Page images

were believers in Christ, became now professors of Christianity; that is to say, when they found that a religion was to be established, a society formed and set up in the name of Christ, governed by his laws, avowing their belief in his mission, united amongst themselves, and separated from the rest of the world by visible distinctions; in pursuance of their former conviction, and by virtue of what they had heard and seen and known of Christ's history, they publicly became members of it.

We read in the fourth chapter of the Acts, that soon after this," the number of the men," i. e. the society openly professing their belief in Christ," was about five thousand." So that here is an increase of two thousand within a very short time. And it is probable that there were many, both now and afterwards, who, although they believed in Christ, did not think it necessary to join themselves to this society; or who waited to see what was likely to become of it. Gamaliel, whose advice to the

* Verse 4.

Jewish council is recorded Acts v. 34., appears to have been of this description; perhaps Nicodemus, and perhaps also Joseph of Arimathea. This class of men, their character and their rank, are likewise pointed out by Saint John, in the twelfth chapter of his Gospel; "Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also, many believed on him but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." Persons such as these, might admit the miracles of Christ, without being immediately convinced that they were under obligation to make a public profession of Christianity, at the risk of all that was dear to them in life, and even of life itself*.

* "Besides those who professed, and those who rejected and opposed, Christianity; there were, in all probability, multitudes between both, neither perfect Christians, nor yet unbelievers. They had a favourable opinion of the Gospel, but worldly considerations made them unwilling to

own it.

There were many circumstances which inclined them to think that Christianity was a Divine revelation, but there were many inconveniences which attended the open profession of it and they could not find in themselves courage enough to bear them, to disoblige their friends and fa mily, to ruin their fortunes, to lose their reputation, their


[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]


Christianity, however, proceeded to increase in Jerusalem by a progress equally rapid with its first success; for, in the next* chapter of our history, we read that "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." And this enlargement of the new society appears in the first verse of the succeeding chapter, wherein we are told, that, "when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected" and afterwards in the same chapter, it is declared expressly, that "the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and that a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."

liberty, and their life, for the sake of the new religion. Therefore they were willing to hope, that if they endeavoured to observe the great principles of morality, which Christ had represented as the principal part, the sum and substance of religion; if they thought honourably of the Gospel; if they offered no injury to the Christians; if they did them all the services that they could safely perform; they were willing to hope, that God would accept this, and that He would excuse and forgive the rest." Jortin's Dis. on the Christ. Rel. p. 91. ed. 4.

*Acts v. 14.

+ Acts vi. 1.

This I call the first period in the propagation of Christianity. It commences with the ascension of Christ, and extends, as may be collected from incidental notes of time *, to something more than one year after that event. During which term, the preaching of Christianity, so far as our documents inform us was confined to the single city of Jerusalem. And how did it succeed there? The first assembly which we meet with of Christ's disciples, and that a few days after his removal from the world, consisted of "one hundred and twenty." About a week after this, " three thousand were added in one day ;" and the number of Christians, publicly baptized, and publicly associating together, was very soon increased to "five thousand." "Multitudes both of men and women continued to be added ;” “ disciples multiplied greatly," and " many of the Jewish priesthood, as well as others, became obedient to the faith;" and this within a space of


* Vide Pearson's Antiq. 1. xviii. c. 7. Benson's History of Christ, book i. p. 148.

less than two years from the commencement of the institution.

By reason of a persecution raised against the church at Jerusalem, the converts were driven from that city, and dispersed throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria *. Wherever they came, they brought their religion with them; for, our historian informs us†, that "they, that were scattered abroad, went every where preaching the word." The effect of this preaching comes afterwards to be noticed, where the historian is led, in the course of his narrative, to observe, that then (i. e. about three years posterior to this) "the churches had rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." This was the work of the second period, which comprises about four


Hitherto the preaching of the Gospel had been confined to Jews, to Jewish

Acts viii. 1. † Verse 4. Benson, book i. p. 207.

« PreviousContinue »