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HEROD AND PETER.
AFTER the persecution, which arose upon the death of Stephen, the disciples enjoyed an interval of repose. The rage of their enemies was exhausted, or suspended by some cause, of which this history does not inform us.1515According to Dr. Lardner, it was at this time that the Emperor Caligula proposed to erect his statue in the temple; and it was owing to the consternation into which the Jews were thrown, that the persecution was suspended. Vol. 1. 121-125, 2d edition. Perhaps, the conversion of Saul had some influence, by disarming a furious adversary, who stimulated the zeal and activity of others. But the Church was destined, in the early stages of its existence, to pass through scenes of sorrow and blood, with a design to illustrate, by its effects in sustaining the sufferers, and ultimately prevailing against the most formidable opposition, the divine origin of our religion, and the almighty power of its Author. It was impossible that the Christians, living among the men who had crucified their Master, and professing a system of doctrine which was abhorred as an impious attempt to set aside the institutions of Moses, should long remain unmolested. During the restraint which Providence sometimes imposes upon the wicked, they may seem to be favourably disposed towards religion, and may treat good men with apparent respect and kindness; but the enmity of their hearts to truth and holiness is not diminished, and waits only for a favourable opportunity to discover itself. For a short time, the sun may shine, and the sky may wear the aspect of serenity, but the clouds will return, and the storm will again beat upon the heads of the righteous.
The Chapter now read records a second persecution to which the rising Church was exposed. “Now about that time, Herod the 177king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church.” The persecutor was grandson of Herod the Great, who attempted to destroy our Saviour in his infancy, and nephew of that Herod, by whose command the Baptist was beheaded. Notwithstanding the praises lavished on him by Josephus, for his munificence and the mildness of his dispositions, he appears, from this account, to have inherited a portion of the cruelty, as well as the honours and dominions, of his grandfather and uncle; and he has transmitted his name to posterity, as one of those bloody tyrants, who halve abused their power for the oppression of innocence and truth. After the death of the first Herod, the royal title of the family expired; but it was restored in the person of this man, whom the Roman emperor appointed king of Judea. Having been educated in the religion of Moses, he is represented by the Jewish historian as so zealous for the law, that hardly a day passed in which he did not offer sacrifices. He might be prompted, therefore, by his own bigotry, to persecute the disciples of Jesus; and in his court, which would be frequented by the priests and rulers, there were not wanting enemies to the Christians, who improved the royal favour, to gratify their private resentment, or their religious intolerance. “He stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church.”
The first sufferers were persons of less note than the Apostles,. probably some of the private members of the Church, who were, distinguished by their station in society, or their activity; and as Herod is said only to have vexed them, it would seem that they were not put to death, but subjected to some lighter punishment.. A nobler sacrifice was necessary to appease the rage of the king, and to satisfy the demands of his sanguinary counsellors. “He, therefore killed James, the brother of John, with the sword.” James is called the brother of John, to distinguish him from another James, the son of Cleophas, who is styled the brother of our Lord, because his mother was sister to the Virgin. When the two sons of Zebedee came to our Saviour, soliciting seats in his kingdom, on his right and left hand, he refused their request, but told them that, “they should drink of his cup, and be baptized with his baptism.” We see the prediction fulfilled with respect to the elder brother, who tasted the bitter cup of affliction, and was baptized with a baptism of blood, when he suffered a violent death.
The Apostolical office was the highest and most honourable in the Church; but it held out no prize to tempt the ambition of 178worldly men. In their eyes, it was the pre-eminence of shame; and in consequence of the situation of the Church, it was the post of danger. The Apostles were hated above the other Christians as the ringleaders of the apostasy, the men who had kept alive the memory of Jesus, and had prevailed upon many thousands to become his disciples. What courage, what resolution, what disregard of life, what superiority to those terrors, which operate with so much force upon common minds, were requisite as qualifications for so dangerous a station! Those who actually filled it, were men of low birth and no education; and, as some parts of their conduct indicate, of a timid and cowardly temper. Yet, they displayed a spirit of heroism, which was never surpassed. “They jeoparded their lives unto the death, in the high places of the field.” We venerate their memory; but let us not forget to admire the grace of God, which “gave power to the faint, and to them who had no might, increased strength.”
