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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 3


2. Smyrnean State




The representative writers of this state were particularly Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus. Justin, surnamed Martyr, which signifies a witness, but in after times restricted exclusively to those whose witness was sealed with their blood, published an Apology or detence of the faith he professed, and presented it to the emperor Antoninus Pius, about A.D. 140. He was a pagan philosopher before he was converted to christianity; but, as he says, "having found the Divine Scriptures to be the only sure philosophy," he became a christian. He was put to death about A.D. 163. One would suppose that, having satisfied himself that the Gentile philosophy was false, he would thenceforth have abandoned it altogether. But this he did not do. He continued to dress in the garb of a philosopher, and to persevere in the profession of it "hoping," as Milner thinks, "to conciliate the affections of philosophers, and allure them to christianity. To draw gentlemen and persons of liberal education to pay attention to christianity, appears to have been his chief employment." A right view of things would have convinced Justin of the futility of his expedients. It is "the poor in this world," and the simple hearted, not "gentlemen" and "philosophers," that God hath chosen to be heirs of his kingdom. In this policy Justin shows a departure from the true apostolic mind so prominent in Paul's writings. Justin's example was pernicious in giving sanction to the union of heathen philosophy with the teaching of Christ and his apostles. There is no agreement between them; and where the union is tolerated, it invariably results in the corruption or extinction from the mind, of the spirit and teaching of the word. Towards the close of his Second Apology he declares that the doctrines of Plato were not heterogeneous to those of Christ; but only not altogether similar. And he seems to assert that Plato, and the Stoics, and the Pagan writers in prose and verse, saw something of truth from the portion of the seed of the Divine Word, which he makes to be the same as the Word, the only begotten Son of God. But Paul never allows unconverted men to have any portion at all of that light which is peculiarly christian. But Justin had lost sight of the guard, which cannot be too often repeated, against philosophy. Not long after him, mystics and heretics and platonizing christians jumbled these things together entirely; and tried to incorporate the philosophical doctrine of the ro ev with the Gospel. Justin gave them a handle for this; and though philosophy had made its inroads upon the faith in the apostolic age, Milner may not be entirely wrong in saying, that "Justin was the first sincere christian who was seduced by human philosophy to adulterate the gospel, though in a small degree. It should ever be remembered, that christian light stands single and unmixed; and will not bear to be kneaded into the same mass with other systems, religious or philosophical. We may here mark the beginning of the decay of the first spiritual effusion among the Gentiles through false wisdom."

In the year 167, the ecclesia of Smyrna in writing an account of the martyrdom of Polycarp to the ecclesia at Philomelium seems to reflect upon the martyrdom of Ignatius in saying that it was "perfectly evangelical. He did not precipitately give himself up to death, but waited till he was apprehended, as our Lord himself did, that we might imitate him. We do not approve of those who offer themselves to martyrdom; for we have not so learned Christ." But, though right in this, they seem to have acquired the notion that martyrdom atoned for sin; for speaking of those who suffered, they say, "thus they despised the torments of this world, and by one hour redeemed themselves from eternal punishment. The fire of savage tormentors was cold to them; for they had steadily in view a desire to avoid that fire which is eternal and never to be quenched." In the translation from which we quote, it reads thus; which may not express their idea. If it does they had gone astray respecting the punishment of the wicked, and must have been infected with immortal-soulism. But, I rather think, they had allusion to certain apocalyptic passages in the book sent to them as one of the seven ecclesias. The eternal punishment they refer to was probably the Aion-punishment of "the Hour of Judgment" which cannot be quenched till its purpose is accomplished; and which is for the especial destruction of Babylon the Great, the conquest of the kingdoms, and the punishment of all their adherents and supporters. This occurs after the resurrection; and is provided also for the punishment of all who shall be raised to suffer it (Apoc. xiv. 6-11). Its effects are permanent but the execution of judgment does not transcend "the hour" appointed.

Polycarp who suffered and the Smyrneans who witnessed his death did not agree in their convictions. In his prayer Polycarp said, "O Father, I bless thee that thou hast counted me worthy to receive my portion in the number of martyrs, in the cup of Christ, for the resurrection to eternal life both of soul and body in the incorruption of the Holy Spirit; among whom may I be received this day before thee as a sacrifice well savored and acceptable." His mind was fixed upon the resurrection, but when they tell the story of his death, and speak of his state after it while they were writing, they say, "the envious, malignant, and spiteful enemy of the just, observed the honor put upon his martyrdom and his blameless life; and knowing that he was crowned with immortality and the prize of unquestionable victory, studied to prevent us from obtaining his body, though many of us longed to have communion with his sacred flesh." They gathered up his bones, however, which they term "more precious than gold or jewels," and deposited them in a proper place; "where, if it be possible," say they, "we shall meet in gladness and joy to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom, both in commemoration of those who have wrestled before us, and for the instruction and confirmation of those who come after." This was the beginning of shrine-pilgrimage and relic-worship. The Smyrneans did not probably then visit the shrine and bones in the spirit of idolaters; but what might be innocent in their celebration, in after times became a grossly superstitious and idolatrous observance.

Irenaeus belonged to the Smyrnean State of christendom. He was a presbyter of an ecclesia at Lyons in France. He was instructed by Polycarp who had been personally acquainted with John. About the year 169, lrenaaus became the "Bishop" of the congregation. "Never," says Milner, "was any pastor more severely tried by a tempestuous scene. Violent persecution without, and subtle heresies within, called for the exertion at once, of consummate dexterity and of magnanimous resolution. Irenaeus was favoured with a large measure of both; and he weathered out the storm. "His views of doctrine are of the same cast as those of Justin, whom he quotes in his Book of Heresies. His philosophy had its usual influence on the mind -- in darkening some truths of scripture, and in mixing the doctrine of Christ with human inventions. Now that things had not improved at the close of Irenaeus's career, but had become worse, may be gathered from his letter to Florinus, in which he says, "I can witness before God, that if that blessed apostolical presbyter had heard some of the doctrines which are now maintained, he would have cried out, and stopped his ears, and in his usual manner have said, 'O good God, to what times hast thou reserved me, that I should endure these things.' And he would immediately have fled from the place in which he had heard such doctrines."

Irenaeus was the author of "the epistle of the ecclesias of Vienna and Lyons to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia," giving an account of the persecution there. Speaking in this of Vettius Epagathus who had been put to death, he says, "He was, and still is, a genuine disciple of Christ, following the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." This is a quotation from Apoc. xiv. 4; and by the use he makes of it, would indicate that his mind had been platonized with the dogma of immortal-soulism, which his instructor Polycarp did not believe. The Smyrnean State was certainly a degeneration from the Ephesian.




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