« ForrigeFortsæt »
after his resurrection he completed the form of tlie first sacrament or baptism, wherein our regeneration by the Holy Spirit is represented, and the stoly Spirit is expressly named.
II. The kingdom of Christ, therefore, or the christian dispensation was not properly set up in all its forms, doctrines and duties, till the following day of Pentecost, and the pouring down of the Spirit upon the apostles from our risen, ascended and exalted Saviour. It was just before his ascension, that our Saviour told them, that they should preuch his gospel to all nations, when they had received the promised Spirit, and they were to tarry at Jerusalem, till they had received this power; Luke xxiv. 42. The preaching of Christ, and his life, his death and bis resurrection, laid the foundations of his kingdom, but it was the preaching of the apostles, after he ascended to the throne in heaven, that actually set up his kingdom here on earth.
IV. The three or four years of Christ's personal ministry upon earth, were a sort of inedium, or a hour of twilight between the darkness of Jewish veils or types, and the clear dayliglit of the gospel or christianity: It was rather a removing away the rubbishi of traditions, superstitions, and corruptions of truth and duty, &c. as a preparation for the kingdom of Christ, in the world, than the very constitution of that kingdom. Accordingly the preaching of Christ ran thus ; Mat. vi. 17. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And the petition in the Lord's prayer corresponds with it. Mat. vi. 10. "Thy kingdom
Ile himself preached only to the Jews and Samaritans, and forbid his apostles to go quite so far at that time; for as he would not suffer them to preach to the Gentiles; so neither to carry their ministry into Samaria; Mat. X. 5. whereas his gospel was designed for the heathens alsó, even for all mankind. This he often intimated in parables, during his public ministry on earth. He foretold them also, that he had many things to say to them, which they could not bear at that time. See John xvi. 12. And several other things which they heard and saw in secret, which related to the setting up of bis kingdom, they were charger not to declare, till the Son of man was risen from the dead. Mat. xvi. 20. and xvii. 9. and what they heard from him then in the ear, they should afterwards publish, as upon the house-tops.
V. Thence it follows, that in order to learn all the doctrines and duties of the christian religion completely, we must not only consult the history of the four gospels, which contain the life of Christ and his personal ministry, but we must also consult the Acts of the Apostles after his ascension, together with their epistles to the churches: for therein, this our holy religion is more comple*ely discovered and explained in many particulars, rela
ing to Christ's atonement for sin by his death, our pardon and justification by faith in him, his intercession, his headship of the church, his kingdom over all, his final judgment, &c. For all this was more fully revealed to the apostles, by their conversation with Christ about his kingdom, forty days after his resurrection; Acts i. 2. and by the large eflusions of the gifts of the holy Spirit upon them, when he ascended to heaven, and sent them to plant and propagate the christian church throughout all the world.
VI. And though the apostle Paul was the last of the aposiles, that is, was called by Christ himself, after his ascension to heaven, yet we who are of the Gentile nations, are more particularly to learn our religion, in the several doctrines and duties of it, from his writings, who was in a more especial manner commissioned to be the apostle of the Gentiles ; Gal. ii. 7, 8. and who had this mystery of preaching the gospel to the Gentile world, revealed to him before the other apostles well understood it. He received his gospel from Jesus Christ himself, by revelation, as he tells us ; Gal. i. 1, 2. And he came not a whit behind the tery chiefest of the apostles, either in knowledge or gists, or labours, in success, or in sufferings; but was more eminent and glorious, in his active and passive services for Christ, than any other, and perhaps than they all. I Cor. xv. 10. and 2 Cor. xi. 5, 6. And he hath left more of his epistles behind bim, for the use of the Gentile churches, than all the rest put together.
It is moreover evident, from several of this apostla's writings, that he had a most peculiar insight into the various and different dispensations of God to man, from the beginning to the end of the world. His writings, therefore, eminently demand our perusal, if we would learn our lessons of christianity.
CHAP. XI The Gradual Change from Judaism to Christianity; and the Jewish and Gentile Christians at last united in One Body.
