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THE CHURCH’S FIRST CONFLICT WITH JUDAISM—OPPOSITION FROM THE SANHEDRIM
1. The Apostles (Peter and John) in Gaol; or, the First Taste of Persecution (Acts 4:1-4).
2. The Apostles before the Sanhedrim; or, the Sheep among Wolves (Acts 4:5-12).
3. The Apostles removed from Court; or, the Conspirators in Conclave (Acts 4:13-22).
4. The Apostles with their own Company; or, the Welcome of the First Confessors (Acts 4:23-31).
5. The Apostles and the First Christians; or, the Effect of the First Persecution (Acts 4:32-37).
Acts 4:1. As they spake.—Lit., they, the apostles, either Peter for John or John with Peter speaking. The discourse was probably interrupted after the utterance of the preceding words. The priests.—I.e., those who had been at the time officiating in the temple. The captain of the temple.—The priestly commandant of the Levitical troops, whose business it was to preserve order in the sacred edifice (Luke 22:4). The Sadducees.—The rival sect to the Pharisees had taken a foremost part in persecuting Christ (Matthew 16:1; Matthew 22:23; Matthew 22:34), and were now most probably the instigators of this movement against the apostles, as they were of a later (Acts 5:17).
Acts 4:2. Through, or in, Jesus.—I.e., in the fact of His resurrection, in His personal example. The resurrection from the dead.—A tenet denied by the Sadducees (Acts 23:8).
Acts 4:3. It was now eventide.—When no judicial examination could take place.
Acts 4:4. Men.—Most likely including (Hackett, Spence), though, according to others (Meyer, Stier, Plumptre), excluding women. About five thousand.—The number of the new converts (Stier), or better, of disciples altogether in Jerusalem (Alford, Hackett, Holtzmann, Plumptre).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 4:1-4
The Apostles in Gad; or, the First Taste of Persecution
I. The time.—
1. While exhorting the people. At the very moment when their usefulness appeared to be at its height, when their words seemed to be effecting an entrance into the hearts of their hearers, they were apprehended. Verily, “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” One would have expected that the hand of Providence would have kept the adversaries’ movements in check, at least till Peter’s sermon was closed; but no; Peter’s enemies were allowed the freest scope to carry out their malignant designs. Divine wisdom is perfectly able to outwit the cleverest of man’s machinations, and cause man’s wrath to praise Him, and therefore never needs to be in a hurry either to hinder man’s projects or thwart his purposes.
2. At eventide. When Peter’s sermon must in any case have before long been brought to a termination, and when it was too late for him and John to be put on trial before the Sanhedrim; so that, on the one hand, Peter’s hearers had received the most of what he purposed saying, and, on the other hand, Peter himself, with John, had leisure to reflect upon the situation before being called into court to answer for their misdemeanour. There is always some mitigation, even in the worst lot.
II. The agents.—
1. The priests. Those engaged at the time in the Temple, the division into twenty-four orders originally made by David (1 Chronicles 24:3; 2 Chronicles 8:14) having been revived after the exile. If the Feast of Pentecost had not yet terminated, a larger number than usual of these religious officers may have been present on this occasion. A pitiful mistake it is when ministers of religion leave their proper work to become instigators of persecution. This unfortunately they have often done.
2. The captain of the Temple. Not the Roman officer who kept guard at the Tower of Antonia, near by, but the priestly commandant of the Levitical troops, whose business it was to preserve order about the sacred edifice (compare Jos., Wars, VI. Acts 4:3). Though the captain little thought of it, what looked to him like disorder was in accordance with the highest order of the Temple. It is not safe to judge according to appearances.
3. The Sadducees. The rivals of the Pharisees, properly the rationalists of the day (Acts 23:8). From the first bitter enemies of Jesus (Matthew 16:1; Matthew 16:6; Matthew 16:12; Matthew 22:23), these were most likely the prime movers in this hostile action against the two apostles. The men who killed Christ were not likely to be scrupulous in consigning His disciples to gaol.
III. The motives.—Twofold. Indignation at the apostles for—
1. Teaching the people. Strange that the priests should have been sore troubled at the apostles for doing what they themselves should have done—“the priests’ lips should keep knowledge” (Malachi 2:7)—but possibly the consciousness of neglected duty had rendered them uneasy. That the Sadducees should have objected to the education of the vulgar crowd, whom they despised as the “scum” of the world’s population, was not surprising. The Temple commandant presumably shared the prejudices of the official class to which he belonged.
2. Promulgating the doctrine of a resurrection.—This was the head and front of the apostles’ offence in the eyes of the Sadducees. To preach that Jesus, whom they had hunted to death, was risen, and that all who believed on Him should eventually rise like Him and by virtue of His power, was to lay the axe at the root of their favourite dogma, that this life was the whole of man’s existence. Such preaching was of course an outrage upon their superior wisdom.
IV. The consequence.—
1. The apostles were imprisoned. Their liberty was for the first time abridged. No such experience had befallen them prior to the crucifixion. They had seen their Master’s forerunner (Luke 3:20) consigned to a dungeon, and Peter at least had professed his readiness to follow Christ to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). Now, for the first time, they knew what it signified to languish within prison walls. How they spent their first night in gaol is not recorded. Perhaps, like Paul and Silas, they prayed and sang hymns to God, “who giveth songs in the night” (Job 35:10), and of whom it is written, “He hath looked down from the height of His sanctuary … to hear the groaning of the prisoner,” etc. (Psalms 102:19-20).
2. The people believed. The most foolish thing in the world is to expect to hinder any cause, and least of all a good one, by means of persecution. So many received the word that afternoon that the number of believers (men and women) swelled to five thousand souls. The experience of Israel in Egypt was repeated in the history of the Christian Church (Exodus 1:12).
1. That what seems a hindrance often turns out a help to the gospel. 2 That that religion condemns itself which opposes the education of the people. 3 That that religion is worthless as well as false which has nothing to say about a resurrection.
4. That rationalism never will satisfy the deepest instincts of the heart.
5. That Christ’s enemies are always clever at outwitting themselves.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 4:2. Troubles of Unbelievers.—Like the priests, the captain, and the Sadducees, many moderns are sore grieved—
I. At the exaltation of Jesus.—They would be much more comfortable were they sure that He was only a man crucified and buried.
II. At the preaching of a resurrection.—They can see well that if Christ is risen they are wrong in their opinions, and in danger of the judgment.
II. At the progress of Christianity.—Having so often and so confidently affirmed that Christianity was a decaying religion, if not already obsolete, it annoys them to see their predictions turned to foolishness.
Acts 4:3. Troubles of Christ’s Servants.
I. Severe, but not more so than were those of Christ. Like the apostles, Christ was arrested; but, unlike them, who were only committed to prison and afterwards liberated, He was hurried from the garden to the hall of judgment, and thence to the place of doom.
II. Undeserved, but not more so than those of Christ. The apostles were put in prison for doing good; Christ was nailed to the cross for seeking the salvation of a lost world. The apostles suffered while innocent of any crime; Christ was numbered with transgressors, though without sin.
III. Expected, but not more so than were those of Christ. The apostles must have known that opposition and persecution would await them the moment they stepped forth to advocate the cause of their Crucified and Risen Lord (John 16:2); but Christ’s sufferings and death were foreseen by Him from the first (Matthew 9:15; Matthew 16:21).
IV. Futile, but not more so than were those of Christ. They came too late to impede the triumph of the gospel; and Christ’s sufferings were too late to hinder the successful accomplishment of His design—the salvation of the world.
The Opposition of the Jewish Leaders.—
I. Why it began when it did. Why commenced it not on the Day of Pentecost? Perhaps—
1. Because they were then too much occupied with the festivities of the time.
2. Because the popular enthusiasm aroused by the apostles was too great.
3. Because the task of apprehending one hundred and twenty people without previous preparation would have been a somewhat formidable task.
II. Why it was prompted as it was.—By the healing of the lame man, and not by the preaching at Pentecost. Probably because—
1. They realised that the miracle would be more influential among the populace than the sermon.
2. They saw that the miracle confirmed what report said had taken place at Pentecost.
3. They feared that the miracle might authenticate the story of Christ’s resurrection.
III. Why it took the form that it did.—Why, instead of offering violence to the apostles, they did not expose the deception contained in the so-called miracle, and refute the errors propounded in the teaching of the apostles? Answer—
1. Because they knew well that they could do neither the one thing nor the other.
2. Because they understood that force was more convincing than argument.
3. Because the isolation of the two apostles afforded them an excellent opportunity for using the strong hand.
Acts 4:4. Hearing and Believing.
