Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

their ears; but they could not long remain ignorant of this strange and alarming fact, that these uneducated men, apparently reorganised, and acling with the most fearless freedom, were familiarly conversing with, and inculcating the belief in the resurrection of Jesus, on strangers from every quarter of the world, in all their various languages, or dialects (1).

The Jews whose families had been long domiciliated in the different provinces of the Roman and the Parthian dominions, gradually lost, or had never learned, the vernacular tongue of Palestine; they adopled the language of the surrounding people. The original sacred Hebrew was understood only by the learned. How far, on one side the Greek, on the other the Babylonian Chaldaic, which was nearly allied to the vernacular Aramaic, were admitted into the religious services of the synagogue, appears uncertain ; but the different synagogues in Jerusalem were appropriated to the different races of Jews. Those from Alexandria, from Cyrene, the Libertines, descended from freed slaves at Rome, perhaps therefore speaking Latin, the Cilicians and Asiatics, had their separate places of assembly (2): so, probably, those who came from more remote quarters, where Greek, the universal medium of communication in great part of the Roman empire, was less known, as in Arabia,

Mesopotamia, and beyond the Euphrates. Disciples The scene of this extraordinary incident must have been some Temple. place of general resort; yet, scarcely within the Temple, where, tongues.

though there were many chambers set apart for instruction in the law and other devotional purposes, the Apostles were not likely to have oblained admittance to one of these, or to have been permitted lo carry on their leaching without interruption. If conjecture might be hazarded, we should venture to place their house of assembly in one of the streets leading to the Temple; thal, perhaps, which, descending the slope of the hill, led to the Mount of Olives, and to the village of Bethany. The time, the third hour, nine in the morning, was that of public prayer in the Temple ; multitudes, therefore, would throng all the avenues to the Temple, and would be arrested on their way by the extraordinary sight of Peter and his colleagues thus addressing the various classes in their different dialects; asserting openly the resurrection of Jesus; arraigning the injuslice of his judicial murder; and re-establishing his claim lo be received as the Messiah.

These submissive, timid, and scaltered followers of Jesus thus burst upon the public attention, suddenly invested with courage, endowed with commanding eloquence, in the very scene of their master's cruel apprehension and execution, asserling his Messiah

near the

Gift of

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

ship, in a form as irreconcilable with their own preconceived notions, as with those of the rest of the people; arraigning the rulers, and, by implication, if not as yet in distinct words, the whole nation, of the most heinous act of impiety, as well as barbarity, the rejection of the Messiah; proclaiming the resurrection, and defying investigation. The whole speech of Peter clashed with the Speech of strongest prejudices of those who had so short a time before given such fearful evidence of their animosity and remorselessness. It proclaimed that “the last days," the days of the Messiah, the days of prophecy and wonder, had already begun. It placed the Being whom but forty days before they had seen helplessly expiring upon the cross, far above the pride almost the idol of the nation, King David. The ashes of the king had long reposed in the lomb, which was before their eyes; but the tomb could not confine Jesus ; death had no power over his remains. Nor was his resurrection all: the crucified Jesus was now on the right hand of God: " he had assumed that last, the highest distinclion of the Messiah-lhe superhuman majesty; that intimate relation with the Deity, which, however vaguely and indistinctly shadowed out in the Jewish notion of the Messiah, was as it were the crowning glory, the ultimate height to which the devout hopes of the most strongly excited of the Jews followed up the promised Redeemer : “ Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ (1)."

Three thousand declared converts were the result of this first appeal to the Jewish multitude: the religion thus reappeared in a form new, complete, and more decidedly hostile to the prevailing creed and dominant sentiments of the nation. From this time the Christian community assumed its separate and organised existence, united by the federal rite of baptism; and the popular mind was deeply impressed by the preternatural powers exercised by its leading followers. Many of the converts threw their property, or part of it, into a common stock; now become necessary, as the teachers of Christianity had to take up their permanent residence in Jerusalem, at a distance from their homes and the scenes of their humble labours. The religion spread of course, with the greatest rapidity among the lower orders. Assistance in their wants, and protection against the hostility, or at least the coldness and estrangement, of the powerful and opulent, were necessary to hold together the young society. Such was the general ardour, that many did not hesitate lo sell their landed property, the tenure of which, however loosened by time, and by the successive changes in the political slate of the country, probably, at this period of the Messiah's expected coming, assumed a new value. This therefore,

[ocr errors]

(1) Acts, ii. 36.



of the Sanhedrin.

