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THE LIFE OF SIMON PETER, THE APOSTLE.
[Concluded from page 11.] : HONOURED as St. Peter had been while his Lord was on earth, he became, after his ascension, a still more distinguished character; and when the time was fully come for opening the gospel dispensation, and the apostles were baptized with the Holy Ghost, St. Peter was the first who exercised the ministry entrusted to him by Christ. It would be superfluous to pass any encomiums on the close reasoning and energetic eloquence with which he pressed on the consciences of his auditors, that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was Lord and Christ. The success which attended his discourse sufficiently proves its power and excellence: three thousand souls were converted to the faith; a circumstance which could not fail to encourage the apostles to prosecute, with unwearied diligence, the great work they had so happily begun.
In contemplating the wonders of this memorable day, we are led to observe, that the mighty rushing wind and fiery tongues were only transient symbols. Other miraculous gifts of the Spirit, having accomplished the purposes for which they were bestowed, have long disappeared ; nor are they likely to revive, at least until God bare his arm to bring his church out of the wilderness. Those, however, which constitute the very life of our religion remain. The enlightening, sanctifying, and consolatory influences of the Spirit, then shed abundantly on the apostles, are still promised to every believer; and how much are these to
be preferred to miraculous gifts! Let any one read the account of St. Paul's perils, labours, and sufferings, and he will perceive that even miraculous gifts were inadequate to such a warfare. They overcome not the world. They reconcile not the soul to want, contempt, pain, and death. Those supernatural weapons must have blasted the hands of the apostles, had they not been under the guidance of divine wisdom; had they not been armed with power from on high; and had not the effect of the Spirit's effusion been a courage, zeal, patience, disinterestedness, deadness to the world, and devotedness to God, far greater than human nature was able to exert. From this æra we read of no contests among them for pre-eminence; we remark no confident rashness, no intemperate zeal, no dastardly fear. Firm, tranquil, united, they exhibit their heavenly conversation with meekness of wisdom. They are the patterns of the doctrine they teach. For wealth they entertain the most perfect indifference; they seek no honour from man; they preach not themselves; and they ever speak and act, not as lords over God's heritage, but as helpers of their faith. For them, life has no allurements; the grave, no terror; death, no sting. They are crucified to the world and the world to them; their affections and conversation are in heaven. Here we lose sight of the fishermen of Galilee, and recognise the accomplished apostles, whose character, no less than their high office, stamps them the best and greatest of men.
Such were the benefactors of the world, who, after planting truth, and peace, and righteousness among civilized and savage nations, to give new vigour to those noble plants, gladly watered them with their blood. Venerable names ! ever dear to the true followers of Christ! Ye still live and speak, and your fires still, from time to time, warm the cold bosom of the fainting church. O Lord, arise and look upon the church! Bring us back into the old paths, and establish us firmly in the doctrine and spirit of thy holy apostles.
We may remark, indeed, that a measure of the same grace which was bestowed on the apostles is necessary to every christian, is promised to every christian, nay, is given to every christian: and these sanctifying influences of the Spirit, though they are the most valuable of his gifts, and in themselves as miraculous as any; yet being thus generally diffused, and their presence being evidenced only by the effects they produce in enlightening, comforting, and purifying the children of God, and not by any new or wonderful manifestation; they are usually called common and
ordinary, in contradistinction to those spiritual powers which were intrusted only to a few for special purposes, which manisested themselves in an extraordinary manner.
That St. Peter did not conceive the promise of the Holy Ghost to be limited to the apostles is evident from the words of his sermon on this occasion. Be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. If it be objected that St. Peter spoke of miraculous gifts, it should also be proved that the three thousand converts were actually favoured with them; a point it would be difficult to prove. The purposes also for which, in scripture, the Holy Spirit is said to be given, are of universal concern, as well as of the first magnitude. He convinces the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment ; regenerates and seals the sons of God; sheds abroad the love of God in their hearts; helps their infirmities; mortifies the deeds of the body; comforts them under all their troubles, and is to them the pledge of heavenly glory. As the advent of the Messiah was the great promise of the Old Testament, so is the gift of the Spirit the great promise of the New. Far be it from us to bind our christian brethren to our particular ideas and modes of expression; but in the fearless spirit of St. Peter we testify, that he who in substance renounces this doctrine, renounces christianity itself. We have moralized christianity, and philosophized morality, until millions have returned to that stupid infidelity from which the apostles recovered the world. The spirit of the times requires that we should speak their doctrines in their strongest tones; for if the throne and the altar are to stand in this day of fearless innovation, their friends must rally beneath the banners of primitive cliristianity.
