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Now Peter and John.
Peter and John
The union of the two brings the narratives of the Gospels into an interesting connection with the Acts. They were probably about the same age (the idea that Peter was some years older than John rests mainly on the pictures which artists have drawn from their imagination, and has no evidence in Scripture), and had been friends from their youth upward. They had been partners as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee (Luke 5:10). They had been sharers in looking for the consolation of Israel, and had together received the baptism of John (John 1:41). John and Andrew had striven which should be the first to tell Peter that they had found the Christ (John 1:41). The two had been sent together to prepare for the Passover (Luke 22:8). John takes Peter into the palace of the high priest (John 18:16), and though he must have witnessed his denials, is not estranged from him. It is to John that Peter turns for comfort after his fall, and with him he comes to the sepulchre on the morning of the resurrection (John 20:6). The eager affection which, now more strongly than ever, bound the two together is seen in Peter’s question, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” (John 21:21); and now they are again sharers in action and in heart, in teaching and in worship. Passing rivalries there may have been, disputes which was the greatest, prayers for places on the right hand and the left (Matthew 20:20; Mark 10:35); but the idea maintained by Renan, that St. John wrote his Gospel to exalt himself at the expense of Peter, must take its place among the delirantium somnia; the morbid imaginations, of inventive interpretation. They appear in company again in the mission to Samaria (Romans 8:14), and in recognising the work that had been done by Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:9). When it was that they parted never to meet again, we have no record. (Dean Plumptre.)
Peter and John
In natural disposition, Peter and John did not very exactly correspond with each other; but diamond polishes diamond, and these two precious stones may have advantageously polished each other. (Rieger.)
Went up together into the temple.--
The Christian has to regard this--
1. Not as a legal yoke.
2. Not as a meritorious work.
1. AS a good and useful discipline.
2. As a thankworthy opportunity for increase in goodness. (Lechler.)
Love for worship
“I have in my congregation,” said a minister of the gospel, “a worthy aged woman, who has for many years been so deaf as not to distinguish the loudest sound; and yet she is always one of the first in the meeting. On asking the reason of her constant attendance, as it was impossible for her to hear my voice, she answered, ‘Though I cannot hear you, I come to God’s house because I love it, and would be found in His ways; and He gives me many a sweet thought upon the text when it is pointed out to me: another reason is, because I am in the best company, in the most immediate presence of God, and among His saints, the honourable of the earth. I am not satisfied with serving God in private: it is my duty and privilege to honour Him regularly and constantly in public.’”
We should have set places for the worship of God
The song-birds in our fields have a chosen branch on which they continually perch for their morning and evening songs. In time of encampment Washington reserved to himself a thicket where he could pray undisturbed. Bishop Leighton frequented a grove in a public park which was at last left to him as his own property. In the story of “The Path to the Bush” is an account of the beaten track through the forest to the praying huts of the native converts, and the faithful girl hinting to her sister that “the grass grew on her path.”
The house of God
A new student had come to the university and called to see Professor Tholuck. The latter asked him where he went to church. “Oh,” said he, “I do not attend preaching. Instead of confining myself to the four walls of a building I go out into the green fields, and under the lofty arches of the forest trees I listen to the singing of the birds and the countless melodies of God’s creatures, where everything that hath breath praises the Lord.” Then the professor asked him, “But what do you do when it rains?” Conformity to God’s plan is best.
Why do Christians go to church
Is it chiefly in order that they may give or receive, through the services and their own part in them? These questions would be answered very differently by different persons. Some go, out of a glad and grateful heart, to show and to express their gratitude to God, and to bear a part in His public worship. Others go in order to gain some personal advantage through what they see and hear and feel while there. The one sort are pretty sure to accomplish what they go for. They swell the service of prayer and praise, and by their countenance and evident appreciativeness they cheer the heart of the preacher, and give added force to his preaching. The other sort often find their church-going a failure. The singing is not what they hoped for; the prayers fail to meet their wants; the Bible selections are poorly timed to their requirements; and as to the sermon, “it does not feed their souls. It is a great pity that there are comparatively so few of the first class of Christian worshippers, and that there are so many of the second class. And it is a noteworthy fact that those who go to church to do what they can to make the church service a success, grow steadily in character and in intellectual power; while those who go there with a chief desire to be the personal gainers by their going, shrink and dwindle in their personality. The poorest specimens of church-goers are those who are constantly complaining that the preaching “does not feed” them. Hearers of that sort are like Pharaoh’s lean kine; the more they swallow the leaner they look. In this sphere, as well as in every other, the words of our Lord Jesus are true, that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (H. C. Trumbll, D. D.)
At the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.--
Hours of prayer
The ninth hour was 3 p.m., the hour of the evening sacrifice (Jos. Ant. 14.4, § 3). The traditions of later Judaism had fixed the third, the sixth, and the ninth hours of each day as times for private prayer. Daniel’s practice of praying three times a day seems to imply a rule of the same kind, and Psalms 55:17 (“Evening and morning and at noon will I pray”) carries the practice up to the time of David. “Seven times a day” was, perhaps, the rule of those who aimed at a life of higher devotion (Psalms 119:164). Both practices passed into the usage of the Christian Church certainly as early as the second century, and probably therefore in the first. The three hours were observed by many at Alexandria in the time of Clement (Strom. 7. p. 722)
. The seven became the “canonical hours” of Western Christendom, the term first appearing in the rule of St. Benedict (ob. a.d. 542)
and being used by Bede (a.d. 701). (Dean Plumptre.)
The proper hour of worship
Rowland Hill well knew how to seize the best opportunity for reproving culpable habits in his hearers. One of them, who, to his great annoyance, avoided coming to chapel in time for the prayers, and arrived only just soon enough to hear the sermon, complained to him of partiality in a magistrate. He gave him one of his most searching looks, and said with an emphasis and manner peculiar to himself, “Then why do you not come to public worship in proper time to pray that God would ‘grant all magistrates grace to execute justice and maintain truth’?”
The hour of prayer
1. The companions. This first verse reveals, as by a flash-light, the spirit of these companions. Peter and John together. What antipodes 1 Peter, impulsive, bold, energetic, daring; John, meditative, timid, loving, trustful. What ground in nature for fellowship between them? Yet, like Luther and Melanchthon in the crisis of a later age, they were joined in the strength and beauty of a friendship in Christ that gave to each supplemental grace and energy.
2. “Going up into the temple,” though the vail had been rent and the lesson of the spirituality and universality of worship had been taught them! Peter and John had reverence for sacred places--that reverence which is a mark of depth and spirituality in the religious life. These early disciples did not spurn religious custom, though it was a custom of a decadent Jewish Church. To their devout souls history and sacred associations meant something. Character that is strong has roots. These grow deep and take hold of institutions representing thought and life and history. Luther was loth to leave the old Catholic Church, Romanised and corrupt as it was. Wesley always clung to the Church of England. Superstition you may call this clinging to the venerable and historic. Well, if the choice is between irreverence and superstition, give me superstition. Irreverence weakens conscience and blunts the spiritual edge of character. Superstition, as the devout Neander has well said, often paves the way to faith. God’s plan was not to obliterate Judaism at a stroke, but to transform it.
3. “At the hour of prayer” went these devout men. But what need had they for prayer, just fresh from the open revelation and spiritual excitement of Pentecost? By this act they teach that prayer is apostolic; that special seasons of illumination and sanctification are a special call to prayer. Though men may not need more fire, yet need they more grace. Religion means daily duty, not occasional ecstasy. “Suspect any inspiration that makes you contemptuous of ordinary religious duties.” After your Pentecost be found “going up into the temple at the hour of prayer.” (W. P. Thirkkield.)
