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“The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." Acts, 11 : 26.
About eighteen hundred years ago, there arose in Judea a cer. tain sect, or religious community, the members of which were at first called by various names. Their founder was Jesus of Nazareth, whom they denominated the Christ, or the Anointed of God, and in whom they trusted as the Saviour foretold by prophets through a long course of ages. They called themselves "brethren," "disciples," "believers," and sometimes "saints," or holy persons. Among the Jews they were known by many appellations of contempt; they were called “Galileans," “ Nazarenes," and whatever else could help to turn against them vulgar prejudice and passion. The sect, though every where spoken against, made rapid progress among the Jews ; and some ten or twelve years after the death of its Founder, Gentiles began to be numbered among its converts, and flourishing assemblies of believers were soon formed in many of the great cities of the Roman empire.
Among the earliest and most important of these societies, or churches, was the one formed at Antioch. That city was the metropolis of Syria, and of all the east. It was a city of great
wealth and splendor, inferior only to Rome and Alexandria ; renowned through the world, not only for the natural beauty of its situation, and the magnificence with which art had adorned it, and the genius and learning which centred there, but also for its luxury and Syrian profligacy. In its groves and temples the idols of Greece and Egypt, as well as the Astarte and Thammuz of ancient Syrian worship, were adorned with the fanatic zeal of oriental devotion. There, amid the shrines of that idolatry, the new faith gained footing among the Greeks by the efforts of a few disciples whom the storm of persecution had driven forth from Jerusalem and Judea. Thither the church of Jerusalem, as soon as they were informed of the opening thus made, sent Barnabas to carry on the work. There Barnabas, having secured the cooperation of the young Saul of Tarsus, then not long since converted to that faith, labored with great success, gathering and teaching the first church that ever was gathered from among the Gentiles. And there it was that a new name was given to the new sect, a name first spoken, probably, in ignorance, and scorn, and bate—there the disciples were first called Christians.
It seems probable, I say, that this name was first applied to the new sect by its enemies. There are only two instances be. side the text in which the New Testament records the name. In the text, you observe, it is not spoken of as a name which the disciples selected and adopted for themselves, but only as a name which came into use. In another instance, king Agrippa, moved by the fervent appeal of the prisoner on whom he was sitting in judgment, is represented as exclaiming, “ Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian !" In one instance, too, the Apostle Peter, writing to the disciples throughout Asia Minor, and forewarning them of the fiery trial which was soon to try them, while he says, - Let none of you suffer as an evil doer,” adds, “ Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed.” “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye.”
But through this name was first given as a name of reproach, to designate the followers of one who had died a death of ignominy, the disciples, determined as they were to know nothing but “Christ and him crucified," soon adopted it themselves, as a distinctive appellation both convenient and significant. The new religion, despised and persecuted, held on its way; ere long it
numbered among its converts nobles and philosophers, as well as myriads of those in lowlier conditions; and ultimately emperors enrolled themselves as its disciples. The name of Christian gras dually became, in the view of the world, too dignified for contempt; afterwards it rose above the reach of persecution ; and at last not only were the associations incidentally connected with it varied, but its whole meaning was materially changed. And where at this day-after all the reforms of the last three hundred years~bas the word been carried back completely to its original signification ?
