Thus far we have pursued the study of the prophetic gift as it is revealed in the records of the Sacred Scriptures. We have traced its manifestations through men and women of God's choosing from the time of Adam's banishment from Eden to the death of John, the apostle-prophet, who wrote the book of Revelation, the last book of the Sacred Canon.
From the close of the apostolic period onward, information regarding the manifestation of this gift in the church must be sought in the records of history, particularly of church history. As we enter this field, however, we discover a decided difference of opinion on whether or not the prophetic gift continued after the death of the first apostles and the close of the New Testament canon. One view, held and advocated by certain Christian scholars and writers, is that the operation of the prophetic gift ceased with the close of the first century. Regarding this view, Dr. A. J. Gordon, in his excellent volume, The Ministry of Healing, published in 1883, says:1
A call recently put forth in one of our religious journals, asking the opinion of ministers, teachers and theological professors on this point was very largely answered; and the respondents were well-nigh unanimous in the opinion that the age of miracles passed away with the apostolic period . There were only one or two replies which gave countenance to the view, that miracles are possible in all ages and have appeared more or less numerously in every period of the church's history.Pages 1, 2. Boston: Howard Gannett, 1883.
But notwithstanding this general uncertainty and disbelief, in theological circles, in the continuance of the spiritual gifts bestowed by our Lord and highly prized by His disciples, there have been through the centuries, not only believers in these gifts, but grateful receivers of their benefits. The evidence supporting
1 Unless otherwise noted, the italics, marks of parenthesis, and brackets in this and the following quotations in this section are the author's.
this view appears substantial. Here are two declarations of great confidence in the continuity of the spiritual gifts:
Witnesses who are above suspicion leave no room for doubt that the miraculous powers of the apostolic age continued to operate at least into the third century.The Conflict of Christianity With Heathenism, Dr. Gerhard Ulhorn, p. 169. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899.
Commenting on this statement, Dr. Gordon argues thus:
This concession is a very important one in its bearings on this whole subject. Prove that miracles were wrought, for example, in the second century after Christ, and no reason can be thereafter urged why they might not be wrought in the nineteenth century.The Ministry of Healing, p. 58.
Regarding the imperative need of the continuance in the church of all the spiritual gifts bestowed by our Lord at His ascension, the following forceful statement is made by the Reverend Wm. Eddy, of the Methodist Church:
It will not do to say that these gifts were restricted in their bestowment to the apostles and early Christians. All will allow that what Paul says of charity, or love, the more excellent way, in 1 Corinthians 13, applies to Christians in all subsequent time, and yet he immediately exhorts to covet earnestly the best gifts. The truth is, the church needs these gifts at this day to battle against error in its various forms. She needs them to preserve in her own mind the idea of the spiritual, the supernatural. She needs them as ornaments to supersede her jewelry. Let her covet earnestly these gifts, and there would be less covetousness of worldly display . We should covet the gift of prophecy. It is a New Testament endowment.Northwestern Christian Advocate, 1855.
This statement is in full harmony with Paul's exhortation in 1 Corinthians 14:39, Covet to prophesy. All the context in chapters 12 to 14 makes it unquestionably clear that the gift of prophecy is to abide in the church to the end of the gospel dispensation as truly as abideth faith, hope, charity. In fact, verse 1 of the 14th chapter urges the church to follow after
charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. Cultivating love and desiring spiritual gifts are to continue together in the church, without any limit of time on either. Of the gifts, that of prophecy is most to be desired, and therefore to be confidently expected.
That the prophetic gift, as well as the other gifts with which it was associated, continued indeed in the church after the apostles had gone to their graves is certified by reliable testimony in history, supported by theological scholarship and opinion. A brief survey of the testimony pertaining to this subject now engages our attention.
In an extended review of this question a writer in the Encyclopædia Britannica says:
The most important facts known at present about the manner of life, the influence, and the history of the early Christian prophets are the following: (1) Until late in the second century the prophets (or prophetesses) were regarded as an essential element in a church possessing the Holy Ghost. Their existence was believed in, and they did actually exist . Not a few Christian prophets are known to us by name: as Agabus, Judas, and Silas, in Jerusalem; Barnabas, Simon Niger, etc., in Antioch; in Asia Minor, the daughters of Philip, Quadratus, Ammia, Polycarp, Melito.Volume XXII, art., Prophet, p. 448, 11th edition.
