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xii.

Acts

not able to resist the

Own

568 He is apprehended and brought before the Sanhedrim. s2ct. of emancipated captives or slaves', and [some] nians, and Alexanof the Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them drians, and of them of

Cilicia, and of Asia, who were natives of Cilicia and Asia, who en- disputing with Stephen. iv.9. deavoured to prevent the success of his preach.

ing, by disputing with Stephen", and arguing 10 with him concerning his doctrine. And 10 And they were though they had an bigb opinion of their

wisdom and the Spirit
sufficiency to manage the dispute, vet such was by which he spake.
the force of his reasoning, that they were not
able to stand against the wisdom and Spirit with
which he spake, the divine Spirit itself guiding
his thoughts and animating his espressions,
which raised him far above the strength of his
natural genius, and made him indeed a wonder
to all that heard him. (Compare Mat. X. 20.

and Luke xxi. 15.)
11 Then, as they found they were incapable of

11 Then they sudefending themselves by fair argument, they had borned men which said, recourse to a most mean and dishonest fraud; for speak blasphemous they suborned men to depose and say, We heard words against Moses, him, even this very Stephen, speak blasphemous

and against God.
words aguinst Moses, and against ] God himself",
the great author of that religion which Moses

taught us by command from him. 12 And as the law required that a blasphemer 12 And they stirred

should be stoned, (Lev. xxiv. 16.) they stirred up the people, and the
up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him,
especially those who were in stations of autho- and caught hin, and
rity, against him; and setting upon [him,] they brought him to
violently seized and dragged him
them, and brought [him] to the Sanhedrim

which

the

council.

away with

1 Libertines, as having been the children gius's Nethinim, or Cademan's y'nggys, of freed-men, &c.] Grotius, Salmatius, i. e. persons speaking Hebrew, or the Basnage, Vitringa, and many other illus- libertines, whom Maius (agreeably indeed trious writers generally agree in the in

to the Syriac,) supposes to bave built this terpretation given in the paraphrase ; for the illustration of which most of them if he pleases, see a farther account of their

synagogue. But the curious reader may, remind us, that great numbers of Jews, opinions, and that of some others, in Wol. taken captive by Pompey, and carried fius notes on this verse.Dr. Hammond into Italy, were (as Philo tells us, Oper. and Mr. Biscoe (chap. iv. 94, p. 103.) p. 1014) set at liberty, and obtained their

take them to have been such Jews as were freedom from their masters. Their children free citizens of Rome: but I do not retherefore would be libertini in thic proper member to have seen the word libertini sense of that word : agreeably to this, the used in that sense. Jews banished from Rome by Tiberius,

m Disputing with Stephen.] As the most (who are mentioned both by Josephus,

considerable Antiq. lib. xviii. cap. 3. (al. 5.] $ 5; and each a kind of academy or college of young

synagogues in Jerusalem had Suelónius, Tiber. cap. 36.) are spoken of students belonging to it, instructed under by Tacitus, Annal. lib. ii. cap. 85, as of

some celebrated rabbi, it is no wonder such the libertine race, who might easily consti- nurseries should afford disputants, like these tute one of the 480 synagogues said to have

spoken of here. beep at Jerusalem. (See Mr. Lardner's

n Blasphemous toords against Moses, and Credibility, Part I. Book i. chap. 3. 9.4.) against God.] See note a on chap. vi. in -- When so natural a solution offers, it is

the beginning of the ne.rt section. hardly worth while to inquire after Alti

569

Reflections on the choice of deacons, and the duty of ministers.

which was then sitting; and there, in presence
of their highest court of judicature, they pro-
secuted the affair to an issue, which will be
described in the following sections,

SECT. xii.

Acts VI. 12.

IMPROVEMENT.

We see bow difficult it is, even for the wisest and best of men, Ver. to manage a great multitude of affairs, without inconvenience and I, 4 without reflection : It will therefore be our prudence not to ingross too much business into our own hands, but to be willing to divide it with our brethren, with our inferiors, allotting to each their proper province, that the whole may proceed with barmony and order.

Let us be solicitous that nothing may be done through partiality ; I especially let those avoid it who are intrusted with the distribution of charities ; It is a solemn trust, for which their characters at least are to answer to the world now, and they themselves inust ere long account for it to God. Let them therefore be willing to be informed of the truth of particular cases, willing to compare a variety of them, and then select such as in their consciences they are persuaded it is the will of God they should in present circumstances regard, and in such or such a proportion prefer to the rest.

