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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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By Dr. Johnson, is defined, "a professor of the religion of Christ;" but in reality a Christian is more than a professor of Christianity. He is one who imbibes the spirit, participates the grace, and is obedient to the will of Christ. The disciples and followers of Christ were first denominated Christians at Antioch, A.D. 42. The first Christians distinguished themselves in the most remarkable manner by their conduct and their virtues. The faithful, whom the preaching of St. Peter had converted, hearkened attentively to the exhortations of the apostles, who failed not carefully to instruct them as persons who were entering upon an entire new life. They attended the temple daily, doing nothing different from the other Jews, because it was yet not time to separate from them. But they made a still greater progress in virtue; for they said all that they possessed, and distributed their goods to the wants of their brethren. The primitive Christians were not only remarkable for the consistency of their conduct, but were also very eminently distinguished by the many miraculous gifts and graces bestowed by God upon them.

The Jews were the first and the most inveterate enemies the Christians had. They put them to death as often as they had it in their power; and when they revolted against the Romans, in the time of the emperor Adrian, Barchochebas, who was at the head of that revolt, employed against the Christians the most rigorous punishments to compel them to blaspheme and renounce Jesus Christ. And we find that even in the third century they endeavoured to get into their hands Christian women, in order to scourge and stone them in their synagogues. They cursed the Christians three times a day in their synagogues; and their rabbins would not suffer them to converse with Christians upon any occasion; nor were they contented to hate and detest them, but they dispatched emissaries all over the world to defame the Christians and spread all sorts of calumnies against them. They accused them among other things, of worshipping the sun, and the head of an ass; they reproached them with idleness and being a useless set of people. They charged them with treason, and endeavoring to erect a new monarchy against that of the Romans.

They affirmed that in celebrating their mysteries, they used to kill a child, and eat his flesh. They accused them of the most shocking incests, and of intemperance in their feasts of charity. But the lives and behaviour of the first Christians were sufficient to refute all that was said against them, and evidently demonstrated that these accusations were mere calumny, and the effect of inveterate malice. Pliny the Younger, who was governor of Pontus and Bithynia between the years 103 and 105, gives a very particular account of the Christians in that province, in a letter which he wrote to the emperor Trajan, of which the following is an extract: "I count of every difficulty which arises to me: I had never been present at the examinations of the Christians; for which reason I know not what questions have been put to them, nor in what manner they have been punished. My behaviour towards those who have been accused to me has been this; I have interrogated them, in order to know whether they were really Christians. When they have confessed it, I have repeated the same question two or three times, threatening them with death if they did not renounce this religion. Those who have persisted in their confession have been by my order led to punishment.

I have even met with some Roman citizens guilty of this phrenzy, whom, in regard to their quality, I have set apart from the rest, in order to send them to Rome. These persons declare that their whole crime, if they are guilty, consists in this: That on certain days they assemble before sun-rise, to sing alternately the praises of Christ, as of God; and to oblige themselves, by the performance of their religious rites, not to be guilty of theft or adultery, to observe inviolably their word, and to be true to their trust. This disposition has obliged me to endeavour to inform myself still farther of this matter, by putting to the torture two of their women servants, whom they called deaconesses; but I could learn nothing more from them than that the superstition of these people is as ridiculous as their attachment to it is astonishing." It is easy to discover the cause of the many persecutions to which the Christians were exposed during the first three centuries. The purity of the Christian morality, directly opposite to the corruption of the pagans, was doubtless one of the most powerful motives of the public aversion.

To this may be added the many calumnies unjustly spread about concerning them by their enemies, particularly the Jews; and this occasioned so strong a prejudice against them, that the pagans condemned them without enquiring into their doctrine, or permitting them to defend themselves. Besides, their worshipping Jesus Christ as God, was contrary to one of the most ancient laws of the Roman empire, which expressly forbade the acknowledging of any God which had not been approved of by the senate. But, notwithstanding the violent opposition made to the establishment of the Christian religion, it gained ground daily and very soon made surprising progress in the Roman empire. In the third century there were Christians in the senate, in the camp, in the palace; in short every where but in the temple and the theatres; they filled the towns, the country, the island. Men and women of all ages and conditions, and even those of the first dignities, embraced the faith; insomuch that the pagans complained that the revenues of their temples were ruined. They were in such great numbers in the empire, that (as Tertullian expresses it) were they to have retired into another country, they would have left the Romans only afrightful solitude. For persecutions of the Christians, see article PERSECUTION. Christians may be considered as nominal and real.

There are vast numbers who are called Christians, not because they possess any love for Christ, but because they happen to be born in a Christian country, educated by Christian parents, and sometimes attend Christian worship. There are also many whose minds are well informed respecting the Christian system, who prefer it to every other, and who make an open profession of it; and yet, after all, feel but little of the real power of Christianity. A real Christian is one whose understanding is enlightened by the influences of divine grace, who is convinced of the depravity of his nature, who sees his own inability to help himself, who is taught to behold God as the chief good, the Lord Jesus as the only way to obtain felicity, and that the Holy Spirit is the grand agent in applying the blessings of the Gospel to his soul. His heart is renovated, and inclined to revere, honour, worship, trust in, and live to God. His affections are elevated above the world, and centre in God alone. He embraces him as his portion, loves him supremely, and is zealous in the defense and support of his cause. His temper is regulated, his powers roused to vigorous action, his thoughts spiritual, and his general deportment amiable and uniform. In fine, the true Christian character exceeds all others as much as the blaze of the meridian sun outshines the feeble light of the glow-worm.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Christian'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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