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SECT. 11.] Bolodness of Peter.
21 being now brought out and placed in the midst, it was demanded of them to say by what power or by what name they had performed the wonderful cure on the preceding day.
Peter, who had formerly trembled at the voice of a girl, was now not afraid to use the utmost freedom with the council and heads of the Jewish nation. He confessed the name and cause of Jesus ; charged home upon their consciences their guilt in putting him to death; assured them the miracle was wrought in his name and by his power; and while he pointed their attention to the voices of their own prophets, declaring that “ the stone which should be set at nought of the builders, would become the head of the corner;" finally averred that Jesus was the alone medium of salvation to the children of
A little reflection upon this strange scene will be sufficient, to apprize us of the dilemma in which the Sanhedrim was now involved. On the one hand, the fortitude, the wisdom, and the composure of the apostles struck them with surprise : for. they perceived that they were men destitute of the advantages of education, and had no pretensions to what the world calls wisdom. They were recognized by some as the former companions of Jesus previous to his crucifixion, in whose name they now declared the miracle to have been wrought; and the man who had been healed stood before them. There was no reasoning against matter of fact; the thing carried its own evidence along with it. But the question now was, how should the difficulty be got over? They, therefore, ordered the apostles out of court; held a solemņ council among themselves; confessed that the miracle was incontrovertible; but that the best way of getting rid of the business was, as far as in them lay, to quash all further inquiry into this mysterious affair, and dismiss the apostles with a strict injunction that they should teach no more in the name of Jesus !
The number of the disciples continued to increase in Jerusalem, and, from the church there, the word of the Lord sounded out into the adjacent parts. The presence. of Christ was conspicuously displayed among his people, “ The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul;" the apostles were armed with fortitude to bear testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and
great grace was upon them all.” The instituted discipline of the house of God was manifested, by punishing, in the persons of Ananias and his wife Sapphira, the odious crimes of dissimulation and hypocrisy; and this awful manifestation of the divine jealousy and holiness impressed the whole church with reverence and fear; while“ believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” Then it was that Zion “ looked forth as the morning, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners.”+
The Sadducees, it would seem, had, at this time, the chief sway in the Jewish state. Josephus, their own historian, has described them “as remarkable for a fierce and cruel temper; and that, particularly when they sat in judgment, they were much more rigorous and severe than the Pharisees.”[ Of this sect were Caiaphas, the high priest, and his party. They heard of the progress of the gospel, and were filled with indignation. Upon this occasion all the apostles seem to have been the victims of their rage. They were seized and confined in the common prison. But how futile is the rage of man, when opposing the counsels of heaven! One stronger than the whole Sanhedrim, even the Lord Jesus, dispatched his angel that same night, who opened the prison
• Acts v. 14. + Cant. vi. 10. | Antiq. b. 13. ch. 10. 96. and b. 30. ch. 9. 91. Jew, Wars, b. 2. ch. 8. 9 ult.
sect, 11.] The Apostles released from Prison. 23 doors, and brought out the apostles, directing them to go in the morning into their very temple, and there speak to the people all the words of this life. How great must have been the amazement of the Sanhedrim at hearing, on their assembling on the morrow, and giving commandment to have the apostles brought forth, that the officers found the prison doors shut with all possible safety, and the guards at their posts, but not a prisoner within ; and that the apostles were, at that moment, in the temple, teaching the people.'
The report, as may easily be imagined, struck an unusual damp upon the whole court, who finding themselves so frequently foiled, began to hesitate about the result of all this.' They had obstinately resisted the divine mission of Jesus, supported as it was by the most unquestionable miracles; and they had at length succeeded in putting him to death. Now they congratulated themselves that there was an end to him and his cause. But when they found his disciples, after his death, affirming that God had raised him from the dead, and exalted him to the highest glory in heaven; that they carried on the same design, and that they wrought miracles in his name, they could see no end of the affair, and were wholly at a loss what course to take. Add to all this, that the sentiments of the multitude were now evidently with the apostles, and some little prudence was necessary, while they punished the latter, that they did not bring down upon their own heads the vengeance of the former. The officers, however, were sent to take them, being 'enjoined to do it without violence. The apostles peaceably yielded themselves; and being brought before the council, were severely reprehended for disregarding the late prohibition they had received from the council. They answered with their usual firmness, as they had done upon a former occasion, that it was only
reasonable they should obey God, rather than man; but they avowed their determination to persevere, and even charged the Sanhedrim, in terms more pointed than ever they had yet done, with being the betrayers and murderers of the Lord of life. They, at the same time, asserted that “God had raised up Jesus from the dead, and exalted him to his right hand in heaven, to be a Prince and Saviour, to dispense repentance to Israel, and the remission of sins."
It is manifest that matters were now arrived at the ut. most crisis, between the apostles and the Jewish rulers, who were cut to the heart by the answer which the former had given them. The rage of the Sadducees could no longer be restrained ; and the destruction of the apostles was the first thing that occurred to them :-A true picture of the spirit of bigotry in every age, when men armed with power have been engaged in opposing the cause of truth and justice. But God, who in his over-ruling providence, had hitherto guarded the lives of his servants, and had still further occasion for their labours, restrained the wrath of the Jewish rulers, and averted the purposes of this confederacy. There was among them, a certain doctor of the Jewish law, of the sect of the Pharisees (said to have been the son of good old Simeon, mentioned Luke ii. 25.), and certainly the preceptor of the famous apostle Paul, a person of great eminence in his profession, and deservedly venerated for his prudent counsel in cases of difficulty. Gamaliel, after requesting that the apostles might withdraw a little while from the hall of justice, gave his advice that they should let those men alone. He reminded them of the fates of several impostors who had risen up among them from time to time, but who had all come to ruin; and that if this new sect were a mere human institution, it was unnecessary to give themselves any trouble to suppress it, for it would of itself sect. 11.) Gamaliel's prudent counsel.
25 come to an end quickly; but if it were really of God, all their opposition would be in vain, and they themselves would only be found ultimately fighting against heaven. The advice of Gamaliel prevailed; the apostles were again called in, and again commanded not to speak any more in the name of Jesus; yet, to save appearances, they were not dismissed until they had been scourged and enjoined silence. But neither the stripes nor the injunction had any influence upon them; they “retired from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus, whilst daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”*
At this interesting period, while Satan's kingdom fell like lightning from heaven before the preaching of the everlasting gospel, and the number of the Christians was daily encreasing, a circumstance arose in the church, which demanded the attention and engaged the wisdom of the apostles. The church, though consisting wholly of Hebrews, comprised two classes of persons : one party understood only the Hebrew and Chaldee languages, which was used in their synagogues at Jerusalem and its vicinity, while the other had been accustomed chiefly to the use of the Greek language, into which the Old Testament scriptures had been translated (the version which we now call the Septuagint), and which had been for some time in common use, previous to the coming of Christ, in all the Jewish synagogues, dispersed throughout the cities of Greece, as well as in Egypt. These last were called Hellenists, or Grecians, and of them, it would appear, there were at that time many in Jerusalem, members of the church. As the multitude supplied out of the common fund was very great, it can excite no surprise that a few individuals were occasionally overlooked.