Cyprian of Carthage: Has the vigor of faith dwindled away?

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All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32

“This unanimity formerly prevailed among the Apostles; and thus the new assembly of believers, keeping the Lord’s commandments, maintained its charity. Divine Scripture proves this, when it says, “But the multitude of them which believed were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). And again: “These all continued with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” (Acts 1:14). And thus they prayed with effectual prayers; thus they were able with confidence to obtain whatever they asked from the Lord’s mercy.

But in us unanimity is diminished in proportion as liberality of working is decayed. Then they used to give for sale houses and estates; and that they might lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, presented to the Apostles the price of them, to be distributed for the use of the poor. But now we do not even give the tenths from our patrimony; and while our Lord bids us sell, we rather buy and increase our store. Thus has the vigor of faith dwindled away among us; thus has the strength of believers grown weak. And therefore the Lord, looking to our days, says in His Gospel, “When the Son of man comes, think you that He shall find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

We see that what He foretold has come to pass. There is no faith in the fear of God, in the law of righteousness, in love, in labour; none considers the fear of futurity, and none takes to heart the day of the Lord, and the wrath of God, and the punishments to come upon unbelievers, and the eternal torments decreed for the faithless. That which our conscience would fear if it believed, it fears not because it does not at all believe. But if it believed, it would also take heed; and if it took heed, it would escape.

Let us, beloved brethren, arouse ourselves as much as we can; and breaking the slumber of our ancient listlessness, let us be watchful to observe and to do the Lord’s precepts.”

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (c. 200-258) in “On the Unity of the Church” Treatise 1.25-27.

It’s inspiring to attend a conference with biblical scholars and theologians, but doing it with my soon-to-be son-in-law, Peter Gomez, has been extra enriching. Two days ago, I attended a session in which my friend and scholar, Edwina Murphy, spoke from the writings of Cyprian to arouse his hearers to observe all Jesus commanded.

The same is true in our day. Jesus tells us to sell and instead His people buy and increase their store. The zeal to adhere to Christ’s teaching like in the days of Acts was waning in Cyprian’s day and is nearly gone in ours. What should we say in personal conversations? What can we preach to awaken a slumbering Church?

Cyprian points the way. We must proclaim the teachings of Christ and remind the Church that He is coming again. We are living in the in-between. Someday soon, our Lord will return. As in the parables, when He does, His people will have to give an account. May this reality make us watchful to observe all He commanded in the meantime.