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POWER OF DIVINE LOVE.
earthly desire; and from which proceeded the words of a new life, a new light and moral and divine science, that was to unfold new views to the world, introduce a new organization of society, and give a new form to human existence. And such was that primitive energy of Christian love, which displayed itself in the internal harmony and close union of the Christian church; in the rapid diffusion of its doctrines through all the countries, and among all the nations of the then known world; in its courageous resistance to all the assaults of persecution; in the careful preservation of its purity from all alloy and corruption; in its firmer consolidation and more manifold development in words, and works, and deeds; in writings and in life; that not many generations, and but a few centuries had passed away before Christianity became a ruling power in the world—an indirect and spiritual power, indeed, but more than any other active and influential.”*
THE progress of Christianity in the first three centuries may be thus instrumentally ascribed to the vigorous efficiency of this divine principle.
A Roman legion wholly composed of professed Christians was held in imperial pay in the third century. When the colleague of Galerius in Augustan dignity, Constantius Chlorus, was urged by his courtiers to dismiss from his service those who would not abandon the profession of Christianity, he answered with tolerating discernment, “it could not be expected of those who had forsaken their God, that they would prove faithful to their prince.” He commended with his dying breath the Christian adherents of the family to the protection of Constantine, his son, then aspiring as a Cæsar to the rank of Augustus. It was on the shields of the Roman soldiery, and amidst the shouts of the legions, that the ambitious warrior rose to imperial purple and supreme authority. The pride of the army was stimulated, and the soldiers of Constantius were assured, that gratitude and liberality were among the virtues of Constantine; and the Christian portion of the people hailed him as Augustus, with an assurance that persecutions would cease, and favour would be their future portion. I do not speak in praise of Christian warriors. I believe it is true, that the earlier Christians could not be convinced that it was lawful on any occasion to shed the blood of their fellow-creatures, whether by the sword of justice or of war. They thought it impossible that a Christian
PATRONAGE OF CONSTANTINE.
could, without renouncing a more sacred duty, assume the character of soldiers. Yet there were subsequently many converts from the more illiterate nations, who inherited from their ancestry and infantile associations warlike passions; and those whose instruction had been less matured, with partial views of Christian obligation, were drawn into the service of the Casars. The secularizing influence of state patronage and the imperial treasure, gradually increased the martial bands of professing Christians; and, notwithstanding their other defects, they excelled the Pagans in endurance, courage, self-denial, and resolution; their loyalty was unfeigned and their obedience passive or generous.
To gratify the predilections and insure the sympathies of the myriads, whose support was valued, the aspiring Cæsar, who coveted the Augustan purple, and fought for the subjugation of all competitors to an undivided throne, lifted his eyes to the firmament, and, according to his own narration, saw the symbol that he believed would prevail, because he thought it would be popular throughout the Roman empire, the sign that was once despised, but now viewed as the token of success. He read, “ In this conquer !” It was the sign of the cross, and the name which he used to obtain power was the name of Jesus. Would he have done so—the man who was the murderer of his own father-in-law, who caused the death of his own child, who put off to the last hour of his life the ordinance of baptism that it might serve to wash away his last sin-would he have done so had he been in truth a Christian ? Would he have done so, had he not known that the Christian religion had pervaded the empire of Rome to such an extent that the people of that name were the best portion of the community, and the most deserving of the confidence of their rulers ?
Constantine is called the Great. I am not sure that the term, under
circumstances, has ever been properly applied to any ruler. If a man has been great in conquest, in slaying thousands of his enemies, it may have been not for the sake of truth or honour, but for the sake of his own advantage. I do not give the term because I think it is appropriate, but because it is current language in history. Constantine the Great, about the beginning of the fourth century, A. D. 312, identified the church of Christ, or those calling themselves Christians, with the Roman state. He did so because Christianity had made rapid strides towards ascendancy; when, opposed by the rulers, it had to combat with the systems of idolatry, to confute the subtleties of philosophy, and to resist the priests of paganism in league with the most stubborn passions of the human heart. It had made its progress without the magistrate and without the sword, because it maintained liberty of conscience. I will not farther stop to discuss Constantine's merits, either as a Christian or an emperor; but I will say this concerning him, that it appears he felt at least that the interest of the imperial purple could be served by the submission and the obedience of those that were the followers of the cross of Christ. He, therefore, endowed the priesthood of the church of the Christians, and placed the whole of its disciples, and of its ceremonies, under the endowment and protection of the august banner.
If nominal Christianity made such progress then, some will
say, how came it to retrograde ? Whence arose the dark ages of the Christian church, as they have been called? Let us do justice to the early times of the Christian church. They had, indeed, in the first century inspired apostles and teachers. I do not know that there were any after the first century. They had heroic confessors, and generous and devoted martyrs in the second and third centuries. But then they came to be under the
nursing power and patronising influence of the rulers of the empire, as we have showed. Let your child grow for the first three years naturally; let him put forth his limbs and exercise them freely with all the agility that belongs to herculean childhood ; let him begin to creep and gradually rise to walk; let him, unaffected by disease, stretch forth in all the pride of childhood till he is emerging from the years of infancy, and you will be proud of his proportions: and the less you bandage him the more beautiful will those proportions be. Take him when he is in his fourth year, and muffle his feet as the Chinese do the feet of their women ; bandage his limbs, and make the ligaments tight; gird up his loins ; let not the bones expand, or the chest breathe forth, in answer to the pulsations of the heart ; let him be carried from day to day; though it be a royal monarch that carries him; though you have the queen and all the officers of state to attend him in his drives, and his couch be a litter of gold, eurtained with vermillion-what will he be after five years' luxurious dependence, amidst such adventitious grandeur and enervating pageantry? Unable to walk; unable to put forth the energies he had, as an infant, with every probability that he will remain a cripple for life ; and it will depend much on the natural resources and energy of his constitution if he be ever qualified for any beneficial enterprise.
The parallel is not inapplicable to Christianity. But in additicn, the nations of Europe had not then at command the improvements in society that we enjoy. I can start from Manchester in the morning, and on the evening of the same day be ready to deliver at Exeter a lecture such as I am now delivering to you. Could Paul have gone a twentieth part of the distance in the same time? Were the roads of imperial Rome such as the people could travel with rapidity, or such as could be compared with those of England, even in the last century ?