Page images
PDF
EPUB

ren to fly into distant provinces. They travelled eve ry where, preaching the Lord Jesus to the Jews and proselytes only. And the proselytes of that age, for whose sakes the gift of tongues seems to have been given, are estimated at one-fifth of the Jewish nation. What à gracious providence superintended the infant church! This persecution which was intended to exterminate Christianity, occasioned it to be disseminated more and more.

III. After the course of five years, in which the converted Jews and proselytes were considerably established, it pleased God, according to the ancient prophecies, to open to his servants an abundant barvest in the Gentile world. This required an extraordinary revelation; for the ceremonial law was a partition-wall between the Hebrew and the heathen. Peter, one day while hungry, saw in a vision a great "sheet let down from heaven, containing a number of animals ceremonially unclean; and a voice said,“ rise, Peter, slay and eat.” But he answered, not so, Lord, for that which is common among the Gentiles, or unclean in its kind, hath not at any time entered my mouth. The voice replied, “ what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." This was repeated the second time, and then the whole was taken up into heaven. Cornelius, a devout and benevolent man, and centurion of the Italian band in Cæsarea, had a correspondent vision. He saw an angel of God enter his closet, who assured him that bis prayers and alms were come up for a memorial before God, and enjoined him to send for Peter, who would instruct him in the Christian doctrine.' On the arrival of Cornelius's servants, Peter instantly understood the import of his vision, that he should associate with the heathen and instruct them. And while he preached, the Holy Ghost fell upon Cornelius and all his friends, consecrating them the first-fruits of the Gentiles to God. What a striking interposition of heaven for the salvation of the Gentiles. Whep returned to Jerusalem, Peter vindicated this devotion of conduct by appealing to the divine power. " What was 1,” said he, “ that I could withstand God, seeing he gave the Holy Ghost to them, as well as to us?" Acts x.

About the same time, Paul also went to the Gentiles to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that their hearts might be purified by faith. And when the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, had heard him relate his success, they glorified God, and gave both him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that they should preach to the heathen. And being wishful to aid whatever God might do, they wrote circular letters, concerning the ceremonial liberty of the Gentiles; but cautioned them to abstain from fornication, from meats offered to idols, and from blood. Hence, in a short time, all who dwelt in Asia minor heard the gospel.

The apostles and brethren now distributed themselves throughout all the provinces and kingdoms of the empire, which, on account of its extent, was then. called the world, both by sacred and profane writers. Some travelled to Rome, to Gaul, to Spain, and to the isles of Britain. Others pursued their route to Egypt, and preached in all the cities on the north of Africa as far as Carthage. Paul and Barnabas, with their colleagues, extended their labors to all the cities and islands of Greece, and to the Grecian colonies in Asia. Some penetrated among the Scythians and other barbarians in the north. Almost in every city these preachers had some fruit, and evangelical men were raised up in all the churches, who imitated the apostles in their life and ministry,

IV. Of this first and general spread of the gospel, the primitive fathers have written considerably, and their testimonies are worthy of our regard. We shall select a few passages illustrative of the subject. “ The gospel,"* says Eusebius,

like the sun, enlightened the world at once. Great multitudes of

66

* Eccl. Hist. lib. ii. c. 3.

people, both in cities and villages, were brought into the church, by the ministry of the apostles, like corn stored up in a granary.

When the malicious Celsus objected to the novelty of Christianity, Origen replied, "here is the mystery, that a new doctrine, in so short a time, should so surprisingly prevail over all the world; over the Greeks and barbarians, over the learned and illiterate, over every order and profession, and persuade them with so firm a belief of its divine authority, that they are ready to seal their faith with their blood."*

“ The philosophers,”ť says Clemens Alexandrinus, " pleased the Greeks only, nor did every one please all. Plato followed Socrates; Theophrastus, Aristotle; Cleanthus, Zeno; every master had his own school. and his own scholars. But our great Masters' philosophy was not confined to Judea, as theirs to Greece; it diffused its lustre over the world at large: it was embraced by whole cities and nations, and no man can resist its force, who will leisurely contemplate its wisdom: the philosophers themselves have been captivated by its charms. If the Grecian philosophy were suppressed in any place liy the magistrates, it presently disappeared. On the contrary, our religion has been persecuted by kings-by emperor'smby governors by generals and by the populace, who were more ferocious than all the others. They have combined the whole of their power and ingenious malice to exterminate Christianity; and yet, it flourishes the more, and does not droop and die, as it certainly must have done had it been of mere human invention."

