[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]
THAT the bible is precisely adapted to man as he is, and not as he was, or as he shall be in another state, is with me a favorite position; and one, as I conceive, of much consequence in any attempt to understand the Sacred book. Next to it in plainness and importance is this–that the religion of Jesus Christ is based upon the whole man, his soul, body, and spirit. There is not a power, capacity, or attribute, which man possesses, whether animal, intellectual, or moral, which it does not lay hold of; which it does not address, control, or direct, in the pursuit of the most dignified and exalted objects. From the loftiest faculties of the mind, down to the appetites and passions purely animal, it loses sight of nothing. Hence we may say of it as the Saviour said of the Sabbath, “It was made for man.”
It is a religion essentially social, and the reason of this is found in the nature of man–for he is a social being. The religion of Jesus Christ refines the social feelings, and gives full scope to the exhibition of all that is social in man. No man can therefore either enjoy, or exhibit it to advantage, but in the midst of Christian society. Hence “love to the brethren,” and all that springs from it, forms so conspicuous a part of the Christian religion.
A Christian congregation established upon the New Testament exhibits the most perfect society of which human imagination can conceive. Every perfection and advantage that belongs to society is a constituent of it. When we have put every faculty into the most active requisition; when we have aroused all our powers to discover, or to exhibit the nature, properties, excellencies, and benefits of the most finished, polished, and sentimental society, we have only been seeking after or exhibiting that peculiar character of society which the New Testament gives birth to, and to constitute which is its highest object, as respects the present world. Neither reason, nor even fancy itself, can project a single ornament, can point out a single perfection or benefit that belongs to society, which does not belong to, and form a part of, that society of which we speak.
But I speak not of a degenerated state of a Christian society, such as those dead and misshapen things which intriguing kings and sycophantic priests have given birth to; but I speak of a Christian society in its pure and primitive state, such as that formed by the direction and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Many societies called “Christian” are the habitation of envy, pride, ambition, selfishness; a rendezvous of moping melancholy and religious superciliousness; a conjunction of ignorance and superstition: a combination of gloom and invincible moroseness. A great majority of Christian congregations assume an aspect more becoming an assembly of Pharisees and monks than of Christians. A severe austerity, a rigid sanctimoniousness, an awful penitential silence characterize their interviews. Their Sunday apparel seems to sympathize with an agonizing piety within, and every movement indicates that there is something in their religion at variance with their lives and their comfort. These are but little things; yet they are symptoms of a diseased constitution, and like an unnatural pulse, assure the physician that the vital functions are laboring under a morbid influence. There can be no doubt to those who drink deep into the spirit of the New Testament, but that the aspect of a society of primitive worshippers was essentially different from ours. The hope, and joy, and love, and confidence in God, which their views of Jesus inspired, animated their countenances and their deportment, and shone forth in their whole demeanor; as the ignorance, the doubts, and fears, and awful uncertainty, of a company of cloistered friars and nuns, designate their faces and gestures. It is not going too far to say, that an intelligent mind makes an intelligent countenance, and exhibits itself even in the ordinary movements of the outward man. It is much more evident that the whole aspect and demeanor of a congregation of worshippers is an index to their peculiar views and sentiments. Who, that is acquainted with the views and sentiments of the individuals composing any congregation, does not see, or think he sees, in the outward man the character he has formed of the inward man. This I do not say as if it were my design to enjoin upon
individuals or congregations to cultivate a system of appearances or movements, comporting with the sentiments, views, and feelings of others; but to lead them to reflect on the causes of these things, and to inquire after what that was, and what that is, which distinguishes us from the primitive disciples.
This leads me to remark that the primitive Christians had, amongst other things which we have not, a particular kind of feasts, called in the New Testament, “feasts of charity,” or rather “love feasts.” This was not a practice for which they had to work themselves up, but it was a natural and unforced expression of the spirit which dwelt in them. A marriage supper is not more natural than a Christian love feast. There does not appear any precept enforcing or enjoining such feasts in any part of the apostolic writings. This would have been as inconsistent with the genius of the book, as for it to have given a commandment that Christians should eat and drink together. It was as much the genuine result of their religion, as verdure is the result of the genial influences of spring. When God sends the rain and causes the balmy zephyrs to breathe, it is unnecessary to issue a command to the seeds of plants to germinate and grow. Thus it came to pass, that soon as the spirit of God was poured out on Pentecost, and disciples multiplied, they not only attended upon the ordinances of social worship enjoined upon them by the apostles; such as “the breaking of bread,” “the fellowship,” “the prayers,” “the praises,” &c. but they were led to meet in each other’s houses, and to “feast with gladness and singleness of heart.” This going from house to house and eating their food with gladness and singleness of heart, or as it is more correctly and beautifully rendered, “and breaking bread from house to house, they partook of their refreshment with joy and simplicity of heart, praising God,” is just what is fitly called a feast of love, or the love feasts of the New Testament; because Christian love bade the guests, brought them together, and was president of the table.
Feasts, either public or private, are usually denominated from the cause that institutes them. Now when a number of Christians are invited, purely on Christian considerations to meet either in a particular family, or at a public place of rendezvous, for the purpose of social eating and drinking, or feasting; this repast, whether given by one individual brother, or made by the contributions of all, is a Christian love feast. To these feasts was added the song; yes, the sacred song of joy and gladness was a prominent part of the entertainment: for it is added, “they partook of their refreshment with joy and simplicity of heart, praising God.” What more natural than these Christian feasts? Refined and elevated sociableness is the direct tendency of the Christian religion. The table and the fireside; the scenes of festivity, of social converse, and of social song, consecrated by Christian affection, become as joyful and cheering to Christian hearts, as ever was the altar of Hymen to the bridegroom and the bride–as ever was the marriage supper to the nuptial guests.
When any intruded into these love feasts, or were bid to the entertainment undeserving of it, these were “spots and blemishes” in those feasts of love, and are so designated by the apostles. Hence it is inferred that none but those embraced in Christian love were wont to be invited to those entertainments; and, that no social eating and drinking of a mixed character, where our relatives and neighbors are invited, irrespective of christian considerations, can lawfully be called a christian love feast in the primitive sense of these words. It also follows that whenever a company is called together, all of which are disciples of Christ, to eat and drink, and to be cheerful, such a feast is a Christian love feast, and forms no inconsiderable part of that system of means which is wisely adapted to enliven christian affection, and to prepare men for the entertainments of heaven.
When the ancient order of things is restored, these feasts of love will be found as useful for the promotion of humility, benevolence, joy, and peace, as they were in those hale and undegenerate days of primitive simplicity. They will be found as necessary for the perfection of enjoyment in this earthly state, as any of the acts of social worship are to the edification of the christian community in their weekly meetings. They are obviously distinguished from any of the acts of social worship ordained for the whole congregation on the day of life and immortality; but houses are not more necessary to shield us from the inclemencies of the weather, than those festive occasions are to the consummation of the entertainments, and finished exhibition of the sociability of the Christian religion.