صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

and of the country more properly called the proconsolar Asia, as well as the inhabitants of the neighbouring provinces of Phrygia, and Pamphylia, of Egypt, and the parts of Africa which are about Cyrene, together with strangers, both Jews and proselytes, who had arrived from the capital of the Roman empire; and lastly, the inhabitants of the island of Crete, and such as ordinarily resided in different parts of Arabia. These were all amazed, and enquired to what these things would proceed; while others, who were ignorant of the languages which were spoken, turned the whole into derision; alleging that the orators who had excited such general attention were only miserable fanatics, who had increased their fervour to a remarkable pitch by the free use of new and sweet wine.

Desirous to vindicate the character of his brethren, but still more desirous of the conversion of his enemies, Peter now stood up with the eleven, and thus addressed the multitude with an elevated voice: Ye men of the Jewish nation, from whatever part of the world ye have arrived, and all you who are the stated inhabitants of Jerusalem, let this be known unto you, and do you diligently hearken unto my words: for these men, whom some of you have condemned as drunken and dissolute wretches, are very far from being in a state of intoxication, seeing this is but the third hour of the day, (nine o'clock in the morning) the hour of morning sacrifice, before which you know, that none, who have any regard for their character will allow themselves so much as to taste wine, and much less to drink any large quantity of it, whereby they would be rendered incapable of attending the service of the temple on this solemn festival. But this which occasioned so much admiration, is that great event which was foretold by the prophet Joel, [chap. ii. 29..32.] "And it shall come to pass in the last days, the times of the Messiah, saith God, I will pour out an extraordinary effusion of my Spirit upon all orders and nations of men; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream prophetic dreams. And on my servants and my handmaidens, who seem to be the meanest members of my family, I will pour out largely of my Spirit; and they shall not only proclaim the riches of my grace, but announce the awful judgments which shall fall on the heads of their enemies. Nor shall it be long before they have a public confirmation of their testimony. For I will exhibit wonders in heaven above, and prodigies upon the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke. Yea, so great shall be the confusion both in church and state, that the sun shall, as it were, be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and terrible day of the Lord comes, (when he shall take vengeance of his enemies by the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.) And it shall come to pass, that at this time my gospel should be freely preached, and every one that calleth on the name of the Lord shall receive salvation." Men of Israel, hear these words with becoming attention: Jesus, the despised Nazarene, whose mission God hath attested by miraculous powers, and wonders, and signs, which God wrought by him in your most public places and assemblies, as you yourselves also know; him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. Whom God hath raised up from the dead, having loosed the pains ot death, forasmuch as it was impossible that he should be finally holden of it. For David, speaking in the person of the Messiah, saith, [Psalm xvi. 8, &c.] "I have regarded the Lord as always before me; because I know that he is at my right-hand, that I might not be tossed and agitated by any of my sufferings. Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue, the glory of my frame, was glad. Moreover, also, my flesh, while it lodges in the sepulchre, shall rest in a joyful and assured hope because

thou wilt not leave my soul in the world of separated spirits, nor even permit my body to experience corruption in the grave. By making me the first-fruits of them that slept, thou hast appointed me to go before in the untrodden paths which lead from the grave back again to vital air; and thou wilt also so manifest thyself unto me, as to fill me with joy by the light of thy countenance. Men and brethren, whom I esteem as members of the house of Israel, permit me to speak to you freely concerning the patriarch David, who delivered this valuable prediction, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre remains among us in Jerusalem, even to this day. He, therefore, could not speak this of himself; but being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn to him with an oath, that of his posterity he would raise up the pro-. mised Messiah to sit on his throne, as the king of God's covenant people, he spake this of Christ, that his soul shall not be left in the unseen world, nor his flesh be suffered to see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, of whose resurrection we are all witnesses. And though he appeared in this world as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, he is now exalted by the right-hand of God; and, having, as the great anointed of the Lord, received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he hath shed forth this miraculous effusion, the effects of which ye now see and hear. For David is not himself, in this sense, ascended into heaven; but he saith himself, [Psalm cx. 1.] "The Lord saith unto my Lord, sit thou at my right-hand, until I lay thine enemies prostrate at thy feet." Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made this same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, that Lord and Messiah, whose kingdom you profess so earnestly to desire.

