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Ann. Dom. 34, &c.
A. M. 4038. Among the many that were thus enraged against Stephen, one particular person, who &c. or 5445. had but too great a hand in his death, was a young man of Cilicia, named Saul. He, out of his great officiousness to have him executed, undertook to look to the clothes of the witnesses, who usually stripped themselves to throw the first stones, as the law directed, at the person who died by their evidence; and, out of his passionate concern for the traditions of the ancients, having procured a commission from the Sanhedrim, he immediately put it in execution. For he broke open houses, seized upon all who looked like the disciples of Jesus, and, without any regard to sex or age, scourged and hauled them away to prison, compelling them to blaspheme and deny Christ, and breathing out nothing but threatenings and slaughter wherever he came; insomuch that most of the believers, except the apostles †, were forced to leave Jerusalem, and disperse themselves in the regions of Judea and Samaria, Syria and Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, &c. preaching the gospel to the Jews that were in those places.
Among those who were thus dispersed, Philip the deacon, the second in order after Stephen, came to Samaria, where by his preaching and miracles he converted many. In this place there was one Simon *, who, by his sorcery and magical arts, had so strangely gained the veneration of the people, that they looked upon his diabolical illusions as real operations of the power of God; but seeing great numbers of his admirers fall off from him, and embrace the doctrine which Philip preached, be in like manner pretended to be a convert, and in hopes of obtaining some share of the miraculous gifts which he could not but admire in the evangelist, desired by him to be baptized.
The news of the conversion of so large a city as Samaria was soon brought to the apostles at Jerusalem, who thereupon sent Peter and John to confer the gifts of the Holy Ghost upon the new converts. The magician, perceiving that a power of working
It is a very ancient tradition, mentioned by Cle-
* This man was a native of Gitton, a village of Sa-
other nations the Holy Ghost. But since the history of the apostles informs us, that he believed, and was baptized in the name of Jesus, it is difficult to conceive, how he should persuade the Samaritans that he was God the Father; or the Jews, that he was the Son, or that Jesus, into whose name he was baptized; or the Gentiles, that he was that Spirit which he would have purchased with money. And therefore we may presume, that these venerable writers, out of their ardent zeal against this arch heretic, might be induced to magnify his arrogant pretensions above measure, by putting too strong an interpretation upon St Luke's words. However this be, it is certain, that he did not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God, but looked upon him as a rival, and pretended himself to be the Christ; that he held the world was not created by God, but made by angels, and therefore Divine honours were due to them, as appointed Mediators between God and men; that he accounted the ordinary worship of idols as a thing indifferent, and in times of persecution, that men might law fully abjure the Christian faith; that he maintained an universal licence to sin; men might act as they were inclined; women might be in common; and that to press the observance of good works was inconsistent with the Gospel liberty. These were some of his princi. ples; and in consequence of these (as Irenæus tells us), he and his followers lived in all lust and impurity, and wallowed in the most horrible and unheard of bestialities. Calmet's Dissert. sur Simon le Magicien; Eachard's Ecclesiastical History, and Cave's Life of St Paul.
10. to the end.
miracles, and speaking with tongues, was consequent upon the imposition of the apo- From Acts. i. stles hands, offered to give them money to enable him to do the like; but the offer St Peter rejected with scorn and detestation, denouncing an execration against him and his money; which so terrified the caitiff, that, possibly fearing to be made an example of dissimulation, (as Ananias was) he begged the apostles prayers to God for the pardon of his sin, and the aversion of those judgments which his denunciations seemed to portend: But how false and feigned his repentance was, the sequel of this history will shew.
The two apostles having thus confirmed the church of Samaria, preached the Gospel in many of the neighbouring villages with good success, and so returned to Jerusalem; while Philip being ordered by an angel, who appeared to him, to go southward into the road which led from Jerusalem to Gaza †, he there met with an eunuch †2, that waited on Candace, * Queen of Ethiopia, who had been to pay his devotions at Jerusalem †, and was then upon his journey home. As he drew near to the chariot, Philip found him commendably employed in reading a passage in the 53d chapter of Isaiah, relating to the sufferings of the Messiah; and when the treasurer expressed his desire of having the passage (which he did not so well understand) a little explained to him, and thereupon invited him into the chariot, Philip took this oportunity to preach unto him the gospel of Jesus Christ, and thereby to shew him, that not only the sense of that passage, but of several others in the ancient prophets, was fully acccomplished in his person and transactions. This so fully convinced the eunuch, that with much eagerness he desired to be baptized into the Christian faith; which, when Philip had done, the
+We have before (in vol. ii. p. 73,) given an account of this city, and of the several revolutions which it underwent; and have only here to observe, that as there were two places of this name, one which was destroyed by Alexander, (say some the Great, and others Jannæus), and therefore called the desart, and another, which, by Constantine the Great, was built in a place nearer the sea than the ancient city stood, it must be of the ancient city (whose ruins, as St Jerom informs us, were visible in his time), that the sacred historian is here to be understood. Cal. met's Commentary.
