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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 múltiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected :'* and, afterward 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.”
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,t 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 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 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.f Wherever they came, they brought their religion with them : for, our historian informs us,ll that “they, that were scattered abroad, went every where preaching the word.” The effect of this preaching comes after
* Acts vi. 1. | Vide Pearson's Antiq. I. xviii. c. 7. Bepson's History of Christ, boobi. p. 148.
Acts viii. 1. Il Verse 4.
ward 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 years.
Hitherto the preaching of the Gospel had been confined to Jews, to Jewish proselytes, and to Samaritans. And I cannot forbear from setting down in this place, an observation of Mr. Bryant, which appears to me to be perfectly well founded : -" The Jews still remain : but how seldom is it that we can make a single proselyte! There is reason to think, that there were more converted by the apostles in one day, than have since been won over in the last thousand years.”[
It was not yet known to the apostles, that they were at liberty to propose the religion to mankind at large. That“mystery,” as Saint Paulcalls it, and as it then was, was revealed to Peter by an especial miracle. It appears to have been about seven years after Christ's ascension, that the Gospel was preached to the Gentiles of Cesarea. A year after this, a great multitude of Gentiles were converted at Antioch in Syria. The expressions employed by the historian are these :-"A great number believed, and turned to the Lord;" “ much people was added unto the Lord;" “ the apostles Barnabas and Paul taught much people."** Upon Herod's death, which happened in the next year,tt it is observed, that “the word of God grew and multiplied.”It Three years from this time, upon the preaching of Paul at Iconium, the metropolis of Lycaonia,
a great multitude both of Jews and Greeks believed :"Ill and afterward, in the course of this very progress, he is represented as making
Benson, book i. p. 207.
Bryant on the Truth of the Christian Religion, p. 112. * Eph. ii. 3-6.
|| Benson, book ii. p. 236. 1 Acts xi. 21. 24. 26. ** Benson, book ii. p. 289. 17 Acts xii. 24.
# Ib. xiv, !.
many disciples" at Derbe, a principal city in the same district. Three years* after this, which brings us to sixteen after the ascension, the apostles wrote a public letter from Jerusalem to the Gentile converts in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, with which letter Paul travelled through these countries, and found the churches “ established in the faith, and increasing in number daily.”+ From Asia, the apostle proceeded into Greece, where soon after his arrival in Macedonia, we find him at Thessalo. nica; in which city, “ some of the Jews believed, and of the devout Greeks a great multitude."! We meet also here with an accidental hint of the general progress of the Christian mission, in the exclamation of the tumultuous Jews of Thessalonica, “ that they, who had turned the world upside down, were come thither also.”'|| At Berea, the next city at which Saint Paul arrives, the historian, who was present, informs us that “ many of the Jews believed.''T The next year and a half of Saint Paul's ministry was spent at Corinth. Of his success in that city, we receive the following intima. tions; “that many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized;" and " that it was revealed to the apostle by Christ, that he had much people in that city. Within less than a year after his depar. ture from Corinth, and twenty-fiveft years after the ascension, Saint Paul fixed his station at Ephesus, for the space of two years, II and something more. The effect of his ministry in that city and neighbourhood drew from the historian a reflection, how
mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.”!!! And at the conclusion of this period, we find Demetrius at the head of a party, who were alarmed by the pregress of the religion, complaining, that
not only at Ephesus, but also throughout all Asia (i. e. the province of Lydia, and the country adjoining to Ephesus,) this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people.”91 Beside these accounts, there occurs, incidentally, mention of
* Benson's History of Christ, book ini. p. 50.
Ib. 12. ** Ib, xviii. 10.
1 Benson, book iii. p. 160. 11 Acts zix. 10.
!!!! [b. 20.
ITT Ib. 26.
converts at Rome, Alexandria, Athens, Cyprus, Cyrene, Macedonia, Philippi. This is the third period in the propagation of Christianity, setting off in the seventh year after the ascension, and ending at the twenty-eighth. Now, lay these three periods together, and observe how the progress of the religion by these accounts is represented. The institution, which properly began only after its author's removal from the world, before the end of thirty years had spread itself through Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, almost all the numerous districts of the Lesser Asia, through Greece, and the Islands of the Ægean Sea, the sea-coast of Africa, and had extended itself to Rome, and into Italy. At Antioch in Syria, at Joppa, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Berea, Iconium, Derbe, Antioch in Pisidia, at Lydda, Saron, the number of converts is intimated by the expressions, a great number,” “great multitudes,"
," “ much people.” Converts are mentioned, without any designation of their number,* at Tyre, Cesarea, Troas, Athens, Philippi, Lystra, Damascus. During all this time, Jerusalem continued not only the centre of the mission, but a principal seat of the religion ; for when Saint Paul turned thither at the conclusion of the period of which we are now considering the accounts, the other apostles pointed out to him, as a reason for his compliance with their advice,“ how many thousands (myriads, ten thousands) there were in that city who believed.''t
Upon this abstract, and the writing from which it is drawn, the following observations seem material to be made :
* Considering the extreme conciseness of many parts of the history, the silence about the numbers of converts is no proof of their paucity ; for at Philippi, no mention whatever is made of the number, yet St. Paul addressed an epistle to that church. The churches of Galatia, and the affairs of those churches, were considerable enough to be the subject of another letter, and of much of Saint Paul's solicitude : yet no account is preserved in the history of his succese, or even his preaching in that country, except the slight botice which these words convey :-"When they had gone throughout Phrygia, and the region of Galatia---they essayed to go into Pitkyaia." Acts xvi. 6.
+ Acts xxi 2
1. That the account comes from a person, who was himself concerned in a portion of what he relates, and was contemporary with the whole of it ; who visited Jerusalem, and frequented the society of those who had acted, and were acting, the chief parts in the transaction. I lay down this point positively; for had the ancient attestations to this valuable record been less satisfactory than they
the unaffectedness and simplicity with which the author notes his presence upon certain occasions, and the entire absence of art and design from these notices, would have been sufficient to persuade my mind, that whoever he was, he actually lived in the times, and occupied the situation, in which he represents himself to be. When I say " whoever he was," I do not mean to cast a doubt upon the name to which antiquity hath ascribed the Acts of the Apostles, (for there is no cause that I am acquainted with, for questioning it,) but to observe that, in such a case as this, the time and situation of the author is of more importance than his name; and that these
from the work itself, and in the most unsuspicious form.
II. That this account is a very incomplete account of the preaching and propagation of Christianity; I mean, that, if what we read in the history be true, much more than what the history contains must be true also. For, although the narrative from which our information is derived, has been entitled the Acts of the Apostles, it is in fact a history of the twelve apostles only during a short time of their continuing together at Jerusalem; and even of this period the account is very concise. The work afterward consists of a few important passages of Peter's ministry, of the speech and death of Stephen, of the preaching of Philip the deacon ; and the sequel of the volume, that is, two-thirds of the whole, is taken up with the conversion, the travels, the discourses, and history of the new apostle, Paul; in which history, also, large portions of time are often passed over with very scanty notice.
III. That the account, so far as it goes, is for this very reason more credible. Had it been the author's design to have displayed the early progress