Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small]

beaten in every synagogue; some were put to death, others compelled to blaspheme; and this zealous Pharisee, being exceedingly mad against them, persecuted them even to foreign cities. At length, having obtained letters of authority from the high-priest to the synagogues in Damascus, he took his journey towards that city purposely to bring all the believers in Jesus he could find, either men or women, bound to Jerusalem.

In the meantime God was exercising his own prerogative of bringing good out of evil. The multitude of believers who had been gathered at Jerusalem were all scattered abroad except the apostles (who doubtless were permitted to remain there to call out many others), and went everywhere preaching the word. Churches, or assemblies of believers, were gathered throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and some travelled as far as Phænicia and Cyprus, and Antioch ; at first preaching the word to none but the Jews only. Philip, one of the seven, called the evangelist (one who declares the Gospel), was the first who preached Christ at Samaria (Sebaste), and there began to reap the harvest which the Lord had prepared his disciples to expect (John iv. 35). Whilst the Jews, as a nation, were under trial as to whether they would submit to Christ, and thus come within the promised blessings of the new covenant, the Lord commanded his disciples not to go into the way of the Gentiles, nor to enter into any city of the Samaritans ; but now that it had been proved that it was impossible for a people in the flesh to take hold of the covenant, and that the blessing was not national but elective, neither Gentiles nor Samaritans were excluded. The chief city of Samaria had been, till this period, peculiarly a province of the kingdom of darkness; for Simon the sorcerer did wonderful things by the power of the devil, and the people were deceived, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” But the signs and great miracles of grace that accompanied the preaching of Philip opened their eyes, and there was great joy in that city. Men and women were baptized, and Simon also ; for it does not appear that Philip had the apostolical power that discovered secret evil. But on the arrival of Peter, it was made plain that this professed believer was still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity : the apostle perceived that his heart was not right in the sight of God, and assured him he had neither part nor lot in this matter.

THE APOSTLESHIP OF PAUL.

Yet even Simon was exhorted to repent and pray for forgiveness : he had long made a gain by using the power given by the devil, and his sin now was in the thought of doing the same by using the power given of God.* Though Simon is not heard of afterwards in Scripture, he is mentioned by the early historians of the Church, as we shall hereafter relate.

On their way back to Jerusalem, Peter and John preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans, in one of which, a little time before, Christ himself not having been received, James and John asked him if they might not command fire to come down from heaven to consume the inhabitants. It has been noticed that Philip, in the meanwhile, was sent into the desert to meet the Ethiopian who was returning from Jerusalem, and to teach him those things which he might have learned in that city had it not now lost its position of blessing, and failed for a season to be the joy of the whole earth. On this occasion the words of Philip are remarkable; and it has struck me that Simon's bare lip-profession of belief was fresh in his thoughts, for, in reply to the converted Ethiopian's question, “ What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Philip said, “ If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest.”

The calling of Paul by the Lord out of heaven to be his apostle was very remarkable; for, as he expresses it, he seemed as one born out of due time, for he had never seen Jesus till he saw him in heavenly glory, and learned every thing that he preached by direct revelation from him, instead of receiving it from man or through intercourse with the twelve who were apostles before him.

The very first truth which he received seemed, as it were, to give a colour to his whole ministry, and a peculiar heavenliness to his whole course. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me ?” and again, “ I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest,” taught him the living union of the risen Lord with his people ; and he soon learned it for himself as one of that chosen people, as he says (Gal. i.), “When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me.During the first few years of his ministry Paul preached among the heathen in Arabia, Syria, Cilicia, &c. and was personally unknown to the churches of Judea, only making a private visit of fifteen days to Jerusalem.

* Simony (from Simon) is a word used to express the sin of making church honours and emoluments matters of bargain and sale.

[ocr errors][merged small]

We may now pursue the history of the world, sad as it is, with more pleasure, seeing that there is a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and that the circle of grace is not limited by any earthly bounds.

CHAP. VII.

TIBERIUS. — PILATE. - HEROD ANTIPAS. - HEROD AGRIPPA.

CALIGULA.-HIS DESIRE FOR WORSHIP. HIS CRUELTY AND

FOLLY.--RESISTANCE OF THE JEWS.- CALIGULA'S MURDER. The close of the history of Tiberius is the more worthy of remark, when we remember that it was he whom the Jews preferred to Christ, saying, “We have no king but Cæsar.” And this, notwithstanding their exceeding dislike to Gentile dominion, and eighteen years' knowledge of the character of Tiberius.

The death of Sejanus, A.D. 31, did not lessen his master's cruelties. Rome was filled with mourners, for the emperor was no longer contented with single executions, but sentenced all the accused without examination. When one whom he intended to put to the torture killed himself, he lamented, saying, “Has that man been able to escape me ?” and when another asked to be saved from a lingering death, he replied, “ I am not sufficiently your friend to shorten your torments.”