pia, and other places. For, even to this day, the
* Some are of opinion, that the word Candace signifies sovereign authority, and that this was a common name for all the queens who reigned in the island or peninsula of Meroe, which is the country here called Ethiopia; (not the Ethiopia in Arabia, where the queen of Sheba dwelt, but the Ethiopia in Africa, which lay below Egypt), and of whose government Pliny testifies, that it was generally in the hands of women, who, for several successions, assumed the name of Candace: And of this particular queen it is reported, that, by the preaching of this her eunuch, she was prevailed upon to turn Christian. Whitby's Annotations, and Calmet's Commentary.
This word is derived from the Greek voxes, which signifies one who guards the bed, because generally, in the courts of the eastern kings, the care of the beds and apartments belonging to princes and princesses was committed to them, but more especially those of the princesses, who, in these countries, live in great retirement, and remote from the sight and company of men. It is not to be denied, however, that this word is in Scripture frequently set to signify any minister belonging to a prince, attending at his court, and employed more especially in some office belonging to the inner part of the palace, whether he be really an eunuch or not; but that the word in this place is to be taken in its most natural and obvious sense, seems to be evident from hence, That the same person, who is here called an eunuch, is said to have been of great authority with the queen of Ethiopia, which would have been needless, had the word eunuch here been intended to signify any prime minister of state. In relation to this eunuch, however, some Greek copies of good repute read, that the Holy Ghost fell upon him (even as it did upon Cornelius) without the imposition of hands, by which means he was enabled to be a preacher of the Gospel in Ethio3 E
+3 That this eunuch was a proselyte of justice, or one who, from Paganism, had embraced the Jewish faith, to which he might be converted by those Jews, who, from Alexandria, spread themselves into the African Ethiopia, is a reasonable conjecture, not only because he came so long a journey to worship at Jerusalem, probably at some great festival, but because Cornelius is expressly declared to be the first fruits of the Gentiles; and it is not unlikely, that the fame which he had heard at Jerusalem, of the cruci. fixion and resurrection of Christ, might be the reason of his reading the prophet Isaiah, who speaks more plainly of the times of the Gospel than any other, and that particular chapter, which (as Abarbinel testifies)" all the Jewish Rabbins did, with one mouth, confess, that it related to the sufferings of Mes. siah the king. Whitby's Annotations.
A. M. 4039, Spirit of the Lord immediately transported † him to Azotus +2, from whence he proceed&c. or 5446. ed as far as Cæsarea, preaching the Gospel in all the cities, while the Ethiopian pursued his journey with great joy and satisfaction of mind.
The dispersion of believers, which occasioned a propagation of the Gospel in other countries, soon excited the furious zeal of Saul to procure proper letters +3 of authority from the high priest to Damascus +4, that in case he should find any there, whether they were men or women, professing the Christian faith, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem, there to be punished. But as he was upon the road, and now drawing near
That it was a common thing for the Spirit of God to convey his prophets of old from one place to another, as it were in an instant of time, is plain from Obadiah's words to Elijah, "It shall come to pass, that, as soon as I am gone from thee, the Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not," i Kings xvii 12. And from what the sons of the prophets say to Elisha, let these men, we pray thee, go and seek thy master, lest peradventure the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain," 2 Kings ii. 16. This very probably might be done by the ministry of some angel, here called the Spirit, or power of the Lord; and the reason that is commonly assigned for it in the case of Philip is, That the eunuch had requested of him to go with him into Ethiopia; whereas God, having de. signed him to preach the Gospel in other parts of the world, removed him in this extraordinary manner, and thereby not only prevented his compliance with the request, but gave the eunuch assurance likewise of his being a messenger sent from heaven, and consequently, that the things which had been taught him were true. Calmet's Commentary, Whitby's and Pool's Annotations.
This city, in the Old Testament, 1. Sam. v. 1, 2. is called Ashdod, and is therein memorable for the temple of Dagon. It lies upon the Mediterranean Sea, about nine or ten miles north of Gaza, and in the times when Christianity flourished in these parts was made an Episcopal See, and continued a fair vil lage until the days of St Jerom. Wells's Geography
of the New Testament.
+3 From hence it appears, that, however the Jews were cramped in several privileges belonging originally to their nation, yet even after they became a Roman province, their great council at Jerusalem had a jurisdiction, which extended to all synagogues, even those that were out of Judea, and that the power of capital punishments was not so far taken from them, but that, either by their own authority, or at least the consent of the Roman governors, they might in some cases inflict them. Calmet's Commentary, and Whitby's Annotations.
