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of the temple came suddenly upon them, seized them, and clapped them up in prison. From Acts. i. The next morning the great Sanhedrim met; who, having summoned the apostles be- 10. to the end. fore them, demanded of them, By what power they had wrought that miracle upon the lame man, and who it was that gave them authority to preach to the people? To which Peter, without the least hesitation, boldly replied, "That their power and authority were both from Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had crucified, but God had raised from the dead, and thereby declared him to be the Saviour of the world."
The miracle was indisputable. The man who had received the cure was standing by the apostles, and ready to attest the fact, and therefore the council had nothing to object against it; only, after they had ordered the apostles to withdraw, and consulted together what was proper to be done upon this occasion, they called them in again, and in hopes of awing them into silence, gave them strict charge, not to teach any more in the name of Jesus. But to this they made answer, "That since they had received a command from heaven, to declare to all nations what they had heard or seen, it was certainly their duty to * obey God rather than them."
This was a fair appeal to the consciences of their very judges; but their judges, instead of being satisfied with it, would probably have proceeded to greater violence, had not the people's veneration for the apostles put a restraint upon their malice: All that they dared to do therefore was, to repeat and enforce their menaces, and so dismiss them. When the apostles were come to their brethren, and had reported to them the treatment they had met with, they all joined in prayer to God for a supply of courage and assistance extraordinary, in that trying and perilous juncture; and, at the conclusion of their prayer, the house where they were was shaken with a mighty wind, as be. fore on the day of Pentecost; whereupon they were instantly replenished with fresh measures of the Holy Ghost, and, notwithstanding all the threatenings of the Jewish rulers, found themselves invigorated to preach the Gospel of Christ with more boldness and resolution than ever.
The charity at this time among believers was very large and extensive. Such of them as had houses or possessions of any kind, sold them, and deposited the money in the hands of the apostles, by them to be distributed in due proportions, according to the necessities of their brethren. This a certain Levite, a native of Cyprus †, called
acquiesce in what our learned Lightfoot, with some others, seem to assert, viz. That the priests kept watch in three places of the temple, and the Levites in twenty-one; that to every one of these watches there was a chief, and to them all, one who was eminently the gays, the captain or ruler of the temple, and that this captain is the very same who, in Jewish writers, is so frequently called "the man of the mount:" whereupon he supposes, that this captain was an officer of the high priest's, appointed to bring those who any way offended in the temple (as the apostles were thought to do for having preached therein the doctrine of Christ) before the Sanhedrim, in order to be punished. Calmet's Commentary, Pool's and Whitby's Annotations.
* Whether or no this was an axiom commonly received among the Jewish Rabbins, and therefore very pertinently here applied by the apostles to their angry judges, this is certainly true, that Socrates answered his accusers in this manner, "O ye Athenians, I will obey God rather than you," Apol. p. 23. and that Arian delivers this as a general precept, when thy superiors command thee any thing, thou must remember that there is one above who sees thee,
"and that thou oughtest rather to please him than
+ Cyprus is a famous island in the Mediterranean Sea, situate between Cilicia and Syria. It is reputed to be distant from the main land of Syria about an hundred miles, and about sixty miles from Cilicia, to be extended in length, from east to west, about two hundred miles, and in breadth sixty, and therefore to be one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean. The ancients were of opinion, that it took its name from the cypress-trees, which grow there in great abundance. They celebrate it much for its fertility, as being sufficiently provided with all things within itself, for which reason they call it the rich and happy island; but so infamous was it for luxury, and all kinds of debauchery, that it gave the name of Cypris, or Cypria, to Venus, who was the chief goddess of it in the times of heathenism, when they used to consecrate their women to whoredom, and by a law compel them to lie with strangers, as did the Baby. lonians. Calmet's Dictionary, Wells's Geography of the New Testament, and Whitby's Alphabetical Table.
&c. or 5144.
