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oppressors of Hie Jewish church ; and several Herods under the New Testament, as Herod Antipas, and Herod Agrippa, who were very warm in the worst work, namely, that of persecution: He stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church: that is, to kill some and to imprison others. Satan's bloodhounds have such an insatiable thirst after the blood of the saints, that they can never be satiated with it, nor satisfied without it. A tyrannical persecutor is like an hydropic person; the more he drinks, the more he thirsts.
2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. Then were the days of unleavened bread.
Note here, 1. The person slain by the sword of Herod; James the brother of John. We read in the gospel that he was one of the sons of Zebeaee, that desired of Christ the pre-eminence to sit at his right hand in his kingdom: and now he is the first of the apostles that suffered martyrdom, who drank of Christ's cup, and was baptized with bis baptism. He was called Boanerges, or a son of thunder, for his zealous and earnest preaching: no wonder then that Herod and the enraged Jews hated him, and were stirred up by Satan to destroy him. For such as are most useful to, and most eminent in, the church, are always the object of Satan's wrath and anger, and of the persecutor's rage and fury: He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. Observe, 2. James being slain, Peter is to follow: He proceeded farther to take Peter also. The rage of persecutors is not easily satisfied, and the blood which they shed is but oil to feed the flames of their revenge. But mark the overruling power and goodness of God: though St. James was murdered, St. Peter shall be but imprisoned. The husbandman doth not commit all his corn to the oven, but saves some for seed. Persecutors cannot do all Hie mischief they would, and they shall not do all they can.
4 And when he had apprehended him, he put Aim in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions pf soldiers to keep him; intending
after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
Peter being imprisoned, observe what an excess of care and caution Herod takes for securing his prisoner: sixteen soldiers are set to guard him, four at a time, and to take their turns at the four watches of the night, to relieve one another. Thence learn, That the enemies of the church make the surest work they can, when at any time God permits his servants to fall into any of their hands. Thus they dealt with' the Head, when they had apprehended him; the watch-word was, Hold him fast, St. Matt. xxvi. 48. When they crucified him, they nailed him fast to his cross; when they buried him, they made the sepulchre sure, seal ing the stone, and setting a watch, and thus they deal with the members ; St. Peter has guard upon guard set over him, some soldiers chained to him, and others always standing at the door to observe him. But all this care, concern, and caution, to secure the prisoner, did illustrate the glory of the miracle in his wonderful deliverance.
5 Peter therefore was kept in prison; but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
That is, fervent and importunate prayer was put up to God by the church on Peter's behalf: with the united strength of their whole souls they stormed heaven, and took him by force out of Herod's hand. Learn, 1. That when the church is plunged into deep perplexities, the only help she can hope for, must come unto her in the way of prayer. Learn, 2. That when God suffers any of the ministers of the church to fall under the rage of persecutors, it is the church's duty to wrestle with God by prayer in an extraordinary manner on their behalf: Prayer was made without ceasing of the church. Learn, 3. That when God intends to bestow any extraordinary mercy upon his church, lie stirs up the hearts of his people to pray for it in a very extraordinary manner.
6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
Observe, Peter continued in prison till the very night before Herod intended to bring him out to the people; and if they desired it, it is probable he intended to put him to death the next day. Learn thence, That God oft-times suffers his children to come to the pit's brink, and then delivers them, that they may be the more sensible of his mercy, and have the greater cause to magnify his power. Peter was now come to his last night; the tyrant Herod probably intended his execution next morning. Now was the time for God to step in; our extremity is his opportunity. Observe farther, That notwithstanding Peter's imminent and impending^ danger, he sleeps very soundly, resigning up himself into the hands of Christ, and resolving, if he may no longer live Christ's servant, that he will die his sacrifice. I question whether Herod that imprisoned him slept half so soundly. Lord! how soft and secure a pillow is a good conscience, even on the confines of death, and in the very jaws of danger! Observe lastly, That God takes most care of Peter when he was able to take least care of himself: when he was asleep, and altogether insensible of his danger, God was awake and acting effectually in order to his deliverance. Happy prisoners, who have God with them in prison! Such are prisoners of hope indeed, and shall certainly experience divine help.
7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from Aw hands. 8 And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals: and so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. 9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done bv the angel; but thought he saw a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city, which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
Observe here, 1. That God hath some
times made use of the ministry of angeis to eflect deliverance for his people. Observe, 2. The several good offices which the angel now did for Peter, in order to ha enlargement: Peter is asleep, Uie angel awakes him; he is laid, the angel raises him; he is amazed, the angel directs him, he is bound, the angel unties him; he knows not where he is, the angel goes before him, and guides him; he is to pass through many difficulties, the angel conducts him. Lord, how innumerable are the good offices, which at thy command the holy angels do for us! though they are not sensiblv in this manner apprehended by us. What love and service do we owe to thee! what hooour and respect should we pay to them, for their care over us, and attendance upon us! Observe, 3. Peter must arise, gird himself, bind on his sandals, cast his garments about him, follow the angel, and use his own endeavours in order to his own deliverance. God will have him use the means, even then when he was about to work a miracle for him. What a tempting of God is it then to neglect the means when we cannot expect miracles! As to trust to means is to neglect God, so to neglect the means a to tempt God. We must always subserve the providence of God in the use of such means as his wisdom has appointed and directed us unto. Observe lastly, That this deliverance was so amazing and surprising, that Peter thought it a dream only, ver. 9. He wist not that it was true, but thought he had seen a vision. Learn thence, That sometimes the deliverances of the godly from imminent and apparent dangers, are so very wonderful, and attended with such a crowd of improbabilities, that they have much ado to believe in them, though they see them with their eyes. When God turned the captivity of Peter, he was like unto them that dream, Psal. exxvi. 1.
