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It is difficult to imagine, and impossible to portray, the abominable pollutions of the times. “Society," says Gibbon, “was a rotten, aimless cliaos of sensuality.” It was a builing Acheron of scething passions, unhallowed lusts, and tiger thirst for blood, such as never provoked the wrath of Heaven since God drowned the world with water, or destroyed the Cities of the Plain by fire. Only those who have visited the secret museum of Naples, or that house which no woman inay enter at Pompeii, and whose paintings no pen may describe; or, who are familiar with the scathing denunciations of popular vices by the Roman satirists and moralists and by the Christian Fathers, can conceive the appalling depravit's of the age and nation. St. Paul, in his epistle to the Church among this very people, hints at some features of their exceeding wickedness.
It was á shame even to speak of the things which were done by them, but which gifted poets employed their wit to celebrate. A brutalized monster was deified as God, received divine homage,* and beheld all the world at his feet, and the nations trembled at his nod, while the multitude wallowed in a sty of sensuality.
Christianity was to be the new Hercules to
* While yet alive, Domitian was called, “our Lord and God"-Dominus et Deus noster.
cleanse this worse than Augean pollution. The pure morals and holy lives of the believers were a perpetual testimony against abounding iniquity, and a living proof of the regenerating power and transforming grace of God. For they themselves, as one of their apologists asserts, “had been reclaimed from ten thousand vices;" and the Apostle, describing some of the vilest characters, exclaims, “such were some of you, but ye are washed, ye are sanctified." They recoiled with the utmost abhorrence from the pollutions of the age, and became indeed “the salt of the earth," the sole moral antiseptic to prevent the total disintegration of society.
Thus amid idolatrous usages and unspeakable moral degradation the Christians lived, a holy nation, a peculiar people. “We alone are without crime," says Tertullian;"no Christian suffers but for his religion.” “Your prisons are full,” says Minutius Felix, “but they contain not one Christian.” And these holy lives were an argument which even the heathen could not gainsay. The ethics of paganism were the speculations of the cultivated few who aspired to the character of philosophers. The ethics of Christianity were a system of practical duty affecting the daily life of the most lowly and unlettered. “Philosophy," says Lecky, “way dignify, but is impotent to regenerate man; it may cultivate virtue, but cannot restrain vice." But Christianity introduced a new sense of sin and of holiness, of everlasting reward and of endless condemnation. It planted a sublime, impassioned love of Christ in the heart, iuflaming all its affections. It transformed the character froin icy stoicism or epicurcan sellishmess to a boundless and uncalculating self-abnegation and devotion.
This divine principle developed a new instinct of philanthropy in the soul. A feeling of common brotherhood knit the hearts of the believers together. To love a slave! to love an enemy ! was accounted the impossible among the heathen; yet this incredible virtue they beheld every day among the Christians.
“This surprised them beyond measure," says Tertullian, “that one man should die for another.” IIence, in the Christian
, inscriptions 110 word of litterness, even toward their persecutors, is to be found. Sweet peace, the peace of God that passeth all understanding, breathes on every side.
One of the most striking results of the new spirit of philanthropy which Christianity introduced is seen in the copious charity of the primitive Church. Amid the ruins of ancient palaces and temples, theatres and baths, there are none of any house of mercy. Charity among the pagans, was at best, a fitful and capricious fancy. Among the Christians it was a vast and vigorous organization and was cultivated with noble enthusiasm. And the great an i wicked city of Rome, with its ficrce oppressions and inwan wrongs, afforded amplest opportunity for the Christ-like ministrations of love and pity. There were Christian slaves to succour, exposed to unutterable indignities and cruel punishment, even unto crucifixion for conscience' sake. There were often martyrs' pangs to assuage, the aching wounds inflicted by the rack or by the nameless tortures of the heathen to bind up, and their bruised and broken hearts to clicer with heavenly consolation. There were outcast babes to pluck from death. There were a thousand forms of suffering and sorrow to relieve; and the ever-present thought of Him who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give IIis life a ransom for many, was an inspiration to heroic Scrilice and elf-denial. And doubtless the ieli, iun of mercy won its way to many a stony ragan heart by the winsome spell of the saintly charities and licavenly benedictions of the persccuted Christians. This sublime principle lias since covered the earth with its institutious of mirey, and with a passionate zeal has sought out the woes of man in every land, in order to their relief.
In the primitive Church voluntary collections * were regularly ma le for the poor, the aged, the sick, the brethren in bonds, and for the burial of the dead. All fraud and deceit was abhorred, and all usury forbidden. Many gave all their goods to feed the poor. “Our charity dispenses more in the streets,” says
Tertullian to the lıcathen, “than your religion in your temples.” lle upbraids them for offering to the gods only the worn-out and useless, such as is given to dogs. " How monstrous is it,” exclaims the Alexandrian Clement, "to live in luxury while so many arc in want." “ As you would receive, slow mercy,” says Chrysostom ; “make God your debtor that you may receive again with usury.” The Church at Antioch, he tells us, maintained tlırce thousad widows and virgins, besides the sick and the poor. Under the persecuting Decius thie widows and the iufirm under the care of the Church at Rome were fifteen hundred. “Behold the treasures of the Church," said St. Lawrence pointing to the aged and poor, when the lieathen prefect came to confiscate its wealth. The Church in Carthage sent a sum equal to fuur thousand dollars to raisom Christian captives in Numidia. St. Ambrose sold the sacred
* Nemo compellitur, sed sponte confert.-- Tertul. Ahol. c. 37.