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Peter, whose sorrows were extreme. For forty days he employed himself in these consolatory offices, and in elucidating the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which allude to his sufferings and entrance into glory. But some doubted, and others were afraid. To these he said, “handle me, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." Having thus seen the Lord, they were constituted faithful witnesses of his resurrection, and being anointed by his Spirit, were made able ministers of the New Testament.
XVIII. Great was the joy in the habitations of the righteous, because the right hand of the Lord had done valiantly, and brought mighty things to pass: but the most sublime and encouraging transaction yet remained to be achieved. It was not proper for the immortal God, for whom all things were created, to fix his permanent residence in this sinful and temporary world. Therefore, on the fortieth day after the resurrection, he conducted his disciples to Mount Olivet, not far from the garden where he sustained the dreadful conflict; and having given them final instructions, he stretched forth his hands and blessed them. Then the conqueror of sin, and death, and hell, ascended triumphantly to heaven. The disciples beheld when their master was taken up, and followed him with their eyes and hearts, till a cloud received him out of their sight. They continued looking, with indescribable emotions, till two angels, who seem to have been left behind as their guardians, comforted them with the only promise which could comfort them; that their adorable and identical Lord should so return as they had seen him go into heaven.
O my soul! what a scene of glorious triumph is here presented to thy view! See the God-the manand thy Redeemer, lead captivity captive, and cast the trackless orbits of the comets, and all the celestial spheres, far beneath his feet! See him attended with cherubim and seraphim, receive the homage of myriads of suns and worlds as he rides through the starry heavens, which are but the dark concave of the
purer regions, or the illuminations which surround the
THE FIRST AND GENERAL SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL.
KEEPING our eye stedfastly fixed on the golden chain of man's salvation, we shall next turn our views to the blessed apostles, and see them build the church of the living God upon Jesus Christ, the sure foundation, and according to the doctrine of the holy prophets. Conformably to their master's instructions, they waited ten days at Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Ghost, which was deferred till the feast of Pentecost, that it might correspond with the type, the Lord's descent on Mount Sinai to promulge the law on the fiftieth day after the deliverance from Egypt. It was deferred also that the Jews, proselytes, and strangers, who came up to the feast from every province of the empire, might hear the gospel in their native language.
I. Early in the morning the apostles and brethren were assembled for prayer, about one hundred and twenty in number. And suddenly the Holy Ghost descended with a sound like a tremendous tempest; his glory filled the whole house, and sat upon each of them, as cloven tongues of fire, expressive of the numerous languages he instantaneously enabled them to speak. Endowed with this unction, and with these qualifications, they distributed themselves in the streets, preaching Jesus, the true Messiah, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Thus the cloud of the divine glory, which appeared at the dedication of the tabernacle and the temple, came now and rested on his living temple, to replenish and adorn his saints with grace, and divell with them for ever.
The devout Jews and proselytes, who were strangers, attended to the Christian preachers with candor and reverence. But the natives, not understanding these languages, nor knowing for what end they were given, mocked and traduced the preachers as intoxicated
with wine. Peter perceiving this, stood up among the greatest concourse, and animadverted on the absurdity of the alleged intoxication, because it was too early an hour in the day. He assured them, that this really was the effusion of the Spirit, and the preaching spoken of by the prophet Joel. He then identified the person of Jesus to be the true Messiah, by surprising and copious applications of prophecy. He proved his resurrection from the testimony of David-"Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." He adduced the positive and unequivocal evidences they had of the resurrection and ascension of their adorable master. He lastly applied his sermon in these piercing words: "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that this same Jesus, whom ye by wicked hands have crucified and slain, is both Lord and Christ. And when they heard this, they were pricked in the heart, and said unto Peter, and the rest of the apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do?" In answer to their piercing inquiries, he promised pardon, in the first place, to every penitent and in the second, he promised the higher endowments of the Spirit to as many of them and their children as the Lord should think proper to call to that ministry. The effect of this day's ministry was the conversion of three thousand persons. They gladly received the word, were baptized, and sealed with the gift of the Holy Ghost.
II. In a day or two after, Peter and John, going to worship in the temple, healed a lame man, who sat begging at the beautiful gate. This attracted the surrounding crowd, who seem to have looked on the apostles with more than human reverence. Peter embraced this happy occasion of magnifying the name of his crucified master, and five thousand more were converted by this distinguished miracle and powerful sermon.
The whole of this infant church was filled with the Holy Ghost; their sensations of pardon, peace, and joy, were inexpressible; and their simplicity, pu
rity, and devotion, indicated the heaven which inspired their bosom. They continued stedfast in the apostles' doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer." The apostles and their fellow-laborers being now endowed with the higher gifts of the Spirit, "the word of faith," to preach the mystery of the gospel, and "the word of knowledge" to expound the scriptures, announced the resurrection of Jesus Christ with surprising courage, and confirmed it by working miracles in his name. Hence great fear fell upon the rulers who had crucified him; and when they had apprehended the apostles, they durst not detain them more than a single night. "And all that believed were together, and had all things common. Neither were there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessed of houses or land sold them, and brought the money to the apostles, and distribution was made to the indigent brethren, as every man had need. And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added unto the church daily such as were saved from sin by regeneration."
This divine work having broken out at the feast, the converted worshippers returning home instantly communicated it to all parts of the country. In Samaria they had considerable success, and Philip was sent to confirm them by the gift of the Holy Ghost. The same success attended the word in Damascus, and in all the Jewish cities; for we are informed, after the extraordinary conversion of Paul, which seems to have terrified his associate persecutors, that "the churches had rest throughout all Judea, and Samaria, and Galilee, and were edified, and, walking in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied," Acts ix. 30.
The short but severe persecution with which the Jewish council assailed the church, obliged the breth