11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath sent bis angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. 12 And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together, praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Khoda. 14 And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. 15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, it is his angel.
16 But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.
17 But he beckoning unto them with the hand, to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And said, Go, shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
Observe here, 1. The wise and holy course which the church took for the apostle's enlargement, and that was, keeping a day of prayer. A number of christians gtt together, and importune heaven: the enemies plot, the church prays; they shut the prison doors, the church opens heaven's doors; and God gives Peter in, as an answer of prayer, before they rose off from their knees. O how good is it to draw near to God! What a prayer-hearing God is our God! How great is the power and prevalency of the conjoined prayers of good men! God's praying people ever have been, and will be, a prevailing people. Whilst these pious souls were in the very act of calling upon God for Peter's release, God gives in Peter released to them. God never wants means for his people's deliverance, when he is once set on work by the prayers of his people. Observe, 2. St. Peter being delivered, meditates whilst he was walking in the streets, and going along by himself, on the greatness of his danger, and the graciousness of hisdeliverance. Holy and suitable thoughts, pious meditations and ejaculations, do well become us in any place, at all times, and upon all occasions; but especially after signal deliverances from signal dangers. We can never enough ruminate upon them, or be sufficiently thankful for them. Observe, 3. The wisdom and goodness of the Divine Providence in directing Peter in the dead of the night to the house where the
saints were praying for him. This is the more remarkable, because the angel having done his work which God sent him upon, after he had delivered Peler from his chains and imprisonment, he left him to shirt for himself, and to take care of hisown safety; but though an angel left him, yet the providence of God conducted him to a place where he was both safe and welcome. Observe, 4. What an ancient opinion it was, that every good man had a guardianangel appointed him by God, to take a special care of him to his life's end; to direct him in his way, to guard him from dangers, and to deliver him in his distresses: They say. It is his angel. For which saying there could be no reason, had there not been a current opinion among them of guardian angels. Blessed be God, his holy angels are our keepers, our counsellors, our defenders, our loving and friendly associates; and they shall never depart from us, till they have conducted us safely to our heavenly Father's house, where we shall be as the angels of God in heaven. Observe, 5. How Peter gives God, and not the angel, the glory of his deliverance, ver. 17. He declared how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. The angel was but the instrument, God was the principal agent, ver 11. The Lord hath sent his angel, and delivered me out of the hand of Herod. All deliverances must be ascribed to him, who commands deliverance for his people. 'Observe, 6. The prudential care which St. Peter takes for his future preservation: He departed, and went to another place. He could not think himself safe whilst Herod was so near, no more than a lamb could be safe near the lion's den. He knew he should be hunted for, therefore escapes for his life. And besides his own danger, be was not willing to endanger his friends, who did not entertain and harbour him; but, both for his own and their preservation, he departs to another place. Learn, That a prudential use of all lawful means for our own and others' preservation, in subserviency to divine Providence, is our duty, our wisdom, and interest, both as men and christians.
18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. 19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Cesarea, and there abode.
Observe here, 1. How wicked persecutors are mightily enraged when their bloody purposes are disappointed: Herod having lost his prize, is so incensed, that he caused the keepers first to be examined, (and possibly by tortures,) and then to be put to death. Observe, 2. The justice of God, and the great injustice of Herod: it was just in God to sutler the soldiers, who were Herod's instruments in persecution, to die by the bloody hand of Herod, whose tools they were. Instruments in persecution God oft-times meets with in this world, and sometimes they fall by the hand of persecutors themselves; yet was it notorious injustice in Herod to put to death those innocent soldiers, who could not help what was done, and were no-ways accessary to the prisoners' escape.
20 And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sition : but they came with one accord to him, and having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country.
Observe, Herod, upon St. Peter's escape out of his hands, leaves Jerusalem, and goes to dwell at Cesarea; where, being highly displeased with the rich citizens of Tyre and Sidon, he designs to make war upon them. But they being sensible that their cities lying upon the sea-coasts, and having little land belonging to them, they niust be beholden to Judea and Galilee, which were under Herod's jurisdiction, for a great part of their provisions; therefore they prudently compound the matter with him, knowing that to fight with him who fed them, was theready way to be famished. And opening the breasts of Blastus the king's chamberlain, with a golden key, through that passage they made their access to pacify the king. Interest leads us to pay homage to them whom our dependency is upon. Yet, though men depend upon God for all, for life, and for the comforts and supports of life, which they do enjoy; (our country being nourished by the King of heaven's country ;}
yet how few by prayer do own their dependence upon him, or by praise and thanksgiving do acknowledge the band that supplies them!
