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Acts xi. 26.

•• AND THE DISOIPLES WERE CALLED CHRlSTIAXb FlRbT IN
ANTIOCH."

It has been a favourite employment among speculative
grammarians, to trace the changes, produced by the lapse
of time, on the signification of words. In not a few in-
stances, these changes are so great, that it is a matter of
considerable difficulty, to discover the relation between the
present and what seems to have been the original import.
That the best way to ascertain the correct meaning and
proper use of any term in a language, is to trace it back,
if possible, through all its intermediate variations, to its
remotest derivation, — is a principle, the justness of which,
as one of general application, wiiile l)y some writers it has
been assumed, and made the ground of many ingenious
philological speculations, has been ably shown by others
to be more than questionable.* But while it does not ap-
pear to be generally true, neither is it, by any means, uni-

• See the admirahle Slrictiircs of Mr. Stewart, in )iis Fiiilosophi-
cal Essays, on the I'hilolot^ical Spcriilations of Home Tooke.



ON THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. 361

versally false. There are some cases, in wliicli it is a
matter of the greatest consequence, to ascertain, either from
etymology, or from the existing documents of ancient prac-
tice, the precise sense in which a particular term was orig-
inally used. This is of especial importance, in cases
where that which was originally signified by the term con-
tinues in its nature and properties the same, and whei*e,
consequently, the deviations from its primary acceptation
have been productive of deception and mistake : — and, in
such cases, the degree of importance is proportionate to
the nature of such mistake, and to the magnitude of the
consequences which may have resulted from it.

The present application of these remarks, you will all
immediately perceive. — There are few words which have,
in their ordinary use, deviated more widely from their
original application, than the term — Christian. In its
original use, it was descriptive of a comparatively small
number of men, who were distinguished from the rest of
the world by a singular and striking peculiarity of senti-
ments and character. In the use that is generally made
of it noiCf it can hardly with trutli be said that it is dis-
tinctive of principles and character at all ; — for it is appli-
ed indiscriminately to persons, whose principles and char-
acters are diametrically opposite. Nay, to such a degree
has it been generalized in its application, as to have be-
come a term in geography, rather than in religion, mark-
ing out — not a distinct and defined variety of individual
character, — but birth, and local residence^ and national
boundaries. — Great Britain is a Christian country ; and
its inliabitants are, of course, CJn-istians, because they are
not, by profession. Pagans, or Mahometans.

Whatever advantages may have been considered as
arising from civil establishments of Christianity, the seri-
ous and pious among their advocates have readily and
strongly admitted, that this, at least, is one of their neces-

46



362 ON THE CHRISTIAN CHAllACTER.

sary evils : — I mean, tlie indiscriminate application to
romminiifics, of those terms, which properly indicate ^^^r-
nonal state and character ; and the incalculable measure
of self-deception, of inconsiderate security, and delusive
confidence, which has thence, by a fatal necessity resulted.

It has so happened, that, of a variety of appellations,
originally used to denote the same class of individuals,
Christian is the one that has been thus sadly perverted
from its original and appropriate application. From this
circumstance has arisen, the curious fact, that the name of
Christian is taken, and reciprocally given to one another,
by multitudes of persons, who never for a moment dream
of any of the other terms being at all applicable to them.
How many for example, would be highly provoked, should
you refuse them the designation of Christians, who, were
you to accost them by the appellation o^saints, would eith-
er look at you, in astonishment, for an explanation of your
meaning, or, perhaps, fire with the quickness of insulted
pride. Yet the truth is, that saints and Christians are
terms of the same import. No man is a Christian, who
is not a saint ; and if there be no saints now, at this dis-
tance from primitive times, neither are there any Chris-
tians. In confirmation of this remark, let us observe ivho
they were, who, according to our text, first received, in
Antioch, the denomination of Christians. They were Me
disciples : — '* the disci})les were called Christians first in
Antioch."

While the followers of Jesus, before this time, received
from their enemies the contemptuous appellations o^JSTaz-
arenes and Galileans ; they were known to one another
by the various designations of the believers, the brethren,
the saints, the faithful, the disciples. It has been matter
of question, bij whom the appellation of Christians was
first conferred. Some, from the particular Mord used in
the original language,* are of opinion that it was given by



ON THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTEE,



36a



Divine intimation, through Paul and Barnabas -.—while
others, I think with more probability, suppose, that, as the
Gentiles were accustomed to distinguish philosophical
sects by the names of their respective founders, they gave
to the followers of Christ the title of Christians, in con-
formity with their usual practice.

