And preached everywhere. I.
THE GENERAL PUBLICATION OF THE GOSPEL BY THE APOSTLES. Their industry in this work was almost incredible. What pains did they take! What hazard did they run! What difficulties and discouragements did they contend with! And yet their success was greater than their industry, and beyond all human expectation, as will appear from the following considerations.
1. The vast spreading of the gospel in so short a time (Revelation 14:6; Isaiah 60:8). In the space of about thirty years after our Lord's death, the gospel was not only diffused through the greatest part of the Roman Empire, but had reached as far as Parthia and India.
2. The wonderful power and efficacy of it upon the lives and manners of men (Romans 15:18). The change of religion led to an entire change of life. So arrange an effect had the gospel upon the lives of its professors, that challenges the Roman Senate to instance in anyone who bore the title of Christian, who was condemned as a thief, or a murderer, or a sacrilegious person, or who was guilty of any of those gross enormities for which so many pagans were every day punished.
3. The weakness and insignificance of the instruments employed in this great work.
4. The mighty opposition that was raised against the gospel. At its first appearance it could not be otherwise, but that it must meet with a great deal of difficulty and opposition, from the lusts and vices of men, which it so plainly and severely condemned, also from the prejudices of men brought up in a contrary religion. Moreover, the powers of the world combined their forces against it.
5. The great discouragements to the embracing the profession of it. There was nothing to invite and engage men to it but the consideration of another world; for all the evils of this world threatened everyone who took the profession of Christianity upon him. Yet, in spite of every obstacle, Christianity not only lived, but grew and prospered. Can any one of the false religions of the world pretend to have been propagated and established in such a manner, merely by their own force, and the evidence and power of truth upon the minds of men; and to have borne up and sustained themselves so long under such fierce assaults, as Christianity has done?
II. THE REASON OF THE GREAT EFFICACY AND SUCCESS OF THE APOSTLES' PREACHING. The power of the Holy Ghost accompanied it, both inwardly operating on the minds of men, and also convincing them by outward and visible signs.
1. Consider the nature of the Spirit's gifts, and the use and end to which they served.
2. Show how the gospel was confirmed by them. CONCLUSION: How sad that this religion, which was so powerful at first, and has Divinity so clearly stamped upon it, should yet have so little effect upon most of those who call themselves Christians! (Hebrews 2:1-4).
An account of the means whereby the preaching of the apostles became so successful. Not from any mighty talent of persuasion, or extraordinary faculty of reasoning with which they were endued; not by any intrinsic evidences of truth, which the distinguishing doctrines they preached carried with them; nor by any other method purely human and natural; but by Divine power and assistance, accompanying them in every step they took, and miraculously blessing their endeavours. Miracles are fitly termed "signs," because done to signify who are appointed by God, as the messengers of His will to men. Their suitability for this purpose will appear, if we consider —
I. THE COMMON SENSE AND OPINION OF MANKIND. All religions, whether true or false, have at their first setting out, endeavoured to countenance themselves by real or pretended miracles.
II. THE GENERAL NATURE OF THIS SORT OF EVIDENCE. How can a man prove his Divine mission but by a miracle, i.e., by doing something which all confess that none but God can do.
III. SOME PECULIAR CHARACTERS AND PROPERTIES THAT BELONG TO THEM.
1. They are extremely fit to awaken men's attention. Curiosity is the first step towards conviction. When once men are possessed with a due regard for the messenger, they will be sure to listen carefully to the message he brings.
2. They are the shortest and most expeditious way of proof. Other kinds of proof were fitted only leisurely to loosen the knots, which the disputers of this world tied, in order to disturb the apostles in the execution of their ministry; miracles, like the hero's sword, divided these entanglings at a stroke, and at once made their way through them.
3. They are an argument of the most universal force and efficacy, equally reaching all capacities and understandings. Some have not leisure for philosophical research, and others have not sufficient ability to pursue it; but a miracle carries its own evidence in its face, and is patent to all.
While the text refers immediately to facts in the infancy of our religion, it is also identified with permanent principles, and presents matter of momentous contemplation to ourselves and all generations of men.
I. AN IMPORTANT COMMUNICATION DELIVERED.
1. Its nature.
2. Its extent.
II. A CONCLUSIVE ATTESTATION, by which this communication was confirmed.
1. Miraculous agencies.
2. Spiritual changes in the human character. (See Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4; Acts 9).
III. AN IMPERATIVE CLAIM, which this communication urges upon all to whom it is addressed.
1. To be believed.
2. To be promulgated (Romans 10:14-16).
I know not precisely what advances may be made by the intellect of an unassisted savage; but that a savage in the woods could not compose the "Principle" of Newton, is about as plain as that he could not create the world. I know not the point at which bodily strength must stop; but that a man cannot carry Atlas or Andes on his shoulders is a safe position. The question, therefore, whether the principles of human nature, under the circumstances in which it was placed at Christ's birth, will explain His religion, is one to which we are competent, and is the great question on which the whole controversy turns. Now we maintain that a great variety of facts belonging to this religion — such as the character of its Founder; its peculiar principles; the style and character of its records; its progress; the conduct, circumstances, and sufferings of its first propagators; the reception of it from the first on the ground of miraculous attestations; the prophecies which it fulfilled and which it contains; its influence on society, and other circumstances connected with it; — are utterly inexplicable by human powers and principles, but accord with, and are fully explained by, the power and perfections of God.
