PAUL AT EPHESUS.
Christianity in contact with idolatry and with unlawful gain.
Paul at Ephesus.—Difficulties encountered.—Judaism fixed, but Paganism variable.—Religion itself a power; and receives augmented power from
other sources Ephesian idolatry.—Ephesian magic.—Temple of Diana.
—Traffic in shrines.—Preparation made for Christianity.—Disciples of John.—Preaching of Apollos.—Gift of the Holy Ghost.—Manner of Paul's labours.—Tender.—Faithful.—Public.—Domestic.—Evangelical Success of his work. —A church formed.—Its number.—Its government. —Its piety, as evinced in a sacrifice which was voluntary; conscientious; costly; unreserved; and proper to be imitated. —Its advanced doctrinal belief.—Opposition aroused.—Based on personal interest; and on national religion.—Christianity promotes the welfare of the world.—In so doing, it condemns wrong sources of gain.—Commotions may ensue, but society is a gainer in the end.
"And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing, and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks."
Acts xix. 8—10.
THE subject now before us is Paul at Ephesus. The peculiar aspect in which we shall be led to contemplate this part of his history will be the contact of Christianity with idolatry, particularly as sustained by superstition, by national pride, and by the love of gain. At the same time, the subject will illustrate similar difficulties everywhere to be overcome in spreading the Gospel, and the power of true religion in making men willing to sacrifice their gains, and to abandon a lucrative calling when seen to be contrary to the will of God.
The points which it will be necessary to consider, will be the difficulties which Paul encountered in Ephesus as arising from the peculiar form of the idolatry there; the preparation which had been made for the introduction of the Gospel there, before his arrival; Paul's own labours in that city; the results of his preaching; and the effect of Christianity in its bearing on an important source of gain.
I. The difficulties encountered in Ephesus, arising from the peculiar form of idolatry there.
In the prosecution of his purpose, Ephesus, as a centre of influence and power, could not fail to attract the attention of Paul. As the capital of the province in Asia Minor called "Asia;" as the capital of Asia Minor itself; as one of the cities of beautiful Ionia, embracing much of the civilization and cultivation of the Ionian colonies, and developing the best form of the Greek mind; as favourably situated for commerce, and as visited for purposes of commerce by strangers from all parts of the world; as a city of wealth and power; and, above all, as the seat of the most magnificent form of idolatrous worship then existing, it could not but demand the labours of the apostles.
Its wealth, its splendour, its power, its temple, and its church, have long since passed away, and it is a scene of ruin. Travellers search in vain for the certain site of its most celebrated public or private edifices, even the temple of Diana itself; but, in the time of Paul, it was among the most distinguished cities of the world.
The two obstacles which the apostles everywhere encountered in the spread of the Gospel were, of course, Judaism and Paganism. In perhaps all the countries which they visited, they found Jews; and, in almost every great city, Jewish synagogues. Everywhere out of Judasa they found idolators, and temples devoted to the worship of idols.
The Jewish religion was a fixed religion. Everywhere it presented the same front as opposed to Christianity, was sustained by the same prejudices, and was characterized by the same bitter spirit. No form of philosophy ever modified it; nor had contact with the prevailing forms of the Pagan religion, or with Pagan civilization, rendered it more charitable or more mild, or made those who were devoted to it more disposed to abandon it, and to embrace a new religion. What Paul himself had been before his conversion, he found every Jew to be that he encountered; and what he had meted out to others in the days when he dragged men and women to prison, or when he "persecuted that way unto the death," he was prepared to expect would be meted out to him at the hands of his countrymen everywhere. As far, also, as the Jews had any philosophy, that would be likely to be a hindrance to the reception of the Gospel. They conformed as little to the philosophy of the Gentiles as they did to their religion. In Jerusalem, in Antioch, in Philippi, in Thessalonica, at Lystra, at Derbe, and in Ephesus, the opposition to the Gospel was of the same type; the arguments to be used in overcoming that opposition were everywhere the same.
