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alarm and endeavoured to silence the apostles, first by intimidation; but, finding that to fail, they next betook them to brute force; for “they laid their hands upon the apostles, and put them in the common prison.” And now heaven itself interposed in the contest: the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, set the apostles at liberty, and enjoined them to go into the Temple and speak to the people all the words of this life. Here was a singular and interesting crisis! Heaven and earth at issue on the question whether Jesus of Nazareth were the true Messiah, or not-an issue not long doubtful.
The sixth chapter opens with the appointment of deacons to attend to the temporal concerns of the church, with the names of seven individuals, who excelled in piety and wisdom, that were appointed to the office. Among these was Stephen, a man full of faith and power, who by the miracles he wrought, and by his pungent addresses, soon rendered himself obnoxious to the ruling powers, and brought down their utmost vengeance on his devoted head. Unable to resist the wisdom and eloquence with which he spoke, they had him apprehended and brought before the council on a charge of blasphemy. But here, availing himself of the opportunity of speaking in behalf of his divine master, he delivered that powerful address which takes up the seventh chapter. It is a recapitulation of the principal events of the Jewish History, from the times of Abraham to the building of the temple by king Solomon. Having deduced their history thus far, the Evangelist makes a transition from the Tethple, which they regarded as the glory of their nation, to Him who was its antitype; viz. “ that Just One of whom they had now been the betrayers and murderers.” This charge could not be endured—they considered it as bringing that man's blood upon their head-it cut them to the heart, and they gnashed upon him with their teeth: a universal exclamation ensued—they stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one consent, cast him out of the city, and stoned him to death. And now, methinks, I behold the last act of this diabolical tragedymethinks I see the holy martyr falling down upon his knees, invoking the Lord Jesus, and commending his departing spirit into his hands, and with his last breath imploring mercy on his murderers : “ Lord, lay not this sin to their charge:” having said which, he fell asleep.
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS, &c.
Jerusalem was now one entire scene of confusion ; at least it must have been such to the disciples of Christ : they were the victims of a sanguinary persecution which raged against the church, and among the ringleaders of this was a young man of the name of Saul, of whose singular history we shall have much to say hereafter. To escape the malice of this active zealot, a great proportion of the church fled from the city and dispersed themselves throughout the adjacent countries. But mark, I beseech you, the short-sightedness of human policy, and the overruling providence of God, causing the wrath of man to praise him, and restraining it at his pleasure. The persecuted disciples carried the gospel along with them wherever they went, and by that means sowed the seed of the kingdom. Philip, who had been chosen one of the seven deacons along with the martyred Stephen, went down to the city of Samaria, where he preached Christ with such acceptableness that the city was filled with joy. Such as believed the things that Philip made known were baptized, both men and women. Having evangelized Samaria and the places adjacent, Philip, by divine intimation, took his departure, and in his way towards Gaza fell in with the Ethiopian eunuch, a proselyte to the Jewish religion, who was returning from Jerusalem, whither he had gone up from a far distant country to worship the God of Israel. To him Philip communicated the knowledge of Christ, by expounding the fifty-third of Isaiah. This great man confessed his faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, received baptism at the hands of Philip, and joyfully carried the gospel down with him into Ethiopia. These interesting events constitute the eighth chapter.
The next subject that engages the pen of the sacred historian is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the young man who had so eminently signalized his zeal in the death of Stephen, and the persecution of the church at Jerusalem; and assuredly it is one of the most extraordinary occurrences to be met with in the history of the Christian church. In him we behold a mad and furious persecutor instantaneously disarmed of his hostility, and converted into a preacher of the faith which he was lately bent on destroying; we see the same individual become an apostle of Christlabouring more abundantly than all the rest --sacrificing his ease, his reputation, and his prospects in life--submitting voluntarily to privations and hardships and the long catalogue of sufferings which he has himself enumerated in one of his letters to the church at Corinth, and all this— for what? why, that he might manifest his gratitude for pardoning mercy, and make others partakers of his own happiness, by conveying to them a knowledge of that Saviour whom he himself had found. This is the subject of the ninth chapter.
