Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
The Blessing of Death.
I. What was the meaning of these strange words—"It is his angel"? It was the opinion of many of the Fathers, and notably of St. Chrysostom, that the saying is a witness to the belief of the early Church in the existence of guardian angels, as if each Christian were under the care of a spiritual being, like the genius of whom the poet Horace writes:
"Natale comes qui temperat astrum"—
a being who was, as it were, a sort of higher self, who guided his life, who was associated with him in every joy and every sorrow, and who, on supreme occasions, but none knew how or when or why, would assume the likeness of his personality. But there is another view, which is the more perhaps to be considered as it is the view of Waterland, expressed in the fifth sermon of his second volume, viz., that when the surviving disciples said of St. Peter, "It is his angel," they thought that he was dead, and that it was his spirit, or, as we should say, his apparition, which Rhoda had seen and seemed to recognise at the gate. And, if so, one is led in the light of this verse to dwell for a moment upon the laws of communion between the living and the dead; for, perhaps to all of us, there is no more touching subject than this as life grows older, and they whom we loved the most on earth are ever drifting from us to the shadowy land. "It is not only when men are next to us that they are nearest—Nicht nur zusammen wenn sie beisammen sind, as Goethe nobly says in Egmont, but the distant too and the departed are alive for us." Has God one blessing only—the blessing of life? or is there healing in the wings of the angel of death? Shall we shrink from death as the Greeks in Herder's simile, like children covering their eyes with their hands, to hide its horror? or may we welcome it as an angel of the All-merciful, although it robs us of our best and best-beloved, and say in the spirit of St. Francis, "My sister Death"?
II. There are some purposes which cannot be wrought out by life, but must needs be accomplished by death. It is not the faiths for which men are ready to argue, although they forge never so cunning a chain of arguments; it is the faiths for which they die that conquer the world. God buries His workmen, but carries on His work. Nay, He makes their very death a strength and solace to the generations which are the heirs of their high purpose.
J. E. C. Welldon, The Spiritual Life, p. 193.
And he killed James the brother 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 unleavened 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 kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
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.
And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the 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 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 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 gathered together praying.
And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, 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.
And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that 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 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, 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. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.
And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country.
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
And 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.
But the word of God grew and multiplied.
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.