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10. to the end.
moval into Canaan, whereas he survived it sixty years; that of (a) the threescore and From Acts i fifteen souls which went down with Jacob into Egypt, whereas, at the most, they were but seventy; and that of Jacob's being buried at Sychem, as (b) Stephen insinuates, whereas it is evident that he was buried (c) in the cave of Machpelah? What shall we say to his making Gamaliel, a learned doctor of the law, so far mistaken in his chronology, as to reckon Theudas and Judas of Galilee (d) both prior to the times he was then speaking of, whereas it is manifest (e) from Josephus, that this Theudas appeared and perished in the reign of Claudius, ten years at least after the council which was now met at Jerusalem? Or, what shall we say to the incredible number of (ƒ) ' devout men, out of every nation under heaven' (as he calls it), which, on the day of Pentecost, were together at Jerusalem?
But the misfortune is still the greater, when, out of an affectation of brevity, an historian becomes so obscure, as to lay the foundation of perpetual contests in the Christian church; and yet it is certain, that the author of the Acts has incurred this fault to an high degree, by leaving the several orders of Christ's ministers so mixed and confounded together, that it is no easy matter to distinguish them, and next to impossible to define the separate powers which belong to each; that we are still wrangling and disputing concerning the difference between a bishop and an elder, and perhaps shall never come to the true knowledge of what the office of a deacon does import, or what share of authority the persons called (g) brethren originally had in the government of the church.
Timothy and Titus are said to be bishops of Ephesus and Crete; and yet we find them so frequently absent from their charge in their attendance upon St Paul, and going upon his errands at every turn, that either we must suppose the episcopal office was a different administration in those days, or that the privilege of non residence was indulged them from the very first. Paul and Barnabas were certainly great preachers among the Gentiles, and yet the historian has given us no account of the time when they commenced aposties, though he has not failed to acquaint us with the particular occasion of their falling out, and upon what a trifling affair they chose to violate the bands of friendship, and interrupt the course of the Gospel, rather than recede from a pettish humour.
St Luke, indeed, if he was the compiler of the Acts of the Apostles, seems to be no great friend to either of the two persons who bear the principal characters in his history. For, what a reproach does he cast upon the memory of St Peter, when he introduces him (h) destroying, first the husband and then the wife, for no other reason but merely because they would not give away in charity every penny they had; whereas, in cases of this nature, every one should be left to his liberty to do what (i) he is disposed in his heart?' What an inconsistency does he discover in the behaviour of St Paul, that he should order Timothy (k) to be circumcised, when at the same time he enjoined, that (1) if any man was called in uncircumcision, he ought not to be circumcised;' for that if he was, (m) Christ would profit him nothing,' and upon that account (n) would not permit Titus, who was equally a Gentile, to submit to that ordinance?
It was policy enough in St Paul, when he found himself in danger of his life, (o) to declare himself a Pharisee (though this was implicitly renouncing his Christianity), thereby to divide the assembly, and gain over a party to his interest: But when he was in no such peril, it was a gross prevarication in him (p) to join in the observation of such ceremonies at Jerusalem, as he had been all along preaching against, and knew (9)
(a) Acts vii. ver. 14.
(e) Antiquities, lib. xx. c. 2. (*) 2 Cor ix. 7.
(n) Ibid. ii. 3.
Colos. ii. 14. Rom. vii. 4.
(b) Ibid. ver. 16.
(k) Acts xvi. 3.
(0) Acts xxiii. 6.
(c) Gen. xlix. 30.
(g) Acts xv. 23. (7) 1 Cor. vii. 18. (p) Acts xxi. 26.
(d) Acts v. 36, 37.
Ann. Dom. 98. &c.
A. M. 4012. were abolished by the Christian institution; and no small rudeness to (a) withstand St &c. or 5509. Peter to the face after that, for a fault of the like nature at Antioch; as it was little less than hypocrisy in St James, and all the elders at Jerusalem, to put him upon an expedient, abhorrent to his own judgment, merely to gull the people into a false persuasion, that he complied with the Mosaic rites, and was indeed a (b) strict observer of the law.
