing me with strength, who was himself perfect man (e).”
That he held God's sovereign and righteous preterition of some, appears from the following expression: “ Whom some men ignorantly deny; or, rather, have been denied of him (J
Nothing can breathe a more genuine sense of Christian humility, than his absolute renunciation of merit in all its branches: “ It is by the will of God, that I have been vouchsafed this honour" [namely, the honour of being in chains for the gospel :] “not from conscience” [i. e. from my own uprightness, or conscientiousness], “but from the grace of God (9).” On the same principle, speaking of one Burrhus, a deacon, who was to be the bearer of this epistle to Smyrna, and from whose tender friendship Ignatius had reaped great consolation, he thus prays in his behalf; “ May grace make him retribution (h).”
(d) Ibid. p. 3.
(e) Ibid. p. 4.
His epistle to the Ephesians opens thus : “ Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church which is at Ephesus in Asia, blessed by the greatness and fulness of God the Father; predestinated ever, before time, unto the glory which is perpetual and unchangeable, united and chosen [i. e. fixed upon to be the everlasting residence of the saints] by the will of the Father, and of Jesus Christ our God, through the true suffering (i).” That is, through the humiliation and sufferings of Christ the true propitiation.
Congratulating the Ephesians, on the harmony which subsisted among themselves, he takes occasion to intimate, that the church, which is Christ's mystic body, is as firmly united to Christ, as Christ himself is united to the Father (k). Is it possible to express the infallible certainty of final perseverance, in stronger terms? And would not one almost believe, that Ignatius designed the above passage as a comment on those words of our Lord, because I live, ye shall live also ?
How remote he was from crying up the pretended abilities of free-will, may sufficiently appear from what follows: “ Carnal men," i. e. men unrenewed by the almighty Spirit of God, " are not able to perform spiritual things—ye do all things," i. e. all spiritual things, “ by Jesus Christ (?),” or by grace and strength derived from him.
In the inscription of his epistle to the Philadelphians, he observes, of the clergy of that church, that Christ had, in pursuance of his own will, firmly established them in stedfastness, by his holy Spi. rit (m).” A glaring proof, that, in the judgment of Ignatius, saving grace is not that evanid, loseable thing, which Arminianism represents it to be. As the acquisition of it is not owing to the will of man;
(i) Epist. ad Eph. p. 16. (1) Ibid. p. 22. .
(k) Ibid. p. 20.
so neither is it dependant on man's will for preservation and continuance. In the course of the same epistle, he has a similar remark: “ Although some have been desirous of seducing me after the flesh, yet that Spirit, which is of God, is not seduced (n);' i. e. not to be seduced.
Making mention of one Agathopus, who attended him from Syria toward Rome, at the manifest bazard of life ; he terms him “ an elect person, who bears me company from Syria, having renounced the present life (o).” He styles the church at Tralles, “elect and esteemed of God (p):” and, in the same epistle, gives another very strong attestation to the doctrine of final perseverance. For, treating of some heretics, who denied the literality of Christ's sufferings, he thus descants : “ Avoid those evil shoots” (that spring up by a Christian church, like suckers by the side of a tree), “which' bring forth deadly fruit, whereof, if a man taste, he presently dies. These are not of the Father's planting ; for, if they were, the branches of the cross would appear, and their fruit would be incorruptible” [i. e. imperishable and immortal]:
through which he doth by his passion” [i. e. by virtue of his own sufferings and death], who are his members. For the head cannot be born without the members: God, who is the same" [i. e. who is always himself, unchangeable, and without shadow of turning], having passed his word for their union (7).” Yet, though this apostolic bishop was thus rooted and grounded in a belief of the essential perpetuity of grace; he still was of opinion (and so, I am confident, 'is every Cal. vinist under heaven), that, without constant and intense watching unto prayer, the exercise of grace
is liable to a partial and temporary failure. “I am
- call you,
(n) Ibid. p. 42. .
(0) Ibid. p. 45. .
yet in danger," says the blessed martyr: i. e. in danger, if left to my own strength, of denying Christ with my mouth, in order to avoid the torments of death. But his self-diffidence (and who can be too diffident of self?) did not, however, make him lose sight of God's faithfulness to him, which, he well knew, could alone keep him faithful to God : for he immediately adds, in the very next words, “nevertheless, my Father in Jesus Christ is faithful to fulfil your prayer and mine (r.).” And so he found him to be. God did hear his prayer, and make him faithful unto death. Reader, may the same happy coalition of fear and faith; may the most absolute self-distrust, united with an unshaken confidence in the stability of divine grace;
your portion, and mine, till we enter the haven of everJasting joy : where we shall no longer stand in need of faith, to fill our sails ; nor of fear, to steady us with its ballast.
In his epistle to the Romans, Ignatius has an observation, which shows that he was far enough from holding the tenet of free-will, in the Arminian sense of it: “A Christian is not the workmanship of suasion, but of greatness (s):" i. e. men become real Christians, not by the power of moral argument, but by the mighty operation of divine agency Whoever denies the ability of free-will, in spirituals; must, with that, deny the meritori. ousness of human works. And so did Ignatius. Witness that passage, where, speaking of the savage treatment he received from the soldiers who were guarding him to Rome, he says, “ They behave themselves the worse to me for my beneficence to them. I reap, however, the more instruction from their injurious behaviour. Yet, I am not justified by this (1).” He knew, that neither the sufferings,
(r) Ibid. p. 54.
(s) Ep. ad Rom. p. 57.