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O thou great God, whose arm is not shortened that it cannot save, send forth thy Spirit with power, that great numbers may believe and be turned unto thee. Stablish, strengthen, and settle in thy holy faith those whom thou drawest to thyself; let not my love to thee be as the morning cloud or the early dew, but so impart thy Holy Spirit to me, that with purpose of heart I may cleave unto thee at all times, and in all trials. Enable me, O Lord, to put such trust and confidence in thy mercy, that in quietness of mind I may depend upon thy help in every difficulty; and teach me to feel how surely, when one member suffers, all the members suffer; and give me grace to deny myself, that I may impart some needful supply to those that want. Hear, gracious Father, and answer, for Christ Jesus' sake. AMEN.
Martyrdom of James-Imprisonment and deliverance of Peter.
TIME. About the time of the
Passover, April 12, A.D. 43.
May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, give me the Holy Spirit, that I may understand this portion of His Holy Word, and profit by it. AMEN.
ACTs, chap. XII. verses 1 to 19.
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands [or, 1 began] to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother 2 of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleaven- 4 ed bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. Peter therefore was 5 kept in prison but prayer was made without ceasing [or, instant and earnest prayer was made] of the church unto God for him. And when 6 Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains and the keepers before
7 the door kept the prison.
And, behold, the angel of the Lord came
upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the
8 side, and raised him up, saying, "Arise up quickly." And his chains fell off from his hands.
And the angel said unto him,
And he saith unto him,
And he went out, and
and bind on thy sandals." And so he did. 9" Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me." followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the
10 angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord and they went out and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from 11 him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, "Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the 12 Jews. 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 13 gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the
gate, a damsel came to hearken, [or, to ask who was there,] named 14 Rhoda. And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for 15 gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And
they said unto her, "Thou art mad." But she constantly affirmed that 16 it was even so, Then said they, "It is his angel." But Peter continued
knocking and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were 17 astonished. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, "Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren." And he departed, and went into another place.
Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, 19 what was become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death.
While the church at Antioch was thus growing in grace and manifesting its love (as we heard in the last portion), the church in Jerusalem was suffering under the persecution of king Herod; who had not long before received from the emperor Claudius the dominion of the provinces of Judea and Samaria, in addition to the other countries over which he had been made king by the previous emperor: this Herod was the grandson of him who had attempted to destroy our Lord at his birth, by slaughtering the infants of Bethlehem; and the nephew of him who had murdered John
the Baptist. He was called Herod Agrippa; and was the father of that "king Agrippa," of whom we read in the twenty-fifth chapter of Acts. Herod Agrippa was a zealous Jew; and moreover a very ambitious man, who had obtained his advance in the world by his flatteries at Rome. The Jewish historian Josephus informs us, that he was very ambitious to please his people, and would do anything to make himself popular. As the excitement produced by the attempt to set up the emperor's statue in the temple (see page 125) had by this time subsided, the hatred of the Jews to the new sect of the Nazarenes (as they called them) revived; and became the more violent, from the evident increase to the church, which had arisen during the time of comparative quietness. Herod therefore persecuted the christians, in order to gratify the Jews: he seized upon the apostle James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, and had him beheaded; and when he found that this gave pleasure to the Jewish people, he apprehended the apostle Peter. This took place in the week before the feast of the Passover, which was called the days of unleavened bread (Exod. xii.); and Herod intended that he should be publicly tried and executed after the paschal sabbath. Peter was committed to prison, to be kept for that purpose, and an extra guard was placed over him; very probably in consequence of what had taken place upon his previous imprisonment, at the first attempt to put down the infant church eleven years before (see Acts v.; page 50).
Peter was thus detained for several days in prison; but all the christians at Jerusalem were earnest and unceasing in their prayers to God on his behalf. The feast of the passover had ended, and the day was appointed for the apostle's trial and death. The Roman way of securing a prisoner was to fasten him by small chains, serving the purpose of what we call handcuffs, to a soldier, who thus became responsible for his safe custody. In consequence probably of the extraordinary escape of Peter upon the former occasion, both his wrists were fastened in this manner, so that he was bound to two soldiers. On the night before the proposed execution, the apostle lay asleep between the two soldiers, while the sentries were on guard outside the
prison door. The angel of the Lord came into the prison, and his presence lightened the whole place. Peter was sleeping so soundly, that it needed that the angel should touch him on the side and raise him, telling him to get up quickly; and as he said this, the chains dropped from his wrists: then the angel bid him dress himself and fasten on his sandals, with which Peter complied; the angel told him to wrap his cloak about him and follow, leading the way as he spoke, while Peter went after him, not supposing that these things were real, but taking it all to be a dream. They passed the guard at the door of the cell in which Peter had been confined, and then the guard at the entrance into the prison. Then they went to the gate which led from the prison into the city, and which was a very heavy iron one; and as they approached, it turned upon its hinges and opened the way to them, without being touched by any one. The angel, followed by Peter, passed on the whole length of the first street they came to, but at the end Peter saw the angel no more. Up to this time he had imagined that he was still lying in the prison, and dreaming of the things which were taking place; but now being convinced of their reality, he expressed his thankfulness that the Lord had commissioned his angel to deliver him from the power of Herod, and from the cruel pleasure that the Jews were anticipating on the morrow. He immediately went to the house of a person named Mary, the mother of John Mark (perhaps the evangelist), very likely the same house as that mentioned in chap. i. 13. It was a place where the christians were accustomed to meet; and at this very moment a considerable number were assembled there, and were engaged in prayer during the hours of this painful night, as they were looking for the martyrdom of the apostle on the morrow.
Peter knocked at the door, and a young woman, whose name was Rhoda, came to listen, no doubt surprized at being interrupted at such an hour. He spoke from without, and Rhoda immediately recognized his voice. Her surprize and joy were so strong, that instead of immediately opening the door, she ran back to the company of christians, crying out that Peter was there. They answered that she must be out of her senses, but she still
declared that it was Peter himself, until they said "then it must be his angel," not believing it possible that Peter could have escaped. While this was going on within, Peter continued to knock; on hearing which they went to the door, and upon opening they saw, to their great astonishment, that it was indeed Peter.
Instead of allowing them to give vent to their feelings, the apostle motioned to them with his hand to be silent. Then he explained to them the manner in which the Lord had been pleased to bring him out of the prison. He then desired them to go to James, (who was called the brother of our Lord, and who presided over the church at Jerusalem), and inform him and the other members of the church of all that had happened; and having given them this commission, Peter immediately retired to some place of greater safety than Jerusalem was likely to be upon the discovery of his escape.
When the day dawned that was to have been the day of Peter's martyrdom, the soldiers who had been sleeping on either side of their prisoner were astonished on awaking that he was no were to be found; there was much bustle and search in the prison, but all to no purpose, for when Herod sent to have the prisoner brought he could not be produced. The guards were immediately examined very strictly, and as nothing could be discovered, he ordered them to be executed. After this Herod left Jerusalem and went to Cesarea, where he took up his residence and remained until his death, probably being disturbed in no slight degree by these miraculous events at Jerusalem.
1. The cruelty of man's heart seems to have a more unrestrained vent, whenever it is exercised under the influence of a false religious principle. The whole tenor of history affords evidence to justify this remark; and the way in which Herod acted is an instance of it, for it was to gratify the cruelty of the bigotted Jews that he kept Peter for a season, that his death might be a public exhibition. This delay afforded the opportunity for his deliverance; and it is often ordered by the providence of God, that the evil intentions of wicked men are allowed