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Malthus and the political economists may attempt to regulate population. So did Pharaoh. But they may as well attempt to regulate the winds. It is God who increases or diminishes the number of the inhabitants of the earth. It is impious in any government, by legislative enactments, to interfere with that which solely belongs to the prerogative of the Creator. Are rulers to deal with the human race as with cattle ; and raise no more than the number for which they can find a market ? Let men turn to God through the knowledge of his Son, and there will be no longer a complaint of dearth, scarcity, or famine. “Then shall the earth yield her increase, and God, even our God, shall bless us."
DISPERSION OF THE CHURCH AT JERUSALEM, BY THE PERSECUTION ON THE DEATH OF STEPHEN.
If Jesus has all power in heaven and in earth; if his enemies cannot speak, nor move, nor breathe, without him, it may appear strange that his people should be persecuted, and his cause at any time trampled on. He must have great and wise purposes to be served by the event, when he suffers his people to be afflicted by wicked men for his sake. The Scriptures leave us not to conjecture these purposes. They bring them before us most explicitly. Persecution glorifies God, benefits the Christian as a trial of his faith, and purges the Church from the dross of hypocrisy. “ Beloved," says Peter, " think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, in. asmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings ; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed ; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”—1 Pet. iv. 12-16. Here we see that persecution is both for the glory of Christ and the eternal honour of his people. The same apostle tells us, that the “ manifold temptations” endured by his people are for the end “ that the trial of their faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ." The Lord Jesus makes use of persecution as a means of purging out the dross of hypocrisy. In the furnace of persecution, the real Christian is distinguished from the merely nominal. This is a great advantage to the churches; and the purpose may be served as well by the ordinary reproaches, insults, and injuries that believers are called to suffer, as by the times when their enemies have the power of inflicting torture and death.
Another reason why God exposes his people to persecution is, as a chastisement for their unfaithfulness. God uses this as a wholesome discipline, when his people corrupt his truths or his ordinances. Notwithstanding all the excellencies that we may find or fancy in the early Christians, it is certain that they began very early to corrupt the gospel, and mix their own wisdom with the appointments of God. The mystery of iniquity, we are expressly assured, was at work even in the days of the apostles, and the persecutions predicted by Peter are ascribed to “ judgment.” “For the time is come that judg. ment must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God ?”
If this is the case, what a call to all Christians to examine their ways, and wait for the coming of Christ, with their lamps trimmed and their lights burning! If God is about to pour out judgments on our guilty land, let him have no controversy with his people. Let thein be found awake, and at their posts; and let every one of them be now employed as they would wish to be found employed at his coming. If they would all act under this impression, glorious things might be expected with respect to the city of our God. There is, thanks be to God, a glorious number of true followers of the Lamb in the present day. They are, it is true, much divided. But this is no reason for inac. tivity in any. It is not necessary for any one of us to call to the rest, saying, You can do no service to
my Lord, unless in all things you receive my views, and follow me. We can act in concert against the common enemy, even when we cannot, from circumstances, fight in regimental order. Let every soldier stand on the ground he occupies, and conquer there; and the field is ours. Cæsar in one of his battles had no time to arrange his troops. But they knew their duty, and he knew his. Every man fought where he happened to stand, when he could not find his own proper place; and Cæsar himself grasped a sword from him who stood next him, and fought as a common soldier. They carried the field after hard fighting. Soldiers of Christ, imitate these brave Romans, Fight, and you
conquer. If God's people are faithful and alive to duty, he can cover their heads when he points his artillery against those around them. And if they are to be called to suffering, let it be for the Lord's sake, and not from judgment.
But the end of persecution which we are called to contemplate in this passage is its tendency to spread the gospel. When Christians are by persecution driven from their country, it is the means of carrying the gospel to other countries. This was on this occasion evidently the providential intention of the persecution which arose on the death of Stephen. "And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem ; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.”—Acts viii. 1-6. Here is a persecution cruel and bloody. But it is not a waste of blood and treasure on the part of the army of the Lord Jesus. The dominions of Immanuel their prince are greatly enlarged by it. By this means the city of Samaria received the gospel. And far and wide was the dispersion. “ Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them : and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."-Acts xi. 19-21. Here are fruits of victory worth the blood and treasure expended in the procurement of it. Here is the wisdom of God making foolish the wisdom of the wise. The enemies of the gospel hunted the disciples as wild beasts. But in the Providence of the Lord, this carried them to many distant