صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

that when he was young, he girt himself, lived at his pleasure, and went wherever his fancy directed him; but when he should reach the term of old age, he should stretch forth his hands, and another should girt and bind him, and lead him whither he had no tlesire to go, intimating, as the evangelist tells us, "by what death he should glorify God."

Peter was well pleased to drink the bitter cup, and make his confession as public as his denial, provided nil would be sufficient to atone for bis former sin. And seeing John following, he asked his great Master, what should be his fate, and whether he who had been the object of his Master's love, in his life-time, should not have as honourable a death as he that had denied him? To which Jesus replied, it doth not concern thee to know how I shall dispose of events, with regard to him: he shall see the destruction of the Jewish nations, and then go down to the chambers of the dust in peace.

Not long after, our blessed Saviour appeared to his disciples at Jerusalem, to take his last farcwel of them who bad attended him during his public ministry among the sons of men. He led them out as far as Bethany, a small village on the Mount of Olives, where he briefly told them that they were the persons he had chosen to be the witnesses, both of his death and resurrection; a testimony which they should publish in every part of the world. In order to which, he would, after his ascension into heaven, pour out his spirit upon them in an extraordinary manner, that they might be the better enabled to struggle with that violent rage and fury, with which the doctrine of the gospel would be opposed by men and devils. Adding, that in the mean time, they should return to Jerusalem, and there wait till those miraculous powers were given them from on high.

Having finished this discourse, he layed

hands upon them, and gave them his solemn benediction ; during which he was taken from them, and received up in the regions of the heavenly Canaan. The apostles, who beheld their Master visibly ascend into heaven, were filled with a greater sense of his glory than they had ever been whije he conversed with them familiarly on earth. And having performed their solemn adoration to him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, there to wait for the accomplishment of their great Master's promise. How sudden a change was now wrought in the minds of the apostles! They who were lately overwhelmed with sorrow, at the very mention of their Lord's departure from them, beheld him now with joy and triumph; they were fully satisfied of his glorious advancement to the right hand t>f Omnipotence, and of that peculiar care and providence which they were sure he would exercise over them, in pursuance of those great trusts he had committed to their care.

CHAP. VI.

Transactions of Peter, from (he Ascension of his blessed Master to the Dispension of the Church at Jerusalem.

THE apostles, though deprived of the personal presence of their dear Lord and Master, were indefatigable in fulfilling the commission they had received from bim. The first object that engaged their attention, after their return to Jerusalem, was to fill up the vacancy in their number, lately made by the unhappy fall and apostacy-of Judas. In order to this, they called together the church, and entered into an upper room, when Peter, as president of the assembly, proposed to them the choice of a new apostle.

He put them in mind that Judas, one of the disciples of their great and beloved Master, being betrayed by his covetous and insatiable temper, had lately fallen from the honour of his place and ministry. That this was no more than what the prophet had long since foretold should come to pass, and that the care of the church which had been committed to him, should devolve upon another: that therefore it was highly necessary the same person who had been familiarly conversant with the blessed Jesus, from first to last, and consequently, a competent witness both of his doctrine and miracles, his death, resurrection, and ascension, should be substituted in his room.

This, indeed, was highly requisite; for as no witness is so valid and satisfactory as the testimony of an eye-witness, as the apostles all along principally insisted on this, that they delivered nothing to the world concerning the great Redeemer of mankind, than what they themselves.had seen and heard, as his rising from the dead was a principle likely to meet with the greatest opposition, and which would be the most difficult tenet of the gospel to be believed by the sons of men, they urged this great truth, incessantly declaring that they were eye-witnesses of his resurrection; that they had seen and felt him; eaten and familiarly conversed with him, after his return from the chambers of the grave. It was therefore highly requisite that sueh an apostle should be chosen: and accordingly two candidates were proposed; Joseph, called Barsabas, and Matthias, both qualified for the great and important office of the apostlcship. And having prayed that the divine providence would immediately guide and direct their choice, they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, who was accordingly admitted into the number of the apostles.

After filling up the vacancy in the apostolic number, they spent their time in prayer and meditation, till the feast of Pentecost; when the promise of .their great Master in sending the Holy Ghost was ful

filled. The christian assembly were met as usual, to perform the public services of their worship, when suddenly a sound, like that of a mighjy wind, rushed in upontiiem; representing the powerful efficacy of that divine spirit which was now to be communicated to them. After which there ap* peared small flames of fire, which in the shape of cloven tongues, descended and sat upon the head of each of them, to denote that their enjoyment of this gift should be constant and perpetual; and not like the prophets of old, who were inspired only at some particular times and seasons. Upon this they were all immediately filled with the Holy Ghost, which, in an instant, enabled them to speak fluently several languages they had never learned, and probably never heard.

The report of so sudden and strange an action, was soon spread through every part of Jerusalem, which at that time was full of Jewish proselytes, devout men out of every nation under heaven, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, the dwellers in Mesopotamia and Judea, Cappadocia, Pontius and Asia, Phrygiaand Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Lybia and Cyrene, from Rome, from Crete, and from Arabia. These no sooner heard of this miraculous effusion of the Holy Spirit, than they flocked in prodigious numbers to the christian assembly; where they were amazed to hear these Galileans speaking to them in their own native languages so various and so very different from one another. And it could not fail of exceedingly increasing the wonder, to reflect on the meanness of the speakers, who were neither assisted by genius, polished by education, or improved by use and custom. The disciples were destitute of all these assistances: their parts were mean, their education trifling, and their experience in speaking before great assemblies, trifling. Yet now these persons speak boldly, and with the greatest propriety, in various languages. Nor were their discourses filled with idle stories, .or the follies of a luxuriant fancy.

No, they expatiated on the great and admirable works of Omnipotence, and the mysteries of the gospel, which human apprehension could never discover.

This surprizing transaction had different effects on the minds of the people; some attributing to it the effect of a miracle, and others to the power and strength of new wine. Upon which the apostles all stood up, and Peter, in the name of the rest, undertook to confute this injurious calumny.

He told them, that this scandalous slander proceeded from the spirit of malice and falsehood; that their censure was as uncharitable as it was unjust: that it was early in the morning, and therefore not a time for drinking, especially on a day set apart for devotion; that these extraordinary and miraculous effects were but the accomplishment of an ancient prophecy, which the Almighty had expressly declared should be fulfilled in the times of the Messiah: that Jesus of Nazareth had evidently proved himself to be that great prophet, the Son of the Most High, by many unquestionable miracles, of which they themselves had been eye-witnesses; and though by the permission of Omnipotence, who was pleased by this means, to bring about the redemption of mankind, they had wickedly crucified and slain him, yet God had raised him from the dead; nor was it consistent with the justice and goodness of the Almighty, especially those divine predictions made concerning him,, that he should be confined in the chambers of the grate; David having particularly foretold, "That his flesh should rest in hope, that God would not leave his soul in hell, neither suffer his Holy One to see corruption: but would make known to him the way to life." That this prophecy could not relate to David himself, as he had many ages since been reduced to dust, and his flesh passed through the different stages of corruption, bis tomb being yet visible among them, and from whence he was known never to return; and therefore the

prophecy must relate toChrist, having never been fulfilled in any but him, who both died and was risen again, whereof they were his witnesses. Nay, that he was not only risen from the dead, but ascended into thehighest heaven, and according to David's prediction " sat down on the right hand of God, until he had made his enemies his footstool:" which could not be primarily meant of David, as he never ascended bodily into heaven; that therefore the whole house of Israel ought to believe, that this very Jesus, whom they had crucified, was that person whom God had appointed.to be the Messiah, the founder of the christiaa church, and the Saviour of the world.

This discourse, though the first that St. Peter ever made in public, deeply affected; the people, and every word, like a dagger, pierced them to the heart, so that they cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" To which Peter answered, the only way to expiate your guilt, obtain pardon for the many sins you have committed, and acquire the gift of the Holy Giiost is to repent sincerely, and be baptized into the religion of this crucified Saviour. Upon these terms the promises of the new covenant, ratified by the death of the Son of God, will belong to you and your children, and to all that sincerely believe and embrace the gospel. He also used the most forcible and endearing expressions to prevail on them to listen to the inviting calls of the Son of God, and by that means to save themselves from that unavoidable ruin and destruction, which would shortly fall on the heads of the wicked and headstrong generation of unbelieving Jews.

The effect of this discourse was equally wonderful and surprising; for great numbers of those, who before ridiculed the religion of Jesus, now acknowledged him for their Saviour, and flew to him for refuge from the impending storm: and St. Luke tells us, that there were that day added to the church no less than three thousand souls, who were all baptized and received into the flock of the great Shepherd of Israel, the bishop of our souls. A quick and plentiful harvest indeed 1 "This was the Lord's doings, and it is marvellous in our eyes.''

Soon after this wonderful conversion? Peter and John, going up to the temple about three in the afternoon, near the conclusion of one of the solemn hours of prayer, saw a poor impotent cripple, near forty years of age, who had been lame from his birth, lying at the beautiful gate of the temple, and asking alms of those who entered the sacred edifice. This miserable object moved their compassion: and Peter beholding him with attention, said, the riches of this world, the silver and gold so highly coveted by the sons of men, are not in my power to bestow: but I possess the power of restoring life and health, and am ready to assist thee.

Then taking the man by the hand, he commanded him, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to rise, up and walk. Immediately the nerves and sinews were strengthened, and the several parts of the diseased members performed their natural functions. Upon which the man accompained them into the temple, walking, exulting, and praising God.

So strange and extraordinary a cure filled the minds of the people with admiration, and their curiosity drew them round the apostle, to view the man who had performed it. Peter, seeing the multitude gathering round them, took the opportunity of speak ing to them in the following manner: "Men and brethren, this remarkable cure should not excite your admiration of us, as if we had performed it by our own power. It was wrought in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, our crucified Master, by the power of that very Christ, that holy and just person, whom you yourselves denied, and delivered to Pilate, nay, and preferred a murderer before him, when the governor was desirous of

letting him go. But though you have put him to death, yet we are witnesses that He hath raised him again from the dead, and that be is ascended into heaven, where he will remain till the great and tremendous day of general restitution. This I know was done by your rulers, through ignorance, and not being thoroughly convinced of the greatness and divinity of his person; the ignorance by which the great and righteous designs of Omnipotence were brought about, and the prophecies concerning the person and sufferings of the Messiah, delivered by Moses, Samuel, and all the prophets, since the world began, have been accomplished. But now it is high time to repent and turn to God, that your crying sins may be forgiven, that when the Messiah shall appear to execute judgment upon the Jewish nation, it may be time of comfort to you, as it will be of vengeance and destruction to others. You should remember that you are the peculiar persons, to whom the blessings and the promises primarily belonged, and to whom the Almighty first sent his Son that he might shower on you his blessings, by turning you away from your iniquities.

While Peter was speaking to the people, in one part of the temple, John was, in all probability, doing the same, in the other; and the success plainly indicated how powerful the preaching of the apostles was; five thousand persons embracing the doctrines of the gospel, and acknowledging the crucified Jesus for their Lord and Saviour.

Such amazing success could not fail of exciting the attention and envy of the rulers of Israel. Accordingly the priests and Sadducees repaired to the Roman magistrate, and intimated to him that, in all probability, this concourse of people would prove the cause of a tumult and insurrection. Upon this information, the captain of the temple seized on the apostles, and cast them into prison.

The next day they were carried before the Jewish Sanhedrim: and being asked by what power and authority they had done this, Peter boldly answered, "Be it known unto you, and to all the descendants of Jacob, that this miracle was wrought wholly in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom ye yourselves have crucified and slain, and whom the Almighty hath risen again from the dead. This is the stone which your builders refused, and which is become the head of the corner. Nor is there any other way, but which you, or any of the sons of men, can be saved, but by this crucified Saviour."

The boldness of the apostle was admired by all, even by the court of the Sanhedrim. Aud it should be remembered that these very judges were the persons who had so lately condemned the blessed Jesus himself, and had no other way of colouring their proceedings, than by a second act of cruelty; that the apostles did not charge them with the crime of crucifying the Son of God in secret, but in the open court of judicature, and in the hearing of all the people.

The court, after beholding them with a kind of astonishment, remembered that they had seen them with Jesus of Nazareth, and therefore ordered them to withdraw, while they debated among themselves what was proper to be done. It was impossible to deny the miracle; for it was performed before all the people, and the person on whom it was wrought was no stranger in Jerusalem. They, therefore, resolved to charge them strictly, not to preach any more in the name of Jesus. Accordingly they were again called in, and acquainted with this resolution of the council. To which the apostles auswered, That as they had received a commission from heaven, to declare to all nations what they had seen and heard, it was certainly their duty to " obey God rather than man."

This was a fair appeal to the consciences of their very judges; but these rulers of

Israel, instead of being satisfied with it, would, in all probability, have proceeded to a greater violence, had not the people's veneration for the apostles checked their malice; so that all they dared to do, was to enforce their menaces, and dismiss them.

When the apostles were returned io their brethren, they informed them of the treatment they had met with from the Jewish magistrates. Upon which they all joined in prayertothe Almighty, for an extraordinary supply of courage and assistance, to enable them to execute their commission in these perilous times, and plant the religion of their crucified Saviour. Nor weretheir prayers offered in vain ; for before they bad concluded their fervent addresses to the throne of grace, the house was again shaken with a mighty wind, as on the day of Pentecost; and they were instantly replenished with fresh measures of the Holy Ghost, and notwithstanding all the threatenings of the Jewish rulers, found themselves enabled to preach the gospel of their great and beloved Master, with more boldness than ever.

The labours of the apostles were crowned with abundant success, and it seems, that such was the aversion of the inveterate Jews to those who became converts to the faith of Christ, that they are deprived of business in their respective callings; for we find that the prolessors of the religion of the holy Jesus sold their effects, and brought the money to the apostles, that they might deposit in one common treasury, aud from thence supply the several exigencies of the church.

But hypocrisy was not unknown among the professors of religion, even in these primitive times. Ananias and his wife Sapphira, having embraced the doctrines of the gospel, pretended to follow the free and generous spirit of these times by consecrating and devoting their estate to the honour of God,. and the necessities of the church. Accord

« السابقةمتابعة »