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kingdom of heaven, the kingdom which was the subject of prophecy, which they and their fathers had looked for with the greatest anxiety, and which the Messiah was to set up, was at hand; and, as a confirmation of their doctrine, they were empowered to work miracles, to heal diseases, cast out devils, and, in many other ways, suspend or counteract the laws of nature. They were cast upon the charity of the people for support, and were directed to shake off the dust of their feet, against any family or city which should reject them.
At a subsequent period he commissioned and sent forth seventy other disciples, (answering evidently in number to the Sanhedrim, and showing thereby, that their power had passed into his hands,) on the same errand, two by two; giving them similar authority, and commending them in like manner, to the charity of the public. They were holy men; but it was a new and wonderful employment, and they were put in possession of powers which made them appear as gods upon earth. No wonder, therefore, that they should soon return, as they actually did, not a little elated with the fact, that even the devils were subject to them through his name. But Christ solemnly admonished them to beware of pride which had hurled Satan from heaven; and told them, that he indeed enabled them to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; but that they must not rejoice in this, that they held the spirits in subjection, but rather that their names were written in heaven.
But the twelve constituted his family. They were his intimate friends, his chosen companions. He therefore sent them forth but once during his life to preach the gospel. When he travelled, they accompanied him. What he spake in parables to the multitude, he privately expounded to them. When he fed the multitude, they distributed the provision. They were with him in his retirement, and partook of the supper at its first institution. He often talked to them about his sufferings, and committed to them the keys of his kingdom.
With the exception of Judas, the traitor, they were sincere men. Their hearts had been changed by the Spirit of God. They admired, loved, and trusted their Savior, shared with him his privations and sorrows; and devoted themselves entirely to his service. When they were first called to follow Christ, they were very ignorant. Matthew had been a publican or tax-gatherer; the others, were all, probably, fishermen of Galilee. But under the instruction and guidance of Christ, they made rapid advancement in the knowledge of divine things; and with his holy example daily before them, they soon learned to set lightly by the world, to treat one another with condescension, kindness and love, and to live as expectants of a better country.
While the grace of God had enlightened their understandings and purified their affections, it left unchanged their natural constitution or animal temperament, so that as great a diversity of character is observable among them, as among any others of the same number, in the various conditions of life; and so distinctly are the good and bad qualities of each marked and preserved throughout their course, as to furnish a striking evidence of the authenticity and truth of the sacred history.
With great fidelity they had followed Jesus through good report and ill report, and they thought they could follow him to death. Christ knew that they would fail in the moment of trial, and assured them of it; but Peter, always ardent, bold, and warmly attached to his master, declared, that though all men should deny him, he would not. But when the band of soldiers bound Christ, betrayed by Judas, all forsook him and fled; and, though Peter followed and mingled with the crowd, at the trial, yet, when charged with being one of his followers, he declared, with an oath, I know not the man. Jesus beheld him at the moment. Peter's heart melted, and he went out and wept bitterly. ;
The season of Christ's suffering and burial, was to the Apostles one of thick darkness and awful perplexity. Their master they beheld hanging upon a cross. He, to whom they had looked for crowns and sceptres, was laid low in the sepulchre of Joseph. For three days, they were borne down by sorrow; agitated with fear, and enveloped in gloom. But, like the sun emerging from the shade of some heavenly body, and suddenly giving light and joy to millions from whom it had been obscured; Jesus came forth from the shades of death to the view of his despondent disciples, and gave them new vigor and life. By this event, more wonderful and astonishing than any thing they had as yet witnessed, their confidence in Christ was greatly animated and strengthened. It was both a fulfilment of his promise, and a most triumphant conquest over death and hell.
But their views of the nature of his kingdom were as yet imperfect. With the nation in general, they were impressed with the idea, that Messiah's kingdom was of this world. When, therefore, he appeared after his resurrection, they asked him, “ Lord wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” But this error was soon erased from their minds by his conversation, and by his ascension to heaven. That great event put a final period to every expectation they had cherished of an earthly kingdom. And it was a most illustrious confirmation of the truth of his pretensions. For had he now descended to the grave, and perished like the world around him, all his wonderful works, even his resurrection, might not have been sufficient to dissuade some from the belief that he was an impostor, who never expired, though he hung upon the cross, and that he would never enable them to realize his promises. But now, after accompanying him through the whole of his ministry, and hearing him speak words which never man spake; and seeing him perform works which never man did; after beholding him hanging on the cross, laid in the tomb, and according to his own express prediction, bursting the bands of death, and rising to their view; after this, to behold him ascend on high, to see him go to that heaven, where he had promised to prepare for them mansions of bliss, they were all ready to exclaim with one mind and one voice, Surely the Lord He is God. They saw Jesus go where no impostor can go. They saw him ascend, not like Elijah by means of a chariot of fire, but in a manner far more sublime and wonderful, by his own Almighty power; and while wrapt in astonishment, were informed by two angels that he had gone to heaven, and would come in like manner, as they had seen him go to heaven. By this event, therefore, their views were greatly changed, and their faith was established too firmly to be shaken. From the mount Olivet they returned to Jerusalem, where they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, until the fulfilment of the promise of the Father to baptize them with the Holy Ghost. By this they were to be still more enlightened in the nature of the Gospel kingdom; to receive the gift of tongues; and to be endued with new fortitude and zeal in their master's service.
