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Col. i. 26.
can be little doubt that “the word of knowledge” was an expression used to denote sacred lore—knowledge of the scheme of past revelations recorded in Scripture, their reference to Christianity, and, perhaps, their connexion and extension through futurity, such as appears in the Revelations of St. John. This gift is accordingly described, both as unlocking the Scriptures of the prophets, wherein
“the mystery that was kept from ages, but was then made Rom. xvi. manifest,” and also as that whereby the ancient prophets had fore- 3.26: seen this mystery.
Without pursuing these remarks further, it may be sufficient to observe, that these two gifts of wisdom and of knowledge seem to have been peculiar to the apostles, and to have been distinguished, the former from teaching, the latter from prophecy, on this very account; the apostles possessing so much clearer views of Christ's ministry and of the future state of the Church, as to entitle their endowments to names distinct from teaching and prophecy.
The event which suggested these remarks was the descent of the Descent on Holy Gho
on the day of Pentecost, filling the apostles and their blendedost! company each with his proper gifts. This then being the first, not only of the three manifestations of the Spirit, but of all its manifestations as guide and Comforter, the propriety of a visible and symbolical descent is easily perceived. It has been already observed, that the office of apostle was twofold: first, he had an appointment from Christ as his witness; secondly, he was ordained by the Holy Ghost as minister of the word—expounder and preacher of the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. In his former capacity, he bore testimony to facts, which he was qualified to do, whether he understood the import of those facts or not. In his second office, he became also an expounder of the true character of those facts. To qualify the apostles for the former, it was requisite, for their own satisfaction, that they should be in constant attendance on the Lord ; 20 for that of others, that they should possess the power of working miracles. Both these qualifications, therefore, they derived from our Lord himself. At his command they left all and followed him while on earth, and before his departure received the power of performing signs and wonders. Still, as the office of testifying was not to begin until the new dispensation was opened by the Spirit, they were commanded to wait for that event. So that the first descent of the Holy Ghost appears to have been made in its most illustrious and striking form, first as a sign that that great
20 What good end was probably attained, by qualifying them to be witnesses of the facts before they were even moderately acquainted with the doctrines depending on them? The question may he partly answered, by considering how important it was that the apostles should not begin to preach Christianity too
soon. With this object in view, when-
period was come, and next for the purpose of ordaining the apostles as the chief ministers of the Spirit.
From this period the apostles and their fellow-labourers appear Acts ii. 41. in their full course of duty. On a single address from Peter, three
thousand were converted, baptized, and gifted with the Holy Ghost, and thereby admitted to the constant instruction of the apostles, and the communion of the Church. These religious duties were performed in private houses, ,21 and by them as Christians. Nevertheless, as Jewish citizens they continued to frequent the temple. Thus Peter and John, when they wrought the celebrated miracle on the Acts iii. 1. man lame from his birth, did it as they were entering the beautiful gate at the hour of prayer. This and other instances, which will occur to the reader of the history of the apostles, clearly show that, for a time, that is, as long as Jerusalem and the Jewish polity remained, Jewish converts generally conformed to the ceremonials of the law; not indeed as Christians, but agreeably to the spirit of Christianity, which interfered not with national or other institutions, further than they were incompatible with the Gospel faith and practice. The Jew remained, as far as regarded conformity to the customs and habits of his country, still a Jew, even after his conversion. The devout Gentile, likewise, although received into the Christian society, was still not only permitted but enjoined to retain his customs as proselyte of the gate, and as such to abstain from Acts xv. 20. things offered to idols, and from blood. The converted idolater, on the other hand, was left free to eat of meat offered to idols, and to violate also the mere ceremonial parts of God's superseded dispensation. To have attached any spiritual grace to these ordinances would, indeed, in the Jewish convert have been a sin, and was forbidden; to have sought a fuller participation in the Jewish ceremonies and ritual communion, under an idea that they could render “the comers thereunto perfect,” would have been Heb. x. I. equally sinful in the converted proselyte of the gate; and the converted idolater also, although free to eat of meat offered to idols, and, in short, to enjoy from the first the full " liberty” of the Gospel of Christ, sinned, if there were so much of the taint of old superstition remaining on his mind, as to make him feel, that while he eat and associated with the revellers, an evil being was receiving his homage—or that while he was indulging in any act, indifferent and innocent in itself, it was too strongly associated in his mind with guilty meaning, to be indifferent and innocent to him. Regard to 1 Cor. viii. 7. the feelings of weaker and more scrupulous brethren inight in some instances render more restraint requisite, but these were the main clauses of the character of Christian liberty, as it stood before the destruction of Jerusalem.