I propose, therefore, to inquire a little into the original meaning of this word. What sort of people were they, who were called Christians first at Antioch? The answer can be given satisfactorily only from the Scriptures of the New Testament. If we look to any later documents, we may find the word already beginning to lose its primitive import. I answer then,
I. They to whom this title was originally applied were, in the language of the text,“ disciples." A disciple is a learner-a pupil under the direction of his teacher. The apostles and other constant attendants on Jesus Christ during his life-time, were called his disciples or pupils; they neither claimed nor desired any other title. That word described exactly the relation then subsisting between them and their Master, just as it described the relation between Gamaliel and those who sat at his feet to be instructed in the learning of the Jews. Jesus was literally their teacher : they were in his school; they were his humble, inquiring, believing pupils; they were learning that which the Divine Word had come from heaven to teach them; and they made that study a serious and stated employment. After their Master was taken from them, they themselves undertook-being guided by that “other Comforter," (napáxintos, helper, teacher,) "even the Spirit of truth"-to communicate to others that of which they were still, in their own estimation and profession, learners. All whom they were able thus to add to their number, were, like themselves, disciples, intent on learning that of which Jesus, the Son of God, was the great teacher. The assembly, or church, at Antioch was strictly a company of fellow-disciples; their church was a school in which all were learners, a
school under the tuition of Barnabas, and Saul, and others as elder pupils, yet superintended and illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
This, then, was one common characteristic of those who were first called Christians; they were all learners-all disciples. None of them were too wise to learn, none too ignorant to be instructed. There were, indeed, “first principles” of the doctrine of Christ, which all were expected to know; but from these first principles all—not here and there a favored individual, but all—were expected to "go on toward perfection.” There was no seal upon the book of knowledge ; its bright pages were open to all. In that school there was no distinction, such as Greek philosophers and Jewish rabbies had recognized between the few to whom knowledge could be safely intrusted, and the many who were to be only sparingly instructed—10 distinction be) tween doctrines esoteric and secret for the wise, and doctrines exoteric for the vulgar-no despotism over unthinking souls built on the cruel dogma that ignorance is the mother of devotion. All in the school of Christ-not a select order, but the pupils generally—were “enriched by him in all utterance and in all knowledge,” and the Spirit given to them was “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” The system of the men who were first called Christians, was a system, not of forms and ritual observances, nor of polity, but of instruction, of knowledge, of faith ; it was “the word,” “the glad tidings," “ the light,” “ the truth as it is in Jesus ;” its great ordinance was preaching, its great power was the power of instruction. The Christian was indeed a priest, of a royal priesthood ; but it was to offer spiritual sacrifices. He was a citizen, but his citizenship (Phil. 3 : 20) was in heaven. He was a subject, but in a kingdom not of this world. His first character was that of a disciple, a believing learner, an inquirer after truth, not groping and feeling by himself, if haply he might find it, but taught from living oracles..
II. These men, as disciples, held a certain system of religious doctrines peculiar to themselves. Of course the limits of the present inquiry will not permit a particular and full enumeration of their doctrines. It is obvious, however, and can not easily be denied, that their doctrines were in fact such as distinguished
them from both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews they regarded indeed as having received of old the oracles of God, who in time past spake to their fathers by the prophets ; but at the same time they regarded themselves as having received from the same God some new and important communications of truth, by his Son. What truths these were has been strangely disputed. It has been supposed by some that the distinctive doctrines received by those who were first called Christians, are simply the unity of God and the immortality of the soul. But were not botli of these truths as current among the Jews of that day as they now are among us? Did not the Jewish nation, excepting only the inconsiderable sect of the Sadducees, believe, as firmly as we do, the future existence of the human soul in a state of retribution?. How then could these doctrines be the distinctive points of the system held by Christians ? No; the apostles themselves, in their writings, give a palpably different account of this matter. Christ was not to them their master only, and the first promulgator of the faith which they had embraced ; his person, his work, and his relations to the vast empire of God, were the great themes of that revelation of which they were the ministers. Christ was the centre of their system-Christ the brightness of the Father's glory, humbling himself for some great end, taking upon himself the form of a servant, and found in fashion as a man--Christ crucified, and dying for our offences—Christ rising from the dead, and exalted to be a Prince and Saviour, to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and to give repentance and the remission of sin-Christ the Judge of the world, the Lord, the Jehovah, who shall judge the living and the dead at his appearing. The doctrine of redemption and salvation by Christ, of pardon and cleansing for sinners through his bloodthe doctrine of the cross—was to them the Gospel, the glad tid. ings to be published to all nations. Their own definition of their doctrine was this, “ to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.” The confession of their faith was, “ It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ came into the world to save sinners." In their instructions and inquiries they were " determined to know nothing but Cbrist and him crucified""whom God had set forth to be a propitation through faith in