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the office; and to have ordained them, when elected and presented for that purpose, by prayer and the laying on of hands. The assembly is described as vested with the power of election, the apostles with the office of ordaining.
But of whom, it may be asked, was this general assembly com- General posed? Was it made up of all the disciples who chose to attend
Assembly. and vote; or of certain, whose privilege or duty it was to represent the whole body? The literal import of the Greek favours the former supposition; the circumstances of the case itself, the latter; and this so greatly as to render it by far the most probable. In the first place, that there should be either a place found, or permission granted, in Jerusalem, for eight or ten thousand suspected persons to assemble, and unmolested to discuss the very questions which rendered them obnoxious, is very improbable. Equally improbable is it, that so mixed a multitude should be able, under any circumstances, to transact business such as this; except, indeed, by means of some miraculous interference, of which there is no intimation. Some other meaning then must be sought for in this expression, “the multitude of the disciples ;' and why should it not mean the full assembly of the disciples appointed for forming such assemblies ? Such a phrase would not be more harsh and unnatural than when we speak of “the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament assembled," applying, in the latter as in the former case, to the
representative body, the term which properly belongs to the body represented. *
30 St. Luke, in describing the assembly correspond, it may throw some light on in which Matthias was elected, employs, both to place these points of coincidence apparently as an equivalent phrase, 8 in a scheme side by side. The difference όχλος των μαθητών. As this is not the only between these will be found to arise out coincidence of expression in the two of the circumstance before noticed, viz. passages, and as the forms and proceed- the absence of inspired wisdom from the ings described likewise very strikingly one, and its presence in the other.
I. Election of Matthias. 1. 'Αναστας Πέτρος εν μέσω των μαθητών. 2. Είπεν- άνδρες αδελφοί.
3. Δεϊ των συνελθόντων ημιν ανδρών κ. τ. λ. μάρτυρα της αναστάσεως αυτού, γενέσθαι συν ημίν ένα τούτων.
4. Και έστησαν δύο. .
II. Election of the Seven Deacons. 1. Προσκαλεσάμενοι δε οι δώδεκα το πλήθος των μαθητών. .
2. Elroy -αδελφοί.
3. Επισκέψασθε ουν άνδρας εξ υμών μαρτυξουμένους επτά, πληρεις, κ. τ. λ. ους κατάστήσομεν επί της χρείας ταύτης.
4. Και εξελέξαντο-ους έστησαν ενώπιον των αποστόλων. .
5. Προσευξάμενοι. .
6. "Έδωκαν κλήρους αυτών κ. τ. λ. και συγκατεψηφίσθη μετά τών ένδικα.
In the proceedings of the two assemblies, the only material difference is in the last point. In Matthias's case no laying on of hands is mentioned, because the Holy Ghost not having then been given, (or we should perhaps rather say, the gift of conferring the Holy Ghost,) this sign, whereby it was afterwards communicated, would have been a mere
empty form. What in other ordinations was effected by the laying on of the apostles' hands, in Matthias's was effected by the descent of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost; with a view to which it is likely that his election was made to take place before that event. Again, in the election of deacons only a single office was conferred, and that they held from
In the narrative of their proceedings, then, what more natural than that these should be called “the disciples,” in opposition to the apostles, who were likewise present. The term multitude (Tağbos) may then be understood, either as indicating that the meeting was a full one, or, what is certainly more in accordance with the general analogy of the original language, it may be used for “the great body of the disciples,” by the same obvious figure of speech which we employ when we call the representatives of the commonalty of England“ the Commons.
EFFECTS OF STEPHEN'S MARTYRDOM. It was, obviously, an important feature in the Divine scheme, that the sceptre should depart from Judah soon after the coming of the Messiah. Had the Jews continued to possess the right of inflicting capital punishment, an effectual check must immediately have been given to the progress of the Gospel. Even as it was, the disciples had to dread every thing which calumny, intrigue, and tumultuary violence, could effect. Imprisonments, stripes, and menaces, had proved of no avail. The populace thirsted for blood, and Stephen was the first victim.
His death was preparatory to the preaching of the Gospel beyond Jerusalem and Judæa. In exact conformity with the words of the Son of God to his apostles, “ Ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth,” his Holy Spirit directed the course of that light which he was dispensing. To escape further acts of outrage, all the disciples once more forsook Jerusalem and fled. But the dispersion was not as on the day of the crucifixion. They were no longer comfortless, no longer dispirited, no longer at a loss what to do, or what to expect.
