Have You Read the Oldest Christian Sermon Outside of the New Testament? Part 1

I have listened to a lot of sermons in the past 25 years. I have also read many old sermons from the great preachers of the past. I have amassed a huge library of books from great authors, both past and present. Many of these works have impacted my life in big and small ways. But none more than the writings and messages of the early christian church leaders.

In my quest to figure this thing called Christianity out, I have found it helpful to go back and read how the earliest Christ followers understood Christianity. For some reason unknown to me, many of my contemporaries are content to allow the modern preacher and theologian to shape their view of what it means to be a Christian. As if Christianity has not changed in 2000 years. What passed for authentic Christianity in the first and second century is not even close to what we see today in the larger body of Christ. I think that the earliest Christians would probably not even recognize us. Like the telephone game many of us played as children, the farther one gets away from the original, the more likely one is to distort the message. This is why I read the early church fathers, the anti-nicene Fathers in particular.

Today, I have posted 10 chapters from the book of Second Clement. Written sometime in the late first century or early 2nd century, it is the oldest sermon we have, outside of the sermons recorded in the New Testament. It was probably a message delivered in Corinth and meant to be spoken to the congregation. It was either written by Clement himself or simply attributed to him.

As you read it, you will find that it reads just like a letter from the New Testament. Of course, it isn’t scripture, but you will be encouraged to follow Him if you read it. In addition to that, you will see how the earliest Christian leaders understood our faith. Let me know if you recognize today’s church in anything that is written here.

THE SECOND EPISTLE OF CLEMENT

CHAP. I.–WE OUGHT TO THINK HIGHLY OF CHRIST.

BRETHREN, it is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God,–as the Judge of the living and the dead. And it does not become us to think lightly of our salvation; for if we think little of Him, we shall also hope but to obtain little [from Him]. And those of us who hear carelessly of these things, as if they were of small importance, commit sin, not knowing whence we have been called, and by whom, and to what place, and how much Jesus Christ submitted to suffer for our sakes. What return, then, shall we make to Him, or what fruit that shall be worthy of that which tie has given to us? For, indeed, how great are the benefits which we owe to Him! He has graciously given us light; as a Father, He has called us sons; He has saved us when we were ready to perish. What praise, then, shall we give to Him, or what return shall we make for the things which we have received? We were deficient in understanding, worshipping stones and wood, and gold, and silver, and brass, the works of men’s hands; and our whole life was nothing else than death. Involved in blindness, and with such darkness before our eyes, we have received sight, and through His will have laid aside that cloud by which we were enveloped. For He had compassion on us, and mercifully saved us, observing the many errors in which we were entangled, as well as the destruction to which we were exposed, and that we had no hope of salvation except it came to us from Him. For He called us when we were not, and willed that out of nothing we should attain a real existence.

CHAP. II.–THE CHURCH, FORMERLY BARREN, IS NOW FRUITFUL.

“Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not; for she that is desolate hath many more children than she that hath an husband.” In that He said, “Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not,” He referred to us, for our church was barren before that children were given to her. But when He said, “Cry out, thou that travailest not,” He means this, that we should sincerely offer up our prayers to God, and should not, like women m travail, show signs of weakness. And in that He said, “For she that is desolate hath many more children than she that hath an husband,” [He means] that our people seemed to be outcast from God, but now, through believing, have become more numerous than those who are reckoned to possess God. And another Scripture saith, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This means that those who are perishing must be saved. For it is indeed a great and admirable thing to establish not the things which are standing, but those that are falling. Thus also did Christ desire to save the things which were perishing, and has saved many by coming and calling us when hastening to destruction.

CHAP. III.–THE DUTY OF CONFESSING CHRIST.

Since, then, He has displayed so great mercy towards us, and especially in this respect, that we who are living should not offer sacrifices to gods that are dead, or pay them worship, but should attain through Him to the knowledge of the true Father, whereby shall we show that we do indeed know Him, but by not denying Him through whom this knowledge has been attained? For He himself declares, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father.” This, then, is our reward if we shall confess Him by whom we have been saved. But in what way shall we confess Him? By doing what He says, and not transgressing His commandments, and by honouring Him not with our lips only, but with all our heart and all our mind. For He says in Isaiah, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

CHAP. IV.–TRUE CONFESSION OF CHRIST.

Let us, then, not only call Him Lord, for that will not save us. For He saith, “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall be saved, but he that worketh righteousness.” Wherefore, brethren, let us confess Him by our works, by loving one another, by not committing adultery, or speaking evil of one another, or cherishing envy; but by being continent, compassionate, and good. We ought also to sympathize with one another, and not be avaricious. By such works let us confess Him, and not by those that are of an opposite kind. And it is not fitting that we should fear men, but rather God. For this reason, if we should do such [wicked] things, the Lord hath said, “Even though ye were gathered together to me in my very bosom, yet if ye were not to keep my commandments, I would cast you off, and say unto you, Depart from me; I know you not whence ye are, ye workers of iniquity.”

