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LESSON 4.

REVIEW OF THE FIRST FOURTEEN YEARS

FROM THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD. WHEN the disciples assembled together to elect a successor to the traitor Judas, the number of the names was about an hundred and twenty. These were all the believers that were in Jerusalem, although there were brethren in Galilee and other parts, which our Saviour and his apostles had visited. The hundred and twenty were the first assembled company that represented the Church of Christ, formed together as one body, with apostles as their governors.

In the course of fourteen years the number of disciples had so greatly increased, that there were local churches, containing many members, at Lydda, Joppa, Cesarea, and other places in Judæa, and in the regions of Cilicia and Syria, more especially at Antioch. The gospel had been preached, beginning at Jerusalem, through Samaria, Galilee, and other countries; and Gentiles had been formally admitted into the Church.

No one can doubt that this was the work of God. He that soweth is nothing; he that watereth is nothing; but God that giveth the increase. But it is instructive to remark in what various ways God works out

His purpose.

First, by a miraculous and visible gift of the Holy Ghost, thousands were convinced at once. Then the public miracle of healing the lame man brought over a great multitude. God worked by signs and power.

The Lord was next pleased to work by trials. The rulers conspired against the believers. The apostles were imprisoned ; and though released by a miracle were again seized, scourged, and threatened. But they were still enabled to persevere, until a fearful persecution broke forth, which ended in the martyrdom of Stephen, and the cruel persecution of the Church at Jerusalem. This drove forth many of the brethren to wander throughout the earth. Wherever they went, they proclaimed the gospel, and won new souls to Christ; so that the very act by which their enemies thought to repress the believers, proved, by God's agency, the means of their increase and multiplication.

After this fierce persecution God gave the disciples rest for five years; and there was time for the churches freshly planted in the various parts of the world, to be settled and confirmed, before the apostles were called upon, under Herod Agrippa, again to suffer for the name of Christ.

Moreover, the latter part of these fourteen years exhibits a most wonderful train of circumstances, leading the way to a much wider spread of the gospel than had hitherto taken place.

The anger of the Jews against Stephen had been excited, because they thought that he was teaching the people that the peculiar privileges of their nation were about to pass away. This stirred up the youthful Saul, one of the most zealous of the Pharisees, and led to the death of Stephen, and to Saul's journey to Damascus, undertaken for the express purpose of committing to prison all persons belonging to the new religion.

Who would have thought that by this very persecution God was preparing to open the door of admission for the Gentiles, and to place them upon an equal footing with the Jews as members of Christ's Church?

This was brought about by many events, which seemed at first independent, but all proved to be leading to the same end.

1. Saul was miraculously converted, and instructed by the Lord himself, having been selected as the person most fitting to carry the message of God to the Gentiles.

2. The dispersion of believers caused the word to be preached to Gentiles as well as Jews at Antioch, the chosen future starting-point for the missions to Asia, Greece, and other places.

3. When Gentiles had been converted in some numbers at Antioch, and the news thereof began to be spread abroad, God was pleased to declare by a special revelation, in the case of Cornelius, the right of the Gentiles to be admitted without being made subject to Jewish ceremonies.

4. The Church at Jerusalem being thus instructed of God was prepared to receive with favour the news of what had taken place at Antioch; and so Barnabas was sent with authority to settle the Church there.

5. Saul having returned from Arabia to Damascus, had preached boldly in that city. He had soon been driven from it by persecution, and had then visited Jerusalem, where he became acquainted with Barnabas. But being brought in danger of his life from the Jews, he was again forced to wander, and so passed through Syria and Cilicia to his native home of Tarsus, preaching Christ, and preparing the way for his future labours.

6. It is probable that Saul had already passed through Antioch, and was remembered there when Barnabas arrived. This may have increased the desire of Barnabas for Saul's assistance, and led him to bring Saul from Tarsus to Antioch. Thus Barnabas and Saul were drawn together, being especially concerned in building up a Gentile church, and being thereby trained for their future task of going forth as missionaries to preach the gospel to the Gentile world.

7. The mission of love, on which Barnabas and Saul were sent from Antioch to Jerusalem in the time of famine, brought Saul into more close communion with the apostles and the Church at Jerusalem. And so when he and Barnabas were sent again to Antioch, they were ready for the Lord's work, when He should separate them to spread the gospel into other lands, and bring in the nations of the earth to the faith which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thus did success and failure, trouble and rest, all in turn, help the growth of the Church; and thus were the dispersed Jews, Peter, Saul, and Barnabas, all in various ways influenced by God's Spirit, in order to the publication of the gospel in foreign lands, and at the same time a church was reared in Antioch, one of the most important cities of the East, and most suited to be the starting-point for missionary enterprise.

LESSON 5.

THE FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY OF

ST. PAUL.

A.D. 45.

THE way having been thus prepared for the propagation of the gospel in the Gentile world, the agents whom God had designed for the work, were now solemnly called to undertake it. The Holy Ghost said, As certain prophets and teachers at Antioch “ministered to the Lord and fasted the Holy Ghost said unto them, 'Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”

It was usual for Jews to adopt, in addition to their

proper name, a name by which they were known to the Gentiles, as Daniel was called among the Babylonians by the name of Belteshazzar. Accordingly Saul, the apostle of the Gentiles, appears henceforth in the Sacred History under his Gentile

name, Paul.

The first place visited by Paul and Barnabas was the island of Cyprus, where Sergius Paulus, the Roman deputy,* or governor of the country, being a prudent man, called for them, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas, the sorcerer, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith, was severely rebuked by Paul, and was struck blind by the hand of the Lord. “Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.

* The Greek word literally means Proconsul, the name belonging to the office which the governor of Cyprus held.

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