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JUSTIN MARTYR, THE FATHER OF CHRISTIAN
APOLOGISTS. The first notable ecclesiastical name, after the apostolical Fathers, is that of Justin, philosopher and martyr. For all our knowledge of his personal history we are indebted to the autobiography wbich is interwoven with his apologetic writings, ---confirmed in all respects, and in some supplemented, by notices scattered in the historical works of the next century. A few sentences will give the sum of that knowledge.
He was a Samaritan by birth, but of Greek extraction, and educated in Heathenism. The first fifteen years of his mature life were spent in the study of Grecian philosophy, which excited only to baffle bis inquiries after God and truth. Providence, under the guise of accident, then sent him a teacher, who weaned him from Plato, and directed his mind to the sublime revelations of the Hebrew Prophets : these pointed him onward to Christ and the New Testament. Converted and baptized, he travelled up and down the Roman empire, in the garb of a philosopher, but with the spirit of an evangelist, preaching and teaching the Lord Jesus. During this period he was the fearless apologist of Christianity, defending the truth, both by public discussions and writings, against its three leading enemies in that age-political Heathenism, Judaism, and the Gnostic heresies. At the verge of old age, after about thirty years spent in unwearied labours, he publicly confessed his Master before a Roman tribunal, and suffered martyrdom.
But in all these notices we discern the elements of a representative character :-viewed in that light, each will bear profitable expansion, and the whole will give the reader the materials of an important chapter in the history of the church. 1. His conversion represents a large class of the early triumphs of Christianity; those, namely, which it won from the expiring philosophy of the ancient world. 2. His itinerant labours point us to a very significant and interesting development of the activity of the church in the second century. 3. His writings in defence of the faith place him at the head of Christian apologists. 4. His writings generally, and as a whole, have a pre-eminent representative character, as among the earliest testimonies to Christian doctrines and usages after the apostolical age. And, 5. His martyrdom gives him, as his name in the church's annals might indicate, a final representative distinction.
Flavins Justinus was born about the commencement of the second VOL. V.-FIFTII SERIES.
century, very likely in the year when the last of the Apostles died. He sprang from one of those Greek families which Vespasian sent to repair the ravages of the Jewish war, and which gave to the ancient Sichem the name of Flavia Neapolis. His father Priscus seems to have been a man of opulence; he gave his son the advantage of a liberal education, and left him the means of pursuing his studies under the best teachers the country afforded.
Justin's natural temperament was that of the Greek, inquisitive, enthusiastic, and vehement; but to this was superadded, what was rarely found among the Greeks of that age, a fearless and honest love of the truth for its own sake. No sincere and practical seeker of truth could at that time, and in that country, be long un visited by the Spirit of truth. Doubtless, this Greek Samaritan was, long before he knew it, under the influence of One who had a hundred years before visited that benighted region in search of spiritual worshippers. But he was to seek the Teacher whom he needed in many schools, and many times turn away in bitter disappointment, before the voice reached his ears—I THAT SPEAK UNTO THEE AM HE.
The popular Paganism was to him, and to all like him, an exploded vanity. The only refuge was the esoteric teaching of the schools of philosophy; and these were adequately represented in the Greek colony of Samaria. Antoninus Pius was then Emperor, and under his patronage these schools were very pompous in their pretensions. Like his predecessor Hadrian, and his successor Aurelius, he did all in his power to revive the influence of the ancient philosophers. In every part of the empire were to be found men who, while they taught under various disguises the same principles of Scepticism, (the final form which Greek philosophy assumed before its Alexandrian alliance with religion,) dignified their lecturing-rooms with the names of all the ancient systems. Justin, in his search for truth, tested all their pretensions. The Stoics were foremost in their claims: the teachers of that sect were, perhaps, the most faithful to their ancient traditions, and, moreover, were strong in imperial sanction. But yet the philosophy of Zeno had no sympathy with Justin's deepest anxiety. He longed for the knowledge of God; the Stoic talked of reason, intellect, and the dignity of human nature. He turned to the Peripatetics ; but, after a few days' trifling with the principles of virtue, his new guide disgusted him by demanding his salary. He then sought a celebrated Pythagorean; but this representative of the ancient mathematical philosophy repelled him at once by detecting his deficiency in music, geometry, and astronomy,--studies without which the mind's eye could not be purged for the vision of eternal truth. There lived in his native town an eminent expounder of Platonism, and his instruction gave Justin the first foretaste of satisfaction. The doctrine of Ideas “lent his spirit wings” to leave the world of corporeal existences, and he thought day by day that he was rapidly advancing toward the vision of God. Thus he lived for some time in a world of fantasy ; reading, and imagining that he understood, the writings of Plato.
But the turning point of his life had now come. One day, as he was musing in solitude by the sea-shore,-probably the Christian waters of Galilee,- he was accosted by a man of veteran religious aspect. Their conversation was brief, but it left in Justin's soul the germs of eternal truth. The stranger showed him the fatal flaw in the spirit and tendency of all his inquiries; pointed out the utter impossibility that Pythagoras, or Plato, or any of the philosophers, sbould impart that which must come, if it come at all, from a direct revelation of God Himself; told him that inspired Prophets had been sent to announce the coming of the Son of God, and that the eternal Word had Himself been in the world; and, finally, that according to His testimony humble prayer would open the eyes of the understanding, and bring to man light from above. The old man then departed, and Justin saw him no more. But his words wrought an entire revolution in the young philosopher's mind. The lesson he had learned was this, that God, to be known, must reveal Himself. He lost no time in seeking the writings wbich contained the external revelation ; and, that being accepted, earnest prayer soon made it an inward revelation to his rnind and heart.
Justin called to mind the rumours which he had heard of Jesus, and of His persecuted people. Nowhere in all the world was the Christian cause more unworthily represented at this time than in Christ's own country : the spirit of strife, insurrection, and lawlessness, which raged among the Jews, could not but reflect discredit upon the Christian population. But some sincere disciples were found, who confirmed his faith, and received him by baptism into the church. He found that all things were true which the mysterious stranger-whether man or angel, he knew not—had told him concerning the Divine philosophy. In Jesus he found rest, and the remainder of bis life was dedicated to the defence and diffusion of the truth which had made him free. The date of his baptism is uncertain ; but the year usually assigned, a.d. 133, is, doubtless, near the mark. Supposing him to have been born at the commencement of the second century, we gather that he became a Christian when he was about thirty years of age.
Justin's conversion may be taken as the type of the conversion of many in the first generations of the church's history.
He was a convert from without; not one of the children of the church herself. He was won from Heathenism, but not by the public preaching of the Gospel ; not drawn from the outer congregation into the fold within ; not the fruit of Missionary organization ; and not the seal of any individual's private ministry and effort. He was a philosopher who had for years sincerely longed for some empirical or dialectical method of attaining to the knowledge of God. Tbis was his specific preparation for the Gospel, as it was that of great numbers in these first transitional centuries. So was it with Tatian, Irenæus, Dionysius, Theophilus of Antioch, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Hilary, and many more whose names are not known, or whose conversion is unrecorded. These all came to Christ, not as the suddenly revealed