But, while Judaism was thus fixed and unchanging, the heathen systems were variable; and the form of their opposition to Christianity varied with the character of the gods that were worshipped; with the philosophy which prevailed; with the intelligence or barbarism of the people. It is only by a correct understanding of these that we can appreciate the nature of the difficulties to be overcome in any particular place, or the nature of the opposition which the Gospel encountered there. At one time, and in one place, heathenism was connected with the most gross profligacy of morals, and with the deepest degradation and debasement of manners; at another, it was connected with the most subtle and profound philosophy, so that all the arguments in support of that philosophy had to be met and refuted before Christianity could secure assent to its distinctive doctrines. At one place, it was blended with all that was beautiful in architecture, in sculpture, in painting, in poetry; at another, with all that could make life gay or voluptuous; at another, with the severest forms of superstition; at another, with national pride ; at another, with the callings which men pursued in life; at another, with the power of the state. All these, in their varied forms, were to be overcome, before Christianity could displace the false religions of the world, and secure its own ascendancy over the minds of men.
In all countries, religion itself, in any and every form, is the most powerful principle that controls the human mind, (a) In its very nature it is supreme as a principle in governing men. In all true forms of religion, this ascendancy is always maintained; in all false forms, this tribute is paid to its original design and power, as being, though in a false form, the supreme affection of the soul. Whether true or false, religion is a power. There is power in attachment to one's country, to friends, to property, to liberty, to life; but the power of religion, as such, is superior to all these, for men are willing to sacrifice them all in honour of their religion. There have been martyrs to false religions, as well as to the true religion; and he who can control the religious principles of men can control everything, (b.) In addition to this, there is a power derived from the fact that religion is incorporated with the customs, the opinions, the traditions, the employments, the professions, the lucrative pursuits of men, as well as with laws, with vested rights, with caste and rank, with civil and sacred offices. Both these sources of power in religion existed at Ephesus, in forms most difficult to overcome.
(1.) The religious principle itself existed there in a form as mighty as in any other part of the world. All the religious affections of the people were absorbed in the worship of one divinity. There was one temple; one goddess; one altar; one supreme divine power. All over the world, as far as the names of Ephesus and Diana were known at all, they were known as united. The one suggested the other. The Ephesians faithfully kept the trust committed to them—" the image which fell down from Jupiter;" they enshrined it in the most magnificent temple of religion in the ancient world, reared by the gifts of princes and kings, and more costly, if not more beautiful in its architectural proportions, than even the Parthenon at Athens.
(2.) The natural power of religion was, in their case, combined with all that could add to its hold upon the mind.
(a.) It was closely combined with the practice of magic (Acts xix. 19). The following is the account given by Messrs. Conybeare and Howson: "Though Ephesus was a Greek city, like Athens or Corinth, the
manners of its inhabitants were half oriental The
worship of Diana and the practice of magic were closely connected together. Eustathius says, that the mysterious symbols, called 'Ephesian Letters,' were engraved on the crown, the girdle, and the feet of the goddess. These Ephesian letters or monograms have been compared to the Runic characters of the north. When pronounced, they were regarded as a charm; and were directed to be used especially by those who were in the power of evil spirits. When written, they were carried about as amulets. Curious stories are told of their influence. Croesus is related to have repeated the mystic syllables when on his funeral pile; and an Ephesian wrestler is said to have always struggled successfully against an antagonist from Miletus until he lost the scroll, which before had been like a talisman. The study of these symbols was an elaborate science; and books, both numerous and costly, were compiled by its professors."1
(b.) At the same time, the religion of Ephesus was closely combined with national pride; with all that made the city itself distinguished in the ancient world. The temple of Diana constituted the chief glory of the city; and, around that, all that there was of patriotism and of
1 Vol. ii. p. 13.
pride would be concentrated. The sumptuousness of that temple, than which "the sun is his course is said to have seen nothing more magnificent," has been often described; and a recollection of its antiquity, its vast extent, its graceful columns, its costly decorations, is necessary in order to understand the events which occurred there in the attempt to displace idolatry, and to substitute the worship of the true God.1
(c.) The worship of Diana was closely connected with the wealth of the city, and furnished employment to a considerable portion of its inhabitants. "One of the idolatrous customs of the ancient world," say Conybeare and Howson (vol. ii. pp. 78, 79), "was the use of portable images or shrines, which were little models of the more celebrated objects of devotion. They were carried in processions, on journeys and military expeditions, and sometimes set up as household gods in private houses. Pliny says that this was the case with the Temple of the Cnidian Venus; and other heathen writers make allusion to the 'shrines' of the Ephesian Diana, which are mentioned in the Acts (xix. 24). The material might be wood, or gold, or 'silver.' The latter material was that which employed the hands of the workmen of Demetrius. From the expressions used by St. Luke, it is evident that an extensive and lucrative trade grew up at Ephesus from the manufacture and sale of these shrines. Few of those who came to Ephesus would willingly go away without a memorial of the goddess, and a model of her
1 Perhaps no better description can be given of that temple than the one furnished by Conybeare and Howson, vol. ii. pp. 75—77.
temple; and from the wide circulation of these works of art over the shores of the Mediterranean, and far into the interior, it might be said, with little exaggeration, that her worship was recognised by the 'whole world.'"
