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icarers. But those hearers had rooted prejudices against instruction, however salutary, upon such subjects; every thing of the kind cut them to the heart: and what was intended for their benefit was construed into a reproach against their whole nation. They were so wedded to the ritual and ceremonial part of their law, the customs which Moses had delivered to them, that they could not listen with patience to a syllable which seemed to deny the intrinsic excellence, or eternal duration of these. When, therefore, they were incapable of answering Stephen, they stirred up the people, and accused him before the council ; who, 6 looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel." His countenance in some measure resembled that of his divine Master, 6 full of grace and truth;" so that had his persecutors or judges possessed any just observation, any thing of true genuine candour and integrity of mind, they might, even at first view, have discovered such evident marks of superior dignity, innocence, sanctity, and angelic sweetness, as must have softened their rage, and conciliated their esteem. But neither this, nor his ample defence, which they knew to be perfectly true, could produce the least effect of mercy or justice, as we shall find in the sad catastrophe.
When the high priest asked Stephen, whether the accusation with which he stood charged was true, he enters upon a general view of the Jewish
history ; in the course of which he introduces several topics, calculated both to enlighten their understanding's, and to alarm their consciences; tending to prove the temporal nature of their law; the approaching destruction of their temple; their forfeiture, by disobedience, of the free grace of God; and his calling of the Gentiles to share the blessings of redemption. Let us examine these matters a little more closely.
The charges brought against Stephen having a reference to the destruction of the temple, and change of Mosaic customs, he sets about his defence, taking up their history with the calling of Abraham; that he might shew from the original blessing conferred upon him, from various circumstances of their conduct, and from the true spirit of their religion, that neither were they in any degree entitled by their own merits to the exclusive favour of God; nor was the economy, under which they enjoyed this for a time, in its nature perfect or eternal, but only preparatory to a better dispensation, which was now accomplished in Christ. Abraham their father indeed was faithful and obedient ; he therefore received the promise, that in his seed all nations of the earth should be blessed :” a consideration (if there were no other) suficient to prove, that the law, which was not given for 400 years after, could not be the only covenant or means of obtaining God's favour. To carry on
this gracious design, the posterity of Abraham were selected from all other people, to be the depositaries of the divine oracles, and were placed under the discipline of the law, which, like a schoolmaster, was to bring them -unto Christ. But instead of discerning the true design of that first covenant, and shewing themselves duly thankful for being made the privileged instruments of so glorious a dispensation, and of another still more glorious, they grew proud, obstinate and disobedient ; filled with false notions of their dignity and worth, in being allied to their father Abraham, and in observing the rites and customs delivered by Moses their lawgiver. Hence they vainly imagined themselves a people chosen, not for a limited time and particular purpose to which they were to be subservient : but for ever, on their own account, without any higher view than the temporal grandeur of their nation, and the beggarly elements of their law. St. Paul uses this last expression, not through the least disrespect for the law, according to its true intent and purpose ; in which respect it was framed with perfect wisdom, and was productive of great blessings : but when taken in that view, which the Jews held out as perpetual and universal, its elements were beggarly indeed ; for its whole constitution was typical and local, utterly unfit for a spiritual religion to all mankind. While its uses lasted, nothing could be more excel
lent; but when these ceased, when that which was in part was done away, and gave place to the grand object ultimately designed, it then became altogether absurd to take the shadow for the substance. This, however, was not the only error of the Jews : they had fallen into another equally fatal, a spiritual pride ; as if they were of superior worth to all other people. Having so long enjoyed the distinction of God's perticular notice, they were accustomed to look upon themselves as now entitled to it without rivals or partners. The consequence of which was, that Christianity became more odious to them, from its admitting the Heathen into the church, and taking down the partition wall between the Jews and all nations. In order to correct those errors, St. Stephen details a good part of their history, pointing out occasionally their crimes and misdemeanours, and stating the true end of the law and the prophets, “ which shewed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom they were the betrayers and murderers." I shall not follow him through every part of his speech on the occasion, being in general sufficiently plain and full in itself ; but shall select such passages as may seem to require explanation or any particular remarks.
In the second verse we read these words ; 6 The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in
Charran." This account does not exactly correspond with that given by Moses, in the beginning of the twelfth chapter of Genesis ; who does not there mention the appearance of God to Abraham, neither gives us to understand that the command to leave his country was issued to him before he dwelt in Charran, but while he resided there. As to the first of these points, we may easily sappose, that the manner of God's speaking to Abram, though not recorded by Moses, was handed down by tradi. tion, according to a very eminent Jewish writer. It was a matter of little consequence how the communication was made, provided it was certainly made in some way : and in this both accounts, as well as every other relating to the subject, agrec. And were there even no tradition, I should not consider any great violence offered to the text of Moses, in giving his words, “The Lord had said unto Abram," the form we have in the acts, «« The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham.” We know very well, that God communicated frequently in a visible manner through the Angel of the covenant ; and therefore Stephen might have naturally and justly considered the present mode. the same. I'n either view there is little or no difficulty in the case.
As to the other point, I am of opinion, that botte before and after Abram's removal to Charram,