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PAUL IN MALTA AND ROME.
THIS chapter begins with showing us Paul and his company safely landed in the Island of Melita. He had been sent by sea, with other prisoners, to Italy; and the incidents of the voyage are related in the preceding chapter. After stopping at several places, and encountering adverse winds, they were overtaken by a tempest, which drove them upon an unknown coast, were the vessel was stranded. Of this disaster Paul had given early notice, not by his skill in maritime affairs, but in consequence of a divine revelation. The centurion to whose charge he was committed, was more disposed to believe the master and the owner of the ship, who seemed to have suspected no danger; and the voyage was continued. When the storm arose, an angel was sent to inform Paul, that the lives of all the company, consisting of sailors, soldiers, and prisoners, should be preserved. The next day, he communicated this information, which was intended not only to comfort his own mind, but by exhibiting him as a man who enjoyed intercourse with Heaven, to recommend him to the favour of the centurion. Accordingly, he was held in such esteem by that officer, that for his sake, he would not permit the soldiers to murder the prisoners, as they had proposed to do, in order to prevent their escape. The prediction of Paul was exactly fulfilled; for, notwithstanding the wreck of the vessel at some distance from the shore, of two hundred and seventy-six persons, not an individual perished, but by different expedients they all got safely to land.
It is worthy of observation, that although Paul expressly foretold, that there should be no loss of lives during the voyage, yet when the sailors were attempting to escape by means of the boat, he said 394to the centurion, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.” How shall these things be reconciled? If God had determined to save Paul and his companions, should not his purpose have been accomplished, whether the seamen had left the ship or had remained in it? Are the divine decrees dependent upon circumstances, and liable to be reversed by the volitions and actions of men? The objection is not peculiar to the present case, but has been advanced against the doctrine of predestination in all its extent. If the counsels of God are absolutely fixed, it has been said, they will be executed, whatever may happen; and, consequently, exhortations to duty are preposterous, and the use of means to avoid one thing, and obtain another, is idle labour. The objection has a specious appearance, which dazzles superficial thinkers; but it is founded in mistake, or intentional misrepresentation. It proceeds upon the idea, that the decrees of God are determinations respecting certain ends or events, without a reference to the means; and thus it attributes a procedure to Him who is wonderful in counsel, which would be unworthy of any of his creatures, endowed with only a small portion of reason. The objection first separates things, which cannot, in fact, be disjoined, the means and the end; and then holding up the doctrine of the decrees in this mangled and distorted light, pronounces it to be absurd. With whatever parade and confidence, therefore, it has been brought forward, it has no relation to the subject, and is only of use to destroy an extravagant and senseless theory, which has been substituted in the room of the genuine doctrine of Scripture.
When God decreed an event, he, at the same time, decreed, that it should take place in consequence of a train of other events, or as the result of certain previous circumstances. Thus, he did not propose to save Paul and his companions unconditionally, by means of the seamen remaining on board to manage the ship, till it should be driven on the coast of Melita. In the same manner, he has not determined to save sinners, let them live as they will; but he has chosen them to salvation, “through the sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.” To say, therefore, that unless the means be employed, the ends will not be accomplished, is to assert a very simple and self-evident truth, that the purposes of God will not be fulfilled, unless they be fulfilled. Had Paul and his company been preserved without the aid of the sailors, the decree of God would not have been executed; nor would it be executed, if it were possible 395for a sinner to escape eternal perdition, without faith and repentance. The same event is supposed in both cases; but it is effected in a different way from what God had ordained Let us always remember, that the means make a part of the divine decrees as well as the end. The system of things is like a chain composed of many links, upon each of which the union and consistence of the chain depend. If one link were broken, the chain would be destroyed. This view of the decrees of God does not make them dependent upon the mutable will of man, and liable to be frustrated by its capricious movements.. Providence is not an occasional interference, but a constant agency of the Creator, directing and controlling events in subservience to his own designs, and, at the same time preserving, inviolate the nature of his creatures. The hearts of men are in the hand of the Lord, who turns them as the rivers of water, without infringing their liberty. None of his purposes, therefore, can be defeated, because the means of carrying them into effect are provided, and will be brought into operation, in the proper season. The importance of the subject will justify these remarks, although they have detained us from entering upon the consideration of the passage, which it is the design of the present Lecture to explain.