Arnobius, in his second book, defends Christianity against the degrading assertions of the heathens in a similar manner. “ You should not, I think, be a little surprised to see this despised name every where prevail, and in so short a time. There is no nation (in the empire) however barbarous and uncivilized, whose manners have not been softened and improved by this philanthropic institution. And what is yet more surprising, it has subdued the brightest geniuses. Orators, critics, lawyers, physicians, and philosophers, have yielded to its force. Its disciples are so sincere and pious in their profession, as to forego the enjoyments of life, and life itself, rather than renounce the cross. Hence, notwithstanding all your edicts and prosecutions--all your menaces and massacres--all your hangmen and ingenious tortures, they not only become more numerous, but more vigorous in their resolution. Can you suppose all this is brought about by chance; that men will die for a religion, of whose divine authority they are not assured; or, that there is a general conspiracy of fools and madmen to throw away their lives for a phantom ?”

* Contra Celsum, fol. 21.

+ Coll. lib. vi. fol. 502

V. The first planting of Christianity affords such evidences of its divine original, such abundant support to believers, and such animating hopes with regard to its second and universal spread, as entitle it to the fullest consideration. But our limits require very great brevity.

We are here presented with a small company of plain and pious men, leaving Judea, and travelling over the empire, to exalt their crucified master, as the Lord and Saviour of the world. They had little subsistence from the churches in their own country; but when exigency required, they did not disdain to labor with their hands. We see them enduring pain and hunger, hatred and reproach, imprisonment and stripes, and, most of them, laying down their lives for the testimony of Jesus. With irreligion and vice they made no compound, but established the throne, and founded the church of Christ on the ruin of idols. Their zeal resulted from knowledge; their high commission made them debtors to all men; and the love of Christ in their hearts could not be quenchied by adversity. They had seen their most gracious Lord face to face, heard him preach, and beheld the powersul effects of his ministry and miracles. They had received the most indubitable proofs of his resurrec

tion, iu sacred and social offices; and they beheld when he ascended to heaven. The mystery hid in ages past had just been unveiled to their view; they felt in their hearts the power and love of Christ; and the energy with which they preached pierced their auditors, and sometimes caused them to fall down on their faces, and give glory to God, Acts ii. 37. 1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25.

VI. Every thing, however, was not against the first teachers of Christianity. The incredible excess to which superstition and vice had attained, induced many of the more sober heathens to give a cordial reception to a religion which promised them a full emancipation from the yoke of demons. Some of their goddesses were naked, or nearly so. Vulcan walked limping; Apollo was formed with a smooth chin; Æsculapius all beard; Neptune with blue eyes; Mercury with wings at his feet, and Saturn with fetters. Erigene hung herself, that she might become a goddess; Castor and Pollux died by turns that they might become immortal, and Hercules was burnt in Mount Ætna, that he might be elevated to heaven. The theatres, games, and feasts of the Romans, were insupportably lewd and licentious. Women of fashion were weighed down with gold and jewels, and they could scarcely be saluted without the offensive smell of brandy. Rapes and adulteries were authorized. Divorce was the natural consequence of marriage: they married to divorce, and divorced to marry again.* No sooner, therefore, was the Christian religion properly understood by th better sort of the heathen, than they turned from dumb idols to serve the living and true God. They justly concluded those doctrines to be from heaven, which brought men into so near a resemblance of the divine original. If Christianity obtained in any city among a few faithful families, it was sure to prevail; and frequently in a short time. • In the commencement of the third century, Gregory

* Tertullian's Apology.

« EelmineJätka »