« FöregåendeFortsätt »
or distortion of the plain meaning of words, commentators at different times have actually had recourse to, for the purpose of such a reconciliation. The cause of all this difficulty has been, the want of attention to this material distinction; that what our Saviour himself delivered of the rule of duty was primarily designed for Hebrew Christians, and might be restricted in its obligation, and temporary in its observance; but what the apostles delivered of the same, was intended for the direction of Gentile converts, and must be as universal in its application as perpetual in its duration. Nor is it any objection that some perhaps of the arguments, which are found to be employed to enforce the conviction of a truth especially designed for Hebrew Christians, may seem to prove it of Christians or believers in general. Without the assurance of Christ, who so uses them, they would not prove it even of the former; much less without his authority, ought they to be borrowed and transferred, as capable of proving it, or as meant to prove it, of the lattery.
y If the account which has thus been given of the state of things in the original or mother church of Jerusalem, for the interval between the ascension and the Jewish war, is correct; it is evident that the language of the Lord's Prayer, which he himself taught his disciples, and which no doubt formed a constant part of their daily devotions, would be strictly applicable to it; more particularly in the petition, Give us this day our daily bread; explained as I endeavoured to shew it ought to be, in my former work: see the note to Diss. viii. part 3. vol. ii. p. 283.
It appears to me, too, that the sacrifice of temporal possessions, as a preliminary step to becoming members of the first Christian society, was most probably the thing which our Saviour intended, when he pronounced it to be more difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, (which surely
must mean to become a convert to Christianity,) than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. See Matt. xix. 23-26: Mark x. 23-27: Luke xviii. 24-27. Harm. P. iv. 53. The context of the discourse in reference to that subject, both before and after, both in what had previously passed between our Saviour and the rich young ruler, and what subsequently passed between him and Peter, in the name of the rest of the apostles; sufficiently proves that the foundation of this particular difficulty with respect to the rich, was the reluctance which they would feel to make the sacrifice of their wealth, when that sacrifice should be necessary in order to become Christians. But it would not be easy to shew that any such sacrifice was actually required of the rich, in order to their becoming members of the church, unless it was to their becoming members of the first or the Hebrew church.
St. Paul, 1 Cor. xiii. 3, specifies the giving of all his goods or possessions to feed the poor, (such being the meaning of the word
opioa, which properly denotes to feed with sops,) as the highest instance of self-denial which a Christian could exhibit; to be paralleled only by an act of equal self-devotion, the giving of his body to be burned. If so, the one of these must be considered as extraordinary an effort of religious duty as the other: and unless it should be maintained that to give their bodies to be burned was a part of the ordinary duty of Christians, neither can it be contended that to devote their possessions exclusively to charity was so.
The history of the Gentile philosophers supplied examples of persons who had manifested a noble contempt of wealth, and by one act of self-denial had rid themselves for ever of its fetters: such as Democritus, Diogenes, Crates, &c. See Origen. iii. 672. C. D. Comm. in Matt. tom. xv. 15. Cf. Apuleius, De Magia Oratio, p. 26, and Florida, p. 127, 128. Eusebius allows the truth of these facts. But while he contends that such instances were rare among the Gentiles, the Gospel he says, could boast of abundance of examples to the same effect: Dem. Evang. iii. 6. 129. B. D. Admitting the truth of this statement also, still we may contend that such cases of the resignation of temporal possessions, from whatever motive and for whatever purpose, were just as extraordinary instances of self-denial among Christians, as the former, among the Gentiles. The only
difference between them was, that the one were comparatively much more numerous than the other. It is probable that Eusebius means persons who voluntarily embraced the monastic or ascetic life, among Christians; in order to which, the first thing they did was to part with their worldly possessions—and to retire afterwards into cloisters or hermitages. No doubt multitudes had embraced this life before the time of Eusebius, and therefore had made the sacrifice in question—as multitudes continued to embrace it, and to make similar sacrifices, after his time also. But as every Christian did not think it his duty to bid adieu to the world by becoming a monk, so neither did he, to part with his temporal possessions.
Julian, among his other charges against the Galilæans, that is, the Christians, reproaches such as he calls aroтaкTIOтaì (that is, oiries ameráğavro, had renounced, bade adieu to, or parted with their temporal possessions, to embrace a voluntary poverty) with doing even this from interested motives, and in the hope of gaining, in divers ways, from the admiration and generosity of the rest of the Christians, more than an equivalent for what they had lost, or seemed to have lost: Oratio vii. 224. A. B.