“And when they were escaped, they knew that the island was called Melita.” There were two islands bearing this name in ancient times;. the one belonging to Dalmatia, and the other lying in the Mediterranean, between Sicily and Africa. The course which Paul was steering, and several circumstances in the history of his voyage, has given currency to the common opinion, that the island upon which he was shipwrecked, was Malta, which has lately attracted our notice, as the scene of our military operations, and is now a part of the British dominions.5050Bochart, Phaleg. part ii. lib. i. cap. 26. It is, however, the opinion of some learned men, that it was the other island, called Melita Illyrica, and situated in the Hadriatic, within the limits of which Malta cannot be properly included. The tradition of the country favours this opinion; and the inhabitants still show a place upon their coast, which they call “the port or haven of St. Paul.”
The island was originally peopled by strangers from Africa or Phenicia. If the term, barbarous, is used to denote a people rude 396and uncivilized, it could not be justly applied to the inhabitants of Malta; but Luke seems, on this occasion, to have adopted the style of the Greeks, who called those barbarians who did not speak their language, and gave this appellation to the Egyptians and Indians who were as learned as themselves, and to the Persians, in whose mighty empire laws were established, and the arts of life flourished. In the present case, however, the epithet is not expressive of contempt; for the historian immediately remarks, to the honour of those islanders, “that they showed Paul and his company no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received them every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.” Pity was excited by their sufferings, and what unaffected hospitality could do to alleviate them, was cheerfully done.
While the inhabitants of Malta were sympathizing with the unfortunate strangers, their attention was directed to Paul, by a very extraordinary incident. “And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.” The conclusion was such as would naturally occur to persons, persuaded that a moral government is exercised over mankind, but whose views were not corrected and enlarged by Scripture, or by accurate observation and extensive experience. They were right in believing, that God who knows the actions of men will recompense them according to their desert, and that he sometimes interposes, in a visible manner, to punish atrocious crimes. But, they erred in supposing such interpositions to be so regular, as to afford certain grounds for interpreting the design of every calamitous event. When a viper issuing from the fire fixed upon Paul’s hand, they immediately inferred that he was a murderer, whom the vengeance of Heaven had overtaken. They were more ready to consider him as a criminal, because he was a prisoner; and they probably charged him with murder, because it has been observed, that of all crimes, it most rarely escapes with impunity. They did not reflect that this world is not the place of retribution; that although there are occasional manifestations of justice, the exercise of it is for the most part delayed; that notorious transgressors sometimes live long, and die in peace; and that the lot of good men is often full of affliction and sorrow.397
These reflections; which arise from a very slight view of human life, seem not to have occurred to the unenlightened inhabitants of Malta. How great was their surprise, when they saw Paul shake off the viper into the fire; and having expected “that he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly, they perceived no harm come to him?” They were, no doubt, well acquainted with the properties of the animal, and had frequently observed the deleterious effects of its poison. But, they did not know, that this man was a servant of the Lord of the universe, who had said concerning those who believed, “that they should take up serpents, and that if they drank any deadly thing, it should not hurt them.” Astonished at the event, they passed from one extreme to another, and concluded that Paul was a God. Those poor heathens, who had long been accustomed to believe that their Deities sometimes assumed the human form, supposed him to be one of them, who, for some unknown reason had descended to the earth. We see in this instance, a true picture of man, who judges by appearances and equivocal signs, and changes his opinions as often as the scene around him fluctuates. If he has pronounced a first sentence rashly, the second is, perhaps, more foolish and extravagant. Paul was not a murderer; but he was still less a God. He was only a minister of Jesus Christ, who had destined him to important services, and honoured him with his particular protection.
We are informed of other miracles, which Paul performed during his stay in the island. “In the same quarter were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius, who received us, and lodged us three days courteously. And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever, and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him. So when this was done, others also which had diseases in the island, came and were healed.” The first miracle had so astonished the ignorant inhabitants, that they supposed Paul to be a God; but this honour he would reject with indignant zeal. We have seen in what manner he and Barnabas acted, when the inhabitants of Lystra having fallen into the same mistake, on a similar occasion, were preparing to offer sacrifice to them, in the characters of Jupiter and Mercury. The Apostle was, no doubt, equally careful to undeceive the Maltese, and to instruct them in the knowledge of the Creator, who alone is God, and is exclusively entitled to religious worship. There was, however, an inferior 398honour due to the Apostles, which the miracles were the means of procuring. By these they were pointed out as the servants of God, who had a claim not only to the offices of friendship from those with whom they conversed, but also to respectful attention and implicit faith, when they professed to deliver his will. Miracles were not designed to aggrandize them as men, but as ministers of the Messiah, to authenticate their commission, and to convince both Jews and Gentiles, that they should act a safe and prudent part, in submitting to them as their guides in religion. To this purpose they faithfully devoted their supernatural powers, never, in a single instance, employing them to draw admiration to themselves, or to promote their secular interests. Notwithstanding the silence of the history, we may confidently affirm, that Paul made the miracles which he performed in Malta, subservient to the cause of Christ. A man so eager to do good, who, although a prisoner, does not seem to have been under restraint, would not remain inactive during. the three months which he spent in the island; and as his wonderful works had gained him the favour of the people, he enjoyed a very favourable opportunity to instruct them in the knowledge of the gospel. And thus, what we should call an accidental event, the shipwreck of Paul upon an unknown coast, was overruled by Providence as the occasion of introducing Christianity into Malta, where it still exists in the corrupted form, which it has assumed in countries, subject to the authority of the Pope.
