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rather corrupted than reformed their religion. And the Jewish doctors had, by their false glosses, obscured the light of revelation, and taken away the key of knowledge from the people. And notwithstanding that all the ancient prophets had testified concerning the Mes. siah, the very things which their eyes beheld in the person and character of Jesus Christ, they rejected him with disdain and embrued their hands in his blood. They had nearly filled up the measure of their iniquities, and were soon to be dispersed among all the nations of the earth.
This then was the season which Divine wisdom chose for the diffusion of the truth, the circumstances of which are detailed in the following Book.
This history indeed, as written by St. Luke, does not extend to the journies and actions of all the apostles, but records chiefly those of St. Peter and St. Paul, and does not profess to relate the planting of Christianity in other parts of the world which were visited by the other apostles, who, no doubt, extended their evangelical labours to very distant provinces. The Acts chiefly inform us what was done in Judea and Samaria among the Jews resident there, and in other cities of Syria, Asia, &c. among the Jews in their dispersions. It affords us also a delightful specimen of the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles; first to some single families, as to that of Cornelius ; and, after the Jews had discovered their obstinate resolution to oppose the apostles, especially because of their preaching to the Gentiles, then to whole cities and countries, professedly “ departing to the Gentiles,” among whom they were assured of obtaining greater success than they had found among the Jews.
We shall therefore find, in pursuing this part of the Sacred History, first, an account of the effusion of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, whereby the apostles were perfectly qualified to evangelize the nations ; immediately after which we have an account of the conversion of several thousands of the Jews. In this part of the work, St. Peter was evidently the leading man; and though the other apostles were no doubt active and labo. rious, yet little is said of them; because, in telling us VOL. II.
what St. Peter said and did, we have a sufficient specimen of the preaching and actions of the whole body,
The next period of this history relates to the conversion of the devout Gentiles,” who were probably “Proselytes of the gate ;” and here also St. Peter was honoured to lead the way, as in the conversion of Cor. nelius and his company. But after the sacred historian has informed us that believers were admitted into the Christian church without being first circumcised; and that, after St. Peter had led the way, other Christians imitated his example, and made numerous converts among the Gentiles also, then the history of St. Peter is naturally dropped, because it does not appear that he ever preached to the idolatrous heathen.
As therefore, the third grand period contains a brief account of the conversion of idolatrous Gentiles, in wbich St. Paul appears as eminent an instrument, as St. Peter had been among the Jews, the history of that great apostle of the Gentiles is pursued, whose convert, very probably, St. Luke was, and certainly his fellow-labourer in the great undertaking, and concerned in many of the transactions which he himself has recorded.
As the greater part of the world consisted of idolatrous heathen, and the greatest number of Christians, ever since that time have been of that description, this part of the history was very properly most enlarged upon; for the doctrine which is suited to their circumstances, is of the greatest and most extensive advantage.
But, after we have a full account of the great numbers of the Gentiles being converted from heathenism and received into the professing church, without submitting to the law of Moses ; together with the general behaviour of the Jews on that occasion ; and a sufficient specimen given of the doctrines preached, and their powerful effects on men's hearts, as also of the persecutions of St. Paul and his companions, St. Luke closes his history, though it appears that he himself accomp-.nied St. Paul long after, and could probably have brought down the history to the martyrdom of that great apostle.
That St. Luke was the author of the book called the Acts of the Apostles, is sufficiently evident. It com
mences thus: “ The former Treatise I have made, O Theophilus, of all things that Jesus began to do, and to teach,” &c. This “ former treatise” is undoubtedly the gospel which was written by St. Luke, and dedicated by him to Theophilus; and that the “ Acts” was written by the same person is allowed by all antiquity. St. Paul calls him “ the beloved physician," (Col. iv. 14,) and speaks of him as “ his fellow-labourer,” (Philem. v. 24.) Не
appears to have been with him at Rome,' when he wrote his Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon ; and when he wrote his second Epistle to Timothy, (2 Tim. iv. 11,) and so continued an associate with the apostle in several of his journies, and in his dangerous voyage to Rome.
