Sabbath, June 12, 2010

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9.

The source of courage

l. From whom did the early Christian church receive power and steadfastness to be firm and faithful?
2 Corinthians 2:14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.

“When the grace of God reigns within, the soul will be surrounded with an atmosphere of faith and courage and Christlike love, an atmosphere invigorating to the spiritual life of all who inhale it…. Those who are humble in heart the Lord will use to reach souls whom the ordained ministers cannot approach. They will be moved to speak words which reveal the saving grace of Christ.

“A holy influence is to go forth to the world from those who are sanctified through the truth. The earth is to be encircled with an atmosphere of grace. The Holy Spirit is to work on human hearts, taking the things of God and showing them to men.” –God’s Amazing Grace, p. 238.

2. What was the focus of their faith?
Matthew 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Acts 1:9-11 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

“It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. The name was given them because Christ was the main theme of their preaching, their teaching, and their conversation. Continually they were recounting the incidents that had occurred during the days of His earthly ministry, when His disciples were blessed with His personal presence. Untiringly they dwelt upon His teachings and His miracles of healing. With quivering lips and tearful eyes they spoke of His agony in the garden, His betrayal, trial, and execution, the forbearance and humility with which He had endured the contumely and torture imposed upon Him by His enemies, and the Godlike pity with which He had prayed for those who persecuted Him. His resurrection and ascension, and His work in heaven as the Mediator for fallen man, were topics on which they rejoiced to dwell. Well might the heathen call them Christians, since they preached Christ and addressed their prayers to God through Him.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 157.

Living in God’s kingdom

3. What did they give, and to whom? Upon what were their thoughts fixed, even as they were still in this world?
Proverbs 23:26 My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.
Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

“The blessing of God will rest upon every soul that makes a full consecration to Him. When we seek for God with all the heart, we shall find Him. God is in earnest with us, and He wants us to make thorough work for eternity. He has poured out all heaven in one gift, and there is no reason why we should doubt His love. Look to Calvary….

“God asks you to give Him your heart. Your powers, your talents, your affections, should all be surrendered to Him, that He may work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure, and fit you for eternal life.

“When Christ dwells in the heart, the soul will be so filled with His love, with the joy of communion with Him, that it will cleave to Him; and in the contemplation of Him, self will be forgotten. Love to Christ will be the spring of action.” –My Life Today, p. 7.

“Jesus does not release us from the necessity of effort, but He teaches that we are to make Him first and last and best in everything. We are to engage in no business, follow no pursuit, seek no pleasure, that would hinder the outworking of His righteousness in our character and life. Whatever we do is to be done heartily, as unto the Lord.” –Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 99.

“He whose heart is fixed to serve God will find opportunity to witness for Him. Difficulties will be powerless to hinder him who is determined to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. In the strength gained by prayer and a study of the word, he will seek virtue and forsake vice.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 467.

Love for one’s enemies

4. What apparently new commandment did Jesus teach in a special way to the first Christians?
John 13:34, 35 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.  

“Jesus says, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ Love is not simply an impulse, a transitory emotion, dependent upon circumstances; it is a living principle, a permanent power. The soul is fed by the streams of pure love that flow from the heart of Christ, as a well-spring that never fails. O, how is the heart quickened, how are its motives ennobled, its affections deepened, by this communion! Under the education and discipline of the Holy Spirit, the children of God love one another, truly, sincerely, unaffectedly–‘without partiality, and without hypocrisy.’ And this because the heart is in love with Jesus. Our affection for one another springs from our common relation to God. We are one family, we love one another as He loved us. When compared with this true, sanctified, disciplined affection, the shallow courtesy of the world, the meaningless expression of effusive friendship, are as chaff to the wheat.” –Sons and Daughters of God, p. 101.

5. What did this commandment include?
Matthew 5:44-48 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

“… The Saviour said to His disciples: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you.’ We are to love our enemies with the same love that Christ manifested toward His enemies by giving His life to save them. Many may say, ‘This is a hard commandment; for I want to keep just as far as I can from my enemies.’ But acting in accordance with your own inclination would not be carrying out the principles that our Saviour has given. ‘Do good,’ He says, ‘to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ This scripture illustrates one phase of Christian perfection. While we were yet enemies of God, Christ gave His life for us. We are to follow His example.” –Medical Ministry, pp. 253, 254.

