CHAPTER XIII. WHY CHRISTIANITY DID NOT ARREST THE RUIN OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
above the taste of those who patronize it. Christian teachings would have been spurned at Rome even had there been no persecution. The church flourished because it instructed its own members, and quietly gained an extension of its influence, not because it appealed to those who opposed it. The church, in those days, was not a philanthropical institution, or an educational enterprise, or a network of agencies and "instrumentalities" to bring to bear on society at large certain ameliorating influences or benignant reforms. These were beyond its reach. But it was a secret body of believers, a kind of freemasonry which aimed to control and reform those who belonged to it. Its rules were for members, not the outside world. Hence the history of the early church refers chiefly to its discipline, to its officers, to the management of dioceses, to councils, holydays, festivals, liturgies, creeds, bearing only on its own internal organization. The members of this secret society lived apart from the world, absorbed in their own spiritual interests, or seeking to save the souls of those with whom they came in contact. The true triumphs of Christianity were seen in making good men of those who professed her doctrines, rather than changing outwardly popular institutions, or government, or laws, or even elevating the great mass of unbelievers. And it is more comforting to feel that the church was small and pure than that it was large and corrupt. And for three centuries there is reason to believe that the Christians, if feeble in influence and few in numbers when compared with the whole population, were remarkable for their graces and virtues - for their noble resistance to those temptations which enthrall so great a number of our modern believers. Insignificant in every public sense, they may not have lifted up their voices against the system of slavery which did so much to undermine the state; they may not have lectured against the despotic power of the imperator; they may have taken but little interest in politics, rendering unto Caesar whatever was due, whether taxes or obedience; they may not have formed schools or colleges or lyceums; they may not have meddled with any thing outside their ranks, except to preach temperance, justice, and a judgment to come, and a Saviour who was crucified, and a heaven to be obtained; but they did practice among themselves all the duties enjoined by Christ and his Apostles; they refused to sacrifice to the gods of pagan antiquity; they visited no shows; they attended no pageants; they gave no sumptuous banquets; they did not witness the games of the theatre and the circus; they did not play at dice, or take usury, or dye their hair, or wear absurd ornaments, or indulge in unseemly festivities: they detested astrologers and soothsayers, shrines, images, and idolatry; they kept the Sabbath, educated their children in the faith, settled their disputes without going to law, were patient under injuries, were charitable and unobtrusive, were full of faith and love, practicing the severest virtues, devout and spiritual when all were worldly and frivolous around them, ready for the martyr's pile, and looking to the martyr's crown. That Christianity should have rescued so many from the pollution of paganism in such general degeneracy, is very wonderful. That it should have extended its circle of sincere believers amid increasing degeneracy, is still more so, and is a most encouraging fact to the friends of religious progress.The prayers of Augustine, the letters of Jerome, the sermons of Chrysostom, the ascetic example of Basil, could no more arrest the march of the avengers of centuries of misrule than the intercession of Abraham could stop the thunderbolts of God on the guilty inhabitants of Sodom. The Roman world, so long abandoned to every folly and sin, must reap the bitter fruit. It was no reproach to Christianity that it did not avert the consequences of sin, any more than it was a reproach to Jonah that he could not save Nineveh. If Christianity effects so little with us, when there are no opposing religions, and all institutions are professedly in harmony with it; when it controls the press and the schools and the literature of the country; when its churches are gilded with the emblem of our redemption in every village; when its ministers go forth unopposed, and have every facility of delivering their message, even to the wise and mighty; when philanthropy comes in with its mighty arm and knocks off the fetters of the slave, and sends the Gospel to every land - how could it affect society when every influence was against it. If religion wanes before the dazzling forces of a brilliant material civilization, and scarcely holds her own, when all profess to be governed by Christian truth, so that in a moral and spiritual view, society rather retrogrades than advances, I am amazed that it made so considerable a progress in the Roman empire, and increased from generation to generation until it shook the throne of emperors. And the example of the early church would seem to indicate that religion can only spread in a healthy manner, by constantly guarding and purifying those who profess it. It would seem that the true mission of the church is to elevate her own members rather than to mingle in scenes which have a corrupting influence. It is not easy to make the theatre a means of moral improvement, for it will be deserted when it rises above popular tastes, and the more it panders to these tastes the more it flourishes. The theatre may have been elevated at Athens, when the citizens who thronged to hear the plays of Sophocles were themselves cultivated. Racine may have been relished at Versailles, but only because the court of a great king composed the audience. The theatre never rises