I. Hearing must precede believing, otherwise believing will be
(1) unenlightened and
(2) unavailing, if not
II. Believing ought to follow hearing, else hearing
(1) will not save, but
(2) will increase guilt, and
(3) result in hardening.
Acts 4:5. Their rulers.—Not of the new converts or of the apostles, but of the people; hence the Sanhedrists. Elders,—Heads of families, Scribes,—Teachers of the law, and chief priests composed the Sanhedrin.
Acts 4:6. Annas the high priest and Caiaphas.—Exactly as in the gospels (Luke 3:2; John 18:13), which accord to the former the first place in the high priesthood, “although his proper term of office (6–15 A.D.) had long since expired” (Zöckler), while the active duties of the high priest were performed by Caiaphas, his son-in-law (18–36 A.D.). At or in Jerusalem should form part of Acts 4:5, as in the R.V. “In” may imply that the court met not in the temple, but in the city (Alford), but this is only a conjecture. Some MSS. read into Jerusalem, as if several of the members had resided beyond the precincts of the city, and on being summoned had hastened in overnight (Holtzmann).
Acts 4:7. In the midst.—I.e., in full view, in the centre of the Sanhedrists, if, as tradition reports, these were accustomed to sit in a circle. By what power, or in what name, etc.—Compare Luke 20:2, of which the question here addressed to the apostles is supposed to be a legendary echo (Gfrörer, Zeller, and others); but why the same inquiry should not have been twice put, on different occasions, and to different individuals, is not easy to understand.
Acts 4:8. Filled with the Holy Ghost.—Specially bestowed upon him for the crisis which had arisen (compare Acts 4:31; Acts 2:4; Acts 13:9; Matthew 10:19-20).
Acts 4:9. By what means.—Or in whom. Is made whole.—Lit., has been saved, not merely from the power of disease, but from that of sin, of which the physical malady was a fruit and sign (compare Acts 4:12).
Acts 4:10. Of Nazareth.—Frequently applied to Jesus (Acts 2:22, Acts 6:14; Acts 10:38; Acts 22:8; Matthew 21:11; John 1:45). Here connected with Jesus Christ (compare Acts 3:6), and used to identify the Jesus of whom Peter spoke with the Jesus whom the rulers had crucified (John 19:19). Whom ye crucified; whom God raised.—Peter seldom omits to exhibit the antithesis between man’s treatment of Jesus and God’s. The death and the resurrection of Christ formed the two poles of Peter’s teaching. The one without the other would have been defective and powerless for salvation.
Acts 4:11. The stone which was set at nought, etc.—Quoted from Psalms 118:22, and applied to Christ as already it had been by Curist Himself (Matthew 21:42; Luke 20:17; compare 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:7).
Acts 4:12. Salvation.—Should be the salvation, the Messianic deliverance and blessing, which men were needing and the apostles were preaching (Acts 2:21). Given among men.—Better, which is or hat been given—i.e., provided. Hence the use of must, because no other has been given or provided.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 4:5-12
The Apostles before the Sanhedrim; or, the Sheep among Wolves
I. The mustering of the court.—
1. The time. On the morrow, probably with the dawning of the day, say between six and seven a.m. As in Christ’s case (John 18:28), no time was lost in bringing the apostolic offenders to book. Wickedness can seldom afford to proceed at leisure (Proverbs 6:18); it is the good man who never requires to make haste (Isaiah 28:16).
2. The place. Jerusalem, in a chamber connected with the Temple. If any of the Sanhedrists lived beyond the city limits—quite a probable supposition—they were duly summoned for the work on hand.
3. The members. Seventy one persons in all, chosen from
(1) the elders, or heads of families, among whom were included both priests and laymen;
(2) the scribes, or teachers of the law, professional jurists who mostly adhered to the party of the Pharisees, as the priestly members commonly belonged to the Sadducees; and
(3) the chief priests and their families. Of these the first mentioned is Annas, or Hanan—“gracious”—the aged head of the high priestly house before whom Christ had been set for examination (John 18:13), whom Josephus pronounced “the most fortunate man of his time,” because for upwards of half a century he and five of his sons had occupied the highest ecclesiastical position in the country, but whom “the most unsuspected sources” compel us to recognise as “nothing better than an absolute, tyrannous, worldly Sadducee, unvenerable for all his seventy years, full of serpentine malice and meanness which utterly belied his name” (Farrar, The Life of Christ, chap. lviii., p. 639). Associated with him was Caiaphas, of evil fame, his bold and unscrupulous son-in-law, who first suggested the expediency of Christ’s removal by death (John 11:49-50), and eventually put the crown upon his criminality by pronouncing Christ guilty of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65), and handing Him over to Pilate for crucifixion (John 18:28). Other members of the court were John and Alexander, about neither of whom is anything known, and “as many as were of the high priest’s family,” from which perhaps it may be inferred that not only Nicodem us and Joseph of Arimathea were absent, but also Gamaliel, Paul’s celebrated teacher, who honourably figured at a later meeting (Acts 5:34). In short, it was a packed assembly, and one not calculated to reassure the apostles, or even promise them an honest trial.
II. The examination of the prisoners.—Placed in the centre of the circle which according to tradition the Sanhedrists formed, the apostles were asked two questions.
1. By what power they had wrought the miracle on the lame man? This amounted to a practical admission that the miracle had been wrought (compareActs 4:16; Acts 4:16), a serious difficulty in the way of those who deny the possibility of miracles. Had the Sanhedrists been able to show that no miracle had been wrought, who can doubt that they would cheerfully have done so? The fact that they did not so much as attempt this proves that in their judgment the miracle was undeniable. Even so the higher miracles of the gospel can as little be challenged.
2. In what name they had performed the wonder? The Sanhedrists were perfectly acquainted with the name, but “wanted to convict Peter and John of sorcery, by having worked a miracle not in the name of God, but in that of a crucified malefactor” (Spence). One marvels how they did not perceive that if a crucified malefactor’s name could work miracles, the so-called malefactor must have been other than they deemed Him. It is noticeable that the Sanhedrists avoid saying anything about what grieved them most, the apostles’ teaching the doctrine of the Resurrection. Was this due to the mixed composition of the tribunal, as afterwards in Paul’s case (Acts 23:7)? Possibly.
III. The reply of the apostles.—Given in John’s name as well as his own, and delivered by Peter, under the guidance of the Spirit. This consisted of three propositions.
1. That the miracle in question had been done in the name and by the power of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had crucified but God had raised. The apostles themselves had been nothing but instruments in the hands of the exalted Redeemer, whose existence and power were certified by the miracle they had wrought and none could deny. The utter absence of self glorification on the part of Peter and John is remarkable, only surpassed by their splendid confidence in and absolute surrender to Jesus.
2. That they, the Sanhedrists, who were supposed to be temple builders for Jehovah, in crucifying Christ, had really rejected Him whom Jehovah had chosen to be the Head Stone of the Corner. Their mistake had been the most appalling that persons in their position could commit. God by raising up Christ had demonstrated Him to be the true Messiah, whom they should have been the first to recognise and welcome, but whom nevertheless they had despised and rejected (John 1:11). Man’s judgment and God’s do not always coincide in spiritual things, so much the worse of course for man’s judgment. Even those who from their privileges and training might be expected to be men of “light and leading” sometimes turn out “blind leaders of the blind.” As in the former proposition the humility of the apostles was conspicuous, so in this stands out strikingly their boldness.
3. That in no other name than Christ’s could salvation be found. The salvation of which Peter spoke was not temporal and corporeal healing merely—although Christ’s name could effect that also—but spiritual and eternal healing for the soul, the Messianic deliverance and blessing; and of this as of that, the Risen Christ was the sole fountain and source. His was the only name given under heaven among men whereby the soul could be saved. This was sufficient proof of “the completely certain knowledge” which the apostles possessed of the nothingness of all other pretended ways of salvation” (Harless, System of Christian Ethics, p. 159, E. T.). N.B.—A statement like this pronounces no judgment on the question whether one who has never heard Christ’s name, like the heathen, or having heard it has not understood it like infants and imbeciles, can be saved; it simply asserts that Christ’s is the one saving name, and that all who are saved must be saved through Him. Equally arresting in this third proposition is the Apostle’s insight.
1. The impotence of man when he conspires against God.
2. The fortitude of those the Holy Ghost inspires.
3. The all-sufficiency of Christ’s name for salvation.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 4:11. The Builders and the Stone.
I. The Church as a building or house.—
1. A spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5).
2. Divinely planned (Hebrews 3:1-6).
3. Erected by human instrumentality.
3. Variously used. As
(1) a dwelling house (Psalms 76:2; Ephesians 2:22);
(2) a treasure house (Malachi 3:17;
(3) a banqueting house (Song of Solomon 2:4).