The kindness which the inhabitants showed to the strangers, who had escaped the perils of the sea, when they were first cast upon their coast, was continued to Paul and his friends, from respect to his character, and gratitude for the favours which they had received from him. “Who also honoured us with many honours, and when we departed they laded us with such things as were necessary.” When our Lord conferred miraculous powers upon the Apostles, he enjoined a free and generous exercise of them. They were not to set a price upon their cures, but to heal the sick, and cast out devils, without demanding or expecting a reward. By this injunction, however, they were not restrained from accepting the gifts which should be presented to them, by those who esteemed them “for their work’s sake.” It was reasonable, that they should be recompensed by the persons to whom they devoted their time and labour; and a man of the purest generosity, who would scorn a bribe as the motive to his duty, will be pleased with tokens of 399affection from the objects of his beneficence, and estimate them far above the value which sordid self-interest would attach to them.
When winter was past, and the season became favourable for the prosecution of their voyage, the centurion with the prisoners under his care, sailed from Malta, in a ship of Alexandria; and having passed the island of Sicily, arrived at Puteoli, a city of Italy, not far distant from Naples. From this place Paul proceeded to Rome by land. In the way he was met by some Christians from that city, who, having heard of his approach, went to meet him as far as Appii Forum, and the Three Taverns, two cities at the respective distances of fifty, and thirty miles from the capital. They had probably never seen the Apostle, but they had heard his fame, and enjoyed the benefit of his instructions; for he had sent an Epistle to their Church, which makes a part of the sacred canon of the New Testament. The present circumstances of Paul were not calculated to induce strangers to court an acquaintance with him. Associated with a number of prisoners who were accused of different crimes, he was on his way to the tribunal of Nero, by whose sentence he might be deprived of his life. No honour could result from a connexion with such a man; and his friends might be involved in trouble and danger, by the suspicion and jealousy of government. But, it was the glory of the disciples of Jesus in those early ages, that they were united in the bonds of affection, which the severest trials were not able to dissolve. They did not selfishly and pusillanimously abandon him, who was singled out to encounter the hostility which the world entertained against them all. They gathered around him in the hour of adversity, to sustain his courage, and to alleviate his sorrows, by their presence and their counsels. When Jesus Christ was sick and in prison, in the persons of his faithful servants, they accounted it both a duty and a privilege to visit him.
This unexpected visit had an agreeable effect upon the mind of the Apostle. “When he saw them, he thanked God,” who had disposed those brethren to show him kindness in the time of danger; “and he took courage,” or felt his resolution confirmed in the prospect of the troubles, which might befal him in Rome. “Iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” By the simple presence and approving looks of his friends, as well as by their exhortations, a sufferer shall be sustained, in the severest 400trials of his patience and fortitude. As it is a common cause, in which Christians are embarked, every man is bound to contribute to its success by his personal exertions when they are wanted, or by supporting his brethren who are actually engaged in the conflict, and there is not a saint of the highest order, who may not be assisted by the prayers and counsels of those, who are much inferior to him in talents and attainments. The courage of the great Apostle of the Gentiles was invigorated, by the presence of some private Christians from Rome.
Upon his arrival in the city, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard, or the commander of the pretorian bands, which were stationed in Rome, to guard the person of the emperor, and to retain that mighty capital in subjection. But, Paul was permitted to dwell by himself, or as we learn from the thirtieth verse, in a house which he had hired. This favour was probably obtained by the intercession of the centurion, who had conceived a friendship for him, and would be more readily granted, because he had not come to Rome properly in the character of a criminal, but rather as a man, who had been compelled to appeal to Cesar, by the injustice of his countrymen. He was attended by a soldier to whom he seems to have been fastened, according to the custom of the Romans, by a chain fixed to the right hand of the prisoner, and the left hand of his guard. “For the hope of Israel,” he says I am bound with this chain.”
