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Among other places where the gospel was planted, on this occasion, was Antioch, a famous city built on the river Orontes, and the capital of Syria, where the kings of Syria, the successors of Alexander the Great, usually resided. This city must be carefully distinguished from Antioch in Pisidia, mentioned in the thirteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
The instruments chiefly employed in this work appear to have been men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they were come to this city for the first time, spoke to the Greeks, (that is, the pagan inhabitants of the city,) preaching the Lord Jesus. Much success crowned their labours; or, to speak in the language of the Holy Ghost, "The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord."
This is the first instance we meet with in sacred writ of the gospel being preached to the heathen. Though the apostles and evangelists had received from their Lord a commission for that purpose, it was some time before they fully comprehended its import, or attempted to execute it. By a special direction, Peter had, indeed, previous to this, communicated the gospel to Cornelius and his family; but no general attempt had hitherto been made to propagate christianity amongst idolaters.
Until this time, they who were dispersed from Jerusalem, in various parts, preached the gospel to Jews only. The introduction of the gospel
into Antioch was, therefore, distinguished by the remarkable circumstance of its being the first instance in which the apostles' commission was executed to its due extent; and the treasures of divine truth were freely proposed to the acceptance of the Gentiles. It was here the light of the word first began to dawn on benighted pagans, and that the heathen began to be "given to Christ for his possession." The happy union of Jews and Gentiles in one church, and the breaking down of the middle wall of partition which had for ages divided them from each other, commenced here. That ancient oracle, in which it was foretold that "God would enlarge Japheth, and that he should dwell in the tents of Shem, then began to receive its accomplishment. Those whom Jesus had made "fishers of men," and who had hitherto confined their labours to the scanty rivulets and shallow pools of one people, began now to "launch out into the deep," and to cast their net in the wide
When tidings of these things came to the ears of the church of Jerusalem, they were far from feeling emotions of envy. The holy apostles were strangers to any uneasy sensation on finding that event accomplished by meaner instruments, which they had neglected to attempt. They immediately "sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch; who, when he came and saw the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them, that with
* Gen. ix. 27.
purpose of heart they should cleave to the Lord." His character explains his conduct; for "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith; and much people were added unto the Lord."
Not satisfied with contributing his own exertions to the formation of the work, he called in superior aid: he [went] to "Tarsus, to seek Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch." Thus this church, in addition to other extraordinary circumstances, had the honour of being one of the first scenes in which the great apostle of the Gentiles laboured. It was here he began to scatter those celestial sparks which soon after kindled a general conflagration in the world. "And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people." Then follows the circumstance on which we have founded this discourse: "And they were called christians first at Antioch."
I. As the appellation of "Christian” was unknown till this time, it is natural to inquire by what appellation they were distinguished previously. From the Scriptures, it appears there were various names by which the followers of Christ were characterised. Among themselves, the most usual denomination was, Brethren. "And we came the next day to Puteoli, where we found brethren."* man," saith St. Paul," that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, with such *Acts xxviii. 13, 14.
an one no not to eat."* They were styled lievers:" " And believers were the more added to the Lord, both of men and women." They were denominated " disciples:" "There went with us also certain of the disciples of Cæsarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge." Their enemies, by way of contempt, styled them Nazarenes; thus Tertullus accuses Paul of being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes."§ Of similar import to this was the appellation of Galileans, and the term aipnois, or sect, meaning by that a body of men who had embraced a religion of their own, in opposition to that established by the law. And this appellation of Galileans was continued to be employed by the enemies of Christ as a term of reproach as late as the time of Julian, who reigned about the middle of the fourth century, and used it incessantly in his invectives against christians. The followers of Christ were also styled 66 men of this way :"-" And I persecuted this way unto the death." ||
II. Another question naturally here occurs-Was this name given by human or divine authority? On this the Scriptures offer no certain information, nor can any thing be affirmed with confidence. It is not at all probable an appellation so inoffensive, and even so honourable, originated with their enemies; they would have invented one that was
+ Acts v.
* 1 Cor. v. 11.
Acts xxi. 16.
|| Acts xxii. 4.
more opprobrious. But supposing it to have been assumed first by the disciples themselves, we can scarcely suppose they would have ventured to take a step so important as that of assuming an appellation by which the church was to be distinguished in all ages, without divine direction; especially at a time when the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were so common, and in a church where prophets abounded. For "there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrach, and Saul."* Is it to be supposed that they would assume a new appellation without recourse to the prophets for that direction; or that, supposing it to have had no other than a human origin, it would have been so soon and so unanimously adopted by every part of the christian church? This opinion receives some countenance from the word here used, which is not in any other instance applied to the giving a name by human authority. In its genuine import, it bears some relation to an oracle.† Names, as they are calculated to give just or false representations of the nature of things, are of considerable importance; so that the affixing one to discriminate the followers
*Acts xiii. 1.
+ Benson, Doddridge, and others, think that the word xonμaχρημαTíσa, implies that it was done by a divine direction. But Parkhurst thinks that the passages quoted by Doddridge do not bear him out in his interpretation.-ED.