« PreviousContinue »
God and his government, which shall await us in eternity.
VII. From the apprehension of Christ to the crucifixion. The Lamb of God is sacrificed-the atonement is accepted—and man is pardoned. All unite to reject him. His disciples had fled-the most zealous of their number denied him-the high-priest insulted him-the priests struck him -the servants mocked him—the soldiers spat in his face, and ridiculed his pretensions-the Sanhedrim condemned him. Though his betrayer declared the innocence of his victim-though Pilate acquitted him—though his accusers agreed not together, yet the heads of opposing factions unite to destroy him. The power of Rome, the religious hatred of an apostate Church, the changeable populace who perhaps imagined their clamours were the voice of God, all combined to fulfil the prophecies, and murder the willing Sacrifice which was about to intercede for them all. Our Lord never forgot his divinity in the midst of these scenes. When he was dying as a man, he forgave sins as a God. He refused to deliver his assumed body from the cross, but he declared his power as Lord of the invisible world. I have fully expressed my opinion on this point in the twenty-fifth note to the present Chapter. I believe the death of Christ to be a mysterious atonement for the sins of man. I have no hope of everlasting happiness, but from my faith in this mysterious atonement. I believe this doctrine to be the one peculiar, fundamental, and characteristic truth of Revelation. I humbly prostrate my reason to the God who has given Revelation to guide us, as the best proof of my most rational homage to the Deity: and I pray that the consolation which I derive from this faith in the atonement of our only Lord and Saviour; may never be shaken by the presumptuous conclusions, and the shallow speculations, of the philosophy which rejects Revelation.
VIII. From the resurrection to the ascension. I have already mentioned the authorities upon which I have
divided this Chapter. The reflections upon our Lord's ascension, in the forty-third note to this Chapter, are such as every Christian will adopt, who believes in the immortality revealed in Scripture.
IX. Before the Gospel was offered to the Gentiles, the Apostles made their appeal exclusively to their own brethren. Our Lord had told the Jews, that their rejection of his ministry should be forgiven them; but their refusal to be convinced by the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit should neither be forgiven in this, nor in the future world. The present chapter gives an account of the preaching of the Apostles from the ascension, to the time for the calling in of the Gentiles, and the miraculous conversion of St. Paul to Christianity for that purpose.
The first section of this most interesting chapter, presents us with a view of the return to Jerusalem of the timid disciples of Christ, and their meeting for devotional purposes in one of the Hyperoa, or upper rooms, in which the Jews were accustomed to celebrate their passovers; totally unconscious of their lofty destiny, as the moral and religious renovators of mankind. I have taken the opportunity in beginning the second volume with this chapter, to request the reader to compare the claims of Christianity to the homage of a rational and immortal being, with the pretensions of any of the absurd speculations which have insulted the reason, and debased the morals, of society. It will be perceived that I have not availed myself of any part of Mr. Faber's work on the same subject. The note was written before his book was submitted to the public.
The election of Matthias, related in the second section, has been generally considered an argument for the popular election of the Clergy. We live under this curse, that whatever form of regimen we adopt, whether in Church or State, thorns and thistles must be produced. Our
own wisdom and prudence may increase or diminish their number: but some evil will be found, and we try in vain to escape from it. To avoid one class of real or suppose grievances in the appointment of the Clergy, without appeal to the congregation; other, and sometimes greater evils have been preferred, by popular elections. By these, the errors of the people are perpetuated, where the opinions of the congregation are erroneous. The teacher is
compelled to preach the sentiments of his hearers; and to learn, implicitly, where he ought to instruct, freely. As no dominion is more cruel, arbitrary, capricious, and unjust, than the dominion of large, and therefore irresponsible bodies; no slavery is so intolerable, as subserviency to their fluctuating opinions.
The prayer of the disciples, at the election of Matthias, may be considered as one proof of their acknowledgment of the divinity of our Lord.