But how much soever they might contrive to delude the people into this persuasion, we can hardly think that he himself had any great regard so much as to the moral part of the law, when, in opposition to the sound doctrine of St James, viz. that (c) by works a man is justified,' we find him setting up a quite different principle, and boldly asserting, that (d) by faith a man is justified without the deeds of the law,' (e) to the no small triumph of infidelity, when it sees two such pillars of the church contradicting one another so palpably. But well might St Paul contradict a private apostle, when in the case of eating those things which were offered in the sacrifice to idols,' he sets up his own opinion in opposition to the plain determination of the council of Jerusalem; and, notwithstanding their decree for abstaining from such polluted meats, ventures to say, that' an idol is nothing in the world,' and therefore, (f) whether we eat, or eat not,' the things that are offered to it, we are neither better nor worse.'
It is natural to think, that a person who had so high a conceit of his own understanding and abilities, whenever he came into power, would not fail to exercise it in a manner arbitrary enough; and therefore we need less wonder that we find St Paul talking so much of (g) his rod of discipline; (h) reviling the high priest, though afterwards he sneakingly retracted it; (i) loading the poor copper-smith with an heavy imprecation; (k) delivering Hymeneus and others unto Satan; and exhorting those that were grow ing up in the church to the like violence of spirit, (7) to rebuke sharply, and with all authority, and not to let any man despise them.'
(m) When the believers sold all that they had, and laid the price at the apostles feet,' we cannot but think, that the ecclesiastics in those days made free with some part of it, as having a right to (n) exchange their spiritual for the others carnal things ; and therefore it is no easy matter to assign a reason for St Paul's leaving his cloak at Troas, since all the drollery of his pawning it for want of money to pay his reckoning, upon this supposition, vanishes. It seems more likely indeed, that the apostle, in this and some other passages, was minded to leave some obscurities in his writings, on purpose to raise a dust among commentators: and therefore we may as well pretend to resolve what St Jude means (o) by Michael's contending with the devil about the body of Moses,' as to define what st Paul alludes to by his (p) fighting with beasts at Ephesus by his (4) thorn in the flesh,' and messenger of Satan to buffet him;' and, above all, by his (7) · man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God.' So true is the character which St Peter gives of his epistles, viz. that (s) in them are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable,' may easily wrest unto their own destruction'."
THAT the history of the Acts of the Apostles was written by St Luke, who was the author of the Gospel that goes under his name, the connection of the matter, the congruity of the style, the identity of the person to whom they are both addressed, and
the unanimous consent of all antiquity *, are a sufficient indication: (a) That this is an From Acts i. history of thirty years transactions; whereof the former part principally contains the 10. to the end. acts of the two apostles of the circumcision, Peter and John, with their preaching of the Gospel to the Jews; and the latter, those of the two apostles of the uncircumcision, Paul and Barnabas, with the plantation and progress of the Gospel among the Gentiles, no one can doubt, that casts but an eye into its contents; and that this history obtained the name of the Acts of the Apostles, it is generally thought, (b) not only because the doctrines which it contains, and the miracles which it relates, are the same throughout with what they all wrought and taught in common, but because sundry transactions that are recorded in the beginning of it, such as the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the election of Matthias, the descent of the Holy Ghost, and the miraculous infusion of languages, which enabled them to spread the Gospel through the universe, were things wherein they were all equally concerned. But then, why the actions of all those who were equally concerned in the propagation of the Gospel, were not equally consigned to writing by the penman of the sacred story, this, we must say, entirely depended on the Divine pleasure and determination.
(c)" It shall come to pass in the last days" (says the prophet Isaiah, speaking of the times of the Gospel), "that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it; and many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Sion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem :" So that, in conformity to this prediction, the Divine Providence thought fit that no more account should be given of the first plantation of Christianity in the world than what concerned Judea and the neighbouring countries, or, at farthest, the most eminent places of the Roman empire. We perhaps may think that a more particular relation of all that the apostles did in the several countries where they travelled, had been more satisfactory to an inquisitive mind; but then we should remember, (d) that this would have swelled the holy volumes into too great a bulk, and so have rendered them less serviceable and accommodated to the ordinary use of Christians. All that was proper to be done upon this occasion therefore was, to single out some few persons who made the most eminent figure in the infancy of the church, and to represent their particular labours and sufferings in the propagation of Christianity as a specimen of all the rest.