The death of this righteous man involved the Church in deep affliction; but it was highly gratifying to the blood-thirsty Jews. “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.” They exulted in the just punishment of an irreclaimable heretic; they flattered themselves, that the example would terrify others into a recantation of their error; and they hoped, that the sword would not be returned to its scabbard, till it had executed justice upon all the leading men in the Church. These sentiments were openly expressed; and Herod, eager to ingratiate himself still more with the people, readily complied with their wishes. “And, because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further, to take Peter also.” From whatever motive the persecution was begun, it was continued from policy. This indeed is the principle, which has commonly directed the exercise of that power, which civil governments claim, to interfere in matters of religion. It is not truth, but expediency, which, in most cases, has regulated its operations. Hence forms of religion, not merely differing in some particulars of inferior importance, but directly opposed to each other, have been successively patronised by the same legislature, and even established, at the same time, in different provinces; plainly because nothing was thought of but to secure the authority and influence of government, by gratifying the wishes and prejudices of the people. The alliance between Church and State is conceived to be so close, that if the one fall, the other cannot long be supported. The Church, therefore, 179is upheld for the sake of the State; and in defence of the former, some men display the most furious zeal, who give evidence, by their general profaneness and profligacy, that they hold religion, considered in itself, in absolute contempt. Non-conformity is accounted a certain indication of disaffection, as if no man could be a good subject, who presumed to exercise his own judgment, and re. fused to be controlled by the opinion of others neither wiser nor better than himself, in a matter infinitely more important than all temporal concerns, and the design of which is utterly lost, if it do not proceed upon examination and choice. Every loyal man should embrace that faith, to which the state has given its sanction; and the state has preferred it to any other, because it serves better as an engine of political influence. The appeal is never made to the Scriptures, by which alone all questions of this nature should be decided. Force is an easier and more compendious method of silencing the objections of dissenters. It is acknowledged, that persecution has often originated in sincere but mistaken zeal for what was conceived to be the truth; but in many cases, and especially with persons in power, religion is merely a pretext, and the real causes are to be found in the jealousy of governments, the avarice, ambition, and resentment of ministers, or the machinations of a corrupt, interested priesthood, exerting themselves to maintain that craft by which they have their gain. Such is the history of a power, which has been represented as the gift of God to the rulers of nations, and contended for with as great vehemence of argument, and bitterness of zeal, as if Christianity itself, deprived of its protection, would speedily perish from the earth!
“Then were the days of unleavened bread.” The Israelites were commanded to eat unleavened bread for seven days at the time of the passover. The season is mentioned, to assign the reason why the king did not immediately put Peter to death. He was more scrupulous than the priests, at the time of our Saviour’s crucifixion, and would not profane the feast by a public execution; or he was afraid, lest the friends of Peter should excite the people, to make use of their right to demand the release of a prisoner, for obtaining his pardon.
“When he had apprehended Peter, therefore, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quarternions of soldiers,” that is, to sixteen soldiers, four of whom guarded him by turns; “intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.” The term, 180Easter, denotes, in this country, the day observed by many Churches, in memory of our Saviour’s resurrection, But the Greek word signifies the passover, and should have been exactly translated, because the historian is speaking not of a Christian, but of a Jewish festival. With the execution of Peter, Herod purposed to close the solemnity. The time was come, when they who killed the disciples of Jesus, thought “that they did God service.” By the infatuated Jews, the murder of this righteous man would be deemed a sacrifice not less acceptable to him than that of the paschal lamb.
“Peter, therefore, was kept in prison;” and while he was so strictly watched, there was no prospect of his escape. “But prayer was made, without ceasing, of the Church unto God for him.” The danger of Peter must have excited particular interest, as his services had been so valuable, and his loss would be severely felt. But hope is the life of prayer, for who would ask what he knew to be unattainable? and, in the present case, hope seemed to have no rational foundation. The death of the Apostle was fixed for the next day; and, during the short interval, what could occur to prevent it? The first Christians were persuaded that nothing is impossible to him who believes, because nothing is impossible to God. Daniel was preserved in a den of lions, and the three Jewish confessors, in the midst of a fiery furnace. God could bend the heart of the tyrant to mercy, or defeat his purpose by his sudden death, or incline the people to intercede for the life of his servant, or deliver him by a miracle. They did not limit the Holy One of Israel, and say, “How can this thing be!” Reflecting on his power, they overlooked the obstacles to the answer of their prayers, and “being strong in faith gave glory to God.”