And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried.--
I turn to the story because it brings before us very vividly the whole problem that lies before you and me; the whole problem that lies before the Church; the whole problem that lies before our Master. When you see that lame man carried daily and laid in all his helplessness at the gate of the temple, you get a very vivid picture of the whole problem. Do not let us gather round this impotent man in a questioning, philosophical way, and ask, “How did he become so?” Let us not start vain, seemingly wise, but at bottom foolish questions. The real problem is not, How did we come here? Why are we (the grace of God apart) such wretched creatures? Why is there in London and everywhere else such moral and spiritual impotence? Why is there in the East End, and not less in the West End--only it is better dressed and covered up--that which is so powerfully represented by this helpless man, that squirming misery, that loathsomeness, that wretchedness, that godlessness which no power of art or aesthetics can in the least alleviate? With all our culture, with all our philosophy, with all our fine speeches, and all our fine talking, to this hour there is the situation of things: human nature weary, abject, dejected, sick of itself, utterly loathsome, useless, and helpless; and the problem is not as I have said, “How did he come there?” but “How is that man to be got up?” not “How did you fall into the sea?” but “How are we going to get you out?” Let us turn to this story, then, to see how the great problem that baffles man’s wisdom and love even at its best, how the great problem is solved by Jesus Christ and by His humble servants in His name, working in immediate contact with an absent and uncrowned Lord. Man or woman here who objects to this description of human nature, disprove what I am saying; rise in the might of your own goodness, rise in the might of your own morality, rise in the strength and dignity of human nature, which you think I am talking against, and display it in this fashion: Walk in your own strength into God’s presence. Come, you cannot. The more you try it the more you prove you are an impotent man. This man saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, and he asked help. “And Peter, fastening his eyes on him, with John, said, Look on us.” I would we preachers could learn more thoroughly to do after them, for we do not find that the impotent first of all looked at them, but it certainly is strikingly curious that Peter and John fastened their eyes upon him. He saw them. They might have gone past. He looked at them for ordinary help just as he looked at any others, but the point is that Peter and John did not go past that man. They challenged him. Let us challenge the world’s need. We are blamed--it is the deepest part of the charge against us in newspaper and magazine articles, and there is too much truth in it, and the sting of it lies in its truth--that we are walking past the problem. Peter and John might have been so busily engaged in talking--talking, it may be, about Jesus Christ and the resurrection--that they would have swept past this man. He was not a very attractive sight to look upon, and it would have been very convenient, would it not, for them to have gathered up their garments and swept into the temple past him to engage in the worship of God, and to engage in high and holy converse on the mighty things which were, of course, within their ken? Is there not a good deal of church-going which is just that to-day? Let me ask you point blank, face to face, what is your church-going very often but just that walking past, and turning your blind eye to the squirming wretchedness all around you? When did you put out your hand to alleviate it? When did you utter Christ’s almighty name over it? Aye, this is far too true, that the worship of God with many of us is a denial of God; it is a useless, blind, formalistic, stupid, heartless thing. It has no power towards God or towards man. It is in ourselves and belonging to ourselves--a mere thing of dress, and of Sunday parading to the temple and home again. And the misery of the East End, and of the fat, well-fed, but still wretched West End, is utterly untouched by our Christianity. Not so with Peter and John. Do we believe after all at bottom the conclusion of the whole matter is this: sin is here not to defeat us, but to be defeated by us, to be changed into life and holiness by the power of Him who sits enthroned above the stars of God, even Jesus Christ. It is time that we did, whether we do or not--more than time. Peter and John fastened their eyes upon him and looked at him. They did not go past him. What a lesson for preachers! There are teachers abroad, let me tell you, who do not want to see you; you are a hard nut for them to crack. Why, when you were better off they could speak to you, and you go to them, but since these hard days have come upon you you have dropped going there. When comfort was needed they were too cold. Now, you are right for the gospel. Christ Jesus is here for the sake of this impotent man, and He has lifted up you and me, if we are lifted up, that we may go and fetch the others who have not been brought yet. This is really the whole scope and purpose of the mighty work which God has done upon you, and I rather fear that you are forgetting it. Think of Peter and John stepping forward there. Try to catch the light in their faces as their eyes burned like twin lamps, when, not only they, but Christ, the loving Saviour, in them and through them, bent down and stretched out a hand and looked into the very despairing soul of that helpless creature. And then let me understand, and let you, O Christian worker, understand how much is needed to be, indeed, in this wretched world a servant of Jesus Christ. Oh, if we are able to bring ourselves and our Christ into naked, palpitating contact, let us do so. Let us stand over the perishing as though we meant to take a two-handed grasp of them, and by our own power to lift them right off the sodden bed on which sin has stretched them. Ah, we need an eye in our head, and a tongue in our mouths, and a hand at the end of our arm which has in it some tingle of everlasting love, and we need a heart working behind all three which has been kindled from the heart of Jesus Christ, who for us men and for our salvation took flesh and died upon the Cross. “And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.” That is something. The man gave heed. I do not like a man to hide behind his fingers and peep at me. I have not much hope of that. When the audience looks broadly and frankly up into the preacher’s face things are looking hopeful. “He gave heed to them.” What followed? “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none.” What an inconsequential, disappointing word! What an anti-climax to all that had gone before! “Silver and gold have I none.” Can you imagine the poor man’s eyes? All the delight going out of them, and his long face getting still longer and blacker, and perhaps his tongue uttering indignant words, as he might have said, “Sirs, if you have neither silver nor gold do not add insult to my wretchedness. You might have passed on, and left me unnoticed and unchallenged.” Ay, there are men who just say that to us. I read a book not long ago with a very fine title by a very learned man. I do not question his learning. He just broadly said this--that we preachers can do nothing for this helplessness that is represented here, that we are only talking. They level against us the objection that was levelled against Jesus Christ, when another helpless man was laid at His feet, and instead of curing his physical wretchedness He went first to what was first in importance--his spiritual wretchedness, and said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” It is virtually the same thing still. It is a great blessing for that poor man himself that he was not impressed by it when Peter and John said, “Silver and gold have I none.” I do not know that we are keeping as faithful to our own wares as Peter and John did. I am not sure that we are not getting to be too much impressed by the thought that what the East End needs is coals and blankets, and boots and shoes, and stockings for itself and its wife and its bairns. But suppose we fed the wretchedness of the East End, and suppose we clothed them; after all, what have we done? At the most and best we have only soothed their passage to the grave. Silver and gold can do much, and far more of the silver and gold that belongs to these who call themselves Christians ought to be spent in this blessed way. But there is an end to the power of silver and gold, and the Church was never better in possession of her true wealth than when she was represented by a couple of penniless fishermen, from the crevices of “whose hands I am not quite sure that the fish-scales had yet been dried. You who have got silver and gold, who have come to Jesus Christ, come as humbly as you can. Forget your silver and gold. “Silver and gold have I none.” As I have said, on the surface how disappointing that was! Yet it was well said, and it was better done. “Such as I have give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Now here that poor fellow in a moment, but very truly and also very suddenly, was himself put to solve a very trying problem. Those of us who have been at college know the weary days we spent on what is called summum bonum--“What is the highest good?” It is not a mere vague question of philosophic schools. It is a very practical question, and that poor man lying there that day had to solve for himself very speedily. Virtually this question was put to him: “What is the highest good? Is it silver and gold?” And quicker than my tongue can tell it he came to the swift conclusion: “There is something here that can come to me which is better than anything that silver and gold can do.” Have we got that length? Young fellow, you are toiling, you are trying to reach the summum bonum. Put it philosophically or non-philosophically, that is what we are all trying to do. Now, what is your highest good? Does it not lie in the direction of silver and gold, in the direction of all that is covered by these gilded, these very comprehensive terms, both in their notation and in their denotation? Through the grace and working of God’s Word and God’s Spirit--aye, and through the hardships of life--are not some of us beginning to get an insight of what flashed upon that poor man: “Here is the greatest blessing that I could have, a blessing that I feel I am capable of receiving, a blessing that I feel I greatly need. I have been looking for it in a wrong direction, the world cannot give it.” Those of you who have plenty have said to yourselves, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. Thou hast got the summum bonum; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” And you cannot. Silver and gold are utterly failing. They are cheating; God grant that you may find out the cheat in time. Now listen. It is for men and women when they come to that pass that the preacher of the gospel is here. It is not because we are poor preachers; it is because you are poor stuff to preach to. When we get into contact with those who are ripe for spiritual blessing, when they are brought to that condition by the stress and disappointment of life, then the gospel preacher becomes wonderfully eloquent, simply because your ears are getting bored and your heart is getting adapted to the message that is spoken. “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee. Having thus spoken, he took him by the right hand.” There must be immediate contact between Christ and you, and, more than that, between the preacher and you. That is one reason why I object to this historical pulpit--just simply because in here a great deal of that magnetism that was present with Peter and John is lost. How Peter stooped down and uttered that mighty name! Never go without uttering that mighty name of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter stooped down to grasp that man by the hand, and I see him yielding to the power of omnipotence. Up he came. Hallelujah! Christ is the power that Peter expected Him to be. Heaven has won, hell is baffled. The tide has begun to turn. From this One learn all. There is One who has power over every form of the enemy’s malignant triumph as it extends in all its vastness. Do you not see that it needs all that supernatural work to be wrought upon your impotent soul before you can enter into the temple to appear before God in any profitable way to yourself or in any way that will bring praise and glory to His name? Now what do you know about worship? This is the road to the church, this is the way to the temple. This gospel cannot be preached, and no signs following. Peter and John did not stand over that man for half a day, saying, until it became a dull, stale, flat, unprofitable, weary word. “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk! Rise up and walk! Rise up and walk” while he lay and lay as helpless and as supine as ever. They risked everything, and they were justified in it. And the times are ripe for us to do the same thing still. Sinner, backslider, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up! (J. McNeil.)