Miracles and the fulfillments of prophecy ought no longer to be put forward in the forefront of our plea for Christianity, but should be subordinated to the exhibition of the actual power of Christianity in the intellectual, moral, and spiritual spheres of our being. In the place of prophecy we have history — the history of eighteen centuries, during which the power of Christ's light and grace has been seen in actual operation, subduing to Him the human soul and human society, and thus evincing its unique and supernatural character. Instead of the miracles of the gospel we have in present reality what may fairly be called a moral and spiritual miracle, in the transcendent influence which Christ, at this moment, is exercising over the world. We stand face to face with an actual Christianity, which is unquestionably the most marvellous spiritual phenomenon in the world's history; and it cannot be right for us to endeavour to learn Christ by proceeding as if we could obliterate eighteen centuries, and forget that there is such a thing as a living Christianity.
, a heathen philosopher who became a Christian, speaking of the power which the Christian faith exercised over the minds of men, says: "Who would not believe it, when he sees in how short a time it has conquered so great knowledge? Orators, grammarians, rhetoricians, lawyers, physicians, and philosophers, have thrown up their opinions, which but a little before they held, and have embraced the doctrines of the gospel!"
Close the eyes for two and a half centuries, and a Roman emperor has torn the eagle from his standard to set there the cross, and the mistress of the world is at the feet of Him she crucified. Wait, and look again; a thousand years have passed — just a day with God — and the power of this Name has subdued the wildness of German forests, leaped the Channel, and raised the hewn timber of the tree of Calvary against the wild Druids' oak. And today, when all civilization is at its height, and the world is quivering with fresh powers and measureless hopes, there is no other name which stands for a moment beside that of the risen Lord. Nor has He won His rights unchallenged. No such battles were ever fought as those which have raged about Him. His teachings, His nature, His very existence, have been the strife of the ages. We ourselves have seen the combat: and now, thanks to the criticism which doubted and the infidelity which denied, we know with demonstration never had before, that Jesus did live on this earth, that He spoke these words in the Gospels, and that His character and His influence are merely inexplicable on the supposition of His mere manhood.
We recall the story of the Book of the Gospels — Cuthbert's own book — which the monks at Lindisfarne carried with them in their wanderings. They set sail for Ireland; a storm arose; the book fell overboard, and was lost; they were driven back to the English coast. Disconsolate, they went in quest of the precious volume: for a long time they searched in vain; but at length (so says the story) a miraculous revelation was vouchsafed to them, and, following its directions, they found the book on the sands far above high-water mark, uninjured by the waves — nay, even more beautiful for the disaster. Does not this story well symbolize the power of the eternal gospel working in the Church? Through the carelessness of man, it may disappear amidst the confusion of the storms; the waves may close over it and hide it from human sight. But lost — lost forever — it cannot be. It must reassert itself, and its glory will be the greater for the temporary eclipse which it has undergone.
Christianity throughout eighteen centuries has shown itself possessed of the peculiar power of recovering life when apparently almost defunct — a peculiarity entirely absent in every mythology, which, when once dead, never can be restored, but remains forever in the realm of shadows; that Christianity has a phoenix nature, and after every historic death arises anew from the grave; and that along with the resurrection which Christianity has had in our day, has also arisen from the grave the true conception of humanity.
Where the spiritually blind are enlightened, the spiritually dead quickened, the spiritually deaf and dumb made to hear devoutly and to speak piously, the spiritually lame made to walk in the paths of righteousness and to be active in every good work, and the spiritually leprous are cleansed from sins, — there the Lord is confirming the Word with signs following; for these are signs and wonders greater than physical changes, the greater deeds that our Lord promised that His disciples would perform. These signs still follow the preaching of the Word; and the age of miracles of grace is not past, nor shall it ever pass while time lasts.
That is, such miracles as should be the seals and testimony of the truth. These miracles were therefore —
1. Signs to the apostles themselves, so that they might not despair at the greatness of the work which they were commissioned to do.
2. Signs to others, and a confirmation of the truth which the apostles taught. Hence Christ does not call them miracles, but signs: since the very object of the miracles which followed their teaching was to have this moral effect, and to testify to those who needed this proof, that the doctrine which they delivered was from God.
