CESAR'S HOUSEHOLD. By STEPHEN A. CALDWELL.
" All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Cesar's household." — Phiuppians iv. 22.
The saints in Paul's time, and in his terminology, wete not special canonized persons, doctors or martyrs or spiritual enthusiasts, the Jeromes, the Anthonys, the Augustines, the St. Cecilias and St. Catharines, but the common, everyday disciples who composed the churches of Christ. They were all saints. Why the Christians at Rome who were in the imperial palace should send special salutations to the Christian people in Philippi, why they " chiefly " and " specially," we hardly know. Indeed, the remarkable fact is, not that friendly messages should have been going from the saints there to Christians elsewhere, — that the Christians in all places should feel a sympathy with their brethren everywhere, though strangers, — but that there should have been any saints at all in the household of Caesar. But this little sentence, this merely incidental allusion, this message in the postscript of a letter, tells that they were there, that the name of Christ has come up to the very top and splendid centre of the world, to be made known and confessed not only by an apostle in chains before its courts, but in the very house of the im-
perial master of the world. If there was, when Paul was writing this letter, one spot in all the world more conspicuous than all others for power, for splendor, for crime even, it was the Palatine Hill, crowned with the magnificent buildings of five successive Caesars. And of all the Julian race who there had lived and ruled, none had been able to be so bad, so terrible in wickedness, so imperial in
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crime, as Nero. And it was in the household of this monster, it was among the servants of this bloody and profligate tyrant, who butchered his mother and his wives, who burned his own capital, who burned Christians after he had first smeared them with pitch, whose vices were so horrible as to shock even the men of that corrupted generation, the details of whose infamy as told by the ancient historians, it has been said, " no writer in the languages of Christendom may dare to repeat," — it was among those who dwelt in a house whose master was so vile that Paul found saints. Out of this abode of splendid sin came men and women whose souls thirsted for the purity and bowed to the authority of Christ Jesus. They believed, they loved, they adored One, every memory of whom was
a condemnation of the master whom they served every day. They were called to be saints in a house whose atmosphere was stifling with corruption, almost suffocating with crime. They confessed Christ where not only his name, if that were known, but every principle and the whole spirit of his religion, must have been hated ; where to stand up as a Christian must have required a courage more than Roman, the heroism of a faith which endured as seeing Him who is invisible. Among lovers of pleasure they were lovers of God. In a Pagan palace, whose lord was reckoned by law and by custom divine, they worshipped an Eternal God, and acknowledged themselves servants of a crucified King. Against all that dark depravity they let their light shine. In a word, they were saints in Ccesars household.
They were what so many are called to be, here as well as there. They salute us across all the centuries, and find now a great many who have to stand like them, — perhaps not in so sharp a contrast, nor in such peril of blood and burning, — and yet, like them, pure amidst vice, faithful among the faithless. Christians against all the Caesars of the world, *' a man's foes those of his own household."
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With all change that has come, with a better civilization in this New World, with no imperial monsters nearer than Burmah, with liberty established and persecution stopped, it may be there is less real difference than we think. It may be there are households in this very town where it is as hard to serve Christ, where saintship would shine just as bright to God's eye, — that there are Caesars of another name, and a Rome where Christ is to be confessed as bravely, if not at the same cost, at any rate at great sacrifices, here in this very day and place, as there is in the palace of Nero. This last verse in Paul's letter, wlijch perhaps you have counted as lacking inspiration and of no consequence, which you thought was sent only a little way to Philippi to stop there, a mere compliment tacked to the end of an epistle, goes on and brings its word down to us ; it contains enough for a sermon, and tells of religion in strange places, of being a Christian under difficulties, of saintship amidst the world's opposition and corruption.
That this is possible, there are instances enough beside this one to prove. Faith has won its glory out of such hard places. In some place where it was pushed against hardship, in some post of duty beset by danger, where up-
rightness is singular and persecuted, where fidelity to God is loss and disgrace, there has faith illustrated its power, and gained its grandest triumphs. Joseph keeping the whiteness of his soul at the price of liberty, Moses choosing God and his people's cause against all royal gifts or wrath, Daniel neglecting no duty of his religion when courtly compliance would save his life, — these have their heroism repeated in smaller spheres and humbler instances everywhere. Christ's religion does not summon men to a change of place, of occupation, of outward circumstance ; it does not call them out of service in Caesar's army, out of any service, though it be slavery in Caesar's household, — but it proposes to sanctify them^ and where they are. It
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does not attempt social revolution or any outward change ; it goes not even into Caesar's palace with insurrection. It takes man as man wherever it finds him, to make him spiritually right. It makes men Christian wherever they are. Whatever their calling in life, in that they are called to be saints. There are many places where it is very hard to serve God, where it is to be done at the price of ease, under the ban of fashion, against the world's opinion,
perhaps against the world's law ; but it can be done. And the harder it is, the grander the conquest, the richer the regard. It is easier generally to conform, to take the custom of your profession, the habit of society, the practice of other people for your rule. It may require effort and courage for the sailor in the forecastle, the soldier in the camp, the traveler in licentious cities, the boy or girl at school, like Tom Brown at Rugby, to say his prayers every night, and keep the tongue pure and walk upright with Christ. But religion does not belong only to churches and Sundays. It is just the thing for strange places, to go wherever a human soul goes to struggle with temptation, to every post of perplexing and difficult duty, to go with you alone where all others deny it, to be with you even in Caesar's house, if there your lot be cast, amongst its impurities, its proud scorn of Christ, its false bad life, to help and keep you in that hard battle ; nay, it may be, to find there through you a field before unknown for its triumphs.