A picture of sin and salvation
I. Find a picture of the sinner. The external world is a reflex of the spiritual. That lame man crouching at the gate and unable to enter it is a type of the sinner’s condition.
1. He was a cripple, not a sound, complete man. So is every sinner. In him there is a miserable distortion of character.
2. He was a beggar. Sin is want.
3. This man was shut out of the temple. From certain texts in the Old Testament and certain passages in old Jewish writings the inference has been drawn that deformed people were not allowed to enter the temple. Though it is not certain, such was probably the Jewish law. Such is every sinner’s condition. He is not merely outside the visible church, but he has no part in the spiritual fellowship of God’s people.
II. Find also as a contrast to the above a picture of the disciples. There are two men standing before the lame man. They show us the privilege of Christ’s followers.
1. They have fellowship with each other. Notice how close was the intimacy between Peter and John, and how often they are named together. They were very different, yet they enjoyed the communion of saints with each other.
2. They have a love for God’s house. They are going up to the temple, not as formal worshippers, but full of the Holy Ghost, and enjoying an intimate communion with God. To them all the service has a new meaning, since they have known Christ. He is the Lamb laid on the altar; He is the Theme of the psalm; He is shown in the vestments of the high priest. They worship Christ while others gaze at the spectacle.
3. They have sympathy for the needy. The love of Christ awakes in the Christian heart a love for every man. Others passed by the cripple with a glance of contempt or with a shudder of disgust. These men looked at him with love, for in that distorted form was a soul for whom Christ died.
4. They have power to help. As Peter looks on the man he feels a consciousness of Divine power to heal him. It is not in himself, but through Christ, that he can lift him up to health and strength. We cannot bring healing to men’s bodies, but we can bring salvation to men’s souls.
III. Find in this scene a picture of salvation.
1. In the salvation of every soul there is a human instrumentality. God does not save men alone and directly, nor through the agency of angels. There is always a Peter through whom the power of God comes to a needy soul.
2. There is in every lifetime one moment of special opportunity. No one knows how long the lame man had been lying at the gate; but one day he met his opportunity. So the Samaritan woman met hers at the well, so Matthew met his at his table, so the Ethiopian met his in the desert. Success is to grasp at the opportunity; failure is to let it pass.
3. In this miracle the power lay not in Peter’s hand, but in Jesus’s name--that is, in Jesus Himself, invoked by name. Only a Divine power could heal the cripple, and only a Divine power can make the sinner whole.
4. There was effort required on the part of the man himself. If he had not responded to Peter’s strong clasp of the hand with an effort of his own he would have remained a cripple still. That effort was faith.
IV. Find in this scene a picture of the saved man. See how aptly he represents the soul just after the new birth in the image of Christ Jesus.
1. We behold the transformation. A moment ago he was a crouching cripple; now he stands and leaps upon the marble floor. Look at a greater change in every converted sinner.
2. We notice his privilege. His first act is to enter through the Beautiful gate into the temple.
3. We notice his gratitude. Every saved soul should make confession of what God has done for him.
4. We notice his prominence. At once the remarkable event attracted attention. Every converted man becomes at once an object of interest and an evidence of Jesus’s power. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The first apostolic miracle
The date of this miracle is not quite certain. It appears to be reported as a specimen of those wonders and signs referred to in Acts 2:43. Note--
I. That it was wrought on a living man. In all our Lord’s miracles there was an exhibition of benevolence. This was the case here, for the miracle was wrought--
1. On an afflicted man. He had been lame from his birth. Every man is afflicted from his birth with an evil which nothing but the grace of God can remove.
2. On a poor man. How could one so circumstanced find employment? He was then hopelessly poor; but “man’s extremity was God’s opportunity.”
3. On a man dependent on his friends. This followed from-his affliction and poverty. And it seems that those friends could only put him in the way of receiving help from strangers. Thus the necessities of nature led up to the manifestation of God’s mercy. To how many has affliction been a means of salvation!
4. On a man known to many from the fact that he had been carried there for years. This enhanced the significance of the miracle and promoted its evidential purpose. In like manner does the conversion of the notoriously sinful bear witness to Christianity.
II. That it was an exhibition of active Christianity. It was fitting that being the first, it should have this quality. It shows--
1. A desire to do good on the part of Christian men. If men have no such desires, and yet call themselves Christians, their words and characters do not agree.
2. The effort which arises out of the proper desire to do good. Peter did not “consider the case,” “promise to do the best he could for him,” he took him by the hand and lifted him up. True Christianity turns desire into deed, and makes a missionary, a preacher, or a generous contributor of the man who desires the conversion of the heathen at home or abroad.
3. The course of the working of the gospel in the individual who receives it.
(1) Special attention was awakened. “Look on us.” The man had already looked in an ordinary way. So the hearers of the gospel have to give it more than their usual attention if they would be saved.
(2) Hope was aroused. He “expected to receive something”--what he did not know. So those in whom the gospel is “mixed with faith” when they hear it are made hopeful before they have very distinct views of the joys of personal salvation, and their faith is strengthened until they can apprehend the blessings offered them.
(3) Healing was administered. It came in the name of Jesus Christ, and immediately: so does salvation.
(4) The healed cripple became a witness. The changes in the man’s conduct told observers that he had received a great blessing from God, and was constrained to declare it. So Christians are constrained to bear witness by lip and life. (W. Hudson.)
The miracle at the Beautiful gate
The spiritual lessons we ought to learn are--
I. It is well for Christians to become acquainted with what is going on “at the gate,” over the borders of our serene and comfortable lives; we must look after those who dwell on the outside.
II. Opportunities of doing good lie in our way every day and hour, if we really desire to improve them. One slight turn of the eye across the temple-area, where we pass on our way to prayers, will introduce us to two entirely different and totally distinct worlds of feeling, thought, and history.
III. Christians ought not to lose time in signing after new spheres of conspicuous sacrifice. Like Peter and John, we ourselves, children of the covenant, are apt to be jostled against those who are ignorant, poor, feeble, and in pain. But it does not follow that all of them are certainly vicious and unworthy of help; some of them may actually have “faith to be healed.”
IV. Working hands and willing voices ought to go with weeping eyes when we know the wants of the Lord’s poor. Poverty at hand, weakness close beside us, are quite unromantic; it is distance which lends enchantment to the view in many cases as we converse about heathenism. But our home-heathen must not be absolutely neglected because they are so near. Many men, and some women, will shed tears over the painted picture of a Neapolitan boy begging, who would speak most savagely to the same lad if they met him alive in New York streets; they would quote with vigour the first part of Peter’s little speech, and leave off the rest of it; and they would not put out their hands at all. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The miracle at the Beautiful gate--as a fact
If there be history in any writing, these verses in their simplicity and minute details are a history. There is nothing here approaching the parabolic or the mythical. See here--
I. Poor men becoming the organs of omnipotence. How often has this been the case. Moses, Elijah, and the apostles are examples.
II. A wretched cripple made the occasion of great good. Thoughtful men have often asked, Why, under the government of a benevolent God, such cases should occur? Why men be sent into the world without the use of their limbs, eyes, or reason? But note--
1. That those who come into the world in this state, being unconscious of physical perfection, feel not their condition as others. Men who have never seen know nothing of the blessedness of vision. Hence persons of constitutional defect in form or organ often display a joy or peace at which others wonder.
2. That such cases serve by contrast to reveal the wonderful goodness of God. In nature those parts that have been shattered by earthquakes, or lie in black desolation, serve to set off the beauty and order which generally reign. And so a cripple here, or a blind man there, only set off the goodness of God as displayed in the millions that are perfect. These are a few dark strokes which the Great Artist employs to set off in the picture of the world the more striking aspects of beauty; a few of the rougher notes which the Great Musician uses to swell the chorus of universal order.
3. That they serve to inspire the physically perfect with gratitude to heaven. In the poor idiot, God says to us, “Be thankful for reason,” etc.
4. That they afford scope and stimulus for the exercise of benevolence. Were all men equal in every respect there would be no object to awaken charity.
III. Christianity transcending human aspirations. This man wanted alms, “silver and gold”; but in the name of Christ he received physical power, a blessing he had never ventured to expect. Thus it is ever: Christianity gives man “ more than he can ask or think.” “Eye hath not seen,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
“A miracle is the dearest child of faith.”
I. Faith performs the miracle--Peter and John.
II. Faith experiences the miracle--the lame man, who, although not before the miracle, yet after it, appears as a believer.