When Peter had delivered this admirable discourse, a large number of the multitude were pricked to the heart with a conviction of their enormous guilt, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, repent, renounce your former principles and practices, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, that you may enjoy the remission of your sins; and ye shall not only receive that blessing, but also experience the miraculous assistance of God's most Holy Spirit. For the promise, as is evident from the forecited passage of Joel, is made unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, as well in distance from Jerusalem as in alienation from God, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he bear his testimony to these important truths, exhorting thein to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that they might thus be saved from the awful calamities which were about to punish that perverse generation. Then they who heard the word of Peter, with readiness immediately submitted to baptism, thus announcing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The number of those who were thus added to the society of the faithful, were about three thousand souls. These persevered in their profession, and continued stedfast in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in social prayer. And a reverential fear fell upon every soul, and many miracles were performed by the apostles in the name of Jesus; and all that believed were as much as possible together, and had all things common. And sold their possessions and effects, and divided the price of them to all their brethren, as every one had particular necessity. And they continued unanimously in the temple at the appointed hours of worship every day, and breaking bread from house to house, eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. Praising God, and having favour among all the people. And the Lord added daily to the church such as bad been made partakers of his pardouing


Of what nature was that community of goods which was established at the church'

in Jerusalem, has occasioned much dispute. Dr. Doddridge, who appears to have entertained the generally received opinion, that all the produce of their houses and lands was brought into a common fund, has the following note ou Acts ii. 44.

"Peculiar reasons made this community of goods eligible at that time, not only as So many sojourners, who had come from other parts, would justly be desirous to continue at Jerusalem much longer than they intended when they came up to the feast, that they might get a thorough knowledge of the gospel, but as the prospect, likewise, of the Roman conquests, which, according to Christ's known prediction, were soon to swallow up all Jewish property, would, of course, dispose many more readily to sell their lands. But the New Testament abounds with passages which plainly shew this was never intended for a general practice. None can reasonably imagine, that the number of Christian converts, even then at Jerusalem, is to be accounted for, by a desire to share in these divided goods; for it is evident, that as the portion each could have would be very small, so the hardships to be endured for a Christian profession would soon counterbalance such advantages; and accordingly we find the converts at Jerusalem were soon reduced to such necessitous circumstances, as to need relief by the contributions of their Gentile brethren, Candour would rather lead men to argue the incontestible evidence of the gospel, from its prevailing on the professors of it to part with their estates to relieve persons who, excepting the community of their faith, had no particular claim to their regards. If such instances were numerous, this argument is strengthened in proportion and if they be supposed few, the objection is proportionably weakened."

[ocr errors]

Mr. Haldane, after quoting Acts iv. 32, 34, 35, makes the following pertinent observations: “ This may either express, that the whole property of the members who had all sold their houses and lands was put into a common stock, from which the necessities of each were supplied; or the words may, with equal propriety, be understood to meau, that there existed so much love in this church, that each was ready to communicate to the wants of their brethren to the utmost of his power; that to testify their affection, and to supply the wants of the poor, some who had houses and lands sold their possessions, and laid the price at the apostles' feet, who superintended the distribution to those who had need. If the words may be taken in either sense, it remains to endeavour to ascertain the true meaning. It is no slight argument for the latter, that it represents matters in a point of view much more natural and easy, corresponding both with the practice of other churches, and the precepts delivered to them by the apostles. The former teaches us to view the church of Jerusalem as singular, in adopting a custom which must necessarily have been attended with very great confusion and inconvenience, and which, while it savoured more of ostentation, does not seem so well calculated to answer the end. In supplying a great number from a common stock, some, would be in greater danger of being overlooked, than if their fellow disciples, after taking what was necessary for their own families, liberally distributed to the support of their brethren. Besides, some would require almost, or altogether all that they could earn. Did such bring their earnings to the treasury, and then take them away? this must have been the case, if the communion be understood in its common sense, unless we are also to understand that they gave up working altogether, and that every one was supported from the common stock. But the complaint of the Grecians plainly shews us who were supplied out of the public fund. They complain of their widows being neglected; on the common supposition, each individual was to be supplied; and probably, in this case, there would have been a general complaint that the Grecians were neglected, in place of their widows only being mentioned.

"Now we find other churches directed to supply widows, and this affords a strong presumption that the poor alone were supplied from the public fund raised by the voluntary and liberal contributions of the brethren. But if we are to take the words strictly, then, not only all the lands, but all the houses, were sold; so that, not only public tables must have been necessary, but houses also must have been purchased by the church for the use of the brethren. On the other supposition, all is plain and easy; and in the conduct of the church of Jerusalem, every church of Christ has a beautiful example, which they are bound to follow, by liberally supplying the wants of the poor, and to the utmost of their power relieving their necessities.

"The precept given by Paul to the Corinthians will illustrate this subject. In exhorting them to make a contribution for the saints, he says, "I mean not that other men be eased, and you burdened, but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want; as it is written, He that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack." [2 Cor. viii. 13..15.] The meaning of this is very obvious. Paul exhorts the brethren at Corinth to contribute to the necessity of the poor saints in Judea; but to prevent their imagining that this arose from partiality for his countrymen, he tells them, if they stood in need of it, he would be equally ready to exhort the Jewish brethren to assist them; that believers in Jesus ought by this mutual communication of their worldly goods to resemble the Israelites in the wilderness, who received an homer of manna whether they gathered much or little. [Ex. xvi. 18.] But by interpreting the equality in this passage with the same strictness as we generally do the communion of goods in Jerusa lem, we may understand the apostle as enjoining a levelling system, and an absolute communion, and equality of property, between the brethren at Corinth and Jerusalem.

