Monday, September 14, 2009

Top 100 Preachers and Sermons: Justin Martyr

imageWhile the first on my list of the Top 100 Christian Preachers & Sermons was anonymous, although the homily is entitled “Second Clement”, the second on my list has a name, but no extant sermons. 

Justin (ca 100-165) was born probably about the beginning of the second century, at Neapolis (the ancient Sychem) in Samaria.  We do not know his lineage, whether Greek or Roman, although he himself claimed that he was Samaritan.  It appears that Justin was financially wealthy because he had the means to study & travel. He was well educated and studied widely in philosophy which he thoroughly enjoyed.

One day he met an old man who introduced him to Christianity.  Justin was converted & found peace of mind in his faith. He later stated, “Straitway a flame was kindled in my soul... I found this philosophy alone (Christian faith) to be safe and profitable."

Justin began to share his faith, but he continued to wear the distinctive cloak of a philosopher. Dargan states that Justin “retaining his philosopher’s cloak, not so much now because it was a badge of distinction, as because it gave him the opportunity to teach, with the authority of culture, the truths of his religion.” (p. 47). 

Justin is the chief representative of the early preachers known as the Apologists.

Dargan divides the earliest preachers into three categories:

  1. Apostolic Fathers (ca. 68-160) These preachers knew, or might have been reasonably been expected to have come in direct contact with one or more of the apostles.  This time period stretches from approx date of the death of the apostles [68 or 100 depending on how you see the death of John] until the middle of the second century, perhaps 160.  This group included Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, and as we have already seen, Clement of Rome.
  2. Apologists-During the period of continued persecution of the church, there arose the need to be able to vigorously and intellectually defend the Gospel and the Church. There were enough times of stability and tolerance, however for Christians to gain the needed education. Examples would be Dionysius, bishop of Corinth; Tertullian; Quadrates of Athens; Melito, bishop of Sardis; Theophilus, the sixth bishop of Antioch and of course Justin Martyr. 
  3. Ante-Nicene Theologians-(ca. 180-300) (for those who are unaware, “ante-“ means “before.” It is not the same as “anti-“ which means “against”.  And Nicene refers to the development of the Nicene creed in 325 A.D at the Council of Nicaea.  Thus those who preached & taught before the Council of Nicaea were “Ante-Nicene preachers and teachers)  It was during this period that the most severe persecutions arose. While there continued to be a need for teaching and preaching that was highly apologetic, some of the great heresies of the church sprung up in this period.  It was necessary for preacher-theologians to arise who could develop the great thoughts of Scripture into a defined system of theology and philosophy.  This period includes Origen as its primary standout. Because its make up was more complex than the times of the Apostolic Fathers or Apologists, I will outline it more when I come to discuss Origen (DEFINITELY one of my 100).

Is is recorded that Justin, while not located in any one specific congregation, travelled and preached to all who would hear him.  And he was popular enough that he awakened the jealousy of a Cynic philosopher named Crescens, who successfully worked to have Justin killed under the leadership of Marcus Aurelius for sedition around 165.  When Justin and six others refused to sacrifice to the emperor as god, the sentence was read: “Those who do not wish to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the emperor will be scourged and beheaded according to the laws.” 

He didn’t, so they did. It was then that he earned the appellation of Justin (the) Martyr.

While we have no specific extant sermons from Justin, we have several writings from him which show his views, his style and his ability.  Most of his teaching/preaching deals with the Old Testament and prophesies that were fulfilled in Christ.  He was fairly loose with scripture and misunderstanding several thing about Judaism, led him to make connections that preachers and scholars today would say are inaccurate. 

His three main extant works are First and Second Apology and the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. 

One of the charges against early Christians was that they were atheists.  Justin’s reply:

And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity" (The First Apology. Chapter VI).

And neither do we honour with many sacrifices and garlands of flowers such deities as men have formed and set in shrines and called gods; since we see that these are soulless and dead, and have not the form of God (for we do not consider that God has such a form as some say that they imitate to His honour), but have the names and forms of those wicked demons which have appeared. For why need we tell you who already know, into what forms the craftsmen, carving and cutting, casting and hammering, fashion the materials? And often out of vessels of dishonour, by merely changing the form, and making an image of the requisite shape, they make what they call a god; which we consider not only senseless, but to be even insulting to God, who, having ineffable glory and form, thus gets His name attached to things that are corruptible, and require constant service (The First Apology. Chapter IX).

What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied (The First Apology. Chapter XIII).

To counter claims that Christians wanted to take over the government, Justin replied:

And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid (The First Apology. Chapter XI).

One of the most famous excerpts is from his First Apology where he describes the early Christian worship services, still very reflective of Acts 2:42:

'On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors [give assistance to] the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.'

I will draw this to a close, but the second in my list of the greatest preachers of all time is Justin Martyr.

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