III. Faith comprehends the miracle--the believing hearers. (C. Gerok.)
The impotent man
I. The person healed.
1. He was impotent, carried by others; and where they left him they were sure to find him. He was not so by any accident, as Mephibosheth, but from the womb; and therefore his case was the more deplorable, and a cure the more improbable. This is a fit emblem of the unregenerate, who are not only spiritually blind, and deaf, and dumb, but tame too; so that they cannot tread the paths of wisdom, or stir one foot in the way to heaven. Good men may be ready to halt, and their feet well nigh slip; but these are always halting and slipping; for their legs, like those of the lame, are not equal. It is not legs and feet that they want, but the right use of them; and this has been their case from their birth. Blessed be God for the promises made to such! “I will assemble her that halteth, and gather her that is driven out. The lame man shall leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.”
2. His poverty added to his distress. If help was to be obtained by medicine, he bad not wherewithal to procure it, for he had to beg his bread. And thus it is with sinners. The saints want many things in the present life; but wicked men want everything that is worth having; and the want of a sense of this is perhaps their greatest want. Give me leave to add, that those to whom God shows mercy are also oftentimes like the impotent man, poor in temporals. The poor, says Christ, have the gospel preached to them. Those who are destitute of outward ornaments and comforts are inwardly beautified with Divine grace, and filled with Divine consolations.
3. He had continued long under his disorder, which made his case the more deplorable. Let this afford encouragement to old and accustomed sinners, if they have a sense of the evil of their way, and are in good earnest seeking relief, let them not despair of obtaining it. He who cured old diseases can save old sinners.
4. He was nevertheless in the way of a cure; for he lay at the Beautiful gate of the temple, where the charitable might relieve him, the pious pray for him, and the intelligent afford him their best advice. Thus the impotent sinner should watch daily at wisdom’s gates, remembering that God commands deliverance out of Zion, and is there known for a refuge to His people.
II. The nature of the cure.
1. It was unexpected, and therefore the more welcome. And thus it is in the conversion of sinners. Mercy comes as it did to Zaccheus, to Saul, and to this man: unsought and unimplored!
2. It was instantaneous. Peter does not put him upon a long course of medicine; but takes him by the hand, and lifts him up, Thus, however gradual the work of grace may appear in some converts, yet the implantation of grace is instantaneous. God new creates the soul, as He created the world. He says, Let there be light; and there is light; Let there be life! and there is life.
3. As Omnipotence took it in hand, so it was an easy cure. No violent methods were used: his distorted limbs were not reduced to their proper place by any painful operation. And so the actings of Divine grace upon the soul are as mild and gentle as they are powerful and effectual
4. It was a real and permanent cure. Thus it is when God heals the broken heart, or cures the distempered soul. The one is a miracle of power, the other of grace: and as the former, so the latter is no deception.
III. The effects of the cure.
1. “He leaped up.” Thus it is with the sinner recovered by Divine grace. The word of the Lord, the way of the Lord, the joy of the Lord, and especially the Christ of God, is his strength; and this strength he employs for the purposes for which it is bestowed. “I will go in the strength of the Lord God.” Earnestness and intentness of mind is also implied. He not only exerted himself, but did it to the utmost of his power. Thus when a sinner is capable of acting, especially in the warmth of his first love, he will act with all his might.
2. “He stood.” Formerly he could not stand without leaning and trembling. He stood ready for action, as one that would hereafter get his livelihood by working, and not by begging. He also stood to show himself to the people.
3. “He walked.” This was a new exercise to him. Thus, by the power of Divine grace, those that are spiritually lame are made to walk with God, and before Him; honestly and uprightly, in newness of life; in the light, in the truth, and at liberty. The Spirit is their guide, the Word their rule, the excellent of the earth their companions, glory their end, and Christ their way.
4. “He entered with the apostles into the temple.” At the gate of it he had got many an alms from man: now he would enter into it to get an alms from God. From this part of his conduct we may learn--
(1) What place the saints make their chosen residence, the house of God. “My feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem!” Especially when recovered from disorder, and released from confinement. The first place they will visit is the temple, there to pay those vows which they made in the time of their distress, and present their humble and thankful acknowledgments unto God.
(2) What persons they choose for their companions. Those whom God has made useful to them, as hoping still to receive the benefit of their prayers and instructions. Thus the jailer brought Paul and Silas into his house, and Lydia constrained them to abide in her house.
5. Still “he walked and leaped,” like one in an ecstasy and transport, and “praised God.” Whence we may observe, that though he loved the instruments, yet he did not praise them. He gave the praise where it was due.
1. Let awakened sinners take encouragement from this wonderful instance of Divine grace.
2. Let the saints imitate the example here set before them, in the warmest gratitude and most affectionate praises. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The lame man at the gate of the temple
I. The lame man.
1. Many become lame through accident or sickness; but this man was born a cripple. Luke, who was a physician, gives us to understand that his lameness was owing to a weakness in, and perhaps malformation of, the ankle-bones. But that hardly suffices to describe his helpless condition. Many lame men are able to move about with the help of artificial supports. But this man was so utterly helpless that he was obliged to be carried. Not that there was any weakness in his body, all the weakness was in his ankles. Raphael seems to have seized this feature. He has drawn at a little distance from him another deformed man, who, however, is able to hobble along by the help of a crutch. But I think Raphael was mistaken in drawing his legs in a stiff, rigid form; it was not rigidity in the ankles he was suffering from, but extreme weakness. “Immediately his feet and ankles became firm.”
2. And not only was he lame, he was a cripple and a beggar too. It is difficult to conceive a more pitiable condition.
3. There were several reasons why the gate of the temple had been selected as a propitious place for begging. Crowds of people were coming and going through it at least three times a day. Besides, the people who were coming in and going out were the best men and women in Jerusalem. It is the cream of society that frequent places of worship. Moreover, men in going to and coming from church are in a better mood for considering the poor and supplying their wants than in the tumultuous whirl of business. And it is a fact that almost all the alms of the world are administered at the gates of the temple, that charitable institutions are dependent for their support and success on them that go up to the temple at the hour of prayer. I never was honoured with a letter from the Lord Mayor of London till he thought money was required to carry out his humane object. Maybe that every man of science and of business also received a letter from him, which I doubt; but I am sure every minister did. Do I find fault? No; I look upon it as a great compliment to Christianity. Some time ago a daily paper warmly advocated private contributions towards the relief of the famine in India. So far, good. These papers which are going to supersede the pulpit, and do away with preaching, ought to do that. But the money did not come. As a last resort, the paper with its “largest circulation in the world” proposed to have a collection in the churches, forsooth. But where were the readers of the paper? Where the “largest circulation in the world”? Could not the “almighty press” squeeze a little money out of its numerous readers? Do I find fault? Oh, no; it is a high compliment to Christianity and to the ministers who teach their hearers what the papers fail to teach their readers. But Christianity is dying fast, the world can do without the churches? No, my friends, not as long as there are lame to help and hungry to feed. The beggars sometimes sit at the gates of Trade, but they are sternly told to “move on”; and at the gates of Pleasure and of Fashion, but none save the dogs deign to take notice of them. The beggars know that the temple is the great almshouse of the world.
4. There were about ten gates to the temple, all of them very costly and superb. The Jews did not as a rule grudge the most lavish expenditure upon the adornments of the temple. But there was one gate far surpassing all others in material and design. God’s house should always be the most beautiful house in the neighbourhood, and God’s people ought to contribute towards its adornment. If our congregations increase in wealth, God expects a part Of it to flow to the sanctuary. Trade must do homage to religion, and “offer unto it gifts--gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” When the Church was in a state of comparative poverty, a mound of earth served for an altar and was acceptable in the sight of God. But when the Church increased in numbers and refinement, the altar of earth was justly superseded by an altar of shittim wood overlaid with brass; instead of the rude mound, there was to be a little artistic work. Finally, when the Church had increased in numbers and possessions, God required an altar overlaid with fine gold. Do Christians increase in wealth? Let a portion of it flow to the sanctuary of the Highest; let there be built a gate called the Beautiful. And at the gate let there stand a sister of mercy to administer alms to the helpless and forlorn. However beautiful was the gate of the temple, more beautiful in the sight of God were the hands which gave alms to the cripple. Beauty of stone and of metal is not to be compared with beauty of disposition and of character.
II. The cure of the lame man.
1. Peter and John went up to the temple. The apostles did not abruptly sever themselves from the old dispensation; sudden ruptures never take place in the kingdom of God. First, there is a division in the Church, then a division from the Church. That was the ease at the establishment of Christianity; first, a division in Judaism, next a division from Judaism. That was the case at the time of the Protestant Reformation. That was the case in the history of the Establishment in our own country. The heathen who adopted Christianity were called upon to break off at once their connection with idols; but the Jews who adopted Christianity were only gradually weaned from Judaism. One could not be an idolater and a Christian; but one could be a Jew and a Christian.
