Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

tiles shall come to thy light and kings to the brightness of thy rising,” Isa. lx. 1-3. And then the Spirit of inspiration proceeds to expatiate in the most sublime and rapturous strains on the accessions that were to be made to the church of God, when the forces of the Gentiles should come unto her.

Now to find the accomplishment of this mercy, or, at least, to see the promises beginning to take effect, we must direct our attention to the Acts of the Apostles, the tenth and eleventh chapters of which, as I mentioned in the first Lecture, afford us a most interesting account of the apostle Peter's vision at Joppa, whereby he was supernaturally instructed that the time had arrived when the distinction between the Jew and Gentile was to cease, or to be no longer in force—the middle wall of partition being broken down, the law of carnal commandments being taken out of the way; when the Gentiles were to be fellow heirs with the Jews and partakers of the promise of life by the Gospel. Thus divinely instructed, we find the prejudices of the apostle completely overcome: he went into the house of Cornelius the centurion, to whom and to his family he boldly declared the truth concerning Christ and his salvation, and, while he was yet speaking, the Holy Spirit descended upon this Gentile congregation,“ purifying their hearts by faith," and communicating the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, so that these Heathen converts were enabled to speak languages to which hitherto they had been strangers, and to glorify God for his mercy, Acts x. These things happened in Cæsarea, but the tidings were soon spread abroad throughout Judea, and presently reached Jerusalem, where they occasioned no small consternation; and, when Peter arrived there, he was interrogated respecting his conduct, in having gone in unto men uncircumcised and eating with them. The apostle, consequently, had to rehearse the matter from the beginning, concluding with this home appeal to his Jewish brethren: “Forasmuch, then, as God gave them (the Gentiles) the like gift as he did unto us (Jews) who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I, that I could withstand God?It is added that “when they heard these things they held their peace and glorified God, saying, “ Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life,” ch. xi. 1-18. Thus was the door of faith opened to the Gentiles, and

CONVERSION OF SAUL OF TARSUS.

109

in this way was the promise which Christ had made unto Peter accomplished, “ I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven;" for as he was the first to preach the Gospel of the kingdom to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, so was he now honoured with first preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles also.

We are thus brought, in the progress of events, to that epoch when the standard of the cross was to be unfurled, and the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins to be conveyed among the Gentiles; but, before we proceed with the history, it is proper that we should pause and contemplate, with adoring wonder and admiration, the footsteps of divine providence, in raising up an extraordinary instrument to carry into effect the benevolent purposes of God towards the nations. I refer to Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, whose labours in the service of his divine Master occupy from the twelfth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles to the end; and whose Epistles to the churches, which he was the honoured instrument of gathering by his ministry, constitute a most important part of the oracles of God. Of this extraordinary individual a short account cannot be uninteresting.

This man, whose Hebrew name was Saul, was a native of Tarsus, in Cilicia, and his father, though a Jew, was a Roman citizen, which entitled him to many valuable privileges. The first years of the son's life were passed in Tarsus, a Greek city, where he, no doubt, was taught the Greek language. At a proper age, however, his parents sent him to finish his education, and perfect his studies in Hebrew literature at Jerusalem, under Gamaliel, the most celebrated Doctor of his time; a man who, for his eminent attainments," was had in reputation among all the people” of the Jews. Under such an able preceptor, Saul's proficiency was great. He“ profited in the Jews' religion above many of equal standing in his own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of the fathers,” Gal. i. 14. He first presents himself to our notice as an active agent in the martyrdom of Stephen, to whose death he consented, and even took charge of the clothes of the witnesses who stoned him to death. We next hear of him “ breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of Christ, and soliciting from the high priest letters to Damascus, to the synagogues; that if he found any of that way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem,” Acts ix. l. As Saul and his company drew near to the city, about mid-day, he was surprised by a light from heaven, surpassing the brightness of the sun, shining round about him, and those that journeyed with him; and so overpowering were the effects of this phænomenon that Saul "fell to the earth as dead.” While lying prostrate on the ground, he heard a voice thus accosting him: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?And on his inquiring who the speaker was ? it was answered, “ I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest; but rise and stand upon thy feet, for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness, both of those things which thou hast seen, and of those things in which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people of the Jews, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith which is in me,” Acts xxvi. 16. Thus was Saul “ a chosen vessel to bear the name of Jesus before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel,” Acts ix. 15.