II. Christ as the corner stone.—
1. Of God’s choosing (1 Peter 2:4).
2. Of God’s approving (Matthew 3:17).
3. Of God’s trying (Isaiah 28:16).
4. Of God’s laying (Isaiah 28:16; 1 Corinthians 3:11).
III. The rejection of the stone by the builders.—This proceeded from:
1. Blindness as to the excellency of Christ’s person.
2. Ignorance of the mystery of redemption and salvation through Him.
3. Mistaken views of the nature of Messiah’s kingdom.
IV. The exaltation of the stone by God.—Implying:
1. Christ’s victory over all His enemies.
2. His institution as King and Head of His Church. 3. The resting on Him of the whole fabric of the Church. 4. His distinction as the centre of unity for and chief ornament of the Church.—Compiled from Ebenezer Erskine.
The Rejected Corner Stone.
I. The sin of the builders.—
1. The Builders. The ecclesiastical leaders of the Jewish people. The place occupied and the function performed by them have now passed into the hands of the pastors and teachers of the Christian Church. 2. The building. The temple of God’s kingdom on the earth, symbolised in ancient times by the Hebrew nation, in modern days by the Christian Church. 3. The stone which the builders rejected. Christ, who was despised by the Jewish authorities because of His obscure personality and lowly condition, and who is sometimes slighted and passed over still by Church teachers, who corrupt the true doctrine of a crucified Saviour, or attempt to build on another foundation than that of His person and work.
II. The glory of the rejected stone.—
1. It had been prepared by God. The Hebrew builders had not perceived, and Christian builders occasionally forget this. The incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus were successive steps by which God fitted Him to be a sure and tried foundation for His Church. 2. The supposed defects about the stone were its best qualifications, for the place it was intended to fill. The Jewish leaders could not away with a Messiah who was meek and lowly in His character, as well as spiritual and heavenly in His mission, who was to suffer, die, and rise again; but these were the very facts about Christ that fitted Him to be the Saviour and Head of His believing Church. Modern teachers who feel offended at a crucified and risen Redeemer should ponder this.
3. The stone which the builders rejected has become the headstone of the corner. Christ crucified, dead, risen, and exalted, is the sole source and author of salvation to a perishing world, and the sole foundation and support of His Church.
Acts 4:12. Salvation in Christ alone.
I. There is no salvation out of Christ.—
1. No other name but that of Christ has been given among men for this purpose.
2. If any are saved, whether in gospel or heathen lands, it is through the name of Christ.
II. There is salvation in Christ.—
1. Salvation in fullest measure.
2. Salvation on the easiest terms.
3. Salvation with the greatest certainty.
None other Name.
I. No higher name than that of Christ, the glorified Son of God.
II. No abler name than that of Him who can save to the uttermost.
III. No surer name than that of Him who has been given for the purpose.
IV. No sweeter name than that of Him who is not ashamed to call men brethren.
V. No easier name than that which asks only faith to be exercised in it.
No Salvation out of Christ.
I. No other system of salvation maintains the glory of God’s character as moral Governor.—Two principles in the character of God that can never be disjoined in their exercise are Justice and Mercy. In their manifestation these principles are naturally sympathetic and invariably coincident. Just at this point every other system breaks down, whereas in the gospel scheme both are harmonised.
II. No Other system of salvation upholds the honour of God’s law as the rule of moral government.—The law of God, being the counterpart of God’s nature, can never change. It must therefore be upheld in its exercise of justice, before mercy can be shown to the sinner. The gospel scheme alone magnifies the law and makes it honourable.
III. No other system of salvation bears the stamp of God’s sanction as a Divine Revelation.—An axiomatic truth that no system of salvation is worthy of acceptation which does not bear as its credential the imprimatur of God. This the gospel scheme alone has. “Whatever may be the pretentiousness and plausibility of other systems, they have no force or validity, for they cannot put into their preamble, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ ”
IV. No other system of salvation meets man’s exigencies as a sinner under the Divine condemnation.—“The salvation man needs” is one which shall,
1. Cancel the guilt which has necessitated his condemnation. “Whence then is this salvation to come? Not certainly by the law.”
2. Make provision for the renewal of his whole nature after the image of God. “And where is the earthly alembic that can transmute its character from pollution to purity?” Every other system, save that of the gospel, seems to contemplate a salvation in sin and not a salvation from sin.”—R. T. Jeffrey, M.D.
The Only Salvation.—That in Christ. Because—
I. Glorifies the divine character.—By securing the salvation of the sinner “without any rent in the divine character, or collision of the divine attributes.
II. Magnifies the divine law.—
1. Vindicates it by the vicarious sacrifice of Christ.
2. Amplifies it by an actual addition to its attributes, by the introduction of mercy as an element of its jurisprudence.
III. Verifies the divine word.—Gives truth, substance, and significance to all the divine disclosures contained in scripture.
IV. Qualifies for the divine glory.—By imparting
1. A right and title, and
2. A meetness for heaven.—R. T. Jeffrey, M.D.
Acts 4:8-12. The Characteristics of a Good Preacher.—As exhibited by Peter.
I. Undaunted courage.—He addresses “the rulers of the people and the elders of Israel” without trepidation. Preachers should fear the face of no man (Ezekiel 2:6).
II. Genuine candour.—He is willing to be “examined of the good deed done to the impotent man.” Preachers should never shun investigation into either themselves, their doctrines, or their deeds (1 Corinthians 10:15).
III. Clear exposition.—“Be it known unto you all,” etc. Preachers should have nothing to hide, and ought to leave nothing obscure (2 Corinthians 4:2).
IV. Profound humility.—Peter gave the glory of the miracle entirely to Christ, reserving none for himself. Preachers should always say, “Not unto us, O Lord, but unto Thy name be the glory!” (Psalms 115:1).
V. Immovable conviction,—Peter had no doubt as to the place occupied and the part played by Christ in the scheme of salvation. Preachers should not instruct others before they know the truth themselves (John 3:11; 2 Corinthians 4:13).
VI. Evangelical fervour.—The sum of Peter’s preaching was Christ. Preachers that have no room for Christ in their sermons should seek some other calling (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Acts 4:13. Perceived.—Lit., having perceived from what they saw and heard at the time, or from previous inquiry. It would certainly have been strange if the Sanhedrists, and in particular Annas and Caiaphas (see John 18:16), had not been acquainted with Peter and John (Zeller, Holtzmann); but this is not necessarily implied in the language, which rather suggests that they recognised the apostles as having been formerly among Christ’s disciples. Unlearned.—I.e., illiterate, untaught in the learning of the Jewish schools (see John 7:15), and Ignorant.—I.e., private or obscure persons, plebeian as distinguished from persons in the higher walks of life (1 Corinthians 14:16).
Acts 4:15. Out of the council.—Which was open to others, so that Luke could easily have ascertained from parties who had been present what was said and done during the absence of the apostles. It has been thought not improbable that Saul of Tarsus was there (Hackett).
Acts 4:16. That indeed a notable miracle hath been wrought by them is manifest.—This confession on the part of the Sanhedrin has been pronounced incredible, and inconsistent with the instruction given in Acts 4:17 (Gfrörer, Zeller); but their conduct in this instance is no more difficult to understand than their behaviour in the case of the man who was born blind (John 9:0), with which it is pretty much of a piece.
Acts 4:17. Let us straitly threaten.—Lit., with a threat let us threaten them. For a similar construction see Luke 22:15. The R.V. omits “with a threat.”
Acts 4:18. Nor teach in or upon (ἐπί) the name of Jesus.—So as to make it a theme of discourse.
Acts 4:19. Whether it be right, etc.—See on Acts 4:29; and compare Amos 3:8; 1 John 1:1-3. This remarkable utterance is not without Greek, Roman, and Rabbinical parallels.
Acts 4:21. Glorified God for that which was done.—Compare Luke 5:26; Galatians 1:24.
Acts 4:22. Forty years old.—A note characteristic of Luke (compare Acts 9:33, Acts 14:8; Luke 8:43).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 4:13-22
The Apostles removed from the Court; or, the Conspirators in Conclave
I. The perplexity of the Sanhedrists.—These holy inquisitors before whom John and Peter were arraigned were
1. Staggered at the boldness of their prisoners. These behaved not like criminals who had been apprehended in acts of wickedness, taken, as it were, red-handed, but like persons who felt conscious not of having done wrong, but of having performed a great good. Peter could have replied to Annas or Caiaphas—
“Thou shalt not see me blush
Nor change my countenance for this arrest;
A heart unspotted is not easily daunted.
The purest spring is not so free from mud
As I am clear from (wrong doing).”—Shakespeare.