2. As they were about to enter, their attention was called to the impotent man who asked an alms. He had long ago ceased hoping for anything else. Forty years of helplessness and beggary will kill ambition in the most sanguine heart. We have known people who had been lying on a bed of suffering for years. If you spoke to them at the close of the first year, you would discover a shade of discontent--they had a strong desire to get up and walk. But at the end of ten years the most fiery spirit is quite tamed.
3. They fastened their eyes on him. A characteristic feature of Christianity is that it fastens its eyes on the destitute and the sick. Science fastens its eyes on inanimate matter; art on the “gate called Beautiful”; but Christianity on the poor cripple. Science seeks out the secrets of the world; art its beauties; but Christianity its ills. There is a great deal in a look. The sympathising eyes of Peter caught the wondering eyes of the beggar, and the latter felt a strange sensation, like a stream of electricity, thrilling his entire system.
4. The man sought alms; but the apostles gave him what was better--health. Health without money is infinitely better than money without health. Moreover, by endowing him with health they were conferring on him the ability to earn money: In this the miracle was a “sign.” The gospel does not directly aim at improving men’s circumstances; it aims at improving men themselves. But no sooner does it that than a noticeable improvement is seen in their surroundings. The gospel converts the man; the man converts the house. The gospel does not directly aim at increasing the material riches of a nation; it aims at increasing its funds of spiritual health; but no sooner does the nation feel new blood palpitating in every limb and member than it shakes off the lethargy of centuries, and marches fearlessly forward in the upward path of discovery and enterprise, and, as a natural consequence, riches flow in plentifully to its exchequer. The gospel came to a crippled world. It said unto it, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk,” and forthwith it began a career upward and forward, and Christianity has indirectly added enormously to its material riches. Which are the most flourishing nations in our day? England, America, and Germany, the countries that have received most abundantly of the life and health that are lodged in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Utilitarianism says, Give men better houses, higher wages, purer air, more wholesome water, and by improving their circumstances you will improve their constitutions. But what says Christianity? I will strive to improve men, for I know that no sooner will men feel beating within them new and potent energies than they will set about to improve their external condition. Men need better houses, and purer air, and more wholesome water; but the great want of men is life--more life; and I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. Utilitarianism does men good, Christianity makes them good.
5. The Apostolic Church had no silver and gold, it had only health to impart. But it is in the power of the modern Church to give both money and health. There are in this huge city over eighty hospitals, and you will find on inquiry that every hospital is well-nigh full of people who have not the means to pay for professional attendance at home; and it is a duty incumbent on the churches to maintain these institutions: in a state of high efficiency. Hospitals in a special sense are the earliest and mellowest fruit of our holy religion. Where was the first hospital founded? In Ephesus, the home of John, the beloved disciple who taught that “God is love.” And by what name were hospitals first known? Lazarettoes; the very name bears on its forefront the stamp of the gospel, from the touching story of Lazarus sitting at the rich man’s gate. And who founded and endowed the great hospitals of this metropolis? Christians. Saint Bartholomew’s, Saint Luke’s, Saint George’s, with a few exceptions the hospitals are all saints I They are the precious legacies of the Christianity of the past; they have a strong claim on the Christianity of the present.
6. But I also trust that in acquiring money we have not lost what is of incomparably greater value, the faith and the courage to say to poor humanity, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Hundreds who go into hospitals founded by Christian philanthropy and supported by Christian charity come out “able to stand and to walk.” But I trust that in a still deeper sense it is true. Have we not witnessed the power of the gospel in our own midst, giving strength to the weak and life to the dead? Men dead in trespasses and sins have risen in newness of life; men crippled in the spiritual nature have received strength; men weak in their feet and ankle-bones have received fresh power--they now enter the temple, they run in the way of the Divine commandments, they leap for joy like harts on the mountains of spices. The Church is fast increasing in riches; let us pray that it may also increase in the power to impart health to men “lame from their mother’s womb.” (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
The cripple and his healers
I. The companions--“Peter and John.”
1. Their destination--“the temple.” Those who have been the greatest blessing to mankind through all the ages have loved God and frequented His temple. The theory that a man who is able to go to church can serve God at home, and never go, is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament.
2. Their harmony--“went up together.” Nothing like Pentecostal power to harmonise opposite temperaments, and hold in check possible discordances and selfish tendencies in human nature.
3. Their look. Christianity is the only system in the world that knows how to “fasten its eyes upon” the afflicted and destitute, the guilty and the lost.
4. Their devotion--“at the hour of prayer.” If any men were justified in supposing that they could dispense with the ordinary routine of religious worship, “Peter and John” were surely those men. But no men in Jerusalem were more consciously indebted to the means of grace, or more utterly dependent upon God. The more religion a man has, the more he will love “the temple” and “the hour of prayer.”
5. Their poverty--“silver and gold have I none.” Then a child of God may be poor. Then God may be specially honouring men, and fitting them for extraordinary careers of usefulness, who are without worldly means or influence. In this materialistic age, when men are judged of by their money, and not by their character--by what they have, and not by what they are, it is well to emphasise the fact that manhood and money are nor interchangeable terms. The power that lifts and heals a crippled world is not carried about by men in their pocket-books, nor does it grow out of their bank accounts or social standing. It comes through the right relationship of the soul to Jesus Christ, and absolutely without regard to a man’s worldly condition.
6. Their power--“Rise up, and walk.” That is the main power the Church lacks just now to make her ready for the conquest of the world; and that is the power for the exercise of which a crippled world fastens its eyes upon us. Neither wealth, nor education, nor social influence can atone for the want of this Divine afflatus.
II. The cripple--“A man lame from his mother’s womb.”
1. His location--“At the gate of the temple.” Then this cripple was no fool. He understood the philosophy of benevolence. The kindest and most sympathetic people in the world are praying people. Persons who obey the first table of the law are most likely to obey the second. Nine-tenths of all the money raised for benevolent purposes, and for the support of our charitable institutions, comes from the pockets of those who go “up to the temple at the hour of prayer.”
2. His attitude--“Lay at the gate.” We have seen thousands of lame men who could go almost anywhere, through the aid of artificial supports. But this man was obliged to be carried.
3. His vocation “To ask alms.” Both the place and time selected by this cripple to ply his vocation indicate that he was a shrewd, thoughtful man.
4. His cure.
(1) It was instantaneous.
(2) It was thorough--“Walked and leaped.”
5. His gratitude. The accession of strength was sudden, and his manifestation of it was equally sudden. There was no timid shrinking, lest he should overtax his new strength. The man that God blesses and saves need not be afraid of overdoing, and bringing on a relapse, by anything his heart prompts him to do, in the shape of letting others know what has happened. The want of the times is a joyful, happy, triumphant Christianity.
III. The crowd--“All the people.”
1. Their evidence--“Saw him.”
2. Their recognition (verse 10). He had sat at the gate so long that everybody knew him, and that may be the reason why he was favoured with this miraculous cure.
3. Their excitement. They wisely argued that the change could only be effected by a Divine cause. Extend this reasoning, and you have one of the most unanswerable arguments in favour of Christianity. The transformations wrought by it in society prove it to be Divine in its origin.
4. Their emotions--“Wonder and amazement.” Strange that they should be so affected by this miracle, after having witnessed so many by the Master.
1. Let us imitate Peter and John in our appreciation of the means of grace.
2. Let us not disturb the services by coming in late; but, like them, let us try to be punctual; “at the hour.”
3. Pentecostal blessings of yesterday cannot supply our need of God’s inspiration and blessing to-day.
4. It is the duty of the unconverted to “fasten their eyes” upon spiritual matters, to yield to right influences, to allow themselves to be carried daily to the gate of right feeling and conduct. If this lame man had rebelled that morning against being carried “to the gate of the temple,” he might never have been healed.
5. Learn that, though the eyes of the sinner may be fastened upon the servant, the Master only can heal. (T. Kelly.)
The lance man healed
You will not see the whole beauty of this paragraph unless you connect it with the chapter preceding.
