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LECTURE XXI.

PAUL IN CORINTH.

Chap. xviii. 1-17.

THE commission of Jesus Christ to his Apostles, authorised them to preach the gospel, and to form Churches, in every region of the earth. As it was impossible for them literally to execute this commission, we must conceive it to have been delivered to them as the first in a long succession of preachers, whose progressive labours should ultimately diffuse the light of truth throughout the habitable world. Yet, no exertion was wanting on their part, to disseminate, as extensively as possible, the religion of their Master. With more enlightened views, and purer motives than the Pharisees, they compassed sea and land, to make proselytes to Christianity. The notion that some of the Apostles were bishops of particular cities, is inconsistent with the nature of their office. They were not sent to preside over the Church of Jerusalem, of Antioch, or of Rome. The whole world was their diocese, and the catholic society of believers was their flock. In general, they did not stay long in a place; but having sown the seeds of truth in one city, or country, they made haste to perform the same salutary work, in another. We have seen Paul preaching in several provinces of Asia, then passing over to Macedonia, and afterwards making Greece the scene of his labours. We have seen him in Athens, disputing with the philosophers; and we are now to see him in Corinth, conflicting with the obstinacy and furious zeal of the Jews.

Corinth was a city of Greece, which enjoyed, from its situation, uncommon advantages for commerce, being built upon a neck of land, which was washed on both sides by the sea. It was taken and destroyed by the Romans; but it soon rose from its ashes, and, at the time when Paul visited it, was in a very flourishing state. 277Wealth was accompanied with luxury, its usual attendant, insomuch, that the Corinthians were infamous among the heathens for their profligate manners; and to live after the manner of the Corinthians, was a proverbial expression for leading a dissipated life. Venus, the goddess of licentiousness, was publicly worshipped in the city, and a thousand prostitutes were consecrated to her service. In a scene of so much depravity, the gospel was as unlikely to succeed, as in the refined city of Athens. If philosophy fosters that pride of understanding, which revolts at the humiliating lessons of faith, sensuality indisposes the heart for submitting to the holy discipline, which religion enjoins. Yet, in Corinth the gospel proved mighty “to cast down the strongholds of iniquity, and to bring the thoughts of men into captivity to Christ.”

When Paul came to Corinth, “he found a certain Jew, named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately from Italy, with his wife Priscilla, (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome,) and he came unto them.” When the emperor Claudius ascended the throne, he made laws in favour of the Jews, who had been grievously harassed by his predecessor Caligula; but about the eighth or ninth year of his reign, he withdrew his protection from them, and published an edict banishing them from Italy. The historian Suetonius is supposed to refer to the event, which is here related by Luke, when he says in his life of Claudius, that “he expelled from Rome the Jews, who were constantly exciting tumults, at the instigation of Christ.”3434Suet. Claud. cap. 25. It is not easy to determine what he intended by this accusation of our Saviour. The most probable account of it is, that having no knowledge of him but from the calumnious reports of the Jews, he concluded, that he was the ringleader of one of their sects; and was thus hastily induced to impute the seditious conduct of the men of that nation, who resided in Rome, to the influence of his doctrine. It is certain, that among those Jews there were some Christians, as Aquila and Priscilla, who would lead “quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty;” but the Romans had not yet learned to distinguish them from such as adhered to the religion of Moses; and being all confounded under one denomination, they were involved in the same charge, and subjected to the same punishment. “Aquila and Priscilla 278had lately come from Italy,” because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome.

Paul associated with them, as being, perhaps, the only Christians in the place; “and because he was of the same craft, he abode with them and wrought, for by their occupation they were tentmakers.” The Apostle, who was a disciple of Gamaliel, had applied to the occupation of tent-making, not so much from necessity, we may presume, as in compliance with a national custom. Among the Jews, it was usual for persons of education to learn a trade, by which, if circumstances should require it, they might support themselves, without being burdensome to others. It is a saying of one of the Rabbis, “that he who does not teach his son some art or calling, acts no better than if he taught him to be a thief.” No honest employment was accounted dishonourable. Paul engaged in work with Aquila and Priscilla, because there was yet no Church in Corinth, to which he could look for maintenance, according to this incontrovertible maxim, “The labourer is worthy of his hire.” In certain cases, when there were Churches, he declined making a demand upon them, in consideration of their peculiar circumstances, or to prevent any from alleging or suspecting, that he was influenced by mercenary views, and to show by his disinterestedness, how fully he was convinced of the truth of the gospel, and how pure was his zeal for the salvation of souls. But his claim was unquestionable; and he did not fail to assert it in the most implicit terms, even when he waved the exercise of it, from prudence or generosity.

