« AnteriorContinuar »
trines the supremacy, and have busied themselves in laying down the lines by which to enforce human belief,—lines of interpretation, by which to control human opinion, lines of discipline and restraint, by which to bring human minds to uniformity of faith and action; they have formed creeds and catechisms,—they have spread themselves over the whole field of the sacred writings, and scratched up all the surface,—they have gathered all the straws and turned over all the pebbles, and detected the colour and determined the outline of every stone and tree and shrub; they have dwelt with rapture upon all that was beautiful and sublime, but they have trampled over mines of golden wisdom, of surpassing richness and depth, almost without a thought, and almost without an effort to fathom these priceless treasures, much less to take possession of them.
In what part of Christendom is Christian charity occupying that space in the teachings of the schools or churches, or in the works of
the people, which we perceive to be occupied by other things in the two classes above
mentioned? Where are men found as anxiously bent on fulfilling the duties of loving God and loving their neighbour as they are in other things pertaining in their estimation to religion? We hear far more of the sufferings of Christ, of the redemption wrought out for us, of the atonement, of the vicarious sacrifice, of the law fulfilled in our behalf, of his righteousness in which we are exhorted to clothe ourselves, of his blood shed for us in which we are to wash and be clean; of the cross at the foot of which we must lie until we are purified by the sacrifice there accomplished for us, than we do of all the precepts and all the example of Christ. To have faith in Christ implies not only belief in his atonement, in his redemption, in his fulfilment of the law, in the shedding of his blood, in his personal sufferings, but in his ministry, teaching, and example. It is not enough to say, Lord, Lord; we are not his followers
64 THE MESSAGE OF CHRIST AND HIS OFFICES.
unless we walk in his footsteps; we are not his believers if we do not believe what he taught and imitate what he did. He came into this world and assumed our nature, not merely to accomplish his various offices, but to be the bearer of a message the most benign and pure which has ever greeted the ears of man.
Can we claim the benefit of his expiatory sacrifice while we forget his message or treat it with contempt ? Can we be saved by the offices of Christ, if we receive not the instructions of Christ?
We must refrain from entering further into this branch of the subject until we have completed our historical survey. We have noticed the instructions of Christ and his apostles, and also their example: it may be worth while to notice, however slightly, the usages of Christians in the early and middle ages of Christianity under these instructions, before we come to compare them with the practices of the present day.
CHARITY AMONG THE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANS.
A HISTORY of Christian charity in the first ages of Christianity is deserving of volumes : it is possible now merely to sketch a few prominent features. Our Saviour found slavery an established institution in the world. Inconsistent as that relation may appear with his teachings, he utters not one syllable of reproach against it, or against slaveholders as such. He publishes the law of love; he lays down the rule of doing unto others as we would have others do unto us; both which are as binding on the slave as on the master. Upon the operation of these Christian principles he relies for the abolition of slavery. Before the advent of Christianity, no axe had ever been laid at the root of slavery; no philosopher had denounced it, and it does not appear to have been considered by any as an
evil to be repressed. Nor did the apostles teach differently, but distinctly laid down rules for the conduct of master and slave; thereby clearly recognising the relation, without denouncing it as in itself sinful. Their Master's instructions were intended to make men what they should be, and then every institution, every law, and every practice inconsistent with that state, would fall before it. If a community of slaveholders, under Christian instruction, were gradually tending to the point of general emancipation, both masters and slaves would gradually be fitting for so great a change in their relative condition. It would be a subject of great interest to trace, in the early ages of Christianity, its influences upon the institution of slavery, so much in contrast with the movements or influences of paganism. During the first four or five centuries of the Christian era, emancipation of slaves by converts to Christianity took place upon a large and progressively increasing scale, and continued until the