It is of much more consequence for us to observe, as I
have just hinted, who they were that were so denominat-
ed :— " the disciples.^^ Now, who were these disciples ?
The context itself, without going further, will inform us.
They were persons, who had been converted by the power
of the grace of Christ. Some of the preachers of tlie word,
who had come to Antioch, we are informed in the SOth and
gist verses, " spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord
Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them ; and a
great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.'' They
were persons in whom Barnabas (verse 23) " saw the grace
of God," and whom he exhorted, that with purpose of
heart they would cleave unto the Lord." These were,
beyond all doubt, persons of the very same description
with those addressed by such various appellations in the
beginnings of the apostolic epistles. " To all that be in
Rome, beloved of God, called, saints :"— " Unto the
church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanc-
tified in Christ Jesus, called, saints ; with all that, in ev-
ery place, call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
both theirs and ours :"— " To the saints who are at Eph-
esus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus :"— " To the
saints and faithful brethren in Christ, who are at Co-
losse."* These were the persons who were originally
denominated Christians ; and whom this denomination,
therefore, originally digtinguished from others :— and if
these various appellations and descriptions are inapplica-
ble to us, so also must be the designation in question.
* Rom. i. r. 1 Cor. i. 2. Eph. i. 1. Col. i. 3.



364 ON THE CHllISTIAN CHARACTER.

It is of immense imjjortance that we attend to the true
and i)io[)ci- meaning; of this appellation : — that is, to the
meanin;; of it, as it is used in the Bible. For if our pro-
fessed Christianity will not abide this test, what is it
worth ? If it will not abide this test, neither will it endure
the scrutiny of the great day. According to the Scrip-
tures, Christians are possessed of special privileges and
peculiar hopes, to which he, who is not a Christian, has
no legitimate title. These privileges and hopes are of in-
estimable value ; and the value of them gives proportionate
importance to the inquiry, whether we be Christians, in
the liible acceptation of the term. To be called Christians
by fellow-men — to be addressed indiscriminately as Chris-
tians from the pulpit, is nothing : — it will not make you
what you are called. The question is not, what you are
called, but what you are ; — the touchstone by which this
must be determined is the word of God : — and on the an-
swer to the inquiry depends, as to each of you, the hap-
piness of eternity.

Let me now, therefore, proceed, to illustrate, from the
♦Scriptures, a few of the leading and discriminating features
of tlic Christian character.

There are, in Scripture, some general expressions and
representations, alluded to in former Discourses, which
most strikingly show, that the term Christian includes in
it a vast deal more than is commonly apprehended, or at
all thought of, by the great majority of those among whom
it is in current use. A Christian is one, who has been
** horn again .•" — '* Except a man be born again, he can-
not see the kingdom of God."* He is made alive from a
state of death: — " You, being dead in your sins — hath he
quickened together with him, having forgiven you all tres-
passes.^t He is a iieiv creature, formed anew by the
power of God : — '^ If any man be in Christ, he is a new
• Johu iii. 3. t Col. ii. 13.



ON THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. 365

creature ; old things are passed away ; behold all things
are become new.''** He is a child of God, an heir of God,
and a joint heir with Chinst : — " For as many as are led
by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God. For ye
have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear ;
but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we
cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with
our spirit, that we are the children, of God : and if chil-
dren, then h«irs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;
if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glo-
rified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this
present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory
which shall be revealed in us.^f Such representations
as these are fitted to excite " great searchings of heart"
among multitudes who pass under the common national
appellation of Christians. They clearly evince, that
Christianity is. something entirely of a personal nature ;
and that there must be a very wide difference indeed, be-
tween being a Christian, and merely being a member of a
particular community, or having been either the subjects,
or the observers, of any external rite.

The appellation, according to its obvious etymology,
must signify some relation or other to Christ, sustained by
the person who is called by it : and the simplest and most
general idea^ we can attach to it is, that of a follower, or
adherent of Christ.

But what is implied in being a genuine adherent or fol-
lower of Christ ?

I answer : It implies being a disciple of Christ, and a
believer of his doctrine : — being a lover of Christ ; — an
obedient subject, and imitator of Christ : — and an expect-
ant of Christ, or one icho looks for his second coming.

I. Being a Christian means, being a Disciple of
Christ and a Believer of his doctrine : — as an Jlris-
* 2 Cor. V. ir. t Rom. viii. 14—18.



366 ON THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTEll.

inteliaii mcaut a disciple of Aristotle, and a Platonist, of
Plato.