It is incompatible with the limits of this Lecture to trace the apostle's history in minute detail from this period; we can only seize the more prominent features. Having received baptism at the hands of Ananias, “he straightway preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus, that he is the Son of God.” Acts ix. 20. After this, he spent two years in Arabia, and on his return proceeded to Jerusalem to see the apostle Peter, with whom he continued fifteen days, Gal. i. 18; and then quitting Jerusalem he retired to Tarsus his native city.

It seems to have been about this time that the Gospel was crowned with great success in the city of Antioch, the capital of Syria. This was one of the principal cities of the east, and to it the third place was assigned in civil affairs, being in size, opulence, and power, inferior only to Rome and Alexandria. Here the first church of Gentile converts was erected-here the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians, and here commenced the apostolic labours of Saul of Tarsus.

PAUL AND BARNABAS SENT FORTH.

111

The church at Jerusalem having heard of what had taken place at Antioch, and solicitous for the edification of the disciples, sent Barnabas thither, who, on his arrival, finding the necessities of the church more than a single individual was adequate unto, proceeded into Cilicia, in quest of Saul; and, having found him, brought him to Antioch. Here he continued a whole year, assembling with the church, and instructing much people, Acts xi. 26.

In process of time, when their labours in the church at Antioch could be dispensed with, Barnabas and Saul were, by divine direction, solemnly set apart by prayer and fasting, accompanied by the imposition of hands, for their apostolic mission among the Gentiles; and, taking their departure by way of Seleucia, they sailed for the island of Cyprus. This was the native country of Barnabas, and in Salamis, which is an ancient sea-port, the apostles found several synagogues, into which they entered, and preached the word of the Lord. Having gone through the island, they came to Paphos, where Sergius Paulus, a prudent man, then resided, in the capacity of Governor. The latter sent for Paul and Barnabas, and requested to hear from them the word of the Lord. There was with the governor one Elymas, a Jewish sorcerer, or false prophet, who withstood their doctrine, and sought to turn away the deputy from the faith. Saul, who from this time obtained the name of Paul, inflicted a temporary blindness on him, and the deputy,“when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord,” Acts xiii. 1-12. This was Paul's first apostolic journey to the Gentiles : his route was Antioch, Seleucia, Salamis, Paphos, and it was accomplished about the year of our Lord 44. It is probable that a Christian church was planted at both Salamis and Paphos, though we have no express mention of it. Leaving Paphos, they returned to Perga, in Pamphylia; where Mark, who had accompanied them on the mission, took his leave and returned to Jerusalem.

Of the success of the apostle's ministry at Perga we have no record; but we know there were certain Jews from Pamphylia at Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out in a miraculous manner, and three thousand were converted to the faith. It is not 'unreasonable to suppose that some of the Pamphylian Jews were among the converts, and would carry the Gospel with them to Perga, on their return home, and lay the foundation of a Christian church. It seems that these missionaries did not stop at Perga on the first visit, but passed through it to Antioch, in Pisidia, and returned thither after a time, and there preached the word. See Acts xiv. 25.

Arriving at Antioch, in Pisidia, a city of the latter province, they found a synagogue of the Jews to which they resorted on the sabbath day, and, after the reading of the lessons, the rulers invited the strangers to speak unto the people. Paul accepted the invitation, and delivered that memorable sermon, the substance of which we have recorded, Acts xiii. 16–43. This was crowned with a harvest of converts, principally from among the idolatrous Gentiles, which so incensed the Jews that they contradicted and opposed what was spoken by Paul. The apostles, seeing the obstinate fury of the Jews, separated the believers and formed them into a church ;, and the new disciples were “ filled with joy and, with the Holy Spirit,” ver. 52.

From Antioch Paul and Barnabus proceeded to Iconium, where their ministry was blessed to the conversion of a multitude, both Jews and Greeks. Here they resided a considerable time, preaching Christ crucified, and confirming their doctrine by miracles. Finding persecution grow hot, they fled to Lystra and Derbe, two cities in the province of Lycaonia. At the former place, the stupid populace took them for heathen deities, calling Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul Mercury; and even offered to sacrifice to them as unto gods. In a little time, however, they altered their opinion of them, and allowed some Jews, who had come from Antioch and Iconium, to stone Paul till he was apparently dead, and then to drag him out of the city, where they left him. After a short absence at Derbe, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, with the view of confirming the souls of the disciples, and setting the churches in order, with their elders and deacons; after which they passed through Pisidia, Pamphylia, and Attalia, and so returned to Antioch, whence they set out, Acts xiv. 26. · Interesting and important as their first missionary tour was, the second is much more so. After making the church at Antioch acquainted with all that God had done by their means,

« ZurückWeiter »