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Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
THE sacred Historian is here speaking of the happy effects of St Peter's first discourse, after the miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, on the day of Pentecost. The subject of his address to the people, on this occasion, was the miraculous works, the sufferings and death, the resurrection and ascension of the Redeemer of mankind. With affectionate solicitude for their everlasting welfare, he calls upon the men of Israel to hear his words; declaring, that Jesus of Nazareth had been approved among them by miracles and wonders and signs: that he had been taken by wicked hands, and crucified, and slain: that he had been raised up by the power of God, and exalted to majesty and glory: and, that all the house of Israel ought to know assuredly, that the same Jesus whom they had crucified was now made both Lord and Christ--constituted the Head over all things for his Church; the supreme Governor, of mankind, as well as the merciful Mediator between an offended God and his sinful creatures. The animated discourse of the zealous Apostle had the desired effect upon the minds of his [3/4] auditors; it is said, "they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the Apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" The answer is, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins:" And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." The consequence of this earnest exhortation is declared in the words of the text; "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."
As this passage of sacred scripture contains an accurate description of the commencement and progress of the Christian life, I shall, first, give a concise explication of the words, in the order in which they lie before us; and then draw from them a few observations more immediately applicable to the design of this Ecclesiastical Convention.
By virtue of the commission which St. Peter, in common with the other Apostles, had received from the great head of the Church, he here appears in the character of a Messenger of the Lord of hosts to a sinful world. He reminds the people of their guilt; he extols the merits of Christ; he proclaims the fulness of that redemption which was provided for the guilty race of Adam; he freely offers pardon, and restoration to the divine favour unto all truly penitent offenders. They who heard him, gladly received his word. They were pricked in their heart by a consciousness of sin; they knew that they had justly provoked the displeasure of the Almighty; there was nothing before them but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. No wonder, that persons in this situation gladly received the word of reconciliation delivered by one of [4/5] the Ambassadors of Christ. To hearts penetrated by remorse, and alarmed with apprehensions of divine wrath, the Gospel may well be styled glad tidings of great joy; as it encourages peace upon earth, and proclaims the goodwill of God towards men. No wonder, that with so much earnestness they inquired what they should do, to entitle themselves to the benefits of this covenant of mercy. In compliance with the Apostle's command, they were immediately baptized. By this sacred ordinance they were regenerated; in other words, they were born into a new state and condition; they were initiated into the Christian Church; they were entitled to privileges which they did not possess before; they had a covenanted claim to the remission of their sins, to the aid of God's holy Spirit, and to the blessing of immortal life: in the language of our Catechism it may be said of them, "they were made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven." And here I cannot but stop to observe,
How wonderfully the Church of Christ, from small beginnings, has increased, and extended itself over the face of the earth! To use our Lord's own allusion; like a grain of mustard-seed, it fell into the ground; it took root; and, fostered by the dews of heaven, grew rapidly, and stretched forth luxuriant branches. Christ at first chose twelve Apostles. He afterwards sent forth other seventy also. And after his ascension to glory, at the period which is now under our consideration, it is said, "the number of the names together were about an hundred and twenty." By the blessing of God upon a single Discourse of St. Peter, there were added unto them about three thousand souls. Thus, in the times of primitive purity, the Church was increased, not by dividing and subdividing, but by continual additions; not by breaking [5/6] away the branches, and endeavouring to plant them anew and give them an independent growth; but by adhering firmly to the main stock, and deriving nourishment from the original root.
We are informed, that they who were now admitted into the Church, "continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine." This doctrine of the Apostles was given by inspiration of God. A summary of it was drawn up at an early period, and is frequently alluded to in the scriptures, under the denomination of the "Form of sound words; the faith that was once delivered to the Saints." Such a form of sound words we now possess in the Apostles' Creed, compiled in the first age of Christianity, and hence transmitted down to us. The Christian's rule both of faith and manners is now, what it was from the beginning. In matters of religion, all human devices are of no moment; proud philosophy may be nothing more than vain deceit; the wisdom of the world may be foolishness with God. In all respects, we must continue stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine; we must give up ourselves implicitly to the guidance of heavenly wisdom as declared by the inspired Messengers of Christ.
It is farther asserted, with respect to those who were induced to enter into the Christian Church by the preaching of St. Peter, that they were not only baptized; they not only received his doctrine as truth coming with divine authority; but they went on to Christian perfection--they continued stedfastly in fellowship with the Apostles, and in breaking of bread and in prayers. There were no schisms among them. They considered themselves as members of the same body, united under one common Head; as having one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. This intimate fellowship was maintained by breaking of bread in the Holy Communion--by feasting together as [6/7] friends at the Lord's table, and by expressing their concern for each other's welfare, in prayers offered up for the relief of their necessities, and for the divine benediction upon all their undertakings.
