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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 superiors in the stoning of a very active member of the new community.
theless 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 the apostles' feet. Yet, so insensible, or undesirous, were they of the advantage which that confidence afforded, that we find, they very soon disposed of the trust, by putting it into the hands, not of no. minees 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 public 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 be. haviour, of an officious and voluntary prevarication; “ for whilst,” says he, “thy estate remained unsold, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power ?"
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 prisont." This persecution raged at Jerusalem with so much fury, as to drive most of the new converts out of the place, except the twelve apostles. The converts, thus “scattered 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.
* Acts, vi. 12.
+ Acts, viii. 3.
* Acts, viii. 1. 66 And they were all scattered abroad :" but the term “all” is not, I think, to be taken strictly, as de. noting 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."
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, on 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, on 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 imme diately 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.
* Acts, ix.
For some reason, not mentioned, perhaps not known, but probably connected with the civil history of the Jews, or with some danger* which engrossed the public attention, an intermission about this time took place in the sufferings of the Christians. This happened, at the most, only seven or eight, perhaps only three or four years after Christ's death. Within which period, and notwithstanding that the late persecution occupied part of it, churches, or societies
* 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 consternation thereby excited in the minds of the Jewish people; which consternation for a season suspended every other contest.
of believers, had been formed in all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria ; for we read that the churches in these countries " had now rest, and were edified, and, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied *.” The original preachers of the religion did not remit their labours or activity during this season of quietness ; for we find one, and he a very principal person among them, passing throughout all quarters. We find also those who had been before expelled from Jerusalem by the persecution which raged there, travelling as far as Phænice, Cyprus, and Antiocht; and, lastly, we find Jerusalem again in the centre of the mission, the place whither the preachers returned from their several excursions, where they reported the conduct and effects of their ministry, where questions of public concern were canvassed and settled, whence directions were sought, and teachers sent forth.
The time of this tranquillity did not, however, continue long. Herod Agrippå, * Acts, ix. 31.
+ Acts, xi. 19.