These words were addressed to the chief men of the Jews, whom Paul had called together three days after his arrival in Rome. “And when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Cesar, not that I had ought to accuse my nation of. For this cause, therefore, have I called for you, to see you and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” It was evidently the design of this speech, to remove the prejudices which the Jews might have conceived against him, that they might be prepared to listen patiently, when he pleaded in defence of Christianity. He had not violated the laws of his country, nor was it his intention to accuse his own nation to the emperor. 401The appeal proceeded simply from a regard to his personal safety; his innocence had been declared by the Roman governors of the province of Judea; and the true clause of his present confinement, as well as of his past sufferings, was his faith in the Messiah, whose advent they, and their brethren in every region of the earth, were anxiously expecting.
The Jews answered, “We neither received letters out of Judea, concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came, showed or spake any harm of thee.” It is surprising that the priests and elders at Jerusalem, who persecuted Paul with implacable hostility, had not endeavoured by letters or messengers, to prejudice their brethren in Rome against him. As their sentiments had not undergone a change in his favour, their silence may, perhaps, be accounted for, by the want of an opportunity to send information to Rome, in consequence of the lateness of the season, when Paul set out on his voyage. “But we desire,” they add, “to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.” Christianity made its first appearance under the disadvantage, of a bad name, which was principally owing to the malignant industry of the Jews, as we learn from an ancient writer, who informs us, that they sent messengers from Jerusalem to their synagogues in foreign countries, announcing that an impious and lawless sect had been formed by a certain impostor, Jesus of Galilee.5151Just. Martyr. Dialog. cum Tryph. No means were neglected to repress what they considered, or affected to consider, as a pestilent heresy. But, while the malice of the Jews was chiefly to be blamed for the unfavourable character which was attached to Christianity, truth requires us to add, that the Gentiles were fully disposed to adopt and circulate their slanders, and to load our holy religion with other opprobrious charges, invented by themselves. These are recorded and completely refuted by the Fathers. “The sect was every where spoken against.” What other fate could it expect! It offended the prejudices of men of all religions; it condemned their vices, and even many of their virtues; it taught doctrines from which corrupt reason revolted; it enjoined duties, to which the depraved heart was unwilling to submit. It was received, therefore, with a general outcry, like the screams of the birds of night, when the light which they abhor, bursts into their dark and foul habitations.402
Notwithstanding the reports to the disadvantage of the gospel; the Jews, with whom Paul was now conversing, had not come to a final determination to reject it. They were willing to hear both sides. Having seen it attacked, they also wished to see it defended. A day being fixed, “there came many to him into his lodging: to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the Prophets, from morning till evening.” The discourse was long, because the subject was ample, much reasoning was necessary, and probably many objections were proposed. The Apostle “expounded the kingdom of God,” or explained the nature of the new dispensation of religion, and proved that Jesus was the Christ, by testimonies from the law of Moses, and the prophetical writings. In an address to the Jews, no other mode of proof could have been attempted with propriety. If an appeal had been made to the evidence of miracles, they would have replied, that their law expressly forbade them to hearken to a Prophet, who should endeavour, by signs and wonders, to entice them from the religion of their fathers. I do not mean, that there was any defect in this evidence, which that of prophecy was necessary to supply. It was by the miracles of the Apostles, that the Gentiles, who did not know the books of the Prophets, were convinced. But, since God had provided another species of proof, in the harmony between the old and the new dispensation, and had directed the Jews to look for it, no reasoning, in which this essential part was omitted, could have justified them in receiving the gospel as a divine revelation. It was necessary to demonstrate, that Jesus of Nazareth was the person whose character and actions are described by Moses, David, and Isaiah; and that his religion possessed all the properties of the new covenant, which God had promised to make with his people in the latter days. Our Lord adopted this plan in his discourses to the Jews; and we see from many occurrences in this book, that his ministers followed his example.
Among the Jews whom Paul addressed, there were, no doubt persons of different dispositions, and different degrees of information; some, who had considered the prophecies with more attention than others; and some, who being less prejudiced against the notion of a spiritual Messiah, would not be so averse to recognise him in the person of the crucified Jesus. At the same time, it should be remembered, that the grace of God is the efficient cause of the 403success of the gospel; and that, while the eyes of one man are opened to perceive its truth, another remains under the blinding influence of corrupt reason, and earthly affections.” Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.”