The event showed, that the prayer of faith is effectual, and encourages us to trust in God, in seasons of the greatest perplexity. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and the keepers before the door kept the prison.” How happy is the man who is at peace with God! Assured of his favour, and resigning himself to the disposal of infinite wisdom and goodness, he enjoys an inward calm amidst the fiercest storms of adversity. It was the last night of Peter’s imprisonment, and on the morrow he was to suffer a violent death; yet he sleeps more soundly, perhaps, than Herod in his palace, not because nature was exhausted d 181by anxiety and long watching, but because he felt no fear. To him death, although. styled the king of terrors, was not terrible. He had learned from his Saviour “not to be afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.” Death is but a sharp pain, past in a moment; and wily then should it alarm a Christian? It is probable, that he has suffered more in some acute disease; and if the conflict were more dreadful, it will instantly be forgotten amidst the joys of heaven. Give a man the testimony of a good conscience, and the lively hope of immortality, and you transform him into “a hero, who will smile on the rack, and triumph in the flames. Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, which were fastened to his hands, and to the right and left hand of the soldiers, according to the manner in which prisoners were secured. The keepers stood before the door, so that his escape was impossible, by any human means.
In the account of his deliverance, there is little which requires illustration. The minister of providence was an angel, to whom the gates and guards presented no obstruction. As soon as he entered, a light shone in the prison, which showed him to be a heavenly messenger, and assisted Peter to find his way without difficulty. When he awoke the Apostle, and commanded him to rise, the chains fell from his hands, and the words of the Psalmist were literally fulfilled, “The Lord looseth the prisoners.” He then ordered him to gird himself, and bind on his sandals, and cast his garment about him. These things would be wanted, when he had left the prison. There were two wards to be passed, at which guards were stationed; but there they met with no opposition. All the soldiers were cast into a deep sleep. It is evident from the stir among them in the morning, that they were ignorant of the transactions of the night. The iron-gate, which led into the city, was opened by an invisible hand. The angel and Peter went out, and both walked together through one street, when the angel departed. The miraculous interposition terminated, where ordinary means were sufficient. The presence of the angel was no farther necessary to Peter, who could easily find a place of safety from the pursuit of his enemies.
The age of miracles is past. Angels do not now come, in a visible manner, to perform services to the saints; but their agency is as real and beneficient as ever. “They are all ministering spirits, 182sent forth to minister for them, who shall be heirs of salvation.” They defend the people of God against the incursions of their spiritual adversaries, and preserve them from dangers which are often unperceived. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” These glorious creatures do not disdain to minister to man, who was made a little lower than they. His nature, united to the Son of God, reigns above all principalities and powers on the throne of the universe; and every believer can call the Lord of angels his friend and brother. Perhaps, those remarkable events, which sometimes occur in the history of the saints, and for which it is difficult to assign any satisfactory cause; those wonderful escapes, those inexplicable impressions on the mind, those unexpected revolutions in their favour, the sudden and unlooked for patronage of the wicked, the unaccountable failure of the designs of their enemies, the surprising accomplishment of their hopes, when the ordinary means had been tried in vain, and every appearance seemed to justify despair, may be referred to the secret operations of their powerful and vigilant guardians.
Peter was suddenly awaked out of a sound sleep; his eyes were dazzled with the light which shone in the prison; the deliverance was altogether unexpected; and the mode of effecting it was miraculous. These circumstances conspired to agitate his mind, and to render him incapable of calm and regular thought. Hence, “he wist not that it was true which was done by the angel: but thought he saw a vision.” But when he was left alone, “he came to himself,” or recovered from his surprise; and finding himself freed from his chains, and in one of the streets of the city, he said, “Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.” His grateful heart would send up ejaculations of praise to the Saviour, and be inspired with new ardour to serve so gracious a Master.