[ocr errors]

was no easy triumph over Jewish feeling. Yet nothing like an fund not Essenian community of goods ever appears to have prevailed in nity of the Christian community; such a system, however favourable to goods.

the maintenance of certain usages or opinions within a narrow sphere, would have been fatal to the aggressive and comprehensive spirit of Christianity, the vital and conservative principle of a sect, it was inconsistent with an universal religion and we cannot but admire the wisdom which avoided a precedent so attractive, as conducing to the immediate prosperity, yet so dangerous to the ultimate progress of the religion (1).

The Sanhedrin at first stood aloof; whether from awe, or miscalculating contempt, or, it is possible, from inlernal dissension. It was not lill they were assailed, as it were in the heart of their own territory; not till the miracle of healing the lame man near the Beautiful gate of the Temple (this gate opened into the inner court of the Temple, and, from the richness of ils architecture, had received that name), and the public proclamation of the resurrection, in the midst of the assembled worshippers, in the second recorded speech of Peter, had secured five thousand converts ; that

at length the authorities found it necessary to interfere, and to Second arrest, if possible, the rapid progress of the faith. The second speech of Peter. speech of the Apostle (2) was in a somewhat more calm and con

cilialing tone than the former : it dwelt less on the crime of the crucifixion, than on the advantages of belief in Jesus as the Messiah. It did not shrink, indeed, from reasserting the guilt of the death of the Just One; yet it palliated the ignorance through which the people, and even the rulers, had rejected Jesus, and stained the city with his blood. It called upon them to repent of this national crimc; and, as if even yet Peter himself was not disencumbered of that Jewish notion, it seemed to intimitate the possibility of an immediate reappearance of Christ (3), to fulfil to the Jewish people all that they hoped from this greater than Moses, this accomplisher of the sublime promise made to their Father Abraham. To the Sanhedrin, the speech was, no doubt, but vaguely reported; but any speech delivered by such men, in such a place, and on such a subject, demanded their interference. Obtaining the assistance of the commander of the Roman guard, mounted, as has been said, in the gallery leading to the Antonia, they seized and imprisoned the Apostles. The next morning they were brought up for examination. The boldness of the Apostles, who asserted their doctrines with oalm resolution, avowed and enforced their belief in the resurrection and Messiahship of the crucified Jesus, as well as the presence of the man who had been healed, perplexed the council. After a private conference, they delermined to try the effect of severe threatenings, and authoritatively commanded them to desist from disseminating their obnoxious opinions. The Apostles answered by an appeal to a higher power—" Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard (1)." A remarkable revolution had taken place, either in the internal Sadducees

(1) Mosheim appears to me to have proved he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was this point conclasively. At a later period, every preached unto you: whom the heavens must re. exhortation to almsgiving, and every sentence ceive until the times of restitution of all things.” which alludes to distinctions of rich and poor in This restitution of all things, in the common the Christian community, is decisive against the Jewish belief, was to be almost sircultaneous L'ommunity of goods.

with or to follow very closely the appearance of (2) Acts. iii. 12 - 26.