II. We have now to inquire what preparation, if any, had been made for introducing the Gospel into this idolatrous city; or, what there was that in any way might facilitate the labours of the apostle.
It is a remarkable circumstance, that, unlike most other places which Paul visited, Ephesus had had a kind of preparation for the introduction of the Gospel; and the nature of that preparation was as remarkable as the fact itself. It had a striking resemblance to that which was made for the manifestation of the Redeemer Himself, by the preaching of the forerunner; and was, in fact, if the phrase may be allowed, a " John the Baptist" preparation for the preaching of the Gospel.1
The doctrines of John had been brought to Ephesus; they had been enforced by the eloquence of Apollos;
1 "Many Jews from other countries received from the Baptist their knowledge of the Messiah, and carried with them this knowledge on their return from Palestine. We read of a heretical sect, at a much later period, who held John the Baptist to have been himself the Messiah. But in a position intermediate between this deluded party, and those who were travelling as teachers of the full and perfect Gospel, there were doubtless many, among the floating Jewish population of the empire, whose knowledge of Christ extended only to that which had been preached on the banks of the Jordan. That such persons should be found at Ephesus, the natural meeting-place of all religious sects and opinions, is what we might have supposed h priori. Their own connection with Judfea, or the connection of their teachers with Judsea, had been broken before the day of Pentecost. Thus their Christianity was at the same point at which it had they were commended by the fact that they came from Alexandria, a city then eminent in learning, and of vast influence. A little band of disciples—twelve in number— instructed only in the knowledge which John the Baptist had communicated, were apparently waiting for the coming of the Messiah, and for the announcement of His appearing. Of His advent they had not yet heard; of His work they were ignorant; the wonders of the day of Pentecost had never reached their ears; of the very existence of the Holy Ghost, as distinct from the Eternal Father, and of His agency in the work of human salvation, they had no knowledge.
Yet it illustrates their sincerity of character, their desire of serving God, their purpose to welcome the truth from whatever quarter it might come, their wish to receive the full knowledge of that which John came to introduce into the world, (and, at the same time, it demonstrates the fitness of the teaching of John to prepare men to welcome the Messiah,) that when these twelve
stood at the commencement of our Lord's ministry. . . . Whether from the Baptist himself, or from some of those who travelled into other lands with his teaching as their possession, Apollos had received full and accurate instruction in the 'way of the Lord.' We are further told that his character was marked by a fervent zeal for spreading the truth. Thus we may conceive of him as travelling, like a second Baptist, beyond the frontiers of Juda;a,—expounding the prophecies of the Old Testament, announcing that the times of the Messiah were come, and calling the Jews to repentance in the spirit of Elias. Hence he was, like his great teacher, diligently ' preparing the way of the Lord.' Though ignorant o1 the momentous facts which had succeeded the Resurrection and Ascension, he was turning the hearts of the 'disobedient to the wisdom of the just,' and 'making ready a people for the Lord,' whom he was soon to know 'more perfectly.'"—Conybcarc and Howson, vol. ii. p. 6, 7.
disciples were told by Paul what was the real purport of the doctrines of John—viz., that men should "believe on Him who should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus" (Acts xix. 4), they welcomed the announcement, they "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (ver. 5); and they embraced at once the doctrine respecting the Holy Spirit. On them as on the apostles at Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, "the Holy Ghost" now "came, and they spake with tongues, and prophesied" (ver. 6).
God had thus, in a remarkable manner, prepared the way for the preaching of Paul in Ephesus, so that he came there with all the advantage which could be derived from the labours of the eloquent Apollos, and from the preparation in the heart of these disciples to welcome the doctrine of Christ as a Saviour; and he entered on his work in that great city with the assistance of believers equal in number to the original apostles, and endowed with the like power of speaking languages. In no other city or country had such a preparation been made for the introduction of the Gospel.
III. We now proceed to consider the manner of PauVs labours at Ephesus. In respect to this, we have a most interesting fragment of his history in the account which he subsequently gave to the elders of the church at Ephesus, whom he summoned to meet him at Miletus. "Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews; and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts xx. 18—21).
Here is the secret of his power; and here is revealed the source of his success.
