« PreviousContinue »
Of the importance and value of this history it would not be easy to say too much. For it contains an account of the doctrine which was taught by the apostles and first preachers of Christianity, the reasonings and arguments employed to recommend it, the evidence with which it was attended, their sufferings in support of the truth, and the success which attended their labours; particulars, concerning all of which Christians must desire to be well informed; as they must, likewise, of the reasonings and objections of unbelievers, of which it contains a like faithful account.
This history is the best introduction to the epistles, and the surest proof of their authenticity. From the correspondence between the facts mentioned in it with those which are mentioned or alluded to in the epistles of Paul, a learned clergyman of the church of England, (Dr. Paley) has deduced a clear and satisfactory argument to prove the authenticity of these epistles, and the truth of the history, and, by consequence, the truth of Christianity itself.
For the principal events in the life of Christ we have the evidence of three independent witnesses, or witnesses who wrote without any communication with each other; in which case their united testimony is of much more weight than that of any single individual. By this means, however, the value of a particular history is lessened; for were it mutilated or lost, its place would be supplied by the others. But the present history is rendered peculiarly interesting, by being the only one of its kind: for no other person has given us an authentic account of the same period; so that if any misfortune had befallen this, the loss would have been irreparable. On all these accounts it claims from us the most careful attention.
Acts i. 1-14.
1. THE former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, rather, "of all that he both did and taught,"
This introduction shows that this book is only a continuation of a former work, and that they ought both to be read together; for the writer completes his design in the one, which he had left unfinished in the other. Who Theophilus was, to whom this book, as well as the gospel, is addressed, is not certainly known. Some have supposed the name to be fictitious, and to stand for any Christian. If it stand for a real personage he was some one of rank, a governor, a senator, or a person in similar situation; for the same terms of respect are applied to him in the gospel as Paul applies to Festus, the Roman governor *. If these two books were first published in Greece, as has been supposed by some, he was probably a resident in that country.
2. Until the day in which he was taken up, after he had given his commands unto the apostles whom he had chosen by the Holy Spirit;
See Michaëlis's Introduction, Vol. iii. p. 236, &c.
In this order the words may be translated by a slight change of punctuation*, and in this form they appear most natural; according to it Jesus is said to have chosen his apostles by the direction of the Holy Spirit, a thing probable in itself, and corresponding with what was done in another instance, Acts xiii. 2. where we are told that the Spirit said, "Separate me Paul and Barnabas to the work to which I have called them." The commands here referred to are those which he gave his apostles at his departure, directing them to stay at Jerusalem till they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and afterwards to preach. the gospel to the whole world.
3. To whom also he showed himself alive, after his passion, passion, "after he had suffered death," by many infallible proofs; being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
The many proofs which he gave to his disciples of his being alive have been already noticed; such as their seeing him again, eating and conversing with him and handling his person. These proofs he continued to afford them, at different times, for forty days, during which time they would recover from the surprise into which they might be thrown by an unexpected event, and might ask him for such further satisfaction as would remove all their doubts. What he said to them about the kingdom of God, or the gospel dispensation, we are not informed in the short accounts given by the evangelists, and it would be of no use to conjecture. It appears, from what is said below, that their opinions upon this subject were still very gross and low.
4. And, being assembled together
with them, rather, “having assembled them together," he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, (saith he) ye have heard of me.
Jerusalem being the place where their master was crucified, and where his principal enemies resided, the disciples would naturally be disposed to take the first opportunity of quitting it, in order to avoid danger. But he directs them to remain there until they should receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; it being thought right that in the place where he was crucified, and most dishonoured, he should also receive this high mark of the divine favour. It was the place, likewise, in which there would be the greatest number of witnesses to the miracle, and which was the most proper for the exhibition of it on that account. This is called the promise of the Father, because made by him to Christ; and although many others had been delivered, this was more important than the rest. It had often been repeated by Christ to his disciples, as we have already seen*.
5. For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.
The communication of miraculous gifts under the gospel dispensation is promised by the prophet Joel, ii. 28. under the figure of water. "I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh." This image is used because it was to be bestowed plentifully, or without reserve, as water is poured out; whereas in former times it was given more sparingly, and, as it were, by measure. In allusion to this language, John tells his disciples that he baptized them with water, but that there was
• Luke xxiv. 49. and John xiv. 16. 26. xv. 26. xvi. 7.
one coming who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. To these words of John he now refers his disciples, only leaving out the baptism with fire, as having relation to the punishment of the impenitent, and declares that the prophecy shall be fulfilled in a few days.
6. When they, therefore, were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
By this question it appears that the apostles weré still possessed with the notion universally prevalent among the Jews respecting the Messiah, that he was to rescue them from the Roman yoke, and to restore the independence of their country. They seem to have concluded that he was raised from the dead for this purpose, and only wished to be informed whether it was to be accomplished immediately, or after some time. To their inquiry he returns no direct answer; but his reply intimates that his kingdom would be of a different nature from what they imagined.
7. And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.
The words seem to imply that at some time or other the kingdom was to be restored to Israel; but that the particular period at which it was to be done was known only to God, and not to be communicated to them. They, however, would have no share in accomplishing it, but be employed in a very different
8. But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you, Vol. 3.]