Such were the doings of the world's king whilst God's king was going about in such a lowly form, doing good, healing every where, not destroying men's lives but saving them; and enduring a life and death of agony to deliver poor sinners from eternal death and misery.

It is said, that Pilate sent to Tiberius some account of the miracles of Christ, and informed him that it was commonly reported throughout Judea he had risen again from the dead and ascended into heaven ; and therefore many believed him to be a god.* Upon receiving this intelligence, the emperor proposed that Christ should be numbered among the gods of Rome; but the senate, who had the right of regulating the national religion, were jealous of the interference of Tiberius, and even tried to pass a law that would have shut out of the city all the worshippers of Christ. Tiberius, however, angry at their oppo

* This does not rest on any good authority.

END OF PILATE'S GOVERNMENT.

37

sition to his will, threatened with death all the accusers of the disciples of Christ ; and in this remarkable manner, through the providence of God, there was time allowed for the spreading of the truth at Rome.

Pilate, who had sacrificed his own conscience for the sake of Cæsar's friendship, found it of little profit. In A.D. 36, Vitellius, newly appointed prefect of Syria, resolved to show his superiority to the governor of Judea by visiting Jerusalem at the time of the passover, and interfering with Pilate's arrangements. On this occasion he pleased the people by lessening some of the taxes, and by appointing Jonathan, son of Annas, high-priest in the place of Caiaphas, who was very unpopular. It is said, that Caiaphas killed himself shortly after. Vitellius still farther gratified the Jews by giving up to Jonathan the priestly robes which had been kept in the fortress adjoining the Temple, and often refused by the Roman guards on the great feast-days, on purpose to annoy the people.

In the same year, on hearing that great multitudes of Samaritans had been led to Mount Gerizim by an impostor who pretended he would discover to them some vessels of great value that had been hid there by Moses, Pilate sent out his troops, with his usual decision, and desired them to watch round the mountain and cut off the leaders of the party. His orders were executed with great cruelty, and the crowds dispersed in terror. But the chief Samaritans carried their complaints against Pilate to Vitellius ; and the latter, as his superior, sent him to Rome to take his trial there.

The following year, A. D. 37, the pride of Herod Antipas was also humbled. This prince was boldly reproved by John the Baptist for marrying his brother's wife, and for all the evils he had done; but instead of repenting, he added to his sin by shutting up John in prison, according to the desire of Herodias. But he was unwilling to yield to her in putting him to death ; for he feared John, knowing he was a just and holy man, and not only heard him gladly but did many things for his sake.

However, the weak Herod is a memorable example, that what is done through human influence alone, stronger human influence will undo. Excited by his birth-day supper and the dancing of the daughter of Herodias, he rashly promised to give her whatever she asked ; and when, by the instruction of her mother, she desired to have John's head, Herod, fearful of

[ocr errors][merged small]

losing his character for faithfulness, and the esteem of the captains and chiefs that sat around him, overcame the exceeding sorrow of a partially awakened conscience and granted the request. After beheading John his conscience apparently became seared, for it was in his heart to kill Jesus also ; and when at length, as a supposed Galilean, the Lord stood before his judgment-seat, the proud tetrarch, amidst his men of war, set him at nought; being disappointed that his idle questions were not answered, nor his curiosity gratified by seeing some miracle. In the year above mentioned, the Arabian king attacked Herod on account of the insult he had offered his daughter, and the tetrarch, having lost almost his whole army, applied to Tiberius for help. Vitellius at once received orders from the emperor to march into Arabia with his forces, and Herod gladly set out with him. The prefect of Syria, who always favoured the Jews, sent his troops across the Jordan towards Petra, in compliance with a request from the chief men at Jerusalem, that the offensive standards might not be displayed in their land : but he himself accompanied Herod to Jerusalem, desiring to witness the feast of the passover a second time. At this season he displaced Jonathan, and made Theophilus highpriest. On the fourth day of unleavened bread, the death of Tiberius was announced to them, and Herod was obliged to retreat to his own dominions, as Vitellius could not assist him in his war with Aretas, because the wishes of the new emperor were unknown.

The story of Herod Agrippa (mentioned Acts xii.) is so closely connected with that of Tiberius and his successor, that it properly belongs to this period. He was the son of Aristobulus, one of the murdered children of the lamented Mariamne, and therefore the representative of the Asmonean family. After his father's execution, he met with many strange adventures, and was at one time reduced to beggary by his own extravagance. His uncle, Herod Antipas, supported him for a time; but at last he found a more agreeable refuge at Rome, where he had a warm friend in the emperor's sister-in-law, Antonia, who had loved his mother. By Antonia's influence he gained the favour of Tiberius, and lived at court, where he soon attached himself to the Cæsar Caligula : and a spy, whom the jealous emperor set to watch the Jewish prince, overheard him say one day to his friend, that he hoped the empire would soon fall into his

« AnteriorContinuar »