In religious societies it may be highly proper, that after the ex-3 ample here given in the apostolic age, deacons, or persons to perform this office, should be elected by the society, in concurrence with their ministers. It is their business to serve tables. Happy those societies who make choice of men of an attested character, and of those who appear by the virtues and graces of the Christian temper to be in that sense full of the lloly Spirit !

While these good men are dealing forth their liberal contribu- 4 tions, (by which, while Christ bas any poor members remaining we are still to testify our love to him,) lei ministers derote themselves with all attention to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. Let those, who would administer the word with comfort and success, remember of how great importance it is, that it be watered with prayer, falling upon it as the former and as the latter rain; and especially see to it, that, by the constant exercise of lively devotion in secret, in their families, and on other proper social occasions, they keep their graces vigorous and active; that, living continually in such a state of nearness to God, they may be qualified to speak in his name with that dignity, tenderness, and authority, which nothing but true and elevated devotion can naturally express, or can long retain,

Let

SECT.

xii.

570 Stephen is charged with blasphemy before the Sanhedrin.

Let us adore that efficacy of divine grace, whereby a multitude

of the Jewish priests were made obedient to the faith ; and let us Ver. heartily pray, that, if there are any who claim a sacred character,

7 and yet, out of regard to worldly honour or interest, oppose the

power and purity of the gospel, they may be convinced by the influence of the blessed Spirit, that they can have no interest in contradiction to the truth, and that they are bappy in purchasing,

at the bighest price, that gospel which may enrich them for ever. 9 In whatsoever station we are fixed, whether in the world or the

church, let us always remember our obligation to plead the cause of the gospel, and to render a reason for the hope that is in us. If this engage us in disputation with men of corrupt minds, we must still hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, knowing

that he is faithful that has promised. (Heb. s. 23.) 11 The vilest charge may, as in this instance, be fixed upon the

most vorthy men ; piety may be defamed as blasphemy, and that which is the true love of our country as treason against it : But there is one supreme Lawgiver and Judge, who will not fail, sooner or later, to plead the cause of injured innocence. And when we read of this vile attack that was made by perjury on the character and life of Stephen, we may take occasion to adore that wise and powerful providence which so remarkably exerts itself to defend our reputation and our lives from those false and venomous tongues which, were it not for that secret invisible restraint, might, like a two-cdged sword, so quickly destroy both.

SECT. XIII.

Stephen, being accused before the Sanhedrim of blasphemy, begins

his vindication of himself from that charge. Acts VI. 13, to the end. VII. 1-14.

SECT.

Acts

Acts VI. 13.

ACT: VI. 13. IT

T was observed in the last section, that those AND. set up false xiii.

witnesses, which Jews who had been confounded by the force said, This man ceaseth

and spirit of Stephen's argument and address, not to speak blasphe. VI. 13. had brought him before the Sanhedrim; and mous Words against

this holy place, and while he stood before thein as a prisoner, they the law. set up certain false witnesses, who suid, This detestable man is incessantly speaking blasphemous words against this holy pluce in which we now are, that is, against Jerusalem and the temple, and likewise against the divinely inspired law, as one

that has no reverence at all for its authority. 14 For we ourselves have heard him saying, that this 14 For we have same Jesus of Nazareth, whom he celebrates so this Jesus of Nazareth

heard him say, that much upon every occasion as the long expected

and

shall

xili.

Acts

The high-priest calls upon him to answer the charge. 511 shall destroy this place, and desired Messiah, having been rejected and SECT. and shall change the crucified by your authority, in concurrence customs which Moses delivered us.

with that of the whole Jewish people, shall ne-
vertheless destroy this city, and this holy place ; VI. 11.
and, in consequence of that, shall entirely change
the rites and customs which Moses delivered to us a,
and put an end to the whole authority of his

law. 15 And all that sat And, at the very instant that this heinous 15 in the council, looking charge was advanced against Stephen, all that bis face as it had been were sitting in the Sanhedrim as his judges, fixing the face of an angel. their eyes upon him, saw a surprising radiancy

upon his countenance, so that it appeared like the
countenance of an angels; God being pleased to
crown the natural benignity, sweetness, and
composure of his aspect, with a refulgent lustre,
like what those celestial spirits bave sometimes
worn, when they have appeared as his messen.

gers to men. Acrs VII. 1. Then Nevertheless the council proceeded against Acts said the high-priest, bim, and the high-priest, without any particular VII. I Are these things so ?

notice of it, said with an affected calmness, as
to a common criininal on bis trial, Are these
things indeed thus, as these witnesses have depo-
sed? Thou art permitted to make thy defence,
and this is thy time to speak; if therefore thou
hast any thing to offer in thine own vindication
from this charge of blasphemy, which the wit.
nesses have so expressly advanced against thee,
plead it; and the court will patiently attend to
what thou hast to say, before it proceeds to
sentence.

