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and who would not be interrupted by it in any other more important work. To such persons, therefore, they refer it. The apostles are in this instance an example to those who come after them, who
possess from nature or have acquired by industry, peculiar talents for instructing mankind; teaching them not to entangle themselves so far with other employments, as may interfere with the main design of their profession, and obstruct the exercise of their abilities.
The ministry of the word is, indeed, with those who undertake it in the present day, a voluntary employment, nor can any claim a commission from above for exercising it; but if, by any means, they are better qualified for this office than many others, it is the part of prudence and benevolence to confine themselves to it, as they have hereby a prospect of doing more good, and as persons may easily be found to discharge inferior offices.
2. Christian teachers may learn hence how necessary it is to join prayer with the preaching of the word. The apostles were aware of this necessity; for they desire to be set free from the office of deacons, in order that they may give themselves up to prayer, as well as the ministry of the word.
What they prayed for was, no doubt, the success of their labours in preaching, the continuance of miraculous powers, and resolution and fortitude to support the opposition and the evils which they had to encounter in the exercise of their apostolic office. The ministers of religion in the present day, who meet with like obstacles, will find the same means equally necessary. Without the continual aid of this exercise, they are in danger of forgetting the importance of their work; of being discouraged by difficulties, or of growing remiss in their exertions. Let them, therefore, often present themselves and their labours before God, and thus seek the animating influence of those motives which they cannot fail to feel, when viewing them in his presence.
3. We see from this history what base expedients those men have recourse to whose minds are prejudiced against the truth. The opposers of Stephen, because they cannot answer his arguments, resolve to take away his life; and that by the most dishonourable means; by suborning men to bear false witness against him. What complicated guilt and folly!
Let us, my brethren, cultivate a sincere love of truth, as one of the best and noblest qualities of the mind. It will save us from a thousand dishonourable and criminal artifices, to which the advocates of error must have recourse, in order to support a bad cause.
Acts vii. 1-19.
Stephen had been charged with speaking blasphemQus words against Moses and against God. In this chapter he makes an indirect reply to this charge, by reciting briefly a considerable portion of the Old Testament history, hereby showing that he believed in the same God and in the same revelations with themselves, and could not, therefore, be guilty of the crime of which he was accused. He reminds them also of several instances in which they had rejected or ill treated divine messengers, intending hereby to warn them of the danger which they were in of being guilty of the same crime, in the present instance, by rejecting the Messiah.
1. Then said the High Priest, Are these things so ?
Is the charge of having spoken blasphemous or wicked words against Moses and against God, true? offering Stephen an opportunity of defending himself.
2. And he said, Brethren and fa
thers, (some of the council were much his seniors,) hearken! The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,
This place is called Haran in the book of Genesis, and lay in the country between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, which was on that account called Mesopotamia.
3. And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee.
The object of this extraordinary command was to preserve him from idolatry, with which all his kindred were infected, and which it would have been impossible for the patriarch to resist, if he had remained among them. It is probable that the Canaanites, at this time, were not so much corrupted in this respect as the Chaldeans; for we read of Melchizedek, king of Salem, who was priest of the most high God, and who blessed Abraham; and likewise of some other persons who seem to have retained the knowledge of the true God. In this country it was foreseen that Abraham would meet with fewer temptations to idolatry, and be better able to preserve his integrity.
4. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran : and from thence, when his father was dead, he, i. e. God, removed him, into this land, wherein ye now dwell.
5. And he gave him no inheritance in it, no not so much as to set his foot on; yet he promised that he would give it him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.
These circumstances are mentioned to illustrate the strength of the patriarch's faith. He believed that God would bestow the land of Canaan upon his posterity, although he had not ground enough to set his foot upon, and although he had no child, nor, according to the common course of nature, had the prospect of any. Abraham had, indeed, one small portion of land, the field of Macphelah, which he bought for a burying place; yet, as it was purchased by himself, and not given him by God, it is not noticed here.
6. And God spake on this wise, “ in this manner," that his seed should sojourn in a strange land, and that they should bring them into bondage, and intreat them evil four hundred years.
The children of Israel were not four hundred years in bondage; for the whole period of their residence in Egypt was not more than two hundred and fifteen years. But that period mụst be applied to the first part of the paragraph, as well as the last, that is, to the whole time of their sojourning in a strange land, in Canaan as well as in Egypt, and then it will include the whole period from the birth of Isaac to the time of their deliverance,' which makes four hundred years. Paul, Galatians iii. 17. reckons four hundred and thirty years from the covenant made with Abraham to the time of the giving the law; but his reckoning includes the time which elapsed before the birth of Isaac, which was between twenty and thirty years.
7. And the nation to whom they
shall be in bondage will I judge “ will I punish,” said God; and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place, in Canaan, or Palestine.
8. And he gave him the covenant of circumcision, or, circumcision as the ratifying act of the covenant. And so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day: and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.
9. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him,
10. And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom, i. e. first wisdom and then favour, in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
11. And there came a dearth oyer all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction ;' and our father's found no sustenance :
12. But when Jacob heard that there was .corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first;