A few days after, St. Peter had an opportunity of confirming his doctrine by the miraculous cure of a cripple, who sat at the gate of the temple soliciting alms. While the wondering multitude flocked to this sight, St. Peter improved the miracle, by preaching to them that Christ whom they and the rulers had put to death; and so powerfully did the Holy Ghost enforce his words, that five thousand souls were added to the church.
As the apostles were speaking to the people, the priests and captain of the Temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. Strange association! Yet such, alas! is the nature of man, that different ages and countries have had Sadducees to accuse the ministers of truth, priests to condemn, and captains to execute their decrees. By these champions of Jewish orthodoxy were the
apostles and the restored cripple apprehended, and on the morrow brought before the high priest and rulers. To them St. Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, fearlessly declared, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was sct at nought of you builders, which is become the head stone of the corner, neither is there salvation in any other. : Astonished at the boldness of the apostles, and incapable of contesting so notorious a miracle, these bad men determined to silence those whom they could not confute. They, therefore, threatened them, and commanded them not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus. But to this prohibition the apostles calmly replied: Whether it be right, in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye; for we cannot but speak the things which we have both heard and seen.
How different was the conduct of St. Peter now, from what it had been a few months before in the palace of the high priest. His danger was greater; he stood before the same bloody tribunal which had condemned his Lord; but he now fought with spiritual; then with carnal weapons: then his courage was his own; now, it was the gift of the Spirit. This St. Luke indicates, when he prefaces St. Peter's defence by remarking, that he was filled with the Holy Ghost; a mode of expression more frequently used to prepare us for some noble exertion of christian temper, than to introduce a miraculous act.
As soon as Peter and John had reported to the brethren the threats of the council, they all prepared to meet the storm, by calling on God to support and strengthen them. Their prayer was heard, for they were all immediately filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake the word of God with boldness. The Church was also of one heart and soul, and had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
But the liberal and disinterested spirit of richer Christians proved a snare to Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Their covetousness and hypocrisy inight have been chastised more mildly; but as it was of the last consequence that bad men should be deterred from joining the church, and that believers should be excited to work out their salvation with fear, it pleased God to make a signal display of his power and omniscience on this occasion. No sconer, therefore, had St. Peter charged them with their crime, than they were immediately struck with death in the presence of the church. Great fear fell in consequence on the church, and on as many as heard it; and while multitudes of true believers were added to the Lord, no one of a different character durst join himself to them. Numerous signs and wonders were at the same time wrought by the apostles; and the sick were brought into the streets upon beds and couches, that the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. Also a multitude came from the cities round about Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vered with unclean spirits : and they were healed every опе.
The amazing prosperity of the church excited the envy of the high priest and of the Sadducees, and they put the apostles, as felons, into the common prison. But the great Shepherd watched over their valuable lives, and sent his angel to free them, and to command them to repair to the temple, and there to speak all the words of this life. Being found the next morning preaching to the people, they were a second time conducted before the rulers, whom, while they justified their own conduct in obeying God rather than man, they charged with being the murderers of him whom God had exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. When the rulers heard that they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. From this sanguinary purpose they were dissuaded by the wise and moderate advice of Gamaliel. Therefore after they had beaten them, and had also threatened, and again commanded them not to teach in the name of Jesus, they dismissed the apostles, who retired, rejoicing that they were worthy to suffer shame for his name sake.
It is probably not without design, that the Holy Ghost so carefully remarks this association of the Sadducees with the priests, while no mention is made of the Pharisees, a sect equally powerful and more zealous. Though some of their body, doubtless, concurred in these proceedings, yet they were evidently not the leading party. The Pharisee Gamaliel at this time defeated the design of the rulers, and afterward we find the whole body rising up against the Sadducees in St. Paul's defence. St. Paul is, indeed, an example to what excesses a false zeal may lead a man who means to do God service, and similar examples may unquestionably be adduced; but the history of the church, we conceive, will authorize the remark, that the majority of persecutors have been men of corrupt minds, profligate morals, and infidel principles; zeal for God being merely the mask with which they conceal their secular motives and infernal passions.