All who are acquainted with the religious views of Edward Gibbon, writer of the monumental History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, must admit that whatever he wrote regarding the early church was written without any bias of favor toward the church. Of the Christian church during the second century, Gibbon, writing in the eighteenth century, gives this very clear and impartial testimony:
The Christian church, from the time of the apostles and their first disciples, has claimed an uninterrupted succession of miraculous powers, the gift of tongues, of vision, and of prophecy; the power of expelling demons, of healing the sick, and of raising the dead .
The divine inspiration, whether it was conveyed in the form of a waking or of a sleeping vision, is described as a favor very liberally bestowed
on all ranks of the faithful, on women as on elders, on boys as well as upon bishops. When their devout minds were sufficiently prepared by a course of prayer, of fasting, and of vigils, to receive the extraordinary impulse, they were transported out of their senses and delivered in ecstasy what was inspired, being mere organs of the Holy Spirit, just as a pipe or flute is of him who blows into it. We may add, that the design of these visions was, for the most part, either to disclose the future history, or to guide the present administration, of the church.Milman's Gibbon's Rome, chap. 15, The Progress of the Christian Religion, and the Sentiments and Condition of the Primitive Christians, Vol. I, sec. 3, pp. 539, 540, par. 26.
Such are the frank statements of this great historian, regarding a phase of history which it is understood he regarded rather distasteful to himself. Though he presents the possession of the spiritual gifts by the church as only a claim, yet he does not refute the claim, and recites the exercise and aims of the gifts with greater clearness and impartiality than do some of the theologians. His statements are definite and positive, and are of much value in our present study. They are well supported by other accredited writers.
The Christian church, says Gibbon, from the time of the apostles onward, claimed a succession of miraculous powers, such as the gift of tongues, of vision, of prophecy, and of healing the sick. He also states that the object of the visionsthe prophetic giftwas either to disclose the future history or to guide the present administration of the church.Id., page 107. This is precisely the purpose for which the prophetic gift was ever bestowed. The historian's word harmonizes, therefore, with the Biblical specifications concerning the operation of this gift, and really constitutes a fitting comment on Paul's definition of its purpose, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
The significant testimony placed on record by Gibbon is fully supported by Mosheim, a church historian of high repute, who wrote with candor and certainty regarding the manifestation of
the spiritual gifts in the primitive church during both the second and the third centuries:
That what are called the MIRACULOUS gifts Of the Holy Spirit, were liberally conferred, not only in this but also in the following century, especially on those engaged in propagating the gospel; all who are called Christians, believe, on the unanimous and concordant testimony of the ancient writers. Nor do we, in my opinion, hereby incur any just charge of departing from sound reason. For, as these witnesses are all grave men, fair and honest, some of them philosophers, men who lived in different countries, and relate not what they HEARD, but what they SAW, call God to witness the truth of their declarations (see Origen, contra Celsum, l. i., p. 35, ed. Spencer), and do not claim for themselves, but attribute to others, these miraculous powers; what reason can there be, for refusing to believe them?Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, John Lawrence yon Mosheim, D. D., Book I, cent. 2, part 1, chap. 1. Notes on par. 8. New York: Robert Carter & Bros.
It is to the presence of these gifts in the church that Mosheim attributes the marvelous power that attended the proclamation of the gospel in pagan lands.
But more than the manifestations of power attended these gifts. The rapid progress of the gospel among the nations, and the stability of this work, are attributed by Mosheim to the extraordinary divine gifts which the Christians exercised. His statement is very clear:
It is easier to conceive than to express, how much the MIRACULOUS POWERS and the EXTRAORDINARY DIVINE GIFTS which the Christians exercised on various occasions, contributed to extend the limits of the church The gift of foreign tongues appears to have gradually ceased, as soon as many nations became enlightened with the truth, and numerous churches of Christians were everywhere established; for it became less necessary than it was at first. But the other gifts with which God favored the rising church of Christ, were, as we learn from numerous testimonies of the ancients still conferred on particular persons here and there.Id., par. 8.
It should be noted that Mosheim's statements are based on the unanimous and concordant testimony of the ancient writers, who, as he affirms in the context, were grave men, fair and honest, some of them philosophers, men who lived in different countries,
and relate not what they HEARD, but what they SAW. Surely the testimony of these eyewitnesses contributes reliable information.