1. You remember the infinite excitement of that chapter. There had never been such a day in the Church before. Life was raised up to a higher level than it had ever attained, and the people were praising God from morning till night. Surely the millennium had come! After this there will be no more common-place. Who would willingly come out of the blue heavens to walk again on the pathways of ordinary life? But read the opening words of the third chapter. After the excitement of Pentecost, is not this of the nature of an anti-climax? Two men, former partners in the fishing trade, “went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer.” Then see that the ecstatic hours of life ought to be succeeded by quiet worship, for that alone can sustain the heart with true nourishment. God grants unto His Church hours of enthusiasm, days when the whole horizon opens like an infinite door into the upper places of the universe; but after such peculiarly solemn manifestations of power and grace, He expects us to go up into the temple to pray, as He knows such visions make all other life ordinary and common. Whatever luxuries you may enjoy occasionally, you must have bread permanently. We cannot always live in the extraordinary; for by the very fact of its being always extraordinary, it would cease to be other than usual.
2. But were not the men inspired? Yes; yet the two men “went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer.” The clock was not altered; the great Pentecostal storm had rushed across the heavens, and had left behind it showers of blessings. Still the quiet clock ticked and travelled on to the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, and Peter and John were not so transported by special ecstasies as to forget their daily and customary engagements with God. Suspect any inspiration that makes you contemptuous of ordinary religious duty. Inspiration never lessens duty. Any supposed inspiration that has withdrawn men from the temple and poisoned them with the delusion that they could sufficiently read the Bible at home, is an inspiration coming otherwhere than from heaven. You were not made to live at home always. There is in you that which finds its completion in public fellowship. It does every man good to be now and then in a crowd; public assembly has an educational and social influence upon the individual life. Standing alone, a man may seem to be very great, important, self-complete; it is when he enters into a crowd that he realises his humanity, his littleness, and yet the very greatness that comes of that contraction of individuality. “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.” Peter and John did not. Are we not wrong in supposing that prayer can ever be of the nature of common-place? What is prayer? Is it not communion with God. The apostles had not lost their inspiration, as is evident by what they did. Verily, these men then had not lost their inspiration, or they never would have taken this course with the suppliant at the Beautiful gate of the Temple. They could work this miracle. Let that be taken as a proof of the continuance of their inspiration; and yet we see that, notwithstanding, they are going up like ordinary humble worshippers to pray in the temple. Beware of any inspiration that leads you away from apostolic practice. Your ambition may be easily excited, and you may not require a very expert tempter of the human mind to say to you that perhaps you may be a genius, that you need not submit to take upon you the yoke of religious custom. When such temptation seduces you, give it the lie. The law would seem to be that every great effort of human life should be followed by a religious exercise; every outgoing of the soul should have its compensatory movement in silent communion with God. After you have been striving arduously and valiantly in the fight, plunge into the bath, so to say, of Divine meditation and heavenly communion, and therein leave your weakness and recover your strength.
3. This incidental conversation with the poor lame beggar at the Beautiful gate of the Temple gives us some particulars about the apostles themselves, and those particulars are the more valuable because of the way in which they are introduced into the narrative.
I. It is perfectly evident that having all things common had not enriched Peter and John. Apostolic communion was no priest’s trick; it was no attempt to enrich the apostolate at the expense of the Christian public. “Silver and gold have we none.” So much the better for them I Woe unto the apostle who spends one half of his life in getting silver and gold, and the other half in watching that they do not run away from him. What had they then? Divine energy, spiritual life, social sympathy, and hearts to bless those who needed benediction and assistance. The poverty of the apostles was in material substance only; and therefore it was no poverty at all. He is the poor man who has nothing but money. He is rich who has high ideals and noble sympathies, and who lives in the presence of God and in the service of truth. Have your riches in your mind, in your heart, in your thoughts, in your purposes, in your beneficent plans.
II. This action shows how possible it is to be giving less than others, and at the same time to be giving more. “Silver and gold have I none.” “Then he could give nothing” would be the swift and shallow reasoning of those who read the surface only. “But such as I have give I thee.” That is the giving that does not impoverish; the more given the more left. The sun has been giving his light for thousands of years, and yet he is as luminous as when he first looked out upon the darkness which he dispelled. Give mechanically, and you will weary of the exercise; but give spiritually, and you will increase your possessions by the very giving of your alms.
III. A man may pray none the less prayerfully because he has aided some poor creature before he entered the sacred place. We should have enjoyed the service many a time much more keenly if before coming to it we had made some sorrowful heart glad. That is the preparation for prayer. If you want to come up at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice with glowing, thankful hearts, ready to receive any communication God may make to them, spend the intervening hours in doing good to those who sit in solitary places. Then you will come, not in a spirit of criticism, but in a spirit of sympathy, and from the first note to the last there shall be a shining forth and revelation of the Divine presence.
IV. Christianity now, as then, must prove its divinity by its beneficence. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Peter did not preach a sermon to the man. To the excited multitude he expounded the Scriptures; but when he came face to face with the man, he preached no sermon, except as the mention of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is always a sermon, but bade him rise up and walk. Here is the sphere in which Christian argument may yet secure its highest triumph. Words can be answered by words, phrases beget phrases, and the easy trick of recrimination is the favourite amusement of mere controversialists; but a Church seeking out the lowly, helping the helpless, healing the sick, teaching the ignorant, standing by the cause of righteousness, defying the oppressor, and suffering and working for the right, is a Church whose beneficence is its noblest attribute, and whose character is the only vindication it requires. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The healing of the lame man
Look at the miracle in the light of what has just taken place. There is great enthusiasm in the Church. The Divine life is, so to speak, at its highest point. We should consider, confining ourselves within the limits of the Church, that the age of human unity and love had come in all its golden glory. We are now invited to go beyond the Church line, and at our very first step we find a man who appeals to our sympathy in his pain and helplessness. See how world lies within world, and how misleading are all the inferences drawn from a limited set of facts.
1. The man who has access to every means of mental and spiritual culture may think all the world as highly privileged as himself.
2. The healthy and prosperous family may forget that other households are afflicted and depressed. Look beyond your own sphere. You have not far to look; there is but a step between thee and the world which is either higher or lower than thine own. The lesson has a double application; the prosperous man is to look down that he may help; the unsuccessful man is to look up that he may hope.
I. The social side of this incident.
1. We may be able to carry the cripple when we are unable to heal him. Do what you can. Human helplessness is a continual appeal to human power. There are secondary services in life. We cannot always do the great deed; nor can we always stand in the full light, that we may be seen of men. Sometimes we can only carry. We cannot restore.
2. The commonest minds, as well as the highest, have always associated the idea of charity with that of religion. This is right. This is a high compliment to any form of religion. See how it has been paid to Christianity above all! The theology that has no philanthropy is its own vain god.
3. Look at the compensations of the poorest life. The man was carried daily by friendly hands, and had the temple as his daily hope. The sun shines even on the poorest lot.
II. The apostolic side.
1. The apostles never attempted to do without public worship. Such worship has its distinct advantages.
(1) Provocation of thought.
(2) Development of sympathy.
2. They never neglected human want in their anxiety to render Divine worship. Some people are one-sidedly religious.
3. They never attended even to physical necessities in their own name.
Conclusion: The incident suggests two questions.
1. Are we too pious to be philanthropic?
2. Has the name of Jesus lost its power? (J. Parker, D. D.)
The first miracle
Viewing the Acts as a type of what all Church history was to be, and a Divine exposition of the principles which should guide the Church in times of suffering as well as of action, we can see good reasons for the insertion of this particular narrative.
I. This miracle was typical of the Church’s work, for it was a beggar that was healed, and this beggar lay helpless and hopeless at the very doors of the temple. The beggar typified humanity at large. He was laid, indeed, in a splendid position--before him was extended the magnificent panorama of hills which stood round about Jerusalem; above him rose the splendours of the building upon which the Herods had lavished the riches and wonders of their gorgeous conceptions but he was nothing the better for all this material grandeur till touched by the power which lay in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And the beggar of the Beautiful gate was in all these respects the fittest object for St. Peter’s earliest miracle, because he was exactly typical of mankind’s state. Humanity, Jew and Gentile alike, lay at the very gate of God’s temple of the universe. Men could discourse learnedly, too, concerning that sanctuary, and they could admire its beauteous proportions. Poets, philosophers, and wise men had treated of the temple of the universe in works which can never be surpassed, but all the while they lay outside its sacred precincts. They had no power to stand up and enter in, leaping, and walking, and praising God. This miracle of healing the beggar was typical of the Church’s work again, because it was a beggar who thus received a blessing when the Church roused itself to the discharge of its great mission. Christianity is essentially the religion of the masses. Its Founder was a carpenter, and its earliest benediction pronounced the blessedness of those that are poor in spirit, and ever since the greatest triumphs of Christianity have been gained amongst the poor. Here, however, lies a danger. Its work in this direction must be done in no one-sided spirit. Christianity must never adopt the language or the tone of the mere agitator. A Christianity which triumphs through appeals to popular prejudices, and seeks a mere temporary advantage by riding on the crest of popular ignorance, is not the religion taught by Christ and His apostles. But yet, again, the conversion of this beggar was effected through his healing; and here we see a type of the Church’s future work. The Church, then, as represented by the apostles, did not despise the body, or regard efforts of the bodily blessing beneath its dignity. Schools, hospitals, sanitary and medical science, the dwellings and amusements of the people, trade, commerce, all should be the care of the Church, and should be based on Christ’s law, and carried out on Christian principles.