Neither Peter nor John resembled their old selves who ran away when they beheld their Master bound with cords, and hurried off to face that awful tribunal. Things had changed since the Gethsemane transaction, both with their Master and with themselves. He had risen from the tomb into which His enemies had thought to shut Him down, and had ascended to His throne; they were being assisted and upheld by His Almighty Spirit.
2. Confounded by their prisoners’ eloquence. Peter and John, though neither learned nor distinguished persons like their judges, but ignorant and obscure fishermen, nevertheless spoke with such fluent and cogent utterance as the most gifted of their Rabbis could not equal or even imitate. The only possible explanation of the phenomenon which presented itself to the Sanhedrists was one they did not like—viz., that their prisoners had been companions of Jesus. It was a virtual admission that Christ had impressed even those who rejected Him with a secret conviction of His superhuman dignity.
3. Unable to deny the miracle. The evidence of its reality stood before them. The man who had been healed was in court. The whole town besides was ringing with excitement at what had happened, and had pronounced it a miracle. The theory of imposture would impose on no one. Just as little would the hypothesis of illusion or delusion. The man himself might have been a hypochondriac, and the apostles might be counted jugglers, but a whole town could not be cheated into believing that a miracle had been wrought, if no such thing had occurred.
4. At a loss what to do with their prisoners. To punish them for healing a lame man would look ridiculous; common sense would say they should rather be rewarded with the freedom of the city. Besides, in the present temper of the people, it would be dangerous to proceed to violence, the people being manifestly on the side of the apostles. Then to debar them from working similar miracles upon other lame persons would be hard upon the invalids. To drive them from the metropolis would only be to send them with their philanthropies to other towns. When men will not do the obviously right thing, it is no wonder they become perplexed in choosing the best of the wrong things. Wrong things are never best.
II. The resolution of the Sanhedrists.—How Luke ascertained what was talked in the council chamber, after Peter and John had been removed, may be difficult to tell. If the court was opened to the public (see “Critical Remarks”) some of the apostles’ friends may have been present; if it was closed against the public some of the Sanhedrists themselves, on becoming converted, may have revealed the secrets of the court. In any case, what the Sanhedrists resolved upon was this—
1. To prevent, if possible, the spread of the report about the miracle. They felt that if the story was repeated it would be believed, which shows that they regarded it as true. So will Christ’s gospel, wherever told, commend itself to men’s consciences in the sight of God. Hence, the chief aim of its enemies is to prevent its diffusion among the people.
2. To forbid the apostles any more to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Still avoiding the explosive topic of the resurrection, they limit their prohibition to a general order not to speak in Christ’s name. What they wanted was, if possible, to suppress the name altogether. But as Christ could not be hid when on earth (Mark 7:24), so now that He is risen can He not be suppressed. “He must reign till all His enemies have been placed beneath His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25).
III. The action of the Sanhedrists.—Having concluded their deliberations, and recalled the apostles, they did three things.
1. Charged them. Not to speak at all, nor to teach in the name of Jesus. But such an order neither John nor Peter could obey. It invaded the domain of conscience, which was God’s peculiar territory. It traversed the commandment of Jesus, which had already bound them to preach the gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). It sought to silence the convictions of their souls that what they had seen and heard was true. It collided with that three-fold necessity which urged them on. Hence Peter told the Sanhedrists, that where the alternative lay between obeying them and obeying God, the choice could only be the latter. So affirmed he afterwards to the same judicial body for himself and his brethren. “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). So replied Socrates to his Athenian judges: “Athenians, I will obey God rather than you; and if you would let me go and give me my life on condition that I should no more teach my fellow-citizens, sooner than agree to your proposal I would prefer to die a thousand times” (Apology, 23, B.). “In this first conflict between conscience and force,” says Pressensé, “victory remains with the former. This day is liberty born into the world never to be destroyed.”
2. Threatened them. With pains and penalties endeavoured to deter them from following the path of duty. “Had the judges of Peter and John gone no further than this prohibition and threatening, they would have been entitled to be called persecutors (Pressensé). The essence of persecution is the application of physical force to religion, in which the only forces admissible are those of truth for the understanding and love for the heart.
3. Dismissed them. The Sanhedrists lacked the courage to inflict punishment upon their prisoners. As yet they feared the people, who, siding with the apostles, and glorifying God for what had been done, would not have tolerated either imprisonment or scourging. Hence they felt compelled to let their prisoners go.
1. The transformations Christ through His grace can effect on human character and life, exemplified in Peter and John
2. The best sort of evidence in support of Christ’s religion—such miracles as are wrought upon men’s characters and lives through its influence.
3. The holy courage that should at all times be displayed by Christ’s servants—to obey God and Christ rather than man.
4. The confidence with which Christ and His servants can appeal to the consciences even of their enemies.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 4:13. Companionship with Jesus.
I. A distinguished privilege.
II. A transforming power.
III. A perilous distinction.
IV. A high responsibility.
Acts 4:1-14. The Courage of the Apostles.
I. The occasion of the courage.—It was an imposing assembly, made up of the intelligence and authority and ecclesiastical power of the Jewish nation. The court demanded by what power or efficacy, and in the use of what name, they had done this now notable miracle. Peter stood in view of them all, calm and confident, a splendid illustration of the truth that “the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1), and made his reply.
II. The secret of the courage.—“Filled with the Holy Ghost.” This was the secret of Peter’s boldness. This made the difference between Peter before the Ascension and Peter after it. It was not natural courage, “to the manner born.” Peter was impulsive and forward, quick and stout in assertion, but by nature a coward. The coward is become a hero. The bank of sand is transformed into a rock of firmness. Impulse has given way to principle. Fear of man is exchanged for fear of God. His being “filled with the Holy Spirit” accounts for the difference. That Spirit has given him a sense of things invisible, has opened to his faith’s sight invisible troops of God, has lifted him to a level where he can look with something of the calmness and fearlessness of his Lord upon those who can only “kill the body.” He knows now, even better than he knew before, his own weakness and his own need, but he has been taught of the Spirit the illimitable sufficiency of God. “Filled with the Spirit” means assurance of sonship. “Filled with the Spirit” is proof that “God is for us and in us,” and that therefore they that be for us are more than they that be against us. It can easily be understood how this would arm the timid soul with a dauntless and deathless courage. One, with God, is a majority always. Weakness, with God, is omnipotence.
III. Characteristics of the courage.—But a courage of this sort, born of the presence of the Spirit of God, true Christian courage, will be marked by certain characteristics. Let us look at them as they appear in the record of Peter’s speech before the court.
1. Courtesy marks the first words of this brave soul. Peter gives the men of the court their appropriate titles, recognises their office and authority, and addresses them with deference and respect: “Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel.” Bravery does not consist in brusqueness and bravado and bluster. To speak the truth boldly one need not be a boar or a bear. The bully is not the ideal hero. The kingdom and patience of Jesus go hand in hand. There is a so-called maintaining one’s self-respect which is simply a manifesting one’s impudence.
2. Prudence is another characteristic of Christian courage, as shown by Peter in this defence. His courteous recognition of the position and office of the men composing the tribunal is immediately followed by a reference to the character of the deed for which he was arraigned: “If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man.” The deed was “good,” and Peter reminds them of it. An impotent man has been made whole. Mark the prudent wisdom of this answer. Peter first turns attention from the method of the doing to the thing done. The work itself could challenge only gratitude and joy. Of itself it could provoke no opposition. He thus by a wise tact sought to pave the way for a favourable hearing. He made the most of his circumstances. So will the highest courage always. It does not disdain the use of every justifiable means to conciliate opposition. While scorning compromise of principle, it presses into service every alleviating circumstance. It does not court a tilt or invite a conflict.
3. Frankness is another characteristic, as exhibited by Peter. The council demanded by what authority or by what name they had done this. They got for instant answer, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Here Peter might have stopped. But this was not the truth that put Peter in bonds. Peter could answer the court’s questions without any allusion to the crucifixion and resurrection. But it was this that got him into trouble, and he must not withhold it now to get out of trouble. Christian courage is always the very soul of frankness. It will wear no masks—tell the whole truth, as well as nothing but the truth. The temptation to be compromisingly politic at the point of real danger is most plausibly insidious and subtle, and a brave spirit gets here its sorest test.
4. Fidelity is one more mark of Christian courage that shone out conspicuously in this court-scene at Jerusalem. This pushed Peter beyond the mere claims of frankness. He had fully stated the facts. The Jews had crucified Jesus, and God had raised Him from the dead. These two facts Peter had put in the plainest terms. They were offensive to the tribunal. They implicated his hearers both in crime and folly. Yet out they came with courageous frankness. This was the top and crown of Christian courage. It was transforming the prisoner’s bar into a pulpit from which to preach a gospel sermon to men, some of whom probably had never heard it before, and whose ear the preacher might never have again.
