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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Acts 4



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Verse 13


‘They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.’

Acts 4:13

The first outbreak of enmity against the disciples, and on their trial men recognised that they had been with Jesus.

I. We must be with Jesus if we would bear a good testimony for Him:—

(a) In the presence of the world. To have heard of Him is not enough; we must be with Him.

(b) In our own hearts, where we form our designs. Unless we are with Jesus there will be no Christ in thoughts, words, actions.

(c) In the presence of sorrow. Here, above all, man requires His Saviour’s presence. A real walking with God will alone render a man master of sorrow.

(d) In prosperity. Successes are enemies in disguise. ‘All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.’ How shall the man of wealth render testimony to His Lord? Only by being with Jesus.

(e) In the presence of death. If we would meet death fearless and in humble assurance of life beyond, we must have been with Jesus during our lives here.

II. One more testimony, not by but of men. At the Judgment Day who will escape the wrath of the Judge? Those of whom angels and men take knowledge that they have been with Jesus.

Dean Alford.


‘Let no one be ashamed to confess his faith; and when that faith is evil spoken of, let us act so that the world must take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus. There is a story often told that on one occasion one of the bravest generals of Frederic the Great declined the king’s invitation to dinner because he was going to receive the Blessed Sacrament. The next time he was present at the royal table, the king and his guests mocked at the Holy Eucharist, and at the scruples of the general. The old man rose, saluted the king, who was no man to be trifled with, and told him that there was yet a greater King than Frederic, and “that he never allowed that Holy One to be insulted in his presence.” The courtiers looked on in astonishment, but the king clasped the hand of his servant, and expressed his sorrow that he could not believe as firmly and declare his faith as fearlessly.’

Verse 19


‘Whether it be right in the sight of God.’

Acts 4:19

This decisive test must always be used as to every action, ‘Whether it be right.’

And the world wanted then, and the world wants to-day, sons and daughters who are bold enough to stand side by side with those two grand men at Jerusalem, and live and act in the sight of God, asking always this question: ‘Whether it be right?’ The world, I say, wants it now.

I. Take for example our business life, that which we call business life, in what does it consist? It consists in the making, the handling, the producing, the buying and the selling of material things; and what would you suppose ought naturally to be the most important condition? Would it not be that men should be able to trust each other implicitly? But is this so? What is the meaning of all our complicated system of lawyers and courts and police, if it were not that this trust, this character, is not very common? Why? Because righteousness does not take quite the proper place in our thinking.

II. Then, again, just consider for a moment our social life, our social entertainments. Now our social entertainments are not things that can possibly stand altogether outside of our Christian faith. Christianity has not got to ask leave to go and be present. The aim and object of Christianity must be to sweeten and to purify and to ennoble, and if there is any entertainment whatever where Jesus Christ could not be present, if it is too bad for His Presence, it is too bad for you, and too bad for me.

III. There are times when the asking of this question will demand considerable courage.—We are not now in danger of the stones and the torture, which might, indeed, have been used against St. Peter and John; but many a man, and many a woman, too, has to face a certain amount of ridicule, the refined sneer, or the coarser jeer, and these things are sometimes harder to bear with courage than downright persecution.

IV. This courage will never be ours unless we have certain positive convictions as to truth; unless in our heart of hearts we believe that the truth that we profess is worth defending at all costs. The man who has no convictions of truth may be a very pleasant person in a drawing-room or a club, but he is not a man who will ever bear any strong, or high, or holy witness to God and Christ.

V. Another condition is consecration to God.—We cannot bear a true witness to our Blessed Lord unless we ourselves have knelt at His Feet and laid our sins before the Mercy Seat. If we wish to influence others, we ourselves must have consecrated our own hearts to Christ.

—Prebendary J. Storrs.


‘I wonder very much whether the participators in many of our entertainments, the managers, the caterers, and those that attend them, ask the question: “Whether it be right in the sight of God?” How often do we bring up our acceptances, our refusals, our indulgences, our rejections, our expenditure, our dress, our drink, to the criterion of the Christian conscience, and ask ourselves “whether it be right in the sight of God”? I wonder how often we ask ourselves about this particular thing, whether it may be harmful, not only to ourselves, but to others who are more exposed to temptation than we are?’


Verse 36


‘Barnabas, (which is being interpreted, The son of consolation).’

Acts 4:36

The name Barnabas may be equally translated ‘Son of Prophecy’ or ‘Son of Consolation.’ We cling to the latter, having grown up with it in our authorised version and having felt its appeal to the needs of our human nature. It is because of his name and character as consoler that St. Barnabas has been chosen in recent years as the patron of that band of workers who minister to the needs of the sick and suffering, some among them being able to minister to the troubled spirit as well as to the weary body, thus proving themselves true Sisters of Consolation and following their patron in his twofold ministry.

Let us trace this ministry in its double aspect.

I. First, his ministrations to bodily needs.—‘Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.’ The fund to which he thus contributed was administered to supply the needs of those who had forfeited the means of livelihood through embracing the Christian faith. Again, he ministered to the relief of ‘the brethren which dwelt in Judæa’ (Acts 11:27).

II. And now to turn to his spiritual ministrations.—We find him (Acts 11:22-23) sent to Antioch to strengthen and stablish the fresh converts in their faith; and read that he ‘exhorted them all, that … they would cleave unto the Lord,’ no doubt saving many from lapsing under the first strain of persecution and contempt. A few years later we find him specially chosen by the Holy Spirit with St. Paul for definite missionary work; and it is from that time that we find these two given the title and dignity of Apostles. It is interesting to notice that their first sphere of work was in St. Barnabas’ native land, where his countrymen were steeped in idolatry and all manner of luxury and vice. At Paphos, owing probably to the former position of Barnabas in the island, they were sent for by the governor, who ‘desired to hear the word of God,’ with the happy result of his conversion and baptism. From Paphos they returned to the mainland, visiting Perga and Antioch in Pisidia, where, as at the other Antioch, St. Barnabas, now aided by St. Paul, ministered to the Christian converts, persuading them ‘to continue in the grace of God’ (Acts 13:43).

—A. N. Vizard.


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Acts 4:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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