This volume contains an exposition of the Acts of the Apostles down to, but not including, the conversion of St. Paul and the baptism of Cornelius. There is a natural division at that point. Prior to these events, the inspired narrative is engaged with what the late Bishop Lightfoot of Durham called great "representative facts," prophetical or typical of the future developments of the Church, whether among Jews or Gentiles; while the subsequent course of the history deals almost entirely with missionary work among the heathen and the labours of St. Paul.
We are dependent for the story of these earliest days of the Church's life upon the Acts of the Apostles. I have endeavoured, however, to illustrate the narrative by copious references to ancient documents, some of which may appear of dubious value and authority, such as the Acts of the Saints and the writings of the mediæval Greek hagiologist, Simeon Metaphrastes, who lived in the tenth century. The latter writer has been hitherto regarded as more famous for his imagination than for his historical accuracy. This age of ours is a noted one, however, for clearing characters previously regarded as very doubtful, and Simeon Metaphrastes has come in for his own share of this process of rehabilitation. The distinguished writer just referred to, Dr. Lightfoot, as we have shown in a note on p. 218, has proved that Metaphrastes embodied in his works valuable early records, dating back to the second century, which in critical hands can shed much light upon primitive Christian history. In fact, students of Holy Scripture and of early Christianity are learning every day to look more and more to ancient Greek, Syriac, and Armenian writers, and to the libraries of the Eastern Churches, for fresh light on these important subjects. It is only natural we should do so. Writers like Simeon Metaphrastes and Photius, the student Patriarch of Constantinople, lived a thousand years nearer the apostolic times than we do. They flourished in an age of the highest civilization, when precious literary works, in hundreds and thousands, which are no longer known amongst us, lay all around them and at their command. These men and their friends gathered them up and extracted them, and common sense alone teaches that a critical study of their writings will reveal to us somewhat of the treasures they possessed. The libraries of the East again form a great field for investigation. During the last fifty years we have paid some little attention to them, which has been amply rewarded. The recovery of the complete works of Hippolytus and of Clement of Rome, the discovery of the Teaching of the Apostles and of the Diatessaron of Tatian, are only specimens of what we may yet hope to exhume from the dust of ages.