Dr. Benson, in his appendix to his “ History of the Plantation of Christianity," has cited a number of passages from Irenæus, Tertullian, Clement, Origen, Eusebius, &c. which prove the genuineness of this book, and ascribe it to the pen of St. Luke. Mr. Briscoe, at Boyle's Lecture, has also shewn in a convincing manner, how capable these early writers were of judging in this matter, and how universally it was admitted by Christians of the first ages as a sacred book. How incontestibly it demonstrates, the Truth of Christianity, will appear to every attentive and unprejudiced reader.
This history affords a strong confirmation of the truths contained in the Gospels. The promises there recorded, are here accomplished, particularly the great promise of the Holy Spirit. The commission which was granted to the apostles is here executed, and the powers with which they were invested is exerted in numerous miracles. The proofs of Christ's resurrection, with which the Gospels concluded, are in this history abundantly corroborated, not only by the undaunted testimony of those who conversed with him after he rose, but by the supernatural operations of the Holy Spirit with that testimony, for the conversion of multitudes to the faith of Christ.
Our Saviour had assured them that they should be " Witnesses” for him, and here we find them continually bearing witness to their Divine Master. They were assured that they should become “ Fishers of Men;" and here we perceive them inclosing multitudes in the gospelnet; they were to be made “ Lights of the world;" accordingly we find whole nations enlightened by them. Our Lord had honestly informed them that they would meet with bitter persecution in their work; here we find his predic. tions punctually accomplished. Thus the latter part of the Sacred History exactly accords with the word of Christ in the former; and thus they mutually illustrate and confirm each other.
This history is exceedingly important in another point of vicw. We are Christians. Here then we see what Christianity is, and what it requires. We clearly perceive what are the essential truths of our holy religion in what the apostles chiefly insisted upon in their preaching. We see also what is the genuine effect of the truth on the hearts of those who truly receive it by faith. We find the Christian church subsisting in a visible profession of Christ as the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, made by his baptized disciples; incorporated into voluntary religious societies, statedly meeting for the worship of God; aitending diligently on the apostles' doctrine ; uniting in public prayer, and in the frequent reception of the Lord's Supper, under the conduct and presidency of men devoted to the ministry of the word, and in a spiritual communion with “ all in every place” who were like-minded. Such a body has ever since been preserved in the world, notwithstanding the most violent opposition; to this body we now belong, and are to endeavour, as far as possible, to conform ourselves to those rules which were laid down by inspired men of God when this body was first formed.
In a word, we have every inducement, as Christians, to study this history with attention and delight. Men of taste are naturally curious to trace the origin of nations, and mark how they rose to refinement, wealth and power; but the history of the church of Christ must appear to every Christian far more worthy of notice than the rise or fall of empires. “ A society, about which Providence has, in all ages, exercised a particular care, presents an interesting object of inquiry. Its history is the history of religion; of the accomplishment of a long series of
prophecies; of the execution of a scheme, to which all other parts of the Divine administration are subservient. The history of the first age of the Christian church is more instructive and engaging than that of any subse. quent period. It is splendid because it is miraculous ; it is edifying, as it records many noble examples of faith, charity, patience, and zeal; and it arrests the attention and touches the heart, by displaying the triumph of the gospel over the combined malice and wisdom of the world."
The blessed Saviour of the world having punctually accomplished all things predicted concerning his mission upon earth; and having, in a most solemn and affectionate manner taken leave of his disciples, visibly retires to eternal rest and glory, in the heavenly world. With hearts full of grief and admiration, they lament the loss of the presence of their beloved Lord; and follow him with longing eyes till he totally disappeared. But while they thus fondly looked up towards the place where their Lord was gone, his tender care was immediately displayed by dispatching two of his celestial retinue with a message of consolation. Behold two angels, adorned with the glories of heaven, appeared to them, with this comfortable assurance, “ Forbear, O Galileans, your further admiration : your gracious Lord, whom even now you beheld ascending to heaven, shall one day descend again to judge the world in as glorious a manner as he now departed from you. He hath not absolutely forsaken you, but is gone to take possession of that kingdom which he will govern to the end of the world.
Highly satisfied with this assurance, and the confirma tion of their hopes, the glad disciples return from mouut Olivet to Jerusalem ; where the eleven apostles, with the women who used to attend on Christ, repaired to the temple,* spending their time in a constant performance of de
Temple. The apostles met to perform their devotions in an upper room of the temple, Actsi. 13. For the temple had many chambers or upper rooms in its cir