Indeed, it is not only possible, but so the Lord of our life selects and appoints our place, on purpose that in it, whatever it is, there we may do our duty ; that there we may win strength to ourselves and glory to Christ. For He takes men where they are, that they may be righteous and faithful there; not to gather all the saints in Csesar's
household, all Christian disciples, out of the houses where they are perhaps alone amidst worklliness and sin, to gather all faithful souls into some monastery or church by
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themselves : rather He sets them separate, perhaps single ; He calls them, as He did Abraham, " alone," because there the light is needed, that thus the mass may be leavened. Thus He tries their virtue and their faith. Thus He makes their religion a witness for Him in the fa.ce of the Csesars whose race is not yet dead, who do their evil will in many a larger or smaller Rome in this Christian An^erica of ours. Wherever the fortune of life takes us, into places where the fear of God does not come, where the law of passion, of selfishness, of pleasure, is supreme ; into college or camp ; servant nnder an unrighteous master ; in an undevout family ; child of a worldly house, of a fashionable society ; wife of a profane husband ; laborer among the impure and scoffing, — there is your place : not only such as Providence appoints, which perhaps you cannot escape and must submit to, but more than that, your opportunity, where your faith is to be tested, to be disciplined, where it is to be shown at any rate. Why should you expect it to
be easier ? Why not readily accept this honor of holding a lamp for God in a dark place ? Why ask to be set aside from the post of honor because it is dangerous ? Why ask God to let you stay in some quiet office in his temple when you can be a saint in Caesar's household ? It was the thanksgiving of Paul for these Christians at Rome that their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world. And no doubt it was because it was faith in Home, out of all that baseness, out of its persecutions, out of its hardships, out of that stifled air of Nero's house, out of all the oppression and corruption under which it grew, shining forth to cheer the farthest disciple in that young Christendom which Paul and his associates had been building. The Lord of the world appoints difficulty for other things, and why not for religion ? He makes his best fruit grow out of hardship, great and shining souls ripened in poverty, sharpened in opposition or neglect ; plucking honor, knowledge, success, out of the hand of
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hindrance and danger. If there is a pursuit of knowledge under difficulties ; if a shepherd boy while watching herds can learn the mysteries of the stars ; if a stammering youth,
with pebbles in his mouth and the voice of the sea for his teacher, can become the chief orator of the ages, — so saintship may be wrung out of the hardest lot by applying the same principle to goodness we do to business or know^ledge. It is of purpose, with a wise and good purpose, God puts his servants in such places ; takes them in Caesar's household, and leaves them where He finds them, — under a tyrant, in the face of profanity and impurity, under conditions of trial, where to be pure and true and prayerful will be difficult. For so He serves himself, and so He proves and blesses them. The evil with too many is, that life is too easy, or that they make it so ; that they live in Caesar's house, but render to Caesar the things which are God's. They do not see that the spirit of saintship there, which led men and women out to hear the word of Christ from his imprisoned Apostle ; which led them back into that golden house of tyranny and profligacy to deny themselves, to lift their souls towards Christ's pure home and kingdom ; which made the Epistle to the Romans their food and joy, as it has been to innumerable saints ; which made them patient under injury, in the face of a crowned iniquity ; which kept them joyful in tribulation, and faithful amidst seductions, and thirsting after that destiny which Christ had revealed, — is the same spirit which here is possible and needful, wherever Christian fidelity is difficult, wherever against adverse influences faith and purity are
to be held fast. There are Caesars still, tyrants in their little sphere, cowardly persecutors who in their little way try to annoy, if not injure, such as are trying to live a higher life, smearing Christians in the pitch of their vulgar talk, thinking to burn their religious scruples out of them by shame and injury because they cannot use the fire that kindled in the garden of Nero ; Caesars of license,
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lords of tyrannical fashion, a Rome in every place which has hatred and persecution for the faithful soul ; and so those brethren salute us, and tell us of victory, for Christ is stronger than Nero, and has overcome the world.
