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and preach Jesus Christ daily in the temple, and in every house (u).”
Among the most zealous and distinguished of the disciples was Stephen, one of the seven deacons, who "was full of faith and power, and did great wonders and miracles among the people (a)." This man was seized and carried before the council, and accused by witnesses, who were suborned for that purpose, "of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and against God (y)." Stephen vindicated himself against this charge, by asserting, at some length and with great solemnity, the divine authority of the Mosaic Law; he inveighed against the antient Jews for persecuting the prophets who had predicted the coming of the Messiah, and reproached the council, whom he was then addressing, with betraying and murdering that Just One who had been thus predicted: "When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and
(a) Acts, c. 5. v. 42. (y) Acts, c. 6. v. II.
(*) Acts, c. 6. v. 8.
the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. They then eried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul; and they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit; and he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge; and when he had said this, he fell asleep (2)."
Stephen was the first martyr in the cause of the Gospel; and immediately after his death there began a severe persecution of the whole church at Jerusalem. All the disciples, except the twelve Apostles, left the city, and being "scattered abroad, went every where, preaching the word (a)." Philip the deacon preached at Samaria; and the inhabitants of that city, seeing the miracles he performed, believed the doctrines which he taught, and professed their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. And when the Apostles, who were at Jerusalem,
heard that the Samaritans
(≈) Acts, c. 7. v. 54, &c. This stoning of Stephen was an irregular tumultuous act, not done in consequence of a sentence of the Sanhedrim, and does not prove that the Jews at that time had the power of life and death, (a) Acts, c. 8. v. 4.
Samaritans had received the word of God, they sent thither Peter and John, who, by laying their hands upon these new converts, communicated to them the gifts of the Holy Ghost. The same success which Philip had at Samaria, attended the other disciples in the different places to which they went; and thus the persecution at Jerusalem was the means of conveying the Gospel" throughout Judæa, Galilee, and Samaria," and even as far as Phoenice, Cyprus, and Antioch (b).”
During the first eight years after the ascension of our Saviour, the preaching of the Apostles. and others was confined to the Jews. The call of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, and the miraculous conversion of St. Paul, the great Apostle of the Gentiles, have been already noticed. Subsequent to these important events, the Scripture History furnishes us with scarcely any information, except some few particulars relative to St. Peter, and a more detailed account of the sufferings and exertions of St. Paul. All these circumstances have been related in the history of those Apostles, and therefore it will be only necessary to add, that we learn from the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles, that
(b) Acts, c. II. v. 19.
within thirty years after the ascension of our 'Saviour, Christian churches were founded in Cyprus, Crete, Greece, Italy, Syria, and many countries of Asia Minor, which consisted both of Jewish and Gentile converts.
SUCH is the history of the New Testa ment; and that the books which contain this history were written, and immediately published, by persons contemporary with the events, is fully proved, as we have seen in the preceding chapters, by the testimony of an unbroken series of authors, reaching from the days of the Evange lists to the present times; by the concurrent belief of Christians of all denominations; and by the unreserved confession of avowed enemies to the Gospel. In this point of view the writings of the antient fathers of the Christian church are invaluable. They contain not only frequent references and allusions to the books of the New Testament, but also such numerous professed quotations from them, that it is demonstratively certain, that these books existed in their present state a few years after the appearance of Christ in the world. No unbeliever in the apostolic age, in the age immediately subse
quent to it, or indeed in any age whatever, was ever able to disprove the facts recorded in these books; and it does not appear, that in the early times any such attempt was made. The facts therefore related in the New Testament must be admitted to have really happened. But if all the circumstances of the history of Jesus, that is, his miraculous conception in the womb of the Virgin, the time at which he was born, the place where he was born, the family from which he was descended, the nature of the doctrines which he preached, the meanness of his condition, his rejection, sufferings, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, with many other minute particulars; if, I say, all these various circumstances in the history of Jesus exactly accord with the predictions of the Old Testament relative to the promised Messiah, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, it follows that Jesus was that Messiah.—And again, if Jesus really performed the miracles as related in the Gospels, and was perfectly acquainted with the thoughts and designs of men, his divine mission cannot be doubted. Lastly, if he really foretold his own death and resurrection, the descent of the Holy Ghost, its miraculous effects, the sufferings of the Apostles, the call of the Gentiles, and the destruction of Jerusalem, it necessarily follows that