As in the former dispersion, the apostles, and it may be some few besides, remained in Jerusalem, whilst the Holy Acts viii. 1. Spirit guided the flight of the others through “all Judæa and Sama
ria.” Philip,—he whose name appears second in the list of the seven deacons,—no less than Stephen, justified the wisdom of his appointment. Samaria being already prepared for the Gospel, gladly heard the word from him. Here the far-famed Simon, who was endeavour
ing, as it would seem, to impose on his countrymen under the pretended Acts viii. 9. character of the Messiah, if not converted, was defeated in his scheme
of imposture. Philip, however, could only preach and baptize. The privilege of receiving some extraordinary gift of the Spirit, as a pledge
Acts i. 8.
God the Holy Ghost, or his agents, who
Paul appears first to have received his revelation and apostleship, his appointment as witness from the Lord Jesus Christ at Jerusalem, and then, after a considerable interval, the imposition of hands, as a servant of the Church and a minister of the Spirit.
to the young and inexperienced Church that that unseen Spirit had indeed taken up its abode with them and within them, could only be conferred by an apostle. Philip's baptism, no doubt, conveyed all the beneficial effects of Christian baptism; and the Holy Ghost was as really and fully communicated thereby, as if it had been performed by an apostle. The descent and operation of the Holy Ghost was then, as now, unseen, unfelt,—the object of faith only. But while this doctrine was yet strange and new, some assurance of it was requisite, in order to induce each believer to be satisfied that the Comforter was present to him,--that these effects, though impalpable, were real. For the purpose of_granting this sign of assurance, then, to the Samaritan converts, Peter and John were sent to them from Jerusalem. The form, as has been already noticed, consisted in the laying on of hands, and in prayer, and must have corresponded to our present ceremony of Confirmation, which, doubtless, arose out of it. As the apostles were gradually removed from the earth, those on whom their perpetual ministry devolved, might have continued this temporary custom, from a view of its expediency for other purposes beyond its original and specific one; and thus Confirmation may have rightly and reasonably retained a place among the ceremonies of the Church for ever, although the sign of Confirmation, to which it owes its name has been long withdrawn.
The fact, that the apostles only could impart the extraordinary Time at gifts of the Holy Spirit, may serve to guide us in an inquiry, which which extrahas never perhaps been satisfactorily concluded, as to the precise gifts ceased. time when those gifts ceased. For, if the above assertion be true, they must, of course, have ceased with the generation which was contemporary with the last of the apostles. If St. John then continued to the close of his life to exercise his apostolical power of imparting the Holy Ghost, his life being prolonged to the end of the first century, some workers of miracles may have been found as late as the middle of the second century, but we cannot account (on scriptural grounds) for the existence of any beyond that period.
That the Holy Ghost may after this have interposed, and empowered its agents to perform miracles, cannot certainly be denied, any more than we can now pretend to affirm, that the same power will never again be granted. It would seem, too, from the writings of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Cyprian, that they were familiar with the exercise of such a power in the Church. Gregory, Bishop of Neocæsaræa, who lived as late as the third century, received the title of Thaumaturgus from his miracles, or pretended miracles. And, if we may credit Theodoret and Sozomen, there were instances of well-attested miracles later than his. The earliest positive testimony to their cessation, perhaps, is to be found in the writings of Chrysostom. In his Sermons, for instance, on the Resurrection, and in that on the Pentecost; in both of which he attempts to remove any scruples which the fact might have
occasioned, by suggesting the reason why miraculous power should have been withdrawn from the Church.31
This is a species of evidence which outweighs any more direct assertion to the contrary. When we read accordingly in Augustin, and other writers, that at the very period when Chrysostom was thus writing and preaching, miracles were commonly wrought at the tombs of the saints, such testimony only tends to make us look back with suspicion and distrust on the accounts given of those of an earlier date, and to attribute a similar inaccuracy and rash credulity to Ruffinus, Theodoret, Sozomen, and others, which is proved against Augustin and many of his contemporaries.
Indeed, even during the latter part of the apostolical era, instances cannot be supposed to have been common, when we consider the true character and probable intent for which such a power was lodged for a time with the Church, and put to ourselves the questions, Why was such extraordinary assistance granted for a season, and then withdrawn, not at once, but gradually? Why were the apostles themselves, who certainly possessed the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, in a degree beyond that which they could impart to others, restrained in the exercise of them, so as to employ them, not at their own discretion, but as the Spirit moved them?