[ocr errors]

"Mosheim quotes a saying of Socrates, all things are common among friends, but no one understands this in the same way in which the words of Luke [Acts iv. 32.] are generally understood. He quotes many testimonies of the same kind from other antient writers, where they speak in the same manner, and yet evidently mean only to express the extensive liberality which real friendship produces. He observes, that we cannot gather from the writings of any author of the first and second century, that such a communion as that mentioned by Luke did not every where exist among Christians. He quotes a number of other testimonies which mention, in the same language which Luke uses, a community of goods among Christians, in circumstances where all confess that nothing more than great liberality is meant. If, then, the communion of goods mentioned by them is consistent with each one remaining master of his own property, is it not most natural to understand Luke as meaning the same? He says, it was not till the fourth century was far advanced, that this passage in the Acts was thought to express that the church of Jerusalem had their goods in common in the Aame way as the monks; so that, probably, the true origin of this interpretation of the communion of goods, was a desire to find countenance in scripture for the absurdities of monkery. He concludes by giving the sense of the passage under consideration, 8 follows: "There was truly great harmony amongst all the disciples of Christ. None of them preferred their wealth or their property above the love they bore to the brethren; but wherever there was occasion, most willingly assisted the indigent. None regarded his riches, as if the use of them was to be confined to himself, but each considered himself bound to share them with the poor. This sacred love went even farther so that a sort of public treasury was established, from whence the sick, widows, orphans, and others who were in poverty, were supplied. To this, each con tributed according to his earnings; and when this was not sufficient to support so great

[ocr errors]

a number of poor persons, some, who were rich, or who had lands either without the city, or houses within it, besides what they themselves inhabited, sold these possessions, and devoted the price of them to the public good; and this they did the more willingly, as they were assured that the destruction of Palestine and of the Jewish state was approaching."

It appears, then, that the communion of goods at Jerusalem, so far from being au argument against following the example of the apostolic churches, is an example worthy of imitation in every church of Christ, which is, doubtless, bound in the strongest manner to provide for the poor of the flock.

The principal objection to this interpretation appears to be, that it does not completely meet that expression of the evangelist, as many as were possessors, &c. If this objection could be removed, it is a solution with which many would be inclined

[merged small][ocr errors]

While the number of converts was thus rapidly increasing, an event took place which threatened the infant church with persecution. A certain man, who was lame from his birth, had been daily brought and laid at the eastern gate of the temple, that he might receive alms of such as entered the temple in that direction. This gate, which was added by Herod to the court of the Gentiles, was thirty cubits high, and fifteen broad, made of Corinthian brass, and more splendid in its workmanship and general appearance, than even those that were covered with silver and gold. It is disputed among the learned, whether it was the outward gate of the court of the Gentiles, or an inner gate between the court of the Gentiles and that of Israel. Seeing Peter and John about to enter the sacred edifice, directed his attention to them among the rest, and requested that they would make him a subject of their benevolent assistance. Peter, filled with pity, and conscious of the presence of the. Almighty's Spirit to further his designs, said, look on us, a command which he readily obeyed, expecting to receive a gift. Then Peter said, silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, risc up and walk. Then, taking him by the right hand, he raised him up, and his feet and ancle bones being miraculously strengthened, he readily placed himself in an erect posture, and entered the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. The people who saw him thus walking, and heard his exultations, ran together to Peter and John, whom he was embracing as his benefactors and deliverers, till a great number of them were collected in Solomon's porch, which is said to have been a part of the old temple not destroyed by the Chaldeans.

Peter, finding himself suddenly surrounded by a numerous auditory, began, as the Spirit gave him utterance, to proclaim to them the great truths of the gospel, in the following discourse: Ye men of Israel, why do ye so much wonder at this miracle, or look so stedfastly at us, as if wc, by our own power or holiness, had enabled this cripple to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, even he whom we reverence as the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus, whom ye delivered up to the Roman power, and refused to accept him in the presence of Pilate, when that magistrate was determined to let him go. But let me inform you, that, in rejecting him, you rejected the holy and righteous Messiah; and aggravated your crime, desiring that Barabbas, a most notorious villain, should be set at liberty. Ye have killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead, as we, his apostles, can attest. But God, resolving to honour him whom ye have rejected, hath strengthened this poor man through our faith in the name of Jesus; for it is his naine, and the faith which is centred in him, that has given him this perfect strength and soundness, which he now manifests before you all. This, however, I am ready to

« السابقةمتابعة »