Rejection of force and violence

6. What do we learn from this commandment that appears to be new?
Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

What did the first Christians refuse to do, since they longed for perfection, Christ’s coming, and His kingdom?
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.  

“The primitive Christians not only refused to be enlisted in the army, but when any embraced Christianity while already enlisted, they abandoned the profession at whatever cost. Marcellus was a centurion in the legion called Trajana. While holding this commission, he became a Christian; and believing, in common with his fellow Christians, that war was no longer permitted to him, he threw down his belt at the head of the legion, declaring that he had become a Christian, and that he would serve no longer. He was committed to prison, but he was still faithful to Christianity. ‘It is not lawful,’ said he, ‘for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration;’ and he was, in consequence, put to death. Almost immediately afterward, Cassian, who was notary to the same legion, gave up his office. He steadfastly maintained the sentiments of Marcellus, and, like him, was consigned to the executioner. Martin, of whom so much is said by Sulpicius Severus, was bred to the profession of arms, which on his acceptance of Christianity, he abandoned. To Julian the Apostate, the only reason that we find he gave for his conduct was this: ‘I am a Christian, and therefore I cannot fight.’…

“Maximilian, as it is related in the Acts of Ruinart, was brought before the tribunal to be enrolled as a soldier. On the proconsul’s asking his name, Maximilian replied: ‘I am a Christian, and cannot fight.’ It was, however, ordered that he should be enrolled, but he refused to serve, still alleging that he was a Christian. He was immediately told that there was no alternative between bearing arms and being put to death. But his fidelity was not to be shaken: ‘I cannot fight,’ said he, ‘if I die.’ He continued steadfast to his principles and was consigned to the executioner.” –Jonathan Dymond, Example and Testimony of the Early Christians on the Subject of War, London, 1823-24; Philadelphia, 1892.

7. Was this a fundamental doctrine of the first Christian church?
2 Thessalonians 2:15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.

“These were not the sentiments, and this was not the conduct, of isolated individuals who might be actuated by individual opinion or by their private interpretations of the duties of Christianity. Their principles were the principles of the body.… Lactantius, another early Christian, says expressly, ‘It can never be lawful for a righteous man to go to war.’ About the end of the second century, Celsus, one of the opponents of Christianity, charged the Christians with refusing to bear arms even in case of necessity. Origen, the defender of the Christians, does not think of denying the fact; he admits the refusal and justifies it, because war was unlawful. Even after Christianity had spread over almost the whole of the known world, Tertullian, in speaking of a part of the Roman armies, including more than one-third of the standing legions of Rome, distinctly informs us that ‘not a Christian could be found among them.’” –Ibid.

8. When was this principle set aside by the already apostatized church?

“It is therefore indisputable, that the Christians who lived nearest to the time of our Saviour believed, with undoubting confidence, that He had unequivocally forbidden war; and they openly avowed this belief, and that, in support of it, they were willing to sacrifice, and did sacrifice, their fortunes and their lives.

[Professing] Christians, however, afterward became soldiers, and when? When their general fidelity to Christianity became relaxed; when, in other respects, they violated its principles; when they had begun ‘to dissemble,’ and ‘to falsify their word,’ and ‘to cheat;’ when ‘Christian casuists’ had persuaded them that they might ‘sit at meat in the idol’s temple;’ when professing] Christians accepted even the priesthoods of idolatry. In a word, they became soldiers when they had ceased to be Christians.

“The departure from the original faithfulness was, however, not suddenly general. Like every other corruption, war obtained by degrees. During the first two hundred years, not a Christian soldier is upon record. In the third century, when Christianity became partially corrupted, Christian soldiers were common. The number increased with the increase of the general profligacy; until at last, in the fourth century, [nominal] Christians became soldiers without hesitation. Here and there, however, an ancient father still lifted up his voice for peace; but these, one after another, dropping from the world, the tenet that war is unlawful ceased at length to be a tenet of the [professing] church.” –Ibid.

“The first Christians refused to take part in the legions, because war was contrary to the teachings of the Lord. But three centuries later, politics led them to the point that they completely abandoned their previous position. The Middle Ages are a testimony of how unfaithful they had turned to be to the faith of their foreparents. The endless wars and slaughters of those centuries, and if I am allowed to mention it, even the events of our bright era are a convincing proof of the total separation from the doctrines of the early Christian Church.” –Written by an English Prime Minister about the first Christians and war, published in Dresdener Neuesten Nachrichten, June 14, 1926.)