Page images

in rest and peace : we are not attacked and fought against for the gospel's sake; alas, this quiet and undisturbed possession of the holiest things makes us too often indifferent to them, and we forget (alas ! how easily) the reality and importance of our calling. But those first Christians were hated and persecuted by Jews and heathens, and could not profess their faith without the greatest dangers. It was therefore natural for them to consider themselves as soldiers of Christ, against the hostile powers which threatened the destruction of the youthful church, and it was scarcely possibly for them ever to lose sight of their call to spiritual knighthood. They therefore called their baptismal vow their oath, as Christian soldiers ; for they pledged themselves by it solemnly, to renounce the devil and all his works, and to lead a life dedicated to God, following the steps of Jesus Christ. Their profession of faith, which they made at baptism, was therefore called their Christian watchword (symbolum); the sign of the cross with which they commenced every thing of importance, appeared to them as the picture of their heavenly guide, as soldiers were wont to bear the picture of their emperor on their brows; and when they were assembled to prayer, and wished to lift up their hearts to the Lord, they looked upon this as if they stood at their post before God, and kept watch in his presence. And lastly, they expected, when they parted from the battle field, to receive from the hands of their captain, even Christ, the crown of victory, as his graci ous reward for the fidelity they had exhihited. Conformably to these views of the Christian calling, Tertullian writes, in order to exhort the Christians to firmness under hard persecutions : “ We were called to be the soldiers of the living God, then, when we answered

yea' to the questions proposed to us, as our military oath. No warrior goes out of his chamber with his comforts, but out of the camp where men are hardened and inured to every difficulty. Even in peace soldiers are taught by labour and toils to endure war, by being constantly under arms, and exercising themselves. Wherefore, ye blessed ones, look on all things that press hard upon you as exercise of your powers.

You are fighting a good fight, where God arrays the battle, where the holy Spirit conducts the exercises for the battle, and the reward of victory is a life like that of angels, everlasting glory in heaven.”

And truly, my brethren, did those Christians prove themselves good soldiers of Jesus Christ! They resisted, even to blood, for their faith's sake, they quailed not at dangers and persecutions, they remained steadfast even unto death, and willingly sacrificed all things, even life itself, for the service of him who had purchased them for himself. Let us learn from them to run with patience the race that is set before us!” Have we not sworn to follow the banner of our Lord, when we were given over to him in holy baptism ? Have we not vowed fidelity to him even unto death ? Are we not called to be spiritual soldiers ? Let us then remember this holy calling, and fight boldly the Lord's battles, and steadfastly strive against the world, and sin, and the devil, looking up to “ the author and finisher of our faith.” Free thyself from every thing which may im pede thee in the fight : “ Crucify thy flesh with its affections and lusts; fight not as one that beateth the air," but with knightly zeal; put on the spiritual arms, which the apostle recommends to thee, and lay them not down before thy captain call thee from the battle field, to crown thee, out of his infinite mercy, with the crown of victory! Oh how entirely do many Christians forget their heavenly vocation to be soldiers of Christ, and give themselves up carelessly to rest, whilst they should watch and pray, and strive without ceasing. How many do nothing but beat the air, allow themselves to be frightened by every hindrance, become cowards, and faint at every danger, and shew none of the earnestness which is needful to win the crown of life? Be not thou like them! Look to thy Saviour, who calls thee to the conflict, follow after him with boldness, and sing joyously thy song of faith :

66 The treasure is before me placed
If I but bravely fight;
Therefore mine arm is ever braced,
And God supplies me might.

On! bravely on!

The fight is won,
I see the crown He on my brows will place,
And I will worst the foe, if He but give His grace."