Three signs which follow all effectual preaching —
(1)Compunction of file hearers;
(2)conversion of sinners;
(3)confirmation of the just.CONCLUSION: The figure which stands out from this book is Jesus. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. A man must be holy to comprehend the holiness of Jesus. Let us suppose the case of a sharp man, who has neither taste nor genius, standing before a great picture; he will point out flaw after flaw in Raphael. Place one who has neither musical appreciation, nor modesty to admit it, where he must hear Beethoven. It is an unmeaning noise, which gives him a headache. Even so, the lower the moral and spiritual life may be, the less is Jesus understood and loved. To an easy, soft-mannered, hard-hearted man of the world; to a subtle, bitter, selfish scholar, with the delicate intellectual egotism, and the fatal gilt of analysis a outrance, Gethsemane and the cross may be a scandal or a mockery, The gospel, which seems so poor and pale when we rise from the songs of poets and the reasonings of philosophers, is a test of our spirit. Let some ambitious students in philosophy — some who have been communing for hears with the immortal masters of history, charmed with the balanced masses and adjusted perspectives of the composition, speak out their mind today upon this Gospel of St. Mark. They will not place it very high upon their list. But turn to it tomorrow, when the end of your toil finds you disappointed men; when sorrow visits you; when, as you put your hand upon the wall of your room, memory, like a serpent, starts out and stings you. Then you will recognize the infinite strength and infinite compassion of Jesus. Out of your weakness and misery, out of your disappointment, you will feel that here you can trust in a nobility that is never marred, and rest that tired heart of yours upon a love that never fails St. Mark is the Gospel whose emblem is the lion, whose hero is full of Divine love and Divine strength. It is the Gospel which was addressed to the Romans to free them from the misery of scepticism, from the grinding dominion of iron superhuman force unguided by a loving will. Here, brief as it is, we have, in its essential germs, all the theology of the Church. Had every other part of the New Testament perished, Christendom might have been developed from this. A man's faith does not consist of the many things which he affects to believe or finds it useful to believe (as men are said to be doing in France), but of the few things which he really believes, and with which he stands, fronting his own soul and eternity. This faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is sufficient. Hold it fast, and you shall find the power of one of our Lord's promises which is peculiar to this Gospel. If you are called upon to "handle the serpents," or "to drink the deadly things" of science and philosophy, you shall lift up the serpent as a standard of victory. The cup of poison shall not reach your heart as it reached the heart of Socrates, when the sun was going down behind the hill tops. "It shall not hurt you." Hold fast this gospel in that which tries many who are undisturbed by speculative doubt, in conscious sinfulness, in the allurements of lust. Hold it fast in the din of voices that fill a Church distracted by party cries, and "He who has instructed His Church by the heavenly doctrine of His Evangelist St. Mark, will grant that, being not like children, carried away by every blast of vain doctrine, you shall be established in the truth of His holy gospel."
()"I have lately been full of perplexities about various temporal concerns. I have met with heavy afflictions; but in the mount the Lord is seen. All my hope is in God; without His power no European could possibly be converted, and that can convert any Indian. Though the superstitions of the Hindoos were a thousand times stronger than they are, and the example of Europeans a thousand times worse; though I were deserted by all, and persecuted by all, yet my hope, fixed on the Rock, will rise superior to every obstruction, and triumph over every trial. I feel happy in this, that I am engaged in the work of God, and the more I am engaged in it, the more I feel it a rich reward. Indeed, I would rejoice in having undertaken it, even though I should perish in the attempt.
()If I go to a large factory and see a hundred straps flying in all directions, I ask where is the motive power — the engine. So you are walking with the power of God, upheld by the arm of righteousness. If one of your merchantmen should ask me to go to Philadelphia to conduct a business for him, and should say to me: "I expect you to carry on this business with your own capital," I would think it very strange. It would not be his business, but my own. That is the mischief with all Christians. They are in business for the Lord, but working with their own capital.
()It is one thing to attempt to row a ship; it is another to unfurl the sails, and send her leaping, with a fresh breeze, like a thing of life, across the big opposing waves. It is one thing for a man to try to drag a ear on a railroad; it is another to fill the boiler of the locomotive with water, put in fuel, kindle a strong fire, and soon fly like the wind over mountains and plains, counting the long, loaded train a mere plaything. But these analogies, drawn from our human employment of the material forces of nature, and feeble to illustrate the difference between the man who attempts to influence and convert men, and to advance spiritual and eternal things by any philosophy of the wisest of men, or by any motives of time, and the man whose whole and sincere aim it is to be but an implement in the hand of the Almighty. Then his prayers "move the arm that moves the skies." Then his labours are not his own; but the eternal Father, the loving Redeemer, the Holy Ghost, the angels, the inspired Word, the prayers of the saints — all the infinite powers of good in heaven and earth — work through him.