The assembly being divided, a discussion ensued, in which the one part maintained the doctrine of Paul against the other. Before they separated, he reminded them of a prophecy in the book of Isaiah, the application of which to the unbelieving part of his audience was obvious. From the frequent mention of it in the New Testament, and, in particular, from the words of the Evangelist John, it appears to have been ultimately intended to represent the character and conduct of the Jews, at the commencement of the Christian dispensation. It begins with foretelling, that they should be delivered up, in the righteous judgment of God, to a blinded mind, and a hardened heart; or, at least, that they should discover the most surprising stupidity and insensibility, so as not to understand what was plainly told, nor to see what was placed before their eyes. “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the Prophet, unto our fathers, saying, Hearing ye shall hear, but shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive.” The exact fulfilment of this part of the prophecy, is evident from their obstinate rejection of our Saviour as an impostor, notwithstanding the splendid train of miracles, by which his mission was attested, and the manifest accomplishment of ancient predictions in his death, and the various circumstances in his life. The prophecy goes on to account for their conduct. “For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” This description of their spiritual taste seems to be taken from a man addicted to gluttony and drunkenness, whose mental faculties are benumbed, whose very senses are blunted, and who, oppressed by the effects of intemperance, sinks into a profound sleep. The unbelief of the Jews was not the consequence of involuntary and invincible ignorance, but of the predominance of sinful affections. They were not willing to understand and perceive. Jesus Christ, in his humble form, had no attractions for men, who desired nothing so much as the honours and pleasures of the world. They would not believe that he was the Messiah, because they 404were displeased with the lowliness of his character, and the spiritual salvation which he offered to bestow. Hence, they are said “to have closed their eyes,” as a person does, to whom the light is offensive, or who wishes not to see a disagreeable object. The chief seat of unbelief is the will. It is not from want of evidence that the gospel is rejected, but from disinclination of heart. Its mysterious doctrines would meet with no opposition from our reason, if it were not prejudiced and corrupted by our passions. In the parable of the marriage supper, the conduct of those who refused the invitation, is ascribed to the influence of the cares and enjoyments of the present life. We have, then, before our eyes an awful example of men, who, by the neglect of their privileges, had provoked God to withdraw his Spirit, and to leave them to the uncontrolled dominion of carnal affections. Such was the moral condition of the Jews in the Apostolic age; and such it has continued for more than seventeen hundred years. It administers a solemn warning to us, to take heed lest we also be hardened “through the deceitfulness of sin.”
To this prophecy Paul directed the attention of the unbelieving Jews, as a subject of serious consideration. It was calculated to alarm them all, and might, through the blessing of God, rouse some of them from their spiritual lethargy, which was an awful prognostic of eternal death. He concluded with a declaration, which was always mortifying to the Jews, but which he now made, not with a design to irritate them, but to provoke them to jealousy. When better motives failed, the dread of being superseded in their privileges, might render them cautious of rashly and perversely rejecting the gospel. Although they should resist its evidence, yet the Gentiles would believe, and be admitted into the place which they had long held in the favour of God. “Be it known unto you, therefore, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”
“And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.” The gospel was the subject of their private conferences, in which the arguments on both sides were canvassed. Those who were convinced of its truth, would be eager to convert their unbelieving brethren; and we may conceive the unbelievers to have been equally earnest to reclaim them from heresy. How those reasonings terminated we are not informed; but it may be presumed, that while some were at last 405brought to see the Christian religion to be worthy of all acceptation, the effect of opposition upon others, was to render them more decided and obstinate in rejecting it.
The chapter closes with a short account of Paul during the period of his imprisonment. He was permitted to dwell in his own hired house, to which every person, who chose to visit him, had access, and to preach the gospel without restraint. Although the Apostle was in chains, the word of God was not bound. He was likewise employed in writing letters to the Churches in different parts of the world. The Epistles to the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians, and the short letter to Philemon, bear internal marks of having been composed during his confinement in Rome. Whether the second epistle to Timothy should be dated from his first or his second imprisonment, is a question, about which learned men are not agreed. The Epistle to the Hebrews, which is ascribed with more probability to Paul than any other person, seems to have been written after he was loosed from his bonds. He was restored to liberty, in consequence of a full proof of his innocence, or through the intercession of some friends in the household of Cesar, who had embraced the Christian religion. The accounts of the subsequent part of his life, of the places which he visited, and the time which he spent in his Apostolical labours, are, for the most part, uncertain and conjectural. We know, however, that he was again imprisoned in Rome, and in that city, sealed with his blood the doctrine which he had long and faithfully preached.