Thus was the Church of Christ established upon earth, and thus were the primitive Christians of one heart and one mind--perfectly united in doctrine and discipline. Then were the words of the Psalmist verified: "The spiritual Jerusalem was built as a city that is at unity in itself." Would to God that it had remained in the same happy condition to the present day! But, so far from beholding this blessed unity, when we cast our view over the Christian world, we have too much reason to take up the lamentation of the Prophet: "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary, once so firmly compacted together, are now disjointed, poured out in the top of every street." Eighteen centuries have elapsed since the Christian Church was established in the earth by Christ and his Apostles. Of this Church we, my Brethren, profess to be members, as it is to be supposed, there are few or none among us who have not been regularly initiated by the sacred Ordinance of Baptism. Let us, then, look back to our pious predecessors: let us advert to the conduct of these primitive Converts to Christianity: let us draw from this portion of sacred history a variety of practical improvement. And,
1st. If those to whom St. Peter addressed his discourse were shocked at the recollection of their stupidity in not adverting to the signs and wonders wrought by our blessed Redeemer; if they reflected with bitter remorse on their ingratitude and cruelty in taking him with wicked hands and slaying him on the ignominious cross; if they looked forward with fearful apprehensions of his wrath, when they considered him as exalted to supreme dominion--made both Lord and Christ for the government of his Church; let us also be deeply impressed with sentiments of penitence and humility, when we reflect on what is past, or anticipate the awful scenes of futurity. Our crimes may not be exactly similar; but have not we also, to a certain degree, been ungrateful, cruel, and disobedient to our Lord? He bore our sins: he was wounded for our transgressions: he was bruised for our iniquities: every crime which we commit, may be said to have aggravated his pains. Have we sufficiently considered his miraculous works; and is our faith immoveably established by the evidences which he adduced of his divine authority? Do we entertain proper notions of his present exaltation to power and great glory, and are we actuated by the habitual fear of offending that almighty Being who can bestow everlasting life in the heavenly mansions, or destroy both body and soul in hell? Should the preaching of the Gospel be now accompanied by the divine blessing; should the word of God now prove quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword; should there be any present who are pierced to the heart by a painful consciousness of sin; for them I shall proceed, in the
2d place, To draw advice and consolation from the conduct of St. Peter, on the occasion now before us. To those who may still be considered as heathen, who have never been admitted into the Church of Christ, the language of the Apostle may be addressed: "Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins." To those who have entered into the Christian Covenant, and who are convinced that they have not hitherto fulfilled their baptismal vows, the admonition must be given, "enter at once upon the discharge of your sacred engagements." Look back to the period when ye were graciously admitted into this covenant of [8/9] mercy. Reflect on the merciful offer that was then made to you of remission of sin, of the aid of the Holy Spirit, of a tide to the everlasting inheritance. Are ye now penitent? Are ye now believing? Is it now your sincere desire to keep God's holy will and commandments, and to walk in the same all the days of your life? During every period of your earthly existence, he has been waiting to be gracious unto you. Ye may derive sweet consolation from his never-failing promise, that he will still consider you as his own children, as members of Christ, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.
3d. Let it be deeply impressed upon our minds, that it is our indispensable duty to continue stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine. This is an age of mischievous innovations. The pride and presumption of men undertake to alter every thing; the divine appointments of religion, as well as the temporary institutions of civil society. How often is the pious heart grieved by the open avowal of such sentiments as these--"That human authority may determine whether Christianity is to be received or rejected: that without regarding the ordinances of the Gospel, every man may take his own way to secure the favour of God and obtain future felicity: that the Sacraments are useless ceremonies: and that the Priesthood may be abolished, as one of the privileged orders, the existence of which is an infringement upon the liberties of mankind." At the recital of such libertine notions, the humble Christian will be ready to exclaim, "Nay, but O man! who art thou that repliest against God?" The holy scriptures contain a declaration of the Divine Will. The doctrine of Christ and his inspired Apostles must continue, till the consummation of all things, to be the rule of our faith, and the guide of our practice. Can all the power of all [9/10] the men upon earth rightly contravene the authority, or effectually annul the ordinances of the Almighty? No! Let the loftiness of man be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men be made low; and let the Lord alone be exalted in this our day of probation for eternity! Amidst the wild notions which infidelity is propagating around us, let us remain stedfast in the use of our Creeds and the other parts of the established Liturgy of our Church; and, no doubt, we shall be what St. Paul required in some of his directions to the primitive Christians: "We shall avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called; we shall not err concerning the faith that was once delivered to the Saints; we shall keep that which is committed to our trust"--the fundamental principles of Christianity.
