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those who were converted and edified by the apostles' personal ministry; and though we cannot allow the assumption (for the power of godliness depends not upon dates, periods, or instruments, but upon the influences of the Holy Spirit,) yet we are content to join issue upon the conclusion, and are willing that all claims to a revival of religion, and a real reformation of manners, shall be admitted or rejected, as they accord or disagree with the accounts we have of the churches planted by the apostles, and during the time that these authorized ministers of Christ presided over them. We can find no other period in which we can, to so much advantage, propose the visible churches of Christ as a pattern and specimen of what his grace and Gospel may be expected to produce in the present state of human nature; for the apostles were furnished, in an extraordinary manner, with zeal, wisdom, and authority for their work, and God was remarkably present with them by the power of his Spirit. Besides, as all the information we have concerning this period is derived from the inspired writings, we have that certainty of facts to ground our observations upon, which no other history can afford.
We have a pleasing description of the first of these churches, which was formed at Jerusalem soon after our Lord's ascension. On the day of Pentecost, many, who had personally consented to the death of Jesus, received power to believe in his name, and publicly joined themselves to his disciples. A sense of his love and grace to each, united the whole body so closely together, that, though they were a multitude of several thousands, it is said, they were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of then, that aught of the things which he possessed was his own,
but they had all things common,"q" and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." These were happy times indeed! No interfering interests or jarring sentiments, no subtle or factious spirits, no remissness in the means of grace, no instances of a conduct in any respect unbecoming the Gospel, were to be found among them: it seemed as if the powerful sense of divine truths which they had received had overborne, if not extirpated, every evil disposi. tion in so large an assembly. Yet even this (the difference of numbers excepted) is no peculiar case. The like has been observable again and again, when God has been pleased to honour ministers, far inferior to the apostles, with a sudden and signal influence, in places where the power of the Gospel had been little known before. In such circumstances the truth has been often impressed and received with astonishing effects. Many who before were dead in trespasses and sins, having been, like those of old, pierced to the heart, and then filled with comfort, from a believing knowledge of him on whom their sins were laid, find themselves, as it were, in a new world; old things are past away; the objects of time and sense appear hardly worth their notice; the love of Christ constrains them, and they burn in love to all who join with them in praising their Saviour. Here, indeed, is a striking change wrought; yet the infirmities inseparable from human nature, though for the present overpowered, will, as occasions arise, discover themselves again, so far as to prove two things universally: 1. That the best of men are still liable to mistakes and weaknesses, for which they will have cause to mourn to the end of their lives : 2. That in the best times there will be some intruders, who, for a season, may make a profession, and yet, in the end, appear to have neither part nor lot in the matter. Thus it was in the church of Jerusalem. The pleasing state of things mentioned above did not continue very long : an Ananias and a Sapphira were soon found amongst them, who sought the praise of men, and made their profession a cloak for covetousness and hypocrisy :r grudgings and murmurings arose in a little time between the Jews and the Hellenists: $ and it was not long before they were thrown into strong debates, and in danger of divisions, upon account of the question first started at Antioch, whether the law of Moses was still in force to believers or not. +
9 Acts, iv. 32.
In these later times, when it has been attempted to vindicate and illustrate a revival of religion, by appealing to the writings of St. Paul, and the delineation he has given us of the faith and practice of a Christian, the attempt has often excited disdain. It has been thought a sufficient answer to enumerate and exaggerate the faults, mistakes, and inconsistencies (or what the world is pleased to account such, that are charged upon the persons concerned in such an appeal, as necessarily proving that, where these blemishes are found, there can be no resemblance to the first Christians. If the frequency did not lessen the wonder, it might seem very unaccountable that any person who has read the New Testament, should venture upon this method in a Protestant country, where the people have the Scripture in their hands, and are at liberty to judge for themselves. But as there are not a few, even among Protestants, who seem to expect their assertions will pass for proofs, I propose, in this I Acts y. s Acts vi.
1 Acts xv.
chapter, to point out several things, which, though undoubtedly wrong, had a considerable prevaJence among the first Christians, leaving the application to the judicious reader. I acknowledge my firm persuasion that a certain system of doctrine, revived of late years, is the doctrine of the reformation, and of the New Testainent, which, though not suited to the general and prevailing taste, is attended, more or less, with the blessing and power of God, in turning sin. ners from darkness to light. I confess, that both ministers and people who espouse this despised cause have sufficient ground for humiliation. We have seen, we still see, many things amongst us which we cannot approve; we fear that too many are a real discredit to the cause they profess; and we are conscious that the best of us fall mournfully short of what might be expected from the sublime principles which, by the grace of God, we have been taught from his word. We desire to be open to conviction, not to contend for errors, or even to vindicate any thing that can be proved contrary to the Scripture; but if sonie things not justifiable, which we must own have accompanied what we verily believe to be a work of the Spirit of God, are (as some would represent them) sufficient to discredit this work, to impeach the truth of the doctrines or the sincerity of the instruments in the gross-then we are sure it will follow, upon the same principles, that the Jews and Heathens had just ground and warrant to reject the doctrine of the apostles, and to treat their persons with contempt.
A competent knowledge and consideration of the present state of man, in himself, and of the circumstances in which he is placed, are necessary to preserve us from being offended with the Gospel of Christ, on account of the imperfections that may be found in the conduct of those who have sincerely received it. Due allowances must be made for the remains of ignorance and prejudice, the power of habit, temper, and constitution, in different persons. The various combinations of these, and other particulars, make each individual character, though agreeing in one common nature, and influenced by the same general principles, in some respects an original. The power and subtilty of Satan, and his address in suiting his temptations to the peculiar inclinations and situation of every person, must be taken into the account, and likewise the immense variety of occasions arising from without, such as the provocations and arts of enemies, the influence of mistaken friends, the necessary engagements, connexions, and relations of common life, the artifices of seducers, and the scandals of false professors. These things, and others which might be named, concur to make the path of duty exceeding difficult, especially to young beginners; who, so soon as they become sincerely desirous to serve the Lord, find themselves immediately in the midst of scenes, in which they can only be fitted to act their parts aright by a gradual and painful experience. They whose intentions are right usually set out with warm hearts and sanguine expectations, little aware of the difficulties that are before them. They have, indeed, a sure rule to act by in the Scripture, and they have a sure promise, that the Spirit of God will be their guide and teacher; but at first they have but little acquaintance with the Scripture, and, till they are humbled, by being left to commit many mortifying mistakes, they are too prone to lean to their own understandings. Every day brings them into some new difficulty, wherein they can get little direction from what