II. This miracle was the occasion of St. Peter’s testimony both to the people and to their rulers. His discourse has two distinct divisions. It sets forth, first, the claims, dignity, and nature of Christ, and then makes a personal appeal to the men of Jerusalem. St. Peter begins his sermon with an act of profound self-renunciation. When he saw the people running together, he said (verse 12). The same spirit of renunciation appears at an earlier stage of the miracle (verse 6). One point is at once manifest when St. Peter’s conduct is compared with his Master’s under similar circumstances. St. Peter acts as a delegate and a servant; Jesus Christ acted as a principal, a master--the Prince of Life. St. Peter’s words teach another lesson. They are typical of the spirit which should ever animate the Christian preacher or teacher. They turn the attention of his hearers wholly away from himself, and exalt Christ Jesus alone. Earthly motives easily insinuate themselves in every man’s heart, and when a man feels urged on to declare some unpleasant truth, or to raise a violent and determined opposition, he should search diligently, lest that while he imagines himself following a heavenly vision and obeying a Divine command, he should be only yielding to mere human suggestions of pride, or partisanship, or uncharitableness. (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)
The apostles and the beggar model of Christian care of the poor
I. The proper disposition from which Christian care for the poor should flow.
1. Love to God. The apostles were on their way to the temple.
2. Love of our neighbor. They regard the poor man with sympathy--John feeling, Peter helping.
II. The proper means which Christian care of the poor should employ. Silver and gold is not the chief concern. Alms quickly thrown to the poor costs little, and bears little fruit. But--
1. Personal and living intercourse with the poor. “Peter looked,” etc.
2. Evangelical counsel and comfort from the Word of God. “Such as I have,” etc.
III. The proper result in which Christian care for the poor should delight.
1. Bodily restoration--he could rise up and walk.
2. Spiritual health--he praised God. (C. Gerok.)
It is seldom that the co-operation of both parties--the doer and the receiver--is so clearly seen as here.
I. In the looks of both parties. Peter looking on the lame man with sympathising love, ready to help and to heal; and the lame man, at the order of the apostle, regarding him and John steadfastly with a petitioning and hopeful spirit.
II. In their believing apprehension of Jesus. Peter speaking and commanding in the name of Jesus; and the lame man, also hopeful and susceptible, with his whole soul attaching himself to Jesus.
III. In their spiritual and bodily exertions. Peter stretching forth and taking the man by the right hand; and the man, with miraculous strength of will and muscle, lifting himself up. The name of Jesus, the person of Jesus, His grace and Divine saving power is the centre; in Him the souls meet, the men reach forth their hands, and find spiritual and bodily strength in giving and receiving. (G. V. Lechler, D. D.)
Alleviations of the hardest lot
It would not be fair to say even this limping beggar had no alleviations to his lot. He was not blind; he could see the Beautiful gate, with its wonderful pillars of brass overlaid with vast plates of gold and silver. He was not deaf; he could hear the priests’ trumpets on the feast-days; he could even listen to the singing of the daily psalms and the chanting of the evening prayers in the courts of the loveliest edifice under the sun. He was not dumb; he could ask for alms as a beggar, he could cry for mercy as a sinner. He was not forsaken; he had a circle of patient friends to bring him to his wonted place every afternoon. Discontented poor peoplemight as well count up their manifest mercies now and then. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The gate of the temple which is called Beautiful.
The gate Beautiful
In our ignorance of the topography of Jerusalem and the temple, it is not possible to determine with absolute certainty which of the many gates of the temple was distinguished by this name. According to Josephus, “There were nine of the gates that were overlaid with silver and gold. But one without the temple, or sanctuary, made of Corinthian brass, far excelled those of gold or silver.” This gate is supposed to have been the east entrance to the women’s court, and was sometimes called the Corinthian Gate, from the material of which it was made. It was also known by the name of Nicanor’s gate. Others, however, suppose the Beautiful gate to be that called Shushan by the Rabbins, probably from the bas-relief lily work in brass around the capitals of the columns (1 Kings 7:19). It is derived from an unused root signifying “white,” white and beautiful being convertible as in Shushan (Esther 1:2), the white or beautiful city (as Beogrady--Belgrade--in Slavonic). This gate was on the cast side of the court of the Gentiles, and close to Solomon’s porch. (W. Denton, M. A.)
The gate Beautiful
The temple of religion has a beautiful gate in it; but in one important respect it differs from the Beautiful gate of the Jewish temple. On the pillars on either side of that gate were engraved in Greek letters the words, “Let no stranger pass beyond this on pain of death.” But through the beautiful gate of the gospel every one is free to enter into the holiest place. And that at all times. In each of the great churches of Rome there is what is called the Porta Santa, or Holy Door. It is made of a peculiar marble, and is sealed up for fifty years, so that no one during all that time can obtain admission through it to the high altar. In the jubilee year the reigning Pope knocks at this door with a silver hammer; and immediately it is pulled down and a breach made through which the Pope, followed by a splendid procession, can pass and minister in the most sacred place. But not like this Porta Santa is the beautiful gate of the gospel. Not at long intervals is it opened. To every one who knocks, however feebly, and at whatever time, it swings back at once and gives admission. All that is needful to entitle any one to admission is faith and love. It is a beautiful gate by which you enter into God’s kingdom. The everlasting doors are lifted up that you may pass through, and the salvation wrought for you is a great salvation worthy of the greatness of your nature. The ancient Romans had a strange law which required that when a man returned from captivity in a foreign land he should not enter his house by the doorway. He could not recover his right of possession and citizenship unless he entered his house through the roof; and then he was supposed never to have been out of it. Not thus is admittance to be obtained into the kingdom of heaven. There can be no make-believe that the redeemed sinner has always been in the Father’s house. The captive, the wanderer, dead in trespasses and sins, must return by the one living Way, and enter in by the one living Door open to all--viz., a simple faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. But, while the gate of the temple of Christ’s religion is thus beautiful to all, it is especially beautiful to the young. You are to enter the temple of religion by the gate of innocence, before you have had any experience of the dark sins and trials of the world. Youth is the most beautiful door by which to enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have the qualities of faith, hope, and love required of those who enter in. They are easy and natural, as it were, to you; and you have only to exercise them, not towards earthly, but towards heavenly things. And how beautiful is this gate of youthful piety--beautiful as all first things are-first love, the first light of the morning, the first flowers of spring, the dawn of human history in Eden, the golden age of the world; beautiful as all pure things are that have no alloy or base mixture of evil in them! You ask how are you to get this beautiful religion? In a very beautiful way! Not only is the temple itself beautiful, but the gate by which you enter it is beautiful. It is like the beautiful fruit of the orange-tree which you get through the beautiful and fragrant orange blossom. Jesus says, “I am the Door,” etc. How beautiful and costly is that living Door! What a wonderful death of self-sacrificing He died! And Jesus becomes a door to you such as your nature requires. He suits His long step to your short step, and narrows His octave to the stretch of your little fingers. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The Beautiful Gate
It is hardly a figure to say that in our human life there are gates we may well call “beautiful,” ever opening and inviting us to enter on new experiences and duties. But the special thought I want to emphasise is that at every one of these gates we need a helping hand, human or Divine, to put us on our feet, and prepare us for the new phase of life into which the gate opens.
1. To begin with the first gate--the gate of infancy and childhood. It is a beautiful gate, indeed. What fond hopes wreathe every cradle! What possibilities are wrapped up in that little bundle of helplessness and want called the baby? This bundle of weakness and want laid at the beautiful gate of life, asking alms of all, having nothing but capacity, needing everything--care, watching, sympathy, love, wisdom--everything to feed and clothe the body, to quicken and nourish the mind, and train a young immortal for the mortal and immortal life. And what can do this like mingled affection and faith akin in spirit to that which looked out through the illuminated eyes of Peter and John upon the tame man at the temple gate? And what this foundling at the gate of life needs is the touch of a loving hand and the faith of a loving heart. This is sure to carry with it healing and strength. And it is no less Divine on what is called the natural than what is called the supernatural plane. Are not the mingled affection and faith with which a true Christian mother broods over her child, nurturing into life body and mind in what we call the natural order, just as truly of God as was the power that healed the lame man at the temple gate? See how she puts herself into affectional rapport with her child. She looks into its eyes, finds its soul, talks with it in the soul’s language, which mother and child both know, smiles upon it, gives strength to its ankle-bones by holding them in her warm, motherly hands, and, finally, tempting the child to rise up and walk by the confidence that shines through her eyes, and by the outstretched hand ready to save from falling or to lift up again and again and yet again, till at last the child walks and leaps and praises God, in childish fashion, by its innocent gladness. All this affection may do, is continually doing, in all true homes. But there is a higher work to be done for the child, a deeper nature to be reached, a life within a life to be waked: and this calls not for affection only, but faith--faith in the reality of this interior life, faith in God as the Infinite Good, and in the reality of His Holy Spirit’s influence, faith in Him as the constant inspiration and life of the soul. This faith must crown affection, or the deepest wants of the child’s soul can never be met It is this sweet, calm, holy influence filling the home, as the balmly odours of pine groves fill the surrounding air, that gives to the home atmosphere a healing, a strengthening, a life-giving power. It is better than silver or gold. But by and by the child is grown, and the home is left for the “wide, wide world.”
