7. Their deportment in the Business and Recreations of Life
Antiquities of the Christian Church
XVIII. Domestic and Social Character of the Primitive Christians
7. Their deportment in the Business and Recreations of Life
As we have already seen, Christians mingled in the ordinary business of life; they were engaged in the various occupations and trades of the people around them; and in all the forms of business they were intimately associated with their heathen neighbors. But they were careful, not only to preserve a scrupulous honesty in all their dealings, they would immediately abandon trade or profession, however lucrative it might be, or however necessary to the support of their families, if it were seen that the occupation was in any respect an immoral one, or that it encouraged their heathen neighbors in the practice of sin, or was in any way inconsistent with the precepts of Christianity. In an age when all the forms and business of society were so closely connected with pagan idolatry, when so many arts and trades centered in the idol worship, and lived on the vices of men, vast multitudes of Christians must have been thrown out of employment and reduced to extreme poverty, by the conscientious abandonment of trades, the only ones which they could practise, and on which their livelihood depended. They must find some other mode of living, or consent even to pauperism, rather than violate the precepts of the religion they professed. The church undertook the support of such men and their families, rather than let them continue in a doubtful calling; and they were willing to be poor and live like paupers, rather than neglect the slightest admonitions of conscience. On this point Terlullian gives ample directions. If those are converted who were makers of idols, they must pursue some other branch of their trade, repair houses, plaster walls, line cisterns, coat columns. He who can carve a Mercury can put together a chest of drawers; there are few temples to be built, but many houses; few Mercuries to be gilded, but many sandals and slippers. If schoolmasters, they must even relinquish their calling rather than leach the adventures of the heathen gods, consecrate the first payment of each scholar to Minerva, or keep holidays in honor of Flora. If cattle merchants, they are to buy for the shambles but not for the altar. If hucksters, they are at least not to deal in incense.
In an African church a stage actor was converted to Christianity, and having no other means of living, he instructed boys for the stage. Cyprian (Epist. 61) wrote that this must not be tolerated. "If he is poor and needy, let him come among the rest who are supported by the church, and let him be content with a poorer and more innocent maintenance. But he must not imagine that he deserves wages for ceasing from sin, for in this he is doing service not to us but to himself. Seek, then, by all means in your power, to turn him from this bad and disgraceful life, to the way of innocence and hope of eternal life; and that he be content with a more sparing, but yet a more wholesome diet, which the church will provide for him. And if your church is not able to do this, send him to us, and we will provide him with necessary food and clothing; that he may not teach others who are out of the church destructive things, but may himself within the church learn the things which pertain to salvation."
All dissipating amusements were strictly prohibited, and the Christian was exhorted on all occasions to demean himself with a gravity and sobriety becoming a soldier of Jesus Christ and a priest of the most high God. From most of the amusements of their heathen neighbors they conscientiously abstained; and the weak and the vain who suffered themselves to be betrayed into them, were promptly and severely rebuked.
"The christian lady (says Tertullian, de Cult. II. 11,) visits not the heathen plays, and the noisy amusements of their feast days, but she goes out to visit the sick, to partake of the sacrament, or to hear the word of God."
It seems that some weaker brethren and sisters could scarcely relinquish the amusements and gratifications to which they had been accustomed in early life, and endeavored to justify themselves, as Christians now do who are fond of the same irregularities. They said that the gifts of God were good and might be used for our lawful pleasure, that plays and dances were nowhere expressly forbidden in Scripture, that it was right to dance, for David danced before the ark; that it could not be wrong to visit chariot races and horse races, for Elijah went to heaven in a chariot and with horses of fire, and the apostle Paul drew many of his illustrations from the racecourse and the circus.
Respecting such subterfuges, Tertullian exclaims: "O how wise does human folly deem itself in arguing, especially when it fears to love some worldly pleasure. Everything is indeed the gift of God, but we must consider to what end the things of God are given, and use them in accordance with their original design, or we commit sin. True, we nowhere find in Scripture an express verbal prohibition of theatres and plays; but we find there the general principles of which this prohibition is the necessary consequence."
In respect to the argument from Paul's illustrations, he remarks: "It were belter they had never known the Scriptures than to pervert, to the defence of vice, those words and examples which were given to excite us to evangelical virtue; for these things are written to raise our zeal the higher for useful things, since the heathen manifest so great zeal for things of no use. Tell me, what should be our desire, other than that of the apostle, to depart and be with Christ? There is thy joy whither thy desire tends. Art thou so ungrateful as to overlook or be dissatisfied with the many and great joys which the Lord hath already given thee? For what is more joyful than reconciliation with God, thy Father and Lord, than the revelation of the truth, the escaping from error, the forgiveness of so many sins? What greater joy than the declining of the vain joys of the world, than the true freedom, the pure conscience, the innocent life, the fearlessness of death? * * * These are the amusements, these are the plays of the Christian, which men cannot pay for with money. And what kind of joy is that which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived?" (Neander K. § I. 447–50.)