« PreviousContinue »
success which constantly attended the exertions of the Apostles, apprehended Peter and John, who had lately restored to the use of his limbs a man, who had been lame from his mother's womb. They examined them the next day before their council, and Peter openly declared, that the miracle was performed by the name of Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified. The man who had been lame was present, and the fact of this cure could not be controverted, They found themselves under the necessity of acknowledging the miracle; and as it afforded no pretence for punishment, they could only command Peter and John to speak no more to the people in the name of Jesus. The two Apostles immediately replied, that they could not but speak the things which they had seen and heard, in obedience to the commands of God. The council added further threats, and then dismissed them. Upon the report of these proceedings before the Sanhedrim, the disciples returned thanks to Almighty God, and prayed fervently for the continuance of his support; “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they had assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost (r). This fresh manifestation of divine power encou
raged (r) Acts, C. 4v. 31.
raged the Apostles " to speak the word of God with boldness; and by their hands were many signs and wonders wrought among the people. And believers were the more added to the Lord, inultitudes both of men and women (s).”
The high priest and Sadducees, aware of the increased zeal and success with which this new religion was propagated, thought it necessary to make another attempt to check its progress; they seized the twelve Apostles, and committed them to the common prison; but in the night the angel of the Lord opened the doors, and set them at liberty, and commanded them to preach the Gospel in the Temple : “ And when they heard that, they entered into the Temple early in the morning, and taught.” In the mean time the members of the Sanhedrim assembled, and sent for the prisoners; but they were informed, that upon opening the prison no one was found in it; and soon after they learnt that these men were then in the Temple, teaching the people, This account excited great astonishment in the council; it produced, however, no good effect upon their minds, for they determined to send and apprehend the Apostles again. When they appeared before the council, the high priest, addressing himself to Peter and John, desired to
know (s) Acts, c. 5. v, 12 & 14.
M M ?
know how they had dared, in direct opposition to his former injunction, to preach in the name of Jesus. The Apostles defended themselves by boldly asserting, that it was their duty to obey God rather than man, and that they were divinely commissioned to bear testimony to the Teligion of Jesus, whom the Jews had crucified, and whom God had exalted to be a prince and a saviour, " to give repentance unto Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” This declaration so incensed the council, that they would immediately have put the Apostles to death, if they had not been dissuaded by Gamaliel, an eminent doctor of the law, who advised thein to be cautious in what they did to these men; for if the doctrine which they preached were of divine origin, it must necessarily prevail; but if it had no other foundation than human authority, it would, as in similar cases which had fallen within their knowledge, soon sink into disregard. They so far listened to this advice, that they released the Apostles, having first beaten them, and commanded, “ that they should not speak in the name of Jesus (t).” So little were the Apostles terrified by this ill-treatment, or influenced by this command, that they “ ceased not to teach
(1) Acts, c. 5. v. 40.
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 (x').” 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
the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. They then cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon himn 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
(%) 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.