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rience enabled him to raise an expectation of this in others, with a force which can be derived from experience alone. Speaking that which he knew, and testifying what he himself had felt, striving according to the divine “ working which wrought within him mightily,” he confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
SAUL VISITS JERUSALEM, AND IS SENT FROM THENCE TO TARSUS. THE CHURCHES ARE LEFT IN PEACE.-A. D. 38.
Acts ix. 23–31.
23. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him : 1
Col. i. 29.
The many days here spoken of, seem to have been chiefly spent by Saul in Arabia. He says distinctly in writing to the Galatians, (i. 17,) that after the revelation made to him, he "went into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days." These three years, must be taken from the date of his conversion, not of his return to Damascus. Otherwise, as Professor Burton has observed, it is impossible to understand how his presence at Jerusalem should have caused so much apprehension. Had he been during those many days,
24. But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.
25. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
26. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples : but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
27. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
28. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
29. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians : but they went about to slay him.
30. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Cæsarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus,
This was the apparent cause of Saul's departure from Jerusalem. But it was only the method by which the will of God was brought to pass. Saul was not intended to remain at Jerusalem, or ordained to preach the gospel to the Jews. We learn elsewhere (ch. xxii. 17,) that while he was praying in the temple, the Lord appeared in a vision to him, saying, “ Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem : for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue
them that believed on thee: and when the
i. e. three whole years, preaching at Damascus, it must have been known to the disciples at Jerusalem.—Burton, Lect. iii.
blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him. And he said unto me, Depart; for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles."
Saul would have excused the violence of his countrymen, who were the more indignant against him because he had left their party, and was now promoting the faith which before he destroyed. But the Lord, whose servant he had become, designed him for other duties : to be prepared for which he was now sent forth to his native city, Tarsus.
31. Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified ; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
The churches had rest. The various companies of persons throughout the land who had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and were united in worshipping God as his disciples : these were left for a while in peace.
If we can suppose that there were in this our country, enemies of the faith of Christ : not only secret enemies, but men who had both activity and power to harass and vex all that professed it: to arrest the preachers or the hearers of the gospel, and treat them at their will: then we have the description of that state in which the Christians of Judea had been before placed. Such was the “ havoc of the church” which Saul himself had
when “entering into every house, and haling men and women, he committed them to prison.”
On a sudden, one principal mover in these persecutions is restrained ; men's passions are not roused into violence; their minds are allowed to return to the ordinary concerns of life ; one party ceases to disturb, and the other is able to pursue its own course in quietness. Such was the change here described, when the churches had rest. And they were edified. Their trials had proved and confirmed their faith : but their rest would promote their edification. They were enabled to give themselves more earnestly “to the word of God, and to prayer.
They could meet without fear, they could encourage one another, instruct one another. They had “suffered for a while,” which gave evidence of sincerity ; now they might be "stablished, strengthened, settled.""
2 Though no mention is here made of the manner in which these churches were superintended, it is evident that there must have been some superintendence. There must have been some to“ teach, and rebuke, and exhort.” “ The apostles could not be always present: and it seems most probable that a ministry resembling that of the seven deacons was established in every place where there were believers.” By degrees the want of an individual to superintend the whole would be experienced : and this «
was the natural and almost necessary origin of a new office being established in the church, that of presbyters or elders.” For a while, the apostles served as such : but when the churches were multiplied, they could not everywhere be consulted, and they appointed a local or stationary presbyter to act in their stead. This first appointment is not related : but it must have taken place before the year 43 or 44, as appears by Acts xi. 30.-See Burton, Lect. on Eccl. Hist. 1. iv. p. 95. &c. 31 John iv. 18.
They are beautifully represented as walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. In the fear of the Lord, as studying his word, seeking his guidance, and afraid of declining to the right hand or the left. Such fear of the Lord is “the beginning of wisdom," and the summit of “understanding.” And it has nothing in it of distress or alarm. It is not fear of that nature which“ hath torment.”3 There is nothing in reverential awe which is inconsistent with peace and love. The child has no dread of a good parent, while attentive to that parent's instructions. And that reverence of an heavenly Father, which makes us sober, and vigilant, and circumspect, instead of disturbing the quiet of the soul, is productive of the best and surest peace which this world can ever give. So we read here; the churches walking in the fear of God, walked also in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. They experienced the fulfilment of their Lord's promise: “If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.' These loved their Lord and Saviour: they had shown it, by the persecutions which they had borne ; they kept his words, and were walking in his fear; and now they enjoyed in their hearts the presence of the Father and the Son, brought home to them by the Holy Ghost the Comforter.
4 John xiv. 23.