Keith Hunt - Church History #15 - Page Fifteen   Restitution of All Things

  Home Previous Page Next Page

History of the Church #15

Christian Life in the Apostolic Church


From the multi-volume work of Philip Schaff
(late 1800s)


Practical Christianity is the manifestation of a new life; a
spiritual (as distinct from intellectual and moral) life; a
supernatural (as distinct from natural) life; it is a life of
holiness and peace; a life of union and communion with God the
Father, the Son, and the Spirit; it is eternal life, beginning
with regeneration and culminating in the resurrection. It lays
hold of the inmost centre of man's personality, emancipates him
from the dominion of sin, and brings him into vital union with
God in Christ; from this centre it acts as a purifying,
ennobling, and regulating force upon all the faculties of the
emotions, the will, and the intellect - and transforms even the
body into a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Christianity rises far above all other religions in the theory
and practice of virtue and piety. It sets forth the highest
standard of love to God and to man; and this not merely as an
abstract doctrine, or an object of effort and hope, but as a
living fact in the person of Jesus Christ, whose life and example
have more power and influence than all the maxims and precepts of
sages and legislators. Deeds speak louder than words....The
finest systems of moral philosophy have not been able to
regenerate and conquer the world. The gospel of Christ has done
it and is doing it constantly. The wisest men of Greece and Rome
sanctioned slavery, polygamy, concubinage, oppression, revenge,
infanticide; or they belied their purer maxims by their conduct. 

The ethical standard of the Jews was much higher; yet none of
their patriarchs, kings, or prophets claimed perfection, and the
Bible honestly reports the infirmities and sins, as well as the
virtues, of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon.

But the character of Christ from the manger to the cross is
without spot or blemish; he is above reproach or suspicion, and
acknowledged by friend and foe to be the purest as well as the
wisest being that ever appeared on earth. He is the nearest
approach which God can make to man, and which man can make to
God; he represents the fullest imaginable and attainable harmony
of the ideal and real, of the divine and human. The Christian
church may degenerate in the hands of sinful men, but the
doctrine and life of her founder are a never-failing fountain of

The perfect life of harmony with God and devotion to the welfare
of the human race, is to pass from Christ to his followers.
Christian life is an imitation of the life of Christ. From his
word and spirit, living and ruling in the church, an unbroken
strearn of redeeming, sanctifying, and glorifying power has been
flowing forth upon individuals, families, and nations for these
eighteen centuries, and will continue to flow till the world is
transformed into the kingdom of heaven, and God becomes all in

One of the strongest proofs of the supernatural origin of
Christianity, is its elevation above the natural culture and
moral standard of its first professors. The most perfect doctrine
and life described by unschooled fishermen of Galilee, who never
before had been outside of Palestine, and were scarcely able to
read and to write! And the profoundest mysteries of the kingdom
of heaven, the incarnation, redemption, regeneration,
resurrection, taught by the apostles to congregations of poor and
illiterate peasants, slaves and freedmen! For "not many wise
after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble" were called, 
"but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put
to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the
world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and
the base things of the world, and the things that are despised,
did God choose, yea, and the things that are not, that he might
bring to naught the things that are: that no flesh should glory
before God. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made
unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and
redemption: that, according as it is written, he that glorieth,
let him glory in the Lord." 

If we compare the moral atmosphere of the apostolic churches with
the actual condition of surrounding Judaism and heathenism, the
contrast is as startling as that between a green oasis with
living fountains and lofty palm trees, and a barren desert of
sand and stone. Judaism in its highest judicatory committed the
crime of crimes, the crucifixion of the Saviour of the world,
and hastened to its doom. Heathenism was fitly represented by
such imperial monsters as Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian,
and exhibited a picture of hopeless corruption and decay, as
described in the darkest colors not only by St. Paul, but by his
heathen contemporary, the wisest Stoic moralist, the teacher and
victim of Nero.


The rationalistic author of Supernatural Religion (vol. II. 487)
makes the following remarkable concession: "The teaching of
Jesus carried morality to the sublimest point attained, or even
attainable, by humanity. The influence of his spiritual religion
has been rendered doubly great by the unparalleled purity and
elevation of his character. Surpassing in his sublime simplicity
and earnestness the moral grandeur of Sakya Muni, and putting to
the blush the sometimes sullied, though generally admirable,
teaching of Socrates and Plato, and the whole round of Greek
philosophers, he presented the rare spectacle of a life, so
far as we can estimate it, uniformly noble and consistent with
his own lofty principles, so that the 'imitation of Christ' has
become almost the final word in the preaching of his religion,
and must continue to be one of the most powerful elements of its