(1.) Paul had a tender heart; a heart made for love; a heart warmed with love. He wept much; for he saw the condition of lost men,—their guilt; their danger; their insensibility; their folly. So his Master wept over Jerusalem. So David said, " Rivers of waters run down mine eyes because they keep not thy law." So Jeremiah said, "O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people." And so Paul elsewhere said, "I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart, for I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. ix. 2, 3).
(2.) He kept back nothing that was "profitable" to them,—none of the things which would conduce to their welfare; which would contribute to their happiness; which would promote their salvation. The word used by the apostle (avuQtpovrwv) would be applicable to anything which was for their good; their profit; their advantage. It was their benefit—their good—not his own advantage, fame, or ease, that was the aim of his labours. The means of securing that object was not that which might please and gratify them, not that which would be in accordance with their natural tastes or their feelings, but that which ^judged would conduce to their welfare. Painful it might be to them, contrary it might be to their prejudices, unlike it might be to what they would expect to find in a plan of salvation,—demanding sacrifices difficult to make, or requiring them to abandon employments on which their very livelihood may have depended,—yet the truth was delivered, the command of God was urged, the sacrifice was demanded.
(3.) He did this "publicly." In the synagogue; in the place of public concourse, in the markets, in the streets, in the open air,—wherever men were accustomed to be assembled, he gave utterance to these truths, regardless of personal danger, and anxious only that they might be made to reach as many of the population of the city as possible.
(4.) He taught these truths "from house to house." He went from family to family. In the free and familiar intercourse of the domestic circle,—in times of prosperity and of adversity,—when a member of the family was sick (for there was sickness there as well as elsewhere), —when a member of the family was dead (for death reigned there as it does everywhere else), — to each member of the family, father and mother, husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, he proclaimed these truths. By all the tender ties which united the family, by all that made them weep together or rejoice together, by the fact that they were all travellers to the grave, by the hope that they might live together in another world, he urged on them the duties of religion, suggested its consolations, and sought to persuade them.
(5.) In reference to Ephesus, as to Corinth, we are made acquainted with the secret of Paul's success. That on which he relied, as the means of men's conversion, was not philosophy; it was not human learning; nor did he preach good works as the ground of reliance for salvation. What he did was to testify "both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts xx. 21). Whatever result was produced in Ephesus, whether in the conversion of men, or in exciting opposition, was to be traced to this alone. He came armed with no other power than what was derived from this doctrine, to detach them from their idolatry; he advanced nothing else that would tend to disturb the peace of the city. It could not be pretended that he was a violator of their laws; that he had made an assault on their temple; that he had interfered directly with the labours of Demetrius and his fellowcraftsmen; that he had moved the people to deeds of violence and disorder. The only explanation of what occurred in Ephesus was to be found in the fact that this stranger called on men to repent of their sins, and to believe in a crucified Saviour. ,
IV. We can trace the results which followed the Apostles labours in this place.
A church was established in Ephesus, among the most interesting of those whose history is recorded in the New Testament,—a church to which the Sav \our subsequently said, "I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil; and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars, and hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted" (Rev. ii. 2,
In reference to this church, however, it is to be observed that we have no epistle which gives us information in regard to its internal character, to its numbers, or to its troubles, as in the case of the churches at Thessalonica and Corinth; for the "Epistle to the Ephesians" contains no special allusions, no reference by name to the members of the church, and no salutation addressed to individual members, as in the Epistle to the Romans, Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon; nor does it supply any personal or local details. But from the above-mentioned address of Paul at Miletus, from the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, from general statements in Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, and from the epistle addressed by the Saviour to the church at Ephesus, as recorded in the Book of the Revelation, we can learn much in regard to its character.
(r.) It was not a small church. This may be inferred from the number of the elders of that church who met Paul at Miletus. The precise number, indeed, is not specified, but the entire scope of the narrative is such as to lead us to believe that the number was not small; and, consequently, it is fair to infer that the church was a large one. The same thing is rendered probable from the fact stated by Demetrius, that Paul had "turned away much people" from the worship of Diana, not only in Ephesus, but in the province of "Asia," and that this was expressly alleged as a ground of apprehension that the worship of Diana would be broken up altogether; "so that not only this our craft," he said, "is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth" (Acts xix. 26, 27).