IV. Effect of the courage.—It only remains to speak briefly of the effect of this righteous boldness. These effects are common where Christian courage gets anything like such public exhibition in such hostile circumstances.
1. Men wonder first at the boldness. They see nothing behind it, nothing to support it—no arms, no government, no material resource—and they are astounded. They marvel where it gets its spring and inspiration. The world knows not its secret. It is born of the invisible Spirit of God.
2. Then they have nothing to speak against. Christian courage has a wonderful way of disarming opposition.
Christians, there are some things taught here that ought to be to our spiritual profit.
1. The Spirit of God can make the weakest saint bold.
2. We can afford to trust Christ.
3. Truth will sometimes smite to silence when it does not smite to heal.—H. Johnson, D.D.
Acts 4:16. What shall we do with these men?—The world’s question concerning Christians.
I. To this the world has usually answered.—Let us
1. Suspect them as hypocrites.
2. Disbelieve them as liars.
3. Oppose them as enemies.
4. Punish them as evildoers; and, generally,
5. Persecute them as sectaries, separatists, and heretics.
II. To this the world ought to answer.—Let us
1. Listen to them as bringers of good tidings.
2. Honour them as self-denying philanthropists.
3. Credit them as sincere preachers.
4. Reward them as benefactors of their race; and, generally,
5. Imitate them as noble exemplars of virtue.
Acts 4:19. Liberty of Conscience.
I. The principle stated.—To hearken unto God rather than unto man.
II. The principle exemplified.—By the behaviour of the Apostles.
III. The principle justified.—By an appeal to the moral and religious instincts of the Sanhedrists.
IV. The principle recognised.—In part, at least, by the dismissal of the apostles from the council chamber. (See further on, Acts 5:29.)
Acts 4:20. The Preacher’s Motto.
I. The nature of the preacher’s function.—To speak, to address his fellow-men by the living voice. This function can never be superseded by the press. There is that in the contact of soul with soul, through the medium of the living voice, which no printed page can supply.
II. The extent of the preacher’s commission.—To speak what he has seen and heard. This what the apostles were called to do when they were made witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. In like manner the proper business of the Christian preacher is to lay before his fellow-men the truth of sacred Scripture as that is revealed to and appropriated by his own understanding, heart, and conscience.
III. The constraint of the preacher’s action.—“We cannot but speak” showed that the apostles had not taken up their calling as a matter of self-directed choice, but in obedience to the impulse of conscience, and not from interested motives as a means of procuring a livelihood or acquiring fame, but from an irresistible sense of duty, or, as Paul afterwards expressed it, “because necessity had been laid upon them” (1 Corinthians 9:16). So should none assume the preacher’s office except under a similar constraint. To exercise the preacher’s office for a piece of bread (1 Samuel 2:36) is to desecrate the office and be guilty of sacrilege.
Acts 4:21. God glorified by the People for the Healing of the Lame Man.
I. For the exhibition of divine power which they had witnessed.
II. For the rich grace which had been shown to the cripple.
III. For the signal honour which had been put upon the apostles in making them the instruments of this miracle.
IV. For the glorious hope of heavenly succour which was brought to themselves, the people, through this wondrous deed.
Acts 4:1-22. The Jewish Leaders and the Apostles.
I. On the side of the Jewish leaders there was—
1. Illiberality. “Being grieved that they taught the people.” The highest pre-christian culture! Christ alone has shown Himself the friend of universal man—slave or king. Christianity is a universal appeal. It is not a taper, it is the sun.
2. Shortsightedness. They put the apostles in prison! Fools! They could not put God in prison! Had the apostles been original workers, had the cause of their actions lain within themselves, imprisonment might have met the case. But God! etc. Why were the apostles put in prison? For two reasons:
(1) They did good to the diseased;
(2) They instructed the ignorant. Christianity is still the great physical and mental regenerator of the world. The only charge which can be brought against Christianity is that it continually seeks to do good.
3. Impotence. “What shall we do to these men? For that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.” They “threatened” the apostles. That is, they shook their fists in the face of the sun in order to darken the world! They stamped a foot angrily on the sea-shore in order to repel the advancing tide! They sent a message to the wind stating that they would henceforth be independent of the living air! We see how small men are when they set themselves against Truth. They know not what they do! Truth is to them an unknown quantity; at any moment it may smite them; it is subtle, mysterious, intractable. Terrible is the hand of the Lord upon all them that oppose the truth.
II. On the side of the apostles there was—
1. Complete intelligence within the sphere of their ministry. Though the apostles “were unlearned and ignorant men,” yet within the compass of the work which they were called to do they were wise and efficient. This is the secret of success. Know what you do know. Do not venture beyond the line of your vocation. Every preacher is strong when he stands upon fact and experience. Christians must not accept the bait which would draw them upon unknown or forbidden ground.
2. Inconquerable courage in narrating and applying facts.
(1) Look at the dignity of the address;
(2) Look at the calm and emphatic assertion of the name of Christ;
(3) Look at the direct and special impeachment of the hearers; “whom ye crucified”; “set at nought of you builders.” Dignity is proper in the preachers of truth; Christ is the life of Christianity—beware of lauding the system, and forgetting the Man. Accusation is the first work of every Christian evangelist. Prove the world’s crime!
3. Christian magnanimity in preaching the Gospel. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, where by we must be saved.” Thus was the Gospel preached to the murderers of God’s Holy One. “Beginning at Jerusalem.” In this brief sermon Peter proceeds upon two assumptions:
(1) That men need saving;
(2) That there is but one true way of saving them. These assumptions have been proved to be true.
4. Incorruptible loyalty to God and to His truth. “Whether it be right in the sight of God,” etc. (Acts 4:19). “Things which we have seen and heard!” What a field! Missions at home and abroad,—Schools,—Labours,—Sacrifices,—Death-beds!—J. Parker, D.D.
Acts 4:23. Their own company.—Not the apostles merely, but their friends in the faith generally.
Acts 4:24. O Lord!—Addressed not to Christ, as in Acts 1:24, who, however, is also called δέσποτης (2 Peter 2:1; Jude 1:4), but to God as the absolute Master of the universe which He has made (Acts 14:15; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 42:5; Revelation 4:11).
Acts 4:25. By the mouth of Thy servant David should be by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of our father, David Thy servant—the mouth of David being regarded as the mouth of the Holy Ghost. The text in this verse is confessedly difficult, and “doubtless contains a primitive error” (Westcott and Hort). The citation is from the second Psalm (LXX.); which is undoubtedly ascribed to David.
Acts 4:26. For Christ read Anointed, which term, however, applied by pre-eminence to Christ.
Acts 4:27. The best texts insert in this city, ἐν τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ, after of a truth (compare Acts 10:34), which certifies the fulfilment of the divine oracle in the proceedings which were taken against Christ by both Herod and Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:1-12).
Acts 4:28. To do whatsoever, etc.—Compare Acts 2:23.
Acts 4:29. Lord.—As in Acts 4:24. Here distinguished from Jesus.
Acts 4:31. The place was shaken.—In answer to the prayer of the disciples, not by an earthquake (Kuinocl), which, according to the notions of the time, gave intimation of the presence of the Deity (see Virgil, Æneid, 3:89, 90: Da pater augurium, atque animis illabere nostris; vix ea fatus eram, tremere omnia visa repente), but by a supernatural movement of the chamber according to the promise of “signs on the earth” in Acts 2:19.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 4:23-31
The Apostles with their own Company; or, the Welcome of the First Confessors
I. The report of the apostles.—
1. To whom it was delivered. To their own company—i.e., to their own colleagues in the apostleship, or, more accurately, to their friends in the faith, who doubtless had convened at their usual resort, the upper room (Acts 1:13), on learning of the arrest and imprisonment of their two principal leaders. Christ’s people, as brethren, should cultivate between each other a spirit of mutual confidence and sympathy (1 Peter 3:8), bearing each other’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), and remembering that when one member suffers all the other members suffer with it (1 Corinthians 12:26).
2. Of what it was composed. “Of all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.” Most likely of nothing they themselves had said in reply to the chief priests and elders (Chrysostom). If so, the report must have been as remarkable for its omissions as for its inclusions. For Christ’s servants there is a time to be silent as well as a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7); the former, when the glory of self is concerned (Proverbs 27:2), the latter when the honour of Christ or the safety of His cause is endangered (1 Corinthians 16:13). If “all the words of the chief priests and elders” were faithfully reported, it may be confidently assumed that none were added to them; “if nothing was extenuated” it may equally be assumed that “naught was set down in malice.”