LEAKY, likewise a rationalistic writer and historian of great
ability and fairness, makes this weighty remark in his "History
of European Morals" (vol. II. 9): "It was reserved for
Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which
through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the
hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable
of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has
been, not only the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest
incentive to its practice, and has exercised so deep an influence
that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short
years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften
mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the
exhortations of moralists. This has, indeed, been the wellspring
of whatever is best and purest in Christian life. Amid all the
sins and failings, amid all the priestcraft and persecution and
fanaticism that have defaced the Church, it has preserved, in the
character and example of its Founder, an enduring principle of

To this we may add the testimony of the atheistic philosopher,
JOHN STUART MILL, from his essay on "Theism," written shortly
before his death (1873), and published, 1874, in Three Essays on
Religion. (Am. ed., p. 253): "Above all, the most valuable part
of the effect on the character which Christianity has produced,
by holding up in a divine person a standard of excellence and a
model for imitation, is available even to the absolute
unbeliever, and can never more be lost to humanity. For it is
Christ rather than God whom Christianity has held up to believers
as the pattern of perfection for humanity. It is the God
incarnate more than the God of the Jews, or of nature, who, being
idealized, has taken so great and salutary a hold on the modern
mind. And whatever else may be taken away from us by rational
criticism, Christ is still left; a unique figure, not more unlike
all his precursors than all his followers, even those who had the
direct benefit of his personal teaching. It is of no use to
say that Christ, as exhibited in the Gospels, is not historical,
and that we know not how much of what is admirable has been
superadded by the tradition of his followers. The tradition
of followers suffices to insert any number of marvels, and may
have inserted all the miracles which he is reputed to have
wrought. But who among his disciples, or among their proselytes,
was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of
imagining the life and character revealed in the Gospels?   
Certainly not the fishermen of Galilee; as certainly not St.
Paul, whose character and idiosyncrasies were of a totally
different sort; still less the early Christian writers, in whom
nothing is more evident than that the good which was in them was
all derived, as they always professed that it was derived, from
the higher source."

The Spiritual Gifts

Comp. the Commentaries on Rom. 12: 3-9, and 1 Cor. chs. 12-14.

The apostolic church was endowed from the day of Pentecost with
all the needful spiritual gifts for the moral regeneration of the
world. They formed, as it were, her bridal garment and her
panoply against Jewish and Gentile opposition. They are called
charisms or gifts of grace, as distinguished from, though not
opposed to, natural endowments. They are certain special energies
and manifestations of the Holy Spirit in believers for the common
good. They are supernatural, therefore, in their origin; but they
correspond to natural virtues, and in operation they follow all
the mental and moral faculties of man, raising them to higher
activity, and consecrating them to the service of Christ. They
all rest on faith, that "gift of gifts."

The spiritual gifts may be divided into three classes: 

first, intellectual gifts of knowledge, mainly theoretical in
their character, and concerned primarily with doctrine and

secondly, emotional gifts of feeling, appearing chiefly in divine
worship and for immediate edification; 

and thirdly, practical gifts of will, devoted to the
organization, government, and discipline of the church. 

They are not, however, abstractly separate, but work together
harmoniously for the common purpose of edifying the body of
Christ. In the New Testament ten charisms are specially
mentioned; the first four have to do chiefly, though not
exclusively, with doctrine, the next two with worship, and the
remaining four with government and practical affairs.

1. The gift of WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE, or of deep insight into the
nature and system, of the divine word and the doctrines of the
Christian salvation.

2. The gift of TEACHING, or of practically applying the gift of
knowledge; the power of clearly expounding the Scriptures for the
instruction and edification of the people.

3. The gift of PROPHECY, akin to the two preceding, but addressed
rather to pious feeling than to speculative reflection, and
employing commonly the language of higher inspiration, rather
than that of logical exposition and demonstration. It is by no
means confined to the prediction of future events, but consists
in disclosing the hidden counsel of God, the deeper sense of the
Scriptures, the secret state of the heart, the abyss of sin, and
the glory of redeeming grace. It appears particularly in creative
periods, times of mighty revival; while the gift of teaching
suits better a quiet state of natural growth in the church.   
Both act not only in the sphere of doctrine and theology, but
also in worship, and might in this view be reckoned also among
the gifts of feeling.

4. The gift of DISCERNING SPIRITS, serves mainly as a guide to
the third gift, by discriminating between true prophets and
false, between divine inspiration and a merely human or satanic
enthusiasm. In a wider sense it is a deep discernment in
separating truth and error, and in judging of moral and religious
character; a holy criticism still ever necessary to the purity
of Christian doctrine and the administration of the discipline of
the church.

