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There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing to
be original witnesses of the Christian Miracles, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivCered, and solely in consequence of their belief of those accounts ; and that they also submitted from the same mo
tives to new rules of conduct. The account of the treatment of the religion, and of the exertions of its first preachers, as stated in our scriptures, (not in a professed history of persecutions, or in the connected manner in which I am about to recite it, but dispersedly and occasionally, in the course of a mixed general history, which circumstance alone negatives the supposition of any fraudulent design,) is the following: “That the founder of Christianity, from the commencement of his ministry to the time of his violent death, employed himself wholly in publishing the institution in Judæa and Galilee; that, in order to assist him in his purpose, he made choice, out of the number of his followers, of twelve persons, who might accompany him as he travelled from place to place; that, except a short absence upon a journey, in which he sent them, two by two, to announce his mission, and one, of a few days, when they went before him to Jerusalem, these persons were statedly and constantly attending upon him ; that they were with him at Jerusalem when he was apprehended and put to death; and that they were commissioned by him, when his own ministry was concluded, to publish his gospel, and collect disciples to it from all countries in the world.” The account then proceeds to state, “ That, a few days after his departure, these persons, with some of his relations, and some who had regularly frequented
their society,assembled at Jerusalem ; that, considering the
* Acts i. 21, 22.
† Acts si.
$ Acts v. 41.
sect, than to threaten their prisoners' with punishment, if they persisted ; that these men, after expressing, in decent but firm language, the obligation under which they considered themselves to be, to declare what they knew, “ to' speak the things which they had seen and heard," returned from the council, and reported what had passed to their companions ; that this report, whilst it apprized them of the danger of their situation and undertaking, had no other effect upon their conduct, than to produce in them a general resolution to persevere, and an earnest prayer to God to furnish them with assistance, and to inspire them with fortitude, proportioned to the increasing exigency of the service.*.” A very short time after this, we read " that all the twelve Apostles were seized and cast into prisont; that, being brought a second time before the Jewish Sanhedrim, they were upbraided with their disobedience to the injuncion which had been laid upon them, and beaten for their contumacy; that, being charged once more to desist, they were suffered to depart ; that however they neither quitted Jerusalem, nor ceased from preaching, both daily in the temple, and from house to house; and that the twelve considered themselves as so entirely and exclusively devoted to this office, that they now transferred what may be called the temporal affairs of the society to other handsg.”
* Acts iv.
Acts v. $ I do not know that it has ever been insinuated, that the Christian mission, in the hands of the Apostles, was a scheme for making a fortune, or for getting money. But it may nevertheless be fit to remark upon this passage of their history, how perfectly free they appear to have been from any pecuniary or interested views whatever. The most tempting opportunity, which occurred, of making a gain of their converts, was by the custody and management of the public funds, when some of the richer members, intending to contribute their fortunes to the common support of the society, sold their possessions, and laid down the prices at
Hitherto the preachers of the new religion seem to have had the common people on their side ; which is assigned as the reason why the Jewish rulers did not, at this time, think it prudent to proceed to greater extremities. It was not long, however, before the enemies of the institution found means to represent it to the people as tending to subvert their law, degrade their lawgiver, and dishonour their temple*. And these insinuations were dispersed with so much success, as to induce the people to join with their superiours in the stoning of a very active member of the new community.
The death of this man was the signal of a general persecution, the activity of which may be judged of from one anecdote of the time: “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison.”+ This persecution raged at Jerusalem with so much fury, as to drive mostf of the new converts out of the place, except the twelve apostles. The converts, thus“ scattered
the Apostles' feet. Yet so insensible, or undesirous, were they of the ad." vantage which that confidence afforded, that, we find, they very soon disposed of the trust, by putting it into the hands, not of nominces of their own, but of stewards formally elected for the purpose by the society at large. We
may add also, that this excess of generosity, which cast private property into the publick stock, was so far from being required by the Apostles, or imposed as a law of Christianity, that Peter reminds Ananias that he had been guilty, in his behaviour, of an officious and voluntary prevarication ; for whilst, says he, thy estate remained unsola, was it not thine own ? and, after it was sold, was it not in thine own power :" Acts vi. 12.
| Acts viii. 3. # Acts viïi. 1.“And they were all scattered abroad ;" but the term “ail" is not, I think, to be taken strictly, or as denoting more than the generality; in like manner as in Acts ix. 35. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and "turned to the Lord.”
abroad,” preached the religion wherever they came ; and their preaching was, in effect, the preaching of the twelve; for it was so far carried on in concert and correspondence with them, that, when they heard of the success of their emissaries in a particular country, they sent two of their number to the place to complete and confirm the mission.
An event now took place, of great importance in the future history of the religion. The* persecution which had begun at Jerusalem, followed the Christians to other cities, in which the authority of the Jewish Sanhedrim over those of their own nation was allowed to be exercised. A young man, who had signalized himself by his hostility to the profession, and had procured a commission from the council at Jerusalem to seize any converted Jews whom he might find at Damascus, suddenly became a proselyte to the religion which he was going about to extirpate. The new convert not only shared, upon this extraordinary change, the fate of his companions, but brought upon
himself a double measure of enmity from the party which he had left. The Jews at Damascus, upon his return to that city, watched the gates night and day with so much diligence, that he escaped from their hands only by being let down in a basket by the wall. Nor did he find himself in greater safety at Jerusalem, whither he immediately repaired. Attempts were there also soon set on foot to destroy him, from the danger of which he was preserved by being sent away to Cilicia, his native country.
For some reason, not mentioned, perhaps not known, but probably connected with the civil history of the Jews, or with some dangert which engrossed the publick atten
* Acts is. † Dr. Lardner (in which he is followed also by Dr. Benson) ascribes this cessation of the persecution of the Christians to the attempt of Caligula to set up his own statue in the Temple of Jerusalem, and to the