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CHAP. 2.

DETECTION OF HYPOCRISY.

131

The number of disciples was now increased to above five thousand, and they lived in great harmony and love ;-were fol. lowers of God as dear children.

But as it had been in the Jewish, so was it in the Christian Church. All were not Israel who were of Israel. There had been a Judas among the twelve; and now among the con. verts to Christianity, were brought to light two gross hypocrites. Ananias and Sapphira pretended to give unto the Lord all their possessions, while they gave only a part. Peter exposed their deceit, and the Lord struck them dead. It was an awful judg. ment; but it showed the Church the sin of hypocrisy; the im. possibility of concealing any thing from God; and must have led every professor to a serious and careful examination of his own state.

The influences of the Spirit were long continued. Converts were multiplied. The Apostles were endued with aston. ishing powers of healing. The sick were brought from all the cities round about Jerusalem, and cured of their diseases; and while the attention of the multitude was thus excited by such wonderful works of mercy, their hearts were melted by the pow. er of the gospel.

The continued success of the Apostles again aroused the in. dignation of the rulers, who hated every thing which called the attention of men to a future world. They seized them once more and cast them into the common prison. But what could bars and bolts do against the power of the Almighty ? God sent his angel at midnight and opened the prison doors, and bade them go preach in the Temple. What a miracle! How must it have confounded those hardened rulers ! It ought to have subdued them. But they once more summoned the Apostles to appear before them and inquired how they dared fill Jerusa. lem with their doctrine, and bring Christ's blood upon them. Peter soberly but boldly told them they must obey God, rather than man, and again charged them with the crucifixion of Christ, whom God had exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour. Instant death would probably have been their portion, had it not been for the timely counsel of Gamaliel, an eminent doctor of the law. He told the rulers to let them alone, for if their work was of men, it would come to nought, but if it was of God, they could not overthrow it, and it behoved them to be careful not to fight against God. His advice was followed. The Apostles were only beaten and charged to keep silence. But they were not moved. They departed rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ.

A circumstance about this time occured which occasioned the creation of a new office in the Church. The Church embraced both native and foreign' Jews. The latter were called Hellenists or Grecians, because they spoke the Greek tongue. These supposed that, in the daily supply of the poor, the Apos. tles had shown a partiality for the widows of the Hebrews ; and murmured against them. The Apostles immediately called together the disciples and informed them that seven men of emi. nenť piety must be appointed to superintend that business ; while they would confine themselves to prayer and preaching. Their advice was followed, and Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, were appointed, and ordained to the office of deacon, by prayer and the imposition of hands.

These men were bold and strong in the faith of Christ. Ste. phen especially, was empowered to work miracles, and to re. sist and overcome all opposition, which was made by disputers against the Gospel. His ability and success excited the malice of the wicked; and they suborned men to accuse him of blasphemy. Upon being called to answer the charge, he boldly rebuked the Jews, by giving a history of their nation and show. ing that, in betraying and murdering Christ they had but imitated the conduct of their fathers, who treated Moses and the Prophets with contempt. “ They were cut to the heart and gnashed on him with the teeth.' But he, “full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly to heaven, and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Of this, he made full confession. It filled his enemies with madness, and they cast him out of the city and stoned him to death. With his expiring breath, he commended his soul to God; like his divine master, prayed for his murderers, and FELL ASLEEP. Thus died the first Christian Martyr, full of faith and hope; and favoured with clear views of his Redeemer.

He was buried by the Church with great lamentation; but his spirit had ascended to glory.

Blood had now been shed; and it was the signal of a tremen. dous persecution of the followers of Jesus. They were unable to stand before it, and fled from Jerusalem to the surrounding country. But they were not deterred from preaching the Gospel. On the contrary, they were excited to greater boldness ; and, wherever they went, they proclaimed Christ and the resur. rection. Philip, the next to Stephen in faith and zeal, and who was also a preacher, carried the Gospel to the Samaritans, and instructed and baptized an Eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia,

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CAAP. 2.

PERSECUTION BY SAUL.

133

whom he met in the way, returning from Jerusalem, where he had been to worship. Others travelled as far as Phenice, Cyprus and Antioch, preaching to Jews only; but by their labours, many converts were made and many churches were established. Thus was the blood of the martyrs the seed of the Church. The disciples were driven from Jerusalem, that they might dif. fuse the Gospel through the earth.

Among the bitter persecutors of the followers of the Redeemer was one, whose life and actions form a most interesting portion of the history of the Church. This was Saul of Tarsus. His parents were Jews, who resided in that city. According to the custom of the Jews, with whom it was a leading maxim, “ He who teaches not his son a trade, teaches him to be a thief," he was early taught, a particular trade,-tent-making. He was next sent to Jerusalem and placed under the instruction of Gama. liel, the most eminent doctor of the age, that he might become thoroughly acquainted with the Jewish law. He was a youth of noble endowments, of commanding eloquence; in religion, of the straitest sect of the Pharisees; in temper, proud, active, fiery, not able to brook opposition, and feeling it to be doing God service to crush every new, and, what appeared to him heretical sentiment. He was one therefore, in whom meek-eyed Chris. tianity, as she advanced with her claims to the homage of men, might expect to find a most malignant foe. As a signal of this, we first behold him at the bitter persecution of the m martyr Stephen, consenting unto his death.