Philip's labours in Samaria having been superseded by the arrival Acts viii. 26. of the two apostles, he was sent by the Holy Spirit to meet an Ethio
pian eunuch in his return from Jerusalem to his home, and to baptize him. Who this person was, and whether he was afterwards employed amongst his own people by the blessed Spirit, and for that purpose converted and baptized thus early by an especial mission, are points left untouched. It may be observed, however, that he was by religion a Jew, a proselyte of righteousness, and not merely a proselyte of the gate; for to this latter description of persons the
Church was not yet thrown open. That he was so, appears both Acts viii. 28. from his being found by Philip busied with a passage in the Jewish
Scriptures, and also from the very remarkable circumstances which afterwards attended the conversion and baptism of Cornelius.
CONVERSION OF SAUL. The holy Comforter rendered the murder of Stephen subservient in another way to the furtherance of his great work. He who out of the stones of Jerusalem could have raised up children unto Abraham, chose to form the noblest champion of his cause on earth out of one of its most strenuous and bitter persecutors. Con
31 Chrysost. Op. (ed. Front. Ducæi is a matter of arbitrary election. But to Rani 1621.) Vol. V. pp. 521, 553.
what was St. Paul * separated” and 32 He states, in his Epistle to the Gala- “ called ?” Clearly not to eternal life, tians, that “ God separated him from his but to a particular station of duty, which, mother's womb, and called him by his while it awakened in him the most anxious grace;" on which, and other the like sense of extraordinary responsibility, left expressions, has been founded the doc- him still to work out his salvation with trine that the salvation of every individual fear and trembling, lest, as he tells us,
Revelations given to
Ist. On his
spicuous in the scene of lawless violence to which we have been alluding, was Saul of Tarsus. Subsequently he was zealously occupied in searching out, and finding grounds for imprisonment against, those Christians who still lurked in Jerusalem. Having exhausted his misguided zeal there, he departed for Damascus with a sort of inquisitorial commission from the high priest. It was on his journey thither, that his miraculous conversion took Acts ix. 3. place. Although the details of that signal event must be familiar A.D. 35. to all, and although the subject has been often thoroughly and ably discussed, still the following notices may to many be not unacceptable.
The point which is perhaps the most likely to be overlooked is, Two that this first revelation was totally distinct in its object from that which Saul afterwards received at Jerusalem. 3 All intended by Saul. the first was, to convert him to Christianity; by the second he was appointed an apostle. That he immediately began to propagate A.D. 44. the faith which he once destroyed, is no proof to the contrary. For this was the privilege, if not the duty, of all Christians; as it had been before supposed to be of all Jews. Besides, although not yet appointed a witness, he was at his baptism “ filled with the Holy Ghost,” and thereby ordained a minister of the Spirit. Certain it is, that although, after his conversion, he began forthwith to preach, and preached first at Damascus, then, perhaps, in Arabia, 54 and then again at Damascus, even so as to endanger his life; yet on his going ultimately to Jerusalem, he needed the introduction and assurance of Barnabas, to remove from the apostles their suspicion of him. Possessing as they did the gift of discerning spirits, this could hardly have happened if St. Paul were then an apostle.
This will be more apparent from a slight consideration of the narrative of his conversion. He was struck blind by the glorious light which shone round about him, and he heard and answered a Divine voice, but it does not appear that he then saw the Lord. The contrary indeed is implied. Now his appointment to the 2d. On his apostleship is described by him, as taking place in a visible interview appointwith the Lord,—with God manifest in the flesh, in the person of Apostle. Jesus Christ. Again, Ananias was sent to him; for what purpose ? Not, surely, to appoint him an apostle: Ananias was not himself an apostle, and could not therefore, as we suppose, confer any extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, much less the greatest of those gifts. He was sent to restore his sight, and to baptize him. This is, clearly, all that Ananias was commissioned to do, and all he is represented as doing. He laid his hands on Saul, and Saul recovered “when he had preached to others, he he went immediately from Damascus to should himself be a castaway.”—1 Cor. Jerusalem, yet by comparing the passage
with his own account in the Galatians, it 33 A.D. 44, or, according to some, 38. is certain that he went first into Arabia, See the reasons for assigning the former returned to Damascus, then, after an date in note, page 103.
interval of three years, proceeded to 34 Although from the narrative of the Jerusalem.-See Acts ix. compared with Acts, taken alone, it would appear that Galatians i.