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THE CHURCH-THE TEMPLE OF GOD.
not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” His disciples, who did not understand him, immediately called his attention to the buildings of the Temple: but this only brought forth the prophecy of its utter destruction (Matth. xxiv. 1-2). How could the Temple be otherwise than desolate, when the brightness of the Father's glory had departed from it! Thenceforward God had another Temple in view; and it was this that even his own children among the Jewish people were so slow in understanding; for they had been so long accustomed to look at those great buildings as the chosen dwelling-place of Jehovah.
The Church alone was thenceforth to be looked upon as the Temple of the Lord; and of this, Solomon's temple in all its glory was but a shadow. Believing Jews and Gentiles, as living stones, were built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. ii. 20-21).
The importance of the Church in the sight of God must never henceforth be lost sigbt of; and whilst we pursue the history of the world, we must remember God's delight is in Jesus, and in the Church, as the body of which He is the glorious head. By the Church, the manifold wisdom of God is made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places ; it is a theatre to angels, on which they see the most marvellous actings of the God they adore, and the things ministered to the church by the Holy Ghost they desire to look into. Finally, glory is brought to God in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages world without end. Having thus considered the constitution and intention of the Church of God, we will briefly look through the history of it in the Acts of the Apostles, where we find the records of its earliest manifestation upon earth. May you, my dear young friends, be led to take a true interest in this subject, and become concerned in it yourselves; for the knowledge of the truth will avail us nothing, if we do not receive it in the love of it!
THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM.
TESTIMONY TO CHRIST IN JERUSALEM.-THE JERUSALEM CHURCH.
-FIRST SHADING OF THE LIGHT.-THE WITNESS OF STEPHEN. -SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL. - CALLING OF PAUL.
What could exceed the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ when, on the point of leaving the city where he was crucified, he opened the understanding of the disciples that they might understand the Scriptures; and referring to the testimony of the law, the prophets, and the psalms, he said, “ Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem !” These gracious words fell from the same lips that had uttered that effectual prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Accordingly, we find Jerusalem is still the scene of grace; and it is there the Holy Ghost descends on the gathered disciples. Peter, to whom the Lord had promised the keys of the kingdom of heaven, first, as it were, opens the door of faith to the Jews : he preaches the gospel of the circumcision; and it soon appears, that amidst the guilty nation who abhorred Christ, there was still a remnant according to the election of grace, who gladly received the testimony of the Holy Ghost. We say a remnant, because, though there were many thousands who believed in Jerusalem, we must remember the city contained hundreds of thousands who believed not. The Church, however, was such a shining light in this ungodly city that, like Christ in his early life, it had at first favour with all the people. The gospel, preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, was confirmed by miracles greater than those that had been wrought by Christ himself when he was upon earth ; for, though at the right hand of the Father, he was still working with them. But all was resisted; those in authority hated the servants as they had hated the master, and the doctrine of the resurrection was particularly grievous to the powerful party of the Sadducees.
Imprisonment, threatening, and scourging could not move the apostles to obey man instead of God; and at length it appears that the Sanhedrin were persuaded to let them alone by the counsel of Gamaliel, the Pharisee, who warned them of the danger
THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM.
they might possibly incur of even being found to fight against God. Such was the situation of the Jerusalem Church as to those without; and as to the arrangements within, Jewish practices were still permitted, whilst the long-suffering of God was still exercised towards the Jewish nation: the believers continued daily with one accord in the Temple, and the apostles went up there at the usual hour of prayer. Moreover, circumcision and other legal observances were not abandoned till after the destruction of Jerusalem. After five thousand believers had been gathered together by the power of the Holy Ghost's witness to Christ, through the apostles, it is written, “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.” It is also added, that “ great grace was upon them all, neither was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made to every man according as he had need.” Those who know any thing of the selfishness of the human heart must confess that only the power of a new life, which these happy ones possessed by virtue of their union with the risen Lord, and the great grace of God which was upon them, could produce such a state of things. And the first shade of darkness which falls over this bright picture, just proves how the enemy was on the watch trying to dim the light of the world, and how soon man's sin and folly appear, in the most favourable circumstances and under the greatest possible advantages. Among the rich who were constrained by the love of Christ to put all their possessions into the common stock for the comfort of their needy brethren, one Joses was distinguished by the apostles with the surname of Barnabas, that is, “ the son of consolation ;" for they were doubtless comforted by the grace of God in him ; and we always find him spoken of afterwards as a useful servant of the Lord. Immediately after he had laid his money at the apostles' feet, Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, probably moved by such a shining example, and seeking the praise of man rather than that of God, came forward with a similar profession of parting with all for Christ's sake.