There are two things required for the victory against adverse influences, two vital elements at least in the saintship which lives and does not decline in Caesar's household. The first is principle^ as we sometimes call it, whatever that is which stands in the inmost soul, in its pledged faith, as the foundation of a living and enduring saintship. For there is a religion of principle^ as different from the religion of sentiment or feeling or form or tradition. It has a conviction which it counts worth something,
worth everything, which it would not sell for Caesar's smile, which it would not yield to Nero's wrath. It believes, and what it believes it makes its law, so that it is not shifted according to the household it happens to be in. It is hi the soul^ and it is the deep conviction of the soul, taking hold of God and his eternal principles, to be strong in them. It is the religion of principle, which may not believe much, but believes that strongly and completely ; the religion of conviction, which takes its law from what is innermost, not from the creed it professes, but from the truth it believes ; which is not one thing at home and another in New York, Rome, or Paris ; which everywhere is true, not to circumstances but to convictions, to that which is true and everlasting. There is no other kind of religion worth much, or in fact that lasts long. There is no other which takes hold deep enough, and, when you sift it, weighs anything in the scales of truth, in the eye of God. That does, for God acts on principle and loves it ; that does, for it goes to the bottom and holds and controls ; when the wind shifts, it still points northward, and through the storm comes into harbor at last. This is the excellence of Christianity, that it is a religion of principle, of doctrines, of fundamental truths. It furnishes something
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to hold on to. It is an affirmative, revealed, unchangeable body of truth. It is not something to he discovered, which the ages are developing, which good men and philosophic minds are working out, and will get right by and by. It is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. Whatever is variable, temporary, of man in it, passes away. But whatever is true and divine in it is the same in Caesar's household and in the Epistle to the Romans, and in the religious experience of any one of you. And so you are not crossing a river on floating pieces of ice, but on a solid span of truth, which stands, not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. You know whom and what you have believed, and all you have to do is to stand by that and upon it. Hold it, and it will hold you. Keep to some principle, some conviction, some eternal rule, some unchangeable truth, to the abiding Christ of your faith ; let fashions change, let philosophies alter, let science advance, let religion even, in its creeds, its churches, its ceremonies, vary, — hold to the truth as it is in Jesus of Nazareth, and because that endures and triumphs, you will.
And there are some things which go with settled principle, which it almost necessarily produces, which are re-
quired in all hard places. There is courage, what is often called the courage of one's convictions. There are other kinds of it. But the courage which has truth, conviction, back of it, is the kind which holds out and conquers. There was courage enough in Rome in Paul's time, such as it was ; there was the Roman valor which made the Roman name invincible to the ends of the earth. But there was a new kind of courage springing up there in Caesar's household, the courage born of the fear of God, of the love of Christ ; which was as gentle, as meek, as patient, as it was invincible, what Milton calls " the unresistible might of meekness ; " which was not arrogant or boisterous or demonstrative, but which in any sharp pinch
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and pressure could quietly do its duty, and would not forswear its faith before Nero's commandment or the headsman's axe. And it is this which true discipleship has in any hard place, in a school where a sneer is as sharp as a knife, where to stick to a conscientious scruple, or a practice of prayer, or a religious conviction, may be as hard as it was to be a saint in Caesar's house.
And it requires firmness, the constancy which is begotten of conviction and of courage ; which is principle affirming itself, and carrying itself out in act, in spirit, in character ; which considers some things settled and beyond question, and which holds to them as good, true, eternal, never to be let go whatever happens, out of which we cannot be frightened, cannot be seduced. Without this you are afloat, and can never stand, will not stand, when the trial comes. There is a beautiful, divine constancy, a firmness which is not ugliness or pride or obstinacy, but which, having committed itself to Christ, clings and abides the result ; an independence which is not haughtiness, which is meek and modest, which says No, without passion or pride, almost without offensiveness ; which simply will not do the thing which is wrong ; which, against all the world, will do the thing which is right ; which, having believed in Christ, clings and abides the result. Principle is of little avail without firmness. And it is over the infirm temper, over inconstant religion, that temptation gets the victory.
That house of the golden C^sars has gone down into dust ; that great Hill, which to Paul's eye was resplendent with a magnificence nowhere to be seen in all the wide world, is to-day depopulated, only a solitary convent on it, and the plague-smitten air, as if the dread ghost of Nero
still walked in his old haunts, keeps it a desolate pile of ruins. The saints who out of those halls walked over to Paul's pretorian prison to hear his encouraging words, having fought a good fight, long ago were laid away in
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the catacombs, with the palm-branch carved against their names, and they have gone up to a household and a King, to a palace beyond the stars. Behold, they have their reward. Even here they are remembered, while through all ages the Church of God read this letter, even as their cruel master and persecutor is the heir of immortal infamy. But not here is their record and reward. For eternal issues hang on the fidelities of these few years we spend in Caesar's household. Their fidelity justifies itself, and for eighteen centuries has been gathering rewards from earth and heaven. They went out of Nero's golden house to the presence of Christ, which was far better; and that He confessed them before the Father's face was the reward they expected, and which repaid all the scorn of the proud and the persecution of the powerful. They exchanged the dreadful though splendid Rome for the holy Jerusalem whose King is Christ, and whose glory is ever-
lasting life. And as they confessed him before kings, He confessed them before the angels of God.
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