the Messiah. (3) V. 20, 21.; “ The time of refreshing ; when

predomin politics of the Sanhedrin, or in their prevailing sentiments towards and in the Christianity. Up to the death of Jesus, the Pharisees were his chief Sanhe opponents; against their authority he seemed chiefly to direct bis rebukes; and, by their jealous animosity, he was watched, criminated, and at length put lo death. Now in their turn, the Sadducees (2) take the lead; either because the doctrine of the resurrection struck more directly at the root of their system, or, otherwise, because their influence had gained a temporary ascendancy in the great council. But this predominance of the unpopular Sadducean party, on the throne of the High Priest, and in the council, if it increased their danger from the well-known severily wilh which that faction administered the law; on the olher hand, it powerfully contributed to that reaction of popular favour, which again overawed the hostile Sanhedrin (3). This triumph over their adversaries; this resolule determinalion to maintain their cause at all hazards (sanctioned, as it seemed, by the manisest approval of the Almighty); the rapid increase in their possessions, which enabled them to protect all the poorer classes who joined their ranks; the awful death of Ananias and Sapphira (4), into the circumstances of which their enemies ventured no inquiry; the miracles of a gentler and more beneficent character, which they performed in public; the concourse from the neighbourhood of Jerusalem lo partake in their powers of healing, and to hear their doctrines; the manifest superiority, in short, which Christianity was gaining over the established Judaism, determined the Sanhedrin, after a short lime, to make another effort to suppress their growing power. The Apostles were seized, and cast ignominiously into the common prison. In the morning they were sought in vain : the doors were found closed, but the prisoners had disappeared;


(1) Acts, iv. 19, 20.

in which the high priesthood was vested, being (2) Acts, iv. 1. Annas is" inentioned as the father-in-law to Caiaphas. The rest were the ashigh priest, and then Caiaphas, who it appears, sessors of the high priest. from the Gospels, and from Josephus (Ant. xviii. (3) “ They let them go, finding nothing how 2. 2., 4. 3.), was not deposed till a later period. they might punish them because of the people ; The interpretation of Krebs. (Observationes in for all men glorified God for that which was N. T., e Josepho, p. 197.), appears to me the done." Acts, iv, 21. best. Annas was the second high priest, or de. (4) Acts, v. puty; but is named first, as the head of the family

before the


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

and the dismayed Sanhedrin received intelligence that they had taken
up their customary station in the Temple. Even the Roman officer,
despatched to secure their persons, found it necessary to act with
caution and gentleness; for the multitude were ready to undertake
their defence, even against the armed soldiery; and stones were

always at hand in the neighbourhood or precincts of the Temple, Apostles for any tumultuary resistance. The Apostles, however, peaceably Sanhe obeyed the citation of the Sanhedrin; but the language of Peter

was now even more bold and resolute than before : he openly
proclaimed, in the face of the astonished council, the crucified
Jesus lo be the Prince and the Saviour, and asserted the inspira-
tion of himself and his companions by the Spirit of God (1).

The Sadducaic faction were wrought to the highest pitch of
frenzy; they were eager to press the capital charge. But the Pha-
risaic party endeavoured, not wilhout success, to mitigate the sen-
tence. The perpetual rivalry of the two sects, and the general
leniency of the Pharisaic administration of the law, may have
concurred, with the moderation and judgment of the individual,

to induce Gamaliel to interpose the weight of his own personal Gamaliel, authority and that of his party. Gamaliel does not appear, himself,

to have been inclined to Christianity: he was most likely the same
who is distinguished in Jewish tradition as president of the Sanhe-
drin, (though the High Priest, being now present, would take the
chief place,) and as the master under whom St. Paul had studied
the Law. The speech of Gamaliel, with singular address, con-

founded the new sect wilh those of two adventurers, Judas the
Galilean, and Theudas, whose insurrections had excited great
expectation, but gradually died away. With these, affairs were left
to take their course; against their pretensions God had decided
by their failure : leave, then, lo the same unerring Judge the pre-
sent decision.

To this temporising policy the majority of the council assented; part probably considering, that either the sect would, after all, die away, without establishing any permanent influence, or, like some of those parties mentioned by Gamaliel, run into wild excess, and so provoke the Roman government to suppress them by force; others from mere party spirit, lo counleract the power of the op-. posile faction; some from more humane principles and kindlier motives; others from perplexity; some, perhaps, from awe, which, though it had not yet led to belief, had led to hesitation; some from sincere piety; as, in fact, expecting that an event of such importance would be decided by some manifest interposition, or overruling influence at least, of the Almighty. The majority were anxious, from these different molives, to escape the perilous re

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

(1) Acts, v. 32.

« PreviousContinue »