(2.) I think it is fairly to be inferred that the church in Ephesus was Presbyterian in its form. Those who were to meet him at Miletus as officers of the church, were summoned as Elders or Presbyters—rove vgtafivT&qovq. The term thus used would apply equally to those who were "ruling" elders, or "teaching" elders; and the fair inference is, that the church had been organized with such a body of men, and that the instruction and discipline of the church were entrusted to them. It is remarkable, also, that there is no mention of "a bishop" in relation to that church, either in Paul's address delivered at Miletus, or in his Epistle to the Ephesians—a fact which cannot be explained on the supposition that a "bishop" had been appointed either over the church in Ephesus, or in the province of Asia. And it is equally remarkable that the very term bishops is given to the "elders" assembled at Miletus: "Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers,"— iir1aK6-!TovQ, bishops,—" to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood (Acts xx. 28).
Whatever, therefore, in the primitive church pertained to the episcopal office, or to bishops, belonged to the "elders" or "presbyters" in the church at Ephesus; nor is it possible to explain the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles in regard to that church on the supposition that it wasprelatical. If there had been a "prelate" or "bishop" in the church, it is inconceivable that on so solemn an occasion there should have been no allusion to him; and it is inconceivable also that Paul, in the copious statements which he made to the "elders" as to their duty to the church (Acts xx. 28—32), should have made no reference to their duty towards a "bishop," or to the proper subordination among the ranks of the clergy. The church at Ephesus furnishes at least one instance in which a church was organized by an apostle on the principles of government by presbyters; and if that church was so organized, may it not be presumed that the same principles existed in regard to others?
(3.) The religion which existed in the church at Ephesus was eminently a religion of principle. It was not a thing of mere feeling. It was not the result of temporary excitement. It led to such voluntary sacrifices as to show that it must have been founded on principle. A piety which leads to a voluntary sacrifice of property, and to the abandonment of a lucrative calling, even when such a step involves in fact a reduction to poverty, must be based on a firm conviction of the truth of religion, and not on mere feeling or excitement. In this respect there was no instance, in the early establishment of the church, more remarkable
than that which occurred at Ephesus. The narrative is in these words: "Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed" (Acts xix. 19, 20). The fact that "books" so celebrated, and so much valued, were thus publicly burned, is of use to us now, as illustrating the nature of religion; and it is with reference to this, doubtless, that the record is preserved. The features of the case which furnish such illustration were these :—(a) It was evidently a voluntary act; not done at the command of the Apostle Paul, or even at his suggestion. There was not in the case even that which occurred when the apostles, at the sea of Tiberias, abandoned their employments and "left their nets,"— for they did so by the express command of the Saviour. (b) The sacrifice of this property must have been made solely under the deep conviction that the employment was wrong, and that its continuance could not be reconciled with a good conscience, (c) The sacrifice was not small. "Such books from their very nature would be costly; and all books in that age bore a value which was far above any standard with which we are familiar." The amount sacrificed was large in itself,1 and especially for men in their circumstances,—men who had no other
1 If the Jewish shekel is meant, as Grotius supposes, the amount was not far from 25,000 dollars, or.£5,420. If, as is more likely, it was the Greek drachma (about ninepence sterling, or not far from seventeen cents of our money), then the amount—much less, but still considerable— would be about 8,500 dollars, or £1,875.
employment. (d) It is to be observed, also, that they did not propose or attempt to sell this property. They did not allow it to pass into other hands to be used for the same end. It was of value only for the purposes of magic and imposture; to have passed it into other hands would have been to perpetuate the fraud, or to provide for its continuance, while they would have reaped the avails of the property, and would have suffered no loss. They evidently now regarded the business as wrong; as immoral; as contrary to all just views of religion; and, therefore, as bad in other hands as in their own. (e) The same principle is doubtless to be applied to all similar cases. If property, now applied to a wicked purpose, can be used for a good end,—if a house once rented for an immoral employment can be occupied for a business that is moral,—if a piece of machinery which has been employed for evil can be used in a lawful avocation,—if a vessel used before for piracy or in the slave trade, can be employed in legitimate commerce,—if a sword can be beaten into a ploughshare, or a spear into a pruning-hook, then principle would not require that these should be destroyed; but if no such lawful use of property can be made, then the principles of Christianity do not allow that it should be transferred to other hands, but that it should be destroyed at once. Christian honesty demands the sacrifice; a Christian conscience would prompt to it.
