titute of spirit and of truth, as the temple service had now become, and 'degraded and depraved as the general character of its appointed ministers was known to be, we find them “continuing daily, with one accord, in the temple ;” and they appear on all occasions to have waited their expulsion from the synagogue, as a suffering they must endure for their Master's sake, rather than as what they were to assert as their Gospel liberty.

The ordinances of the Jewish church were plainly not sufficient to feed the flame of their newly kindled devotion; therefore, having divine authority for the measure, they had their own proper assemblies for the solemnities of the Christian worship, and for their spiritual edification. These they held in convenient private houses appointed for that purpose, for this seems to be the force of the expression rendered “from house to house.” There must, in all probability, have been several of these houses. No one room would have been capable of holding a body of three or four thousand people, soon to multiply into many thousands more ; so that whatever views may be taken of the ecclesiastical polity of the apostolic age, it seems to be certain, that the church of Jerusalem consisted of many congregations of believers, though it is always considered as having formed one individual church, governed by a common authority.

One circumstance should be mentioned concerning the professors of the Christian faith in Jerusalem, in which, so far as it appears, they differed from all the other primitive churches. In all these churches we find, from the precepts delivered both to the rich and to the poor, that nothing like a division of property had taken place ; but among these first converts at Jerusalem, we read that “all that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all as every man had need.” The price of their possessions, as appears from a subsequent account, was laid at the apostles' feet. We cannot doubt that this was by divine appointment. None were compelled to this measure, because none were compelled to unite themselves to this society; but all that believed, consented to "sell all that they had, that they might have treasure in heaven;" and I think it appears from the awful visitation on Ananias and Sapphira, that it was a law of the society. It pleased God, perhaps, that this should be the particular trial of their faith “ who first trusted in Christ;" or it might have been intended as a provision for their

mutual welfare, in the scenes of persecution and of national distress in which this branch of the visible church was soon to be involved ; or have had further in view, with respect to those who should survive, or flee from, these troubles, the preparation of an army of missionaries, who should bear the banners of the cross from Jerusalem to the ends of the world.

Such is the account of the first Christian society, organized on the day of Pentecost. To this “ church” we read “ the Lord added daily such as should be saved,” or “such as were saved.In which declarations two important truths are involved,- that though repentance is, by the message of Christ, commanded to every man, and remission of sins in his name is to be preached unto all, yet, in the present condition of fallen man, any sincere obedience to this message, is gratefully to be ascribed only to a moral or spiritual influence of God; and that it is his pleasure, where he bestows the gift of salvation, generally at least, to bestow it in no other way than in the communion of his church.

Every thing in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, bespeaks the sudden and prodigious increase of the church, immediately subsequent to the day of Pentecost?. It appears that the sect of the Sadducees had prevailed much in these last miserable days of the Jewish church, and had great influence at this time in the government of the nation. They were particularly offended that the apostles “ preached through Jesus the resurrection of the dead;" they employed the public authority to restrain them, but they attempted in vain to hinder the progress of the Gospel : “ Many of them that heard the word believed, and the number of the men were about five thousand.” It pleased God, in some measure, to check this persecution which the rulers meditated, by causing his church to be ‘magnified in the eyes of the world, through the extraordinary power of performing miracles of healing, with which he at this time endowed the apostles : “ and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.”

So far every thing seemed to prosper with the church ; the Gospel was evidently popular with the great mass of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, notwithstanding the opposition of their rulers. The Pharisees were not displeased at the bold assertion of the doctrine of the resurrection. But the days of her prosperity were drawing to a close, and her members were soon to

[blocks in formation]

be dispersed and scattered abroad; as a productive seed, however, for her future increase in all the countries where they should be cast.

But, for reasons already assigned, I attempt not to detail the events so beautifully narrated in the page of Scripture. My reader must be presumed to come to the perusal of this volume with a mind well informed respecting the occurrences recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, and illustrated by the Epistles. I shall only note the chief and leading circumstances, that we may gather up the threads of the sacred narrative, in order to proceed with the history of the church, where the sacred writings leave it.

The martyrdom of Stephen' is a distinguished era, as marking the rise of those persecutions, which began to scatter abroad the happy society at Jerusalem. Little did that first martyr in the cause of Christ think, in his last sufferings, that his mantle, with a double portion of his spirit, was to fall on a young man among the most forward of his persecutors, at whose feet the executioners of his cruel sentence had laid their clothes. This was Saul of Tarsus, the future apostle to the Gentiles, whose miraculous conversion, with the subsequent labours of a life spent in the cause of the Gospel, comprises so considerable a portion of the scriptural history of the church. This first persecution lasted nearly five years, when the Jews themselves became involved in trouble with their Roman governors, in consequence of an order from the emperor Caligula, to erect his statue in their holy temple ; but this profanation was averted by the death of the emperor. This season of national distress engrossed, it should seem, the attention of the Jewish rulers, and they ceased for the present to disturb and harass the flock of Christ. The situation of the church is thus described : “ Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, and were edified ; and, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” The regions here mentioned, seem to mark the extent of the Christian profession at this time, and this is the first occasion of the mention of churches in the plural number*. We discover, therefore, that though the many thousands of believers in the city of Jerusalem, who assembled in their different congregations, were considered as one church, yet, when societies were formed in the distant cities of Palestine, these were considered as distinct churches. All of them were, no doubt, under the spiritual government of the apostles : of Peter especially, it is mentioned, that he“ passed through all quarters'.”