He then reflected upon the course which it would be proper to pursue, both for his own safety, as a strict search would be made for him, and for the relief of the anxiety of his friends; “and when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.” In those days there were no Churches, or buildings appropriated to religious worship. The disciples met 183in private houses, and frequently, in times of persecution, in less convenient places. This assembly was convened in the night, principally because the next day was fixed for the execution of Peter, but partly from fear of the Jews. In the first ages, the Christians often held their meetings in the night; and from this precaution, which was necessary to avoid the danger of discovery, their enemies ungenerously stigmatized them as persons who fled from the light, and chose the veil of darkness to cover the abominable crimes, which were committed in their conventicles.1616Minucius Felix, ix. If they appeared in open day, they were assaulted, and dragged to prison and to death; if they sought concealment, they were loaded with the foulest imputations. In the house of Mary, prayers were offered up for the deliverance of Peter. Even at this late hour, his friends did not despair. God was able to disappoint the designs of Herod, and the hopes of the Jews, on the eve of accomplishment.
At this moment, “Peter knocked at the gate; and a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.” The description of this young woman, forgetting, in a tumult of joy, to open the gate to admit him, although this was the first step which cool reflection would have dictated for his safety, is perfectly natural, and would be injured, instead of being improved, by a commentary. “They said unto her, Thou art mad.” So much did the answer of their prayers exceed their hopes, that they could not believe it; and the person who told them of their success, appeared to be out of her senses. “But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.” As the word, translated angel, is used also for an ordinary messenger, some have thought, that they supposed the person at the gate to be a messenger come with intelligence from Peter. But Rhoda knew him by his voice; and from this circumstance they must have concluded that it was either Peter himself, or some being who could personate him. The Jews believed, that every good man was attended by a particular angel, to whose care he was entrusted. Judging it impossible that it was Peter himself, the disciples assembled in the house of Mary said, “It is his angel;” imagining that the angel, who constantly waited upon the Apostle, was come to give notice of him to his friends. But, although the 184notion of guardian angels seems to have been adopted, at least by some persons in the primitive Church, it does not follow that it is true; for their private opinions are not the standard of our faith, any more than the private opinions of good men in the present times. It is not confirmed by the authority of our Saviour, or of the Apostles.
“But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of prison.” The joy of the disciples must have been great, to see their beloved brother snatched by divine power from impending death, and their prayers answered in so surprising and seasonable a manner. “And he said, Go show these things unto James, and to the brethren,” that they also might admire the goodness of the Saviour, and turn their prayers into praises. “And he departed, and went into another place” of greater security. Having been delivered by a miracle, he was to save himself from the pursuit of his enemies by the exercise of his prudence.
The two following verses give an account of the consternation and bustle of the soldiers, when they found, the next day, that the prisoner was gone. Neither their search, nor the. diligence of Herod, could find him. Disappointed in his design against the life of the Apostles, and mortified at not being able to gratify the expectation of the people, he wreaked his vengeance upon the soldiers, who were guilty, in his eyes, of an unpardonable offence. And, indeed, as they could give no account of the matter, he would naturally suspect, either that they had slept upon guard, a crime not to be forgiven, or that they had connived at the escape of the prisoner. After these events, Herod went to Cesarea, to celebrate games in honour of Cesar. The death of James was forgotten; or if he remembered it, it was with regret, that he had been prevented from sacrificing this other victim to his bigotry or his policy. He was supported by the approbation of the people; and there was n(. earthly tribunal to which he was amenable. But there was a God in heaven, who makes inquiry after blood, and whom the death of a righteous man, how much soever undervalued by the world, interests more than the fall of a mighty monarch. His justice sometimes pursues the guilty with a quick pace; and forces to their lips 185the cup which they have given to others, mixed up with the bitter ingredients of his wrath.
