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Evils in the Church of the Apostolical Age

Evils in the Church of the Apostolical Age

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Published by GLENN DALE PEASE
BENJAMIN JOWETT, M.A.

BENJAMIN JOWETT, M.A.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Jul 15, 2013
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Evils in the Church of the Apostolical AgeBEJAMI JOWETT, M.A.WERE we, with the view of forming a judgment of the moralstate of the early Church, to examine the subjects of rebukemost frequently referred to by the Apostle, these would befound to range themselves under four heads : first, licentious-ness ; secondly, disorder ; thirdly, scruples of conscience ;fourthly, strifes about doctrine and teachers. The considerationof these four subjects, the two former falling in with the argu-ment of the Epistle to the Thessalonians, the two latter moreclosely connected with the Romans and the Galatians, will givewhat may be termed the darker side of the primitive Church.i. Licentiousness was the besetting sin of the Roman world.Except by a miracle, it was impossible that the new convertscould be at once and wholly freed from it. It lingered in theflesh when the spirit had cast it off. It had interwoven itself in the pagan religions ; and, if we may believe the writings of adversaries, was ever reappearing on the confines of the Churchin the earliest heresies. It was possible for men ' to resist untodeath, striving against sin ', yet to fall beneath its power.Even within the pale of the Church, it might assume the formof a mystic Christianity. The very ecstasy of conversion wouldoften lead to a reaction. othing is more natural than thatin a licentious city, like Corinth or Ephes-us, those who wereimpressed by St Paul's teaching should have gone their way,and returned to their former life. In this case it would seldomhappen that they apostatized into the ranks of the heathen:the same impulse which led them to the Gospel, would lead themalso to bridge the gulf which separated them from its purermorality. Many may have sinned and repented again andagain, unable to stand themselves in the general corruption, yetunable to cast aside utterly the image of innocence and good-78 Evils in the Apostolical Church
 
ness which the Apostle had set before them. There were those,again, who consciously sought to lead the double life, andimagined themselves to have found in licentiousness the truefreedom of the Gospel.How the consciences of men were aroused to the sense thatsins of the flesh were really sins, may be seen by the mannerin which the Apostle speaks of them. His tone respecting themis very different from that of moralists, or of common conversa-tion even among serious men in modern times. He says nothingof the distrust which they infuse into society, or the conse-quences to the individual himself. It is not in this way thatmoral evils are presented to us in Scripture. either does heappeal to public opinion as condemning them, or dwell on theruin involved in them to one half of the human race. Trueand forcible as these aspects of such sins are, they are theresult of modern reflection, not the first instincts of reason andconscience. They strengthen the moral principles of mankind,but are not of a kind to touch the individual soul. They area good defence for the existing order of things ; but they willnot purify the nature of man, or extinguish the flames of lust.It is a new and hitherto unheard of language in which theApostle denounces sins of impurity. They are not moral evils,but spiritual. They corrupt the soul ; they defile the temple of the Holy Ghost ; they cut men off from the body of Christ.Of morality, as distinct from religion, there is hardly a trace inthe Epistles of St Paul. He cannot appeal to public opinion,for public opinion does not exist ; the Gospel itself has to makethe standard to the level of which it will raise the world.Fornication and uncleanness were mildly, when at all, censuredby heathen philosophy. From within, not from without, thenature of sin has to be explained ; as it appears in the depthsof the human soul, in the awakening conscience of mankind.Even its consequences in another state of being are but slightlytouched upon, in comparison with that living death whichitself is. It is not merely a vice or crime, or even an offenceagainst the law of God, to be punished here or hereafter. Itis more than this. It is what men feel in themselves, not what
 
they observe in those around them ; not what shall be, butwhat is ; a terrible consciousness, a mystery of iniquity, acommunion with unseen powers of evil.All sin is spoken of in the Epistles of St Paul, as rooted inhuman nature, and quickened by the consciousness of law ; butespecially is this the case with the sin which is more than anyother the type of sin in general fornication. It is, in aEvils in the Apostolical Church 79peculiar sense, the sin of the flesh, with which the very ideaof the corruption of the flesh is closely connected, just as,in i Thess., iv, 3, the idea of holiness is regarded as almostequivalent to abstinence from the commission of it. It is asin against a man's own body, distinguished from all other sinsby its personal and individual nature. o other is at thesame time so gross and so insidious ; no other partakes so muchof the slavery of sin. As marriage is the type of the communionof Christ and His Church, as the body is the member of Christ,so the sin of fornication is a strange and mysterious unionwith evil.But although such is the tone of the Apostle, there is noviolence to human nature in his commands respecting it. Heknew how easily extremes meet, how hard it is for asceticismto make clean that which is within, how quickly it might itself pass into its opposite. othing can be more different from thespirit of early ecclesiastical history on this subject, than themoderation of St Paul. The remedy for sin is not celibacy, butmarriage. Even second marriages are, for the prevention of sin, to be encouraged. In the same spirit is his treatment of the incestuous person. He had committed a sin not even namedamong the Gentiles, for which he was to be delivered untoSatan, for which all the Church should humble themselves ;yet upon his true repentance, no ban is to separate him fromthe rest of the brethren, no doom of endless penance is recordedagainst him. Whatever might have been the enormity of his

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