One of the outstanding sources of authentic history of the Christian church during the second century is a volume, entitled Ecclesiastical History, written by Eusebius, Bishop of the Christian church in Caesarea, Palestine. Eusebius was one of the most learned men of his age. He is referred to in the Encyclopædia Britannica (14th edition, art., Eusebius) as having recorded the experiences of the church during the second century, in the belief that the old order of things was passing away. His history covers the first and second centuries of the Christian era, and was completed about 324 or 325. Its value lies in the wealth of the materials which it furnishes for a knowledge of the early church.
Of this Ecclesiastical History, written by Eusebius, Philip Schaff, a modern historian of note, says:
Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, in Palestine, and contemporary with Constantine the Great, composed a church history in ten books (έκκλησιαστική ίστορία, from the incarnation of the Logos to the year 324), by which he has won the title of the Father of church history, or the Christian Herodotus. Though by no means very critical and discerning, and far inferior in literary talent and execution to the works of the great classical historians, this Ante-Nicene church history is invaluable for its learning, moderation, and love of truth; for its use of sources since totally or partially lost; and for its interesting position of personal observation between the last persecutions of the church and her establishment in the Byzantine Empire.History of the Christian Church, Vol. I, Apostolic Christianity, p. 28. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1887.
The publisher's note on Eusebius in Bohn's Ecclesiastical Library says of his history:
The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, which succeeds immediately to the Acts of the Apostles, and is for a considerable period the only work of the kind, possesses a value to subsequent ages which belongs to no other uninspired document.London: Bell and Daldy, 1872.
In his Ecclesiastical History Eusebius records the names, with brief information, of a number of leading messengers of the church in the second century, who, he says, were endowed with spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy. One of these was Quadratus of Athens, of whom Eusebius wrote in these words:
Of those that flourished in these times, Quadratus is said to have been distinguished for his prophetical gifts. There were many others, also, noted in these times, who held the first rank in the apostolic succession. These, as the holy disciples of such men, also built up the churches where foundations had been previously laid in every place by the apostles. They augmented the means of promulgating the gospel more and more, and spread the seeds of salvation and of the heavenly kingdom throughout the world far and wide . The Holy Spirit, also, wrought many wonders as yet through them, so that as soon as the gospel was heard, men voluntarily in crowds, and eagerly, embraced the true faith with their whole minds.The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, translated from the Greek by Rev. C. F. Crusé, A. M., Book III, chap. 38, pp. 111,112. London: George Bell and Sons, 1879.
Recognizing along with the true the presence of the false who came to harass the church, the same writer adds:
After stating other matters, he [Miltiades, the historian] enumerates those who had prophesied under the New Testament. Among these he mentions one Ammias and Quadratus. But the false prophet, says he, is carried away by a vehement ecstasy, accompanied by want of all shame and fear. Beginning, indeed, with a designed ignorance, and terminating, as beforesaid, in involuntary madness. They will never be able to show that any of the Old, or any of the New Testament, were thus violently agitated and carried away in spirit. Neither will they be able to boast that Agabus, or Judas, or Silas, or the daughters of Philip, or Ammias in Philadelphia, or Quadratus, or others that do not belong to them, ever acted in this way . For the apostle shows that the gift of prophecy should be in all the church until the coming of the Lord.Id., Book V, chap. 17, p. 187.
Quadratus, here named, was a man of considerable influence. He wrote an Apology and a defense to Emperor Adrian in behalf
of the Christians. It seems to have been existent as late as the seventh century (Photius: Cod., 162). Concerning Quadratus, Dean (Frederic W., D. D., F. R. S.) Farrar writes:
Nothing is really known of the writer of the Apology, of which an interesting fragment is preserved by Eusebius, in which the writer says that some were still living in his day on whom Christ had performed His miracles of healing.Lives of the Fathers, chap. 4, p. 129. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1907.
Eusebius says of this Apology, extant in his day, the fourth century:
The work is still in the hands of some of the brethren, as also in our own, from which anyone may see evident proof, both of the understanding of the man, and of his apostolic faith.
This writer shows the antiquity of the age in which he lived, in these passages: The deeds of our Saviour, says he, were always before you [the emperor] for they were true miracles; those that were healed, those that were raised from the dead, who were seen, not only when healed and when raised, but were always present. They remained living a long time, not only whilst our Lord was on earth, but likewise when He had left the earth. So that some of them have also lived to our own times. Such was Quadratus.The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Book IV, chap. 3, p. 118.