Their number had been diminished by the villainous perfidy of Judas. When he saw that he had betrayed innocent blood, smitten by remorse of conscience, he returned the thirty pieces of silver, and went and hanged himself—an awful warning to all apostates. The disciples were desirous of filling his place, and while they waited in prayer for the descent of the Spirit, they appointed Barnabas and Matthias, as candidates for the Apostolic office: looked up for divine direction, and cast lots. The lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the Apostles. In this act, however, they perhaps were premature. It was for Christ to choose his own Apostles; and, in due time, he selected Saul and called him to the Apostleship.
Having their number, as they supposed, complete, and being all united in love, and engaged in fervent prayer, they soon received the promised blessing. It came on the day of Pentecost; an era of the divine mercy. Suddenly the place, in which they were, was shaken as by a rushing mighty wind—an emblem, as Nicodemus had been taught, of the Spirit; and they beheld in the room cloven tongues like as of fire, which sat upon each of them. Instantly their minds were more enlightened, their hearts were filled with more love and zeal for Christ, they were strengthened, animated, and joyful; and to their own utter amazement, were enabled to speak the various languages of mankind.
This descent of the Holy Spirit formed a new Era in the lives of the Apostles, and of the Church of God. We no longer find the twelve, the ignorant, timid, worldly-minded men they had been. The nature of Christ's kingdom; the benevolence of his errand; the perishing condition of the world; their high and holy office; were all full before them, and took an amazing hold of their minds and hearts. They now cheerfully sacrificed the world, were ready to go forth and stand before kings and Gentiles and Jews, preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to lay down their lives, if Christ might be glorified in them.
They instantly commenced their ministry, by preaching the gospel according to Christ's express command, first to the Jews, that, if possible, they might bring that deluded people to the saving knowledge of the iruth. Astonishment filled the minds of all who heard them. Jerusalem was at that time crowded with Jews from every country. In con, sequence of the numerous wars in which they had for centuries been engaged, with the heathen nations, the people were scattered in all parts of the Roman empire. Multitudes had from time to time been carried away captive, and not a few had gone from their own land for security and peace. These generally adopted the language of the people among whom they resided; but strictly adhered to the religion of their fathers; and, as much as possible, the pious among them went annually to Jerusalem, to the feast of Pentecost. At the very moment, therefore, that the Apostles were endued with the wonderful powers of speaking in divers tongues, there were devout men out of every nation in Jerusalem;-Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Lybia, about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and Proselytes, Cretes and Arabians;—all these heard the Apostles speak, every man in the tongue in which he was born. The native Jews, who understood not these languages, and were disposed to ridicule the Apostles, said,
These men are full of new wine." The charge roused the spirit of Peter, and, in an ever memorable sermon, he showed them the utter improbability of the thing, from its being only the third hour of the day, when no Jew was ever found in that situation; that this was an accomplishment of a prophecy of Joel, by the power of that Jesus whom they had rejected before Pilate, and with wicked hands crucified and slain; but who, according to the prediction of David, God had raised up to sit on his throne. A close application of truth to their consciences; a bold charge upon them as murderers of the Lord of life and glory, was not made in vain. The multitude were pricked in the heart. Curiosity at the wonderful miracle, was turned into distress for themselves. They felt that they were exposed to the wrath and curse of God for their vile treatment of his Son; and exclaimed, in the anguish of their souls, Men and brethren what must we do? Peter opened to them the treasures of the gospel, and directed them to that same Jesus whom they had crucified, for eternal life. He called them to immediate repentance, and submission to God in the ordinances of the gospel; assuring them of the remission of their sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. The effect was glorious. Three thousand were converted to the Lord, and, on a profession of faith and repentance, were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. · This was the first administration of Christian baptism, and the commencement of the
CHRISTIAN CHURCH. And as it was begun through the instrumentality of Peter, in this event was fulfilled the declaration of Christ, “ Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build my Church."