CHAP. V.–THIS WORLD SHOULD BE DESPISED.

Wherefore, brethren, leaving [willingly] our sojourn in this present world, let us do the will of Him that called us, and not fear to depart out of this world. For the Lord saith, “Ye shall be as lambs in the midst of wolves.” And Peter answered and said unto Him, “What, then, if the wolves shall tear in pieces the lambs?” Jesus said unto Peter, “The lambs have no cause after they are dead to fear the wolves; and in like manner, fear not ye them that kill you, and can do nothing more unto you; but fear Him who, after you are dead, has power over both soul and body to cast them into hell-fire.” And consider, brethren, that the sojourning in the flesh in this world is but brief and transient, but the promise of Christ is great and wonderful, even the rest of the kingdom to come, and of life everlasting. By what course of conduct, then, shall we attain these things, but by leading a holy and righteous life, and by deeming these worldly things as not belonging to us, and not fixing our desires upon them? For if we desire to possess them, we fall away from the path of righteousness.

CHAP. VI.–THE PRESENT AND FUTURE WORLDS ARE ENEMIES TO EACH OTHER.

Now the Lord declares, “No servant can serve two masters.” If we desire, then, to serve both God and mammon, it will be unprofitable for us. “For what will it profit if a man gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” This world and the next are two enemies. The one urges to adultery and corruption, avarice and deceit; the other bids farewell to these things. We cannot, therefore, be the friends of both; and it behoves us, by renouncing the one, to make sure of the other. Let us reckon that it is better to hate the things present, since they are trifling, and transient, and corruptible; and to love those [which are to come,] as being good and incorruptible. For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we disobey His commandments. For thus also saith the Scripture in Ezekiel, “If Noah, Job, and Daniel should rise up, they should not deliver their children in captivity.” Now, if men so eminently righteous are not able by their righteousness to deliver their children, how can we hope to enter into the royal residence of God unless we keep our baptism holy and undefiled? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found possessed of works of holiness and righteousness?

CHAP. VII.–WE MUST STRIVE IN ORDER TO BE CROWNED.

Wherefore, then, my brethren, let us struggle with all earnestness, knowing that the contest is [in our case] close at hand, and that many undertake long voyages to strive for a corruptible reward; yet all are not crowned, but those only that have laboured hard and striven gloriously. Let us therefore so strive, that we may all be crowned. Let us run the straight course, even the race that is incorruptible; and let us m great numbers set out for it, and strive that we may be crowned. And should we not all be able to obtain the crown, let us at least come near to it. We must remember that he who strives in the corruptible contest, if he be found acting unfairly, is taken away and scourged, and cast forth from the lists. What then think ye? If one does anything unseemly in the incorruptible contest, what shall he have to bear? For of those who do not preserve the seal [unbroken], [the Scripture] saith, “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be a spectacle to all flesh.”

CHAP. VIII.–THE NECESSITY OF REPENTANCE WHILE WE ARE ON EARTH.

As long, therefore, as we are upon earth, let us practise repentance, for we are as clay in the hand of the artificer. For as the potter, if he make a vessel, and it be distorted or broken in his hands, fashions it over again; but if he have before this cast it into the furnace of fire, can no longer find any help for it: so let us also, while we are in this world, repent with our whole heart of the evil deeds we have done in the flesh, that we may be saved by the Lord, while we have yet an opportunity of repentance. For after we have gone out of the world, no further power of confessing or repenting will there belong to us. Wherefore, brethren, by doing the will of the Father, and keeping the flesh holy, and observing the commandments of the Lord, we shall obtain eternal life. For the Lord saith in the Gospel, “If ye have not kept that which was small, who will commit to you the great? For I say unto you, that he that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much.” This, then, is what He means: “Keep the flesh holy and the seal undefiled, that ye may receive eternal life.”

CHAP. IX.–WE SHALL RE JUDGED IN THE FLESH.

And let no one of you say that this very flesh shall not be judged, nor rise again. Consider ye in what [state] ye were saved, in what ye received sight, if not while ye were in this flesh. We must therefore preserve the flesh as the temple of God. For as ye were called in the flesh, ye shall also come [to be judged] in the flesh. As Christ the Lord who saved us, though He was first a Spirit became flesh, and thus called us, so shall we also receive the reward in this flesh. Let us therefore love one another, that we may all attain to the kingdom of God. While we have an opportunity of being healed, let us yield ourselves to God that healeth us, and give to Him a recompense. Of what sort? Repentance out of a sincere heart; for He knows all things beforehand, and is acquainted with what is in our hearts. Let us therefore give Him praise, not with the mouth only, but also with the heart, that tie may accept us as sons. For the Lord has said, “Those are my brethren who do the will of my Father.”