This is instructive and valuable testimony. It connects us up closely with the apostles. It expresses confidence in the possession and working of the spiritual gifts at that period, it tells us of the great power that attended Christian workers, and of the marvelous results that followed. It should be observed that Quadratus is said to have been distinguished for his prophetical gifts. This was in the early part of the second century after the apostles had gone to their rest.
After we leave the inspired writers of the New Testament, we must obtain our information concerning the church in the second, third, and fourth centuries, from early church historians, and contemporary ecclesiastical writers. Drawing from these
sources, we turn first to the testimony of Justin Martyr, who was among the earliest converts from paganism in the second century. Born of pagan parents in Flavia Neapolis, Samaria, about 114 A.D., he was well educated, and was said to be a true lover of sound philosophy, ever seeking for knowledge that would satisfy the longings of his soul. At last the account of the life and death of Christ made a deep impression upon his mind, and, pagan philosopher though he was, Justin was constrained to accept the Saviour as his Lord and Master, and united with the hated and persecuted Christians, whose extraordinary fearlessness in the presence of death had greatly impressed him. He soon became one of the most influential defenders of the gospel and the church.
His writings are among the most important that come down to us from the second century. He wrote able replies to critics and opposers of all classes. He also wrote defenses and appeals to emperors in behalf of the gospel and the persecuted Christians. One writer declares that Justin Martyr was a valuable authority on the life of the Christian church in the middle second century.
One of the books written by Justin was known as his Dialogue With Trypho, a Jew, in which there is found a valuable statement regarding the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the church at that time, reading as follows:
Daily some (of you) are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, and quitting the path of error; who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God.
To this Trypho said to me, I wish you knew that you are beside yourself, talking these sentiments.
And I said to him, Listen, O friend, for I am not mad or beside myself; but it was prophesied that, after the ascent of Christ to heaven, He would deliver us from error and give us gifts. The words are these: He ascended up on high; He led captivity captive; He gave gifts to
man. Accordingly, we who have received gifts from Christ, who has ascended up on high, prove from the words of prophecy that you, the wise in yourselves, and the men of understanding in your own eyes, are foolish, and honor God and His Christ by lip only. But we, who are instructed in the whole truth, honor them both in acts, and in knowledge, and in heart, even unto death.Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, chap. 39, p. 214. Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885.
He says further in the same dialogue:
For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that (the gifts) formerly among your nation [the Jews] have been transferred to us. And just as there were false prophets contemporaneous with your holy prophets, so are there now many false teachers amongst us, of whom our Lord forewarned us to beware; so that in no respect are we deficient, since we know that He foreknew all that would happen to us after His resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven. For He said we would be put to death, and hated for His name's sake; and that many false prophets and false christs would appear in His name, and deceive many: and so has it come about.Id., chap. 82, p. 240.
That the reader may have an insight into Justin's precise attitude regarding these matters, we here quote from his own words, preserved for us:
For after Him [Christ] no prophet has arisen among you [the Jewish nation]. Now, that (you may know that) your prophets, each receiving some one or two powers from God, did and spoke the things which we have learned from the Scriptures, attend to the following remarks of mine. Solomon possessed the spirit of wisdom, Daniel that of understanding and counsel, Moses that of might and piety, Elijah that of fear, and Isaiah that of knowledge; and so with the others: each possessed one power, or one joined alternately with another; also Jeremiah, and the twelve (prophets), and David, and, in short, the rest who existed amongst you. Accordingly He (that is, the Spirit,) rested, i. e., ceased, when He [Christ] came, after whom, in the times of this dispensation wrought out by Him amongst men, it was requisite that such gifts should cease from you [the Jews]; and having received their rest in Him, should again, as had been predicted, become gifts which, from the grace of His Spirit's
power, He imparts to those who believe in Him, according as He deems each man worthy thereof. I have already said, and do again say, that it had been prophesied that this would be done by Him after His ascension to heaven. It is accordingly said, He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, He gave gifts unto the sons of men. And again, in another prophecy it is said: And it shall come to pass after this, I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and on My servants, and on My handmaids, and they shall prophesy.
Now, it is possible to see amongst us women and men who possess girls of the Spirit of God.Id., chaps. 87 and 78, p. 243.
This is testimony from a witness associated with the early Christian believers in the great activities of the gospel. Justin does not himself claim to be endowed with any of these gifts. He states that the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time, and that some are illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge (gift of prophecy), another of teaching. This accords fully with Paul's statement on the operation of the spiritual gifts. The apostles were now all dead. A new generation was carrying on the work nearly a century after Paul wrote his epistle to the Corinthian church. But Christ in heaven was alive, and according to this testimony was still dispensing His gifts to the members of His body, the church.