II. Not less profitable in its effects on their lives was another view, according to which the early Christians gladly considered themselves priests of God, and in this also the earnestness of their feelings was exhibited beyond the possibility of mistake. Christianity knows nothing of a visible, separate, and peculiar priesthood, such as existed under the old covenant, where the priests ordained of God had especially to care for the satisfying of the religious wants of all the rest, and likewise first to mediate their communion with God; for Christ, the sole and eternal high-priest, has opened to all believers an access to God and to heaven, He has cleared away every thing which separated men from God, so that all who belong to him, have to regard themselves as a consecrated spiritual people, in which every individual appears as a priest of the most High. Under this aspect, then, the call of the Christian can be none other than this, to dedicate his whole life to God, as a thankoffering for the grace of redemption. This life must be a continual priesthood, a spiritual worship of God, proceeding from the feeling of a faith working by love, a constant acknowledgment of Christ, and a witness to his power and mercy. Thus, then, has Christianity removed every distinction which existed of yore among men in relation to these higher matters. They all form a priestly and a spiritual people. It seems scarcely to need any proof that this view is drawn from holy writ, and deeply grounded in the very essence of Christianity.

6 Ye are a chosen generation," writes the apostle Peter to the Christians, royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light.”



46 All many

On this account, such modes of viewing the Christian vocation were very frequent among the fathers of the church, and Christians of the first centuries. just men have the rank of priests,” says Irenæus; and the same father writes : “ The Jews consecrated their tenths to God; but Christians, who have attained to liberty, dedicated their all joyfully and freely to the service of God.” And Tertullian expresses himself with especial vehemence concerning this common priesthood of all Christians. He says, “ We are priests as called thereunto of God. The most High-priest, Christ, whilst he clothed us with that which is his,—for as many of us as are baptised have put on Christ,'—made us kings and priests before God and his Father.” He therefore demands of all Christians the same striving after purity of thought and life. “ We are mad,” he writes, “ if we believe that laymen are allowed that which priests are forbidden. Are we laymen not priests also ? Each man lives by his own faith, and there is no respect of persons with God, since not those who hear the law are justified before God, but those who do it. There is one God, one faith, one law of life for all.” To this also belongs what Origen writes against Celsus, to defend the Christians from the reproach of having no pictures, altars, or temples : “ Among us,” says he, “ the souls of the just are the temples from which ascend those offerings spiritual and well pleasing unto God, prayers out of a clear conscience. The statues, the offerings worthy of God, not made by men's hands, but formed by the word of God, are the virtues by which we form ourselves according to the first-born of every creature,' in whom is the prototype of all righteousness and wisdom. The most noble picture, far exalted above all creation, is in our Saviour, who was able to say of himself, the Father is in me ;' but also in each of those who imitate Him to the best of their power, is the picture of Him who hath created him, as it proceeds from looking to God with a pure heart. And, above all, Christians strive to raise in their hearts such altars and statues as should receive into them.

selves the Spirit of God, who unites himself with those that are akin to him, in contradistinction to those lifeless and soulless ones into which idols are banished. This the Holy Scriptures shew us, when God promises to the just, ' I will walk among you, and I will be your God, and


shall be my people ;' and our Saviour shews it also, when he says, 'He that loveth me will keep my commandments, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him.'

When men began, at the end of the second century, to swerve from this view, and falsely to introduce a Jewish priesthood into the Christian church, as if in it also there ought to be the same visible and external priesthood, and a priestly race peculiarly dedicated to God, the original spirit of Christianity that still remained opposed this unevangelical pretension, and the laity claimed

that they too, as Christians, were a priestly people. Equally clearly and impressively did the teachers of the church declare against the pride of those who sought to make a distinction between a higher, esoteric, priestly doctrine and a popular religion, who prided themselves on a higher knowledge, and who were wont to call themselves

spiritually minded, in contradistinction to the multitude of those who, as they thought, had too carnal views of Christianity. In opposition to these, the principle was firmly maintained, that all Christians have a part in the same simple faith, and, through this faith, in a higher life; that all that truly acknowledge Jesus Christ, are men necessarily enlightened by the Spirit of God, and of truly spiritual minds. And when

indolent Christians made use of that false distinction to escape from exhortations to greater earnestness of life, and to excuse themselves by saying, that “ they were no philosophers, they had not learned to read, and consequently could not read the Bible," Clement of Alexandria, among others, repelled such a pretext, by saying, “ Even if they cannot read, they have no excuse, because they can hear the word of God; faith is not the property of the worldly wise, but of the wise in God.”

« PreviousContinue »