« הקודםהמשך »
take heed how they rashly rise up against legal authority, lest taking the sword they perish by it. Judiciously does he admonish the council to take heed lest they be found figh'ers against God. May divine grace ever guard us from that fatal error into which all who oppose the gospel, whatever they may imagine, assurecily fall! They cannot indeed dissolve it, but they dash themselves in pieces against it. Be wise there. fore, O ye kings ; be instructed, ye judges of he earth! .
For reasons of State the apostles were to be scourged, though their judges were inwardly convinced that it was at least possible their message might be divine. Deliver us, O Lord, from that policy which shall lead us to imagine any evil so great as that which may offend thee! The punishment which these excellent men suffered was infamous, but the cause in which they endured it rendered it glorious; nor could those stripes be half so painful to their flesh, as an opportunity of thus approving their fidelity to their Lord was delightful to their pious souls. Well might they triumph in bearing the scourge for him who bore he cross, and died on it for them. Let us arm our. selves with the same mind, if in a severer sense than this we should be called for his sake to resist unto blood.
The choice of the seven deacoms. Stephen preaches Christ, and is brought
before the sanhedrim. Ch. vi. 1-12.
N OW in those days, the number of the disciples being mul
d tiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians* against
the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily % ministration of cha itu. And the twelve apostles having called the
multitude of the disciples together, said, It is by no means
agreeable, that we should leave the word of God to attend tables ; 3 therefore, brethren, look out from among yourselves seven men
of an attested character, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, 4 whom we may set over this affair: and we will constantly attend 5 to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the speech was
pleasing to all the multitude ; and they elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus,
and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicholas a proselyte 6 of Antioch ; whom they presented before the apostles : and they 7 having prayed, laid thair hands upon themt. And the word of
God grew ; and the number of disciples in and about Jerusalem
was greatly multiplied ; and a great multitude even of priests be8 came obedient to the faith. And Stephen being full of grace and
of power, wrought many miracles and great signs among the peo. 9 ple. But there arose some of the synagogue, which is called that
* Or Hellenists ; i. e. of those foreign Jewish converts who used the Greek language. The Hebrews were the natives of Judea, who used the Hebrew or Syriac tongue.
t To express their solemn designation to the office, and to eonfer such extraordinary gifts as it might require.
of the Libertines (having been children of freed men) and some
of the Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and of them who were natives 10 of Cilicia and Asia, disputing * with Stephen. And they were not
able to stand against the wisdom and spirit with which he spake. 11 Then they suborned men to say, We heard him speak blasphemous 10 words against Moses, and against God. And they stirred up the
people and the elders and the Scribes, and setting upon him, they dragged him away with them, and brought him to the sanhedrim.
REFLECTIONS. We see how difficult it is, even for the wisest and best of men, to manage a great multitude of affairs, without inconvenience and without reflection. It will therefore be our prudence not to ingross too much business into our own hands, but to be willing to divide it with our brethren, [yea] with our inferiors, allotting to each their proper provinces, that the whole may proceed with harmony and order.-Let us be solicitous that nothing may be done through partiality ; especial. ly let those avoid it who are intrusted with the distribution of charities. It is a solemn trust, for which their characters at least are to answer to the world now, and they themselves must ere long account for it to God. Let them therefore be willing to be informed of the truth of particular cases, willing to compare a variety of them, and then select such as in their consciences they are persuaded it is the will of God they should, in present circumstances, regard, and in such or such a proportion prefer to the rest. In religious societies it may be highly proper that, after the example here given in the apostolic age, deacons, or persons to perform this office, should be elected by the society, in concurrence with their ministers. It is their business to serve tables. Happy those societies who make choice of men of an altested character, and of those who appear by the virtues and graces of the Christian temper to be in that sense full of the Holy Spirit
While these good men are dealing forth their liberal contributions (by which, while Christ has any poor members remaining, we are still to testify our love to him) let ministers devote themselves with all attention to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. Let those, who would administer the word with comfort and success, remember of how great importance it is, that it be watered with prayer, falling upon it as the former and as the latter rain ; and especially see to it, that, by the constant exercise of lively devotion in secret, in their families, and on other proper social occasions, they keep their graces vigorous and active; that, living continually in such a state of nearness to God, they may be qualified to speak in his name with that dig. nity; tenderness, and authority, which nothing but true and elevated devotion can naturally express, or can long retain.