(4.) The church in Ephesus was characterized by the doctrines which were prominent in their belief. So far as we have any intimation in the New Testament, it was—beyond any other founded by the apostles, except that at Rome—a church in whose creed the doctrines of grace (as they have been called)—the doctrine of predestination, of decrees, and of election—were prominent . A church must have been thoroughly imbued with these truths, beyond even most churches in our times, to have made such sentiments as those with which the apostle commences his address to them in the Epistle, palatable. From such expressions as the following, not a few churches in our day, even of those called "Calvinistic," would have turned away;—"according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world;" "having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will;"—" being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. i. 4, 5,11). What there had been in the instruction of Paul that made this doctrine prominent in the church, or what there was, if anything, in their mental character or training that led to it, we do not now know. It may be remarked, however, that this form of their faith may have been very closely connected with the fact that their religion was (as we have seen) a religion of principle, and led to the prompt sacrifice of all that was contrary to the sternest requirements of the will of God.
V. One other thing remains to be noticed: the effect produced on the people of the city; the tumult, the riot, the disorder, caused by Christianity in destroying the business of a lucrative calling,—that of making the silver shrines of the goddess Diana.
The two grounds of appeal on which Demetrius relied, in the opposition made to Paul, were (1) the interest of the persons employed in the manufacture of the shrines; and (2) the national reverence for the goddess whom they worshipped. Both of these were of an inflammatory character, and it is not difficult to account, therefore, for the scenes which followed.
In reference to this excitement, without going into details, two remarks may be made:—
(1.) Christianity, as it moves along in the world, is the patron of whatever will really promote the interests of society, of all that, in its fair results, would add to the comfort, the wealth, and the prosperity of a people. Every branch of industry that really has such a tendency, every occupation that is consistent with good morals, every pursuit that would tend ultimately to increase the wealth of a people, it fosters and promotes. Thus it favours the interests of agriculture, of the mechanic arts, and of commerce between nations; it looks benignantly on those domestic arrangements which would be most conducive to the comfort of a family, and on the efforts made to provide food and raiment for a household; it promotes temperance, industry, economy, prudence,—virtues eminently necessary to public or private prosperity; it saves from those extravagances in living, and those habits of vice which exhaust a nation's wealth, or which tend to produce effeminacy and idleness; it opens new sources of employment, favourable to prosperity and wealth. The world would still have enough to do, if it were at once converted to Christ; and what would then be done would tend much more to its welfare than what is now done.
(2.) The other remark is, that, from the necessity of the case, Christianity must come into conflict with many of the business arrangements of men, and with many things which are regarded as sources of gain. The prevalence of universal virtue at any time would throw multitudes out of employment, as men are now actually employed, for their "occupation" would be "gone." All the arrangements now existing for the prosecution of such employments would become useless, and all the capital invested in them would be worthless, unless it could be, without injury to society, transferred to other purposes. Thus, if universal temperance should prevail, it would at once destroy the business of multitudes of men, would throw out of employment all those who are engaged in the manufacture and sale of intoxicating drinks, and would render useless all the arrangements now based on such manufacture and sale. If gambling or card-playing should at once cease, multitudes of persons would be thrown out of work; if war should cease, and universal peace should prevail, the armies of the world might be disbanded; the ships of war be dismantled; and armories and arsenals would be rendered useless, or might be converted to other purposes.
It is unavoidable, therefore, that Christianity, should produce change, commotion, and tumult. It interferes with the existing institutions of society; it denounces the objects at which many men aim; it seeks to turn away multitudes of men from the avocations in which it finds them engaged. Nothing more, therefore, occurred at Ephesus than may be expected to occur anywhere, when the principles of a just morality or a holy religion are suddenly applied to the occupations of mankind. In such excitements and tumults, however, virtue and religion are not responsible; for virtue and religion originate none of those employments, and they do nothing to foster the passions which prompt to them.
The world is a gainer by these changes. Sweeping away idolatry, as Christianity would, with all the sacrifices, altars, and temples of heathenism, it would plant, in its stead, a purer, a cheaper, a better religion. Putting a stop to war, it would change battle-ships to vessels of commerce; and would release, for the employments of peace, the millions of men now constituting the armies of the world,—thus changing them from consumers to producers. Putting an end to intemperance, it,would, discharge from an evil employment the men now sustained by it, to engage them in the honest arts of life, adding to the wealth of the nation, instead of destroying it,—and changing the scenes of desolation, the homes made wretched by the traffic, to abodes of virtue, contentment, and peace. Christianity may produce agitation, anger, tumult, as at Ephesus; but the diffusion of the pure Gospel of Christ, and the establishment of the institutions of honesty and virtue, at whatever cost, is a blessing to mankind.