Of the ancient history of Damascus, so far as we had occasion in the Old Testament, we have given some account before, vol. ii. page 401, in the Notes; and shall only here add a short abstract of what a late traveller of our own tells us concerning its present state, viz. “That it is situated on an even plain, of so great extent, that one can but just discern the mountains, which compass it on the farther side; that it stands on the west side of the plain, about two miles distant from the head of the river Barrady,
which waters it; is of a long straight figure, about two miles in extent, adorned with mosques and steeples, as the manner of Turkish cities is, and encompassed with gardens (according to common computation) full thirty miles round. That the river Barrady, as soon as it issues out from between a cleft of the mountain Anti-libanus into the plain, is divided into three streams, whereof the middlemost and biggest runs directly to Damascus through a large open field, called Ager Damascenus, and is distributed to all the cisterns and fountains of the city; while the other two (which seem to be the work of art) are drawn round, one to the right-hand, and the other to the left, on the borders of the gardens, into which they are let (as they pass along) by little currents, and so every where dispersed. That the houses of the city (whose streets are very narrow) are all built on the outside, with no better materials than either sun-burnt brick, or Flemish wall, and yet it is no uncommon thing to see the gates and doors adorned with marble portals, carved and inlaid with great beauty and variety, and within these portals, to find generally a large square court, beautified with fragrant trees and marble fountains, and compassed round with splendid apartments: That in these apartments, their ceilings and traves are usually richly painted and gilded, and their duans (which are a sort of low stages, seated in the pleasantest part of the room, and elevated about sixteen or eighteen inches above the floor, whereon the Turks eat, sleep, smoak, receive visits, say their prayers, &c.) are floored and adorned on the sides with variety of marble, mixed in Mosaic knots and mazes, spread with carpets, and furnished all round with bolsters and cushions to the very height of luxury: That in this city is shewn the church of John the Baptist, now converted into a famous mosque, the house of Ananias, which is only a small grotto or cellar, wherein is nothing remarkable, and the house of Judas, with whom St Paul lodged, wherein is an old tomb, the supposed burying place of Ananias, which the Turks hold in so much reverence, that they maintain a lamp continually burning over it." This is the chief of the account. which the ingenious Mr Maundrel gives us of the city of Damascus; and it may not perhaps be immaterial here to adjoin,―That the fruit-tree called the damascen, and the flower called the damask rose, were transplanted from the gardens belonging to this city, as those branches of silk and linen, which go under the name of damasks, were not improbably the first invention of its inhabitants. Wells's Geography of the New Testament.
to Damascus, all on a sudden, about mid-day, a most amazing gleam of light, far ex- From Acts i. ceeding the brightness of the sun, was darted from heaven upon him and those that 10. to the end. were with him, and threw them all for fear postrate upon the ground. This light was accompanied with a voice, in the Hebrew (or rather Syriac) tongue, demanding of him why it was that he persecuted him so violently? And as Saul was uncertain from whence the words came, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, (continued the voice) whom thou persecutest; but it is in vain for thee to resist the decrees of Providence, and therefore be no longer refractory, but obey the commands that shall be given thee." Whereupon Saul, in a terrible dread and agony, desiring to know what he was to do, "Go to Damascus (replied the voice), and there thou shalt know my will." Those that accompanied Saul in his journey were struck with fear and amazement, wondering that they should hear a voice, and yet see no man speak, whilst Saul himself was so dazzled and overpowered by the light, that he quite lost his eyesight, and was led by the hand into Damascus, where he continued for the space of three days without taking any manner of sustenance.
At this time there was in the city a certain disciple named Ananias, † whom the Lord in a vision commanded to go and find out Saul, then lodging at the house of one Judas a Jew, and, by the imposition of his hands, to cure him of his blindness. Ananias was startled at the name of the man, and to excuse himself alleged his violent persecutions of the church, and with what a wicked intent he was then come to Damascus ; but to this the vision replied, that he was appointed by God to be a powerful instrument in the propagation of the Gospel, both among the Jews and Gentiles, and that how much soever he had persecuted Christianity heretofore, he was now to become a zealous defender of it, and even to die in testimony of its truth.
Encouraged with this assurance, Ananias repaired to the house where Saul was, with this joyful message,-" That the Lord Jesus, who had appeared to him in his journey, had sent him, not only to restore his eye-sight, but to bestow upon him likewise the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, such as might qualify him for the ministry to which he was then appointed." And no sooner had Ananias ended his speech, than thick films like scales fell from the other's eyes, whereupon he recovered his eye-sight, and, being baptized, for some days continued with the disciples at Damascus, preaching in the synagogues, and proving that Jesus was the Messias.