Let us adore that efficacy of divine grace, whereby a multitude of the Jewish priests were made obedient to the faith; and let us heartily
* The chief synagogues in Jerusalem had each an academy belonging to it, imder the direction of a Rabbi, and it is no wonder sone of the young students should become such disputants as these.
pray, that, if there are any who claim a sacred character, and yet, out of regard to worldly honour or interest, oppose the power and purity of the gospel, they may be convinced by the influence of the blessed Spirit, that they can have no interest in contradiction to the truth, and that they are happy in purchasing, at the highest price, that gospel which may enrich them for ever.-In whatsoever station we are fixed, whether in the world or the church, let us always remember our obligation to plead the cause of the gospel, and to rend a reason for the hope that is in us. If this engage us in disputation wimen of corrupt minds, we must still hold fast the profession of ou faiih without wavering, knowing that he is faithful that has prom. ised. The vilest charge may, as in this instance, be fixed upon the most worthy men. Piety may be defamed as blasphimy, and that which is the true love of our country as treason against it: but there is one supreme Lawgiver and Judge, who will not fail, sooner or later, to plead the cause of injured innocence. And when we read of this vile attack that was made by perjury on the character and life of Stephen, we may take occasion to adore that wise and powerful proridence which so remarkably exerts itself to defend our reputation and our lives from those false and venomous tongues which, were it not for that secret invisible restraint, might, like a two edged sword, so quickly destroy both.
Stephen, accused before the sanhedrim, vindicates himself. Ch. vi. 13, &ç
| ND while Stephen stood before the sanhedrim, they set up
A false witnesses, who said, This man is incessantly speaking 14 blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: for we
have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this
place, and shall change its customs, which Moses delivered to us. 15 And all that sat in the sanhedrim, fixing their eyes upon him,
saw his countenance like the countenance of an angel. vii. Then the high priest said, Are these things indeed thus ? And 2 Stephen, beginning a large discourse * in his own vindication, said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken: The God of glory appear
ed to our father Abraham, while he was in Mesopotamia, before 3 he dwelt in Charran, and said to him (Gen. xi. 3.) Depart from
thy country, and from thy kindred ; and come into a land, which A I will shew thee. Then departing from the land of the Chaide
ans, he dwelt in Charran; and from thence, after his father died, he caused him to remove his habitation into this land, in which 3 you now dwell. And he gave him no inheritance in it, not so
much as the dimensions of his foot : nevertheless he promised to give it for a possession to him, even to his seed after him, when
* In this discourse Stephen shews his firm persuasion of the divine authori. ty of that law which he was charged with blaspheming, (and properly recapitulates the leading facts in the Mosaio history.)
6 as yet he had no child. And God spake to him thus in a vision
(Gen. xv. 13.)—that his seed should sojourn in a foreign land, 7 and they shall enslave and abuse them fuur hundred years. And
the nation to which they shall be enslaved, said God, I will judge; and afterwards they shall come out, and serve me in this place. 8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision ; and so he begat
Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth clay : And Isaac begat Ja9 cob ; and Jacob bigai the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs,
moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt : nevertheless God was 10 with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave
him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt : 11 and he constituted him ruler over Egypt, and all his house. And
a famine came upon all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and great 12 affliction ; and our father's did not find sustenance. But Jacob 13 hearing that there was corn in Egypt, sent our fathers first; and
the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren ; and 14 the family of Joseph was discovered to Pharaoh. And Joseph
sent and invited his father Jacob, and all his kindred to lim, amounting (with their wives) 10 seventy-five souls*.
