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we supposed to have been certain converts to trie Gospel, who being foreign Jews, and coming from the western country, used the Greek language in their synagogues and conversation; these murmured against th* Hebrews, who were natives of Judea, and used the Hebrew or Syriae tongue, because, as they were strangers. af Jerusalem, and had not so much interest as the natives, their necessitous widows were in some degree neglected in. the daily administration of the charities that were distributed to the peor members of the church. The measure proposed by the Apostles of appointing . Deacons to assist in the distribution of the money collected, was well calculated to prevent future disputes. Nicolas, one of the seven, was not a Jew born, but a proselyte of Antioch, whom they were the more willing to fix in this office; as his peculiar relation to the Grecians would make him particularly careful to remedy any neglect of them which might inadvertently have prevailed. Upon these seven men the Apostles, after having prayed that a divine blessing might attend all their ministrations and care, laid their hands, as a sign that-the Holy Spirit would assist their endeavoursj and thus consecrated them to their office.
It is very surprising to read that many of the priests, notwithstanding all those prejudices which they had imbibed against Christianity, from the scorn with which the High Priest and rulers treated it, and the loss of the temporal advantages they might be obliged to resign on account of it, became obedient unto the faith of Christ. And, Stephen having for some time discharged the duty ©f a deacon with great fidelity, was raised to superior. honours.
The men who opposed this pious decree belonged to a particular synagogue, called that of the Libertines, which cons^ed of the children of men who had been carried into captivity, and afterwards set at liberty. The surprising Tadiancy of Stephen's countenance was a sign from the Almighty, that he approved the benignity and sweetness of his disposition, in which he resembled the celestial spirits. When called upon to make his defence, he began a large discourse, in which, in the softest and most inoffensive manner, ,he solemnly declared his firm persuasion of the divine authority of that law, which he was, accused of blaspheming; and proved to them, from their own Scriptures, that God's gracious regard to his people was not limited within the boundaries of that land, nor appropriated to those only who were subject to the Mosaic ritual; at the same time reminding them of some instances in which they had ungratefully rejected those whom God had appointed for their deliverers, that they might be cautioned against repeating the fault in this instance to their final ruin.—Stephen's whole discourse is worthy of particular consideration, but it would break in too much on the thread of the history to examine it at present. It is sufficient for our purpose to observe, that he concluded with reproaching the Jews for having despised so many advantages, and given such amazing proofs of obstinacy and hardness of heart; telling them, that as they did not keep up to the law of Moses, that was given them with such awful pomp on Mount Sinai, when the Lord shined forth with ten thousands of his holy attendants*; it was the less to be wondered at, that they now rejected the milder and more gracious dispensation of the Gospel, and thus added sin to sin.
Stephen, favoured with a glorious vision of his divine Lord, met his fate not only with resignation but joy; and having, in imitation of his divine Master, prayed
* Deutv xxViii. z.'
for "for Ills enemies, he calmly resigned his soul into his' S A.
"Viour's hands, and died with as "much composure as if
'he was only falling into a gentle slefep.
Saul, the young man who took charge of the witnesses' clothes whilst they threw the first stones, as the law required, was afterwards converted.
By Stephen's address to the Jewish rulers we learn from what motives persecution usually arises. It begins in mistake," is carried on by'-pride, and ends in cruelty.
From the mildness with which Stephen suffered martyrdom, and the charity he shewed to his enemies, we are instructed in what manner to endure persecution, should it ever fall to our lot. We also understand, that there ye no sufferings so great, but God can enable his faithful servants to bear them with .fortitude and composure; and that in very extraordinary trials, extraordinary comfort and support will be granted.
From his calling on the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit, we are assured, that it is proper to pray to Chr Ist; for Stephen did so, in consequence of seeing him as he appeared to Ezekiel and Daniel in prophetic visions, and as the Evangelist John afterwards. beheld him, sitting on the throne of heaven as the Lord, the only Media-' tor between God and Man; through whom a/on* we have access to the Father. When Christ yielded his Spirit, it was into the hands of the Father; but
•we must commit puis into the hands of the Son, for he hath purchased them with his own blood, and" by him they will be preserved till the resurrection of the body *.
* As the chapters in the Acts contain such a number of verses
- tliat they'albne would occupy a considerable part or a volume, I
• am Un'de.i'tUe.iiecessJty'xif relating the. substance of some of them in
the Annotations, instead of giving them at length. In doing this
I shall borrow from Dr. Doddridge's Family Expositor.
Stephen's Burial—A Persecution In Th2 Church The Disciples Distersed.
,From Acts, Cbap, viii.
Stephen was buried with great solemnity, and public lamentations made for the loss of so useful a member of the church.
On the very day that he suffered martyrdom, a great persecution began against the Christians in Jerusalem, which continued to rage so furiously, that at length all the disciples, excepting the Apostles, retired from that city, and dispersed themselves in different places, through the regions of Judea and Samaria; but Peter and his brethren were determined to continue at Jerusalem, however dangerous it might prove. It is likely the others departed with theitcbnsent and approbation, and according to the dictates of the Holy Spirit, and not through cowardice.
Amongst the persecutors, none more distinguished himself than Saul. . He pursued the Christians like .a furious beast of prey, not only breaking in upon ptiblic assemblies, but entering into houses, and dragging from them, without any respect to age or sex, men and w6. men, whom he committed to prison for no pretended crime, but that of having embraced the Gospel. Nevertheless, God ruled over all this cruelty and rage; for those who were dispersed abroad, went about preaching the Word wherever they came, and in many places they were remarkably successful,.to which the, consi•" 1 y deration deration of their being persecuted for righteousness sake might in some measure contribute.
Philip the deacon, the associate of Stephen, knowing that all distinction between the Samaritans and Jews was now removed, went to the city of Samaria, and freely preached Christ to them, and declared him to be the promised Messiah. Wonderful works through the name of Jesus were wrought by his hand.—Evil spirits, ciying with a loud voice, came out of those that were possessed with them, and many paralytic and lame people were cured. These benevolent miracles, and the heavenly doctrines taught by Philip, caused great joy in the city; but there was a certain man in Samaria named Simon, who had formerly, under a. pretence of being possessed of supernatural powers, practised magic.il arts, which produced such astonishing effects, that number! of people of all ranks and degrees had been deceived into an opinion that he was the Messiah. But when Philip preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized, and Simon himself believed tic truths which Philip taught, and professed his faith; in token of which he was, like the jest, baptized, and kept always near to Philip, observing with astonishment the powerful miracles that were wrought by his hand.
When the Apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they weredc. »ixou3 that these new converts should be farther settled in their Christian profession, by those spiritual gif's which no inferior teacher or officer in the church could bestow 4 they accordingly sent Peter and John, who, though once so strongly prejudiced against the Samaritans, now cheerfully undertook the province; and going to that city prayed for the people, that they might