5. The gift of TONGUES, or of an utterance proceeding from a
state of unconscious ecstasy in the speaker, and unintelligible
to the hearer unless interpreted - thus differing from prophecy,
which requires a self-conscious though highly elevated state of
feeling, serves directly to profit the congregation, and is
therefore preferred by Paul. The speaking with tongues is an
involuntary psalm-like prayer or song, uttered from a spiritual
trance, and in a peculiar language inspired by the Holy Spirit.  
The soul is almost entirely passive, an instrument on which the
Spirit plays his heavenly melodies. This gift has, therefore,
properly, nothing to do with the spread of the church among
foreign peoples and in foreign languages, but is purely an act of
worship, for the edification primarily of the speaker himself,
and indirectly, through interpretation, for the hearers. It
appeared, first, indeed, on the day of Pentecost, but before
Peter's address to the people, which was the proper
mission-sermon; and we meet with it afterwards in the house of
Cornelius and in the Corinthian congregation, as a means of
edification for believers, and not, at least not directly, for
unbelieving hearers, although it served to them as a significant
sign, arresting their attention to the supernatural power in the

(It is also the supernatural gift to speak in a language not
previously learned, to teach the Gospel to people of a different
language than the teacher's language - Keith Hunt)

6. The gift of INTERPRETATION is the supplement of the
glossolalia, and makes that gift profitable to the congregation
by translating the prayers and songs from the language of the
spirit and of ecstasy into that of the understanding and of sober
selfconsciousness. The preponderance of reflection here puts
this gift as properly in the first class as in the second.

7. The gift of MINISTRY and HELP, that is, of special
qualification primarily for the office of deacon and deaconess,
or for the regular ecclesiastical care of the poor and the sick,
and, in the wide sense, for all labors of Christian charity and

8. The gift of church GOVERNMENT and the CARE of SOULS,
indispensable to all pastors and rulers of the church, above all
to the apostles and apostolic men, in proportion to the extent of
their respective fields of labor. Peter warns his co-presbyters
against the temptation to hierarchical arrogance and tyranny over
conscience, of which so many priests, bishops, patriarchs, and
popes have since been guilty; and points them to the sublime
example of the great Shepherd and Archbishop, who, in infinite
love, laid down his life for the sheep.

9. The gift of MIRACLES is the power possessed by the apostles
and apostolic men, like Stephen, to heal all sorts of physical
maladies, to cast out demons, to raise the dead, and perform
other similar works, in virtue of an extraordinary energy or
faith, by word, prayer, and the laying on of hands in the name of
Jesus, and for his glory. These miracles were outward ere
dentials and seals of the divine mission of the apostles in a
time and among a people which required such sensible helps to
faith. But as Christianity became established in the world, it
could point to its continued moral effects as the best evidence
of its truth, and the necessity for outward physical miracles

10. Finally, the gift of LOVE, the greatest, most precious, most
useful, most needful, and most enduring of all, described and
extolled by St. Paul in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians
with the pen of an angel in the vision and enjoyment of the God
of infinite love himself. Love is natural kindness and affection
sanctified and raised to the spiritual sphere, or rather a new
heavenly affection created in the soul by the experience of the
saving love of God in Christ. As faith lies at the bottom of all
charisms, so love is not properly a separate gift, but the soul
of all the gifts, guarding them from abuse for selfish and
ambitious purposes, malting them available for the common good,
ruling, uniting, and completing them. It alone gives them their
true value, and without love even the speaking with tongues of
angels, and a faith which removes mountains, are nothing before
God. It holds heaven and earth in its embrace. It "believeth all
things," and when faith fails, it "hopeth all things," and when
hope fails, it "endureth all things," but it "never fails."  As
love is the most needful of all the gifts on earth, so it will
also outlast all the others, and be the ornament and joy of the
saints. For love is the inmost essence, the heart, as it were, of
God, the ground of all his attributes, and the motive of all his
works. It is the beginning and the end of creation, redemption,
and sanctification - the link which unites us with God, the
cardinal virtue of Christianity, the fulfilling of the law, the
bond of perfectness, and the fountain of bliss.