I. It is also from the writings of St. Paul, this great apostle, and from his practice and conduct, that we must chiefly learn the gradual procedure of God, in the abolition of the Jewish dispensation, and the complete introduction of christianity into the world, or among all nations, both Jews and Gentiles, which thing has some difficulties attending it; but I think may be made easy by the following account.
II. Let us first take notice, that among all the former dispensations of grace, there was none but that of Adam and Noah, who were the two co nmon fathers of all ina kind, which was designed for all the nations of the earth, till the dispensation of Christ was introduced. By this last dispensation, the heathen nations, as well as the Jews, even all mankind, wheresoever the gospel comes, are called to repentance and salvation. Mat. xxviii. 19. Go teach all nations. Acts xvii. 30. He now commands all men every where to repent. Rev. xxii. 17. Whosoever heareth let him say, come ; and whosoever will, let him come. As for the two dispensations of Abraham and Moses, they were more confined to a particular family, and to their posterity, which made up the Jewish nation. The nations of the Gentiles, had indeed, some acquaintance with these transactions of God with Abraham and the Jews, partly by their traffic, but chiefly by their captivities and dispersions. These were greatly useful indeed, to preserve and restore the knowledge of the ove true God, not only among the neighbouring heathens, but among distant countries, Greece, Persia, Assyria, Egypt, &c. And as these things prepared the way for their receiving the gospel, so many prophecies of old did plainly foretel that the last dispensation, or the kingdom of the Messiah, should extend to all nations.
III. Though the apostles by the general words of their commission, which was given them at Christ's ascension ; Mat. xxviii. 18—20. had an early right to preach the gospel to the heathen nations, yet this was made evident to them, by slow de. grees, and consequently, their execution of this commission was gradual, according as divine wisdom saw proper, to enlighten them, and as divine providence conducted them.
IV. The first public ministration of the gospel in its glory, was to the Jews only : It began at Jerusalem in the days of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out on the apostles, and other disciples, in the form of cloten tongues. As they were ordered to begin at Jerusalem ; Luke xxiv. 47. so it was a most illustrious success, which attended the first opening of their commission: For, on this great day, three thousand souls were converted, that is, among the native Jews, and the proselytes of the temple, or complete proselytes, who were reckoned as natives, though they came from various nations, as appears, Acts ii. 5– 11. Some time after this, fire thousand more were conrerted at Jerusalem ; Acts iv. 4. and the number of believers still increased, and many priests received the fuith; chapter vi. 7.
V. After this, the gospel was preached to the Samaritan Jews, whose predecessors were a sort of mingled people, and derived partly from Jews, and partly from heathens; Acts viü. 5. Then the christian converts proceeded to preach the same gospel in foreign countries, but still to the Jews only, though they dwelt at Phenice, Cyprus, Antioch, &c. Acts. xi. 19.
VI. The next sort of converts, who were received into the christian church, were such as the scripture calls the devout or worshipping Gentiles, or men fearing God; many of whom
might be proselytes of the Jewish gate*, and who all owned the oue true God. Cornelius and his house seemed to be the first fruits of this rank of converts, at the preaching of St. Peter in Cesarea ; Acts x. 44, 48. After which, the gospel was preached also to these devout Gentiles, at Tarsus in Cilicia, at Antioch in Syria, and other places.
VII. And by degrees, St. Paul, having further and speedier light given him, than the rest of the apostles had, and being emi. nently made the apostle of the Gentiles, preached Christ to the idolatrious Gentiles, for their conversion. Perhaps Sergius Paulus the governor of Cyprus, was the first fruits of the converts of this rank; and the first great harvest of the conversion of the idolatrous heathens, was probably at Antioch in Pisidia ; Acts xiii. 7, 11.