II. The prayer of the congregation.—
1. By what it was prompted. By the dark outlook which, according to Peter’s and John’s report, loomed before the friends of Jesus—the highest ecclesiastical tribunal of the land having pronounced against them. As yet the adherents of the New Cause were a feeble folk, poor in wealth and obscure in station, and therefore ill fitted to contend against the “powers that be” either in Church or State; and though for the present the hostility of the Sanhedrim was held in check by the popularity of the New Cause, no one could predict how speedily the favour of the crowd might change and the aspect of affairs be completely altered.
“An habitation giddy and unsure
Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart.”—Shakespeare.
And well the Church in Jerusalem knew, or might have known from the case of its Master (compare Matthew 21:9 with Acts 27:22), that the present popularity of the apostles might not long continue.
“The noisy praise
Of giddy crowds is changeable as winds.”—Dryden.
Hence, in circumstances so depressing, the Church betook itself to prayer—invoked the aid of Him who is without variableness or shadow of turning (James 1:17). An example deserving imitation by all (Psalms 50:15; Psalms 91:15; Philippians 4:6).
2. To whom it was directed. To God, the only hearer of prayer (Psalms 65:2), addressing Him
(1) As Lord, or Master—i.e., as the possessor of absolute authority and power (Deuteronomy 3:24; 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Psalms 62:11), this being the import of the term used by Peter—a term which he also applies to Christ (Acts 1:24; 1 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 2:1), as Paul likewise does (2 Corinthians 3:17; Philippians 4:5).
(2) As Maker of the universe in its three parts—heaven, earth, and sea, with all that in them is; and therefore as mightier than the Sanhedrim or all Christ’s foes combined.
(3) As Inspirer of sacred Scripture, who by the Holy Ghost, speaking through David, predicted beforehand the opposition of earth’s kings and rulers to Christ’s cause and the utter folly of it, and therefore as one in a manner obliged by fidelity to His own word to defend them in the crisis which had arisen.
(4) As Lord and Father of Jesus, His holy Child and Servant, for both renderings may be adopted; and consequently as one who must necessarily be constrained by love and faithfulness to champion Christ’s cause. N.B.—Petitioners at God’s throne should have a clear grasp of the greatness, majesty, and power of Him whose favour they bespeak.
3. In what manner it was presented.
(1) With one heart. “One heart,” says Delitzsch (Bib. Psych., p. 295, E. T.), “is the conscious perfect agreement of will, thought, and feeling”; and such oneness of heart existed in the present instance. All realised the danger, discerned the only quarter whence help could be procured, and bestirred themselves to act in concert in a fervent approach to the Heavenly Throne. Prayer, of course, is only then united when the hearts from which it issues are united, and to such prayer special hope of success has been given (Matthew 18:19-20).
(2) With a loud voice. Whether all recited the prayer together cannot be concluded from the writer’s words. Acts 4:25-26, culled from the second Psalm, would doubtless be familiar to the audience, and if the whole passage (Acts 4:24-30) was an early Christian liturgy composed shortly after the crucifixion (which is only conjecture) the whole congregation may have simultaneously and vocally joined in the supplication, though it is more likely one led the devotions with his voice while the rest followed with their hearts and voices also as they felt inclined. Baumgarten’s view may approach the truth that all sang the second Psalm, while Peter, or some other, applied the contents to their situation in the terms here recorded.
4. For what it entreated.
(1) That God would look upon the threatenings of Christ’s adversaries, and consider the situation of His praying servants. The peril then impending they regarded as of a piece with, in fact as a continuation of, the machinations which in that very city had been formed against Jesus by Herod and Pontius Pilate, and along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel who had then come together out of every tribe, to do whatsoever God’s hand and counsel had foreordained to come to pass. Here again in the prayer of the congregation, as in Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:23), the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man are recognised, without the feeling that these were incompatible the one with the other.
(2) That God would embolden His servants, the apostles, and the disciples generally, to speak His word—of grace and mercy, salvation and eternal life—without shrinking through fear of man. Not a whisper escapes their lips about calling down vengeance upon the heads of their persecutors. (Contrast Luke 9:54; Luke 22:49; John 18:10.) The spirit of their dying Master having taken possession of their hearts, they only ask for themselves courage and constancy, that they might stand fast and not grow weary and faint in their minds (Hebrews 12:8).
(3) That God would continue to stretch forth His hand in works of healing such as had been performed upon the lame man, doing signs and wonders through His holy Servant Jesus. This alone, the special manifestation of Almightiness, they craved. It was a prayer remarkable for its comprehensiveness and its brevity, its sublimity and its humility, its intelligence and its faith.
III. The answer of God.—Given in three ways.
1. A shaken chamber. Scarcely had their supplication subsided than the walls of the house trembled, “as if they had been touched by the wings of the descending Spirit” (Spence). This supernatural vibration of the edifice, like the sound of the mighty rushing wind on Pentecost (Acts 2:2), betokened the Divine Presence. (See “Critical Remarks.”)
2. The descending Spirit. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” As on Pentecost, they were again taken possession of by an inward spiritual influence, which abode not with them always, but seized them at intervals. This to be distinguished from the permanent inhabitation of believers by the Holy Ghost.
3. Courageous preaching. “They spake the word with boldness.” Not within the chamber merely, but outside, in the temple courts and on the streets (Acts 4:33; Acts 5:12; Acts 5:21; Acts 5:25). What they prayed for had been granted, instantaneously (Isaiah 65:24) and literally (Matthew 21:22).
1. That the best refuge in time of danger is God.
2. The best prayer is that which directly tells God the soul’s or the Church’s need.
3. That the best way of overcoming enemies is to pray for their highest good.
4. That the best evidence of being filled with the Spirit, is to speak the word with boldness.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 4:24. A Congregation at Prayer.—A model for the times.
I. United.—“With one accord.”
II. Fervent.—“They lifted up their voice to God.”
III. Reverent.—“Lord, Thou art God,” etc.
IV. Believing.—“Who by the mouth of Thy servant David,” etc.
V. Intelligent.—They knew whom they addressed and what they wanted.
VI. Merciful.—They asked not for vengeance on their enemies.
VII. Hopeful.—They had large expectations as to the future of Christ’s cause—“that signs and wonders,” etc. (Acts 4:30).
Acts 4:25. Vain Imaginings.
I. That God’s purpose of salvation can be defeated by man’s opposition.
II. That Christ’s cause can be destroyed even by the fiercest persecution.
III. That the Spirit’s work upon the earth can be arrested by the most powerful combinations against it.
The World’s Treason against its King.
I. The fact.
II. The impotence of their rage.—It is very useless anger. It accomplishes nothing.
1. It won’t alter the purpose of God.
2. It won’t make Him afraid. “Are we stronger than He?” asks the apostle. “Hast thou an arm like God?” asked Job 3:0. It won’t shake the eternal throne.
4. It won’t change truth into error, or error into truth. It tries to do this. But in vain.
III. The reason of their rage.—
1. Because they hate God Himself.
2. They hate His government.
3. They hate His Song of Song of Solomon 4:0. They hate His Bible.
IV. God’s reasons for allowing this.—Why not arrest the blasphemy?
1. To show what the evil of sin is.
2. To show the abysses of the human heart.
3. To show His power and grace.
V. God’s time for interposing.—The close of the Psalm shows that He will interfere at length. He is not slack concerning His promises and threats.—H. Bonar, D.D.
Acts 4:24-31. The Christian Conception of God.
I. A triune personality.—Father (Lord), Son (Christ), and Holy Ghost.
II. The Maker of the Universe.—Of “heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is.”
III. The hearer of prayer.—Implied in the Church’s supplication of His aid.
IV. The inspirer of Scripture.—“Who by the mouth of Thy servant David hath said.”
V. The providential ruler of the world.—“To do whatsoever Thy hand and counsel determined before to be done.”
VI. The omniscient observer of all men and things.—“And now, Lord, behold their threatenings.”
VII. The author of salvation.—The Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose name signs and wonders, moral and spiritual, as well as physical and temporal, were done.
Acts 4:29. Boldness in Preaching.
