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A CONSOLATORY EPISTLE TO THE CHURCH
During the short reign of the Emperor Gallus, a dreadful
Pestilence broke out in Africa, which made great havock among all ranks of men, and frequently swept away whole families.
The Pagans were alarmed beyond measure—they neglected the burial of the dead through fear—and the bodies of many lay in the streets of Carthage. The Christians also were cast down with over-much sorrow; for the Pestilence and Famine, which prolonged the trial of their faith and patience, were ascribed to the Authors of the new religion, and were consequently made the ground of renewed and cruel persecution. The eloquent voice of Cyprian, on this occasion, roused the courage and alacrity of his people. The Christians ranked themselves into classes for the purpose of relieving the public distress. The rich contributed largely of their substance, and the poor gave their labour with extreme hazard of their lives. The Pagans saw with astonishment the effects of the love of God in Christ; and had a salutary opportunity of contrasting these effects with their own inhumanity and selfishness,
CYPRIAN TO THE BRETHREN AT CARTHAGE
1. I am very sensible, my beloved brethren, that
you are so well fortified, by the power
faith and hope, and your religious affiance in God, that the present mortality is not
able to make upon you any disadvantageous impressions; whilst these trials of your christian courage do rather approve than overthrow it; and all the rude shocks which you receive from a boisterous world, rebound from your minds, as the waves do from a rock, without impairing its firmness : yet, though this be generally, and for the most part true of you, I cannot but observe that some of my flock, either through weakness of mind, or want of faith, or an attachment to the pleasures of life, or the delicacy of their sex, or (which is more than all the rest) through some misapprehensions concerning the great truths of the gospel, are shocked with this great calamity, and do not exert themselves with that spirit and constancy which might so reasonably be expected from their principles and professions; and therefore, upon this view of the case, I thought it incumbent upon me to say somewhat to it, and to employ my best endeavours upon rousing their dormant courage, and their drooping spirits, by exhortations and encouragements taken from the book of God; that so the man who hath devoted himself to the service of God and Christ, may be taught to behave as becomes such an honourable relation: For he who serves in the christian warfare, and hath entered his name upon the roll of our head and captain, Christ Jesus, should consider with himself, my beloved brethren, what. obligations he is thence engaged in, and how all his thoughts and affections should be taken off from this world and fixed upon another : and therefore no storms nor tempests which he may here encounter, should ever be suffered to ruffle or disconcert him, or find him at any time unprepared to cope with them : inasmuch as our Lord who hath indeed given his people a proper warning of all these incidents, hath foretold them, and thereby hath fortified the minds of his followers, that they might be able to bear whatever should happen to them, either by earthquakes, pestilence, famine or the sword. And that we might not be surprised or overborne by any sudden or unexpected calamities, he hath expressly moreover taught and admonished us, that all these mischiefs should increase upon us more and more in the latter days; and now behold his predictions verified! Wherefore, since those things are come to pass which were foretold by him, those things which he hath promised will as surely be accomplished in their proper season :
And our Lord, we may observe, hath given us to know when we may expect them, saying; “ When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”
2. The kingdom of God, my brethren, is plainly then nigh at hand, and with it the joyful recompense of life eternal, everlasting gladness, and that happy state of paradise which we had so lately forfeited ; these all are making their approaches
towards us, by the same steps
wherewith this world is fleeting from us : And then we shall make that blessed advantageous exchange of earthly things for heavenly, of mean and trivial gratifications for joys too great for our hearts to conceive, of a transient and momentary state for one which will abide for ever! What room or pretence can then be left for any melancholy surmises, or misgiving apprehensions ? Under such circumstances, who can have any damp or flutter upon his spirits, whose faith and hope are not in some manner deficient ? No man should indeed be afraid of death,* but he who is afraid to go to Christ; nor can any man be afraid to go to Christ but he who hath reason to fear that he shall have no part nor lot with Christ in his kingdom. It is written, that “the just shall live by faith :" if then you are one of those just ones, and as such do live by faith, and do really believe in God, why are you not overjoyed at receiving your summons to be with Christ, in a full dependence upon the truth of his promises; which, when once they are accomplished, will secure you for ever from the power of the devil? It had been revealed from heaven to good old Simeon, (that true believer unto righteousness,) “ that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ ;" wherefore, when Christ was brought to the temple in the arms of his mother, he presently knew by the Spirit that the person then was born who had been so foretold to him, and that himself should die immediately after seeing him. Thus rejoicing in the approaches of his own dissolution, and nothing doubting of his favourable reception in a better world, “he took the child up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” In which words he hath plainly and clearly intimated, that the servants of God are then only secure of peace and undisturbed repose, when they are got out from the storms and hurricanes of this world, and have made to the haven of everlasting rest; when upon the swallowing up of death in victory, their mortal hath put on a blessed immortality.
* There would be no conclusiveness in this reasoning, nor in that of section 4, except our author had been of St. Paul's opinion, that immediately upon a good man's dissolution, he went to Christ, Philip. i. 23, and 2d Cor. v. 1, 6; and indeed our author elsewhere in his tract to Demetrian hath given us his sense upon this question very clearly, where he saith, “ Till upon the conclusion of this transient life we are assigned to separate mansions, either of everlasting destruction, or of life immortal.” And again a little farther, “When we go hence, there is no room for repentance, nor any possibility of atoning for our sins by penitential satisfactions ; here, or no where, must be laid the foundation of life eternal."