Page images

the same number, in the various conditions of life; and so dis. tinctly are the good and bad qualities of each, marked and pre. served throughout their course, as to furnish a striking evidence of the authenticity and truth of the sacred history.

With great fidelity they had followed Jesus through good report and ill report, and they thought they could follow him to death. Christ knew that they would fail in the moment of trial, and assured them of it ; but Peter, always ardent, bold, and warmly attached to his master, declared, that though all men should deny him, he would not. But when the band of soldiers bound Christ, betrayed by Judas, all forsook him and fled; and, though Peter followed and mingled with the crowd, at the trial, yet, when charged with being one of his followers, he declared, with an oath, I know not the man. Jesus beheld him at the moment. Peter's heart melted, and he went out and wept bitterly.

The season of Christ's suffering and burial, was to the Apos. tles, one of thick darkness and awful perplexity. Their master they beheld hanging upon a cross. He, to whom they had looked for crowns and sceptres, was laid low in the sepulchre of Joseph. For three days, they were borne down by sorrow; agitated with fear, and enveloped in gloom. But, like the sun emerging from the shade of some heavenly body, and suddenly giving light and joy to millions, from whom it had been ob. scured ; Jesus came forth from the shades of death to the view of his despondent disciples, and gave them new vigour and life. By this event, more wonderful and astonishing than any thing they had as yet witnessed, their confidence in Christ was greatly animated and strengthened. It was both a fulfilment of his promise, and a most triumphant conquest over death and bell.

But their views of the nature of his kingdom were as yet im. perfect. With the nation in general, they were impressed with the idea, that Messiah's kingdom was of this world. When therefore, he appeared after his resurrection, they asked him, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” But this error was soon erased from their minds by his conversa. tion, and by bis ascension to heaven. That great event, put a final period to every expectation they had cherished of an earthly kingdom. And it was a most illustrious confirmation of the truth of his pretensions. For had he now descended to the grave, and perished like the world around him, all his wonder. ful works, even his resurrection, might not have been sufficient to dissuade some from the belief that he was an impostor, who never expired, though he hung upon the cross, and that he

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

would never enable them to realize his promises. -But now, after accompanying him through the whole of his ministry, and hearing him speak words which never man spake; and seeing him perform works which never man did ; after beholding him hanging on the cross, laid in the tomb, and according to his own express prediction, bursting the bands of death, and rising to their view; after this, to behold him ascend on high, to see him go to that heaven, where he had promised to prepare for them mansions of bliss, they were all ready to exclaim with one mind and one voice, Surely the Lord He Is God. They saw Jesus go where no impostor can go. They saw him ascend, not like Elijah by means of a chariot of fire, but in a manner far more sublime and wonderful, by his own Almighty power; and while wrapt in aštonishment, were in. formed by two angels that he had gone to heaven, and would come in like manner, as they had seen him go to heaven. By this event, therefore, their views were greatly changed, and * their faith was established too firmly to be shaken. From the mount Olivet they returned to Jerusalem, where they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, until the fulfilment of the promise of the Father to baptize them with the Holy Ghost. By this they were to be still more enlightened in the nature of the Gospel kingdom; to receive the gift of tongues ; and to be endued with new fortitude and zeal in their master's service.

Their number had been diminished by the villainous perfidy of Judas, When he saw that he had betrayed innocent blood, smitten by remorse of conscience, he returned the thirty pieces of silver, and went and hanged himself--an awful warning to all apostates. The disciples were desirous of filling his place, and while they waited in prayer for the descent of the Spirit, they appointed Barnabas and Matthias, as candidates for the Apos. tolic office ; looked up for divine direction, and cast lots. The lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the Apostles. In this act, however, they perhaps were premature. It was for Christ to choose his own Apostles; and, in due time, he selected Saul and called him to the Apostleship.

Having their number as they supposed, complete, and being all united in love, and engaged in fervent prayer, they soon received the promised blessing. It came on the day of Pentecost ;an era of the divine mercy. Suddenly the place, in which they were, was shaken as by a rushing mighty wind—an emblem, as Nicodemus had been taught, of the Spirit ; and they heheld in the room cloven tongues like as of fire, which sat upon each of

them. Instantly their minds were more enlightened, their hearts were filled with more love and zeal for Christ, they were strengthened, animated, and joyful; and to their own utter amazement, were enabled to speak the various languages of mankind.

This descent of the Holy Spirit formed a new Era in the lives of the Apostles, and of the Church of God. We no longer find the Twelve, the ignorant, timid, worldly-minded men they had been. The nature of Christ's kingdom; the benevolence of his errand; the perishing condition of the world ; their high and holy office; were all full before them, and took an amazing hold of their minds and hearts. They now cheerfully sacrificed the world, were ready to go forth and stand before kings and Gentiles and Jews, preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to lay down their lives, if Christ might be glorified in them.

