The Abiding Gift of Prophecy

The Testimony of Irenaeus

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. AGP 185.2

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: AGP 185.3

“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. AGP 186.1

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. AGP 186.2

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.” AGP 186.3

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: AGP 186.4

“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: AGP 187.1

“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.