The Foundation of the Church among the Heathen

[Sidenote: A.D.38]

During St. Peter's journey, the course of God's good Providence led him to the sea-port town of Joppa, on the borders of Samaria and Judaea, and there we read that "he tarried many days," a measure of time which is supposed to be equivalent to three years. At the expiration of this time an event occurred which had a deep and lasting influence on the life of the Church of Christ. [Sidenote: Further fulfilment of the promise to St. Peter.] Hitherto no Gentiles had been admitted into her fold; but now it was to be given to St. Peter first to unlock to them the door of union with Christ through His Human Nature; for to him had first been committed the Power of the Keys, as a reward for his adoring confession of Christ's Divinity[1].

Section 1. The Conversion of Cornelius.

A Roman soldier quartered at the great stronghold of Caesarea was honoured by being the occasion of the {26} gathering in of the first heathen converts. [Sidenote: A.D.41. Conversion of the gentile Cornelius.] This centurion was not a proselyte, but a Gentile, one however who feared and served God according to the light given him through reason and natural religion. He was commanded by an angel from God to send to Joppa for St. Peter to show him the way of salvation, whilst another express revelation prepared the holy Apostle for a step so contrary to all his most cherished habits and prejudices. [Sidenote: Descent of the Holy Ghost on gentile converts.] Taught by God Himself no longer to consider or treat the Gentiles as "common or unclean," St. Peter obeyed the summons of Cornelius; and, even whilst he was preaching to him and the many gentile friends he had gathered, the Holy Ghost descended visibly upon them as upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. The Gift of Tongues accompanied what we may almost call a second Foundation of the Church; and we may readily believe that those Christianized Jews who had accompanied the Apostle from Joppa were "astonished" at this indication of what was in store for the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God.

[Sidenote: Holy Baptism not superseded.]

It is worthy of remark, that notwithstanding this direct and extraordinary outpouring of the Holy Ghost -- but once before, and never since, vouchsafed to any child of Adam -- yet it was not considered by St. Peter to do away with the necessity for Holy Baptism. "He commanded them to be baptized[2]."


Section 2. The Apostolic church in Jerusalem.

[Sidenote: A.D.41. Jerusalem still the centre of the Church.]

Up to this time, and for long afterwards, Jerusalem continued to be the centre of the Church of Christ. Within her walls was the home of the Apostles during the intervals between their missions to the Christian converts in the neighbouring towns; and, as a natural consequence, it was here that the first Councils or Synods of the Church were held. [Sidenote: The Hebrews wish to impose circumcision.] Here, too, were the head-quarters of those disciples who not only clung to the Mosaic law themselves, but wished to impose circumcision and the other precepts of the Old Dispensation on gentile converts. They yielded indeed to St. Peter's plea of special and Divine direction, when summoned to Jerusalem to answer for having eaten with men uncircumcised; nay, they even rejoiced in the prospect of the gathering in of the Gentiles; but they had yet to learn the temporary nature of the Ceremonial Law, and to realize that in Christ circumcision and uncircumcision were equally valueless.

[Sidenote: St. James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem.]

The government of the Church in Jerusalem was conferred on St. James the Less, perhaps on account of his being "the Lord's brother;" and he remained in the Holy City as its Bishop, when, about twelve years after the Day of Pentecost, the other Apostles were for the first time dispersed beyond the borders of Palestine, over the face of the known world. The immediate occasion of this dispersion was the persecution by Herod Agrippa, which resulted in the martyrdom of St. James {28} the Great[3] and the temporary imprisonment and miraculous deliverance of St. Peter (A.D.44), a deliverance granted to the earnest prayers of the Church.

Section 3. The Apostolic Church in Antioch.

[Sidenote: A.D.42. St. Barnabas at Antioch.]

We have no account in the Book of Acts of the Foundation (in the strict sense of the word) of the Church in Antioch. We read of St. Barnabas being sent thither from Jerusalem to visit and teach the converts amongst the Greek-speaking Jews, he being all the more fitted for this office by his connexion with Cyprus, whence came some of those who had first spread the knowledge of the Gospel in Antioch. But St. Barnabas was not yet of the number of the Apostles, the Foundations of the Church (as neither was St. Paul, whom he lovingly sought out and brought from Tarsus to aid in his work); and consequently we do not read that the "laying on of hands" formed any part of their ministrations. [Sidenote: St. Peter believed to be the founder of the Church in Antioch.] There is, however, a very ancient tradition which tells us that St. Peter visited Antioch and founded the Church in that distant city whilst on his way to the still more distant Rome, after his miraculous escape from Herod's prison (A.D.44); and in the ancient Church of England Feb.22 was observed in commemoration of "St. Peter's Throne at Antioch," that is, of his episcopal rule there.


[Sidenote: Obstacles to the conversion of the gentiles.]

It was some years before the conversion of Cornelius and his gentile household was followed by any extended proclamation of the good tidings of the Gospel to the heathen world. It was not God's Will that all obstacles should be at once cleared away from the onward path of the Church; and the question of the relation in which the heathen were to stand to the Law of Moses after their conversion to Christianity, presented many difficulties. St. Peter and the other Apostles seem to have waited patiently until God should vouchsafe to show them how these difficulties might best be overcome; and on the Church in the large gentile city of Antioch it first devolved to send forth missionaries to the heathen.

[1] St. Matt. xvi.16-19.

[2] Acts x.48. It does not seem to have been the usual custom of the Apostles to administer Holy Baptism themselves. See 1 Cor. i.14-17.

[3] In reference to the martyrdom of St. James, we may remember the prophecy of his Divine Master (St. Matt. xx.23). "James tasted the first draught of Christ's cup of suffering; and his brother John had the longest draught of it." -- Wordsworth on Acts xii.2.


chapter i the foundation of
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