« PreviousContinue »
earnestness, as if he still saw him wounded and bleeding. This catastrophe, indeed, almost disconcerted them; they had trusted it was he that should deliver Israel; but they saw him oppressed and slain by wicked men. From that time to his resurrection was a mournful interval, the darkest and most distressing period his church ever knew.
But the third day dispelled their grief; he returned victorious from the grave, proclaimed peace by the blood of the cross; he declared, (and his appearance proved it,) that the ransom was paid and accepted, and that, having now overcome the sharpness of death, he had opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Then he spoke peace to their hearts, he opened their understandings to know the Scriptures, and breathed upon them his Holy Spirit; he conversed frequently with them during forty days, gave them a large commission to preach his Gospel, and an invaluable promise of his presence with them to the end of the world.
When he had thus confirmed them by those instructions and assurances which his wisdom saw necessary, he was received up to heaven. They followed him with their hearts and eyes awhile, and then returned to Jerusalem rejoicing. They were not ashamed of their crucified Lord, or unwilling to bear the contemptuous names of Galileans or Nazarenes for his sake. They were not afraid, as if left like sheep without a shepherd in the midst of their enemies. They knew that, though they could see him no more, his eye would be always upon them, and his ear open to their prayer. They waited, according to his command, for a further supply of his Spirit, to qualify them for the important and difficult services which were before them. Nor did they wait long: a few days after his ascension, VOL. III. L
while they were praying with one heart and mind, the place where they were assembled was shaken as with a mighty wind; the Spirit of power and wisdom was abundantly communicated to them; they spoke with new tongues, and immediately began to preach boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus.
With this solemn and memorable event, I shall open the second book, and take up the thread of the Gospel History from that glorious day of Divine Power. The contents of this first book, namely, a brief view of the necessity and nature of the Gospel-dispensation, the causes why it is and has been opposed, and the circumstances of the first believers, I have premised, as general principles, for my own and the reader's assistance in the progress of this work.
It is much to be wished, that every reader might be impressed with the importance of our subject. It is not a point of curiosity, but of universal concern, and that in the highest and most interesting sense. Most of the researches and disquisitions which employ the time and talents of men, are of a trivial or indifferent nature. We may range on different sides concerning them; we may give, or refuse, or retract our assent, when and as often as we please. We may be totally ignorant of them without loss, or be skilled in them all without deriving any solid comfort or advantage from them. But the Gospel of Christ is not like the dry uninteresting. theories of human wisdom; it will either wound or heal, be a savour of life or of death, a source of endless comfort, or the occasion of aggravated condemnation to all that hear of it. To receive it, is to receive the earnest and assurance of eternal happiness; to reject it, or remain wilfully ignorant of its characters and properties, will leave the soul oppressed with guilt, and
exposed to the wrath of God for ever. It highly concerns us, therefore, to inquire, whether we believe the Gospel or no; whether what we call the Gospel, is the same that Christ and his apostles taught, and whether it has had the same or similar effects upon our hearts. We live where the Gospel is generally professed, and we are reputed Christians from our cradles; but the word of God cautions us to take heed lest we be deceived. We see Christianity divided into innumerable sects and parties, each supported by names, arguments, and books, and fighting for the credit of a denomination. But how many forget, that, in a little time, all these divisions and subdivisions will be reduced to two; the only real and proper distribution by which mankind, (as to their religious character,) ever was or will be distinguished, and according to which their final states will be speedily decided-the children of God, and the children of the wicked one.
OF THE SECOND PERIOD OF CHRISTIANITY.
That I may neither encumber the series of the history with too many digressions, nor deprive myself of the opportunity of making such observations as the subject will suggest conducive to our main design, I propose, in the first chapter of this and the succeeding book, to give a succinct view of the progress and state of Christianity during each period; and then, by way of Appendix, to add one or more chapters, (as may be necessary,) on such particulars as are of more immediate application to the circumstances of our own times.
Of the Progress of the Gospel from our Lord's Ascension to the close of the first Century.
THE natural weakness of man is conspicuous in his most important undertakings: having no fund of sufficiency in himself, he is forced to collect all from without; and if the greatness of his preparations are not answerable to the extent of his designs, he has litle hopes of success. Further when he has planned and provided to the utmost of his power, he is stil subject to innumerable contingences, which he ca neither foresee nor prevent; and has often the mortification to see his fairest prospects blasted, and the whole apparatus of his labour and care only contribute to make his disappointment more conspicuous and painful.
The reverse of this is the character of the wonderworking God. To his power every thing is easy; he knows how to employ every creature and contingence as a means to accomplish his designs; not a seeming difficulty can intervene but by his permission, and he only permits it to illustrate his own wisdom and agency in making it subservient to his will. Thus, having all hearts and events in his hands, he fulfils his own counsels with the utmost ease and certainty; and, to show that the work is his own, he often proceeds by such methods as vain men account weak and insignificant, producing the most extensive and glorious consequences from small and inconsiderable beginnings. Thus the Lord of hosts hath purposed to stain the pride of human glory.