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JESUS, receive my spirit! And falling on his knees, he exclaimed with a loud voice, LORD, lay not this sin to their charge! And having said this he fell asleep. His devout friends, however, were suffered to carry his dead body to burial; and they made great lamentations for him, ver. 55-60, viii. 2.
FIRST JEWISH PERSECUTION.
The martyrdom of Stephen was probably one of the last outrages that disgraced Pilate's latter timid administration; who, even if he had time to interpose, and rescue this innocent victim from the rage of the zealots, probably was afraid of incurring the resentment of the Sanhedrim, who certainly were consenting to the deed, though they might not avowedly authorize it. But Pilate was displaced and recalled about this time, upon the complaint of the Samaritan senate to Vitellius, the president of Syria, for putting to death some of the heads of the Samaritans, in a sedition at Mount Gerizim, as we learn from Josephus, Ant. XVIII. 5, 2. Caiaphas, the high priest, his coadjutor, was also deposed by Vitellius soon after, who appointed Jonathan, son of Ananus, or Ananias, in his room. XVIII. 5, 3.
Availing themselves of this change of government, to Marcellus, and of the favour of Vitellius, who attended the passover of A.D. 35 at Jerusalem, and was entertained with great magnificence by the Jews; in return for which he remitted a part of their tribute, and restored to the temple the sacred robes of the high priest, which had been kept in the tower of Antonia, Ant. XVIII. 5, 3, the Sanhedrim set on foot a great persecution against the Church, in which all but the Apostles were scattered from Jerusalem throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria; which contributed to propagate the Gospel in those parts, Acts viii. 1-4.
In Samaria, Philip the deacon was very successful in preaching the Gospel; and the miraculous cures he wrought converted many, who were baptized; and among them Simon Magus, who for a long time had astonished the Samaritans with his sorceries, professing that he was the great power of God, (either their expected CHRIST, or THE HOLY SPIRIT, according to
"calling upon THE LORD JESUS." This is so express an act of worship addressed to CHRIST, to receive his spirit," that it can neither be denied nor evaded by any but such bigots in infidelity, as stopped their ears and stoned Stephen.
Irenæus,) but was himself astonished at the signs and great powers wrought by Philip, ver. 5-13.
Hearing of this early spiritual harvest, (foretold by OUR LORD, John iv. 35,) the Apostles at Jerusalem sent Peter and John to confirm them in the faith, who, by prayer and imposition of their hands, communicated to the converts THE HOLY SPIRIT, enabling them to speak in divers tongues, to prophesy, or preach by inspiration, and work miracles also; which was the sole prerogative of the Apostles. This tempted Simon Magus to offer them money for conferring on him the same privilege. But Peter, with great indignation, rejected the offer, and rebuked him for supposing that the gift of God could be purchased with money; and exhorted him to repent, and to pray to GOD to forgive the wickedness of his heart. Simon seemed penitent, and intreated that they would pray to THE LORD for him, to avert the punishment which they had threatened, ver. 14-24. He might, perhaps, have dreaded the fate of Ananias and Sapphira.
PHILIP THE EVANGELIST.
Meanwhile Philip was sent by THE SPIRIT to join a pious foreigner, the chamberlain of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia, or Abyssinia, at Gaza, on the border of the desert, southward between Palestine and Egypt, who was returning home from Jerusalem, and was reading in his chariot the prophecies of Isaiah; whence he appears to have been a proselyte to Judaism. The passage he was reading was the description of CHRIST'S sufferings, at his iniquitous trial, Isaiah liii. 7, 8. Philip asked him, Understandest thou what thou readest? He modestly answered, How can I without an instructor? whereupon Philip explained to him the prophecy, as relating not to Isaiah, but to CHRIST*; and upon confession of his faith, I believe that JESUS CHRIST is THE SON OF God, baptized him, and then suddenly disappeared; being caught away by THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD, northwards to Azotus : perhaps to afford the chamberlain a miraculous attestation of the truth of the new religion he had now gladly embraced. He, therefore, went on his way rejoicing; and we may presume, contributed to plant the Gospel in Ethiopia, ver. 26-40.
See the foregoing translation and exposition of the 53d chapter of Isaiah, Vol. II. p. 404, &c.
CONVERSION OF SAUL.
THIS forms a remarkable epoch in THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH, and begins its second chronological division, A.D. 35.
Saul was a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, where was a celebrated school of philosophy *. He was educated at Jerusalem, under the famous Gamaliel the Old, and bred a Pharisee; and was excessively zealous for THE LAW, Romans ii. 1, Gal. i. 14, Acts xxii. 3, xxvi. 5. He had been consenting to the martyrdom of Stephen, and actually took care of the clothes of the witnesses who stoned him, Acts vii. 58, viii. 1.
Afterwards, he took an active and violent part in the ensuing persecution of the Christians, Acts viii. 3, xxii. 4, xxvi. 10. And having received authority from the chief priests, he dragged the saints, both men and women, from their houses to prison, and frequently punished them in all the Synagogues; and compelled them to blaspheme or abjure CHRIST throughout Judea, xxvi. 11.
