Books That Almost Made It
In this picturesque allegory, a shepherd (Jesus) gives strict moral guidance through visions, “mandates,” and “similitudes” to a man named “Hermas.” The former slave-turned-businessman wrote it between 90 and 157 in Rome. It was used as a textbook for new believers and was considered Scripture by Irenaeus (c. 130–c. 200) and Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–c. 215).
The Gift of Repentance
I asked [the shepherd], “Because my sins are abundant, what must I do to live?”
“You shall live,” he said, “if you keep my commandments and walk in them. Whosoever shall hear and keep these commandments shall live before God.”
“I must continue to question,” I said. “Some teachers say that there is no second repentance beyond what was granted when we were blessed in the water of baptism and received remission for our previous sins.”
He replied, “That is so; for he who has received remission for former sins ought never to sin again but live in purity. Since you never cease asking about such things, I will explain more without excusing those who already believe in the Lord.
“Those who believe now, and those who shall believe in the future, need no repentance of sins, since they have remission of their former sin.
“For those who were called before these days the Lord granted repentance. The Lord knows the heart, and knowing all things beforehand, he knows the weakness of man and the wiles of the Devil, who throws mischief at the doors of God’s servants. Because the Lord is merciful, he granted mercy to his creation and offered repentance.
“But after the Lord established this holy gift, and a man be tempted by the Devil, he has but one repentance. It is unprofitable, therefore, for such a man to sin and repent repeatedly, for scarcely shall he live.”
I said, “When I heard this truth, I attained life, for I know that if I do not add again to my sins I shall be saved.”
“You will be saved,” he answered, “and so shall all who accept God’s gift.”
Angel of Righteousness
“Understand,” said he, “that two angels accompany man, one of righteousness and one of wickedness.”
“How then,” said I, “shall I know their working since both angels dwell with me?”
“Listen,” he replied, “and do not wander. The angel of righteousness is delicate, modest, meek, and gentle. When he enters your heart, he speaks to you of purity, reverence, self-control, and virtue. When these things come into your heart and good deeds flow from them, you know that the angel of righteousness is within you.
“Now observe the works of the angel of wickedness: he is ill-tempered, bitter, and foolish, and his evil deeds cast down the servants of God.”
Then I said, “I do not know how to detect him.”
“You wander again,” he replied. “Listen: when ill temper and bitterness come over you, then you know that he is in you. When the lust for renown, feasting on heavy luxuries, a desire of women, covetousness, haughtiness, and similar urges come into your heart, know that the angel of wickedness has slid into you. When you feel this, shake him out and cast him off. His deeds are unprofitable for those who would live to God.
“You now have the workings of both angels to think upon. Believe the angel of righteousness and resist the angel of wickedness. His teaching brings great evil even to small things . . . This commandment opens the ways of faith to grant you to believe with your whole heart in the works of righteousness, and by doing them, live to God.”
By the Editors
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #43 in 1994]
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