« PreviousContinue »
This observation might be confirmed by innumerable examples taken from the common history and experience of mankind; but the subject of our present underWhen the taking exhibits the most illustrious proof. Jews had seen Jesus crucified, dead and buried, they expected to hear no more of him. His disciples were few, men of no authority, learning, or influence; and since their Master, who had made them such large promises, was at last unable to save himself from death, it was probably expected that his followers would dispese of course, forsake their supposed delusion, and return to their fishing, and other employments suited to tieir capacities and talents.
They knew not that Jesus had arisen from the dead, and had frequently shown himself to his servants, to comfort and confirm their hearts. They little thought that he, whom they had seen expire on the cross, was immoveably scated at the right hand of God, possessed of all power in heaven and earth; but his disciples knew this, and therefore continued to assemble in his name. We do not find that there was much notice taken of them till the feast of Pentecost, which was about ten days after his ascension. At this season*, by the Jewish law, the first-fruits of the earth were presented at the temple: an appointment, typical of those more sublime first-fruits of spiritual gifts and graces with which the Lord on this day enriched his disciples, (according to his promise,) enabling them to preach his Gospel, and make his word effectual to the conversion of a large multitude; as an earnest of that divine power
* Tiberius, A. D. 33. In fixing the dates of our history, I shall conform to what I think the most probable and authorized opinion, without perplexing either myself or my readers with the niceties of critical chronology.
by which he would support and extend his church and ministry to the end of the world.
When the hearts of God's people are united in love, and pleading his promises in the fervent exercise of faith and prayer, great things may be expected. Such was the happy state of his disciples on this solemn day. They were assembled with one accord; no jars or divisions had as yet taken place among them: they were animated with one desire, and praying with one mind; suddenly and wonderfully they obtained an answer: the place they were in was shaken as by a mighty wind*; their hearts were filled with the powerful energy of the Holy Spirit, and they were instantaneously enabled to speak languages which till then they were unacquainted with. These inward powers were accompanied with the visible symbols of fiery tongues, which sat upon each of their heads a fit emblem both of the new faculties they had received, and of the conquering, assimilating efficacy of the Spirit by whom they spoke; whose operations, like the fire, are vehement, penetrating, transforming, and diffusive; spreading from heart to heart, from place to place, till the flame, which was now confined within a few breasts, was communicated to many nations, people, and languages.
The effects of this divine communication were immediately manifest: they were filled with love, joy, and faith, and bagan boldly and publicly to praise God. Their emotion and zeal could not be long unnoticed: those who first observed it spoke of it to others, and a rumour was spread abroad. Jerusalem was at that time the occasional resort of the Jews and Jewish proselytes, who were dispersed throughout the known
* Acts ii.
world, and multitudes had come from different countries to celebrate the feast. The promiscuous throng, who assembled upon the report, and had been accustomed to different languages, were therefore greatly astonished to hear of the wonderful works of God, every man in his own tongue. While some expressed their surprise at this, others ascribed it to the effects of wine, and showed their scorn and despite to the Spirit of grace, by reviling the apostles as drunkards. Thus they no sooner entered upon their public service, than they began to find the same treatment which their Lord had met with, and were for his sake, the subjects of calumny and derision. This is a remarkable instance of the sagacity and temper which the men of the world discover in the judgment they form of a work of God; nor is it probable that our modern reasoners would have judged more favourably, if they could have been present at such a scene, where several persons were speaking loud at the same time, and each in a different language; since they account the operations of the same Spirit, madness and folly, even where they are not attended with such extraordinary circumstances.
This weak and perverse slander was immediately refuted by the apostle Peter, who addressed the people in a grave and solemn discourse: and having, in few words, explained the nature of the fact, and shown that it was an accomplishment of ancient prophecies, he proceeded to apply himself more closely to their Consciences. He assured them, that what they saw and heard was wrought by the power of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had rejected before Pilate. He informed them of that honour and glory which he now possessed, and charged them as accomplices in the
murder of a person whose character and dignity God had vindicated, by raising him from the dead. Though our Saviour had but few disciples during his personal ministry, he had doubtless left a deep impression of his words and works in the hearts of many. This discourse of Peter would naturally recall him to the remembrance of those who had seen him in the flesh, and lead them to reflect how earnestly and unjustly they had, at the instigation of their priests, compelled Pilate to put him to death. These reflections, the closeness of Peter's address, and the power of the Spirit of God, concurred to give them a deep conviction of their sin. They were pierced to the heart. They no longer wondered as curious spectators; but were solicitous for themselves, and cried out, "brethren, what shall we do?" Peter then proceeded to open the treasure of Gospelgrace, and to direct them to Jesus, whom they had crucified for salvation. The effect of this day's preaching, (for though only Peter is named, it is probable there were more than one preacher or one discourse,) was signally happy. Three thousand souls were converted, and, professing their faith and repentance, were, by baptism, publicly joined to the church.
A further addition was soon atter made. Peter and John having recovered a man from incurable lameness, by faith in the name of Jesus, the report of the miracle brought a great concourse of people together a second time. Peter improved the occasion to preach to them at the temple gate, to the purport of his former discourse. He had an attentive auditory; and his word was made effectual to the conversion of many. But by this time the enemies of Jesus were greatly
alarmed at the progress of his doctrine; and having* notice of what had passed, the priests and Sadducees violently apprehended Peter, with John, and put them in prison. He had not finished his discourse, but he had said enough to be remembered; and this interruption, with the boldness of his following defence, made his words more regarded. The next day they were brought before the high priest, rulers, and elders; and being asked concerning the late miracle, Peter, who once had trembled at the voice of a girl, was not afraid to use the utmost freedom and plainness with the council and heads of the Jewish nation. He confessed the name and cause of Jesus; reminded them of their wickedness, in causing him to be crucified, and, in direct answer to their question, assured them that the miracle was wrought in his name, and by his power. Though the council were highly offended with this language, and the more so, as they observed the persons who spoke were private and unlettered mene yet, being unable to deny the fact, (for the man who had been lame stood before them,) and unwilling to incur the odium of punishing an action they were ashamed to disapprove, they dissembled their rage, and forbidding the apostles to speak any more to the people, they dismissed them yet they did not depart until they had
*Acts iv. 16, 17. Many consultations have been held, and devices framed, to stop the progress of the Gospel as if it was a dangerous infection; but all such attempts are vain. They may as easily restrain the dawning of the day as suppress the spreading of the Gospel, when the Lord is pleased to raise up fit instruments to promote it, and to vouchsafe a season of refreshment from his presence. Then its influence cannot be restrained, a spark becomes a flame, a little one a multitude, and opposition only makes the effects more visible and noticed.