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they, together with the poor and stranger, are not specially enumerated among the guests. Mark how loving a spirit for the lowly and distressed breathes in the following laws, which are but a few among many that we might cite. "If thy brother be
“ waxen poor, and fallen into decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him; yea, though he be a stranger or a sojourner.” “ Take thou no usury of him, nor increase.” “ If thou take his raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it to him again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment and bless thee.” “ Thou shalt not oppress a hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of the strangers that are in the land within thy gates. At his day thou shalt give him bis hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for be is poor and setteth his heart upon it : lest he cry against thee to the Lord, and it be sin unto thee." " When thou cuttest down thy harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it. When thou beatest thine olive-tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward. It shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow." “ If a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him ; but thou shalt love him as thyself ; for ye know the heart of a stranger, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In addition to all these merciful provisions, when a poor man alienated his patrimony, or sold himself into servitude, he could do so only for a term of years; and when the year of jubilee arrived, though the debt were unpaid, the debtor resumed his freedom, and returned to the home of his fathers. These laws banished from poverty all show of abjectness, and embraced the extremes of social life in a finely woven network of the kindliest sympathies and charities. Nor does the whole period of Jewish history, prior to the Christian era, among its many records of apostasy and guilt, reveal a single trace of the disabilities, sufferings, and unnatural crimes among
poor, which deform the annals of all other ancient nations. Indeed, we have abundant reason to believe, that the distinctions of social life have nowhere rested with so slight a pressure upon the less favored classes, and that the burdens and miseries of penury have nowhere been so slightly felt, as in Palestine, during the entire period of Hebrew independence.
In considering the direct agency of Christianity upon the
condition of the poor, the lowliness of its Founder's birth, and the humble callings from which he chose his apostles, demand our first regard. All the circumstances of its origin attach a peculiar sacredness to poverty, and claim for it, not so much pity, as tender reverence. The Christian cannot look down upon the poor without throwing scorn upon the Author and the first witnesses of his faith. Then, too, the doctrines of Christianity multiply points of contact and of union among those most widely separated as to the endowments of fortune. They throw the mere outward accidents of life into insignificance, by merging them in the great facts of a common origin, a universal and fatherly Providence, and an immortal being of which the present state is the mere infancy. The services of our religion, also, have never been so administered as to recognize the barriers of caste among the worshippers. Under the most lordly hierarchy, the church and the altar have been equally free for prince and peasant, lord and beggar.
Nor is this mere speculation. The Christian Church, from its very foundation, has recognized the claims of the poor in its organization and its ritual. On the memorable day of Pentecost, before which a large upper room was sufficient for the assembling of the Church Universal, there was not upon the earth a philanthropic institution of any kind, or, except in the Hebrew Scriptures, the distinct record of a philanthropic idea. In the narrative of that day, the amazing fact stands written in terms of the most unobtrusive modesty :-“ They that believed sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all as every man had need.” Almost the next noteworthy incident in the same history is the appointment of seven men (whose successors have never ceased to discharge like ministries of love), “men of honest report, and full of the holy spirit and wisdom,” whose office it was to take care of the poor widows in the church at Jerusalem. Shortly after this, we find St. Paul collecting from remote and stranger provinces, and bringing with him alms for the straitened and impoverished disciples of the holy city, -- alms, too, gathered on the first day of the week, in connection with the rite of Christian communion, - a rite which from that day to this has been the fountain-head of an incessant flow of charity to man, no less than of heavenward vows and aspirations.
As to the political condition of the poor, it must be admitted on all hands that Christianity lays a broad and deep foundation for individual freedom and progress, that its legitimate result would be a system of government in which all power should emanate from the people at large and be amenable to their control, and that this result has been more or less perfectly realized in different communities, very much in the proportion in which the Christian Scriptures have been freely circulated and generally understood. Our religion found the world filled with despotism ; but it has already scourged the demon of tyranny to the extreme eastern verge of Christendom, and even there is fast undermining his throne and disenthralling his subjects. Elsewhere (and even there the same principle has begun to work), arbitrary forms of government perpetuate themselves by propitiatory offerings to the spirit of freedom, monarchies are growing paternal, and sovereigns anticipate popular aggression upon their power by grants and concessions, by liberal maxims of policy, by institutions of education and charity in which the wants and claims of their meanest subjects are distinctly recognized. And all this is in accordance with the peaceful spirit of Christianity, which declares no war against names and forms, foments not revolution, and forbids sedition, but quietly infuses into the mind of king and subject, noble and plebeian, thoughts and sentiments which create community of interest and feeling, and blend power and weakness, wealth and penury, by the correlatives of protection and contentment, charity and gratitude.