I. Because the preacher’s commission is from heaven.
II. Because the preacher’s message is the Word of God. Which is
3. Much needed;
III. Because the preacher’s foes are feeble.—In comparison with those who are on his side.
IV. Because the preacher’s helpers are divine.—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Acts 4:18-31. Christian Courage.—“And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus,” etc. It is always an impressive moment when a jury, or an important deliberative body, is about to render a decision. This is especially true if the question at issue involves vital interests, and the determining body speaks with authority. To such a decision from such a body the text relates. The scene is in Jerusalem, soon after Pentecost. In considering the conduct of these men, thus arraigned, threatened, and commanded, we notice—
I. The test of the apostles’ courage.—It is evident that the early followers of Christ did not design or wish to separate themselves from the Jewish Church. They differed from other Jews in believing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah; but they still supposed that the way into the Messianic kingdom was through the portal of the Jews’ religion. Hence, although those of kindred spirit met privately for worship in each other’s houses and in upper rooms, the disciples of Jesus kept up their observance of the Mosaic ritual, and were constant attendants upon the temple service. See now these men, Peter and John, confronted by a positive command from the nation’s highest tribunal to be silent. This is the first utterance of the Sanhedrim concerning the new religion since Christ’s resurrection. These men remember how determined this same court had been upon the crucifixion of Him in whose name they have been teaching. If they persist, can they expect a better fate than befell their Master? We can have little conception of the severity of the ordeal. National love, respect for law, pride of race, reverence for institutions hoary with age, strength of social tics, personal friendships, a shrinking from becoming disturbers of the peace, fear for personal safety—all these conspired to intensify the command “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” What enables them to oppose the Sanhedrim’s command? It is their personal love for Jesus. In their hearts a fire has been kindled, and their breasts are aglow with flame. To be silent is impossible. “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” Instead of being silent, they proclaimed Christ with added boldness. There are currents in the sea which, despite opposing winds and storms and tides, move on their way unhindered, impelled by a mighty force hidden far in the ocean’s depths. Such a force in the hearts of these disciples was love for Christ. This caused them to listen to the Sanhedrim’s decree unmoved. Love had cast out fear. Such courage, resulting from such love, could then, and can always, bear the severest test.
II. The manifestations of the apostles’ courage.—Men are sometimes called courageous when they are only reckless. The man of real courage will be bold enough, and calm enough, to act wisely. His bravery will be something more than bravado. In the conduct of the apostles—commanded by the sanhedrim to be silent, and they resolved meanwhile to speak—every mark of true courage is manifest. They show that their course is not prompted by impulse or passion. They are moved by deep convictions. “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” They plant themselves on the highest conceivable ground, the sense of right. They have no ambitious ends to seek, no revenge to gratify, no popular applause to gain. There is no other courage so lofty or so enduring as this. It keeps the nerves steady and the head cool and the heart brave. Note, as an evidence of wisdom, how sagaciously the apostles appeal to this self-same principle of right in the minds of their accusers. The idea of unquestioning allegiance to God was deeply implanted in the Jews’ religion, and the Sanhedrim was set for its defence and inculcation. Who, then, better prepared than the Sanhedrim to decide whether it be right to “hearken more unto men than unto God”? “Judge ye.” This sense that it is right to hearken more unto God than unto men enters into the universal consciousness. Whether this principle is adopted in one’s practical life or rejected, it must and does commend itself to every man’s conscience. Those who adhere to it gain the confidence of all. It is the right rule for the young to select. Another manifestation of the apostles’ courage is seen in the company they keep. “Being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.” The scene now changes from the council chamber of the Sanhedrim to the midst of the Christian brotherhood. Those to whom they are come have doubtless been praying for their imperilled brethren. How changed the aspect! In the Sanhedrim the air was dense with suspicion and malice—here is love, purity, and the peace of heaven. Courage is of the right kind when it seeks to sustain itself by breathing an atmosphere like this. It is a praying circle into which these apostles come. “They lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, Thou art God.”
III. The source of the apostles’ courage.—What has transformed the timorous Simon to the undaunted Peter? The answer is not far to find. A heavenly influence has fallen upon him. This new-born courage of the apostles, although in them, was not of them. Its source was above: it was a divine energy infused within them; the breath of God’s Spirit upon their spirits. Christ did not send the apostles into the trials and persecutions incident to their day without providing them with a power adequate to every want. What Christ did for His early disciples He does to-day. Often to-day the need of Christians is courage. Now the opposition to be encountered is not, usually, persecution or prison doors. It may, however, be something requiring as true a heroism to withstand. So long as the world remains as it is, no Christian, and especially no one just becoming such, will find himself where to stand by his principles will not often be at cost, and require an effort for which he is inadequate only as God shall help him. To this end the Holy Spirit is given.—Monday Club Sermons.
Acts 4:32. The multitude of them that believed were not the new converts merely, but the general body of the disciples.
Acts 4:33. Grace.—Not favour with the people, as in Acts 2:47 (Grotius, Olshausen, Holtzmann), but divine favour, as in Acts 11:23; John 1:14 (Meyer, Alford, Zöckler, Hackett), of which Acts 4:34-35 furnish proof.
Acts 4:36. For Joses read Joseph. Barnabas, the son of consolation, or son of exhortation (Holtzmann, Zöckler)—i.e., of consolatory discourse. A title given to Joseph from the sympathetic character of his preaching (Acts 11:23). Barnabas afterwards became Paul’s companion on his missionary travels (Acts 13:2). A Levite—A descendant of Levi, but not a priest. Of the country of Cyprus.—Rather, a Cyprian by birth—i.e., a Jew who had been born in Cyprus.
Acts 4:37. Having land, or a farm belonging to him. Whether in Palestine (Holtzmann, Zöckler) or in Cyprus (Hackett) is not said, but most likely in the former. Though the Levites had no share in the soil of Canaan, that destroyed not their right of private ownership within the forty-eight cities assigned them, or in the territory adjacent to these (see Jeremiah 32:7). The money.—The price realised by the sale of his farm. At the apostles’ feet.—As a voluntary contribution to the common fund, for distribution among the poorer brethren. The case of Ananias (Acts 5:1) shows that Barnabas was under no compulsion to either sell his farm or donate his money.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 4:32-37
The Apostles and the First Christians; or, the Effect of the First Persecution
I. It united the congregation.—Contrary to the expectations of its instigators, the hostility directed against the followers of the Nazarene resulted in banding them more closely together.
1. In amity and concord. The multitude, by this time, numbering at least five thousand persons, were of one heart and soul—“heart” representing the intellectual (Mark 2:6; Mark 2:8; Mark 11:23; Luke 2:35; Luke 3:15; Luke 6:45), and “soul” the emotional (Luke 2:35; Luke 12:22; John 12:27) side of human nature. In their views of divine truth had emerged no divergence, in their regards for one another no estrangement, in their plans no division. As brethren they were of one mind (1 Peter 3:8), walked by the same rule (Philippians 3:16), and cherished the same love, being of one accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:2). “All wished the one thing, to be blessed; all thought the one thing, to remain true to the Lord Jesus; all felt the one thing, the comfort of the Holy Spirit; and this oneness of heart in willing, thinking, and feeling was the moving soul in the action of the whole body” (Besser). “At the time of Constantine Eusebius was able still to write of Christians, ‘One and the same power of the divine spirit goes through all members, in all is one soul and one liveliness of faith’ ” (Ibid.). Alas! that such cannot now be affirmed of the Christian community as a whole, or of Christian individuals, who are not only gathered into rival communities, but often filled with mutual jealousies and engaged in mutual strifes.
2. In self-sacrifice and beneficence. “Not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things common.” Thus “they abolished property, as it were, without abolishing it, and possessed it as though they possessed it not. Everything, both heart, soul, and spiritual life, and also all property and worldly enjoyments were in common, so far as was lawful and expedient” (Stier). They so considered each other’s needs that none were allowed to want. There were no beggars among the Christians. Owners of houses and lands, like Barnabas the Cypriote, sold these and cast the proceeds into a common treasury, out of which distribution was made to each disciple according to his need. That this was an attempt to establish communism as a rule of the Christian society cannot be made out (see on Acts 4:32). Most likely it was prompted by a desire to relieve the necessities of those who, in becoming believers, had been obliged to renounce their worldly goods.
II. It inspired the apostles.—Instead of intimidating the leaders of the new society, the opposition of the Sanhedrim fired them with increased zeal.
1. To continue their work of preaching. Changing not their theme, manner, or place of preaching, they kept on repeating the old story of the resurrection of Jesus, knowing it to be true, and to contain the one Gospel for sinful men. The Church had prayed that they might be enabled to speak the word with boldness (Acts 4:29), and so abating nothing of either their confidence in the message they proclaimed, or the courage with which they set it forth, undaunted by fears or frowns, they gave witness of what they had seen and heard. As a consequence, their preaching was accompanied by great power—i.e., with deeply convincing effect; and no preaching will tell that lacks this element of boldness.
2. To undertake additional toil. Naturally, at first, the labour of distributing the common funds fell to the apostles as the heads of the community, and as persons in whom the community had confidence. Before long, however, it was seen that even apostles might be overburdened with work. Besides, the work in question was of a sort for which less than apostolic talent might suffice. Accordingly, another order of officers, the diaconate, was soon after called into existence to superintend this department of Christian activity (Acts 6:1-6).
