INTRODUCTION TO THE ACTS OF APOSTLES.{p. 23}


This book has been sometimes titled "The Gospel of the Holy Spirit;" because it is the only book, which gives us an account of his descent, and splendid operations in the confirmation of the mission of the Apostles. It has also been styled "The Gospel of the Gentiles;" because it is the only source of information on their calling, and fellowship with the Jews, in the blessings of the reign of Messiah, the Great King. In most of the Greek copies of the New Testament, it is called "The Acts or Transactions of the Apostles;" because it exhibits their labors in planting Christianity in the world. This name, however, does not fully comport with the contents of the book. It is not the Acts of the Apostles, but Acts of Apostles; because only a few transactions of a few Apostles are mentioned in it. By Chrysostom, one of the Greek Fathers, it is named, "The Book, the Demonstration of the Resurrection."

It does not appear that Luke designed to write, what might be called an ecclesiastical history of his own times, nor an account of the labors of all the Apostles, nor even of all the labors of any one of them, during the time embranced in his narrative. If he had designed such a thing, he fell far short of it: for of the Apostles, except Peter and Paul, he says but little; and even of the last mentioned, though more minute in his history, he narrates, comparatively, but a few great transactions. Though somewhat particular in detailing his journeys by land, and voyages by sea, yet he omits several of his voyages, and is altogether silent, on the incidents of his journey into Arabia. Nor does he appear to have designed to write a history of the foundation of the Christian communities, in the different countries in th world, in which he labored during the thirty years embraced in his history: for he says nothing of the foundation of the Christian community in the city of Rome, in Babylon, in Egypt, and in many other places of note, alluded to in the Epistles. Nor can it be gathered from his narrative, that he intended merely to relate such things as he was an eye-witness of, or a party concerned in it; for he is not full in recording even these, and tells of many other things, of which he was not an eye-witness. What, then, was his design?

There are two things, on which he fixes the attention of his reader, with more than ordinary care. The first of these, is the opening of the Reign of Heaven amongst the Jews on Pentecost, and the wonderful displays of heavenly influences attendant on that glorious event. He narrates no more of the history of the first congregation in Jerusalem, than is necessary to give a correct view of the commencement of Messiah's reign, over the literal descendants of Abraham. This occupies about one-fourth of his whole narrative.

While he follows the order of the commission, beginning at Jerusalem, proceeding to Samaria, and thence to the uttermost parts of the earth, in giving a brief account of the establishment of Christianity; the second object, which seems pre-eminently to engross #his attention, {page 24?} is the commencement of the reign of Messiah over the Gentiles. Hence we find the calling of the Gentiles, and all the events connected with it, more fully and circumstantially related, than any ting else. Of the occurrences in Jerusalem, at the time of the meeting of the Apostles, and of the labors of Paul in all his journeys, those things are particularly told, which concerned this event. These considerations suggest to us that, while Luke designed to give a brief account how the Apostles executed their commission in general, in Judea and Samaria, his grand design in writing, was to establish in the minds of all Christians of that age, with a reference also to future times, the just claims, and inalienable rights of the Gentiles, to be considered and treated as God's people; to become members of the Christian communities, on the same footing with the Jews. Doubtless, this was his grand or chief design, in writing this history. The plan he pursued, was not to settle the controversy by argument, as Paul does in some of his epistles; but by recording what God had done for this people, by simply showing, that he had done every thing for them, which he had done for the Jews, and had made no difference between Jews and Gentiles, under the reign of his Son.

Admitting this to have been his chief design in writing his narrative, how suitably does he account for his minuteness in describing the conversion of Saul, and his call to preach to the Gentiles; the story of Cornelius and Peter; the debates at Jerusalem; the separating Paul and Barnabas to their mission; the decrees of the Apostles and elders; together with his frequent accounts of Paul's speeches to, and interviews with, the Gentiles; and of the success attendant on the labors of Paul and Barnabas among them. This view of his design in writing this book, also accounts for his having omitted to inform us, of the travels and labors of the other Apostles, and of the congregations which they planted in different places, with many other things which could not be accounted for, upon the suppostion of his intending to write a history of the acts of the Apostles, during the period from the ascension of the Messsiah, till Paul arrives a prisoner at Rome.