VIII. Though the apostles themselves, as well as other converts, might have learned by the many parables of Christ, and by the express words of their great cominission at first, that the gospel should be preached to all nations, even to all the heathen world : and though it was foretold by so many of the prophets, yet the prejudices of the Jewish nation, cleaved so close to some of them for a season, that they could hardly tell how to admit the thought, that the idolatrous Gentiles should receive the gospel, or be received into full communion with christian churches ; or even that the gospel was designed for them, at least till they were first made Jews, or proselytes to Judaism : But by much conversing with Barnabas and Paul, and by many glorious successes of the word, among the idolatrous Gentiles, and the intiuences of the blessed Spirit on their minds, they were convinced and encouraged at last, to let the gospel of Christ have this general fow, and spread among all the heathens.
IX. All this while, many of the Jewish converts to christianity, though they were bound to practise all the Jewish ceremonies; for they imagined that whoever would come into the church or kingdom of the Messiah, they must come by the way of Judaism, that is, they must be circumcised, and become Jews first, and practise the law of Moses, in order to be christians, though in reality, at that time, it was almost going so far out of the way. And this was what occasioned the great debate in the synod of Jerusalem, where the famous decree was inade about abstinence from eating blood, and things strangled, &c. Acts xv.
* It has been generally taken for granted, that the distinction between the proselytes of the gate, and the proselytes of the temple, or of righteousness, was begun many ages before, and was maintained among the Jews in our Saviour's time, and the next following ages: If this should prove to be a mistake, it will make no important difference in the scheme I have proposed. The gospel was first proposed to the Jews, then to the devout Gentiles, who owned i be true God, whether they were proselyles in any seose or no, aud then to the idolatrous Gentiles; for it is evident, that the devout Gentiles were nearer to the faith of Christ, and might reasonably attend to, and accept the gospel nach sooner tban idolaters.
X. During these times, those devout Gentiles, who might be proselytes of the Jewish gate, and were converted to the christian faith, and probably also all the gentile christians* who had been before idolaters, were for a season laid under the restraints of that apostolical decree against eating blood, things strangled, and things offered to idols, lest the Jews or Jewish converts should take too much offence, and scarce admit them into their communion, as being polluted. And it is not improbable that these were the restraints laid by the Jews, during all former ages, on the proselytes of their gate, or those gentiles who were allowed to live within the towns or cities of Judea. This decree was transmitted round the gentile churches ; Acts xvi. 4. who probably at that time, were made up of some idolatrous gentiles, as well as devout gentiles, or the Jewish proselytes of the gate.
XI. It was for a very good reason, that the sin of fornication, which was always immoral and unlawful, was joined in that prohibition with blood and things strangled, and things offered to idols, because the heathens, by their eating blood, and especially in their idol-feasts, were tempted to fornication and many pollutions; and therefore this moral prohibition is set before their eyes together with the other ceremonial probibitions, to keep them more effectually from these practices, while they gave such offence to the Jewish christians, and the Jews.
XII. But as to those other ceremonial prohibitions, this apostolical decrec seems to be but a temporary constitution or restraint; because some time afterwards the apostle Paul did not keep the Corinthian converts, who had been idolatrous gentiles, under this restraint; but permitted them to eat things offered to idols, wheresoover their liberty could not be made an occasion of offence, or stumbling to other weaker christians, such as had not learned the complete liberty of the gospel of Christ, so well as tiey; 1 Cor. viii
. 7–13. And when these practices ceased to give offence to Jews or Jewish christians, I can see no reason wliy the proselytes should not be free also, or why they should have more restraint laid on then than others.
XIII. That the prohibition of eating blood and things strangled, as well as of things offered to idols, was but a temporary rule, may further appear from the early and original reason of this
* I add, and probably also, all the gentile christians who had been idolaters, and were they converted, mighi be restrained, as far as the proselyted geptiles were at this season ; because the reason of it is the very same, viz. lust offence should be given :o the Jews, and Jewish christians. For, by the way, I may say, it is scarce to be supposed, that the converted proselytes, or devout geptiles, who were so much better men, and so much nearer to ibe truth, should have heavier bonds iaid upon them, when they received Cbrist, tbao those idolatrous gentiles, who were much worse inev, and farther from the truth.