I was reading a sermon by Rev. F.W. Farrar, who I have never read before, although I find I have a copy of his commentary on the life of Paul in my library. Anyway, this piece was on the moral conditions at the time of Christ and shortly thereafter; and the thought of the pagan moralists of the time, such as Seneca, Epictetus and Aurelius. The vivid descriptions of the brutality towards slaves during that time is horrific. Rev. Farrar is liberal in his thought and his conclusion was far more generous than I ever hear from the pulpit. I found it......merciful.
“The morality of paganism was, on its own confession, insufficient. It was tentative, where Christianity is authoritative; it was dim and partial, where Christianity is bright and complete; it was inadequate to rouse the sluggish carelessness of mankind, where Christianity came in with an imperial and awakening power; it gives only a rule, where Christianity supplies a principle.
And even where its teachings were absolutely coincident with those of Scripture, it failed to ratify them with a sufficient sanction; it failed to announce them with the same powerful and contagious ardor; it failed to furnish an absolutely faultless and vivid example of their practice; it failed to inspire them with an irresistible motive; it failed to support them with comfort, hope and happy immortality after a consistent and moral life.
Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius, are among the truest and loftiest of pagan moralists, yet Seneca ignored the Christians, Epictetus despised, and Aurelius persecuted them. All three, so far as they knew any thing about the Christians at all, had unhappily been taught to look upon them as the most detestable sect of what they had long regarded as the most degraded and the most detestable of religions.
There is something very touching in this fact; but, if there be something very touching, there is also something very encouraging. God was their God as well as ours—their Creator, their Preserver, who left not Himself without witness among them; who, as they blindly felt after Him, suffered their groping hands to grasp the hem of His robe; who sent the rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with joy and gladness. And His Spirit was with them, dwelling in them, though unseen and unknown, purifying and sanctifying the temple of their hearts, sending beams of illuminating light through the gross darkness which encompassed them, comforting their uncertainties, making intercession for them with groaning which can not be uttered. And more than all, our Savior was their Savior, too; He, whom they regarded as a crucified malefactor, was their true, invisible King; through His righteousness their poor merits were accepted, their inward sicknesses were healed; He whose worship they denounced as an “execrable superstition,” stood supplicating for them at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Photo from the Internet.