That St Peter and St Paul were characters of this kind none can deny; and therefore St Luke is not to be blamed in making choice of them. That he pursued the history of St Peter no farther, must be imputed to his adjoining himself to St Paul, whose constant attendant he then became, an eye-witness of the whole carriage of his life, and privy to his most intimate transactions; and therefore we find him more copious upon this subject than any other: But why he did not finish his whole life, an ancient Arabic writer, cited by (e) Kirstenius, has given us this reason,-That after St Paul's imprisonment and departure from Rome, St Luke, who was left behind as his deputy, to supply his place, was, in a short time, put to death; otherwise (says our author) he would have doubtless continued the history of the apostles acts.
* Thus we find it cited by St Clemens, St Paul's companion, epist. ad Corinth.; by Papias, who conversed with men of the apostles times, apud Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. iii. c. S.; and by Polycarp, who was St John's disciple, Epist. ad Philip. Ch. iii.; Irenæus, who flourished in the second century, in a large chapter of his, has almost epitomized it; nor did we ever read of
any Jew or Gentile who excepted against its truth and
(a) Echard's Ecclesiastical History, p. 340.
(d) Cave's Life of St Andrew.
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Without laying any stress then upon the testimony of the
Apocryphal acts of the
cor Dos apostles, which, it must be owned, are generally full of fable and romance, we may venture to affirm, that this one composition of St Luke is sufficient to answer all the purposes for which we can desire such a history. For what is it that we may reasonably expect in a work of this kind, but that it should, by a plain relation of facts, confirm our faith in the Gospel; show the accomplishment of the promises and predictions which Christ. the founder of our religion, has made to his disciples; and give us some competent knowledge of the settlement of that religion; by what methods it grew, and spread to places remote from its first plantation; what was the fate and behaviour of some of its first professors, and what the tenor of their doctrines and discourses: But that St Luke's history in all these particulars, has sufficiently acquitted itself, none that has read it with the least observation can deny.
St Peter, no doubt, was an eminent apostle, and accordingly makes a distinguished figure in the sacred story; but his being at Rome, is a point that we cannot expect from St Luke, because his account of things expires some time before our apostle came thither. Some writers indeed of the Roman communion place his first coming to Rome in the year of our Lord 44, which was the second of Claudius; but if we consider, that in the epistle which St Paul, towards the latter end of the reign of Claudius, wrote to the Romans, (wherein he spends the greatest part of one chapter in saluting the particular persons that were then at Rome) he never once makes mention of St Peter; and how, in that epistle, he expresses his earnest desire of coming thither, that "he might (a) impart unto them some spiritual gifts, to the end that they might be established in the faith," for which there could be no apparent reason, had St Peter been there so long before him: If we consider, that when St Paul, not many years after, i. e. about the second of Nero, was sent prisoner to Rome, among all the brethren (b) that came to meet him, as far as Appii-forum and the Three Taverns, we hear not a word of St Peter; and yet we cannot but think that, had he been then at Rome, he would have come at the head of the company to receive a brother apostle in chains, and that with him St Paul would have chosen rather to sojourn, than (c) " to dwell by himself in his own hired house:" If we consider, that, in the several epistles which St Paul wrote from Rome, there is not the least mention of St Peter; that in that to the Colossians in particular, he tells them plainly, that of all the Jews at Rome, he had no (d) “ fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, which had been a comfort unto him, save only Aristarchus, Marcus, and Jesus, who was called Justus," which evidently excludes St Peter; and in that to Timothy, complains, that, (e) "at his first answer at Rome, no man stood with him, but all forsook him," which we can hardly suppose St Peter would have done, had he then been there: Nay, if we consider that, in the same epistle, he
* The impostor who composed these acts, which are supposed to have been written by Abdias, gives himself out to have been a bishop, ordained at Babylon by the apostles themselves when they were upon their journey into Persia. The work is neither ancient nor authentic. It was known neither to Eusebius nor St Jerome, nor any of the fathers that lived before them; and yet, according to the author who says that he wrote it in Greek, it contains in substance, Est, The Acts of St Peter, or, according to its present title, The Recognitions of St Clement, a work stuffed with such visions and fables as must come originally from the Ebonites. 2dly, The Acts of St Paul, which pretends to be a continuation of that apostle's history, from the second year of his first voyage to Rome to the end of his life. 3dly, The Acts of St John the Evangelist, which, though mentioned by Epiphanius
and St Austin, contains incredible stories of this apo-
(e) 2 Tim. iv. 16.
