Consider those dispensations of Providence, by which the means of this success were established after Christ’s resurrection.
I. The abolishing the Jewish dispensation. This indeed was gradually done, but it began from the time of Christ’s resurrection, in which the abolition of it is founded. For the Jewish dispensation was not fitted for the practice of the world in general, or for a church of God dwelling in all parts of the world: nor would it have been practicable by them. It would have been impossible for men living in all parts of the world to go to Jerusalem three times a year, as was prescribed in that constitution. When therefore God had a design of enlarging his church, as he did after Christ’s resurrection, it was necessary that this dispensation should be abolished. If it had been continued, it would have been a great block and hindrance to the enlargement of the church. Besides, their ceremonial law, by reason of its burdensomeness, and great peculiarity of some of its rites, was a wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles, and would have kept the Gentiles from complying with the true religion. This wall therefore was broken down to make way for the more extensive success of the gospel; as Ephesians 2:14, 15.
II. The next thing in order of time seems to be the appointment of the christian sabbath. For though this was gradually established in the christian church, yet those things by which the revelation of God’s mind and will was made, began on the day of Christ’s resurrection, by his appearing then to his disciples, John 20:19. And afterwards, his appearing was from time to time on that day rather than any other, John 20:26. This appointment was confirmed by his sending down the Holy Spirit so remarkably on that day, Acts 2:1. and afterwards by directing, that the public worship of Christians should be on that day, which may be concluded from Acts 20:1 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2. and Revelation 1:10. And so the day of the week on which Christ rose from the dead, that joyful day, is appointed to be the day of the church’s holy rejoicing to the end of the world, and the day of their stated public worship. And this is a very great and principal means of the success which the gospel has had in the world.
III. The next thing was Christ’s appointment of the gospel-ministry, by commissioning and sending forth his apostles to teach and baptize all nations. Of these things we have an account in Matthew xxviii 19, 20. “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”—There were three things done by this one commission of Christ to his apostles, viz.
1. The appointment of the office of the gospel-ministry.—For this commission which Christ gives to his apostles, in the most essential parts of it, belongs to all ministers; and the apostles, by virtue of it, were ministers or elders of the church.
2. Something peculiar in this commission, viz. to go forth from one nation to another, preaching the gospel in all the world. The apostles had something above what belonged to their ordinary character as ministers; they had an extraordinary power of teaching and ruling, which extended to all the churches; and not only all the churches which then were, but all that should be to the end of the world by their ministry. And so the apostles were, in subordination to Christ, made foundations of the christian church. See Ephesians 2:20. and Revelation 21:14.
3. Here is an appointment of Christian baptism. This ordinance indeed had a beginning before; John the Baptist and Christ baptized. But now especially by this institution is it established as an ordinance to be upheld in the christian church to the end of the world.—The ordinance of the Lord’s supper had been established before, just before Christ’s crucifixion.
IV. The next thing to be observed, is the enduing the apostles, and others, with extraordinary and miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost; such as the gift of tongues, the gift of healing, of prophecy, &100:The Spirit of God was poured out in great abundance in this respect; so that not only ministers, but a very great part of the Christians through the world were endued with them, both old and young; not only officers, and more honourable persons, but the meaner son of people, servants, and handmaids, agreeable to Joel’s prophecy, Joel 2:28, 29. of which prophecy the apostle Peter takes notice, that it is accomplished in this dispensation, Acts 2:11.
How wonderful a dispensation was this! Under the Old Testament but few had such honours put upon them by God. Moses indeed wished that all the Lord’s people were prophets, Numb. 11:29. whereas Joshua thought it much that Eldad and Medad prophesied. But now we find the wish of Moses fulfilled. And this continued in a very considerable degree to the end of the apostolic age, or the first hundred years after the birth of Christ, which is therefore called the age of miracles.
This was a great means of the success of the gospel, and of establishing the christian church, not only in that age, but in all ages to the end of the world. For Christianity being established through so great a part of the known world by miracles, it was after that more easily continued by tradition; and by means of these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, the apostles and others were enabled to write the New Testament, to be an infallible and perpetual rule of faith and manners to the church. And these miracles recorded in those writings are a standing proof of the truth of Christianity to all ages.
V. The next thing is the revealing of those glorious doctrines fully and plainly, which had under the Old Testament been obscurely revealed. The doctrine of Christ’s satisfaction and righteousness, his ascension and glory, and the way of salvation, were under the Old Testament in a great measure hid under the vail of types and shadows, and more obscure revelations, as Moses put a vail on his face to hide the shining of it; but now the vail of the temple is rent from the top to the bottom. Christ, the antetype of Moses, shines; his face is without a vail; 2 Corinthians 3:12, 13, and 18. Now these glorious mysteries, which were in a great measure kept secret from the foundation of the world, are clearly revealed. Ephesians 3:3-5. Romans 16:25. “According to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest;” and, Colossians 1:26. “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.”
