things'.” And what is more remarkable, the expectation of an extraordinary person, at that time to arise in Judea, to be the author of blessings to mankind, was almost universal in the civilized world, about the time of our Saviour's birth ; a circumstance which a late eminent writer is of opinion cannot be accounted for by any knowledge which the heathen nations had of the Jewish Scriptures : “ the ground of this expectation," he remarks," was probably some traditional obscure remembrance of the original promises handed down from the earliest ages of mankind."

The nativity of our blessed Lord, which is shewn, on good authority, to have been dated too late in the vulgar Christian era', is assigned, by late chronologists, to the year 5 B. C. and is supposed to have taken place in the autumn of that yea Except the incidents that attended his miraculous conception and his birth, and his appearing among the doctors in the temple, when at the age of twelve, the sacred writers give us no account of our Lord's life, till he was about thirty years of age, when he appeared among the multitude which came to John to be baptized®.

Of the private life of the Redeemer, the Spirit of God has not thought it necessary to leave us a more detailed account. Obscure and retired, uneventful in incident, and occupied, perhaps, in the humblest duties of life,- for there is no doubt that " in the sweat of his face he ate his bread,”-it would have ill suited the page of general history. The same may be remarked of the lives and employments of the greater part of his humble and most spiritual followers, who have passed through the world altogether “unknown to fame :” a circumstance which has at times left a blank in the history of the church, in its most peculiar sense, as recorded from age

' John, iv. 25.

* See Bishop Horsley's Dissertation on the Prophecies of the Messiah dispersed among the Heathen.

3 The vulgar Christian era was invented by Dionysius Exiguus, a Roman abbot, who flourished in the reign of Justinian, A.D. 532 : it was not in frequent use in the West till about the year 730, nor fully established by public authority till 1431.-See Dr. Hale's Chronology. * A. D. 8.

SA.D. 27. • Justin Martyr, distinguishing the two advents of the Messiah, observes, " the first was that in which he appeared mortal, without glory and without beauty, passing for an artificer, and making ploughs and yokes.” The second advent is that in which the Messiah will appear encircled with glory, attended with his holy angels; according to the prophecy of Daniel, chap. vii. to reward the righteous, and take vengeance on the ungodly; as in Psalms Ixxii. and cix.

to age.

Our Lord, however, had important duties to perform in public life, before he was to leave this vale of misery, or arrive at the last stage of those sufferings, which he came into the world to endure for man.

We find accordingly, that soon after his baptism Jesus began to appear in a new character, and to exhibit his credentials as a prophet sent from God, in the miraculous power that he possessed to alter, at his pleasure, the course of nature : " and from that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The personal ministry of our Lord, is generally considered as occupying the space of about three years and a half, from the autumn of the

year twenty-seven to the spring of the year thirty-one of the vulgar era; including, in the emphatic language of St. Peter, “ all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken


from us 1." I enter not upon the history of this period, for the reasons already assigned. The abiding fruits of our Lord's personal ministry, however, do not appear to have been very abundant. It often made a strong impression upon the natural feelings of his hearers; but, in his parable of the sower, and in other parables, he has shewn us of what nature, for the most part, these impressions were : a true example, probably, of the effects produced by the preaching of the most powerful evangelists in subsequent ages. The good ground prepared by the Father of Spirits to receive the seed, is not co-extensive with the number of convinced and deeply affected hearers. But it has been justly observed, that “ the Son of God came from heaven, not to make the Gospel revelation, but to be the subject of it, by doing and suffering all that was necessary to procure the salvation of mankind?.” The largest number mentioned, as called by his own ministry, by the preaching of the twelve apostles and of the seventy disciples, is “ five hundred brethren.” The number of the names together of those that assembled with the apostles at Jerusalem after the ascension, it is said, “ were one hundred and twenty.” These were waiting, according to the Lord's direction, for the coming of the Holy Ghost, whom“ not many days hence" they were to receive ; and, with


· Acts, i. 21, 22.

· Macknight, Magee, &c.

His gracious influence,“ power to become the witnesses unto Christ in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”

On the day of Pentecost, this Heavenly Comforter descended with visible tokens and demonstrations of his presence, as is recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The wisdom with which “ the ministers of the word” were now inspired, and the divine influence which was to accompany their preaching, soon became apparent: on that very day, while Peter explained from Scripture the wonderful event that had taken place, and discoursed concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus, the effect of divine power on the hearers was so great, that about three thousand souls were added to the church.