Lucian, in like manner, iii. 336, sqq. De Morte Peregrini, cap. 13, tells us, that among the other tricks of this juggler and impostor, one was to impose on the charity and liberality of the Christians, whose sect he had pretended to join, by an affectation of poverty and self-denial. By this means he reaped an abundant harvest from the simplicity of the Christians of Asia and of Palestine.
The same passage of Lucian bears ample testimony to the readiness of the Christians to communicate to one another the benefit of each other's means; to their having been taught by their founder to consider each other as brethren, and to treat one another accordingly; to their sparing neither personal pains, nor private expense, to help and relieve fellow-Christians in distress, without reference to place or country: but it says not a word of their having all things common; nothing that each member of the church could call his own; or of any one's being expected in his time, to give up his personal property to be admitted into the society of the Christians: not even in Palestine itself.
Where Justin Martyr is speaking of the ceremonies of Christian worship in his time, (which was the first half of the second
century,) more particularly those of the celebration of the Eucharist; he particularly mentions, as the concluding part of the solemnity, the contributions of the richer and more independent members, for the relief of the necessities of the poorer and more needy. But he plainly describes this as a voluntary thing; though a very stated and regular part of the ceremony. See Apolog. i. 97. 15.
Lactantius also (A. D. 303.) when exhorting the rich to the duty of charity, observes, Neque nunc suaderi tibi putes, ut rem familiarem tuam minuas vel exhaurias; sed quæ in supervacua fueras impensurus, ad meliora convertas: Div. Institt. vi. 12. p. 547.
It seems to me that the promise of an extraordinary support, and the consequent requisition to part with their own possessions for eleemosynary purposes, were always understood to be so exclusively confined to the Hebrew Christians as such; that the latter was not considered binding even on the Jews of the dispersion, who might have become members of the church of Jerusalem; as no doubt multitudes of them did, while the limits of the church were still confined to the precincts of that city. This is the reason of that particular commendation implicitly pronounced on the conduct of Barnabas: who though a Jew of the dispersion, and a native of Cyprus, yet sold his possessions there, and laid the money at the apostles' feet. His disinterestedness and zeal in the cause of the religion he had embraced, and his desire to comply with its practical duties, led him to do more than in strictness he was required to do; and than other Jews, belonging like him to the same dispersion, thought it their duty to do. It is the reason also, as I apprehend, of that murmuring on the part of the Hellenists (which means Jews of the dispersion) against the Hebrews, (that is, the Jews of the mother country; both, of course, at the time equally Christians, and equally members of the church of Jerusalem,) which gave occasion to the ordination of deacons : Acts vi. 1. The ground of this complaint was not that they themselves were neglected (or rather, were beginning to be neglected) in the daily ministration; but their widows-(ai Xnpa avrov)-widows, like themselves, of the same dispersion, though members also of the church. The practice of providing for that description of helpless or destitute persons,
called widows, (that is, poor women, whose husbands were dead, and who had either no children, or none who were capable of maintaining them,) is noticed here as a practice already in existence, for the first time: but in my opinion, is as old as the formation of the first Christian society itself. Now this practice, which had its origin in the very genius of the Christian religion, was not confined to the first Christian society, nor to any single one; but was introduced wherever the church was established, and among the Gentiles as well as the Jews. There needs no proof of this assertion; the truth of which must be familiar to every one who has read the Acts, or the Epistles, with any the least attention. And ecclesiastical history bears ample testimony to the continuance of this kind of provision for the poor, once begun, down to the remotest times. I apprehend then that the maintenance of poor Hellenistic widows, even in the church of Jerusalem, out of the common funds of the church, would be matter of course; if any such belonged to the society of Christians there. The mode of their maintenance too would be like that of the support of any others; viz. the ministration daily made to all; the distribution which took place every day, out of the common property for the supply of the wants of all. Whether any Hellenist members of the church besides their poor widows, partook of this daily ministration also, is another question; which I do not think we possess the means of deciding in the affirmative. Certain only it is, that at the time when deacons first came to be appointed, (seven years or nearly, from the first day of Pentecost, when we may presume the members of the church in Jerusalem had been greatly multiplied, and the task of furnishing the daily supply to the wants of all had been increased in proportion,) we do not find the Hellenists complaining that they themselves, but only that their widows, began to be neglected.
It must have occurred to those who have studied the language of the Epistles with attention, that the phrase of Twуoì is used there in a peculiar manner, for a single class of the poor; viz. the members of the church of Judæa. See Gal. ii. 10: Rom. xv. 26, &c. Why should these in particular be called the poor; when the poor, no doubt, were to be met with every where? I can imagine no reason for this denomination of them more especially, so probable, as that the members of that church in