Thus the Sun of righteousness, after it is risen, begins to shine forth clearly, and not by a dim reflection as before.—Christ, before his death, revealed many things more clearly than ever they had been in the Old Testament: but the great mysteries of Christ’s redemption, reconciliation by his death, and justification by his righteousness, were not so plainly revealed before Christ’s resurrection. Christ gave this reason for it, that he would not put new wine into old bottles; and it was gradually done even after his resurrection. In all likelihood, Christ much more clearly instructed them personally after his resurrection, and before his ascension; as we read that he continued with them forty days, speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom, Acts 1:3. and that” he opened their understandings, that they might understand the scriptures,” Luke 24:45. But the clear revelation of these things was principally after the pouring out of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, agreeable to Christ’s promise, John 16:12, 13. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when the Spirit of truth is come, he shall guide you into all truth.” This clear revelation of the mysteries of the gospel, as they are delivered, we have chiefly through the hands of the apostle Paul, by whose writings a child may come to know more of the doctrines of the gospel, in many respects, than the greatest prophets knew under the darkness of the Old Testament.
Thus we see how the light of the gospel, which began to dawn immediately after the fall, and gradually increased through all the ages of the Old Testament, is now come to the light of perfect day, as the brightness of the sun shining forth in his unvailed glory.
VI. The next thing that I would observe, is the appointment of the office of deacons in the christian church, which we have an account of in the 6th chapter of the Acts, to take care for the outward supply of the members of Christ’s church, and the exercise of that great christian virtue charity.
VII. The calling, qualifying, and sending the apostle Paul. This was begun in his conversion as he was going to Damascus, and was one of the greatest means of the success of Christ’s redemption that followed: for this success was more by the labours, preaching, and writings of this apostle, than all the other apostles put together. For, as he says, 1 Corinthians 15:10. he laboured more abundantly than they all. As he was the apostle of the Gentiles, so it was mainly by his ministry that the Gentiles were called and the gospel spread through the world. Our nation, and the other nations of Europe, have the gospel among them chiefly through his means; and he was more employed by the Holy Ghost in revealing the glorious doctrines of the gospel by his writings, for the use of the church in all ages, than all the other apostles taken together.
VIII. The next thing I would observe, is the institution of ecclesiastical councils, for deciding controversies, and ordering the affairs of the church of Christ, of which we have an account in the 15th chapter of Acts
IX. The last thing I shall mention under this head, is the committing the New Testament to writing. This was all written after the resurrection of Christ by the apostles themselves, except the gospels of Mark and Luke, and the book of the Acts He that wrote the gospel of Mark, is supposed to be the son of Mary, in whose house they were praying for Peter, when he, brought out of prison by the angel, came and knocked at the door; of which we read, “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together, praying.” He was the companion of the apostles Barnabas and Paul: Acts 15:37. “And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.”—He was Barnabas’s sister’s son, and seems some time to have been a companion of the apostle Paul: Colossians 4:10. “Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner, saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas; touching whom ye received commandment: if he come unto you, receive him.” The apostles seem to have made great account of him, as appears by those places, and also by Acts 12:25. “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark;” and Acts 13:5. “And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they had also John to their minister;” and2 Tim. 4:11. “Only Luke is with me: take Mark and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”
He who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, was a great companion of the apostle Paul. Beside the last-mentioned place, he speaks of himself as accompanying Paul in his travels, and therefore speaks in the first person plural; We went to such a place; We set sail, &100:He was greatly beloved by the apostle Paul: he is that beloved physician spoken of, Col 4:14. The apostle ranks Mark and Luke among his fellow-labourers, Philemon 24. “Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow-labourers.”
The books of the New Testament are either historical, doctrinal, or prophetical. The historical books are the writings of the four evangelists, giving us the history of Christ, his purchase of redemption, his resurrection and ascension; and the Acts of the Apostles, giving an account of the great things by which the christian church was first established and propagated. The doctrinal books are the epistles; most of which we have from the great apostle Paul. And we have one prophetical book, which takes place after the end of the history of the whole Bible, and gives an account of the great events which were to come to pass, by which the work of redemption was to be carried on to the end of the world.
All these books are supposed to have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, excepting those which were written by the apostle John, who lived the longest of all the apostles, and who wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem, as is supposed. To this beloved disciple it was that Christ revealed those wonderful things which were to come to pass in his church to the end of time; and he was the person who put the finishing hand to the canon of Scripture, and sealed the whole of it. So that now the canon of Scripture, that great and standing written rule, which was begun about Moses’s time, is completed and settled, and a curse denounced against him that adds any thing to it, or diminishes any thing from it. And so all the stated means of grace were finished in the apostolical age, or before the death of the apostle John, and are to remain unaltered to the day of judgment. Thus far we have considered those things by which the means of grace were given and established in the christian church.