A. M. 4037, Joses, but by the apostles sirnamed Barnabas, or "the son of consolation," did with great readiness and singleness of heart; and in imitation of him, Ananias and his wife Vulg. Er. 33, Sapphira, pretending to devote all they had to the service of the church, sold their es&c. or 31. tate, but making a reserve of some of the money to themselves, they brought only part of it into the public fund, hoping thereby to impose upon the apostles. By the spirit of prophecy, Peter, however, perceiving their deceit, rebuked them severely for it, and by the miraculous power wherewith he was then invested, struck them both dead upon the spot; thereby to inject terror into the rest of the believers, and to prevent the like hypocrisy and dissimulation among them for the future.
Miracles of severity were not however much practised by the apostles: Acts of mercy were their proper province, and healing the diseased, and freeing the possessed, a great part of their employment; wherein the Divine power so far attended them, that even the shadow of Peter passing by cured the sick, who, in the very streets, were laid on beds and couches, on purpose to receive the benefit of his salutary influence. Nor were these marvellous cures confined to the inhabitants of Jerusalem only, but the people of several neighbouring towns and villages brought thither their sick, their lame, and pos. sessed, who from the hands of the apostles never once missed of a cure.
Provoked at the fame of these cures, and at the success which they saw Christianity gained by the miracles and preachings of the apostles, the high priest, and some others of the Sanhedrim who were of the sect of the Sadducees, had them apprehended, and thrown into the common prison; but the next night an angel from heaven having set them at liberty, encouraged them to proceed with boldness in their ministry, and ordered them even to go the next morning and preach the doctrines of Christ in the midst of the temple; which accordingly they failed not to do.
In the morning the council being met, sent their officers to bring the apostles before them; but were not a little surprised when the officers returned and told them, that they found the doors of the prison shut indeed, and the keepers all upon their guard, but as for the persons whom they were sent for, there was not one of them to be found. This report put the whole court in great perplexity, until word, was brought them, that the prisoners, whom they wanted, were preaching, in the temple; whereupon the captain of the guard, with some other officers, went and intreated them to come before the council, not daring to offer any violence to them, for fear of being stoned by. the people...
When the apostles were brought before their judges, and the high priest demanded of them how they durst presume to preach a doctrine which so lately had been interdicted them, they returned much the same answer that they had done once before,. viz. "That they were bound to obey God rather than man; that Jesus, whom they had murdered, was undoubtedly the true Messiah; and that of his resurrection and ascension into heaven, both they and the Holy Ghost (whereby they acted) were authentic witnesses." Which so exasperated the high priest and some other of the ru lers, that, upon their ordering them to withdraw, their first resolution was to have put them to death; but this was prevented by the wise advice of a certain Pharisee, named Gamaliel †, who, from some examples in former history, represented to the court,
+ This was the Gamaliel at whose feet St Paul was brought up, Acts xxii. 3. and some of the ancients are of opinion, that, he was tutor likewise to two other disciples, Barnabas and Stephen; and for this reason it is reported of him, that when that proto martyr suffered, he encouraged the Christians to go by night and carry off his body; for which purpose he lent them his chariot, and allowed them a burying place in his own estate, about eight leagues distant from
Jerusalem. He certainly was a doctor of great repute among the Jews, and was therefore usually call ed Rabban Gamaliel, a title of the lughest eminence, and never given, say they, to any more than seven. He is supposed to have been the grandson of Hillel, and either uncle or cousin to Nicodemus, of whom we read in the Gospel, John iii. 1, &c.; for thirty-two years to have continued the Nasi, or President of the Sanhedrim, and to have died about ten years after
"That if the apostles were no better than impostors, their fraud and fallacy would From Acts. h quickly be discovered; but that if they acted by a proper authority from God, it would 10. to the end. badly become the wisdom of that assembly to contend with the Almighty, in persecuting his servants." And by this speech he so far diverted the indignation of the council, as to have the sentence (at first designed against the apostles lives) changed into a corporal punishment. The court accordingly having ordered them to be scourged, and charged them very strictly "never to teach any more in the name of Jesus," dismissed them; and the apostles went away greatly rejoicing, not so much that they had escaped death, as that they were accounted worthy to suffer shame and punishment for the name of their dearest Lord and Master.