And being excessively enraged against them on account of the progress made by the New Religion in foreign cities, and that, in consequence of the persecution which scattered the disciples; still breathing out threatening and slaughter, he applied to the high priest, and got letters of commission from him and the Presbytery, or Sanhedrim, addressed to the Jewish Synagogue at Damascus, the capital of Syria; that if he found any Christians there, men or women, to bring them prisoners to Jerusalem. He also got letters to the governor of Damascus, we may presume, to permit them to be brought from his jurisdiction, Acts ix. 2, xxii. 5, xxvi. 12, 2 Cor. xi. 32.
"The Tarsic eloquence" was celebrated for sudden unpremeditated harangues, and prompt and ready replies: in which Paul excelled.
On his journey thither, as he approached to Damascus, at the Syrian town Caucabe, according to tradition, (so named by the people from Cochab, " a star," or the luminous glory that then appeared to him) suddenly, at mid-day, a great light from the Heaven, exceeding the brightness of the Sun, shone round about him and his company, at which they all fell to the ground, upon their faces. And Saul heard a voice saying unto him, in the Hebrew dialect, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, LORD? and the Lord said, "I am JESUS OF NAZARETH whom thou persecutest: It is hard for thee to kick against the goads +.”
Then Saul, trembling and astonished, said, LORD, what wilt thou have me to do? And THE LORD said unto him, Arise, and go into the city; and it shall be told thee what thou oughtest to do.
During this, his fellow-travellers stood astounded and affrighted, seeing the light, and hearing, indeed, the voice, (though not the words, or else, not understanding their meaning, 2 Cor. xiv. 2) but seeing no one. And Saul arose from the ground, and when he opened his eyes, he saw no one, being blinded by the glory of that light; and his companions, leading him by the hand, conducted him to Damascus, Acts ix. 3-8, xxii. 6—11, xxvi. 13-15.
There he continued three days without seeing; during which he neither ate nor drank. So great was the agony of his mind, and so sharp his compunction. When, probably, he considered his blindness, alone of all the company, as a just judgment upon him for that mental blindness under which he had so long laboured; and for his deafness to the discourse, and to the declarations of the martyred Stephen; and for his utter insensibility to all the signs and wonders wrought in support of the Christian Faith; which even his own preceptor Gamaliel respected. That these were, indeed, the subject of his meditations, we may reasonably collect from the result, "his praying"
• This celestial light resembled that which appeared to the pious Shepherds near Bethlehem, on the night of the Nativity. See p. 55 of this volume.
This was a proverbial expression of impotent rage, (like the or kicking against the goad,) which hurts only itself, not those against whom it is levelled. It is used by the ancient Greek writers; προς κεντρα μη λακτιζε τους κρατουσι σου. "Kick not against the goads, with those who have you in their power." Eschylus Prometh. 322. And also by Pindar, Isth. ii. 173. And by Terence, Nam quæ inscitia est, adversum stimulos calces. "For what folly is it for you to kick against the goads." Phormio.
for pardon with heartfelt sorrow and penitence to that LORD whom he had ignorantly persecuted, in persecuting his disciples, Acts ix. 9—11.
No sooner did that symptom of his conversion take place, though in secret, than that same gracious LORD, who had separated him as a chosen vessel for the ministry, to which he intended him, even from the womb, (Gal. i. 15,) appeared in vision to Ananias, a pious disciple at Damascus, and sent him. to Saul, with commission to restore him to sight; who went accordingly, in obedience to this command, and entering into the house, and laying his hands upon him, said, " Brother Saul, the LORD JESUS, who appeared to thee on the way by which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest recover thy sight, and be filled with THE HOLY SPIRIT. And immediately, there fell from his eyes, as it were scales; and he instantly recovered his sight. And Ananias said, THE GOD of our Fathers chose thee to know his will and to see that JUST ONE, and to hear the voice of his mouth; because thou shalt be his witness unto all men, of what thou hast seen and heard. And now, why delayest thou? Arise, be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of THE LORD." And he arose, and was baptized; and after his baptism, we may presume, was filled with THE HOLY SPIRIT. Then he took food and was strengthened, Acts ix. 11-19, xxii. 12-16.
The blindness with which Saul alone, of all the company, was struck during this astonishing vision, was a significant chastisement; but designed in mercy to bring him to his right mind, and to impress on him, indelibly, a conviction of the reality of the vision; in addition to the evidence of the rest of the party, to which he twice solemnly appealed in public afterwards, at his trials before the Jewish council, and before King Agrippa. Ananias also, though not present at it, proved an additional voucher, by communicating from immediate revelation, that circumstance of CHRIST'S appearance to Paul, which none but himself knew. While Ananias, by his expostulation with THE LORD, deprecating a commission so apparently hazardous to such a notorious persecutor, shewed, that he was calm and collected, in full possession of the powers of his mind during the vision. The miracle also of restoring Saul to sight by the imposition of his hands, was sufficient to satisfy both Ananias and Saul that it was the same LORD JESUS who ap