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To us, it may appear surprising that so much should have been effected in one day. It was nine in the morning when Peter began his sermon, and with many other words besides those which are recorded, did he exhort the people to salvation. It could have been therefore only in the after part of the day, that their confession was received and they were baptized and admitted into a covenant relation with God. But the Apostles were full of the Holy Ghost, and able, probably, to discern spirits; and, if some were received, who were not sincere converts, it was only in accordance with the well known fact that there must be tares with the wheat. The conduct of the Apostles, however, cannot be viewed as a warrant for ministers in succeeding outpourings of the Spirit, to receive a multitude upon their first expression of penitence and faith, into the Church; for, by their fruits, we must know them.
This glorious work of grace resulted not only in the submission of multitudes to Christian ordinances; but in much holiness of heart and life. The enmity of the heart to divine truth was subdued, and the doctrine of the Apostles was received in love. A spiritual union and fellowship was formed, to which the world were strangers. The selfish heart was laid aside, and a new and unheard of benevolence was substituted in its place. The most of these converts were poor. Such of them as were rich, sold their possessions and threw all they had into a common fund for the benefit of the whole. The fear of the Lord came upon every soul, and a spirit of prayer was excited in every breast. Common food was received with a gladness before unknown; and in the Lord's supper and the worship of the Temple, a joy was felt unspeakable and full of glory. So powerful and happy were the results of that great revival of religion.
In one sense, it was miraculous; but in no other than is every revival. It was not effected by the miracles the Apostles wrought. Had they spoken in divers tongues with the same fluency on any other subject, no such effects would have been produced. It was effected by the power of the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of truth;— by presenting plainly to men, their sin and danger, and calling them to repentance and holiness. Joel had, ages before, predicted this outpouring of the Spirit, and the sacred historian says, it was the Lord that added daily to the Church of such as should be saved. Here therefore, as in all revivals, we see God effecting his great purposes of sanctifying mercy, while men are awakened and turned to the Lord by the truth.
Soon after the day of Pentecost, Peter and John cured a well known beggar, of lameness. This miracle brought together a great concourse of people; and Peter embraced the opportunity to charge upon them the sin of crucifying Christ, and to call them to repentance. The multitude listened with the most profound attention. But the magistrates, who were Sadducees and enemies to the doctrine of the resurrection, were grieved and vexed, and rushed upon the Apostles and put them in prison until the next day. They then brought them before the High Priest and council, and asked by what authority or power they did this? Peter, who once trembled at the voice of a maid, answered with astonishing boldness, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom they had crucified, but whom God had raised up, and in whom alone salvation was to be found.” The magistrates were afraid to touch them. The boldness of Peter was unexpected, and the miracle none could deny. They dismissed them, charging them no more to speak in the name of Christ. The Apostles departed, protesting against the charge, and held a meeting for prayer, in which they enjoyed much of the divine presence and blessing, and were animated to go forth with new boldness in the cause of Christ.
The number of disciples was now increased to above five thousand, and they lived in great harmony and love;—were followers of God as dear children.
But as it had been in the Jewish, so was it in the Christian Church. All were not Israel who were of Israel. There had been a Judas among the twelve; and now among the converts to Christianity, were brought to light two gross hypocrites. Ananias and Sapphira pretended to give unto the Lord all their possessions, while they gave only a part. Peter exposed their deceit, and the Lord struck them dead. It was an awful judgment; but it showed the Church the sin of hypocrisy; the impossibility of concealing any thing from God; and must have led every professor to a serious and
careful examination of his own state. . The influences of the Spirit were long continued. Converts were multiplied. The Apostles were endued with astonishing powers of healing. The sick were brought from all the cities round about Jerusalem, and cured of their
diseases; and while the attention of the multitude was thus excited by such wonderful works of mercy, their hearts were melted by the power of the gospel.
The continued success of the Apostles again aroused the indignation of the rulers, who hated every thing which called the attention of men to a future world. They seized them once more and cast them into the common prison. But what could bars and bolts do against the power of the Almighty? God sent his angel at midnight and opened the prison doors, and bade them go preach in the Temple. What a miracle! How must it have confounded those hardened rulers! It ought to have subdued them. But they once more summoned the Apostles to appear before them and enquired how they dared fill Jerusalem with their doctrine, and bring Christ's blood upon them. Peter soberly but boldly told them they must obey God, rather than man, and again charged them with the crucifixion of Christ, whom God had exalted to be a Prince and a Savior. Instant death would probably have been their portion, had it not been for the timely counsel of Gamaliel, an eminent doctor of the law. He told the rulers to let them alone, for if their work was of men, it would come to nought, but if it was of God, they could not overthrow it, and it behooved them to be careful not to fight against God. His advice was fol. lowed. The Apostles were only beaten and charged to keep silence. But they were not moved. They departed, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ.