The Christian is one who has learned his religion from
Christ, who has embraced the great doctrines of his word,
and who continues to sit at his feet, in the posture, and
^\ ith the dispositions, of an humble disciple. Disciples,
and Believers, are both of them appellations by which
Christians are distinguished in the New Testament Scrip-
tures. Of the former we have an instance in the text it-
self: ^^ the disciples were called Christians first in Anti-
Gch." And various other instances of it occur. ^^ Saul
breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disci-
pies of the Lord .•'' when he was come to Jerusalem after
his conversion, " he assayed to join himself to the disci-
ples ;" at Troas, on the first day of the week, ^^ the dis-
ciples came together to break bread."* Through the
preaching and miracles of the apostles, the historian else-
where says, '' believers were the more added to the Lord,
multitudes both of men and women :" and Paul, in writ-
ing to Timothy, exhorts him to be " an example to the
believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in faith, in
purity.f

In speaking of the Divinity of Christ, in an early Dis-
course of this series, I had occasion to show the impor-
tance of that doctrine, in various respects ; among the
rest, from its intimate relation to other truths. '' It is an
integral part,'' I observed, " of a system of truths, which
stand or fall along with it. It is connected, for example,
in the closest manner, with the purjiosc of Christ's appear-
ance upon carlh, and the great design of his sufferings and
death ; that is, witii the vitally important doctrine oi atone-
ment : this doctrine, again, is inseparably connected with
the coirnption oriiuniiui nature, and (he universal guilt of
mankind ; from a\ hicii it is that the necessity of such atone-

* Acta ix. 1, 26. XX. r. t Acts v. li. 1 Tim. iv. 12.



ON THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTEK. 367

inent arises : this, in its turn, essentially affects the ques-
tion, respecting the true ground of a sinner's acceptance
with God ; the necessity of the regenerating influences of
the Holy Spirit ; the principle and motive of all accepta-
ble obedience ; and other points, of similar consequence.
It is very obvious," I then proceeded to notice, " that two
systems, of vv^hich the sentiments, on subjects such as
these, are in direct opposition, cannot, with any propriety,
be confounded under one common name. That both should
be Christianity is impossible ; else Christianity is a term
which distinguishes nothing. Viewing the matter abstract-
ly, and without affirming, for the present, what is truth and
what is error, this, I think, I may with confidence affirm, that
to call schemes so opposite in all their great leading articles
by a common appellation, is more absurd, than it would
be to confound together those two irreconcilable theories
of astronomy, of which the one places the earth, and the
other the sun, in the centre of the planetary system. They
are, in truth, essentially different religions. For if oppo-
site views as to the object of worship, the ground ofJiope
for eternity^ the rule of faith and duty, and the principles
and motives of true obedience ; — if these do not constitute
different religions, we may, without much difficulty, dis-
cover some principle of union and identity among all re-
ligions whatever ; we may realize tlie doctrine of Pope's
Universal Prayer ; and extend the right hand of fellow-
ship to the worshippers at the Mosque, and to the votaries
of Brama."*

These sentiments, after mature deliberation, I have seen
no reason either to retract or to qualify. Some doctrines
there certainly must be that are essential to Christianity :
and if those referred to are not such doctrines, I am at a

* Discourse II. pages 30, 31. Between the delivery of that Dis-
course, and of the concludins; one. there was an interval of nine months.



368 ON THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.

loss to conceive what articles can be considered as enti-
tled to this appellation.

To be a disciple of Christ, and a believer, must surely
inipl^y something more precise and definite, than the mere
conviction that the Bihh is the word of God. Even on this
gnmnd, indeed, some of you may, perhaps, be disposed to
think, (lemcnibering the statement formerly given of the
vague and (qualified, and partial view^s, respecting the Di-
vine ins[)iration of the Scriptures, held and avowed by
those, whose sentiments I have been chiefly engaged in
controverting) — even on this ground, some of you may be
inclined to think, there is room for hesitation, whether the
appellation of Christian properly belongs to them. But,
sujjposing the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures dis-
tinctly admitted, still it is not the belief of this that con-
stitutes any one a Christian — but the belief of ichat these
Scriptures reveal^ and of those truths in particular which,
from tlicir nature, and from the place which they hold in
these Scriptures, it was evidently their chief purpose to
make known. Let me illustrate this by a parallel instance.
Suppose a man were to tell us he was a follower ofJSTew-
tun, or, (to take a term of the same kind with that in our
text) a J\*eirtonian ; should we reckon him entitled to this
assumed appellation, merely on the ground of his believ-
ing the fact, that Sir Isaac was the author of the dift'erent
works which are ascribed to him ; if we discovered, on
examination, that he (piestioned and denied all the lead-
ing principles of ])hilosophy, which these works were
written to promulgate, and to establisii ? We are at no
loss, for our reply to this question. And is there, then,
let me ask, any just princijilc. on which we can, without
the very same im[)ropriety and c(uitradiction, denominate
that man a Christinu, who, while he professes to believe
the Bilde to be the word of God. impugns and reprobates



ON THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. 369

all the most important doctrines which that word contains?
For my own part, I can see none.