Valuable testimony regarding the presence of spiritual gifts in the church during the second century was also borne by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, in France, thus leading us to the western outposts of the church. The birth and death of Irenaeus are not definitely recorded in any of the ancient documents. He is believed, however, to have been born in Smyrna, or Syria, about 120 A. D., and that he perished with other martyrs about the close of the second century.
It appears that, as a young man, Irenaeus was a pupil of that godly man, Polycarp of Smyrna. In an epistle written later in life to Florinus, Irenaeus says:
I saw thee when I was yet a boy in Lower Asia with Polycarp . I remember the events of those times much better than those of more recent occurrence . I can tell also the very place where the blessed Polycarp was accustomed to sit and discourse; and also his entrances, his walks, the complexion of his life, and the form of his body, and his conversations with the people, and his familiar intercourse with John [the apostle], as he was accustomed to tell, as also his familiarity with those that had seen the Lord.The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Book V, chap. 20, p. 192.
This record, declares one discerning writer, establishes a chain of testimony (John-Polycarp-Irenaeus) which is without parallel in early church history. Dean Farrar says that Irenaeus was the earliest church writer who quotes from almost every book of the New Testament.Lives of the Fathers Vol. I, chap. 3, sec. 2, p. 100.
On the value of his writings, we read:
The writings of Irenaeus are invaluable to us as an index of the views which the primitive church of Christ held on many very important points that have become matters of controversy between the different branches of the Christian church up to our own day.Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, McClintock and Strong, Vol. IV, art., Irenaeus, page 649.
Irenaeus wrote extensive works against the licentious practices and foolish doctrines that sought a foothold in the church. His great task was to lay bare the real character of the many forms of Gnosticism, and to show their essential unity with the old pagan mythology and heathen philosophy. Farrar declares that he frequently refers to elders who were pupils of the apostles.
Such is the man who, as an eyewitness, bears positive testimony concerning the presence and operation of spiritual gifts in the church during the latter half of the second century. He says:
Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform (miracles), so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils,
so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe (in Christ), and join themselves to the church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the church, (scattered) throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practicing deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them (on account of such miraculous interpositions). For as she has received freely from God, freely also does she minister (to others).
Nor does she perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but, directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error.Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. V, Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book II, chap. 32, pp. 245, 246. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1868.
After quoting this same passage from Irenaeus, Eusebius says:
We hear many of the brethren in the church who have prophetic gifts, and who speak in all tongues through the Spirit, and who also bring to light the secret things of men for their benefit, and who expound the mysteries of God.The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Book V, chap. 7, p. 175.
These are calm, frank statements, open to challenge by any of the contemporary opponents of Christianity if not true to fact. Those who were truly the disciples of Christ are represented as possessing special gifts for healing, casting out of evil spirits, and leading men and women from paganism to the acceptance of Christ, the Saviour of men.
It should be observed that Irenaeus makes special mention of visions and prophetic communications. This account of the
operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is in full accord with the one Justin Martyr left on record. Moreover, in his work Against Heresies, Irenaeus, like Justin, recognizes the existence of false prophets in his day, as well as declares the presence of the true. It may be appropriately observed here that whenever the genuine gift is to be found, the spurious will nearly always make its appearance to counterfeit and discredit the true. An example of the workings and character of a false prophet in those days is given in Chapter XIII in Irenaeus' work, headed The Deceitful Arts and Nefarious Practices of Marcus. After describing the method of Marcus in dealing with one of his woman dupes, and telling of the uncleanness of life that accompanied such frauds, Irenaeus adds this word concerning the attitude of the most faithful:
But already some of the most faithful women, possessed of the fear of God, and not being deceived (whom, nevertheless, he did his best to seduce like the rest by bidding them prophesy), abhorring and execrating him, have withdrawn from such a vile company of revelers. This they have done, as being well aware that the gift of prophecy is not conferred on men by Marcus, the magician, but that only those to whom God sends His grace from above possess the divinely bestowed power of prophesying; and then they speak where and when God pleases, and not when Marcus orders them to do so.Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. V, Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book I, chap. 13, p. 53.
The statements reproduced in this chapter furnish impressive
evidence that the Christian church of the second century was still endowed with
spiritual gifts such as had been bestowed upon the apostles and their converts
in the first century.