After some stay at Damascus, he retired (a) into the neighbouring parts of Arabia Deserta, † where he first planted the Gospel; and in the beginning of the next year
|| In Acts xxii. 9. it is said expressly, that the men who were with Saul heard not the voice of him that spake to him; but as the words own and xcvery (both employed in these passages) will admit of different significations, they will be easily reconciled by saying, That the people who accompanied Saul heard a sound, a noise, a thunder in the air (for to all these the word an is applicable), but did not hear any articulate words, or did not understand (for in this sense the word axevu is often taken) what that noise or sound meant; in the same manner, as when a voice from heaven was addressed to our Lord, the people, "who stood by and heard it, said that it thundered, and others, that an angel spake to him," and perhaps none of them understood distinctly what it said, John xii. 29. Hammond's and Whitby's Annotations, and Calmet's Commentary.
have it that he was a priest; but Ecumenius and some
(a) Gal. i. 17.
+ The reader need not be told, that Arabia, which is one of the most considerable divisions of Asia, is distinguished into three parts, Deserta, Petræa, and Arabia Fœlix, or that the Deserta borders upon Syria, and is not far distant from Damascus. What we had rather observe to him is,―That as we learn this passage of the apostle's life from his own account only, Gal. i. 17. St Luke, who makes no mention of it
+ Who this Ananias was, we have no certain in formation from antiquity. The apostolical constitutions assert, that he was a layman: St Austin will
&c. or 54.
Ann. Dom. 37, &c.
A. M. 4041, returned to Damascus again, and there preached Christ publicly in the synagogue; so that all the Jews in that city were not a little amazed and confounded, both at the strange change in his opinions and proceedings, and the powerful efficacy of his arguings and discourses. Their malice however being incensed, at having lost so considerable a champion, pursued him close. They contrived all possible means to dispatch him; and after many attempts to no purpose, (a) made their request at last to the governor, under Aretas, † king of Arabia, that he would gratify them in his destruction. Saul, however, had early notice of this, and, knowing that the gates were day and night strictly guarded to prevent his escape, from one of the houses, that stood upon the citywall, he was let †2 down by the disciples in a basket, and so made the best of his way to Jerusalem.
Three years were now past and gone since the time of his conversion; but, notwithstanding this, when he came to Jerusalem, he found but a cold reception among many of the disciples, who were sensible of his former conduct, and as yet diffident of the reality of his change, until Barnabas, +3 who was privy to all his circumstances, having introduced him to the apostles Peter and James, vouched for his sincerity, and by decla ring the miraculous manner of his conversion, and his zealous preaching at Damascus, dissipated all their doubts, and gained him the right hand of fellowship, or an intimate communion with the apostles. Here he continued preaching with all boldness, and his sermons were so powerful, and disputations with the Hellenists so unanswerable, that they too, like the Jews at Damascus, formed designs against his life; which when the brethren understood, they conducted him to Cesarea, ++ from
in his history in all probability did not accompany
This Aretas, whose name is said to have been
This was so far from betraying any want of courage in the apostle, that it was only putting in practice his Master's direction, "when they persecute you in one city flee to another," Matth. x. 23.
+3 Barnabas is supposed to have been an old acquaintance of St Paul's, and a fellow student with him under Gamaliel; and having been lately at Antioch, it is not unlikely that he might there receive the account of his conversion, and consequent behaviour, which made him the readier to become, upon this oc
casion, his guarantee with the apostles.
Calmet's + Some commentators are of opinion, that the place to which the brethren conducted St Paul was Casarea Philippi, in the extreme northern parts of Palestine, from whence his way lay directly through Syria to Tarsus in Cilicia; but others, with more justness, have observed, that wherever mention is made in the New Testament of Cæsarea alone, and without any addition, it is always to be understood of the Cæsarea which Herod the Great built, and whereof Josephus gives us the following account: "There was a certain place, by the sea side, formerly called Straton's Tower, which Herod looked upon as a very commodious tract of ground whereon to raise a city. Accordingly he drew his model, and set people to work, and in twelve years time finished it. The buildings were all of marble, private houses as well as palaces; but his master piece was the port, which he made as large as the Pyræum (or port belonging to Athens), and a safe station against all winds and weathersThe city stands between Dora and Joppa, two wretched sea towns, where there is no riding in the harbours with a south-west wind, which bears so furious upon the shore, that merchantmen are forced to keep off at sea many times for fear of being driven a ground. To encounter this difficulty of the place, Herod ordered a mole to be made, in the form of an half moon, and large enough for a royal navy to ride in, which he did, by letting down stones of a prodigious size, fifty feet in length, eighteen over, and nine deep (and some larger), in twenty-fathom water. This mole was two hundred feet in extent, whereof the one half served to break the setting in of the sea, and the other half for the foundation of a stone wall, that was fortified