It is not the belief that Christianity is a religion from
God, that constitutes a Christian ; but the faith of Chris-
tianity itself, l^his is a distinction, I conceive, too little
attended to. Many a time, after perusing treatises contain-
ing evidences of the Divine authority of the Christian re-
ligion, has the inquiry forcibly impressed itself on my
mind, ^' Of what advantage is all this to the writer, if, af-
ter all, he has left the question unanswered, or ivrongly
answered — what the ChHstian religion is ?*^ — The out-
works of Christianity have been often most ably and suc-
cessfully defended, while that, which all these outworks
have been reared by providence to protect, and from the
value of which, consequently, they derive their impor-
tance, has been either entirely overlooked, or most erro-
neously exhibited.

I would further, on the same principle, observe, that
the faith which constitutes a person a Christian, is more
than the simple belief of the Divine mission of Jesus
Christ ; — to which it is exclusively confined by some of
our opponents. For Avhat can avail, believing that Jesus
was a messenger from God, if we deny the great purposa
for which he was sent, and the leading doctrines which he
was commissioned, himself or by his apostles, to teach to
mankind ? — The same observation applies to the belief of
his being the Christ, without scriptural ideas being attach-
ed to the appellation, of his person, and character, and
work :* and also to the belief of the facts recorded by the
sacred historians, as to his sufferings and death, and res-
urrection, while the end for which he suffered, and died,
and rose again, is openly and scornfully disavowed.

The depravity and guilt of mankind ; — the Divinity,

voluntary substitution, and atonement, of Jesus Christ : —

* See note P.
47



370 ON THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.

justification by free grace, through faith, ami uot by works
of righteousness, which we have done : — and the necessity
and frecness of the Holy S[)irit's intluences, for tlie con-
version and final salvation of sinners : — these appear to be
doctrines, which constitute the very essence of Christiani-
ty ; and to call by the same appellation doctrines precisely
the reverse, is to impose upon ourselves by a mere name ;
for our so calling them cannot alter the nature of things,
nor in the slightest degree abate the real magnitude of the
difllerence between them.

Men may call these mere matters of opinion ; and they
may think and speak very lightly of what they are pleased
so to denominate. But the Scriptures themselves speak a
very different language. If there is one truth within the
compass of revelation that is declared with greater fre-
quency, or with greater decidedness, than another, it is
the necessity of the belief of the Gosjjel, in all whom Divine
Providence blesses with the hearing of it, in order to the
possession of that salvation which it proclaims. This be-
ing the plain and unvarying testimony of the Bible, no
question can well be conceived of greater consequence,
than the (|uestion, " What is the Gospel 9^^ For if the
laiih of this gospel be essential to sulfation, it cannot but
be essential to a man's heins; a Christian.

So far as I know my own heart, these observations are
not dictated, even in the remotest degree, by any feelings
of party-spirit. Most gladly and cordially should I em-
brace as fellow Christians, all whom the word of God m ill
allow me to consider as bearing that character. But I
deem it of the last importance that my hearers should be
fully aware of the nature and extent of the difference be-
tween us and our opponents. To the common charge of
the want of charity, I plead, JVof ^iu'%. Charity can
never preclude the exercise of judgment. The judgment
of charity is the judgment of love. And surely there is no



ON THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. 371

true love, in allowing others to think that we consider their
errors immaterial, and their state secure, when in reality
we view these errors as aft'eeting the only foundation of
hope for eternity, and the condition of those, who hold
them, as consequently full of danger. I know that 1 shall
be pitied for the weakness and enthusiasm of this senti-
ment : but this shall not lessen my affection for the per-
sons of my opponents, nor abate the earnestness of ray de-
sire, that "God may give them repentance, to the acknow-
ledging of the truth." I do not wish my charity either to
keep within, or to go beyond, the charity of the Bible. I
■would neither, on the one hand, be guilty of disowning
any whom Christ has received ; — nor would I, on the oth-
er, by making less of principles and sentiments than the
Bible does, and by confounding things that essentially
differ, bring upon myself the woe denounced by the God
of truth, against those, who " call evil good, and good
evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter."*

I find an inspired apostle treating the doctrine of justiii-
cation by free grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, as so
decidedly belonging to the essence of the gospel, that he



Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 30 of 36)