With a furious zeal, he soon raged, searching out the Christians, beating them in the synagogues, and either compel. ling them to disown Christ, or causing them to be put to death. Having done all that infuriate malice could do in Jerusalem, he obtained a warrant from the High Priest to go to Damascus, whither some Christians had retired, and bring all whom he found there to Jerusalem. How terrible is the native enmity of the human heart to the gospel of Christ! How insatiable is an unhallowed and misguided zeal ! Had the violent

persecutor been suffered to proceed, what awful ravages would he have made of Christ's little flock! But the wolf was to be changed into the lamb. God had separated him, not to die by a thun. derbolt of his wrath, but to preach that very gospel which he had persecuted. And this was the moment which divine wisdom chose for the exhibition of grace. As he was on his way, sud. denly a beam of light, far outshining the splendour of the sun, darted upon him from heaven, and a voice addressed him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me! The raging persecutor fell to

the earth, crying, Who art thou, Lord! With a majesty which will make all sinners tremble in the judgment, the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” At a sight of the terribleness and com. passion of the Saviour, his heart relented, and he inquired with earnestness, and a readiness to serve him for ever, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?

Thus, not through the power of a miracle, for the bare wit. ness of a miracle will never change the heart, but through the power of the Holy Ghost, the miraculous appearance and ad. dress of the Saviour became instrumental of effecting a complete change in bitter Saul. And a change, how great! In his self righteousness he had thought himself one of the best of men, but now, he saw that he was the chief of sinners. The law of God was brought home to his conscience, and he died. All hope of salvation from his own merit, was entirely at an end ; and he fled to Christ, seeking pardon through his blood, and con. secrating himself wholly to his service.

By his terrified companions he was led into Damascus, for he was struck with blindness. In that city dwelt Ananias, a de. vout Christian, and probably one of the seventy, whom the Lord directed, that the ministry might be honoured, to go and instruct Saul in the great business to which he was called. Amazement filled his breast as the commission sounded in his ears.

He well knew the character of the man. He dreaded the wolf in sheep's clothing. Could the Lord be deceived ? Momentary expostulation, he would venture. “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he bath done to thy saints at Jeru. salem, and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call upon thy name. But one word from the Saviour silenced his fears, and commanded his confidence, and he went straightway to the anxious inquirer, with the friendly salutation, Brother Saul ! assuring him that the Lord had sent him, that, by him, he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost. · At the touch of Ananias, scales fell from his eyes ; mind was calm and joyful ; he professed his confidence in his Saviour; was baptized, and immediately preached Christ in the synagogues.

What emotions must have been excited by this man's preach. ing! Here were the saints, who, but a week before, were trembling at his approach, as lambs before the hungry wolf. There were the Jews, who had anticipated the hour of his coming, as the hour of triumph over men whom of all others, they most hated. What an assembly' Were a company of In.

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CHAP. 2.

HIS FIRST PREACHING.

135

fidels collected hear Christianity reviled, by some Hume, or Voltaire, or Paine, and a number of the followers of Christ doomed to sit and hear their ribaldry and abuse, when suddenly the oracle of infidelity should become the advocate of truth, and address himself with awful solemnity to the hearts and consciences of his former companions, and warn them to flee from the wrath to come; what shame! what confusion ! what gnashing of teeth would there be among them! And what holy triumph would sit on the countenances of the wondering saints! It would give but a faint idea of this assembly. Here was slaugh. ter and death expected by some, and a gratification of the most malignant passions by others;—all suddenly checked and turn. ed away. The result was such as might be expected. The triumph of the saints could not be borne. Such

man could not be suffered to live. Enraged at Saul, for so suddenly quit. ting their ranks and becoming the advocate of Christianity ; con

founded by the weight of his arguments, and dreading the effects I of his conversion; the Jews determined to kill him, and closed against him the gates of the city. But his friends let him down in a basket from the window of a house built on the wall, and he escaped into Arabia. How long he continued in that region is unknown, but from thence he returned to Damascus; and it was three years before he went up to Jerusalem to visit the dis. ciples. When he did go there, they were afraid of him, and be. lieved not that he was a disciple, (an evidence either of very little intercourse among the early Christians, or of great seclusion on the part of Saul.) But Barnabas related unto them the cir. cumstances of his conversion, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus, so that they gave him the hand of fellowship. At Jerusalem he became an active and bold minister of the Lord Jesus. Here, while praying in the temple, he went into a trance, was caught up into the third heaven, and heard things which might not be uttered. Here again the Jews attempted to kill him. But he was preserved through the vigilance of his friends, who sent him to Tarsus.

The conversion of Saul took place in the second year after the death of Christ. It was a very instructive event. It show. ed to the world that a man may be greatly engaged in the con. cerns of religion; be the strictest formalist ; think that he does God service, and have an undoubting assurance of his own sal. vation, and be a total stranger to vital piety. It was an illustrious exhibition of the sovereignty of God, who has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and who employs, if he please, those who have been his greatest adversaries, in the most honourable

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