There is only one other topic which I intend to touch upon in the present lecture, and that is the calling or admission of the Gentiles into the kingdom of Christ, which occupies chapters x. and xi. The covenant which God had entered into with the Israelites, at Mount Sinai, had now existed for 1500 years, forming a wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles; but that covenant having answered the purposes of divine wisdom and goodness in giving birth to the Messiah, the Saviour abolished it by his death. Such, however, were the prejudices of the Jewish people, and, for a time, even of those who were converted to the faith of Christ, that a supernatural revelation was necessary to counteract this influence, and reconcile the minds even of the holy apostles to the notion that the Gentiles were to be received into the churches of Christ on the very same terms as the Jews. This we learn was the meaning of the vision which the apostle Peter had at Joppa, as recorded in chapter X., and it served to counteract his prejudices; he was now taught to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews; and when he saw that God himself made no difference between them, granting the Gentiles repentance unto life, purifying their hearts by faith, and conferring upon them the Holy Spirit in his miraculous operations, he came to a very just conclusion when he said, in answer to the rebukes of his brother apostles, who took him to task for his conduct in eating with men uncircumcised and unclean, “What was I, that I could withstand God ?”
From the beginning of the thirteenth chapter to the end of the book, we are presented with a succinct account of the indefatigable labours of the great apostle of the Gentiles and his associates, in carrying the glad tidings of salvation throughout the benighted countries in which idolatry sat enthroned, and men were bowing down to stocks and stones and graven images, the work of their own hands. And in this narrative we see their success, under
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS, &c.
God, in converting men to the faith, and gathering the disciples into churches, to observe the ordinances of public worship and minister to each other's comfort and joy. On this, however, I decline to enter at present, as it is my intention to resume the subject in a subsequent lecture, when we come to narrate the means by which Christianity was propagated in the world. Hitherto we have merely glanced at its origin, and taken a survey of the infant, as it were, in the cradle, or, to return to Daniel's prophecy—the stone cut out of the mountain without hands—and I have pointed you to the Acts of the apostles, as furnishing us with a perfect pattern of an Ecclesiastical History. We have taken a cursory view of the materials of which it is composed, and find it to be a record of most interesting documents—an authentic memorial of the faith, and zeal, and labours of the inspired founders of the Christian church. A history which presents facts like these to the mind of an intelligent reader is not likely to incur the imputation of containing only barren and uninteresting details. On the contrary, so long as the Gospel of Christ continues to interest the hearts and affections of mankind, so long will the history of his church, in every age, be an object of important contemplation, by unfolding the mysteries of ancient prophecy, and presenting the spoils of time to the consideration of posterity. As we proceed, we shall find that when empires and kingdoms dissolved into ruins before the ruthless hand of time—while systems of philosophy, which held nations in admiration, vanished like the morning cloud or the early dew— Christianity, the moral sun of the universe, not only survived the wreck of human power and wisdom, but demonstrated to the world its divine origin, by the indestructibility of its essence, by the relief which it is so divinely adapted to administer to the sorrows of mankind, by the lively hopes which it ensures of a blessed immortality, and, in a word, by its abundant sources of whatever can instruct the ignorant, reclaim the vicious, and confer happiness on all orders and conditions of men.
The Nature of Christ's Kingdom, as contrasted with the Kingdoms of this World—Syllabus of the Doctrine on which it is founded the Mediation of the Son of God--His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven, Sc. &c.
The Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ-or, which is the same thing, the Christian church—is an economy so totally different from every other institution which is found in this world, that, before we proceed further with its history, it seems important that we should bestow a little time in inquiring into its real nature and characteristic properties, and showing wherein this difference consists. This will appear the more necessary from the consideration that the most fatal mistakes have prevailed on the subject in every age, mistakes that have led multitudes astray from the way of truth, and caused them to confound the things that differ. Unless our views on this head are found according to truth, unless they harmonize with the doctrine of Christ and his apostles when treating on the same subject, it will be of little use to us to study Ecclesiastical History, because we shall continually be in danger of mistaking the corruptions of Christianity for Christianity itself, as thousands now do, and are instructed by the writers on this subject to do. The Jewish nation looked forward with anxious expectation to the coming of their Messiah, as “the desire of all nations,” and fondly anticipated the setting up of his kingdom in the world, agreeably to the predictions of Isaiah, Daniel, and other of the prophetic writers; but unhappily they were under the dominion of a master prejudice respecting the very na