I have traced, as far as any authentic records remain, the history of this illustrious servant of Jesus Christ, whose exertions in the cause of the gospel, were adequate to the high expectations which might have been entertained, from the extraordinary manner in which he was called to the Apostolical office. By immediate revelation he was furnished with a profound knowledge of the mysteries of redemption; and in natural abilities he was, perhaps, superior to his brethren, in supernatural endowments, certainly not behind the chief of the Apostles. Transferring to the service of religion the activity and ardour of mind which he inherited from nature, he declined no labour, and shrunk from no danger, in endeavouring to advance the glory of his Saviour, and the best interests of the human race. It was his most delightful employment to preach the doctrine of salvation by the cross, without being at all 406discouraged by the ridicule of the Greeks, and the persecuting zeal of the Jews. His life was a life of faith upon the Son of God, the constraining influence of whose love he constantly felt, and whose grace sustained him in a, series of duties and difficulties, by the pressure of which the unassisted strength and courage of any man would have been overwhelmed. The close of his life might seem unfortunate to those, who looked only at his bodily sufferings; but it was cheered by the peaceful recollections of a good conscience, and the triumphant hope of an everlasting recompense. “I am now ready to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day.” In his conversion, he exhibits an instance of divine grace, which should preserve the unworthy from despair; in his Apostolical character, he is a pattern to Christian ministers of diligence and; fidelity, of entire devotedness to the service of the Saviour, and the most ardent love to the souls of men; as a willing martyr for religion, he inculcates this important lesson upon us all, that the truth should be dearer to us than our lives, and that we should resolve to follow our Redeemer to prison and to death.
I have now brought to a conclusion this course of Lectures on the Acts of the Apostles. After tracing the history of the Church, from the ascension of Christ to the meeting of the first Christian Council in Jerusalem, I have surveyed the principal events in the life of Paul, to which the subsequent narrative confines our attention. Although he seems to have been “in labours more abundant,” yet we are not to suppose, that the other Apostles were inactive, or that their transactions furnished nothing unworthy to be known. Invested the same commission, actuated by the same zeal, endowed with the same supernatural powers, and assisted by the same Spirit, they, undoubtedly, exerted themselves, with unwearied diligence, to diffuse the knowledge of the gospel; but, with the exception of some particulars, it has seemed good to the Holy Ghost to pass over their history in silence. After the list of their names, which is inserted in the first chapter, most of them are never again mentioned in any part of these inspired memoirs.
Five years are elapsed since this course of Lectures commenced; 407and five years are no inconsiderable portion of the life of man. At the close of any period of time, it is our duty to inquire, whether we have improved our opportunities and privileges, and what progress we have made in wisdom and holiness. This inquiry is particularly necessary at the conclusion of a series of religious instructions, the professed intention of which was to enlighten and purify us. If these illustrations of the Apostolical history have accomplished the design with which they were delivered, you have been led to admire the wisdom and power of Jesus Christ, displayed in the establishment, the protection and the enlargement of the Church. Your belief of the divine origin of our holy religion has been confirmed by the many proofs which you have seen, of the presence of God with those who first published it; and your conviction of its transcendent excellence has been strengthened, by a view of its beneficial effects in reclaiming mankind from idolatry, and its attendant vices. You have felt yourselves animated with the same contempt for the blandishments and terrors of the world, which so strongly characterised the conduct of the primitive Christians. You have resolved, after their example, to glory only in the cross of Christ and to consecrate yourselves to his service. While you beheld the grace of God to the Gentiles, whom he visited by the ministry of his holy servants, to bless them through his Son, “the desire of all nations,” you have been thankful, that whether the gospel was preached to the inhabitants of Britain by any of the Apostles, or not, the joyful sound has been heard in this island; and that, at the distance of seventeen centuries from the age in which they lived, you reap the fruits of their pious labours.
Remember, that it is the Holy Spirit only, by whom the pen of Luke was guided in composing this history, and the other sacred writers were inspired, who can open your understandings to understand the Scriptures, and dispose you to receive the word of God, with reverence and love. May he bless what has been spoken, according to his own will, that our preaching and your hearing may not be in vain! I conclude with the words of Paul to the Church of Thessalonica. “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now, our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.” Amen!
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