They instantly commenced their ministry, by preaching the gospel according to Christ's express command, first to the Jews, that, if possible, they might bring that deluded people to the saving knowledge of the truth. Astonishment filled the minds of all who heard them. Jerusalem was at that time crowded with Jews from every country. In consequence of the numerous wars in which they had for centuries been engaged, with the heathen nations, the people were scattered in all parts of the Ro. man empire. Multitudes had from time to time been carried away captive, and not a few had gone from their own land for security and peace. These generally adopted the language of the people among whom they resided; but strictly adhered to the religion of their fathers; and, as much as possible, the pious among them went annually to Jerusalem, to the feast of Pentecost. At the very moment, therefore, that the Apostles were endued with the wonderful powers of speaking in divers tongues, tliere were devout men out of every nation in Jerusalem;-Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Ly. bia, about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and Proselytes, Cretes and Arabians ;-all these heard the Apostles speak, every man in the tongue in which he was born. The native Jews who understood not these languages, and were disposed to ridicule the Apostles, said, “These men are full of new wine.” The charge roused the spirit of Peter, and, in an ever memorable sermon, he showed them the utter improbability of the thing, from its being only the third hour of the day,

CHAP. 2.



when no Jew was ever found in that situation; that this was an accomplishment of a prophecy of Joel, by the power of that Je. sus whom they had rejected before Pilate, and with wicked hands crucified and slain; but who, according to the prediction of Da. vid, God had raised up to sit on his throna. A close application of truth to their consciences ; a bold charge upon them as murderers of the Lord of life and glory, was not made in vain. . The multitude were pricked in the heart. Curiosity at the wonder. ful miracle, was turned into distress for themselves. They felt that they were exposed to the wrath and curse of God for their vile treatment of his Son; and exclaimed, in the anguish of their souls, Men and brethren what must we do? Peter opened to them the treasures of the gospel, and directed them to that same Jesus whom they had crucified, for eternal life. He called them to immediate repentance, and submission to God in the ordinances of the gospet; assuring them of the remission of their sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. The effect was glorious. Three thousand were converted to the Lord, and, on a profession of faith and repentance, were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

This was the first administration of Christian baptism, and the commencement of the

CHRISTIAN CHURCH. And as it was begun through the instrumentality of Peter, in this event was fulfilled the declaration of Christ, “Thou art Pe. ter, and on this rock will I build my Church.”

To us, it may appear surprising that so much should have been effected in one day. It was nine in the morning when Peter began his sermon, and with many other words besides those which are recorded, did he exhort the people to salvation. It could have been only therefore in the after part of the day, that their confession was received and they were baptized and admitted into a covenant relation with God. But the Apostles were full of the Holy Ghost, and able, probably, to discern spirits; and, if some were received, who were not sincere converts, it was only in ac. cordance with a well known principle of Christ's Church, that there must be tares with the wheat. The conduct of the Apos. tles, however, cannot be viewed as a warrant for ministers in succeeding outpourings of the Spirit, to receive a multitude upon their first expression of penitence and faith, into the Church; for, by their fruits, we must know them.

This glorious work of grace resulted not onlyin th e submis. sion of multitudes to Christian ordinances ; but in much holi. ness of heart and life. The enmity of the heart to divine truth,

was subdued, and the doctrine of the Apostles was received in love. A spiritual union and fellowship was formed, to which the world were strangers. The selfish heart was laid aside, and a new and unheard of benevolence was substituted in its place. The most of these converts were poor.

Such of them as were rich, sold their possessions and threw all they had into a com. mon fund for the benefit of the whole. The fear of the Lord came upon every soul, and a spirit of prayer was excited in every breast. Common food was received with a gladness be. fore unknown; and in the Lord's supper and the worship of the Temple, a joy was felt unspeakable and full of glory. So powerful and happy were the results of that great revival of religion.

In one sense, it was miraculous; but in no other than is every revival. It was not effected by the miracles the Apostles wrought. Had they spoken in divers tongues with the same fluency on any other subject, no such effects would have been produced. It was effected by the power of the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of truth ;--- by presenting plainly to men, their sin and danger, and calling them to repentance and holiness. Joel had, ages before, predicted this outpouring of the Spirit, and the sacred historian says, it was the Lord that added daily to the Church, of such as should be saved. Here, therefore, as in all revivals, we see God effecting his great purposes of sanctifying mercy, while men are awakened and turned to the Lord by the truth.

Soon after the day of Pentecost, Peter and John cured a well known beggar, of lameness. This miracle brought together a great concourse of people ; and Peter embraced the opportunity to charge upon them the sin of crucifying Christ and to cail them to repentance. The multitude listened with the most pro. found attention. But the magistrates, who were Sadducees and enemies to the doctrine of the resurrection, were grieved and vexed, and rushed upon the Apostles, and put them in prison unto the next day. They then brought them before the High Priest and council, and asked by what authority or power they did this ? Peter, who once trembled at the voice of a maid, answered with astonishing boldness, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom they had crucified, but whom God had raised up, and in whom alone salvation was to be found.' The magistrates were afraid to touch them. The boldness of Peter was unex. pected, and the miracle none could deny. They dismissed them, charging them no more to speak in the name of Christ. The Apostles departed protesting against the charge, and held a meeting for prayer, in which they enjoyed much of the divine presence and blessing, and were animated to go forth with nevy boldness in the cause of Christ.

« PreviousContinue »