21 Kari orzov, as opposed to the temple such an assembly to have been held sub service, of which mention is made imme- dio, (for no private room could have condiately after.
tained them,) still it is almost absurd to The expression, taken in connexion suppose that their meeting would have with the existing circumstances of the been allowed to proceed without molestaChurch, may however imply more, as tion; and the more public we suppose the following considerations show. 'At such a meeting to be rendered, from the this time the believers were more in num- numbers composing it, the greater the ber than three thousand, and besides the difficulty: regular increase which was going on One solution naturally presents itself, from day to day, about five thousand Why may not some one order in the were shortly after added at once. Now Church have been called the Church, it is impossible that any one private nat' éžoxon-have conducted the internal house (and those of the Christians must affairs of the whole society of which they have been among the humblest) could were a part-have represented it in its have had an upper room, or any place intercourse with other Churches ? Perwithin its precincts, capable of containing haps each presiding elder took the sense so large a number. And if any such of his own congregation, and then the house there were, still it is equally diffi- matter in question was decided by a cult to understand how such a crowd of meeting of these elders and the apostles. suspected persons should have been The apostles themselves might either allowed, in the irritable state of the Jew- have belonged to some one privileged ish antichristian spirit, to assemble thus congregation, such as the original one regularly for prayer and other Christian hundred and twenty, or have been intercourse.
divided. The latter is the more proIs it not likely, or rather certain, that bable. Peter and John are said to have the Church almost from the first must returned after their release from prison have been divided into several congrega- είς τους ιδίους, and perhaps their preaching tions? If so, each must have had one at together may have arisen from this very least to preside, and also some one place circumstance, that they were attached of worship.
to the same congregation. This supposition furnishes a key to But again, if the assemblies of the many expressions of the New Testament, primitive Christians were held in separate some of which are of no very obỹious houses, what shall we say of the descent import. St. Paul is said before his con- of the Holy Spirit on the return of Peter version to have gone κατά τους οίκους, and John from the Sanhedrim? Was it haling men and women to prison. Now, a partial favour, and not extended to the where was an inquisitor so likely to go in whole Church?' This follows necessarily, search of Christians, as into their ordi- and is in itself not unlikely. A particunary places of meeting? and what would lar manifestation of God's Spirit, in more naturally express these than the which the endowments conferred were term Tous oitous, the houses, i.e. the houses of a superior kind, was likely to be of prayer? St. Paul sends to the Corin- limited. Certainly, the term tous idious, thians the salutation of Aquila and Pris- which is used to denote the congregation cilla, and of “the Church which is in to which they re ned, seems to imply their house." May it not here too be a particular class of Christians. Those meant that theirs was a house so used, who consider it to have been formed out that it served the purpose of a church, of the original one hundred and twenty, and was appropriated to a particular will see an obvious reason for the privicongregation? Similar expressions, sug- lege in the circumstance, that they were gesting the same interpretation, will fellow-labourers with the apostles and readily occur to the reader of the New fellow-disciples of the Lord Jesus himTestament.
self. At all events, it would be nothing But, now, if this be so, what shall be strange, that this sign should be given said of the assembly of the whole Church, only to that congregation to which those such as took place at Jerusalem when the apostles were attached whose ministry famous decree was issued ? Supposing was the occasion of it.
SECOND EXTRAORDINARY MANIFESTATION OF THE HOLY GHOST. The wonderful success of Peter's first address, and the effect of Peter heals the miracle which had been wrought by the hands of John and the lame himself, soon aroused the attention of the Jewish rulers. The cripple whose limbs had been restored, clinging to the apostles, iv. 1—33. detained them as they were proceeding to join the public service, while the people as they arrived for the same purpose flocked round and formed a crowd. The high priest and chief police officer, hearing the disturbance, came out; and, assisted by the Sadducees, seized the persons who appeared to them to be the cause of all the tumult and interruption of the public worship. Peter was already
Acts iii. and
far advanced in a harangue, in which, as in the last, he was fulfilling his office of witness, and inviting his countrymen to baptism in the name of Jesus, when John and himself were arrested and imprisoned. Next morning they were brought before the rulers and elders, who had assembled at Jerusalem for examination of the culprits. The man whose lameness had been removed was in attendance, and his evidence secured them from the charge of imposture. But the influence which their doctrine was gaining, was more alarming to the council than any crime which could have been laid to their charge. Three thousand converts had been made by their first appeal; by this second, notwithstanding the interruption, five thousand more were added: and in the interval no day had passed without the Holy Spirit giving proof of Divine power and care, in bringing those qualified into the Church. They were dismissed therefore from the council, with repeated warnings, that if they continued to preach
as witnesses of Jesus,” they did it at their peril. It was on their Acts iv. 31. return to their party, and while all were engaged in prayer
and thanksgiving, that the symbol of the Spirit's communication was recognised, and his second descent was manifested.