tells Timothy, that (a)" Luke was the only person that was with him;" that Crescens From Acts i. was gone to one place, Titus to another, and Tychicus to another, we cannot imagine, 10. to the end. either that St Peter at that time was at Rome, or that he had lately gone from thence, since, had it been so, St Paul, no doubt, would have taken notice of him as well as of the rest, unless we may suppose that he was a person so inconsiderable as not to be worth the remembering, and his errand of so small importance as not to deserve a place in St Paul's account, as well as that of Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.
Upon the whole, therefore, we may conclude, that at the time when St Paul was first at Rome, no footsteps are to be found of St Peter's having been there; and yet, notwithstaning this, to deny that he was ever there at all, is (b) to oppose the current of all antiquity, and the unanimous consent of persons of great eminence and authority, who lived near enough the times of the apostles, to know the truth and certainty of what they reported, and who have told us, that Peter baptized in Tiber, as John the Baptist did in the river Jordan; that in the days of Nero he was crucified; that the church of Rome was happy in the having its doctrines sealed with apostolic blood; and that the two glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, having founded and constituted this church, delivered the care of it over unto Linus: For we must observe,. that whenever the ancients speak of the bishops of Rome, and the first originals of that church, they equally attribute the foundation and government of it to Peter and Paul, making the one as much concerned in it as the other. In short, no one that has any reverence for antiquity can deny that St Peter was at Rome; but then it is highly probable that he came not thither till some few years before his death; that there he joined with St Paul in preaching the Gospel, and that both there sealed the testimony of it with their blood.
The design of St Stephen's speech to the Jews is apparently this,-To answer the charge of blasphemy against him, for having spoken somewhat slightly of the perpetual, duration of their temple, and the obligation of the ceremonial law; and this he does, by shewing that the law (for which at this time they expressed so fierce a zeal, as if salvation could be attained no other way) could not possibly be of that weighty consequence and absolute necessity as they imagined:
1st, (c) Because it appears, from the history of Abraham and the patriarchs, that their ancestors pleased and continued in the favour of God for more than four hundred years without it; and therefore, since these were God's peculiar and elect, before, the law was given, this law could not be the only covenant and dispensation for the salvation of mankind, exclusive of all others.
2dly, (d) Because the very prophet, at whose hands they received the law, gave them warning of another eminent prophet, whom God (in ages to come) would" raise up, from among them like unto him," i. e. a law-giver too, to whom every soul among them was commanded, upon pain of utter excision, to yield attention and obedience; and, that, consequently, preaching the faith and obedience of Jesus, who was that very prophet, could not be blasphemy against God or Moses.
3dly, (e) Because the law, for which they now pretended so great a reverence, was plainly insufficient to contain them in their duty, as appeared from their frequent relapses into rebellion and idolatry, which the prophets sharply reproached them with, and threatened with so many severe punishments; and therefore, as the ancient pro, phets thought it no profanation, either of the law or the temple, to denounce the abo lishing of the one, and the demolishing of the other; so was it none in him to declare
(c) Acts vii. 2-37,
(a) 2 Tim. iv. 11, 12. (d) Acts vii. 37, 38.
(b) Vid. Cave's Life of St Peter. (e) Ibid. ver. 39–50.