CHAP. X.–VICE IS TO BE FORSAKEN, AND VIRTUE FOLLOWED.

Wherefore, my brethren, let us do the will of the Father who called us, that we may live; and let us earnestly follow after virtue, but forsake every wicked tendency which would lead us into transgression; and flee from ungodliness, lest evils overtake us. For if we are diligent in doing good, peace will follow us. On this account, such men cannot find it [i.e. peace] as are influenced by human terrors, and prefer rather present enjoyment to the promise which shall afterwards be fulfilled. For they know not what torment present enjoyment recurs, or what felicity is involved in the future promise. And if, indeed, they themselves only aid such things, it would be [the more] tolerable; but now they persist in imbuing innocent souls with their pernicious doctrines, not knowing that they shall receive a double condemnation, both they and those that hear them.

Read Part two of this sermon here.

For more writings of the early church and other topics, try these posts by Not For Itching Ears:

What Did A Church Service Consist of in 150 AD? Take a Look…

Mondays with The Early Church Fathers: Their Criteria for Identifying False Teachers and False Prophets

Monday Mornings with The Early Church Fathers

The Seeker-Sensitive Model: Has the Quest for “Relevance”, Made the Church Irrelevant?

Get This Must Have Book On Early Church History

Monday Mornings with The Early Church Fathers: Their Thoughts on Baptism, Communion and Prayer

A Compelling Argument AGAINST Sola Scriptura? (Scripture Alone) Part 1

Would They Have Killed Jesus if HE Preached the Same Message the Church Preaches Today?

Worship Leader Make Over: So You Want The Congregation to Sing More? Try this…

My Authentic “On The Border” Salsa Recipe (Just like the Restaraunt)

George Barna: The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model: Dumbing Down Disciples

How Contemporary Christian Music and the Seeker-Sensitive Movements Failed a Generation

Why We Don’t Take Offerings

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About Jim

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Posted on February 16, 2012, in Christianity, Early Church History, The Christian Life, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. “It was not written by Clement, and the author is unknown”

    How do you reach this conclusion?

    Like

    • Thanks for the correction. It should have said, it is not

        certian

      who wrote it. I came to this conclusion by reading the background material on it in Michael W. Holmes work “The Apostolic Fathers”

      Like

  2. I haven’t read that work, but I’d love to know what his basis for this is.

    Like

    • I re-read the passage that talks about the authorship of this letter. The manuscripts we have this document in do attribute it to Clement. However there is a lot of discussion about the accuracy of that claim. I guess, we can’t know for certian. Nevertheless, the document is a tremendous gift to us and should be read by for edification.

      Like

      • As far I know the Early Church witness is unanimous that Clement wrote it. I can’t think of any internal evidence that would suggest he did not.

        We unfortunately live in an age when everything is disputed. Unless a good case can be made to justify such suspicions, I wave my hand at them and say “meh…” 😉

        Like

  3. I would suggest an earlier date for the letter as well. I know that William Jurgens places it no later than AD 80.

    It could, in fact, be even earlier:

    * In Chapter 1 Clement talks about the “sudden and repeated calamities” which had befallen the Church in Rome. This could very well be “The year of four emperors” in AD 69.

    * Clement describes the Jerusalem Temple as though there’s still sacrifice taking place (the Temple was destroyed in July AD 70)

    * I seem to recall there also being an issue with the age of the men who carried the letter.

    Either way, I’d put this letter, at the very latest, at the end of the First Century.

    Like

    • I agree with you on the date. It is very early. Scholars just do not agree on the date and give it a range form the late first to the early 2nd century. That is still an extremely narrow window and places it very early in the history of the church.

      Like

    • Oh, that’ll teach me to read blog posts too quickly, skip over the quoted text and jump straight to the comments… it’s 2nd Clement. I saw “Oldest Sermon” and assumed it was 1st Clement. It wasn’t until I sat down with some tea to read Part 2 that I realized my fault. Mea Culpa.

      “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” – James 1:19

      I’d still place the document pretty early though (because of the description of the penitential discipline). Maybe around AD 80…

      Like

  4. Thanks for sharing this…the preaching of grace is timeless… Darrell

    Like

  5. I really wish translators would NOT use the King James version to translate from the original language. King James language was 1600’s, not 80AD.

    Like

  1. Pingback: The Oldest Recorded Christian Sermon « Christianity 201

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