A circumstance about this time occurred, which occasioned the creation of a new office in the Church. The Church embraced both native and foreign Jews. The latter were callerl Hellenists or Grecians, because they spoke the Greek tongue. These supposed that, in the daily supply of the poor, the Apostles had shown a partiality for the widows of the Hebrews; and murmured against them. The Apóstles immediately called together the disciples and informed them that seven men of eminent piety must be appointed to superintend that business; while they would confine themselves to prayer and preaching. Their advice was followed, and Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, were appointed and ordained to the office of Deacon, by prayer and the imposition of hands.
These men were bold and strong in the faith of Christ. Stephen especially, was empowered to work miracles, and to resist and overcome all opposition which was made by disputers against the Gospel. His ability and success excited the malice of the wicked; and they suborned men to accuse him of blasphemy. Upon being called to answer the charge, he boldly rebuked the Jews, by giving a history of their nation and showing that, in betraying and murdering Christ, they had but imitated the conduct of their fathers, who treated Moses and the Prophets with contempt. " They were cut to the heart and gnashed on him with the teeth.” But he, “ full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Of this, he made full confession. It filled his enemies with madness, and they cast him out of the city and stoned him to death. With his expiring breath, he commended his soul tɔ God; like his divine master, prayed for his murderers, and FELL ASLEEP. Thus died the first Christian Martyr, full of faith and hope; and favored with clear views of his Redeemer. He was buried by the church with great lamentation; but his spirit had ascended to glory.
Blood had now been shed; and it was the signal of a tremendous persecution of the followers of Jesus. They were unable to stand before it, and fled from Jerusalem to the surrounding country. But they were not deterred from preaching the Gospel. On the contrary, they were excited to greater boldness; and, wherever they went, they proclaimed Christ and the resurrection. Philip, the next to Stephen in faith and zeal, and who was also a preacher, carried the Gospel to the Samaritans, and instructed and baptized an Eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia, whom he met in the way, returning from Jerusalem, where he had been to worship. Others travelled as far as Phenice, Cyprus and Antioch, preaching to Jews only; but by their labors, many converts were made and many churches were established. Thus was the blood of the martyrs the seed of the Church. The disciples were driven from Jerusalem, that they might diffuse the Gospel through the earth.
Among the bitter persecutors of the followers of the Redeemer was one, whose life and actions form a most interesting portion of the history of the Church. This was Saul of Tarsus. His parents were Jews, who resided in that city. According to the custom of the Jews, with whom it was a leading maxim, 6 He who teaches not his son a trade, teaches him to be a thief,” he was early taught a particular trade,-tent-making. He was next sent to Jerusalem and placed under the instruction of Gamaliel, the most eminent doctor of the age, that he might become thoroughly acquainted with the Jewish law. He was a youth of noble endowments, of commanding eloquence; in religion, of the straitest sect of the Pharisees; in temper, proud, active, fiery, not able to brook opposition, and feeling it to be doing God service to crush every new, and, what appeared to him, heretical sentiment. He was one therefore, in whom meek-eyed Christianity, as she advanced with her claims to the homage of men, might expect to find a most malignant foe. As a signal of this, we first behold him at the bitter persecution of the martyr Stephen, consenting unto his death.
With a furious zeal, he soon raged, searching out the Christians, beating them in the synagogues, and either compelling them to disown Christ, or causing them to be put to death. Having done all that infuriate malice could do in Jerusalem, he obtained a warrant from the High Priest to go to Damascus, whither some Christians had retired, and bring all whom he found there to Jerusalem. How terrible is the native enmity of the human heart to the gospel of Christ! How insatiable is an unhallowed and misguided zeal! Had the violent persecutor been suffered to proceed, what awful ravages would he have made of Christ's little flock! But the wolf was to be changed into the ļamb. God had separated him, not to die by a thunderbolt of his wrath, but to preach that very gospel which he had persecuted. And this was the moment which divine wisdom chose for the exhibition of grace. As he was on his way, suddenly a beam of light, far outshining the splendor of the sun, darted upon him from heaven, and a voice addressed him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me! The raging persecutor fell to the earth, crying, Who art thou, Lord? With a majesty which will make all sinners tremble in the judgment, the Lord said, “ I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Ata sight of the terribleness and compassion of the Savior, his heart relented, and he inquired with earnestness, and a readiness to serve him forever, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?
Thus, not through the power of a miracle, for the bare witness of a miracle will never change the heart, but through the power of the Holy Ghost, the miraculous appearance and address of the Savior became instrumental of effecting