We are brought, in the third section, to that wonderful event, by which the ignorant, timid, prejudiced disciples of our Lord, obtained, in one instant, by the especial Providence of God, advantages, accomplishments, knowledge, and every other requisite qualification for the noble office, which would have otherwise required the labour of many years. Endued with power from on high, they became at once prudent legislators, sober and learned judges, eloquent preachers, liberal without compromising truth, tolerant without religious indifference. Through the whole of the remainder of the New Testament, the Apostles appeal to the miraculous gifts of healing, of languages, and discerning of spirits. The contrast of their present and former conduct demonstrates the internal change which had taken place. Without these assistances, indeed, the religion which commanded the submission of the passions, for the sake of a crucified criminal, whom they asserted to have been a divine Being, could never have prevailed.
The immediate effects of this great event are related in the next sections, the accession of converts, and, what must now appear almost as wonderful, the union of Christians in this truly primitive Church. They were neither divided by absurd jealousy-by the pride of intellect by adherence to some strange errors, to which their fathers pledged themselves, and which did not die away with the political events, or foolish controversies, in which they originated. They were neither influenced by the fear of offending, by a regard to self-interest, by attachment to opinions which they received without inquiry, and maintained without examination. Truth, confirmed by undeniable evidence, and demonstrated by irresistible argument, was the object they pursued, and obtained.
After the conversion of the cripple, the attention of the people of Jerusalem was so much excited, that the Sanhedrim ordered the Apostles to be summoned; and inquired, what new imposition was about to be practised on the Jewish nation. How unbounded must have been the rage and indignation of the Sanhedrim, who were in daily expectation of a powerful and temporal Messiah, a conqueror of the Romans, and an elevator of the Jewish nation to the height of political power; when the fishermen of Galilee stood before them, and affirmed, that the condemned and innocent victim from Nazareth was the true and long expected Messiah; and that the Sanhedrim had murdered their heaven-descended Sovereign! In the note to section eight, I have given the parallel between Christ and Moses, whose prediction St. Peter had applied to our Saviour. To what extent this parallel may have been explained, is uncertain. If the Sanhedrim heard of this application, they must have been more highly enraged. They imagined they had crucified the new religion, when they crucified its founder. They had but nurtured with blood the seed which should grow into the tree, which should refresh the world with its leaves, and the Church with its fruits, of life. Annas
and Caiaphas, and the most learned Talmudists, the eminent, the honourable, and the noble, were assembled to hear the defence of the despised fisherman, whom they insulted for his deficiency in the only learning, which their intellectual vanity esteemed. Another extraordinary descent of the Holy Spirit is related in section eleven, to encourage and animate the converts at this beginning of their predicted persecutions. The Church continued at peace, wealthy, flourishing, and united.
With this abundant prosperity began the corruption of the Church. Ambition, a more powerful passion than avarice, which is its minister only, divided the infant community. Ananias first desired eminence by his apparent liberality; he might have wished also, as many have supposed, to obtain a more ample provision at some future period, from the funds of the Church. The custom now began, which in Christian societies has never been discontinued, of maintaining the poor, from some permanent fund, afforded by the voluntary benevolence of the wealthy.
From the fourteenth to the twentieth sections, we read of the gradual progress of the new faith. The repetition of his assertion by St. Peter, that the crucified and innocent Nazarene was the real Messiah, made the agonized Sanhedrim resolve to punish the Apostles with death. They were checked by the advice of Gamaliel. The increasing numbers of the Church made the election of new officers necessary, who should peculiarly devote themselves to those duties which interfered with the proper discharge of the higher, and apostolic office. The Apostles prescribed the qualifications of the deacons, and approved of the choice of the people. This subject is partially discussed in the note to the eighteenth section. In the note to the following section I have endeavoured to shew that Mr. Benson's Chronology of the Life of Christ, which I have adopted from a full conviction of its accuracy, is consistent with the prophecy of the seventy weeks by the Prophet Daniel.