As regards slavery, Christianity has wrought an immense work. It has once rolled the Atlas burden from off the whole bosom of Christendom. We have seen that pagan Rome left the slave out of the pale of legal protection. With the first Christian emperor commenced the series of legislative enactments in his favor ; and from that time the number of slaves in the Roman empire was continually diminishing, and their condition rapidly improving, until, in the twelfth or thirteenth century, domestic slavery was extinct within the purlieus of Christian civilization. It is worthy of remark, that this consummation was attained at the very era when ecclesiastical power was at its height, and that the last essential steps were taken towards it, not only under Christian, but under expressly ecclesiastical auspices. Pope Alexander III., the first Roman pontiff who dared to place his foot on the neck of a prostrate monarch, was the first legislator to promulgate the law of universal liberty ; and “ this law alone,”
says Voltaire, always chary of praising any church dignitary, “ought to render his name dear to all the people of the earth."
For the form of slavery which has since grown up in the New World we are no apologists. It was established under reiterated remonstrances and anathemas from the Church, and would never have gained a firm foothold, could her voice have been heard and her arm felt with unabated power across the intervening waste of waters. But the slavery of which we now speak is far less extensive than the Pagan system, is held in check by numerous legal restraints, is connected with many alleviating circumstances, and with a large preponderance of humanity and kindness over violence and cruelty, and binds a race, to which, though a wrong and an outrage, it is the less galling from their never having known the blessings of freedom and refinement, and to which it may be ultimately beneficial in bringing them and their whole continent under civilizing and Christianizing influences. Meanwhile the axe is already laid at the root of this tree of evil. By the unanimous consent of Christian nations, the slave-ship is now an outlaw and a pirate ; and universal emancipation is retarded less by a surviving attachment to the wrong, than by the difficulty of readjusting on principles of perfect equity the balance of rights and interests once deranged by the intrusion of evil.
But in order to trace most satisfactorily the benign agency of Christian institutions and ideas in behalf of the poor, we must look into their homes. It is a significant fact, that there is no word in the Greek or Latin corresponding to our word home ; for the inflections of oikos and domus denote a mere local habitation, without any of the numberless associations of a moral nature which distinguish home from house, and make the former one of the most complex words in the language. Home, the name, the idea, the fact, is the creation and gift of Christianity. To her we owe the unity and permanence of the conjugal relation, with the laws of modesty and chastity that guard it, the equal and honored place of woman in the household, and the principles and culture that make her in soul and character a wife and mother. To her we owe the abolition of infanticide, the emancipation of the child from the father's untempered despotism, and all the truths, sentiments, and motives that can be relied on to sustain parental duty or to nourish filial piety. And while our religion has bestowed
An air of grace
these positive benefits upon man in his domestic relations, it has made itself the faithful ally of art and taste (which previously served only for public uses or for the selfish ostentation of wealth and luxury) in the enriching and adorning of quiet home-life. At the same time, it early lent its aid to banish the vile and cruel forms of public amusement, which could not be enjoyed without crushing in the germ those tender, genial elements of character on which the happiness of home depends. The first edict against gladiatorial shows was issued by the first Christian emperor, and in less than a century from that time Honorius completed the work which Constantine had so well begun.
In these domestic blessings the poor share to the full. Where the spirit of Christianity breathes, the house, however wretched, is still a home, and those under its roof experience a happiness in one another, an outflow of parental, filial, brotherly and sisterly affection, a divine and heavenly harmony of interest, feeling, and hope, which they would not yield up for uncounted millions. In such a family, penury ceases to be abject, and is almost never comfortless. and refinement invests the meanest hovel, and sheds a charm over the lowliest domestic group, if the homeless wanderer of Galilee has blessed the dwelling. In many an abode, from which the pampered nursling of fortune would turn with disgust, the father, coarse and rude in outward aspect, when he has washed off the dust and dew of daily toil, puts on all the modest dignity of teacher, patriarch, priest, dispenses lessons of virtue for which Socrates would have gladly sat at his feet, and pours out at the household altar the pure offering of the innocent, contented, thankful hearts which Providence has bound up with his.
Nor does it take centuries or generations to transform the den of pagan strife and misery into the Christian home. In many of the islands of the Southern Pacific, where twentyfive years ago there were only hordes of naked, filthy savages, destitute of all the arts and the decencies of life, may now be seen whole villages of neatly whitewashed cottages, clean, well furnished and well ordered, the families neatly and tastefully clad, happy in the discharge of all domestic duties and charities, “ singing the songs of Zion in a strange land,” and
, uniting in the morning and evening sacrifice to “ Him in whom all the families of the earth are blessed.” We feel tempted