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THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - Chapter 4 - Verse 28
The facts which are brought to view in these verses are among the most remarkable on record. They are briefly these:
(1.) That the Jewish rulers were opposed to the Messiah, and slew him.
(2.) That the very people to whom he came, and for whose benefit he laboured, joined in the opposition, so that it became the act of a united people.
(3.) That the Romans who were there, as a sort of representation of all pagan nations, were easily prevailed on to join in the persecution, and to become the executioners.
(4.) That thus opposite factions, and dissimilar and prejudiced people, became united in opposing the Messiah.
(5.) That the rulers of the Roman people, the emperors, and statesmen, and philosophers, and the rulers of other nations, united to oppose the gospel, and brought all the power of persecution to stay its progress.
(6.) That the people of the empire, the mass of men, were easily prevailed upon to join in the persecution, and endeavour to arrest its progress. And,
(7.) that the gospel has encountered similar difficulties and opposition wherever it has been faithfully presented to the attention of men. It has become a very serious question why this has been; or on what pretence this opposition has been vindicated; or how it can be accounted for. A question which it is of as much importance for the infidel as for the Christian to settle. We know that accusations of the corrupt lives of the early Christians were freely circulated, and the most gross accounts given of their scandalous conduct were propagated by those who chose to persecute them. (See Lardher's Credibility.) But such accounts are not now believed; and it is not certain that they were ever seriously believed by the rulers of the pagan people. It is certain that it was not on this account that the first opposition arose to Christ and his religion.
It is not proper here to enter into an examination of the causes of this opposition. We may state the outlines, however, in few words.
(1.) The Jewish rulers were mortified, humbled, and moved with envy, that one so poor and despised should claim to be the Messiah. They had expected a different monarch; and all their prejudices rose at once against his claims to this high office, Mt 27:18; Mr 15:10.
(2.) The common people, disposed extensively to acknowledge his claims, were urged on by the enraged and vindictive priests to demand his death, Mt 27:20.
(3.) Pilate was pressed on against his will by the impetuous and enraged multitude to deliver one whom he regarded as innocent.
(4.) The Christian religion in its advances struck at once at the whole fabric of superstition in the Roman empire, and throughout the world. It did not, like other religions, ask a place amidst the religions already existing. It was exclusive in its claims. It denounced all other systems as idolatry or superstition, and sought to overthrow them. Those religions were interwoven With all the habits of the people; they were connected with all the departments of the state; they gave occupation to a vast number of priests and other officers, who obtained their livelihood by the existing superstitions, and who brought, of course, all the supposed sacredness of their character to support them. A religion which attempted to overthrow the whole fabric, therefore, at once excited all their malice. The monarchs, whose thrones were based on the existing state of things; and the people, who venerated the religion of their ancestors, would be opposed to the new system.
(5.) Christianity was despised. It was regarded as one form of the superstition of the Jews. And there was no people who were regarded with so much contempt by all other nations as the Jews. The writings of the Romans, on this point, are full proof.
(6.) The new religion was opposed to all the crimes of the world. It began its career in a time of eminent wickedness. It plunged at once into the midst of this wickedness; sought the great cities where crimes and pollutions were condensed; and boldly reproved every form of prevailing impiety. At Athens, at Corinth, at Ephesus, at Rome itself, it denounced the judgment of God against every form of guilt. Whatever may be charged on the apostles, it will not be alleged that they were timid in denouncing the sins of the world. From all these causes, it is not wonderful that the early Christians were persecuted. If it be asked
(7.) why the same religion meets with opposition now in lands that are nominally Christian, it may be remarked,
(a) that the human heart is the same that it always was, opposed to truth and righteousness;
(b) that religion encounters still a host of sins that are opposed to it—pride, envy, malice, passion, the love of the world, and shame of acknowledging God;
(e) that there has always been a peculiar opposition in the human heart to receiving salvation as the gift of God through a crucified Redeemer; and
(d) that all the forms of vice, and lust, and profaneness that exist in the world, are opposed, and ever will be, to a religion of purity, and self-denial, and love.
On the whole, We may remark here,
(1.) that the fact that Christianity has been thus opposed, and has triumphed, is no small proof of its Divine origin. It has been fairly tried, and still survives and flourishes. It was well to put it to the test, and to bring to bear on it everything which had a tendency to crush it, and thus to furnish the highest proof that it is from God.
(2.) This religion cannot be destroyed; it will triumph; opposition to it is vain; it will make its way throughout the world; and the path of safety is not to oppose that which God is intending to establish in the earth. Sinners who stand opposed to the gospel should tremble and be afraid; for sooner or later they must fall before its triumphant advances. It is not SAFE to oppose that which has already been opposed by kings and rulers in every form, and yet has triumphed. It is not wise to risk one's eternal welfare on the question of successful opposition to that which God has, in so many ages and ways, pledged himself to protect; and when God has solemnly declared that the Son, the Messiah, whom he would set on his holy hill of Zion, should "break" his enemies "with a rod of iron," and "dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel," Ps 2:9.
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