An extraordinary display on this occasion was obviously in unison with the rest of that Divine Person's ministry. Thus it fell on the first devout Gentile converts. Thus it fell also (as we have endeavoured to prove) at Antioch in Pisidia, on the first idolaters who embraced Christianity. The first-fruits of the Jewish conversion would naturally seem to require a corresponding blessing and honouring of the Spirit.
Of those on whom this descent of the Comforter (του Παρακλήτου)
produced the most striking effects, Barnabas was so conspicuous as Acts iv. 36. to derive his familiar name from the circumstance, (viòs na parañosws,)
and to deserve especial notice from the brief historian of the event. Beyond the gifts bestowed on the rest, perhaps, he then received the full endowments of an apostle, and was thenceforth qualified for the occasion when he was called on to act as one, in conjunction with St. Paul. That his qualifications as a witness had been already ascertained, was suggested as probable in the remarks on Matthias's election. In the present instance, the application of that singular title to him, “ the son of consolation”--the record too of certain little circumstances in his history, such as that he was a Levite—of a Cyprian family—all seem to denote that something had at this time occurred, and was alluded to respecting him, which was important in the history of the Church—something
which distinguished him from the number of those who, no less than he, sold their possessions, and laid the money at the apostles' feet. The interpretation subjoined to the word Barnabas explains this, and serves perhaps to point out, what is not elsewhere alluded to, the time and occasion of his inspiration and appointment as an apostle.
ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA. Among those who, like Barnabas, converted their possessions Acts v. into money, and placed the amount at the disposal of the apostles, appeared Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They, however, are said to have “ kept back part of the price," and thereby to have • lied to the Holy Ghost.” For which crime the Spirit of God, as if to vindicate his authority as ruler in the new dispensation, smote them publicly and separately with death.
As their case involves two interesting questions, in the solution of which all are not agreed, it may be as well to pause, and to consider the incident with reference to both of these inquiries. The one is, the community of goods among the primitive Christians; the other, the sin against the Holy Ghost. As the two subjects are by this event accidentally thrown together, so by their concurrence they seem to illustrate and explain each other.
Many commentators and ecclesiastical writers have represented Community this community of goods as implying a literal resignation of all among the private and individual property, each surrendering his all to the public, and all receiving from the common stock what was requisite for their support. What end would have been gained by this, it is not easy to understand; and to meet the question concerning its inutility, and also its impracticability, it has been conjectured, that the custom was, from certain peculiar circumstances, rendered necessary in the Church of Jerusalem, but did not extend to other Churches. But that such was not the custom, even of the Church at Jerusalem, may be proved from this very instance. For Peter expressly reminds Ananias, that he had no temptation to commit this crime of falsehood, inasmuch as he was not called on, merely as a member of the Christian society, to sell his property, or, if sold, to bestow any of it on the Church. " While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power ?” The Thirty-eighth Article of the Church of England, in opposition to the mischievous tenets of the early anabaptists, merely disavows the obligation of Christians, as such, to surrender their property to the Church, without adopting (as was indeed uncalled for) any explanation of the primitive custom. The difficulty, however, under which the ordinary view of it laboured, has not escaped notice. Mosheim accordingly attempts to prove, that St. Luke's account implies a community of use, and not of possession,—that the supply of what was needed by the society and by individuals, was acknowledged by all as a bounden duty, and unanimously complied with.22 But here, again, the case of Ananias, of Barnabas, and of others similarly circumstanced proves, that from whatever motive they contributed, they resigned not a part, but all
22 Dissertationes ad Hist. Eccles. Pert. Vol. II. p. 14.