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than men, if an obedience opposed to God's law and ordinances were required of them, if their freedom of faith and conscience were about to be fettered. Then they joyfully sacrificed blood and property for the Lord's sake, and steadfastly endured every disgrace, every persecution, every torture, for they remembered the solemn declaration of Jesus Christ, “ Whosover shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my
Father which is in heaven.” And this course must be always that pursued by Christians, my brethren. To the worldly power his rights,—to the Lord what is His-must always be the watchword of Christians. How completely this was the case in the earliest times of the Christian church, we shall to-day recall to your memories. But first let us pray to God for his blessing.
Text. Render therefore unto Cæsar, the things which are Cæsar's; and unto God, the things which are God's.-St Matthew, xxii. 21.
This declaration of our Lord, my brethren, was the standard of the Christians of early times in all their deportment. With reference to this declaration, Justin Martyr thus addresses the heathen: “ We strive more than others to pay to those who are ordained to that purpose by you our imposts and taxes, as we have been taught of the Lord, who has commanded us to render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's; and unto God, the things which are God's.' We therefore adore God alone, but we serve you cheerfully in all things else, while we recognize you as rulers of men.” And Tertullian declares, that what the state lost by the extension of Christianity in temple revenues, would be soon counterbalanced by its gain in imposts and taxes, when they compared the conscientiousness and honesty of Christians with the usual subterfuges and deceits of the heathens. But to the words of our text, which the Christians used to have always in their mouths as their rule of daily life, he gave the following explanation: “The image of the emperor upon the coin must be given to the emperor, but the image of God in man, must be given to God; wherefore thou must give thy money and goods, indeed, to the emperor, but thyself to God; for if all were Cæsar's, what would be left for God ? Let us now investigate more nearly the public and civil life of the early Christians, and consider,
1. The different judgments which they formed on this head; and,
2. Some examples of their manner of applying their principles.
Holy Father, sanctify us with thy truth; thy word is truth. Amen.
I. All Christians, my brethren, agreed in the principle expressed by our Lord in the text, but in the application of it to individual cases many difficulties arose, and these gave occasion to different views, as is the case, in fact, among us at this present time. The question was and is, how to be able to draw the boundary line between that which belongs to Cæsar, and that which is God's; between that which appertains only to outward things, and that which is incontestably a part of religion; and what things may be considered as indifferent in a Christian life, and what things not.
When Christianity entered into the heathen world, it met with many regulations, manners, and customs, which were so interwoven with the pagan religion, that they could scarcely be separated from each other. Were Christians, then, to regard such like usages, as belonging only to social and civil life, and take part in them without any scruples of conscience; or were they at once to renounce them on account of their connection with paganism? Such questions were not always easy to decide.
Besides this, it was the intention of Christianity to remove from humanity every thing that was sinful and ungodly; and, on the other hand, to penetrate, to form and sanctify, all the pure relations and directions of the human heart with its hallowing spirit. “The kingdom of heaven,” the Lord himself has taught us, “ is like a lump of leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until the whole was leavened.” But now the question arose, what is naturally ungodly, and what are those things which must be thoroughly driven out and extirpated by the new and living spirit of the gospel, as arising out of the corruption of our human nature; and what, on the other hand, is pure in man, and is fit to be taken up by Christianity, and to be glorified by its hallowing spirit? This is certainly a a question hard to be decided, and in answering which a great variety of views must arise.
There must, certainly, have been many ordinances and customs which could not, without being completely changed, come under the influence of the gospel, being incapable of union with its pure spirit in the form in which they existed, but which, by degrees, were so moulded by the divine power of the gospel, that all repugnance between them must have disappeared, and they must have ceased to be opposed to the nature of Christianity. Were, then, these ancient habits to be forcibly disturbed; or, for the time, to be tolerated, until they were remoulded by the Christian spirit? The form does not produce the spirit, but the spirit produces the form, and does not begin to create a new state of things by means of violent external revolutions, but rather seeks to renew and modify old things, beginning at their very foundations. Christianity is a power before which all things must fall of themselves, whose forms are incompatible with its essence.
But those things which are not in direct opposition to its spirit, but which are capable of being ennobled, are gradually purified and remoulded by its divine power until they are in unison with the essence of Christianity. And thus it was possible that many regulations, and many habits and customs of civil life, might, by degrees, take such a shape under the influence of the gospel, as to be no longer opposed to it.
On all these points the Christians of the first centuries entertained many different views. The one party
took up a severe system, by which they rejected every thing which bore the remotest relation to heathen superstition, or which seemed in any way to be a hinderance to the high earnestness of a life dedicated to God; they would rather, in this matter, go too far, than not far enough. The other party, on the contrary, attempted, wherever it was possible, to conform to the reigning habits and customs, without finding any thing sinful in them; and here it must have been very difficult to hit the right mean, and to err neither by too great laxity and remissness, nor by excessive severity and harshness. But, if we except those, who, like the apostle Paul, had comprehended the nature of true Christian liberty,—with this exception, the best Christians held to the stricter party. They would not give up the least portion of Christianity; it was their greatest treasure ; it was to them the pearl of great price, and for which they were prepared to sacrifice all other things. The least approach to the manners and customs existing among the heathens appeared to them a denial of their faith. When, therefore, the other party appealed to the precept, that “ they must give to Cæsar the things that were Cæsar's;" that they must be subject to the existing ordinances and laws in all things relating to social or civil life, because that, by too great strictness, they would only unnecessarily throw a stumbling-block in the
way of the heathen, and give them an opportunity of reviling religion; that, lastly, it was their duty “ to become all things to all men, if by any means they might save some," the stricter Christians answered,
even if we regard every thing external and earthly as belonging to the emperor, yet must our whole heart and life belong to God. That which is Cæsar's must not come into opposition with that which is God's. If it be a matter of such pressing necessity, that we give the heathen no opportunity to revile the name of Christian, we must completely give up our faith. They may continue to revile us, if we only give them no cause to do so by our unchristian acts, if they only revile what is Christian in us. We are bound, indeed, if rightly understood, to become all things to all men, but not so as to become ourselves worldly through love to the worldly-minded, for the apostle Paul says also, “ If I yet please men, I am not the servant of Christ.”.
If we are now to declare our judgment on the conduct of these Christians, we should not hesitate to pronounce, that both parties were right in the principles which they professed The difficulty only consisted in deciding how these principles were rightly to be applied to individual cases. But, on this point, these Christians only agreed in a few instances; in others, on the contrary, they differed widely from each other. Let us point this out in relation to their public duties as citizens, and their public life as members of society.
II. In accordance with the rule given by the apostle, “ Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called," it was unconditionally allowed to Christians to remain in their situation, to keep to their previous calling, and continue their previous trade, so long as this was not in itself immoral, or opposed to the generally acknowledged principles of Christianity. The Christian religion wished only to impart fresh honesty to them in their calling, their duty then became to act in it with a new feeling, as though it had been entrusted to them by God, and to employ themselves actively with an habitual regard to Him. On the other hand, whosoever, before his conversion to Christianity, had practised any trade either serving sin, or founded upon deceit, or in any way connected with heathen superstitions, was obliged to renounce it before baptism. He was then obliged to choose a new calling, and was aided for that purpose with especial kindness. According to this rule, no Christian could be employed in the manufacture of idols, in astrology, in pretended acts of magic, or stage-playing; and if any that had been baptized returned to such occupations, they were forthwith excluded from church communion. If they pretended that they could not gain a living by other means, they received the necessary support from the community.