III. It enriched both.—Designed to dispirit them in their religious ardour and discredit them in public estimation, the persecution of the Jewish rulers had the contrary effect. It enriched them.
1. With divine favour. “And great grace was upon them all,”—upon apostles and believers alike. There is no reason to depart from the ordinary sense of the term grace, though some (Grotius, Kuinoel, Olshausen, and Holtzmann) understand by it the favour of the people (compareActs 2:47; Acts 2:47). That the apostles were recipients of this grace from Heaven was evidenced by “the great power,” or convincing effect with which “they witnessed of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”; that the disciples generally were not without experience of the same was attested by the munificent liberality which they displayed.
2. With popular acceptance. Though not the best meaning of the term “grace,” it need not be excluded. Instead of damping the cordiality of the people towards the apostles and disciples, the persecution of them and their cause on which the ecclesiastical authorities had entered rather helped to augment the same. In this respect persecution is always a failure—never killing, but rather strengthening the cause against which it is directed.
1. The excellence of Christian unity.
2. The beauty of Christian charity.
3. The power of Christian truth.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 4:32. All Things Common; or, a Sermon on Christian Socialism.
I. How the early Christians were led to this experiment.
1. They were not in any way commanded or counselled so to act by the apostles. At least it does not appear from the narrative that they were. Who originated the proposal is not told.
2. Most likely the plan adopted was suggested by the necessities of the situation. In the course of a few weeks as many as five thousand men (possibly not including women and children) had passed over from Judaism into the Christian Church, in many instances, doubtless, not only snapping the ties that bound them to their kinsmen and relatives, but also throwing themselves out of their accustomed employments.
3. The plan would probably commend itself to them as desirable. As being in accordance with
(1) the precepts (Matthew 6:19-20; Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33), and
(2) the practice (John 13:29) of Christ, who not only enjoined the renunciation of earthly goods but shared a common purse with the Twelve.
4. The movement may have sprung from the warm hearts of the richer members of the Church who compassionately regarded the destitution of their Christian brethren.
II. The exact character of this early experiment.
1. The sale of goods and lands was not compulsory, or binding on believers as a term of communion. The language of Peter to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:4), and the case of John Mark’s mother who had a house in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), show this. It is not needful to add that it was their own goods and not other people’s that these early Christians cast into the treasury.
2. It is not clear that all the Jerusalem Christians were placed upon this common fund. Possibly only those were who from age, infirmity, lack of employment, or want of friends were destitute of support (the mention of “widows,”Acts 6:1; Acts 6:1, points to this); and even of those it does not appear that all received an equal aliment (“according as he had need,” Acts 4:35, favours this).
3. Hence what wears the aspect of a universal sustentation fund was probably nothing more than a voluntary relief fund, to which those contributed who felt themselves able and were moved thereto by love to Christ and sympathy for their needy brethren, and out of which those were supported who were unable to maintain themselves.
III. Indications that this early experiment was not designed to be permanent.—Even should it be conceded that the experiment in question was of a strictly communistic character, and that the apostles originally meant it to become a fixed practice, there is ground for thinking that they pretty soon changed their minds in this respect.
1. It was not mentioned at the First Council in Jerusalem as a method of living which might be imitated by the· Gentile Churches. On the contrary, Paul and Barnabas were directed to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10)—i.e., to lift collections from the rich Gentile congregations for the support of the poor disciples in the Judæan metropolis.
2. It was probably found that the experiment had not been successful in Jerusalem, but rather hurtful. If it met an emergency, it appears to have been followed by the usual results which flow from common funds. It destroyed the independence of the Jerusalem Church, which became practically filled with lazy paupers, who sorned upon their wealthier brethren. “The system of common property” (among the New England Pilgrims), writes Bancroft, “had occasioned grievous discontents; the influence of law could not compel regular labour like the uniform impulse of personal interest; and even the threat of ‘keeping back their bread’ could not change the character of the idle” (History of America, i., 238).
Christianity and Socialism.—“As a movement for the deliverance of the poor and their introduction to a good and happy life, the gospel of God’s love in Christ thoroughly agrees with socialism.” Yet “there is a broad line of distinction between the two.”
I. Socialism insists on external and economic conditions for good; Christianity insists on the inward and moral, because all social disorders are spiritual at heart, and the spiritual is the ultimate root of all life.
II. Socialism makes the community the final and absolute proprietor of all wealth; Christianity makes God the proprietor and us His stewards for others.
III. Socialism too much seeks to enforce its doctrine of property by brute force; Christianity by the moral leaven of love in the soul of man.
IV. Socialism thinks by equalising human conditions to secure the greatest amount of comfort and happiness; Christianity, or Jesus Christ, teaches that all vital development must be spontaneous, and from within, that a change of character is to be sought rather than a change of conditions.” Yet “Christianity and socialism need not be spoken of as rivals; they are compatible, and should not be made parties in a quarrel. The fact is that socialism needs to be christianised, and that Christianity needs to be socialised.”—A. Scott Matheson.
Acts 4:33. The Christian Ministry.
I. Its personnel.—No longer the apostles, but the pastors and teachers of the New Testament Church.
II. Its function.—Witness-bearing. Not arguing or philosophizing.
III. Its theme.—The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ—including, of course, all the connected facts and doctrines.
IV. Its influence.—When rightly exercised it wields great dynamic force of a moral and spiritual kind.
V. Its reward.—It attracts towards itself “great grace” both from God and man.
The Best Graces for a Church.
I. The grace of unity.
II. The grace of witness-hearing.
III. The grace of liberality.
Acts 4:33. The Risen Christ and the Power of the Gospel.
I. The resurrection.—It is not so much with death as with resurrection that the apostles had to do, at least in Jerusalem and Judæa. The death was a believed fact there, not needing witnesses.
II. The testimony.—It was the testimony of apostles; and yet it was not as apostles, or with official authority that they testified, but as men of integrity and good sense, who saw with their eyes, and heard with their ears.
III. The power.—“With great power gave the apostles witness.” The word which they spoke was in itself a word of power. But apart from this, the “great power” here spoken of was exhibited.
1. In the accompanying miracles, by which God identified Himself with the apostolic testimony, declaring that their testimony was His truth; for of this the miracles were the seal.
2. In the accompanying power exercised over, and in, men’s souls.
IV. The grace.—It is “great grace”; free love in no ordinary measure.—H. Bonar, D.D.
Acts 4:36. Joses surnamed Barnabas.
I. The possessor of a good pedigree.—He was a Levite, a member of the priestly tribe, though not himself a priest.
II. The owner of a good name.—The son of exhortation, or the son of consolation, with reference to either his eloquence or his sympathy.
III. The author of a good deed.—“Having land he sold it, and laid the money at the apostles’ feet.”
Joses Barnabas; or, the Consecration of Wealth.
I. The pious landowner.—
1. His name and surname. Joses, or Joseph—an honourable name in Israel. Barnabas, the son of exhortation or consolation—a more honoured surname in the Christian Church. 2. His character and ability. A good man and full of the Holy Ghost; also a talented man, as may be concluded from his rank alongside of the apostles, his power of eloquent speech, and his usefulness as a colleague of Paul.
3. His land and property.—A native of Cyprus, and the possessor of a piece of ground in that island.
II. The great renunciation.—He sold his land, that which men highly value, probably his patrimonial inheritance, and cast the proceeds into the common fund.
1. Out of love to Christ, whose disciple he was.
2. Under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, by whom his heart was filled.
3. From consideration of his fellow-Christians’ needs, whom he regarded as Christ’s brethren and his own.
III. The cheerful consecration.—He laid it at the apostles’ feet.
1. No doubt without reluctance, as a cheerful giver.
2. Without reservation, keeping back no part of the price.
3. Without stipulation, leaving it for distribution entirely under the apostles control.
Acts 4:36-37. A Sermon on Wealth.—Its right use exemplified by Barnabas.
I. Wealth possessed.—No sin, at least not necessarily, but a great talent.
II. Wealth surrendered.—Not an obligation imposed upon Christians, yet a sacrifice that may be freely offered.
III. Wealth consecrated.—Whether retained or renounced it should be devoted to the service of God and Jesus Christ.
IV. Wealth distributed.—One way of devoting wealth to God and Christ is to disperse it abroad and give to the poor (Psalms 112:9), to do good with it and to communicate (Hebrews 13:16; 1 Timothy 6:18).
Acts 4:31-37. The True Blossoms of a Christian Congregation.
I. Where the preaching of Christ flourishes there living faith flourishes. “The multitude believed.”
II. Where living faith flourishes there genuine love flourishes. “One heart and one soul.”
III. Where genuine love flourishes, there true prosperity flourishes. “No one lacked.”—Gerok.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany