4. Of their daily Devotions
Antiquities of the Christian Church
XVIII. Domestic and Social Character of the Primitive Christians
4. Of their daily Devotions
Instead of consuming their leisure hours in vacant idleness, or deriving their chief amusement from boisterous merriment, the recital of tales of superstition, or the chanting of the profane songs of the heathen, they passed their hours of repose in rational and enlivening pursuits, found pleasure in enlarging their religious knowledge, and entertainment in songs that were dedicated to the praise of God. These formed their pastime in private, and their favorite recreations at their family and friendly meetings. With their minds full of the inspiring influence of these, they returned with fresh ardor to their scenes of toil; and to gratify their taste by a renewal of these, they longed for release from labor, far more than to appease their appetite with the provisions of the table. So far were these sacred occupations from being regarded as mere matters of routine by the primitive Christians, – so much were the sentiments and the melody of the sacred songs engraven on their memories and dear to their hearts, that after they had left the family group and repaired to their respective employments, they were wont to cheer themselves in private, amid the various processes of labor, with repeating the songs of Zion. Young women sitting at their distaff, and matrons going about the duties of their household, were constantly humming some spiritual airs. And Jerome relates of the place where he lived, that one could not go into the field without hearing the ploughman at hi& hallelujahs, the mower at his hymns, and the vine-dresser singing the Psalms of David.
But it was not merely at noon, and in time of their meals, that the primitive Christians read the Word of God and sang praises to his name. At an early hour in the morning the family was assembled,, when a portion of Scripture was read from the Old Testament, which was followed by a hymn and a prayer, in which thanks were offered up to the Almighty for preserving them during the silent watches of the night, and for his goodness in permitting them to meet in health of body and soundness of mind; and, at the same time, his grace was implored to defend them amid the dangers and temptations of the day, – to make them faithful to every duty, and enable them, in all respects, to walk worthy of their christian vocation. During the day, they had, like the Jews, stated seasons, at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, corresponding respectively to nine, twelve, and three o'clock, according to our computation, when those who had command of their time, were wont to retire for a little to engage in the exercises of devotion. In the evening, before retiring to rest, the family again assembled, when the same form of worship was observed as in the morning, with this difference, that the service was considerably protracted beyond the period which could be conveniently allotted to it in the commencement of the day. Besides all these frequent observances, they were in the habit of rising at midnight to engage in prayer and the singing of Psalms, – a practice of venerable antiquity, and which, as Dr. Cave justly supposes, "took its origin from the first times of persecution, when not daring to meet together in the day, they were forced to keep their religious assemblies in the night."
While the Christians, in their family capacity, observed these periodical seasons of devotion, they laid hold of many opportunities, both stated and occasional, of praying in private. In addition to the secret supplications which every morning and evening they addressed to the throne of grace, they were accustomed, on every proper and convenient occasion, to begin and terminate all their actions with prayer, – either audible or silent, according to circumstances. On receiving any personal or domestic token of the divine goodness, when engaged in any important undertaking, such as sowing their seed, or reaping their harvest, – laying the foundation of a house or taking possession of it, – placing a web in the loom, or putting on a new suit of clothes, – entering on a journey, or going into a bath, – forming a new relation, or parting with a friend, – mingling with company,– at the beginning or closing of a letter, – they indulged in the aspirations of prayer: and so much did they familiarize themselves with its spirit and its sentiments, that they seemed to have cultivated the habit of constant mental intercourse with their heavenly Father. Prayer, indeed, was the grand element that pervaded the life of the primitive Christians; for that spiritual exercise, being not so much a separate and formal act, as a habit and frame of mind, and consisting of all the various elements of praise and thankfulness, confidence and hope, obedience and love, so these principles of a new nature, being established in their minds, and diffusing a sanctified influence over the whole tenor of their walk and conversation, gave vigor to their faith, stability to their virtue, and fed, like a perpetual spring, all the streams of christian activity and excellence, for which they were so remarkable.
The epistle to Diognetus, written early in the second century, contains the following description of Christians: "They are not distinguished from other men by their place of residence, their language or manners. Though they live in cities of the Greeks and barbarians, each where his lot is cast, and in clothing, food, and mode of life, follow the customs of their country, yet they are distinguished by a wonderful and universally astonishing walk and conversation. They dwell in their own native land, but as foreigners; they take part in everything as citizens, they endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and their native country as a foreign land. They live in the flesh but not after the flesh. They dwell on the earth, but they live in heaven; they obey the existing laws, hut by their life elevate themselves above the laws. They love all men, and are persecuted, misunderstood, and condemned by all. They are slain and made alive; they are poor and make many rich; they suffer want in everything and possess abundance in everything; they are cursed and they bless. In one word, what the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. As the soul is diffused through all the members of the body, so the Christians are spread through all the cities of the world. The soul indeed dwells in the body, but it is not of the body; so Christians dwell in the world, but they are not of the world. The invisible soul is shut up in the visible body; and so men know Christians as inhabitants of the world, but their life is hid with Christ in God. The flesh hates and fights the soul, though the soul does no injury to the flesh, but only prevents its giving itself up to its lusts; so also the world hates Christians; they do it no harm, but only set themselves against its lusts. The soul loves its hating flesh, and so Christians love those by whom they are hated. The soul is shut up in the body, and yet it is that by which the body is held together; and Christians are held to their post in the world, and it is they who hold the world together. The immortal soul dwells in the mortal body, and Christians dwell as strangers in the corruptible world, and await the unchangeable life in heaven. So important a part has God entrusted to them, which they dare not forsake."
Neander, K G. 1. – By Professor Stowe, 48