Concerning Aquila and Priscilla we may remark, that although they may seem to have been persons of an obscure condition, depending for subsistence upon their own labour, yet their names are recorded in Scripture, to be transmitted with honour to the latest posterity. Mention is made of them in several places of the New Testament. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul speaks of them in the following terms; “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the Churches of the Gentiles.” This example holds out an inducement to others in similar circumstances, to exert themselves in the service of religion. Their situation may preclude them from obtaining the celebrity which is attached to eminence in learning and science, and to splendid achievements; but by the faithful performance of Christian duties, by usefulness within the sphere of their influence, 279by helping the ministers of Christ, in imitation of Aquila and Priscilla, while they encourage them in their work, and second by example and private exhortations their public instructions, they shall acquire the esteem of good men, and what is infinitely more important, shall be honoured with the approbation of God. The fame which the world lavishes upon its favourites, is fleeting as the breath which bestows it; but “the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.”

The business of tent-making did not hinder Paul from discharging, as he had opportunity, the duties of the Apostolical office. “He reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath; and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” The gospel treats us as rational creatures, propounding arguments to convince our understandings, and motives to interest our hearts. When the heathens reproached the Christians, with demanding a blind assent to their religion, and saying to them, “Do not examine, but believe,” they had forgotten, or they intentionally overlooked the evidences, which the gospel exhibited of its divine authority, and the means employed by the first preachers of Christianity, to prevail upon men to embrace it.3535Orig. contra Celsum, Lib. i. Paul, for example, did not require the Jews at Corinth to believe without proof, that Jesus was the Messiah; but he reasoned with them, demonstrating from the Scriptures, that he was the person foretold by the Prophets. It appears from the following verses, that his labours were not altogether unsuccessful; but when he is said to have “persuaded” the Jews and the Greeks, or such of the latter as being proselytes, frequented the synagogue, Luke refers rather to the tendency, than to the effect, of his discourses. They were calculated to persuade. Such considerations were brought forward, as were well fitted to convince his hearers of the truth of the gospel.

“When Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in spirit, and testified to the Jews, that Jesus was Christ.” On the arrival of these friends and fellow-labourers, he felt an unusual earnestness for the conversion of his countrymen. His zeal was animated by their presence, or by the agency of the Spirit of God upon his mind. The word translated “pressed,” is the same which is used, when our Lord says, that he had a baptism to be baptized with, and was “straitened” till it was accomplished; 280and when Paul informs us, that the love of Christ “constrained” him. It is expressive, in all those passages, of strong desire, and a deep sense of obligation, inciting a person to the performance of his duty. The perilous situation of the Jews presented itself with redoubled force and interest to his mind; and his heart glowed with ardent love to their souls, which would not permit him to rest, till he had used every endeavour to accomplish their salvation.

His labours were bestowed upon an ungrateful people. “They opposed themselves and blasphemed.” They cavilled at his arguments, and treated his affectionate exhortations with contempt. Their furious bigotry broke out in reproaches, not only against Paul, as an apostate from the religion of his fathers, but against Jesus, whom they reviled as an impostor. Their violence would be the greater, because they felt themselves pressed by his reasonings. Men full of prejudice, can hardly be expected to listen calmly to those who would convince them of their error; and what is wanting in argument, they usually supply by vehemence and abuse. It is an expeditious and easy plan, to blacken the reputation of an antagonist, to whom they are unable to reply.

Finding it to be in vain to make any farther attempts for their conversion, the Apostle “shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.” Our Lord commanded his Apostles, when the inhabitants of any city would not receive them, “to shake off the very dust from their feet, for a testimony against them.” That dust would remain as a memorial, that the ministers of salvation had come to them, and had been despised; or the action was intended to signify, that those ministers should henceforth have no communication with such obstinate sinners. With the same design, Paul now shook his garment, or shook off the dust which adhered to his garment. Symbolical actions were frequent among the Prophets, and were probably so congenial to the manners of the Jews, as to be easily understood. “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean.” “If you perish, it is by your own fault; I am free from blame.” Although every man shall be finally condemned for his personal sins, yet others may be accessary to his ruin. They contribute to it, who tempt him to commit sin; who, in any way, encourage him to continue in it; who withhold that instruction, and those admonitions, by which he might have been preserved 281from falling, or restored; who neglect any thing, which they should have done, for the salvation of his soul. Happy is that minister of religion, who can say, with a pure conscience, to the infatuated sinners, who have resisted his endeavours for their good, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean!” It is a consoling reflection, that he has been faithful to his fellow men, and to his Saviour. “His witness is in heaven; his record is on high.” But the ministers of religion are not alone concerned to be thus pure. Parents, husbands, wives, friends, and acquaintance! beware, lest the objects of your most tender affections, the companions of your social hours, appear before the tribunal of God, and attribute their eternal perdition to the unworthy example which you set before them; to your imprudent indulgence; to your unwise counsels, and unseasonable complaisance; to your total disregard of their spiritual interests, amidst much solicitude for their temporal welfare. Let no person say with Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If Providence has put it in the power of one man to excite another to do good, or to entice him to evil, he is his keeper, and shall be answerable for the abuse of his influence.

While the Apostle laid the guilt of their perdition upon the Jews themselves, he intimated, that they should be deprived of the means of salvation which they had contumaciously resisted. “From henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.” The gracious designs of Heaven were not to be disappointed by their rejection of the gospel. There were others, to whom the good news might be published, and by whom they would be joyfully received. “I will now preach to the Gentiles.”

The opposition of the Jews did not discourage Paul from proceeding in his work. “He departed thence, and entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue.” These words do not mean, that leaving Aquila and Priscilla, he went to live with Justus; but that not finding it safe to resort any more to the synagogue, or being positively excluded from it, by a decree of the rulers, he accepted the offer made by this proselyte of his house, for holding religious assemblies. Some of the Jews were persuaded by the reasonings of Paul. Of this number was “Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, who believed in the Lord with all his house. And many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” These were not Jews alone, but natives of the place, who were converted 282by his discourses, especially after he had begun to preach in the house of Justus, where he was heard by a promiscuous audience.

“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace. For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: For I have much people in this city.” The Apostle was not a timid man. Of a firm and ardent temper, he engaged with earnestness in any enterprise, and was prepared to abide by his purpose, in the face of opposition. But the most courageous are but men, who may experience moments of weakness, and disappoint the expectations of others, by a cowardly flight from danger. Jesus Christ, therefore, appeared to his faithful servant, to assure him of his assistance and protection. There were other trials awaiting him, besides those which he had already undergone. “Speak, and hold not thy peace.” The policy of worldly men is supple and accommodating. Keeping its own interest, the main spring of all its actions, continually in view, it consults the tastes and humours of others, and, with dexterous facility, adapts itself to the ever varying aspect of affairs. Its looks are studied; its words are carefully weighed. It seeks by flattery to gain the heart, and thus to make sure of the object of its arts, who will suffer himself to be led, in the chains of vanity and self-love, a captive at its pleasure. What is agreeable and soothing is readily told; but if any thing would wound the pride of others, or offend their prejudices, the salutary truth is buried in silence. The Apostles of Jesus Christ renounced the artifices of dishonesty. Their aim was not the praise of men, but their salvation, not their own private interests, but the honour of their Master; and to accomplish these important ends, they did not “hold their peace,” although they foresaw, that their words should excite the ridicule or the indignation of their audience. In the present case, Paul was assured, not that his doctrine should be applauded, and his person held in admiration, nor that he should escape without reproach, and suffer no sort of molestation; but solely that “no man should set on him to hurt him.” He might be persecuted, but he should not be destroyed. This promise did not fail, when the Jews laid hold of him, and led him to the tribunal of Gallio; for the deputy refused to hear their accusation, and dismissed the prisoner in peace. Almighty power controls the wrath of the wicked, and, when it rages 283as the sea in a storm, says to it, “Hitherto shalt thou come; and no farther.”

The care of Providence was exercised towards Paul, that by his ministrations many of the Corinthians might be saved. “I have much people in this city.” It is almost unnecessary to remark, that this declaration does not refer to the few, who were already converted, but to those who were yet to be called. They were all known to the Son of God, who sees the future as well as the past, and, by means of the gospel, carries into effect his eternal purpose of grace with respect to his elect. Some would persuade us, with a design to obscure the evidence arising from this passage in favour of the doctrine of election and sovereign grace, that nothing more is intended than that Jesus Christ “who searches the heart, and tries the reins of the children of men,” perceived, that many of the Corinthians, who were yet in a state of heathenism, were disposed to believe. But when the Scripture accounts for the conversion of sinners, it does not ascribe it to their previous good dispositions, but to the mercy of God. “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” How the Corinthians, who were ignorant of the true God, and engaged in the errors and crimes of polytheism; who having lost all just ideas of religion, were either seduced by a proud and ostentatious philosophy, or immersed in the grossest sensuality, were prepared to receive the heavenly doctrines, and pure precepts of Christianity, we shall leave it to the authors and abetters of this absurd notion to explain. Let them show us, in what intelligible sense idolaters and profligates were disposed to become the disciples of Christ. His people in Corinth were such persons, as are elsewhere termed “the election,” and “vessels of mercy;” or such as he had predistinated to salvation, and to faith and holiness, as the means of obtaining it. Those whom he has predestinated, he calls by the gospel, which his providence sends to the places where they reside, and continues there, till they are all converted. Of this class there are many in the city; and while the sovereignty of divine grace appears in the case of every individual, who is chosen to eternal life, it is displayed, in a very strong and impressive light, in the instance before us. There were many of the elect, in one of the most debauched cities of the heathen world. It is evident, therefore, that the purpose of God is not founded in the foresight of good qualities in the objects of his choice, but in the independent determination 284of his own will, acting under the direction of his wisdom. The notion of merit, or of virtuous dispositions, or of the most remote inclination to virtue, as the cause of the distinction, which God has made in favour of some, will be rejected as unscriptural and impious, by every man who has attentively read and considered the words of Paul, addressed to the same persons, to whom this passage relates. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

Encouraged by this promise not only of protection but of success, Paul, “continued in Corinth a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” The Jews beheld the progress of the gospel with an evil eyei and at length, their zeal being unable to restrain itself, “they made insurrection with one accord against Paul, when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, and brought him to the judgment-seat, saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.” This charge was founded not only upon his teaching that Jesus was the Messiah, but upon his doctrine with regard to the institutions of Moses, which, he maintained, were not to be imposed upon the believing Gentiles, and having received their completion in the gospel, were to be abolished. There was nothing in this doctrine hostile to the law; but the Jews did not understand the harmony between the two systems, and the subservience of the one to the other. He, therefore, who affirmed, that circumcision was not necessary, that sacrifices were no longer required, that there was no distinction of meats into clean and unclean, and that the Gentiles were admitted, through faith, to the possession of the same spiritual privileges with the Jews, seemed to teach men to worship God contrary to the law.

“When Paul was about to open his mouth,” to reply to the accusation of the Jews, Gallio, without waiting to hear him, said, “If it were a matter of wrong, or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you.” “A matter of wrong or wicked lewdness,” signifies any crime committed against the peace of society, any act of injustice, violence, or fraud. Society cannot 285subsist without laws defining and securing the rights of individuals; and it is the duty of persons in authority, to see those laws impartially executed. Magistrates are not appointed for their own honour and emolument, but for the public good, that the sober and peaceable part of the community may be protected, and the unruly and injurious may be restrained. Had Paul been accused of theft, robbery, murder, or sedition, Gallio would have considered himself as bound by his office to inquire into the charge. “But if it be a question of words, and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.” The proconsul, we may believe, did not well understand the subject of dispute between Paul and his adversaries. Having learned in general, that they contended among themselves, whether the title of Messiah should be given to Jesus of Nazareth, and the ceremonies enjoined by Moses should be retained, he calls the discussion a question “of words, and names, and of their law.” In this manner, any Gentile, circumstanced as he was, would have naturally expressed himself. Of such a controversy he refused to be a judge; “and he drove them from the judgment-seat.”

The reason for which he declined to consider questions relative to the law, may thus be explained. Under the government of the Romans, the Jews enjoyed the benefit of a religious toleration, They were permitted to worship the God of Israel, and to observe the ordinances of Moses, not only in Judea, but in the various provinces of the empire. Accordingly, it appears from this history that they had synagogues in the different countries of Asia and Europe, which Paul visited. At the time when he was brought before the tribunal of Gallio, the Christians had not attracted the particular notice of the Romans. Regarding the religion of the Jews with contempt, they did not pay such attention to it, as might have led them, in the infancy of the Church, to discover the difference between the followers of Jesus, and the disciples of Moses. Paul appeared, therefore, to the proconsul, to belong to some Jewish sect, similar to the sects which had long subsisted among that people, under the names of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. With their internal divisions, the laws of the empire did not interfere, but protected all parties under the general denomination of Jews, and left their differences of opinion to be settled by themselves. On this account, Gallio refused to judge, and seems to have considered himself as having no authority to judge of their religious disputes. He 286said to them, “Look ye to it;” intimating that it belonged to them alone to determine such controversies.

The motives of his conduct have been misunderstood. He has been represented as a profane man, who accounted Christianity a question about “words;” and his name has become the proverbial appellation of a person, careless and indifferent about religion. But, the manner in which lie speaks of Christianity, is an evidence not of his profaneness, but of his ignorance. In what other light could the present dispute appear to a stranger, than as a question of words and names? The charge of indifference is equally unfounded. Gallio acted the part of a prudent and impartial judge, who would not pronounce sentence in a cause which he did not understand, and which was not within the sphere of his jurisdiction. While he was ready to do justice between man and man, to redress grievances, and punish crimes, he resolved to preserve inviolate the toleration which the laws of the empire accorded to the Jews. It did not pertain to him as a Roman magistrate, to decide concerning the interpretation of their national law, and the comparative merits of their sects. He has been blamed, therefore, for scrupulously confining himself within the limits of his duty.

It would have been happy for the Christian world, if the conduct of Gallio, instead of being calumniated through ignorance and false zeal, had been imitated by persons in authority. Our religion, which always suffers by the misconduct of those who profess it, would not have been loaded with the reproach of persecution. Let magistrates inquire into every matter of “wrong and wicked lewdness.” Let them animadvert, with due severity, upon acts of violence and dishonesty, and secure to their subjects the enjoyment of their rights, and of the fruits of their industry. But, let them remember, that God alone is the Lord of the conscience; and that it is to be governed by the dictates of reason and Scripture, not by the mandates of human authority. With the religion of their subjects they have nothing to do, but to protect them in the exercise of it, and to prevent them from disturbing one another. To maintain that they have a right to interfere any farther, under the pretext of checking heresies and errors, is to destroy the clear and essential distinction between Church and State; to impose a restraint upon freedom of inquiry; to make civil rulers infallible interpreters of Scripture, while they are not more able to interpret them than the people; and to entrust them with a power, which, the history of 287past ages authorizes us to say, is less likely to be employed in the defence of truth, than in the support of error.

The indifference with which Gallio witnessed a riot in the court where he presided, cannot be so easily defended. “Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment-seat; and Gallio cared for none of those things.” A judge should have repressed such an outrage committed in his own presence, and should have severely punished the offenders. We are not, however, so fully acquainted with the circumstances, as to be qualified to pass sentence upon his conduct. It has been supposed, that he permitted the Greeks to beat the rulers of the synagogue, in order to deter the Jews from again troubling him with similar accusations. Be this as it may, by the moderation and equity of the proconsul, the promise made to Paul, that no man should set on him to hurt him, was performed. His life and liberty were preserved; and the Jews, mortified and intimidated by this unexpected check, would not venture again to disturb him in the discharge of his duty.

I shall subjoin the following observations.

First, The success of the gospel does not always correspond with the ideas which have been previously entertained upon the subject. The divine procedure is not regulated by those appearances and probabilities, which are the grounds of our expectations. The Jews who heard the voice of Moses and the Prophets, rejected the gospel; but it was gladly received by the Gentiles, who had lived in profound ignorance of the purposes of grace. The converts to Christianity in Athens seem not to have been so numerous as those in Corinth. Athens, indeed, was full of superstition, and very gross vices prevailed among its inhabitants; but the manners of the Corinthians were still more depraved. Men of learning and reflection are sometimes prompted, by the pride of reason, to treat revelation with neglect and contempt; whereas others of a careless and superficial temper, are led, by particular circumstances, to give such attention to it, as terminates in a firm conviction and cordial belief. Persons of sober habits not seldom appear to be strangers to vital godliness, while sinners of the most worthless character, are “washed, and sanctified, and justified.” How shall we account for these things? Are they not so many arguments, n confirmation of the doctrine, which we hold upon the authority of Scripture, that 288God dispenses his grace according to his own pleasure; and “hath mercy on whom he will have mercy?”

In the second place, We observe a proof of the wisdom and care of God, in the protection afforded to the Church in its infancy. The Church was destined to undergo severe trials, to contend with the power of the Roman empire, to resist unto blood, in the struggle with Satan and the world; but while it was yet forming, it pleased God to proceed much in the same manner, in which he acted towards the Israelites, immediately after their deliverance from Egypt. “He did not lead them through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for he said, lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.” The disciples of Jesus, indeed, were soon exposed to the malignity of the Jews; but the troubles which these excited, were partial, and of short duration. It was not till the reign of Nero, that the Christians were persecuted by the Roman government; nor till a considerable time after, probably about the beginning of the second century, that express laws were enacted against them. During this interval, they were, in some measure, sheltered under the toleration granted to the Jews. The Church was fully formed, and established, and had spread far and wide, before those formidable attacks were made, which might have proved fatal to it at an earlier period. God proportions trials to the strength of the sufferer; and will not expose his people to any temptations, “which they are not able to bear.”

In the last place, Let Christians be careful to conduct themselves in such a manner, that, if they shall be brought before the judgment-seat of their civil rulers, it may not be for any offence against the just laws of the state, but for some question relative to the law of their God. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busy body in other men’s matters. Yet, if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” My brethren, if you act according to the spirit and precepts of our holy religion, it is impossible, that you can ever be justly charged with a “matter of wrong, or wicked lewdness;” for your hands will be free from violence and injustice, and your hearts, from the selfish and malevolent passions. The tongue of calumny may impeach you, as it did not spare your blessed Master, and his holy Apostles; “but your righteousness shall go forth as the light, and your judgment as the noon-day.” 289It was the glory of the primitive Christians, that although they were accused of the foulest crimes, atheism, murder, and incest, their persecutors could prove nothing against them but their steadfast and consistent attachment to the gospel. Even apostates, who are commonly eager, in their own defence, to defame the society which they have abandoned, when interrogated by a heathen magistrate, affirmed this to be the amount of their fault or error, “that they were accustomed to meet upon a certain day, before it was light, and sing a hymn to Christ as God; and to bind themselves by an oath, not to commit any wickedness, but to abstain from theft, robberies, and adulteries, from violating their promises, and refusing to restore what had been committed to their custody.”3636Plin. Epist. x. 67. How honourable was this testimony to the disciples of Christ! What a lustre did it reflect upon his religion! Let a Christian tremble at the thought of being convicted of a crime. May it be the constant care of us all “to preserve consciences void of offence towards God and towards man!” And may the grace of God enable us “by well-doing, to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men!

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