The great increase of believers, and access of money to the common fund for the relief of their poor, made the institution of another order of men in the Christian church highly necessary. For when the Hellenists † complained that in the distribution of the charity-money, an undue preference was given to the Hebrew widows, whilst theirs were too frequently neglected; the apostles, who had matters of greater importance upon their hands, and were not at leisure to attend on this affair themselves, called the church together, and having ordered them to single out seven || men of great
the destruction of Jerusalem. Christian authors make no doubt but that he embraced the faith of Jesus, but at what time he became a convert, or by whose hands he was baptized, they no where tell us. To reconcile his conversion however with what the Jewish writers relate of his being at the head of the Sanhedrim so long, they affirm that he was a Christian even when that assembly sat upon the apostles, and that the apostles persuaded him to continue in it, and not to discover his religion, that thereby he might be ca pable of doing more service to the church. But the author of the Acts has noted the true reason of his speaking in favour of the apostles, viz. that as the Sadducees, after our Lord's resurrection, became the apostles greatest enemies, because they "preached through Christ the resurrection of the dead," Acts iv. 2. so Gamaliel, who was a Pharisee, and consequently a stiff asserter of the resurrection, did therefore give his advice for the dismission of the apostles, even as we find the Pharisees afterwards, almost in the same words, pleading for St Paul preaching the same doctrine, viz. that they ought not to molest him in what he did, "lest they should be found fighters against God," Acts xxiii. 9. Calmet's Commentary, and Whitby's Annotations.
+ Some are of opinion that these Hellenists or Grecians (as our translations render them) were originally Gentiles, first converted to the Jewish, and afterwards to the Christian Religion, even as the Hebrews, here mentioned, were originally Jews: But though it be allowed that Gentiles of all nations are frequently called Hellens, yet it no where appears that they are styled Hellenists; and that these Grecians must mean something different from the common Hellens or Greeks, is evident from the case of St Paul, who when he came to Jerusalem and disputed πρὸς τοὺς Ελληνιστάς, “ against the Grecians that went about to kill him," Acts ix 29. whereas had they been strangers of other nations, they durst not have attempted to kill a Jew, among a nation of Jews, without bringing him to their tribunal. It is reason.
able therefore to believe, that these Hellenists were originally Jews, and descended from such, as in the several calamities that befel the Jewish state, were either forced, or chose to leave their own country, and settling at Alexandria and other places where the Greck tongue only was spoke, in process of time came to forget their own, and to make use of the Greek only, both in their common conversation and religious offices. Of this kind of Jews, we are told there were great numbers in Jerusalem, where there was a synagogue particularly appointed for such as understood no other language than Greek, and where the version of the LXX was constantly read in their assemblies. As therefore the apostles had hitherto made no tender of the Gospel to the Gentiles, the Hellenists here spoken of must necessarily mean such Jews converted to the Christian religion as had disused the Hebrew or Syriac, and spake the Greek language only. Calmet's Commentary, Whitby's and Pool's Annotations.
The words in the text are these,-" Wherefore, brethren, look you out among you seven men, of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business," Acts vi. 3. And indeed in the whole relation of this matter, there is nothing that favours the authority of the laity in choosing persons to sacred offices; for though the choice of these seven was committed to them, yet was this done by the particular appointment of the apostles themselves, who specified the number and qualifica-tions of the persons to be thus chosen, and who reserved to themselves their designation to this office by the imposition of their hands, Acts vi. 6. And yet this part of the text in many or most of our English Bibles is very erroneously rendered. For, from the year of our Lord 1638 to the year 1660, and in several since, it is printed "whom YE may appoint," &c. thereby devolving the power of ordination into the hands of the laity. The Bibles printed with this fault are these. That in 8vo, by John Field, 1660. In 24mo, by the assigns of John Bill and Christopher Barker, 1674. In 8vo, by John Bill and Christopher
&c. or 5445. Ann. Dom.
A. M. 4038, repute for their wisdom and prudence, as well as spiritual endowments, to be chosen stewards of the public stock; these they ordained to the office of deacons, by the solemnity of prayers and the imposition of their hands. The names of the person's who were ordained to this office were Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas, all taken out of the number of the seventy disciples, whom our Lord had chosen ; but of these the most eminent for the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit was Stephen.