Christianity in Individuals

The transforming spiritual power of Christianity appears first in
the lives of individuals. The apostles and primitive Christians
rose to a morality and piety far above that of the heroes of
heathen virtue and even that of the Jewish saints. Their daily
walk was a living union with Christ, ever seeking the glory
of God and the salvation of men. Many of the cardinal virtues,
humility, for example, and love for enemies, were unknown before
the Christian day.
Peter, Paul, and John represent the various leading forms or
types of Christian piety, as well as of theology. They were not
without defect, indeed they themselves acknowledged only one
sinless being, their Lord and Master, and they confessed their
own shortcomings; yet they were as nearly perfect as it is
possible to be in a sinful world; and the moral influence of
their lives and writings on all generations of the church is
absolutely immeasurable. Each exhibits the spirit and life of
Christ in a peculiar way. For the gospel does not destroy, but
redeems and sanctifies the natural talents and tempers of men.   

It consecrates the fire of a Peter, the energy of a Paul, and the
pensiveness of a John to the same service of God. It most
strikingly displays its new creating power in the sudden
conversion of the apostle of the Gentiles from a most dangerous
foe to a most efficient friend of the church. Upon Paul the
Spirit of God came as an overwhelming storm; upon John, as a
gentle, refreshing breeze. But in all dwelt the same new,
supernatural, divine principle of life. All are living apologies
for Christianity, whose force no truth-loving heart can resist.

Notice, too, the moral effects of the gospel in the female
characters of the New Testament. Christianity raises woman from
the slavish position which she held both in Judaism and in
heathendom, to her true moral dignity and importance; makes
her an heir of the same salvation with man, and opens to her a
field for the noblest and loveliest virtues, without thrusting
her, after the manner of modern pseudo-philanthropic schemes of
emancipation, out of her appropriate sphere of private, domestic
life, and thus stripping her of her fairest ornament and peculiar
The Virgin Mary marks the turning point in the history of the
female sex. As the mother of Christ, the second Adam, she
corresponds to Eve, and is, in a spiritual sense, the mother of
all living. In her, the "blessed among women," the whole sex
was blessed, and the curse removed which had hung over the era of
the fall. She was not, indeed, free from actual and native sin,
as is now taught, without the slightest ground in Scripture, by
the Roman church since the 8th of December, 1854. On the
contrary, as a daughter of Adam, she needed, like all men,
redemption and sanctification through Christ, the sole author of
sinless holiness, and she herself expressly calls God her
Saviour. But in the mother and educator of the Saviour of the
world we no doubt may and should revere, though not worship, the
model of female Christian virtue, of purity, tenderness,
simplicity, humility, perfect obedience to God, and unreserved
surrender to Christ.  

Next to her we have a lovely group of female disciples and
friends around the Lord Mary, the wife of Clopas; Salome, the
mother of James and John; Mary of Bethany, who sat at Jesus'
feet; her busy and hospitable sister, Martha; Mary of Magdala,
whom the Lord healed of a demoniacal possession; the sinner, who
washed his feet with her tears of penitence and wiped them with
her hair; and all the noble women, who ministered to the Son of
man in his earthly poverty with the gifts of their love, lingered
last around his cross, and were the first at his open sepulchre
on the morning of the resurrection.

(The women were there first to the tomb, but it was not the
morning of the resurrection, for Jesus was alread NOT THERE; He
had already been resurrected, yes shortly after the weekly
Sabbath had ended, a Saturday evening resurrection as we would
call it today - as I fully expound in other studies on this
website - Keith Hunt)

Henceforth we find woman no longer a slave of man and tool of
lust, but the pride and joy of her husband, the fond mother
training her children to virtue and godliness, the ornament and
treasure of the family, the faithful sister, the zealous servant
of the congregation in every work of Christian charity, the
sister of mercy, the martyr with superhuman courage, the guardian
angel of peace, the example of purity, humility, gentleness,
patience, love, and fidelity unto death. Such women were
unknown before. The heathen Libanius, the enthusiastic
eulogist of old Grecian culture, pronounced an involuntary eulogy
on Christianity when he exclaimed, as he looked at the mother of
Chrysostom: "What women the Christians have!"

Christianity and the Family

Thus raising the female sex to its true freedom and dignity,
Christianity transforms and sanctifies the entire family life. It
abolishes polygamy, and makes monogamy the proper form of
marriage; it condemns concubinage with all forms of unchastity
and impurity. It presents the mutual duties of husband and wife,
and of parents and children, in their true light, and exhibits
marriage as a copy of the mystical union of Christ with his
bride, the church; thus imparting to it a holy character and a
heavenly end.
Henceforth the family, though still rooted, as before, in the
soil of nature, in the mystery of sexual love, is spiritualized,
and becomes a nursery of the purest and noblest virtues, a
miniature church, where the father, as shepherd, daily leads his
household into the pastures of the divine word, and, as priest,
offers to the Lord the sacrifice of their common petition, inter-
cession, thanksgiving, and praise.
With the married state, the single also, as an exception to the
rule, is consecrated by the gospel to the service of the kingdom
of God; as we see in a Paul, a Barnabas, and a John, and in the
history of missions and of ascetic piety. The enthusiasm for
celibacy, which spread so soon throughout the ancient church,
must be regarded as a one-sided, though natural and, upon the
whole, beneficial reaction against the rotten condition and
misery of family life among the heathen.

(celibacy as Jesus explained in the Gospels is only to those to
it is given; it must be a gift from God to be celibate, and
certainly most of the apostles of the first century were married.
The doctrine of the Roman Catholic church on priestly celibicy is
unfounded by the New Testament scruptures, and has indeed been
admitted by recent Popes, yet they still hold to a doctrine that
is man made, and so has in recent times brought sex scandels of
huge proportion to the Catholic church, which they are still
feeling the heat of chastening and a moral blow that will take
years to cast away - Keith Hunt)

Christianity and Slavery


To Christianity we owe the gradual extinction of slavery. This
evil has rested as a curse on all nations, and at the time of
Christ the greater part of the existing race was bound in beastly
degradation - even in civilized Greece and Rome the slaves being
more numerous than the free-born and the freedmen. The greatest
philosophers of antiquity vindicated slavery as a natural and
necessary institution; and Aristotle declared all barbarians to
be slaves by birth, fit for nothing but obedience.
According to the Roman law, "slaves had no head in the State, no
name, no title, no register"; they had no rights of matrimony,
and no protection against adultery; they could be bought and
sold, or given away, as personal property; they might be tortured
for evidence, or even put to death, at the discretion of their
master. In the language of a distinguished writer on civil law,
the slaves in the Roman empire "were in a much worse state than
any cattle whatsoever."  Cato the elder expelled his old and sick
slaves out of house and home. Hadrian, one of the most humane of
the emperors, wilfully destroyed the eye of one of his slaves
with a pencil. Roman ladies punished their maids with sharp iron
instruments for the most trifling offences, while attending,
half-naked, on their toilet. Such legal degradation and cruel
treatment had the worst effect upon the character of the slaves. 
They are described by the ancient writers as mean, cowardly,
abject, false, voracious, intemperate, voluptuous, also as hard
and cruel when placed over others. A proverb prevailed in the
Roman empire: "As many slaves, so many enemies." Hence the
constant danger of servile insurrections, which more than once
brought the republic to the brink of ruin, and seemed to justify
the severest measures in self-defence.

Judaism, indeed, stood on higher ground than this; yet it
tolerated slavery, though with wise precautions against
maltreatment, and with the significant ordinance, that in the
year of jubilee, which prefigured the renovation of the
theocracy, all Hebrew slaves should go free.

This system of permanent oppression and moral degradation the
gospel opposes rather by its whole spirit than by any special
law. It nowhere recommends outward violence and revolutionary
measures, which in those times would have been worse than
useless, but provides an internal radical cure, which first
mitigates the evil, takes away its sting, and effects at last its
entire abolition. Christianity aims, first of all, to redeem
man, without regard to rank or condition, from that worst
bondage, the curse of sin, and to give him true spiritual
freedom; it confirms the original unity of all men in the image
of God, and teaches the common redemption and spiritual equality
of all before God in Christ; it insists on love as the highest
duty and virtue, which itself inwardly levels social
distinctions; and it addresses the comfort and consolation of the
gospel particularly to all the poor, the persecuted, and the
oppressed. Paul sent back to his earthly master the fugitive
slave, Onesimus, whom he had converted to Christ and to his duty,
that he might restore his character where he had lost it; but he
expressly charged Philemon to receive and treat the bondman
hereafter as a beloved brother in Christ, yea, as the apostle's
own heart. It is impossible to conceive of a more radical cure of
the evil in those times and within the limits of established laws
and customs. And it is impossible to find in ancient literature
a parallel to the little Epistle to Philemon for gentlemanly
courtesy and delicacy, as well as for tender sympathy with a poor

This Christian spirit of love, humanity, justice, and freedom, as
it pervades the whole New Testament, has also, in fact, gradually
abolished the institution of slavery in almost all civilized
nations, and will not rest till all the chains of sin and misery
are broken, till the personal and eternal dignity of man
redeemed by Christ is universally acknowledged, and the
evangelical freedom and brotherhood of men are perfectly


Attics numbered, according to Ctesicles, under the governorship
of Demetrius the Phalerian (309 B.c.), 400,000 slaves, 10,000
foreigners, and only 21,000 free citizens. In Sparta the
disproportion was still greater.

As to the Roman empire, Gibbon estimates the number of slaves
under the reign of Claudius at no less than one half of the
entire population, i.e., about sixty millions (I. 52, ed. Milman,
N.Y., 1850). According to Robertson there were twice as many
slaves as free citizens, and Blair (in his work on Roman slavery,
Edinb. 1833, p.15) estimates over three slaves to one freeman
between the conquest of Greece (146 B.C.) and the reign of
Alexander Severus (A.D. 222-235). The proportion was of course
very different in the cities and in the rural districts. The
majority of the plebs urbana were poor and unable to keep slaves;
and the support of slaves in the city was much more expensive
than in the country. Marquardt assumes the proportion of
slaves to freemen in Rome to have been three to two. Friedlander
(Sittengeschichte Row. T. 55, fourth ed.) thinks it impossible to
make a correct general estimate, as we do not know the number of
wealthy families. But we know that Rome A.D. 24 was thrown into
consternation by the fear of a slave insurrection (Tacit. Ann.
IV. 27). Atheneus, as quoted by Gibbon (I. 51) boldly asserts
that he knew very many (Greek is given) Romans who possessed, not
for use, but ostentation, ten and even twenty thousand slaves.   
In a single palace at Rome, that of Pedanius Secundus, then
prefect of the city, four hundred slaves were maintained, and
were all executed for not preventing their master's murder
(Tacit. Ann. XIV. 42,43).

The legal condition of the slaves is thus described by Taylor on
Civil Law, as quoted in Cooper's Justinian, p.411: "Slaves were
held pro nullis, pro mortuis, pro quadrupedibus; nay, were in a
much worse state than any cattle whatsoever. They had no head in
the state, no name, no title, or register; they were not capable
of being injured; nor could they take by purchase or descent;
they had no heirs, and therefore could make no will; they were
not entitled to the rights and considerations of matrimony, and
therefore had no relief in case of adultery; nor were they proper
objects of cognation or affinity, but of quasi-cognation only;
they could be sold, transferred, or pawned, so goods or personal
estate, for goods they were, and as such they were esteemed; they
might be tortured for evidence, punished at the discretion of
their lord, and even put to death by his authority; together with
many other civil incapacities which I have no room to enumerate."
Gibbon (I. 48) thinks that "against such internal enemies, whose
desperate insurrections had more than once reduced the republic
to the brink of destruction, the most severe regulations and the
most cruel treatment seemed almost justifiable by the great law
of self-preservation."

The individual treatment of slaves depended on the character of
the master. As a rule it was harsh and cruel. The bloody
spectacles of the amphitheatre stupefied the finer sensibilities
even in women. Juvenal describes a Roman mistress who ordered her
female slaves to be unmercifully lashed in her presence till the
whippers were worn out; Ovid warns the ladies not to scratch the
face or stick needles into the naked arms of the servants who
adorned them; and before Hadrian a mistress could condemn a slave
to the death of crucifixion without assigning a reason. See
the references in Friedlander, I. 466. It is but just to remark
that the philosophers of the first and second century, Seneca,
Pliny, and Plutarch, entertained much milder views on this
subject than the older writers, and commend a humane treatment of
the slaves; also that the Autonines improved their condition to
some extent, and took the oft abused jurisdiction of life and
death over the slaves out of private hands and vested it in the
magistrates. But at that time Christian principles and sentiments
already freely circulated throughout the empire, and exerted a
silent influence even over the educated heathen. This unconscious
atmospheric influence, so to speak, is continually exerted by
Christianity over the surrounding world, which without this would
be far worse than it actually is.

Christianity and Society

Christianity enters with its leaven-like virtue the whole civil
and social life of a people, and leads it on the path of progress
in all genuine civilization. It nowhere prescribes, indeed, a
particular form of government, and carefully abstains from all
improper interference with political and secular affairs. It
accommodates itself to monarchical and republican institutions,
and can flourish even under oppression and persecution from the
State, as the history of the first three centuries sufficiently
shows. But it teaches the true nature and aim of all government,
and the duties of rulers and subjects; it promotes the abolition
of bad laws and institutions, and the establishment of good; it
is in principle opposed alike to despotism and anarchy; it tends,
under every form of government, towards order, propriety,
justice, humanity, and peace; it fills the ruler with a sense of
responsibility to the supreme king and judge, and the ruled with
the spirit of loyalty, virtue, and piety.

Finally, the Gospel reforms the international relations by
breaking down the partition walls of prejudice and hatred among
the different nations and races. It unites in brotherly
fellowship and harmony around the same communion table even the
Jews and the Gentiles, once so bitterly separate and hostile.    
The spirit of Christianity, truly catholic or universal, rises
above all national distinctions. Like the congregation at
Jerusalem, the whole apostolic church was of "one heart and of
one soul." It had its occasional troubles, indeed, temporary
collisions between a Peter and a Paul, between Jewish and Gentile
Christians; but instead of wondering at these, we must admire the
constant victory of the spirit of harmony and love over the
remaining forces of the old nature and of a former state of
things. The poor Gentile Christians of Paul's churches in
Greece sent their charities to the poor Jewish Christians in
Palestine, and thus proved their gratitude for the gospel and its
fellowship, which they had received from that "mother church."   

The Christians all felt themselves to be "brethren," were
constantly impressed with their common origin and their common
destiny, and considered it their sacred duty to "keep the unity
of the spirit in the bond of peace." While the Jews, in their
spiritual pride and "odium generis humani " abhorred all
Gentiles; while the Greeks despised all barbarians as only half
men; and while the Romans, with all their might and policy, could
bring their conquered nations only into a mechanical
conglomeration, a giant body without a soul; Christianity, by
purely moral means, founded a universal spiritual empire and a
communion of saints, which stands unshaken to this day, and will
spread till it embraces all the nations of the earth as its
living members, and reconciles all to God.

Spiritual Condition of the Congregations.--The Seven
Churches in Asia.

We must not suppose that the high standard of holiness set up in
doctrine and example by the evangelists and apostles was fully
realized in their congregations. The dream of the spotless purity
and perfection of the apostolic church finds no support in the
apostolic writings, except as an ideal which is constantly held
up before our vision to stimulate our ener gies. If the inspired
apostles themselves disclaimed perfection, much less can we
expect it from their converts, who had just come from the errors
and corruptions of Jewish and heathen society, and could not be
transformed at once without a miracle in violation of the
ordinary laws of moral growth.

We find, in fact, that every Epistle meets some particular
difficulty and danger. No letter of Paul can be understood
without the admission of the actual imperfection of his congre-
gations. He found it necessary to warn them even against the
vulgar sins of the flesh as well as against the refined sins of
the spirit. He cheerfully and thankfully commended their
virtues, and as frankly and fearlessly condemned their errors and
vices. The same is true of the churches addressed in the Catholic
Epistles, and in the Revelation of John.

The seven Epistles in the second and third chapters of the
Apocalypse give us a glimpse of the church in its light and shade
in the last stage of the apostolic age - primarily in Asia Minor,
but through it also in other lands. These letters are all very
much alike in their plan, and present a beautiful order, which
has been well pointed out by Bengel. They contain (1) a command
of Christ to write to the "angel" of the congregation. (2) A
designation of Jesus by some imposing title, which generally
refers to his majestic appearance (1:13 sqq.), and serves
as the basis and warrant of the subsequent promises and
threatenings. (3) The address to the angel, or the responsible
head of the congregation, be it a single bishop or the college of
pastors and teachers. The angels are, at all events, the
representatives of the people committed to their charge, and what
was said to them applies at the same time to the churches. This
address, or the epistle proper, consists always of (a) a short
sketch of the present moral condition of the congregation - both
its virtues and defects - with commendation or censure as the
case may be; (b) an exhortation either to repentance or to
faithfulness and patience, according to the prevailing character
of the church addressed; (c) a promise to him who overcomes,
together with the admonition: "He that hath an ear, let him hear
what the Spirit saith unto the churches," or the same in the
reverse order, as in the first three epistles. This latter
variation divides the seven churches into two groups, one
comprising the first three, the other the remaining four, just as
the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven vials are
divided. The ever-recurring admonition: "He that hath an ear,"
etc., consists of ten words. This is no unmeaning play, but an
application of the Old Testament system of symbolical numbers, in
which three was the symbol of the Godhead; four of the world or
humanity; the indivisible number seven, the sum of three and four
(as also twelve, their product), the symbol of the indissoluble
covenant between God and man; and ten (seven and three), the
round number, the symbol of fulness and completion.

As to their moral and religious condition, the churches and the
representatives fall, according to the Epistles, into three

1. Those which were predominantly good and pure, viz., those of
Smyrna and Philadelphia. Hence, in the messages to these two
churches we find no exhortation to repentance in the strict sense
of the word, but only an encouragement to be steadfast, patient,
and joyful under suffering.
The church of Smyrna (a very ancient, still flourishing com-
mercial city in Ionia, beautifully located on the bay of Smyrna)
was externally poor and persecuted, and had still greater
tribulation in view, but is cheered with the prospect of the
crown of life. It was in the second century ruled by Polycarp, a
pupil of John, and a faithful martyr.
Philadelphia (a city built by king Attalus Philadelphus, and
named after him, now Ala-Schar), in the province of Lydia, a rich
wine region, but subject to earthquakes, was the seat of a church
likewise poor and small outwardly, but very faithful and
spiritually flourishing - a church which was to have all the
tribulations and hostility it met with on earth abundantly
rewarded in heaven.

2. Churches which were in a predominantly evil and critical
condition, viz., those of Sardis and Laodicea. Here accordingly
we find severe censure and earnest exhortation to repentance.
The church at Sardis (till the time of Cresus the flourishing
capital of the Lydian empire, but now a miserable hamlet of
shepherds) had indeed the name and outward form of Christianity,
but not its inward power of faith and life. Hence it was on the
brink of spiritual death. Yet the Epistle, 3:4 sq.,
distinguishes from the corrupt mass a few souls which had kept
their walk undefiled, without, however, breaking away from the
congregation as separatists, and setting up an opposition sect
for themselves.

The church of Laodicea (a wealthy commercial city of Phrygia, not
far from Colosse and Hierapolis, where now stands only a desolate
village by the name of Eski-Hissar) proudly fancied itself
spiritually rich and faultless, but was in truth poor and blind
and naked, and in that most dangerous state of indifference and
lukewarmness from which it is more difficult to return to the
former decision and ardor, than it was to pass at first from the
natural coldness to faith. Hence the fearful threaten ing: "I
will spew thee out of my mouth." (Lukewarm water produces
vomiting.) Yet even the Laodiceans are not driven to despair.    
The Lord, in love, knocks at their door and promises
them, on condition of thorough repentance, a part in the
marriage-supper of the lamb (3:20).

3. Churches of a mixed character, viz., those of Ephesus,
Pergamum, and Thyatira. In these cases commendation and censure,
promise and threatening are united.
Ephesus, then the metropolis of the Asian church, had withstood,
indeed, the Gnostic errorists predicted by Paul, and faithfully
maintained the purity of the doctrine delivered to it; but it had
lost the ardor of its first love, and it is, therefore, earnestly
exhorted to repent. It thus represents to us that state of dead,
petrified orthodoxy, into which various churches often times
fall. Zeal for pure doctrine is, indeed, of the highest
importance, but worthless without living piety and active love.
The Epistle to the angel of the church of Ephesus is peculiarly
applicable to the later Greek church as a whole.
Pergamum in Mysia (the northernmost of these seven cities,
formerly the residence of the kings of Asia of the Attalian
dynasty, and renowned for its large library of 200,000 volumes
and the manufacture of parchment; hence the name charta
Pergamena;--now Bergamo, a village inhabited by Turks, Greeks,
and Armenians) was the seat of a church, which under trying
circumstances had shown great fidelity, but tolerated in her
bosom those who held dangerous Gnostic errors. For this want of
rigid discipline she also is called on to repent.

The church of Thyatira (a flourishing manufacturing and
commercial city in Lydia, on the site of which now stands a
considerable Turkish town called Ak-Hissar, or the "White
Castle," with nine mosques and one Greek church) was very
favorably distinguished for self-denying, active love and
patience, but was likewise too indulgent towards errors which
corrupted Christianity with heathen principles and practices.

The last two churches, especially that of Thyatira, form thus the
exact counterpart to that of Ephesus, and are the representatives
of a zealous practical piety in union with theoretical
latitudinarianism. As doctrine always has more or less influence
on practice, this also is a dangerous state. That church alone
is truly sound and flourishing in which purity of doctrine and
purity of life, theoretical orthodoxy and practical piety are
harmoniously united and promote one another.

With good reason have theologians in all ages regarded these
seven churches of Asia Minor as a miniature of the whole
Christian church. "There is no condition, good, bad, or mixed, of
which these epistles do not present a sample, and for which they
do not give suitable and wholesome direction." Here, as
everywhere, the word of God and the history of the apostolic
church evince their applicability to all times and circumstances,
and their inexhaustible fulness of instruction, warning, and
encouragement for all states and stages of religious life.

There is a full detailed study on this website about the meanings
of the 7 churches of Asia Minor - they are contained in a
prophetic book, hence they do have 7 prophetic ages of the true
Church of God, from the start in 30 A.D. to the coming of Christ.
What most miss is that these prophetic ages can overlap by
hundreds of years until with no repentance, the church's
candlestick is removed. At the coming of Christ there will be 3
church eras living - the Sardis, Philidelphia, and Laodicea.

Keith Hunt

To be continued

  Home Previous Page Top of Page Next Page

Navigation List:

Word Search: