« PreviousContinue »
yet, knowing that the kingdom of God does not consist in meats and drinks, but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, they guard against the influence of a party-spirit; and if their labours are confined to Christians of one denomination, their love and prayers are not limited within such narrow bounds, but extend to all who love and serve their Master. They have entered upon the ministry, not for low and sordid ends, for popular applause, or filthy lucre, but from a constraining sense of the love of Jesus and a just regard to the worth and danger of immortal souls. Their zeal is conducted and modelled by the example and precepts of their Lord: their desire is not to destroy, but to save; and they wish their greatest enemies a participation in their choicest blessings. In the subject-matter and the manner of their preaching, they show that they seek not to be men-pleasers, but to commend the truth to every man's conscience in the sight of God; and when they have done their utmost, and when God has blessed their labours, and given them acceptance and success beyond their hopes, they are conscious of the defects and evils attending their best endeavours, of the weak influence the truths they preach to others have upon their own hearts; that their sufficiency of every kind is of God, and not of themselves; and therefore they sit down, ashamed, as unprofitable servants, and can rejoice or glory in nothing but in Him who came into the world to save the chief of sinners.
It might be expected that a spirit and conduct thus uniformly benevolent and disinterested, and witnessed to, in a greater or less degree, by the good effect of their ministry and example amongst their hearers, would secure them the good will of mankind, and entitle them to peace, if not to respect. But, on the contrary, these
are the very people who are represented as deceivers of souls, and disturbers of society; they are not permitted to live in some places, and it is owing to a concurrence of favourable circumstances if they are permitted to speak in any; the eyes of many are upon them, watching for their halting; their infirmities are aggravated, their expressions wrested, their endeavours counteracted, and their persons despised. The design of our history is to show, in the course of every period of the church, that those who have approached nearest to the character I have attempted to delineate from St. Paul, have always met with such treatment*; and from his declaration, that "all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall "suffer persecution †," we may expect it will always be so, while human nature and the state of the world remain as they are. However, it may be a consolation to those who suffer for righteousness sake, to reflect, that the apostles were treated thus before them; particularly St. Paul, who, as he laboured, so he suffered more abundantly than the rest. His person was treated with contempt and despite, his character traduced, his doctrine misrepresented; and, though his natural and acquired abilities were great, and he spoke with power and the demonstration of the Spirit, yet he was esteemed the filth and off-scouring of all things, a babbler‡ and a madman§.
* Our Lord's declaration, "Behold I send you forth as lambs "in the midst of wolves," is applicable to all his servants. The sight of a lamb is sufficient to provoke the rage and appetite of a wolf. Thus the spirit of the Gospel awakens the rage and opposition of the world; they have an antipathy to it, and owe it a grudge wherever they see it,
† 2 Tim. iii. 12.
Acts xvii. 18.
§2 Cor. v. 13. See likewise Mark iii. 21. "And when his friends "heard it, they went out to lay hold on him; for they said, He is VOL. III. 2 K
Of the Irregularities and Offences which appeard in the Apostolic Churches.
HERE are few things in which the various divisions of professing Christians are so generally agreed, as in speaking highly and honourably of primitive Christianity. In many persons this is no more than an ignorant admiration, not capable of distinguishing what is truly praiseworthy, but disposed to applaud every thing in the gross that has the sanction of antiquity to recommend it. The primitive Christians have been looked upon, by some, as if they were not men of the same nature and infirmities with ourselves, but nearly infallible and perfect. This is often taken for granted in general, and when particulars are insisted on, it is observable that they are seldom taken from the records of the New Testament, and the churches which flourished in
"beside himself;" that is to say, his attention to the office he has undertaken, has transported him beyond the bounds of reason, and made him forget his station, his friends, and his safety; therefore, out of pure affection and prudence, they would have confined him: nor is it any wonder that our Lord's friends and relatives should thus think and speak of him, since we are assured that even his brethren did not believe on him; John vii. 5, And there seems to have been no possible medium. All who were conversant with him, must either receive him as the Messiah, or pity, if not despise him, as a madman. This was the mildest judgment they could form. The Pharisees, indeed, went further, and pronounced him an impostor and a devil. Such was the treatment our Lord and Master found. Let not then his disciples and servants be surprised or grieved, that they are misrepresented and misunderstood, on account of their attachment to him, but let them comfort themselves with his gracious words-John xv. 18-21.
the apostles' times, but rather from those who lived in and after the second century, when a considerable deviation in doctrine, spirit, and conduct, from those which were indeed the primitive churches, had already taken place, and there were evident appearances of that curiosity, ambition, and will-worship, which increased, by a swift progress, till at length professed Christianity degenerated into little more than an empty name.
If Christians of the early ages are supposed to have been more exemplary than in after-periods, chiefly because they lived nearer to the times of our Lord and his apostles, it will follow of course, that the earlier the better. We may then expect to find most of the Christian spirit among 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 them, that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had "all things common," " 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 remisness 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 disposition 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 tres
Acts iv. 52.