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post in his kingdom. And it was an incontestable evidence of the truth of Christianity.* Let the unawakened sinner and the formal Pharisee, contemplate the state of Saul before his con. version, and remember it is their own.
The Gospel preached to the Gentiles Cornelius and his family
baptized. Martyrdom of James. Revival at Antioch. Saul and Barnabas ordained Missionaries to the Heathen. Minis. try of Paul. Constitution of the Christian Church. Its early moral and religious state. Character of the Apostles' preaching. Writers of the New Testament. Firm establish. ment of the kingdom of Christ. Opposition of the Jews. God's judgement upon them. Destruction of Jerusalem. Dispersion of the Jews. Opposition of the Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian. Martyrdom of Paul and Peter. Early here. sies.
The conversion and early labours of Saul, formed another era in the Christian Church. The enemies of Christianity, forsaken by their leader, and convinced or silenced by his powerful preaching, retired from the field of persecution; great numbers were added to the Lord; the churches every where had rest, and were edified; "walking in the fear of the Lord, and the com. forts of the Holy Ghost.”
For a period of about six years after the ascension of Christ, the Apostles continued to preach the gospel to the Jews only, wherever they could find them throughout the Roman empire. But in general they rejected it, and bitterly opposed and perse. cuted all who proclaimed it. The Lord therefore directed the Apostles to turn their attention to the Gentiles.
The Gentiles were abhorred by the Jews. They were viewed by them as hated of God and devoted to destruction. The Apostles were possessed of this common prejudice. They would never, therefore, of themselves, have offered so great a blessing as salvation to the heathen; and if some, from any motive should have done it, they would at once have been viewed guilty of sa. crilege. But the great Shepherd, who had other sheep besides
* See Lyttleton's Conversion of Paul.
1 CHAP. 3.
CORNELIUS THE CENTURION.
the Jews to gather'in, knew how to prepare the minds of his ministers for so rich a work.
In Cesarea, the residence of the Roman governor, lived Cor., nelius, a centurion, a devout man who had been reclaimed from idolatry, and who, according to the light which had been afford. ed him, worshipped God; was just, exemplary, and eminently charitable. This man was warned of God,'to send for Peter, and hear from him the words of eternal life. At the same time, Peter was instructed by a vision from heaven, not to call any man common or unclean. When, therefore, the messengers of Cor. nelius came to him at Joppa, he went with them without delay, and declared to the centurion and his household, the glorious Gospel of the Grace of God. While he was preaching, the Holy Ghost fell on all his hearers, and they were converted to the Lord, and by the ordinance of baptism, admitted to the Christian Church. Such were the first fruits of the Spirit among the Gentiles. Thus was the wall of partition, which had stood for ages between Jews and heathen, broken down. How valuable was the Gospel to one of the best men the heathen world could boast! Before he heard it, he was highly esteemed among men,
but he had no peace in his own breast. He had been daily an :: anxious inquirer at the throne of grace for peace and life. He
now found them in the doctrine of forgiveness, through the blood of Christ. The best men in heathen lands deserve our com. passion, for they know nothing of pardoning mercy, or the consolations of the Holy Ghost. Let the pride of narrow-mind. ed, selfish men, who have long considered themselves the sole favourites of heaven, be rebuked. Among those whom such hate and view as outcasts, may be some of the brightest jewels in the Redeemer's crown.
The Christian temper was happily exhibited by the breth. ren at Jerusalem, when they heard of this unexpected enlargement of the Church. They viewed it at first indeed as irregular, and were disposed to censure Peter; but no sooner had he.de.
clared his divine commission and related to them the operation [ of the Spirit, than they glorified God for his mercy.
Some measures may often be accounted inconsistent with long established principles and customs; and men may be brought into the king. dom of Christ, who, for various reasons, we might have supposed would never have a place there; but when satisfactory evi. dence is given that such, even through these means, are truly converted to the Lord, all prejudices are by the correct mind, sacrificed; the hand of fellowship is extended, and God is glori.
Herod sat at this time on the throne of Judah. He was a vile prince; and was surrounded by no less vile Sadducees and Herodians, whom he found it for his interest continually to gratify. They hated the Christians, and he therefore commenced against them a violent persecution. He first seized James, the son of Zebedee, and condemned him to death. Eusebius relates that his accuser, beholding his faith, was struck with re. morse, and by the Power of the Spirit, was suddenly brought to repentance and confessed Christ, and that both were carried to execution and beheaded together. The tyrant next seized Pe. ter, and confined him in chains. But God had further need of him in the Church below; and while the brethren were engaged in prayer for him, the Angel of the Lord delivered him from his chains, set open the prison doors, and restored him to the disciples. The miserable monarch was soon after brought for his pride and cruelty to a most horrid death. His intended victim lived to old age, and preached the Gospel throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.
For five years, Saul of Tarsus remained in his native city and province, preaching the Gospel ;-with what success is not known. But he was not forgotten by the brethren. Some of the disciples had fled from Jerusalem in the persecution, to An. tioch, the metropolis of Syria, where they preached the Lord Jesus. Their labours were crowned with great success.
