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ON THE WRITINGS OF TERTULLIAN.
unaffected humility and modesty-virtues in which the primitive Christians were generally eminent.*
We are told that there existed no controversy in the Christian church, on the all-important doctrine of Justification, in the times of Tertullian. That which occupied so large a portion of the attention and labour of the apostle Paul, viz. the dispute respecting the necessity of observing the rite of circumcision, and the Mosaic ritual, in order to Justification, the great thing contended for by the Judaizers, appears to have died away immediately after the expulsion of the Jews by Adrian, as mentioned in a former Lecture. Tertullian very properly speaks of the death of Christ as involving in it the whole weight and benefit of the Christian name, and as constituting the foundation of man's salvation. And, to show how it came to be possessed of this wonderful efficacy, he says, “ we are redeemed by the blood of God ;” and, in another place, “ by the blood of the Lord, the Lamb:” meaning, doubtless, “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” He asserts that such is the efficacy of the blood of Christ, that “it not only cleanses men from sin, and brings them out of darkness into light, but preserves them also in a state of purity, if they continue to walk in the light;” in which he seems to have his eye upon that remarkable testimony of the apostle John, “If we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin," 1 John i. 7. “Who, but the Son of God,” says he, “can by his own death deliver others from death. He indeed delivered the thief at the very moment of his passion ; for he came for this very end, that being himself free from sin, and perfectly holy, he might die for sinners." : * « 'Tertullian is a very difficult author, and this chiefly because of his studious brevity of expression, harsh constructions, and use of words in uncommon meanings. Though he is frequently declamatory, yet the ruggedness of his temper and severity of his disposition appear constantly in his writings. His impetuosity, continually hurrying him from point to point, makes him very obscure, and prevents all possibility of ornament in his style. He contains more miscellaneous information, and this arrayed in more energetic language, than most, or perhaps any of the Fathers. His words are diamonds, and diamonds too of the first water, which have no more polish than is sufficient to show their excellent quality, and how capable they were of receiving additional splendour from the caustic intellect of their excellent author." Dr. Adam Clarke's Succession of Sacred Literature, vol. i. 8vo.
In Tertullian's time the church was greatly troubled by heretics, who denied the reality of Christ's human nature, or, at least, that he partook of the same flesh and blood with his brethren whom he came to redeem. They were apprehensive that, if they admitted the reality of Christ's flesh, or human nature, they must also admit his resurrection in the flesh, and consequently the resurrection of the human body after death. Some of them, as Marcion, denied the reality both of Christ's birth and of his flesh: others, as Apelles, denied the former, but admitted the latter ; contending that, as the angels are recorded in Scripture to have assumed a human form, without being born after the laws of ordinary generation, so might Christ, who, according to them, received his body from the stars. Others, again, assigned to Christ the angelic nature or substance. Valentinus assigned him a spiritual flesh; because it proceeded not from the seed of man; and Alexander, the Valentinian, seems to have denied its reality, on the ground that, if it were flesh, it must also be sinful flesh: whereas one object of Christ's mission was to abolish sinful flesh. · Against these whimsical speculations, some of which are very absurd and others very trifling, Tertullian wrote several treatises, and with superior ability. In opposition to these various heretical notions, he shows that Jesus Christ was born, lived, suffered, died, and was buried in the flesh: whence it follows that he also rose again in the flesh; for “ the same substance,” says he, “which fell by the stroke of death, and lay in the sepulchre, was also raised. In that substance Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father, being man though God the last Adam, though the first or primary Word-flesh and blood, though of a purer kind than those of man; and according to the declaration of the angels, at the time of his ascension, he will descend at the great and final day, in form and substance the same as he ascended, since he must be recognized by those who pierced him. He who is called the Mediator between God and man is entrusted with a deposit from each party. As he left with us the earnest of the Spirit, so he took from us the earnest of the flesh, and carried it with him into heaven, to assure us that both the flesh and the spirit will then be re-united, or collected into one sum."
TERTULLIAN ON THE RESURRECTION.
