The Christian City
Acts 8:5-8
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ to them.…

1. All around Philip was the misery and sin of a great city. He told them of Him who had come to relieve misery and forgive sin. As a symbol of the new life which he told them of, he touched some of their sick and their health came back to them. Not merely a few scattered souls caught the new inspiration; it seemed to fill the air and flow through all the life of the whole town.

2. There is something clear and peculiar in this joy of a whole city over a new faith. We can all feel it when a thought or an emotion which has lingered in a few minds starts up and takes possession of a whole community. It is as when a quiver of flame which has lurked about one bit of wood at last gets real possession of the heap of fuel, and the whole fireplace is in a blaze. There came a time when Christianity, which had lived in scattered congregations, at last seized on the prepared mind of the Roman Empire, and all Europe was full of Christianity. So it is a phenomenon possessing its own interest and demanding its own study, when beyond Christian souls you have a whole community inspired with the feelings and acting under the motives of Christianity. A city as well as an individual is capable of a Christian experience and character. It is more than an aggregate of the experience of the souls within it, as a chemical compound has qualities which did not appear in either of its constituents; it is a real new being with qualities and powers of its own.

3. Christianity is primarily a personal force, and only secondarily does it deal with communities. The souls of men must be converted; and out of those the Christian Church or the Christian State must. grow. To begin by making the structure of a Church or a State, and expect so to create personal character, is as if you began to build a forest from the top. This is the error of all merely ecclesiastical and political Christianity. But none the less is it true that when a great multitude of personal believers, who have been fused together by the fire of their common faith, present before the world the unity of a Christian Church or nation, that new unity is a real unit, a genuine being with its own character and power.

4. We see the Church possessed as a whole of qualities which she must gather, of course, from her parts, but which we can find in no one of her parts. She is more permanent, more wise, more trustworthy than the wisest and most trustworthy of the men who compose her membership. The city is a being dearer to us than any of the citizens who compose it. Many a man goes out to war and gives his life gladly for his country who would not have dreamed of giving it for any countryman. The Bible is full of this thought. Israel is more than any Israelite; Jerusalem is realer and dearer than any Jew. The New Testament reverts to the individual, but it too advances towards its larger personality, and leaves the strong figure of the Christian Church and the brilliant architecture of the New Jerusalem burning upon its latest pages.

5. But let us come to our subject. Is anything more to be expected than that here and there throughout a city men and women should be Christians? Can we conceive of Christianity so pervading the life of a community that the city shall be distinctly different in its corporate life and action from a heathen city? Christianity, or the change of man's life by Christ, has three ways in which it makes its power known. It appears either as truth, as righteousness, or as love. Every soul which is really redeemed by Christ will enter into new beliefs, higher ways of action, and deeper affections towards fellow-men. Now take these one by one, and ask if a city is not capable of them as well as aa individual.

I. Look first at FAITH.

1. Perhaps this seems the hardest to establish. There was a time, we say, when cities had their beliefs, when no man could live comfortably in Rome without believing like the Pope, or in Geneva without believing like Calvin. Then every proclamation was based upon a creed. But see how that is altered now. A thousand different beliefs fight freely in our streets, and it is almost true that no man is the less a citizen for anything that he believes or disbelieves. But this implies that the only exhibition of a faith must be in formal statement. It ignores for the city what we accept for the individual, that the best sign that a man believes anything is not his repetition of its formulas, but his impregnation with its spirit. It may have grown impossible, at least for the present, that cities should write confessions of faith in their charters; but if it is possible — nay, if it is necessary — that the prevalence through all a city's life of a belief in God and Christ and the Holy Spirit should testify of itself by the creation of certain spiritual qualities in that city, then have we not the possibility of a believing city even without a written creed or a formal proclamation. Just look at London. This is a believing city. And why? Not because an occasional document is solemnised with the name of God, nor because a few verses of the Bible are read each morning in your public schools, but because that spirit which has never been in the world save as the fruit of Christian faith prevails in and pervades your government and social life, the spirit of responsibility, of trust in man, and of hopefulness. This is the Christian faith of your community, showing in all your public actions. It has not come by accident. It has entered into you through the long belief of your fathers which you yourselves still keep in spite of all your scepticisms and disputes.

2. If we doubt this, we have only to forecast the consequence if a heathen belief were prevalent. We have some men who disbelieve intensely and bitterly in every Christian doctrine. The spirit of these men we know: it is hopeless, cynical, despairing. If they are naturally sensual, they plunge into debauchery; if they are naturally refined they stand aside and sneer at or superciliously pity the eager work and exuberant feeling of other men. Now fancy such men's faith made common. What would be the result? Would any generous work be done? Could either popular government or an extended system of business credit still survive, since both are based on that trust of man in man which is at the bottom a Christian sentiment? Would you not have killed enterprise when you had taken hopefulness away, and given the deathblow to public purity when you had destroyed responsibility?

3. No, the city has its Christian faith. Its belief is far from perfect: it is all stained and broken with scepticism, but it is vastly more strong than many of you believe. Every now and then comes a revival. "What does it mean?" we say; "when men seem settling placidly down into unbelief and indifference, all of a sudden this great outbreak? People crowding by tens of thousands to hear some homely preacher, the city shaken with the storm of hymns, thousands confessing their sins and crying out for pardon?" Is it not clear enough what it means? Here many of the men to whom the people most looked up have been sending down to the uplooking people the barren gospel of their scepticism. But by and by they have pressed too terribly upon the spiritual consciousness; the sense of God, the certainty of immortality, has risen in rebellion; the great reaction comes; the wronged affections reassert themselves. One must rejoice in such a healthy outburst. To complain of its extravagances or faults of taste is as if you complained of the tempest which cleared your city of the cholera because it shook your windows and stripped the leaves off your trees.