Ti. dings of this were received with joy by the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas, “a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith,” to assist them. No sooner had he reached the city, than he saw the need of more labourers, and he went to Tarsus for this powerful advocate of the cause of Christ, and brought him to Antioch ; where they laboured together with much success for a whole year. The Church was enlarged and prosperous ;
and as many of its members were wealthy and actuated by holy love, they made liberal contributions for the poor saints at Jerusalem-distressed by a famine. Here, as an epi. thet of opprobrium, the followers of Jesus were first called CHRISTIANS;-an epithet which is, in truth, the most honourable and blessed a man can sustain.
To remain there, where many teachers of reputation had as. sembled, and where seasons of refreshment were afforded, would have been pleasant. But the head of the Church had a great work for these disciples to perform; and the prophets and teachers at Antioch were directed by the Holy Ghost to set apart Saul and Barnabas to the great work of evangelizing the heathen. Accordingly, they were ordained as missionaries of the cross
and ministers of salvation to the Gentiles, by fasting and prayer and imposition of hands, and sent forth to their field, which was the world.
Here properly commences the mighty Apostolic work of him who was the most distinguished instrument ever employed of bringing this fallen world to the knowledge of Christ.*
His course may be divided into three parts. The first reaching from the ordination to the council at Jerusalem. The second, from this council to the close of his labours in Greece. The third, from his last visit at Jerusalem to his death.
In the first, Paul and Barnabas went to Cyprus, where Sergius Paulus, the Roman governor was converted, and Bar-jesus, for his opposition, was struck blind; then to Perga in Pamphylia ; then to Antioch in Pisidia, where Paul preached a long and powerful sermon by which multitudes were converted to the Lord, but which so exasperated the Jews that they expelled him out of their coasts. Driven thence, they went to Iconium ; but, being in danger of stoning, they retired to Lystria and Derbe. There they healed a man who had been lame from his birth, and were taken by the people for gods in the likeness of men. But no sooner had they quieted the adoring populace, than that same populace, stirred up by the envious and base Jews, turned against them and stoned them, so that Paul was supposed to to dead. But God had designed him for great purposes; and he rose up, by divine power, and returned to Antioch. Such was the first mission of the Apostle. In it he made many
converts ; organized many churches, and ordained ministers to break to them the bread of life.
But these churches, especially the church at Antioch, were infested with men who would compel the Gentile converts to observe circumcision and the ceremonial law. It was a bold and wicked attempt, which however has been often repeated from that day to this, to substitute external righteousness for faith in Christ as the ground of justification. Discerning saints saw that the evil must be withstood, and Paul and Barnabas were deputized to go to Jerusalem and ask advice of the Apostles and elders. A council was called, the first known in the Christian Church, in which it was determined, That such observances should not be required, only that Gentile converts
* He who had been called Saul is now in the Scriptures called Paul; some think from Paulus Sergius, who was converted under his preaching; but it is most probable Paul was his Roman and Saul his Grecian name.
should abstain from blood, from idols, from fornication, and from things strangled! With this decision, they returned to Anti. och and the churches had rest.
The second period of Paul's ministry was upon a new and unexpected theatre. A vision appeared to him in the night, inviting him over into Macedonia to preach the Gospel. With Silas and Timothy for his companions, he passed without delay into Greece, renowned for science and learning and subject to a most splendid and fascinating idolatry. There he preached, with such irresistible energy, that soori
, important churches were collected at Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and Corinth. It is delightful to contemplate this great Apostle crossing the Hellespont, bearing a treasure to that land of science and arts, infinitely more valuable than all that human reason had ever discovered ; and pressing forward through mockings, imprison. ment and stonings until his feet stood on Mars-hill where, amid temples, altars, and statues he declared to the Athenians, the most philosophical and refined people, and to the Areopagus, the most able court on earth, the UNKNOWN GOD.
In the polisheá city, he had but little success. Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus and a woman named Damaris, believ. ed. But the mass of the Athenians were ruined by luxury and a deceitful philosophy. From Greece he went to Jerusalem, and having saluted the church, he went over all the country of Galatią and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples. At Ephesus, where was the great temple of the goddess Diana, the most splendid heathen temple existing, he abode two years, working miracles, and preaching the gospel with great power. Having finished his work there, he visited all the churches in Greece, and then set his face, for the last time, to go up to Je. rusalem. In this period of his Apostleship he performed his greatest labour and gave the most glorious extension to the Gos. pel of Christ.
In the last period, he was chiefly a prisoner. He was brought before
governors and kings; but he feared not their faces. He boldly vindicated his conduct and cause, and put his enemies to silence. As he reasoned of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come, Felix trembled. As he related the wondrous story of his conversion, King Agrippa was almost persuaded to be a Christian. Appealing to Cæsar, he was carried to Rome ; but his Lord did not desert him: He preserved him amid dan. gers, and so overruled events at Rome that he had no trial; but lived two years in his own hired house, teaching with much success the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. A large