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for weekly offerings for the saints, that upon the first day of the week (when they never failed to receive the sacrament) they should every one of them lay by him in store according as God had prospered him. This custom Justin Martyr assures us still continued in his time, for describing the manner of their assemblies on the Lord's-day, he tells us that those who were able and willing contributed what they saw good; and the collection was lodged in the hands of the bishop or president, and by him distributed for the relief of widows and orphans, the sick or indigent, the imprisoned or strangers, or any that were in need.' In the next age they were reduced to monthly offerings, as appears from Tertullian, who gives us this account of them in his time, “ That at their religious assemblies upon a monthly day (or oftener if a man will, and be able) every one according to his ability laid by somewhat for charitable uses. They put it into a kind of poor man's box called arca,that stood in the church. This they did freely, no man being forced or compelled to it.* This was the fruit of primitive devotion.
Now that this account that we have given of the admirable bounty and charity of the ancient Christians is not precarious, and merely what the Christians tell us of themselves, we have the testimony of iwo open enemies of Christianity, Julian and Lucian, both bitter enemies to Christians, and the fiercer, because both, as it is supposed, apostates from them. Their testimony is considerable upon a double account, partly because having lived amongst the Christians they exactly knew their ways and manners; and partly because being enemies to them they would be sure to speak no more in their commendation than what was true. Julian speaking of the Galileans, tells us that by their charity to the poor they begot Tolù tñs åteórntog Jaõua, the greatest admiration of their religion in the minds of men. This as at once it shows his venom and malice according to the humour of the man, so it openly bears witness out of the mouth of an enemy to the most excellent and generous spirit of the Gospel.
"I Cor. xvi. 1, 2. ? Apol. 2. p. 98, 99.,
3 This was the origin of the alms’-box, which was formerly in general use in our churches, though now seldom seen in them.- ED.
* Apol. c. 39, p. 31.
The other testimony is that of Lucian, who, bringing in his philosopher Peregrinus amongst other sects, joining himself to the Christians, tells us what care they took of him, when cast into prison :? after which he tells us of them in general, that “they equally contemn all the advantages of this life, and account them common, foolishly taking up their principles about these things without any accurate search into them; insomuch that if any subtle and crafty fellow, that knows how to improve bis advantage, come amongst them, he grows very rich in a little time, by making a prey of that simple and credulous people.” 3.
There is one circumstance yet behind, concerning the love and charity of those times, very worthy to
Misapog. p. 99. Vide etiam Epist. 49, ad Arsac. p. 203 ; et Fragm. Epist. p. 557.
? De mort. Peregrin, p. 762, 763, tom. ii. 3 Ibid. p. 764.
be taken notice of, and that is the universal extent of it. They did good to all, though more especially to them of the household of faith,' i.e. to Christians. They did not confine their bounty merely within the narrow limits of a party, this or that sect of men; but embraced an object of love and pity wherever they met it. They were kind to all men, yea to their bitterest enemies, and that with a charity as large as the circles of the sun, that visits all parts of the world, and shines as well upon a stinking dunghill, as upon a pleasant garden. It is certainly the strange and supernatural doctrine of our Saviour, 'You have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” This indeed is the proper goodness and excellency of Christianity, as Tertullian observes, it being common to all men to love their friends, but peculiar only to Christians to love their enemies.' And Athenagoras, I remember, principally makes use of this argument to prove the divinity of the Christian religion, and challenges all the great masters of reason and learning amongst the heathens to produce any, either of themselves or their disciples, of so pure and refined a temper, as could instead of hating, love their enemies, bear curses and revilings with an undisturbed mind, and instead of reviling again, to bless and speak well of them, and to pray for them who lay in wait to take away their lives. And yet this did Christians, they embraced their enemies, pardoned and prayed for them ; according to the apostles' rule, when their enemy hungered they fed him, when he thirsted they gave him drink, and would not be overcome of evil, but overcame evil with good. When Nazianzen (then bishop of Constantinople) lay sick, a young man came to his bed's feet, and taking hold of his feet, with tears and great lamentation passionately begged pardon of him for his wickedness. The bishop asking what he meant by it, he was told that this was the person that had been suborned by a wicked party to have murdered him; and now being stricken with the conscience of so great a wickedness, came to bewail his sin. The good man immediately prayed to Christ to forgive him, desiring no other satisfaction from him, than that henceforth he would forsake that heretical party, and sincerely serve God as became a Christian. Thus when Paul the martyr was hastening to his execution, he only begged so much respite, till he might pray (which accordingly he did) not only for the peace and happiness of Christians, but for the conversion of Jews and Samaritans, for the Gentiles that they might be brought out of error and ignorance to the knowledge of God and the true religion. He prayed for the people that attended his execution; nay, (such his vast goodness and charity) for the very judge that condemned him; for the emperors, and the very executioner that stood ready to cut off his head, earnestly begging of God not to lay that great wickedness to their charge. Nay, they did not think it enough not to return evil for evil, or barely to forgive their enemies, unless they did them all the kindness that lay in their power. Polycarp plentifully feasted the very officers, that were sent to apprehend him;' the same which St. Mamas the martyr is also said to have done, treating the soldiers with the best supper be had, when sent by Alexander the cruel president of Cappadocia to seize upon him. And we read of one Pachomius an heathen soldier in the first times of Constantine, that the army being well near starved for want of necessary provisions, and coming to a city that was most inhabited by Christians, they freely and speedily gave them whatever they wanted for the accommodation of the army. Amazed with this strange and unwonted charity, and being told that the people that had done it were Christians whom they generally preyed upon, and whose profession it was to hurt no man, and to do good to every man, he threw away his arms, became an anchoret, and gave up himself to the strictest severities of religion. This also Julian the emperor plainly confesses.' So prevalent is truth as to extort a confession from its most bitter and virulent opposers.
i Gal. vi. 10.
2 Matt. v. 43, 44.
Legat. pro Christian. p. II.
I shall sum up what hath been said upon this argument in that elegant discourse which Lactantius has concerning works of mercy and charity. “Since human nature,” says he, “ is weaker than
I Euseb. de Martyr. Palestin. c. 8, p. 332. ? Euseb. lib. iv. c. 16, p. 130. i Martyr. ejus apud Sur. ad 17 Aug. tom. iv. ex 8. Metraph.
• Metaphrast. in vit. Pachomii, apud Sur. ad diem 14 Mari, tom. iii.