Tyre and Sidon were maritime cities, in the vicinity of the dominions of Herod. The inhabitants, being employed in trade, had perhaps neglected agriculture; and their territories were too small to yield what was sufficient for the annual consumption. With the profits of trade, or with the wares which they manufactured and imported, they purchased corn and cattle in Judea, or in some of the provinces belonging to the king. Hence, when by some cause not mentioned, they had incurred the displeasure of Herod, they were anxious to pacify him. They dreaded his resentment, which they were unable to resist, and by which they might be deprived of the necessary supplies. To, ensure the success of their embassy, they had made Blastus, the chamberlain, their friend. Kings, who are regarded as independent sovereigns, the arbiters of nations, are often mere pageants, moved by persons of inferior rank behind the curtain. When war and peace are traced to their sources, they are found, in many cases, to proceed, not so much from the ambition and caprice of the ostensible lords of the world, as from the passions of their ministers, and the secret influence of women and favourites. The springs and wheels, which move the mighty machine, are not seldom constructed of the vilest and most contemptible materials.
The favour of the king being gained by the mediation of his chamberlain, Herod, on the second day of the games, as Josephus informs us, sat upon his throne, arrayed in royal apparel, curiously wrought with silver, which being struck by the beams of the rising sun, emitted a dazzling lustre, that filled the spectators with awe. The oration, which he delivered to the ambassadors of Tyre and Sidon, might be worthy of admiration for its eloquence and wisdom; but the applause of the people is an equivocal proof. Truth seldom reaches the ears of kings. They are addressed in the smooth language of flattery, which exaggerates, with unrestrained license, any good qualities of which they are possessed, and blushes not to adorn the most stupid and worthless, with the highest endowments of intellect, and the noblest attributes of virtue. The grossest adulation is eagerly received by men, whom power and splendour have intoxicated. “The people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a God, and not of a man.” Such extravagant flattery, to which the heathens were accustomed, was altogether unprecedented among the Jews. Perhaps, they were heathens who joined in this idolatrous 186exclamation. It might seem incredible, that beings possessed of common sense should ever have been so completely blinded and degraded, as to exalt into a God a man like themselves; but this folly was not greater than the Gentiles had already committed, in worshipping stocks and stones, the works of their own hands, or in taking a tree, as the Prophet says, in a style of bitter irony, and making a fire of the one part of it, and a God of the other. We, at this late period of the world, have our belief in the wildest excesses of polytheism confirmed by facts, which have passed before our eyes, and have fixed an indelible stain upon the age, and upon human nature. Amidst the light of revelation, and the improvements of philosophy, have we not heard one of the most unprincipled and sanguinary adventurers, who was ever raised up by Providence to be a scourge of the human race, addressed by his detested slaves, in language sacred to the Divinity, and hailed as another Messiah, sent by Heaven to emancipate mankind? It is still more unaccountable, that any man in his senses, and conscious of his infirmities, should have quietly suffered a compliment so manifestly excessive and ridiculous, that it might have been justly resented as an insult. Did not Herod feel that he was a man, and nothing more? He needed food and rest as well as other men; his head ached; his pulse beat with feverish quickness; his heart quaked at the thought of death, which would lay his honours in the dust. How then could he fancy himself a God!
In the fulness of his pride, he overlooked these monuments of his frailty. No reprimand, or frown, checked the madness of the people. Elevated upon his throne, the puny wretch snuffed up, with self-complacency, the incense offered by his worshippers. “But he was a man, and no God in the hand of him that slew him.” “Immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” The angels are always ready to execute the orders of their Lord, and fly with equal speed to confer benefits upon the righteous, and to inflict punishment upon the wicked. Herod did not give glory to God, by checking the idolatrous flattery of his subjects, and referring to him all his power and greatness. The measure of his iniquity was full. To injustice and cruelty he now added blasphemous pride. The divine honour, thus openly insulted, demanded his destruction. In the midst of the acclamations of the multitude, and the impious triumph of the king, he was 187seized with a loathsome and mortal distemper, and expired in a few days, a signal monument of the righteous judgment of God, and a solemn lesson of humility to the great men of the earth, whom the Almighty can dash in pieces as a potter’s vessel. Josephus, whose account exactly agrees with that of the inspired historian, represents him as acknowledging amidst his torments, the justice of his doom, and exclaiming to his friends who surrounded him, “Behold, I, your God, am commanded to surrender my life. My fate convicts you of falsehood. I, whom you styled immortal, am hurried to death. I must submit to the sentence of God.”
