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STEPHEN'S BURIAL-A PERSECUTION IN THE
CHURCH-THE DISCIPLES DISPERSED.
From Acts, Chap. 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 their consent 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 public assemblies, but entering into houses, and dragging from them, without any respect to age or sex, men and women, 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 consideration
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, crying 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 magical arts, which produced such astonishing effects, that numbers 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 the truths which Philip taught, and professed his faith; in token of which he was, like the rest, 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 were desirous that these new converts should be farther settled in their Christian profession, by those spiritual gifts which no inferior teacher or officer in the church could bestow; 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
receive the gift of the HOLY SPIRIT, and so be put upon an equality with the Jews, and distinguished by GoD as belonging to his people; for though the supernatural influences of the SPIRIT were displayed in the miracles wrought by PHILIP, it had not yet fallen upon any of the Samaritans, only they had been baptized with water. But after the Apostles had prayed and laid their hands on the new converts, they received the HOLY SPIRIT, and spoke with tongues, and performed many wonderful works.
When Simon, the Magician, saw that the extraordinary operations of the Holy Spirit followed the Apostles' laying-on of hands, he imagined that if he could do the like, it might turn considerably to his henour and advantage; he therefore offered the Apostles a considerable sum of money to communicate the same power to him. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of GOD may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of GOD. Repent, therefore, of this thy wickedness, and pray GoD, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
Simon, alarmed by this solemn admonition, entreated the Apostles to supplicate for him, that he might escape the dreadful consequences of his sin, and declared his belief in the Gospel.
Thus did these two Apostles, Peter and John, execute their commission; and when they had borne testimony to the resurrection of the LORD, and made known the terms of salvation, they returned to Jerusalem, stopping in their way to preach in the towns and villages of Samaria.
PHILIP BAPTIZETH AN ETHIOPIAN NOBLEMAN.
From Acts, Chap. viii.
AND the angel of the LORD spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south, unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is in the desert.
And he arose and went: and behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,
Was returning, and sitting in his chariot, read Esaias the prophet.
Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?
And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
The place of the Scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth.
In his humiliation his judgment was taken away; and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speakest the prophet this; of himself, or some of other man?
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him JESUS.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that JESUS CHRIST is the SON OF GOD.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
And when they were come out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through, he preached in all the cities, till he came to Cesarea.
ANNOTATIONS AND REFLECTIONS.
Candace is supposed to have been one of the successors of the queen of Sheba, who paid a visit to Solomon. The nobleman was a person of great distinction, and by some means, with which we are not acquainted, had been made a convert to the Jewish religion. He was at this time returning from Jerusalem, where he had been to celebrate one of the great festivals. Hav. ing his mind strongly impressed with religious sentiments, he, to assist his meditations, studied the Scriptures on his journey, and read them aloud, either to fix his own attention more strongly, or that his charioteer might also hear him.
It gives one a very high idea of the Gospel to read. that the ministers of it received such immediate directions from heaven. And the design for which the angel was sent to Philip proves, that God is not partial to any nation or people; but whoever is desirous of understanding the Scriptures is, by some means or other, furnished P 2