« VorigeDoorgaan »
office of preaching the religion as now devolved upon them, and one of their number having deserted the cause, and, repenting of his perfidy, having destroyed himself, they proceeded to elect another into his place, and that they were careful to make their election out of the number of those who had accompanied their Master from the first to the last, in order as they alleged that he might be a witness, together with themselves, of the principal facts which they were about to produce and relate concerning him ;* that they began their work at Jerusalem by publicly asserting that this Jesus, whom the rulers and inhabitants of that place had so lately crucified, was, in truth, the person in whom all their prophecies and long expectations terminated; that he had been sent amongst them by God, and that he was appointed by God the future judge of the human species ; that all who were solicitous to secure to themselves happiness after death, ought to receive him as such, and to make profession of their belief, by bo ing baptized in his name.”+ The history goes on to relate, “ that considerable numbers accepted this proposal, and that they who did so, formed amongst themselves a strict union and society ;I that the attention of the Jewish government being soon drawn upon them, two of the principal persons of the twelve, and who also had lived most intimately and constantly with the Founder of the religion, were seized as they were discoursing to the people in the temple ; that after being kept all night in prison, they were brought the next day before an assembly composed of the chief persons of the Jewish magistracy and priesthood ; that this assembly, after some consultation, found nothing at that time better to be done towards suppressing the growth of the sect, than to threaten their prisoners with punishment if they persisted; that these men, after expressing in decent but firm language, the obligation under which they considered themselves to be, to declare what they knew, 'to speak the things which they had seen and heard,' returned from the council, and reported what bad passed to their companions; that this report, whilst
* Acte i, 21, 22.
1 Acts iv. 32.
it apprized them of the danger of their situation and undertaking, had no other etfect upon their conduct, than to produce in them a general resolution to persevere, and an earnest prayer to God to furnish them with assistance, and to inspire them with fortitude proportioned to the increasing exigency of the service." A very short time after this, we read “ that all the twelve apostles were seized and cast into prison ;t that being brought a second time before the Jewish Sanhedrim, they were upbraided with their disobedience to the injunction which had been laid upon them, and beaten for their contumacy; that, being charged once more to desist, they were suffered to depart; that however they neither quitted Jerusalem, nor ceased from preaching, both daily in the temple, and from house to house ;I and that the twelve considered themselves as so entirely and exclusively devoted to this office, that they now transferred what may be called the temporal affairs of the society to other hands."
Hitherto the preachers of the new religion seem to have had the common people on their side; which is assigned as the reason why the Jewish rulers did not, at this time, think it prudent to proceed to greater extremities. It was not long however, before the enemies # Acts iv. | Acts v. 18.
1 Acts v. 42. I do not know that it has ever been insinuated, that the Christian mission, in the hands of the apostles, was a scheme for making a fortune, or for getting money. But it may nevertheless be fit to remark upon this passage of their history, how perfectly free they appear to have been from any pecuniary or interested views whatever.. The most tempting opportunity which occurred, of making a gain of their converts, was by the custody and management of the public funds, when some of the richer members, intending to contribute their fortunes to the common support of the society, sold their possessions, and laid down the prices at the apostles' feet. Yet, so insensible, or undesirous, were they of the advantage which that confidence afforded, that we find they very soon disposed of the trust, by putting it into the hands, not of nominees of their own, but of stewards formally elected for the purpose by the society at large.
We may add also, that this excess of generosity, which cast private property into the public stock, was so far from being required by the apostles, or imposed as a law of Christianity, that Peter reminds Ananias that he had been guilty, in his behaviour, of an officious and voluntary prevarication; “ for whilst (says he) thy estate remained unsold, was it not thine own! and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power ?"
of the institution found means to represent it to the people as tending to subvert their law, degrade their lawgiver, and dishonour their temple.* And these in. sinuations were dispersed with so much success, as to induce the people to join with their superiors in the stoning of a very active member of the new community.
The death of this man was the signal of a general persecution, the activity of which may be judged of from one anecdote of the time : “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and, haling men and women, committed them to prison.” This persecution raged at Jerusalem with so much fury as to drive most of the new converts out of the place, except the twelve apostles. The converts, thus “scattered abroad,” preached the religion wherever they came; and their preaching was, in effect, the preaching of the twelve; for it was so far carried on in concert and correspondence with them, that when they heard of the success of their emissaries in a particular country, they sent two of their number to the place, to complete and confirm the mission.
