Imatges de pàgina
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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 beside himself;" that is to say, his attention to the

CHAPTER III.

Of the Irregularities and Offences which appeared in the Apostolic Churches.

THERE 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 the apostles'

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 judgement they could form. The Pharisees, indeed, went farther, 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.

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 re- jected, 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 ought "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 remissness 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

* Acts, iv. 32

before were dead in trespasses and sins, having been, like those of old, pierced to the heart, and then filled with comfort, from a believing knowledge of him on whom their sins were laid, find themselves, as it were, in a new world; old things are past away; the objects of time and sense appear hardly worth their notice; the love of Christ constrains them, and they burn in love to all who join with them in praising their Saviour. Here, indeed, is a striking change wrought; yet the infirmities inseparable from human nature, though for the present overpowered, will, as occasions arise, discover themselves again, so far as to prove two things universally: 1. That the best of men are still liable to mistakes and weaknesses, for which they will have cause to mourn to the end of their lives: 2. That in the best times there will be some intruders, who, for a season, may make a profession, and yet, in the end, appear to have neither part nor lot in the matter. Thus it was in the church of Jerusalem. The pleasing state of things mentioned above did not continue very long: an Ananias and a Sapphira, were soon found amongst them, who sought the praise of men, and made their profession a cloak for covetousness and hypocrisy :* grudgings and murmurings arose in a little time between the Jews and the Hellenists:† and it was not long before they were thrown into strong debates, and in danger of divisions, upon account of the question first started at Antioch, whether the law of Moses was still in force to believers or not.

In these later times, when it has been attempted to vindicate and illustrate a revival of religion, by appealing to the writings of St. Paul, and the de

+ Acts, vi.

* Acts, v.

+ Acts, xv.

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