Thus perished this impious persecutor; and the hand of God has since been visibly displayed in the destruction of others, who had distinguished themselves as the enemies of his Church. “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”
I conclude with a few reflections suggested by this passage.
First, Self-denial and courage are qualities, which enter into the composition of the Christian character. Self-denial is necessary, because there are many privations to which the follower of Jesus must submit, many acts of mortification which he must perform, many hardships, unpleasant to human nature, which he must undergo. Without courage, he could not face the formidable obstacles which lie before him in the path of obedience, nor endure the trials of his faith and patience. Neither a selfish nor a timid man is fit to be a Christian. He alone is worthy of this character, who, entirely devoted to his Saviour, is willing to sacrifice every personal consideration for his glory, and is resolved that nothing shall stop him in the course of his duty. Such were the Christians of the Apostolic age. Such was James, who laid down his life for the gospel; and such was Peter, who cheerfully consented to follow his Lord to prison and to death. Our circumstances, indeed, through the goodness of Providence, are different from theirs; we enjoy peace and security in the profession of religion. But in the most tranquil season, we must bear the world’s scorn, and resist the world’s solicitations; and the hour of temptation may come suddenly upon the Church, that they who are approved, may be made manifest. The following words of Christ are applicable to every period. “If 188any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”
In the second place, When we reflect upon the terrible sufferings of the primitive Christians, and of the faithful in succeeding ages, let us submit, without repining, to the comparatively slight inconveniences, which we may incur in the cause of religion. Perhaps, we have been compelled by conscience to adopt a form of religion which is not fashionable, and, on this account, are deprived of some advantages which we should enjoy by conforming to the established faith. We may be a proverb of reproach among fools, and among pretenders to wisdom. It may occasionally be our lot to encounter the sneer of contempt, and to be the butt of ridicule, and wit embittered by malignity. Our familiar friends forsake us; and by the companions of our former folly, we may be branded as hypocrites or madmen, because we will no longer run to the same excess of riot. These, it must be owned, are trials which will be keenly felt by every honest and delicate mind. But we have not yet “resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” Our lives have not been endangered; our property has not been confiscated; nor have we been compelled to exchange the sweets of liberty for the gloom of a prison. With the history of the martyrs before our eyes, shall we not be ashamed to complain? Surely, if we escape thus, let us be thankful that our passage to heaven is so easy, while to others it has been difficult and boisterous.
In the third place, Let us proceed with confidence in the performance of our duty, since we are assured, “that the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation.” The case of Peter shows, that no earthly power can prevent their deliverance. God can restrain the fury of their enemies, or, permitting it to operate, can afford protection to its intended victims. “Why art thou afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man, that shall be made as grass?” Is he not in the hands of the Lord? And if the breath of the Almighty blow upon him, shall not his goodness wither, and his power and glory be laid in the dust? Know, Christian, that thou art safe in the path of duty; but that, when thou hast left it, thou hast no promise of divine protection. The wisest and most comfortable plan, is to commit ourselves to God, to resign the management of our affairs to his unerring wisdom, to confide in his power, and to believe, that, in obeying the dictates of reason and religion, it shall ultimately be well with us.189
In the last place, All the impenitent enemies of the Church shall perish. Defended by omnipotence, she is invincible. Assaulted by the mightiest potentates of the earth, she remains, while they have fallen and not a vestige can be traced of their kingdoms and empires. “In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people; all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.” An eloquent Father of the Church has left a treatise on the deaths of persecutors, which records many instances of the miserable end of those who had distinguished themselves by their opposition to the gospel.1717Lactan. de mortibus persecutorum. Since his time, other examples of divine vengeance have appeared, from which we are led to say, “Verily, there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.” “Upon this rock, I will build my Church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In this attempt even the power and policy of the spirits of darkness shall be baffled. Let not the hearts of Christians despond, when the ungodly prosper, and the earth is filled with violence. While God permits them to pursue their career, they are fulfilling his designs, and shall not be able to accomplish their own. The Assyrian may be the rod of his anger for the correction of his people; but when this purpose is effected, the rod shall be broken, and thrown into the fire. “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved; he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.”190
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