Chapter 1

CHAPTER I: THE AGE OF THE APOSTLES (AD 33-100)

The beginning of the Christian Church is reckoned from the
great day on which the Holy Ghost came down, according as our Lord
had promised to His Apostles. At that time, "Jews, devout men, out
of every nation under heaven," were gathered together at Jerusalem,
to keep the Feast of Pentecost (or Feast of Weeks), which was one of
the three holy seasons at which God required His people to appear
before Him in the place which He had chosen (Deuteronomy xvi. 16).
Many of these devout men there converted by what they then saw and
heard, to believe the Gospel; and, when they returned to their own
countries, they carried back with them the news of the wonderful
things which had taken place at Jerusalem. After this, the Apostles
went forth "into all the world," as their Master had ordered them,
to "preach the Gospel to every creature" (St Mark xvi. 15). The Book
of Acts tells us something of what they did, and we may learn
something more about it from the Epistles. And, although this be but
a small part of the whole, it will give us a notion of the rest, if
we consider that, while St. Paul was preaching in Asia Minor,
Greece, and at Rome, the other Apostles were busily doing the same
work in other countries.

We must remember, too, the constant coming and going which in those
days took place throughout the world, how Jews from all quarters
went up to keep the Passover and other feasts at Jerusalem; how the
great Roman empire stretched from our own island of Britain as far
as Persia and Ethiopia, and people from all parts of it were
continually going to Rome and returning. We must consider how
merchants travelled from country to country on account of their
trade; how soldiers were sent into all quarters of the empire and
were moved about from one country to another. And from these things
we may get some understanding of the way in which the knowledge of
the Gospel would be spread, when once it had taken root in the great
cities of Jerusalem and Rome. Thus it came to pass, that, by the end
of the first hundred years after our Saviour's birth something was
known of the Christian faith throughout all the Roman empire, and
even in countries beyond it; and if in many cases, only a very
little was known, still even that was a gain, and served as a
preparation for more.

The last chapter of the Acts leaves St. Paul at Rome, waiting for
his trial on account of the things which the Jews had laid to his
charge. We find from the Epistles that he afterwards got his
liberty, and returned into the East. There is reason to suppose that
he also visited Spain, as he had spoken of doing in his Epistle to
the Romans (ch. xv. 28); and it has been thought by some that he
even preached in Britain; but this does not seem likely. He was at
last imprisoned again at Rome, where the wicked Emperor Nero
persecuted the Christians very cruelly; and it is believed that both
St. Peter and St. Paul were put to death there in the year of our
Lord 68. The bishops of Rome afterwards set up claims to great power
and honour, because they said that St. Peter was the first bishop of
their church, and that they were his successors. But although we may
reasonably believe that the Apostle was martyred at Rome, there does
not appear to be any good ground for thinking that he had been
settled there as bishop of the city.

All the Apostles, except St. John, are supposed to have been
martyred (or put to death for the sake of the Gospel). St. James the
Less, who was bishop of Jerusalem, was killed by the Jews in an
uproar, about the year 62. Soon after this, the Romans sent their
armies into Judea, and, after a bloody war, they took the city of
Jerusalem, and destroyed the Temple.

Thirty years after Herod's time another cruel emperor, Domitian,
raised a fresh persecution against the Christians (AD 95). Among
those who suffered were some of his own near relations; for the
Gospel had now made its way among the great people of the earth, as
well as among the poor, who were the first to listen to it. There is
a story that the emperor was told that some persons of the family of
David were living in the Holy Land, and that he sent for them,
because he was afraid lest the Jews should set them up as princes,
and should rebel against his government. They were two grandchildren
of St. Jude, who was one of our Lord's kinsmen after the flesh, and
therefore belonged to the house of David and the old kings of Judah.
But these two were plain countrymen, who lived quietly and
contentedly on their little farm, and were not likely to lead a
rebellion, or to claim earthly kingdoms. And when they were carried
before the emperor, they showed him their hands, which were rough
and horny from working in the fields; and in answer to his questions
about the kingdom of Christ, they said that it was not of this
world, but spiritual and heavenly, and that it would appear at the
end of the world, when the Saviour would come again to judge both
the quick and the dead. So the emperor saw that there was nothing to
fear from them, and he let them go.

It was during Domitian's persecution that St. John was banished to
the island of Patmos, where he saw the visions which are described
in his "Revelation." All the other Apostles had been long dead, and
St. John had lived many years at Ephesus, where he governed the
churches of the country around. After his return from Patmos he went
about to all these churches, that he might repair the hurt which
they had suffered in the persecution. In one of the towns which he
visited, he noticed a young man of very pleasing looks, and called
him forward, and desired the bishop of the place to take care of
him. The bishop did so, and, after having properly trained the
youth, he baptised and confirmed him. But when this had been done,
the bishop thought that he need not watch over him so carefully as
before, and the young man fell into vicious company, and went on
from bad to worse, until at length he became the head of a band of
robbers, who kept the whole country in terror. When the Apostle next
visited the town, he asked after the charge which he had put into
the bishop's hands. The bishop, with shame and grief, answered that
the young man was dead, and, on being further questioned he
explained that he meant dead in sins, and told all the story. St
John, after having blamed him because he had not taken more care,
asked where the robbers were to be found, and set off on horseback
for their haunt, where he was seized by some of the band, and was
carried before the captain. The young man, on seeing him, knew him
at once, and could not bear his look, but ran away to hide himself.
But the Apostle called him back, told him that there was yet hope
for him through Christ, and spoke in such a moving way that the
robber agreed to return to the town. There he was once more received
into the Church as a penitent; and he spent the rest of his days in
repentance for his sins, and in thankfulness for the mercy which had
been shown to him.

St. John, in his old age, was much troubled by false teachers, who
had begun to corrupt the Gospel. These persons are called
"heretics", and their doctrines are called "heresy" from a Greek
word which means "to choose", because they chose to follow their own
fancies, instead of receiving the Gospel as the Apostles and the
Church taught it. Simon the sorcerer, who is mentioned in the eighth
chapter of the Acts, is counted as the first heretic, and even in
the time of the Apostles a number of others arose, such as
Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander, who are mentioned by St. Paul (1
Tim. i. 19f; 2 Tim. ii. 17f). These earliest heretics were mostly of
the kind called Gnostics,-- a word which means that they pretended
to be more knowing than ordinary Christians, and perhaps St. Paul
may have meant them especially when he warned Timothy against
"science" (or knowledge) "falsely so called" (1 Tim. vi. 20). Their
doctrines were a strange mixture of Jewish and heathen notions with
Christianity; and it is curious that some of the very strangest of
their opinions have been brought up again from time to time by
people who fancied that they had found out something new, while they
had only fallen into old errors, which had been condemned by the
Church hundreds of years before.

St. John lived to about the age of a hundred. He was at last so weak
that he could not walk into the church; so he was carried in, and
used to say continually to his people, "Little children, love one
another." Some of them, after a time, began to be tired of hearing
this, and asked him why he repeated the words so often, and said
nothing else to them. The Apostle answered, "Because it is the
Lord's commandment, and if this be done it is enough."