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Is this advice given by a friend or an enemy? Surprising as it seems, Gamaliel, who speaks thus, was a Pharisee, a doctor of the law, held in high reputation as a leader in his sect: of that sect which from the beginning had most vehemently opposed the doctrine of Jesus. Perhaps he was now affected by enmity against the Sadducees, who were foremost in this persecution; and a bad motive was over-ruled for a good end. Perhaps he was affected by a better influence; his mind had been struck by the miraculous exercise of power which he could not deny. But whatever may have led him thus to cast his protection over the apostles, he certainly declared with perfect truth, If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought. Many things prevail in the world and succeed, which are not of God, but of men. But if this work had not been of God, no pains were needed to overthrow it. The doctrine which the apostles were publishing, was not a doctrine which men would be eager to embrace: not one which without indisputable proof they would be persuaded to receive. Men are not willing to confess themselves guilty. But the apostles declare that "the whole world is guilty before God." Men would not be forward to believe, that one whom they had put to death upon the cross, was the Son of God; and that there was salvation in no other, but in him who had not preserved himself. But the apostles declared, that there is "no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Men are not willing to forsake the evil of their ways, and to lead a new life, following the commandments of God. But the apostles required them to do this; to "put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of their mind." Just reason had Gamaliel for saying, that if the doctrine were of men, it must come to nought.
Even if a ruler, with sovereign power, had issued a command, that Jesus Christ should be acknowledged by all his subjects as "a Prince and a Saviour :"1 he might have succeeded in some countries; but he would not have succeeded among the Jews. Their national belief was too strong to admit of any change.
On the other hand, had the chief priests and elders, with the Pharisees, and those to whom the people were accustomed to look up ;—had those in a body consented to the doctrine of the apostles, and joined them in proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah who was to come, it is possible that they would have been followed.
But they who were now going about to teach this doctrine were unlearned men, unknown men, unfriended men; they had no influence which could give currency to even the most evident truth or popular opinion; and all those who did possess such influence were opposed to them. Could they possibly establish such improbable doctrines, such unpalatable opinions, as that God had made that same Jesus whom they had crucified both Lord and Christ?
No. Gamaliel might safely put the matter upon the test which he proposed, If this work were of men, it would come to nought: and they need not endanger their own authority, and offend the people, by forcibly endeavouring to overthrow what must shortly fall by its own weakness.
1 We have such a case in Daniel.
40. And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
42. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Rejoicing, that they were counted worthy to suffer shame. In themselves, there is nothing in shame or ill-treatment to cause rejoicing. And yet the feelings of the apostles can be understood. They are the feelings of men, employed as the apostles were, in the cause of an extraordinary Benefactor. He has left us a command,—so they would argue,— he has given us a duty to perform. We are engaged in it; and we are encountered by opposition: we are threatened, if we persevere. After what we have suffered, and may expect to suffer, we should not persevere, if we held his memory in light esteem. Let us then rejoice that we have the means of testifying our gratitude and reverence; that we have been counted worthy to have something of that same mind which was in Jesus himself, when "for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich."
Such would be the feelings of genuine thankfulness: a sense of infinite obligation would be thus shown. Through the medium of those feelings shed abroad upon the heart, the Holy Spirit filled them with zeal and boldness and endurance.
The like qualities will be found, wherever a like sense of obligation is sincerely felt. There will be zeal and boldness in the cause of the gospel: there will be readiness to undergo any inconvenience which may arise. And because this is a sure test of the state of the heart, the Lord has said, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this sinful and adulterous generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels."4
SEVEN DEACONS APPOINTED TO MANAGE THE TEMPORAL CONCERNS OF THE COMMUNITY.A. D. 33.
Acts vi. 1—6.
1. And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians* against the Hebrews, because their widows icere neglected in the daily ministration.
4 Mark viii. 38. 1 By the Grecians are meant persons of Jewish birth, but
2. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
3. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
4. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
The body of Christians which had been formed in the manner described in the foregoing chapters, presented a singular case. There was a community who, together with their families, must have consisted of thirty or forty thousand persons, of whom a large proportion were without the regular support arising from ordinary business or labour. Some, we must suppose, had been deprived of this, directly or indirectly, in consequence of their conversion. The enmity with which they would be treated, as departing from the common faith, and acknowledging Jesus to be the Christ, would pursue them in their vocations, and ruin their worldly business.2 Others, like the apostles themselves, had abandoned their means of livelihood: their minds being wholly occupied with the interests of their new faith, or with the actual duties of extending it. For the support of these, we saw in the second and fourth chapters that a common fund was
settled in foreign countries, and only sojourners in Jerusalem, called Grecians, because in those countries the language of Greece was generallyspoken. 2 See Hebrews x. 33—34.