4th. It is remarked, that they who were converted by the preaching of St. Peter, continued in fellowship with the Apostles--under their spiritual government, submissive to the rules by them established for the well-being of the whole Christian community. And to this purpose, we are taught in our Litany continually to pray, "that our good Lord would deliver us from false doctrine, heresy, and schism;" that is, not only from erroneous opinions with respect to the doctrines of religion; but also from needless divisions and hurtful separations from that order and discipline which was established by the inspired Apostles. It is evident from the scriptures that a subordination of offices, a difference of rank and authority existed among the first Preachers of the Gospel. Thus, to Timothy at Ephesus, and to Titus in the extensive island of Crete, was committed the extraordinary power of ordaining Ministers, and of superintending all orders of men in the church, of both the Clergy and Laity. In the very first [10/11] age after the decease of the Apostles, the appropriate names were given of Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons. [* See the Epistles of St. Ignatius] This mode of Ecclesiastical discipline was established in all countries: It was introduced into England with the introduction of Christianity: It was retained when the Church reformed itself from the corruptions of Popery: And from that parent Church it has been transmitted to us. Thus, may we truly say, that we continue in the Apostles' fellowship: we derive our authority through them from the great Head of the Church: we enjoy that form of Ecclesiastical government which they established in every part of the world. Should you, therefore, at any time be tempted to go away from your Church, say with unshaken attachment, "To whom should we go? Here is pure doctrine, and primitive discipline; here are the words of eternal life, and we know and are sure that if we fail of obtaining future felicity, the loss must be attributed to our own neglect."
Again; it is worthy of observation, that although the persons mentioned in the text were converted by the preaching of St. Peter, it is not said that they manifested any particular respect for him; that they were baptized into his faith alone; but, they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship. The Apostles were all invested with the same authority; and they all preached the same doctrine. The Church was founded, not upon any particular Member, but upon the whole sacred College--"it was built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone." And hence give me leave to remark, that while we continue stedfastly in their doctrine and fellowship, as [11/12] explained and exemplified by the practice of the primitive Church, we must resist the usurpation of the Bishop of Rome, who, under the pretence of an authority derived from St. Peter, claims the supreme dominion over all other Bishops: we must renounce the erroneous doctrines of the Roman Church falsely called Catholic, which has enjoined a great variety of articles of faith utterly unknown to the first Preachers of the Gospel, and not implied in the belief of the primitive Christians as declared in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. Let us bless God, that we are descended from the Church of England, which was reformed upon the primitive plan; rejecting the pretensions of an Universal Bishop, but still retaining the Episcopal Order, as superior to that of Presbyters and Deacons; which kind of Prelacy, as is apparent from the whole current of Ecclesiastical history, prevailed in all places, at all times, and among all Christians, for fifteen hundred years after the decease of the Apostles. I shall observe,
In the last place, that the intention of the establishment of Christ's Church upon earth was to introduce a spirit of piety and devotion among the children of men, so as to prepare them for the blessed employments of his Church triumphant in heaven. Those who have entered into the sacred Ministry of the Gospel are, no doubt, impressed with a becoming sense of the utility and the magnitude of the task assigned them. Let us, my Reverend Brethren, emulate the zeal of the first Apostles in diffusing a knowledge of the Gospel of Christ. The cause in which they were engaged is the same which we are now maintaining. The present situation of the world requires extraordinary exertions. Let us contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the Saints. Let us devoutly [12/13] implore the divine protection and assistance, that we may never have occasion to adopt the pathetic complaint of one of the most learned and pious Divines [* Dr. George Hicks] that ever adorned the Christian Church. "It seems," saith he, "that in the Apostles' days, the news of reconciliation to God was most welcome to the world, and men were ready to embrace the very feet of those that brought it, and receive them as the Angels of God. But now, though our doctrine and mission be the same that then was, and to the same great end; yet, alas, how little do men regard either! They rather treat us as enemies, as impertinent and troublesome. They think we are a needless and burdensome order of men; and too little heed is given unto us, though we preach the very same doctrine that the Apostles preached, and the very same that the Angels sang at our Saviour's birth, glory to God on high, on the earth peace, good-will towards men. But men--alas! the greatest part of men regard not what we say; but live altogether as if God were beholden to them for accepting of the peace which we offer in his name unto them; or, as if it were indeed a thing not worthy of their acceptance."