It is nevertheless true, that, in accomplishing his design, he is obliged to give us a very general and comprehensive view of the introduction of christianity, throughout the wold world. So that still his history is, in a certain sense, an ecclesiastic one, the oldest and most authentic in the world. AS the four preceding histories, sonctitute rather memoirs than biography, so this is rather a mere sketch of what happened, during the labors of the Apostles, than a history of the transactions of any one of them.

Of the New Testament historians, Luke is the most eminent. He gives us one continued history, from the commencement of the Christian era, down to A. D. 63 or 64. He records in his testimony concerning Jesus, and in his Acts of Apostles, all the grand and important events and transactions, connected with the establishment of the Christian relgion in Asia, Afraica, and Europe. This book is the grand link, which connects the previous histories with the apostolic epistles, and constitutes a key to the right interpretation of them; without which they would have been, in a great measure, unintelligible. An accurate acquaintance with the history of the people which composed most of the congregations, to which the Apostles addressed letters, with the time and circumstances of their conversion, and with their customs and questions, found in this book, greatly facilitates our proficiency in the knowledge of those letters, which explain the meaning and bearings of that one glorious fact, on which the Christian superstructure is reared.

From it alone we learn, by what means that great moral and religious revolution was accomplished, which eventuated in the destruction of polytheism and idolatry, in the best portions of the world; which desolated so many Pagan temples, and caused millions of altars to moulder down to dust, notwithstanding the wisdom and learning of philosophers, the sword of the civil magistrate, and the superstition of the common people, were allied in maintaining them, and in suppressisng this "wicked and #odious heresy," as the Romans called it. {page 25}??

From it we also learn, what true Christianity is, and how far the modern exhibitions of it, have degenerated from the ancient and apostolic order of things; we discover what was the spirit and temper of the first Christians, and the character and design of their religious meetings. In a wrod, as Dr. Adam Clarke observes, "in the book of Acts, we see how the church of Christ was formed and settled. The Apostles simply proclaim the truth of God relative to the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ; and God accompanies their testimony with the demonstration of the Spirit. What was the consequence? Thousands acknowledge the truth, embrace christianity, and openly profess it, at the most imminent risk of their lives. The change is not a change of merely one religious sentiment, or mode of worship, for another; but a change of tempers, passions, prospects, and moral conduct. All before was earthly, or animal, or devilish, or all these together: but now all is holy, spiritual, and divine -- the heavenly influence becomes extended, and nations are born to God. And how was all this brought about? Not by might or power; not by the sword, or by secular authority; not through worldly motives and prospects; not by pious frauds or cunning craftiness; not by the force of persuasive eloquence: in a word, by nothing but the sole influence of truth itself, attested to the hart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Wherever religious frauds and secular influence have been used to found or support a church, professing itself to be Christian, there, we may rest assured, is the fullest evidence, that that church is wholly antichristian: and where such a church possessing secular power, has endeavored to support itself by persecution, and persecution to privation of goods, of liberty, and of life, it not only shows itself to be antichristian, but also diabolic. The religion of Christ stands in no need either of human cunning or power. It is the religion of God, and is to be propagated by his power: this the book of Acts fully shows; and in it we find the true model, after which every church should be builded. As far as any church can show, that it has followed this model, so far it is holy and apostolic. And when all churches or congregations of people, professing christianity, shall be founded and regulated according to the doctrine and discipline, laid down in the book of the Acts of Apostles, then the aggregate body may be justly called "The Holy, Apostolic, and Catholic Church."

"You diff'rent sects, who all declare, Lo! CHRIST is here, and CHRIST is there; Your stronger proofs divinely give, And show me where the Christians live."


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