And

a Shall change the customs which Moses the consciousness of innocence and exdelivered to us.] (sce no reason to believe pectation of glory, though he had so cruel that Stephen knew the mystery of the a sentence and execution in view : (Comabolition of the Mosaic law, which the pare Gen. xxxiii. 10. 1 Sam. xxix. 9. aposties do not seem immediately to have Eccles. viii. 1. ard Esch. [ 4poc.] xv. 13.) understood; and it is much less probable, And upon this the translation of 1787 takes that he openly taught what Paul himself the strange liberty of rendering it, They many years after insinuated with so much saw an air of majesty in his aspect. But with caution. (Compare Gal. ii. 2.) This Dr. Hammond and Benson, I rather think, therefore seems to have been the inference there was a supernatural splendor, as on the they drew from what he taught, of the countenance of Moses, Exod. xxxiv. 29,destruction he denounced on the Jews, if It was indeed a most astonishing instance they continued in their unbelief. But it of the incorrigible hardness and wicked. was a very precurious inference, as the city ness of their hearts, that they could murder and temple bad been destroyed before, with a man, on whom God put such a visible out any repeal of the law, and therefore they glory, similar to that of their great legislator: were false witnesses.

but, perhaps, they might ascribe it to magic; b Like the countenance of an angel.] Gro- and we know how little they inade of other tius, Brennius, L’Enfant, and some others miracles, the truth of which they were interpret this as a proverbial expression of compelled to acknowledge. Compare Acts the majesty and beauty of his countenance, jy. 16. arising from a transport of inward joy, in VOL, yld,

• Stephen

SECT. xiii.

Acts

572 Stephen begins his vindication with the call of Abraham.

And upon this Stephen began a large dis 2 And he said, Men, course', in which, in the softest and most in. brethren, and fathers,

hearken; The God of offensive manner, he solemnly declared his firm glory appeared unto our VII. 2. persuasion of the divine authority of that law, father Abraham, when

which he was charged with blaspheming; and he was in Mesopotamia,
proved to them from their own scriptures, that Charrali,
God's gracious regards to his people were not
limited within the boundaries of that land, nor
appropriated to those who were subjected to the
Mosaic ritual; at the saine time reminding them
of some instances, in which they had ungrate-
fully rejected those whom God had appointed
for their deliverers, that they might be cautioned
against repeating the faolt in this instance to
their final ruin. He therefore traced the matter
to its original, and said, nien, brethren, and
fathers, I beseech you all, whether old or young,
whether of greater or lower rank, to hearken
to me, while I offer these things, which may
not only serve for my own vindication from
this unjust charge, but mav likewise remind you
of some important particulars, which it is your
highest interest in present circumstances seri-
ously to consider. It is well known to all of
you, that long before our law was given, or the
place in which we stand had any peculiar sanc-
tity, the God of glory appeared to our father Abra-
ham, by some resplendent and majestic sym-
bol of his presence, while he was yet with his
idolatrous ancestors in Mesopotamia,(Gen xi. 31)
before he dwelt in Charran, which for a wbile he
did, after he had removed bis abode from Ur

of the Chaldeans, which was the land of his
3 nativity. In this idolatrous land it was, that

God appeared and said to him, Depart from this him, Get thee out of
thy native country, and from thy kindred, who thy kindred, and come
are now alienated from my worship, and come
away from this land, which for so long a time

has

And said unto

into

° Stephen began a large discourse.] Le the propriety of the circumstances introClerk with a mixture of rashness and weak- duced.' Dr. Benson has illustrated it in a ness, into which he frequently falls in his large and very judicious manner, in hiş Reflections on Scripture, not understanding History, Vol. I. p. 123–135, which I the true scope of this excellent discourse, shall leave the curious reader to consult. presumes to censure it, as containing many I only add, that, had not Stephen been inthings not to the purpose, as well as many terrupted by their fury, it is probable, he slips of memory, though it is expressly said, would have added some other articles, and (ver. 55) that Stephen was full of the Holy have summed up the discourse in such a manSpirit, when he delivered it. I am per- ner, as to shew, that the main design of it suaded, that it will be admired by all that was to humble that haughtiness of spirit, well understand it, and hope the hinis I which occasioned their rejecting Jesus and have given in the paraphrase will lead the his gospel. reader into the true design of it, and shew

d. After

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