With regard to the resurrection of the body, Tertullian insists on the power of God to rebuild the tabernacle of the flesh, in whatever manner it may be dissolved. “If we even suppose,” says he, “that it is annihilated, He who created all things out of nothing can surely raise the dead body again from nothing. Nor is there any absurdity in supposing that the members of the human body, which may have been destroyed by fire, or devoured by birds or beasts, will nevertheless, at the last day, be re-united. Such a supposition, on the contrary, is countenanced by Scripture.” But he further contends that the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is rendered credible by innumerable instances of a resurrection in the natural world ; and, among other illustrations of this, the case of the phạnix is adduced, of which the early fathers appear to have been enamoured. Having established the power of God to raise the dead body, Tertullian next enquires whether any reasons exist which should induce him to exert that power; on which he observes, that as he intends to judge mankind, and to reward or punish them according to their conduct in this life, it is evident that the ends of justice will not be attained, unless men rise again with the same bodies which they had when living. The body co-operated with the soul in this world; it carried into effect the good or evil designs which the soul conceived: it ought, therefore, to be associated with the soul in its future happiness or misery. He contends, further, that the very term resurrection implies a resurrection of the body; for that alone can be raised which has fallen ; and it is the body, not the soul, which falls by the stroke of death :-man dieth not with reference to his soul, which is immortal, but his body. · It was demanded, by the heretics whom Tertullian opposed, “if the body is to be raised, is it to be raised with all the infirmities and defects under which it laboured on earth ? Are the blind, the lame, the deformed, those especially who were so from their birth, to appear with the same imperfections at the day of judgment ?” “No," replies Tertullian; “ the Almighty does not do his work by halves. He who raises the dead to life will raise the body in its perfect integrity. This is part of the change which the body will undergo at the resurrection ; for, though the dead will be raised in the flesh, yet they who attain to the resurrection of happiness will pass into the angelic state
at this chous body of aged that
and put on the vesture of immortality, according to the declaration of the apostle Paul, that “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality :'-and again, that our vile bodies will be changed that they may be fashioned like unto the glorious body of Christ.' We must not, however, suppose that this change is incompatible with the identity of the body. Continual changes take place in the substance of man, from his birth to his death : his constitution, his bulk, his strength, are perpetually changing; yet he remains the same man. So when after death he passes into a state of incorruption and immortality, as the mind, the memory, the conscience which he now has, will not be done away, so neither will his body; otherwise he would suffer in a different body from that in which he sinned, and the dispensations of God would appear to be at variance with his justice, which evidently requires that the same soul should be re-united to the same body at the last day."
“ The body," therefore, say the heretics, “after it is risen, will be subject to no sufferings, will be harassed by no wants : what then will be the use of those members which at present administer to its necessities? What offices will the mouth, the throat, the teeth, the stomach, the intestines, have to perform, when man will no longer eat and drink?” “We have said,” answers Tertullian, “ that the body will undergo a change; and, as man will then be free from the wants of this life, so will his members be released from many of their present duties. But it does not therefore follow that they will be wholly without use : the mouth, for instance, will be employed in singing praises to God. Nor will the final retribution be complete, unless the whole man stands before the judgment seat of Christ-unless man stands there with all his members perfect.”
To follow Tertullian in all his pursuit of the heretics, especially their reasonings against the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, would carry me far beyond the limits of a Lecture, and therefore I must content myself with having produced a specimen of his masterly refutation, only observing, further, that the heretics sometimes laboured, like our modern mystics, to convert the language of Scripture, in reference to the resurrection, into a figure, contending that it meant no more than a moral or spiritual resurrection-a resurrection of the soul from the grave of sin from
TERTULLIAN'S APOLOGY for the CHRISTIANS.
a death in ignorance to the light of truth and to the knowledge of God. “Man, therefore, rises again,” said they, according to the meaning of Scripture, in baptism.”
These objections afforded Tertullian an opportunity of making some pertinent observations on the marks whereby to determine when the language of Scripture is to be figuratively understood. “In the present instance," says he,“ we cannot so understand it, because the whole Christian faith hinges upon the doctrine of a future state; and surely God would not have made the Gospel to rest upon a figure.” He adduces several texts of Scripture, and reasons from them in proof of the literal resurrection of the body. Such as where Christ says, “ I came to save that which was lost." On which he asks, “What was lost ?-the whole man, both soul and body. The body therefore stands in need of salvation as well as the soul ; otherwise the purpose of Christ's coming will not be accomplished.”
Again: “when Christ enjoined his hearers to fear Him only who can destroy both soul and body in hell, he evidently assumed the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. So also in his answer to the Sadducees, respecting the woman who had been seven times married.” Both parties appealed to the miracle of Christ's raising Lazarus from the dead. Tertullian contended that he performed it in order to confirm the faith of his disciples, by exhibiting the very mode in which the future resurrection would take place. The heretics described it as a mere exercise of power, which could not have been rendered cognizable by the senses had not the body of Lazarus been raised as well as the soul.
But, not to detain you longer on Tertullian's controversy with the heretics of his time on the subject of the resurrection of the body, we shall now proceed to his APOLOGY, addressed to the governors of the Proconsular Africa--a treatise which supplies us with much information respecting the state of Christianity, and the causes which contributed to its rapid growth during the latter part of the second century. From this source we ascertain that, by the pious zeal and diligence of the friends of Christianity, powerful engines had been set at work to promote the diffusion of the Gospel. Of these engines Mosheim has noticed two in particular, viz. the translation of the New Testament into different languages, and the composition of numerous Apologies for the