This work of grace is thus described ;-(and it well becomes the historian of the church, to mark what true conversion is, while we are upon scriptural ground, that we may learn to distinguish its nature, when we descend to times of human tradition, and have to form our judgments of many very equivocal pretensions :) — “ When they heard, they were pricked in their hearts.” No words can more clearly point out a deep and spiritual conviction of their lost estate. They are ready also to obey the truth : “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter exhorts them to “repentance ;" which, in their state of mind, was to encourage them to give vent to their feelings, in self-condemnation and self-abhorrence, in the confession and renouncing of all their sins, with the renouncing at the same time of every vain refuge that had previously deluded their darkened consciences. He next exhorts them “to be baptized every one of them in the name of Jesus Christ,” for the remission of sins. Their submission to baptism was to be, at once, their public profession of faith in Christ, as the propitiation for their sins, and an effectual token on the part of God, of their purification, by spiritual regeneration, through baptism into the death of Christ. Then, the apostle tells them, they too “shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” This to the believing penitent would be glad tidings indeed - they heard “ the gospel of their salvation.” The consequence was, “ as many as gladly received the word were baptized ;” and although it is not mentioned, it is certain from a comparison with other Scriptures, that, according to the promise held out by St. Peter, they all received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the imposition of the apostles' hands. Some miraculous gifts at that time

indicated this possession of the Spirit. But the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, for the confirmation and sealing of the heirs of promise, was to abide with the church for ever. Though all miracles which could be a sign to them who are without, have ceased, yet the essential operation abides.

Here we see what it is to become a Christian ; and if we would have a true history of Christianity, and not of something that falsely bears its name, we must carefully carry this pattern in our minds. And that we may, on scriptural authority, fix on certain principles, whereby to judge of the true church, whose history it is proposed, as exclusively as possible, to narrate, let us not fail to remark, in this place, a practical illustration of what St. Paul calls “ the principles of the doctrine of Christ?." He mentions them as being six in number : “ laying the foundation of repentance from dead works -- faith towards God--the doctrine of baptism--the laying on of handsthe resurrection of the dead—and eternal judgment.” The first four of these “ first principles,” are plainly displayed in the account before us; respecting the last two, we shall have no difficulty in inferring, that these converts to the Christian faith were properly instructed, both from the discourse of St. Peter recorded, and from “ the many other words” with which he is said to " testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” And these two doctrines are expressly brought into view in the very next discourse which Peter and John held with the people : “ Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heavens must receive, until the times of the restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began 3.”

1 Heb. vi. 1, 2.

* Acts, ii. 40.

: Acts, iii. 19, &c.




In the multitude brought to the faith on the day of Pentecost, "we see the regular appearance of the first Christian church ;' understanding that term in its restricted sense, for the church in the full possession of its New Testament privileges. They are described as "continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” The ordinance of preaching--so I understand the term “apostles' doctrine” - not only as a means of gathering the church from the midst of the world, but also of building up her members in their holy faith, seems to stand prominent among her institutions. The second term may apply to every part of the social intercourse which the members of the church had with each other and with their pastors, in the regular observance of the appointed discipline that held the body together, and in the mutual interchange of the offices of love and charity, of spiritual admonition and comfort. Breaking of bread” certainly refers to the administration of the Lord's supper; in the participation of which, and in public prayers and psalmody, consisted the Christian worship.

That a body of people who separated from the rest of their countrymen, in whose religion they had been educated, and associated together for the exercise of these new ordinances of worship, would be regarded as a sect or heresy, by the members of the Jewish church, followed of course. They were not so in fact, for the great Legislator and King had himself appeared, and authorised and ordained these new institutions ; signifying to them, at the same time, the superseding of the old -a change both of the law and of the priesthood. So that the guilt of a breach of union lay not with them who “ obeyed God rather than man," but with them who refused to be reformed. The conduct, however, of the Christians of Jerusalem, towards the religious institutions of their country, is carefully to be remarked. Not only they were not taught to do outrage to the feelings of their unenlightened neighbours, but as far as possible they conformed to all their established rites and usages. Des

« VorigeDoorgaan »