But the miraculous power of discerning spirits, which was 32
APPOINTMENT OF THE SEVEN.
one of the Pentecostal gifts, enabled Peter at once to discover the deception, and to trace it to Satan, who is a liar and the father of lies. Their lie to God the Holy Ghost was immediately followed by death; and whilst this solemn event kept any man from daring to join himself by mere profession to an assembly where there was such manifest power to discover the thoughts and intents of the heart, no true-hearted person was kept back from the confession of faith in Christ ; for it is written, “Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” The next shade of darkness that came across the shining light of the Church seems to have been caused by human selfishness appearing in another form. At first we read that none of the believers wanted any thing, for all received according to their need ; but now there arises a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. The twelve apostles at once explained to the brethren the unreasonableness of expecting them to serve the tables, and proposed to them to choose seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, which was indeed necessary for such an office, whom they might appoint to attend to this business. The seven that were chosen on this occasion are commonly called deacons (Greek, servants), but that name is not applied to them in Scripture. The apostles, we know, were all Hebrews, but it appears from the names of the seven that they were Greeks : and this selection from among that part of the Church that complained of neglect was probably intentional. After their appointment we hear of no farther ground for complaint: the word of God increased ; the number of disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a great company of the priests was obedient to the faith. And Stephen, one of the seven, being full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
The Holy Ghost was manifested in fresh power and grace among the seven ; but His operations seemed only to bring out the enmity of the carnal minds who rejected the truth. Certain of the foreign Jews began to dispute with Stephen, and, like those who questioned with the Lord, they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. This excited them still more; the servant's words were not listened to more than the Master's, and he was called to have fellowship with
his Lord's sufferings. Stephen was seized and brought before the council, under the charge of blasphemy against Moses and against God; and false witnesses were set up against him. The whole Sanhedrin saw his face shining with heavenly glory, and listened to his reply to the high-priest's question, “ Are these things so?” The charge of blasphemy was entirely refuted ; the God of glory was fully honoured by Stephen, and the words of Moses most largely and reverently quoted : but when he ended by applying to their consciences the truth of the history he had gone through, and told them plainly they resisted the Holy Ghost, they were the betrayers and murderers of the Just One, and that they had not kept the law in which they boastedthey were cut to the heart and gnashed on him with their teeth. But Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This constrained him to give the plainest testimony to the resurrection, saying before them all, “ Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” Even whilst he spoke, they ran upon him with one accord and cast him out of the city and stoned him.
According to the law of Moses the witnesses cast the first stones, and on this occasion they laid down the clothes which they took off, to enable them to use their arms more freely, at the feet of a young man who was named Saul, one of the strictest of the Pharisees, and more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of his fathers than most of his nation. The last prayer of Stephen was addressed to the Lord Jesus, as that of Jesus of the same nature was addressed to the Father ; it is most important to notice, as it was answered, not only by the conversion of Saul, the chief actor in this scene of ignorant unbelief, but by an extension of the forbearance of God towards the city and nation, and a fresh testimony to his grace in the ministry of a new apostle.
But before we consider the apostleship of Paul, we must look at the immediate consequences of the persecution that followed the witness* of Stephen. The character of this first persecution may be gathered from the confessions of Paul after his conversion. Those who believed in Jesus were imprisoned and
* Martyr is simply the Greek word for witness, in an English form. We attach the idea of suffering to this word because so many of the witnesses or martyrs of Christ sealed their testimony with their blood.