God forbid that any of the Laity who now hear me should ever deservedly fall under this severe reproof! Brethren, Christians as ye are by profession, let us be persuaded better things of you, and things which accompany salvation. Acknowledge the wonderful love of God in sending forth his Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins. Learn to love him who first loved you, and let this reciprocal love be the fulfilling of the law; let it lead you to walk in all his ordinances blameless. Advert to the example of those primitive Christians, of whom it is said, "that they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." At that period of pure religion it would have been deemed equally absurd and impious for any of those who professed to be Christ's Disciples, to absent themselves from the Lord's table, or to neglect the offices of private and public devotion. Let me earnestly exhort you to walk by the same rule, to mind the same thing. Testify your faith, love, and unity by a friendly participation of the Holy Eucharist, and by uniting in prayer for the divine grace and benediction. If we be disposed to rejoice in the great advantages which we enjoy--in the authority of our Priesthood, in the excellency of our Liturgy, in the decency of all our Rites and Ceremonies; let us ever remember, that these things call for a warmer Spirit of piety, for a more ardent zeal in the service of our Master. Let us maintain the communion of Saints, and show ourselves true members of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church. Let us walk in the way of truth, holding the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life; and the happiness of heaven will commence during our continuance on earth. God will be ever present to our minds; and in our progress through this world, every step will be taken with an humble dependance upon his wise and merciful providence. The pleasures of prosperity will be heightened by songs of gratitude and praise to the bountiful Author of all good; and, under the pressure of sickness or any other temporal calamity, strength and consolation will be obtained by continuing instant in prayer. As members of the same body, suffering with those who suffer, and rejoicing with those who rejoice; mutually [14/15] sustaining and sustained, by such well-doing we shall put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, and abash the scoffers of these last days; our light will so shine before a gainsaying world, that many, no doubt, by seeing our good works, will be induced to glorify our Father who is in heaven; and even unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places will be known by the Church here upon earth the manifold wisdom of God.
Consider what has been said, and the Lord give you understanding in all things. That ye may both perceive and know what things ye ought to do, and also may have grace and strength faithfully to fulfil the same, God of his infinite mercy grant through the merits and mediation of our compassionate Redeemer, Jesus Christ; to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be ascribed honour, and glory, and blessing, now, henceforth, and for ever.
1. A Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Principally selected and altered from Nelson's Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England. By John Henry Hobart, A. M. an Assistant Minister of Trinity Church, New-York. To which are added, Pastoral Advice to Young Persons before and after Confirmation, by a Minister of the Church of England; and an Exhortation to Family Prayer, by Bishop Gibson; with Forms of Devotion.
2. A Companion for the Altar, consisting of a short Explanation of the Lord's Supper, and Meditations and Prayers, proper to be used before and during the receiving of the Holy Communion, according to the Form prescribed by the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. By John Henry Hobart, A. M. an Assistant Minister of Trinity Church, New-York.
3. A Guide to the Church, in several Discourses: to which are added, two Postscripts; the first to those Members of the Church who occasionally frequent other Places of Public Worship; the second to the Clergy. Addressed to William Wilberforce, Esq. M. P. By the Rev. Charles Daubeny, LL. B. a Presbyter of the Church of England.
4. Discourses on several important Subjects. By the late Right Rev. Samuel Seabury, D. D. Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the States of Connecticut and Rhode-Island. Published from Manuscripts prepared by the Author for the Press.
5. Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher: in seven Dialogues. Containing an Apology for the Christian Religion, against those who are called Free-thinkers. By George Berkely, D. D. Author of a Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, and various other Works, chiefly in Defence of Christianity, against Atheists and Infidels.
6. Lectures on the Gospel of St. Matthew: delivered in the Parish Church at St. James, Westminster, in the Years 1798, 1799, 1800, and 1801. By the Right Rev. Beilby Porteus, D. D. Bishop of London.
7. Primitive Truth and Order vindicated from Modern Misrepresentation: with a Defence of Episcopacy, particularly that of Scotland, against an attack made on it by the late Dr. Campbell, of Aberdeen, in his Lectures on Ecclesiastical History: and a concluding Address to the Episcopalians of Scotland. By the Right Rev. John Skinner, in Aberdeen, Senior Bishop of the Scotch Episcopal Church.