An event now took place, of great importance in the future history of the religion. The persecutiong which had began at Jerusalem, followed the Christians to other cities, in which the authority of the Jewish Sanhedrim over those of their own nation was allowed to be exercised. A young man, who had signalized him. self by his hostility to the profession, and had procured a commission from the council at Jerusalem to seize any converted Jews whom he might find at Damascus, suddenly became a proselyte to the religion which he was going about to extirpate. The new convert not only shared, on this extraordinary change, the fate of his companions, but brought upon himself a double measure of enmity from the party which he had left. The Jews at Damascus, on his return to that city, watched the gates night and day with so much diligence,
* Acts vi. 12.
† Acts viii. 3. 1 Acts viii. 1, “ And they were all scattered abroad :" but the term "all" is not, I think, to be taken strictly as denoting more than the generality; in like manner as in Acts ix. 35, “ And all that dwelt in Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.”
§ Acts ix.
that he escaped from their hands only by being let down in a basket by the wall. Nor did he find him. self in greater safety at Jerusalem, whither he immediately repaired. Attempts were there also soon set on foot to destroy him ; from the danger of which he was preserved by being sent away to Cilicia, his native country.
For some reason not mentioned, perhaps not known, but probably connected with the civil history of the Jews, or with some danger * which engrossed the public attention, an intermission about this time took place in the sufferings of the Christians. This happened, at the most, only seven or eight, perhaps only three or four, years after Christ's death. Within which period, and notwithstanding that the late persecution occupied part of it, churches, or societies, of believers, had been formed in all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria ; for we read that the churches in these countries “had now rest, and were edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.”+ The original preachers of the religion did not remit their labours or activity during this season of quietness, for we find one, and he a very principal person among them, passing throughout all quarters. We find also those who had been before expelled from Jerusalem by the persecution which raged there, travelling as far as Phænice, Cyprus, and Antioch ;I and lastly, we find Jerusalem again in the centre of the mission, the place whither the preachers returned from their several excursions, where they reported the conduct and effects of their ministry, where questions of public concern were canvassed and settled, whence directions were sought, and teachers sent forth.
The time of this tranquillity did not, however, continue long. Herod Agrippa, who had lately acceded to the government of Judea, “stretched forth his hand
• Dr. Lardner (in which he is followed also by Dr. Benson) ascribes this cessation of the persecution of the Chris tians to the attempt of Caligula to set up his own statue in the temple of Jerusalem, and to the consternation thereby excited in the minds of the Jewish people; which consteruation for a season suspended every other contest. Acts ix. 31.
Acts xi. 19.
to vex certain of the church."* He began his cruelty by beheading one of the twelve original apostles, a kinsman and constant companion of the Founder of the religion. Perceiving that this execution gratified the Jews, he proceeded to seize, in order to put to death, another of the number,-and him, like the former, associated with Christ during his life, and eminently active in the service since his death. This man was, however, delivered from prison, as the account states, miraculously, and made his escape from Jerusalem.
These things are related, not in the general terms under which, in giving the outlines of the history, we have here mentioned them, but with the utmost particularity of names, persons, places, and circumstances; and, what is deserving of notice, without the smallest discoverable propensity in the historian to magnify the fortitude or exaggerate the sufferings of his party. When they fled for their lives, he tells us. When the churches had rest, he remarks it. When the people took their part, he does not leave it without notice. When the apostles were carried a second time before the Sanhedrim, he is careful to observe that they were brought without violence. When milder counsels were suggested, he gives us the author of the advice, and the speech which contained it. When, in consequence of this advice, the rulers contented themselves with threatening the apostles, and commanding them to be beaten with stripes, without urging at that time the persecution farther, the historian candidly and distinctly records their forbearance. When, therefore, in other instances, he states heavier persecutions, or actual martyrdoms, it is reasonable to believe that he states them because they were true, and not from any wish to aggravate, in his account, the sufferings which Christians sustained, or to extol, more than it deserved, their patience under them.
Our history now pursues a narrower path. Leaving the rest of the apostles, and the original associates of Christ, engaged in the propagation of the new faith (and who there is not the least reason to believe abated
* Acts xii. 1.
+ Ibid. ver. 3—17.