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Hence a “ murmuring is said to have been excited among the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration."*
Hitherto the twelve apostles had executed the different offices of apostle, elder, and deacon--the former or highest oflice in the Christian church, being evidently considered as including every inferior one. To redress the alleged grievance, the apostles convened the whole church, stated to them that the ministry of the word of God was that which claimed their own primary attention, and how unsuitable it would be for them to neglect it for the sake of looking after the poor; they therefore recommended it to their brethren to look out among themselves for seven men, full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit, to be appointed over this matter. “ But we,” say they, “ will give ourselves wholly to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal met the cordial approbation of all the church; and thus the office of deacon was instituted. They chose Stephen, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas, a proselyte of Antioch. Some of them (probably all) were occasionally engaged in preaching the gospel, but this was no part of their office as deacons, the latter being restricted to the serving of tables, or ministering to the wants of the poor.
There were in Jerusalem a great number of synagogues, to which the people resorted for religious instruction. One of these was called the synagogue of the Libertines, that is, such Jews and proselytes as had been Roman slaves, but had obtained their freedom, or were the descendants of such free men. It was also the resort of the Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and those who came from Cilicia (among whom, in all probability, was Saul of Tarsust), as well as others that came from Asia Minor.
• Acts vi. 1, &c.
+ Acts xxiii. 54. and xxi, 39.
Death of Stephen.
Stephen, by the boldness of his doctrine, and the miracles which he wrought among the people in attestation of it, had attracted the attention of certain persons belonging to that synagogue, who undertook to dispute with him; but not being able to resist the wisdom and the spirit with which he spake, they had recourse to the old method of persecution. They suborned men to accuse him of blasphemy against Moses and against God. By this artifice Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrim, where, though alone and unsupported, in the midst of furious enemies, he stood firm and unmoved, like a rock in the midst of the waves. “ And all that sat in the council looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.”*
The noble defence which Stephen delivered on this occasion will be found in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, to which I must refer the reader; its length precludes its insertion, and to abridge would be to injure it.
But what avail signs and wonders, the most splendid appeals of eloquence, or the most forcible convictions of truth among the obdurate and incorrigible? For, notwithstanding the goodness of his cause, the miracles which he had wrought to support it, the lustre with which he now appeared, and the eloquence which flowed in torrents from his lips, “ they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him to death.”+ His dying deportment evinced how eminently he was filled with the spirit of his divine Master, and is a pattern to all who are called to suffer in the same righteous cause. He kneeled down with the utmost tranquillity and composure, and having committed his departing soul into the hands of his Redeemer, his only remaining con
* Acts vi. 15.
# Acts vii, 57-60.
cern was for his murderers, and, in the temper and spirit of his dying Master, his last words were, “ Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he ell asleep.”
The death of Stephen was so far from satiating the rage of the Jewish rulers, that it seems to have been regarded merely as the tocsin to fresh scenes of slaughter and blood. They now gave full vent to their cruelty, and raised a general persecution against the whole church. The loss of this first of “ the noble army of martyrs” was deeply bewailed by his brethren ; and as the only remaining token of their affection, “Devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him."* During the last tragical scene, when his enemies were about to carry their vengeance into effect against him, they laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man whose name was Saul, and who was one of those that gave their voices for his being put to death.
Saul was born at Tarsus, the chief city of the province of Cilicia. His parents were both of them Hebrew Jews, and his father, who was of the tribe of Benjamin, was a freeman of Rome. Having received the first rudiments of his education in his native city, he went to Jerusalem, where he entered himself of the sect of the Pharisees, and studied the law of Moses, with the traditions of the elders, under Gamaliel, a noted doctor of the laws. When Stephen was put to death, Saul, though but a young man, appears to have taken an active part upon the occasion; and now flushed with the blood of that eminent martyr, he became outrageous. Armed with authority from the high priest, he made havoc of the church; pursued them from house to house, dragging them away to prison without mercy, and scourging them in the synagogues, compelled them to blaspheme the name of Jesus, not sparing even the weaker sex.
SECT. 11.] Dispersion of the Disciples.
99 Conformably to the instructions which Christ himself had left them,* the disciples gave way to the storm, and dispersed themselves throughout the cities of Judea and Samaria, spreading the knowledge of the gospel wherever they came. And here it is scarcely possible for us not to contemplate the short-sightedness of human policy, as contrasted with the wisdom and over-ruling providence of God. The very methods taken to quash the cause of Christ became the direct means of promoting its progress. Philip, of whom we have lately seen that he was chosen a deacon of the church in Jerusalem, went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ among the inhabitants with great success. Intelligence being brought to Jerusalem that Samaria had received the word of God, two of the apostles went down thither, and communicated to the new converts the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, and thus the second Christian church was planted. Soon after this, we find Philip, by divine direction, meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch, to whom he communicated the knowledge of Christ, and baptized him into the faith of it, by which means the gospel would be carried down to Ethiopia, and the prediction of the Psalmist consequently fulfilled, “ Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands unto God.”+
Philip, on returning from this interview with the eunuch, called at Azotus (the famous Ashdod of the Philistines), I a town on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean sea, and from thence passed through several cities that lay in his way, preaching the gospel in each of them, until he arrived at Cæsarea, at that time the metropolis of Palestine, and residence of the Roman governor, where he appears to have afterwards settled for life.I.
In all this time the malice of Saul was raging with unabated fury. Intimation had probably been given him, :
Matt. x. 23.
+ Psal. Ixviii. 31.
# 1 Sam, vi. 17.
Acts xxi. 8, 9.
that many of the persecuted disciples had taken refuge at Damascus. This was a most noble city, situated at the foot of mount Lebanon.* It had formerly been the capital of Syria, and was still very considerable. Josephus says it abounded with Jews, and in one place mentions that the inhabitants shut up in their baths, and destroyed, in one hour, ten thousand of them :t and upon another occasion he represents the Damascenes as having murdered eighteen thousand Jews with their wives and children, without the least colour or pretext. I To this city Saul petitioned the high priest to grant him letters of authority to go and search the synagogues for the disciples of Jesus, and that, if he found any, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Caiaphas was still in office, and, no doubt, every way as anxious as Saul himself could be to stop the growing heresy. The request was cheerfully complied with, and, in the capacity of chief inquisitor, and breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the Christians, Saul hastened on his journey to fulfil, as he
* So Milton, in reference to the Syrian idol, whose temple was fixed in that city, thus writes ;
Rimmon, whose delightful seut
PAR. Lost. B. I. I. 467, &c. Mr. Maundrell describes it as “situated on an even plain of so great ex. tent, that one can but just discern the mountains which compass it on the farther side. It stands on the west side of the plain, about two miles distant from the head of the river Barrady which waters it. It is of a long strait figure, about two miles in extent, adorned with mosques and steeples, and encompassed with gardens, according to computation, full thirty miles round.”- The fruit tree called the Damascene, and the flower called the Damask Rose, were transplanted from the gardens belonging to this city ; and the silk and linen, known by the name of Damask, were probably the invention of its inhabitants.
An. Univ. Hist. 8vo. vol. 1. p. 260. + Wars, b, 2. ch. 90. 2.
Ibid, b. 7.ch. 8. 97.