21 And upon a set day, Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. 22 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. 23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
Upon a set day, that is, as some suppose, on his own birth-day, he was arrayed in royal apparel, in a cloak made of cloth of silver, but dyed with St. James's blood, ver. 2. which being beaten upon by the sun-beams, did greatly dazzle the eyes of all spectators, he makes an eloquent oration, more gaudy than his apparel, unto the people, who cried out in approbation thereof, The voice of a God, and not of a man. Herod, instead of repelling this their impious flattery, embraces and hugs their praises, as proper to himself: and thereupon an angel and worms, the best and the basest of creatures, meet m his punishment: the angel smiting him, and the worms eating him up: and no wonder that worms quickly devoured him, whom those flesh-flies had blown upon before; no wonder that he is eaten up of worms, who forgot that he was a worm! Quest. But why were not the people punished as well as the prince, seeing they were equally guilty of robbing God of his honour? True, Herod was the receiver, but they were the thieves! why then fell not the punishment on the whole multitude? Ans. Because more discretion is expected from a prince, than from the rabble. Besides, what in them was but a blasphemous compliment, was by his acceptance of it made a reality, and was usurped by him, and assumed to him as due to his deserts. From the whole, note, 1. That flattery, either given or taken, is a very dangerous sin, a God-provoking and a wrath-procuring sin. If we flatter men, God will not flatter us; but deal plainly, yet severely, with us. One of the ancients said, he was afraid of praise and commendation as much as of the crack of thunder. When men give much glory to
men, it is very hard for men to give that glory back again to God. Herod was so pleased and tickled with the glory which the people gave him, that he could not part with it: bat by keeping that he lost his life. Note, 2. That though God bears long with many sorts of sinners, yet not with sinners of this sort; Immediately the angel of the Lord smote him. Agreeably to that of Job, chap. xxxii. 22. I know not hov; to give flattering titles, for in so deing my Maker -would soon take me away. The great God will admit of no co-rivals; he will not suffer his glory to be given to another; he will be a swift witness against the flatterer, as well as against the false swearer. Mai. iii. 5. He can destroy both flatterer and flattered with the twinkling of an eye, or with the turning of a hand; and those that are cried up as gods to day, are as dung to-morrow.
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied. 25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
Observe, Herod the tyrant and persecutor being dead, the gospel prospered, and was preached up and down with great success. Persecutors by their weak endeavours to pull down the church, do build it up the stronger. The church in Egypt never grew so high as when Pharaoh laboured most to keep it low: the more he molested them, the more he multiplied tliem. Thus, here, after Herod's death and Peter's deliverance, the word of God grew and multiplied; that is, the number of believers increased through the preaching of the word, as seed is multiplied by the scattering of the hand: the word preached is the seed sown in the furrows of the field. The ground was now harrowed by the hand of the persecutors, and the seed grew the better; and the fruits of faith and obedience did by every shower of persecution more and more abound. The truth of God may for a time be oppressed, but it shall never be fully and finally suppressed: still the word of God grew and multiplied.
St. Luke, the writer of this history, having given us an account how the christian church was first planted among the Jews hy St. Peter's ministry, in the first twelve chapters: he now applies his pen in declaring how the gospel was planted and
propagated amongst the Gentiles by St. Paul's ministry, to the end of the book. Now in this chapter we have the solemn mission of Saul and Barnabas to the ministry among the Gentiles fully related.
J^"OW there were in the church that was at Antioch, certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Observe here, That the city of Antioch being the first Gentile city which entertained the gospel, there were at that time several prophets and teachers in that city, to instruct the people, and to lay the foundation of a christian church amongst them; and amongst others there was found one very eminent person named Manaen, who was of that high rank and quality, that he was brought up with Herod at court; and, as the learned Lightfoot thinks, was converted there by the preaching of St. John the Baptist. Yet this man contemning with Moses the pleasures of the court, did think it no disparagement to him to be a teacher at Antioch. Learn thence, That God is pleased to manifest the freeness of his grace in effectually calling some of all sorts and ranks of men to the knowledge and obedience of the gospel, and to a participation of the benefit offered in and by the Lord Jesus Christ. Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch.
2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul, for the work wheretinto I have called them. 3 And when they had fr.s ed and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent rAcm away.
Observe here, How the Holy Ghost takes occasion, when the preachers of the church at Antioch were assembled together in God's presence, and about his work, to give them particular instructions and directions concerning his will and their duty. Observe farther, The solemn charge given by the Holy Ghost, to set apart Saul and Barnabas, by solemn imposition of hands, for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. This was a great work, and not to be undertaken without a special call from God; therefore says the Holy Ghost, Separate me Barnabas and Saul to the work whereunto I