REFLECTIONS. Thus loud may the clamour of malice and falsehood rise against innocence and truth. Incessant blasphemy is charged on one of the most pious of men ; and we wonder at it the less, since it was charged upon Jesús himself; and if they called the master of the house Eerla zebub, how much more those of his household? His disciple learns of him not to render evil for evil, but answers in the language of calm reason, and of meek though powerful conviction. While Stephen leads back our contemplation to so many remarkable facts of the Old Testament, let us reflect upon them with those devout affections which become the Israel of God. Let us adore the God of glory that appeared to Abraham, and called him forth to be so bright an example of faith and piety, in leaving his country and kindred, to follow the leadings of providence, when he knew not in what settlement they should end. Let us, in imitation of him, whose children, if true believers, we also are, sit loose to every thing in this world, that we may be ready to leave it when God shali, by one providence or anoiher, give the signal for our remove. If the next step of duty lies plain before us, let us trust our leader to mark out all that follow, in such an order, and to such an end, as he shall think fit ; secure of this, that, while we follow infinite Wisdom, we cannot wander out of the way to true happiness, and that all the divine promises shall certainly be accomplished, whatever cross event may scen to interpose and obstruct.
When God appointed that the serd of Abraham should sojourn and suffer in a strange land, the pious patriarch acquiesced in it: nor let us be over, anxious about the difficulties into which our pos.
* To reconcile this with Gen. xlvi. 27. where we read of but seventy, the author has a long note. He mentions Beza's conjecture, that the original reading might be παν7ες οι πανίως in all instead of πεντε fue.
terity may be led. Let us adore the divine goodness, that he has established his covenant with us, and wilh our seed after us ; and while we in imitation of Abraham, bring our infant offspăing to receive the solemn seal of that covenarit, let us remember our engagements to instruct them, as they grow up, in the tenor of it, and labour to the utmost to engage their own personal consent to it ; and then they will be truly rich and free. though in the penury of a famished land, or under the rod of an Egyptian tyrant.--The mysterious conduct of divine Providence with regard to the pious Josepii, who became a slav , that he might be made a prince, and who was trained up for the golden chain in the discipline of iron feiters, may surely be sufficient to teach us to julge nothing bfore the time, and to wait ini end of the Lord, before we arraign the seeming severity of a part of his conduct towards those, whom we might imagine the most proper objects of his regard. And surely it wili appear none of the least considerable of those rewards, which Providence bestowed on the approved and distinguished virtue of Joseph, that he had an opportunity of nourishing his pious father in his declining days, of spreading a mild and pleasant ray over the evening of a life, which had been so often beclouded with storms, and of sheltering (as it were) under his princely robe, that hoary head, which had once been turned into a fountain of tears over the bloody fragments of the many-coloured coat.
Stephen enumerates other fucts in the Jewish history, tending to his own
vindication. Ch. vii. 15-36.
15 ~ TEPHEN proceeded in his speech before the sanhedrim. So
Jacob went down into Egypt and died, he and our fathers; 16 and they were carried over to Sychem, and were laid in the sep
ulchre, which * HE ( that i* Jacob purchased for a sum of money, 17 of the sons of Emnior the facher of Sychem. And as the time
of the promise drew near, which God had sworn to Abraham, the 18 people grew and multiplied in Egypt, till another king arose, who 19 knew not Joseph. He forming crafty designs against our kindred,
treateci our fathers injuriousiy, by causing their male infants to be 20 exposed, that their race might perish. In which time Moses was
born; and he was exceedingly beautiful, and was bred up for three 21 months in his father's house. And being exposed, the daughter
of Pharaoh took him up, and nourished him for her own son. 22 And Moses was educated in all the wisdom and learning of the
Egyptians; and he was mighty in his discourses, and in his 23 actions. But when he was arrived at the full age of forty years, it
* It is so erident that the name of Abraham has been wrongly inserted here, in the room of Jacob, or the pronoun He, in direct contradiction to Gen. xxxiii. 19. that I make no scruple of leaving it out. The author, though he retains it in his translation, so manages his paraphrase as to correct the blunder. ED. VOL. I.