He preached the Gospel with a noble courage and resolution, and confirmed it with many public and unquestionable miracles among the people, insomuch, that by his means the Christian religion gained ground abundantly. Converts came in apace; and great numbers of the priests themselves laid aside their prejudices, and embraced the Gospel. This zeal and success of his, however, soon awakened the malice of his adversaries to procure some members † of the most learned synagogues, then in Je.
Barker, 1674. In 8vo, at Edinburgh, by Andrew Anderson and Partners, 1673 and 1675. In 8vo, by John Bill, Thomas Newcomb, and Henry Hills, 1679. In 8vo, by John Bill, Thomas Newcomb, and Henry Hills, 1680. In 8vo, by the assigns of John Bill and Thomas Newcomb, 1685. At Amsterdam, in folio, 1679. And in Baxter's Paraphrase, and several others, the Greek word xaraσThroμe "we may appoint," is rendered "ye may appoint." Whether this was by mistake or design, it may certainly be of dangerous consequence, as liable to deceive those who, though not unskilful in the Greek, may, through haste and inadvertency, depend upon the translation. [That it was by design can hardly be doubted, when we call to mind the principles of those who had the supreme power in church and state during the period from 1638 to 1660, when these editions of the English Bible were published; and when it is known that among all the Greek manuscripts that were collated by Griesbach, there appears not to be one which reads καταστήσητε. Some indeed have xaτσThower, and others xaTaTroue, to which that cele brated critic gives the preference; but not one of them has the verb in the second person.] Whitby's Annotations, and Howell's History, in the Notes.
¶ [Dr Hales places the martyrdom of St Stephen in the same year with the Bible chronology, and as signs very sufficient reasons for supposing that three years elapsed from our Lord's ascension to that event. As from the year 34, therefore, he differs very little, if at all, from the vulgar chronology of the Bible, it is needless, from this period, to note his dates from the commencement of the Christian era.]
The names of these seven deacons, we may observe, are all of Greek extract; from whence we may infer, that, very probably, they were all Hellenists, and that consequently, by their designation, the church was desirous to give full satisfaction to the complaint of those whose widows had been before neglected. Of the two first of these, viz. Stephen and Philip, the Sacred History has given us a sufficient account, but of the rest we have nothing certain, except we will admit of what the Latins tell us of Prochorus, viz. that on the 9th of August he suffered martyrdom at Antioch, after having made himself famous for his miracles: Of Nicanor, that on the 10th
of January he suffered in the isle of Cyprus, after having given great demonstrations of his faith and virtue: Of Timon, that on the 19th of April he was first thrown into the fire, and when he had miracu lously escaped from thence, was fixed upon a cross at Corinth: Of Parmenas, that on the 23d of Janua ry he suffered at Philippi, in Macedonia: And of Nicholas, that, either by design or indiscretion, he gave rise to the infamous sect of Nicholaitans, and therefore no Christian church has ever yet paid any honour to his memory. One thing we may observe in this place, viz. that much about the time of the institution of these deacons, James the Less (so called to distinguish him from the other James, who was the son of Zebedee), and for his eminent virtues sirnamed the Just, was chosen bishop of Jerusalem, and for this reason preferred before all the rest, because he was a near relation, viz. a cousin-german to our Blessed Saviour. Calmet's Commentary and Dictionary, and Fleury's Ecclesiastical History.
+ As there were people of all nations, proselytes to the Jewish religion, dwelling at Jerusalem, it is reasonable to conceive that they had synagogues or places appointed for prayer, for hearing the law, and pious exhortations in their own languages. The Jews report that there were no less than four hundred and eighty of these in Jerusalem, which were so many inferior churches, and subordinate to the temple as their cathedral. These synagogues, very probably, were built and maintained by the several nations, or degrees of people, that resorted to them, and from these they had their names, as the synagogue of Libertines, i. e. of such as were denizens of Rome, of the Cyrenians, the Alexandrians, &c. But it is to be observed of these synagogues, that they were not only places of religious worship, but a sort of colleges, or schools likewise, where persons were instituted in the law and traditions of the Jews. The Jews at this time were dispersed in several foreign parts, and from these they sent their youth to Jerusalem to be educated in the synagogue or college peculiar to their respective countries. St Paul was of the province of Cilicia, and as it is reasonable to think that he studied in a college, either belonging to the country where he was born, or proper to his quality as a freeman of Rome, there seems to be no incongruity
rusalem, to dispute with him; but when they found their disputants baffled, and un- From Acts. i. able to withstand the force of those arguments which the Divine wisdom inspired him 10 to the end. with, they betook themselves to vile practices; and, having procured men of profligate consciences to accuse him of blasphemy, caused him to be apprehended, and, in a tumultuous manner, brought him before the Sanhedrim, in order to obtain a formal sentence of condemnation against him.
