תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

yielded themselves, and, being brought before the council, were severely questioned for disregarding the late prohibition they had received. Peter and the rest answered with their usual firmness; they avowed the fact, and their determination to persevere, and charged them as the betrayers and marderers of Jesus in stronger terms than before. The majority of the council were exceedingly enraged at their boldness; they were cut to the heart, and consulted to put them to death. But the more moderate advice of Gamaliel prevailed: he showed them, from some recent instances, that if this new sect was no more than a human institution, they need not give themselves trouble to suppress it, for it would soon sink and disappear of itself; but if it was indeed of God, their opposition would be not only in vain, but, in effect, a rebellion against God himself: he therefore recommended milder methoils, and, having considerable repute among them for his wisdom, the rest assented to him. In this manner the Lord, who has the hearts of all in his

delivered the apostles a third tiine, by raising them an advocate from amongst their enemies; yet, to save appearances, and that it might not be thought the council had proceeded so far without good cause, they were not dismissed till they had been scourged, and again enjoined silence. They departed, rejoicing that they had the honour to suffer disgrace" for the sake of Christ, and returned to encourage their companions ; continuing still publicly, and from house to house, to teach and preach in the name of Jesus.

power,

% Peter and the apostles answered, “ We ought to obey God ra" than men.” It should seem that this (if any) may be called a natural maxim, and that the sudest savage, or the least child, that can be made to understand the terms, must assent to the truth of the proposition as readily as they perceive that two and two make four. How strange then is it, that men of the greatest parts and penetration in other things so seldom receive it! There are few periods to be found, even in the Christian church, in which those who steadily acted upon this principle were not considered as heretics of the worst sort,

These were happy times, when the whole company of the faithful were of one heart and mind, firmly united in affection, sentiment, ordinance, and practice. Their adversaries, though angry, and desirous to injure them, were powerfully restrained by the Divine Providence; so that they enjoyed peace in the midst of war, and were favoured with much grace in their hearts, and a daily increase in their numbers. Yet it was not long before an occasion arose which might have had unhappy effects, if the wisdom and authority of the apostles had not provided an early remedy. The church, as yet, consisted only of Jewish believers ; but these were distinguished into Jews properly so called, that is, natives and inhabitants of Judea; and Hellenists or Grecians, the name given to those of the Jewish race and profession who had been dispersed and settled in the heathen countries. Many of these, as has been ob, served, were at that time in Jerusalem, and among the first converts to the Gospel. As the multitude who were supplied out of the common stock were very great, it is no wonder if a few individuals were overlooked. Some unavoidable instances of this sort gave rise to a complaint, not only of negligence, but partiality in thie distribution of the money; and the Hellenists, or strangers, thought the others had an undue preference shown them. The apostles, though

* Here were faith and love in exercise: to suffer reproach for Christ, was, in their esteem, an honour and privilege. It is mourna ful to observe how little of this spirit is to be found amongst us. How soon are we offended and troubled when our names are re, proached; how uneasy to lie under contempt; how impatient to justify ourselves, and to be thought well of by all persons ! Far from accounting it an honour to be made conformable to Jesus in this respect, we feel it a burden which we are restless to shake oft'; yet it must be borne, or we must give up profession and all; for neither are our characters more respectable than the first Christians, nor is the world better reconciled to the things of God now than it was then.

Acts, vi.

The apostles, though upright and im. partial, were unable to do every thing themselves, and therefore, to prevent such mistakes and suspicions, and that they might devote their whole time and attention to the more important services of the ministry, they en-, tirely divested themselves of the pecuniary charge; and, by their advice, seven men were chosen, on whom, by prayer and imposition of hands, they solemnly devolved tliis trust. Thus the office of deacons was instituted; they were men full of wisdom and the Holy Ghost, and to thein the care of the public money, and the support of the poor, was peculiarly confided. Some of them, perhaps all, were occasionally preachers: but this was no part of their office as deacons. By this expedient the cause of murmuring was taken away, and the peace of the church confirmed.

TIBERIUS, A. D. 34.] Thus the Gospel flourished in defiance of opposition. The Jews, provoked more and more, began to lose all patience; the mild counsels of Gamaliel could no longer restrain them, but their blinded passions, hurried them to the last extremities. Stephen, one of the seven deacons newly elected, was the first who received the honour and crown of martyrdom, His zeal for the truth did not begin with his new office, though it is possible his undertaking that charge might place hin more in view, and expose him more immediately to persecution. Promo

[ocr errors]

tions in the world are attended with worldly advantages; but such promotions in the church as are agreeable to the Spirit of God, will rather entitle a man to a larger share of labours and sufferings, and the painful pre-eminence of standing in the fore-front of the battle, to sustain the hottest brunt of every storm. Stephen was no sooner a public person than he became the mark of public opposition. At first, they pretended to dispute with him; but when they were unable to resist the wisdom and spirit by which he spake, they had recourse to more effectual methods to silence him; they suborned false witnesses (a main instrument of persecution) against him, and, having framed such an accusation as was most likely to alarm the prejudice and inflame the rage of the people, they brought him before the council, and charged him that he had spoken blasphemous words against Moses and against God... Ste, phen, though alone, and unsupported, in the midst of furious enemies, appeared firm and unmoved as a rock in the midst of waves; he was not only devoid of fear, but filled with joyk; the testimony of a good conscience, the honour of suffering for his Lord, and a sense of the love of God shed abroad in his heart, not only preserved his soul in peace, but spread a lustre and glory upon his countenance; so that all who sat in the council, looking upon him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. In such a disposition, he thought it not worth while to attempt his own defence, but employed the whole time allotted him in behalf of his adversaries, that, if possible, by a distinct review of God's dealing with their nation, and their behaviour towards him, he might engage them to consider their ways, to repent, and believe the Gospel. While he spake of the things that had been long since transacted; and kept within the bounds of Moses, David, and Solomon, they had patience to hear him; but when he began to make application to themselves with that warmth and plainness which the case required, they could hear no more; his words cut them to the heart; they no longer preserved the exterior gravity of their stations and characters, but gnashed at him with their teeth, as though they would have devoured him alive.

k Acts, vii,

But vain are the attempts of men to intimidate those whom the Lord is pleased to comfort; he is always near, to support his faithful servants, and can manifest himself in a way which the world knows nothing of. Such a seasonable and sufficient discovery he made of himself to Stephen. As he looked stedfastly up to heaven, silently appealing from the injustice of his judges, he saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing in glory at the right hand of God, as attending to all that passed, and ready to receive him to himself. Transported with this divine assurance, he was not at leisure to drop a single word to soften his incensed enemies: he endeavoured to communicate the glorious idea with which his soul was filled, and without regarding the sure consequences of such a declaration, he told them plainly what he saw. This determined their resolves. Hitherto they had been willing to preserve the form, at least, of a judicial process; but now, renouncing every restraint, and unmindful of their late acknowledgement to Pilate, that it was not lawful for them to put any man to death, they stopped their ears, to shut out any remonstrance that might be offered, dragged him violently put of the city, and stoned him to death. His dying deportment, which showed how eminently he was filled

« הקודםהמשך »