4. The methods by which this faith may be perpetuated and kept pure are open to endless discussion. No doubt the city in which it is liveliest stands the most in danger of ecclesiasticim on the one hand, and of dogmatic quarrelsomeness on the other; but about this one fact we are most clear, that a city may believe, and as a city may be blessed by its belief. It seems to open an appeal to any generous and public-spirited young man, to which he surely ought to listen. Not only for your own soul and its interests you ought to seek the truth, but for the community, because these streams of public and social life which run so shallow need to be deepened with eternal interests, because your faith in God will help to make God a true inspiration to the city's life. Remember the simple old parable in Ecclesiastes 9:14-16. Wisdom in the Old Testament means what faith means in the New.


1. A man who is a Christian holds certain truth, and then he does certain goodness. And every city has a moral character distinguishable from, however it may be made up of, the individual character of its inhabitants. This is seen in two ways.

(1) In the official acts which it must do, the acts of justice or injustices by which it appears as a person acting in its official unity among its sister cities.

(2) In the moral atmosphere which pervades it, and which exercises power on all who come within it. You send a child to live in some heathen brutal community where vice is in the very atmosphere, and he is certainly contaminated. What is it that contaminates him? Not this man's or that man's example, but the whole character of the city where he lives. The brutality is everywhere, in all its laws, its customs, its standards, its traditions. You send him back to live in old Pompeii, where the abominations which modern times have uncovered and made the subject of cool archaeological study were live things, the true expression of the heathen city's spirit. As he enters in you see his soul wither and grow spotted with corruption. Then bring your boy and put him here in Christian London. It is not only this or that Christian whom he meets. It is a Christian goodness everywhere: in the just dealing of the streets, in the serene peace of the homes, in the accepted responsibilities and obligations of friends and neighbours, in the universal liberty, in the absence of cruelty, in the purity and decency, in the solemn laws and courteous ceremonies — everywhere there is the testimony of a city wherein dwelleth righteousness. And when we think how imperfectly Christ has been welcomed and adopted here — how only to the outside of our life He has penetrated, then there opens before us a glorious vision of what the city might be where He should be wholly King.

2. We dwell on the iniquity of city life in modern times. But it is not the riotous and boastful wickedness of heathen times. Men have at least seen clearly enough the Christian standard to be ashamed of what they are not willing to renounce, and hide in secret chambers the villainies which use to flaunt upon the public walls. It is one stage in every conversion of the converted city as of the converted man. The next stage is to cast away the wickedness of which one has become ashamed. Of cities in the first stage there are instances everywhere through Christendom. Of the second stage — of the city totally possessed by Christ and so casting all wickedness away, there is as yet no specimen upon the earth, only the glowing picture of the apocalyptic city, the New Jerusalem. That sounds very visionary and far away; but consider that to bring about that city so different from your London you need only vastly more of the same power that has made your London so different from Pompeii.

3. Again we come to a lofty ground of appeal. If you are pure and true remember that your righteousness is not for yourself alone, nor for the few whom you immediately touch; it is for your city. I am speaking to business men who may help to put a more Christian character into business life; to women of society who may make the social character of the town more Christ-like; to young men on whom it rests to develop or to destroy for their city the character that their fathers gave her. If you fail, you Christian men and women, what chance is there for the city?

III. CHARITY. When a man becomes a Christian, he believes right, and then he does right; and then he tries to help his fellow-men. And now again the question comes, can a city too do good as the issue and utterance of its Christian character? The Christian character of charity is very apt to elude us, and the connection of a charitable act with Christian faith is lost. You say it is all impulse when you give your money to the poor; but what is the impulse? Is it the same as the savage's? Has Christianity done nothing to keep down the other impulse to harm, and to strengthen this? And so you say the city's charity is all economy; her hospitals are merely expedients for saving so much available human life. But who taught her this economy, and that a human life was worth the saving, and how is it that the most highly organised among un-Christian nations have had but the merest rudiments of hospitals? No! The charity of a city is a distinct testimony to one thing which has been wrought into the convictions of that city — the value of a man; and that conviction has come out of Christian faith. A poor neglected creature drops in the crowded street; a horse strikes him, and the heavy waggon crushes him as he lies; or in the blazing summer sun he is smitten to the ground insensible. Instantly the city — not this pitying man or that, but the pitying city — stoops and gathers him up tenderly, and carries him to the hospital, which it has built. Is there no Christ there? Once there was a city which, when Christ came to it, hated and scorned Him, and would not be satisfied till it had seen Him die in agony. To-day here is a city which, if Christ came to it in person, would go out and welcome Him, would call Him Lord and Master, and hang upon His words and glory in the privilege of giving Him its best. In that first city there was no hospital; in this new city the hospitals stand thick for every kind of misery. Has not the Christian city a right to hear the Saviour's words as if He spoke to her: "Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto Me"? Who doubts that if the city were tenfold more Christian than she is the hospitals would be multiplied and enriched till it should be an impossibility for any sick man to be left unhelped. Deepen the city's Christianity and the city's charity must deepen and widen too.

(Bp. Phillips Brooks.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

WEB: Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ.

The Advent of the Gospel to Samaria
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