Whilst he stood before the council, the judges, and all the people then present, beheld a lustre and radiancy in his countenance, not unlike the appearance of an angel and when he was indulged the liberty of speech, in a grave and severe oration, he endeavoured, not only to vindicate himself from the imputation of blasphemy, but, at the same time, by an historical deduction of the most memorable actions and events that had happened in the Jewish nation, from the time of Abraham to that of Solomon, he undertook to shew, "That religion was not confined to the holy land, or the temple service; that the law, for which they expressed so vehement a zeal, was unable to contain mankind within the bounds of their duty; that as their forefathers were all along a stubborn and rebellious people, and grievous persecutors of the prophets, who were sent to foretel the coming of the Messiah, so were they likewise a wicked and perverse generation, who in all things had equalled, but in this surpassed, the impiety of their ancestors, viz. that, contrary to that law which had been delivered to them by the ministry of angels, they had betrayed and murdered that very person who was sent into the world to fulfil it."
These last words, which were but too true, incensed the Jews to such a degree, that they fell upon him with the utmost expressions of their rage and fury, whilst he, regardless of what they were about, had his mind employed in the † delightful prospect of heaven, and the sensible appearance of the Blessed Jesus, in our glorified nature, standing at the right-hand of God; which, when he had declared to all the company, the Jews were so enraged, that, raising a loud clamour, and stopping their ears against all cries for mercy, they unanimously rushed upon him, dragged him out of the city, and there stoned him to death: whilst he, having first devoutly † recommended his soul to God, upon his bended knees, made loud intercession for his murderers, that the sin they were then committing might not be laid to their charge; and so gave up the ghost: But his body was buried by devout men, (probably proselytes to the Christian faith,) who made great lamentations over it.
in supposing, that he might possibly be one, either of those libertine or Cilician disputants, who entered the lists with St Stephen. Whitby's and Beauso. bre's Annotations, Stanhope on the Epistles and Go. spels, and Calmet's Commentary.
Whether to afford St Stephen this delightful prospect, the opening of the heavens was real, (as it is believed to have been at our Lord's baptism) or whether this, like other appearances to the prophets of the Old Testament, was represented to him by way of vision, as we cannot certainly know, so is it of no great consequence that we should. For since a vision is described by those that are particularly curious in these matters, to be "such a distinct and strong impression upon the faculty of the imagination, as sets the object before the man as plainly as if it actually were present, and perceived by his bodily senses," [Maim. Mor, Nev. part ii. c. 26.] it is not to be doubted but that either of these ways comes all to one, as to the certainty of the persuasion, and every other effect which we can suppose it is intended to produce in the mind of the person whom it ac
tuates. Stanhope on the Epistles and Gospels.
+ In this prayer of our dying martyr, there are these four things observable. 1. That he looked up. on his soul as a substance distinct from his body; and 2. That it continued to exist after its separation from the body. 3. That he declared our Blessed Saviour to be God omniscient and omnipotent, able to hear, and grant his prayer, and to preserve the souls commended to his care and protection. And, 4. That the spirits received by him are in a state of safety and happiness. The time of this martyrdom is by some placed after our Lord's death about eight months; by others at the distance of about four; by others again, seven years. Eusebius is express, that it followed quickly after his election into the office of deacon; from St Chrysostom and some others, who speak in his honour, we are to conclude that he was martyred young; and from ecclesiastical history we are informed, that the place where he suffered had a stately church built upon it by Eudocia, the empress, wife to Theodosius. Stanhope on the Epistles and Go. spels, vol. i.