1 A. D. 34.
3 A. D. 40.

2 A. D. 39.
* Acts, ix. 31.

The Gospel was about this time received in the great city of Antioch. Here the first church of Gentile converts was erected ; here the disciples were first called Christians,' and here began the public labours of the apostle Paul. At Antioch he long resided, and from this city he and his companions went forth on their missionary excursions into the neighbouring countries, and hither they returned. So that Antioch, at this period, may justly be regarded as the metropolitan church of the Gentile world, as Jerusalem was of the believers among the Hebrews.

The council of Jerusalem' is another era in the annals of the apostles. The mother church was consulted respecting a question which had disturbed the peace of the church of Antioch — • Whether the Gentile converts, in order to salvation, must necessarily be circumcised, and observe the law of Moses,' as the believing Hebrews still did, not as the means of salvation, but as a national obligation still binding on them as Jews. In this holy assembly the liberty of the Gentile converts was clearly asserted, to their great joy and satisfaction. But the occasion of this council marks the first attempt to inject the leaven of the Pharisee into the doctrine of the Christian faith. The decision of the church of Jerusalem was, at this time, a check to the spreading of this infection ; but it was not destroyed, and it deserves to be particularly noted by the historian, as the first and most subtle of the corruptions of the church, and as that which, in many subsequent ages, appears as the beginning of the departure from the faith once delivered to the saints. About five or six

after this era we find St. Paul writing to the churches of Galatia respecting this same perversion of the truth, appearing however in a fuller form than when it caused the assembly of the council at Jerusalem". “ I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another Gospel6!” The occasion of this epistle was the introduction of this heretical doctrine into these churches, which, if suffered to prevail, would overturn the very foundation of the faith of Christ; and, at this time, it threatened to prevail, for the apostle declares, “ he stands in doubt of them, whether his labours have not been in vain." His fervent language, indeed, paints his alarm for them all to be at the utmost — the error being fatal. But he afterwards mitigates his suspicions, by saying, “ A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded : but he that troubleth


| Acts, ix. 32.

2 A. D. 43.

3 A. D. 49. * This fundamental date has been adopted by Petavius, Pearson, Barrington, Lardner, Paley, and Michaelis.—Dr. Hales.

ó Dr. Hales, A.D. 50. Barrington, Benson, and Lardner, 53. Pearson, 57. Bible Chronology, 58.

6 Gal. i. 6.

you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be?.” This damnable heresy, for such the apostle unequivocally and repeatedly asserts it to be, denied justification — as including a title to final salvation, to be of faith alone : it taught that it is by the works of the law. This heresy has been, perhaps with propriety, termed Pharisaism; for it was a perversion of the religion of the Gospel, similar to that which the Pharisees had been the most notorious instruments of introducing into the religion of Moses and the prophets. It stumbled at the same stumblingstone concerning "the law of righteousness; because they sought it not by faith, but, as it were, by the deeds of the law?” This error among the unbelieving Jews, was a principal reason with them for rejecting the religion of Jesus altogether. “ Justification by faith alone" appeared to be the most offensive of its doctrines. But whether Jesus was, or was not the promised Messiah, “justification by works” was opposite to the whole code of revelation ; and to this effect the apostles always argue with the pharisaical Jews. The pharisaical professors of the Gospel laid indeed the stumbling-block in a different part of the path ; they admitted that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and allowed all the rites of the Christian church ; but they would engraft upon this Christian profession, the same doctrine of justification by works.' Paul's remonstrance is, “ Are ye so foolish ? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh' ?”

That the Galatians, who were yielding to this persuasion, did not mean to give up the profession of Christ, is most obvious; no, nor remission of sins in his blood : but as to their title for final salvation, they were to be justified by the law*. The law, which they desired to be under, was, as appears by the apostle's references, the law given at Sinai, as a covenant of salvation, That covenant, indeed, was grounded on the doctrine of a vicarious sacrifice, to purge away sin, and reconcile to God, — as the term 'covenant' implies, and as was shewn by the rites instituted

i Gal. v. 9, 10. 3 Gal. iii. 3.

· Rom. ix. 32.. 4 Gal. v. 4.

« VorigeDoorgaan »