2. Here opens another gate--the gate of early manhood. This, too, is a beautiful gate, especially when the gate of childhood has been a fitting preparation for it. If it ever seems to rest in shadow, it is because the higher nature has not been waked, but sleeps, while the lower nature is alive and active. What in all this world is more beautiful than a young man--and man means woman--well furnished mentally, morally, spiritually, passing out through the beautiful gate for the great work of life! What fond hopes centre in him! But all such hopes are not realised. Why is it? But one reason for the failure may safely be ascribed to this: an undue sense of self-sufficiency. In the pride and strength of young manhood, one is slow to perceive that he is lame or undeveloped, or weak in any part of his nature. He is no cripple at the gate, to ask help of anybody. Is there no lameness, no weakness, no need of the touch of a helping hand? Even if the need be not felt, it does not follow that it is not real. It may not be felt, because the greatness of life is not felt. Where life is regarded only as a vigorous scramble for the main chance, for business success, or pleasure, without aspiration for anything above the beaten paths of dust and ashes, then, indeed, any man with good legs and arms and a thimbleful of brains may feel quite equal to the undertaking. But for one who looks on life from the standpoint of spiritual possibility--such a one, comparing his ideal with his actual, the glorious possibility with his own sense of inability, will need no argument to convince him that, however strong his ankle-bones, his spirit is in pressing need of the healing and strengthening touch of a faith and hope that makes the deepest and truest things of life the most real. He who helps me to faith in eternal realities, honour, right, integrity, self-sacrifice, and lifts me to a plane of life where the difference between noble and ignoble living is most clearly seen, is my greatest benefactor. It is this spirit which lifts, guides, and liberates the soul for noblest living. It is inspiration for the life eternal here and now. “Silver and gold” Jesus had none. Such as He had He gave--Himself, a soul enkindled with the love of God and man.
3. But manhood hastens on to old age. May we call that, too, a beautiful gate? Yes, if faith and hope, like Peter and John, stand at the gate to look into our eye and take our hand as we pass through. At first the gate of old age seems anything but beautiful. One of the brightest and most cheerful of our American poets calls it an “Iron Gate.” At first, they were almost ashamed to be found fairly inside the gate and unable to get back. But by and by, as they get adjusted to the new condition, and find themselves still in good company, rather select withal, the gate does not seem so dreadful. Approaching it, it did look like iron; but seen from the inside, with faith and hope shining upon it, it becomes beautiful--just as beautiful as the gates of childhood and manhood. The gate of childhood faces the sunrise. The gate of manhood lies under the mid-day sun. The gate of old age “looks toward sunset,” indeed; but it is a sunset that carries with it the promise of an immortal day. They are all beautiful gates of life. Which is the most beautiful we will not venture to say till we see them all from the higher standpoint we hope to reach by and by. But, even here and now, old age, with all its infirmities, has its blessings, which youth and manhood cannot know till they pass through the gate--the blessing of rest after toil, the blessing of sweet companionship with those with whom we have passed through all the beautiful gatest, the living over again with them the scenes of the past, to which “distance lends enchantment”; the looking forward in glorious hope to higher fellowship, Where youth is renewed as the eagle’s. These and the like lift the shadow from old age, and let God’s sunshine in to brighten and warm. But this implies a touch of the healing hand. And now, especially, as in life’s morning, the help is none the less, but all the more Divine if it comes through the eye, the heart, the hand of affection and faith mingled, assisting us tenderly and lovingly to rise up above the gathering mists and shadows, and pass trustingly through one more beautiful gate to the other mansions.
4. And is death, too, a beautiful gate? One would not think so by the hard names given to it Grim Tyrant,” “Great Destroyer,” “King of Terrors,” and the like. But God never gave His white-winged angel such names. These, then, are some of the beautiful gates of life. All beautiful gates! built not by the wealth or workmen of Herod, but by the All-Beautiful, who created man in His own image, for the beauty of holiness. And at each gate God’s messengers, in some form, wait to give us the healing touch and put us on our feet. Oh! were we always conscious of the brooding spirit of Divine Love standing at every gate, looking into our eyes, seeking to find our souls and call forth responsive love, should we not all leave our sins, our weakness, our doubts, and stand on our feet, walking and leaping and praising God by a life in harmony with the Divine will? (W. P. Tilden.)
The grace of beauty
I. The close relation between religion and beauty. The gate Beautiful was a temple gate. The Puritans depreciated beauty. In their excessive spirituality they ignored the true and proper uses of the visible, and disparaged the body. Jesus Christ manifested in human flesh the Divine glory, and by the resurrection of His body has given a type and pledge of the exaltation of man and nature. All material things may be transformed by the spirit of man. The beautiful in form, colour, and sound has been created by love, patriotism, and genius. But the higher inspiration of beauty is in religion, which touches with firmest finger the faculties out of which the graceful arises. Art, poetry, architecture, and music owe their finest products to Christianity. As religion has inspired aesthetic creations, so the way to religion should be by the paths of beauty. God’s worship should be no bald offering of utility, but should be associated with the most perfect in architecture, music, and oratory. The ways by which the young are drawn to Christ should be festooned with loveliness, and not be a via dolorosa. All the qualities of the Christian character may be rendered in attractive forms. When religion and beauty are wedded, science, industry, and citizenship will also be drawn into the goodly fellowship.
II. But the highest beauty, and the largest gateway to heaven, is spiritual beauty--the beauty of the Lord revealed in Christ. The cripple was not healed by the beauty of the temple gate, but by the beauty of Christ--the glory of His love, sympathy, and helpfulness. Visible beauty brings us to the threshold only; we must enter to behold the uncreated beauty. It is this which transforms the man and changes him from glory to glory in its image. When possessed it must not be hidden, but must, in imitation of the altogether lovely, be manifested in beautiful words, acts, life. As Christ would have us reproduce His beauty, so we must aim at making spiritually lame and ugly people radiant with the same loveliness. (J. Matthews.)
The beauty of religion
The temple represented the Jewish religion, and the gate by which you entered was called Beautiful. The way of the beautiful is the way of entrance into the sanctuary, if only we understand what is meant by beauty.
1. With one or two exceptions the word beauty is not mentioned in the whole New Testament. On the other hand, it is mentioned often in the Old. The most remarkable contrast among nations in antiquity was that between the Jew and the Greek. The Greeks are always instanced as the nation that had the genius of beauty and the love of it; but among the Greeks it was essentially physical; and although moral qualities were sometimes brought down and represented in it, it was in order merely to enhance the physical beauty. On exactly the other side stood the Hebrew, who was forbidden to have much that was physical in his worship. And so art never took root nor flourished in Palestine. But, on the other hand, there arose in the minds of the old Hebrew seers and lyrists a sense of the beauty of conduct, character, and moral quality that never represented itself in sensuous form. I think that if we were to look into the modern schools of beauty we should find that they follow the Greek and not the Hebrew. Now, in the New Testament, though it does not mention beauty as the Old Testament does, nevertheless we have a specification of qualities of thought, and feeling, and exhortations to beautiful conduct. One by one Christ takes up the things that are transcendentally beautiful in their kind, although they are not so to men. When a diamond is first found it is like a rough stone, without form or comeliness, and only when it has been ground does it become glittering; and so almost all the precious stones are found--in seams and ledges, and under circumstances where their beauty does not appear until they have been dealt with. “Blessed be ye, when persecuted.” Blessed be the rapid-running stone that grinds the gems--not, perhaps, in the process, but in the result.
2. In all the earth no spire, cathedral front, nor temple is so beautiful as the form of man and woman when brought out in all the lines and lineaments of Christian culture. And the New Testament says, “Let your light so shine.” Some have interpreted it, “Let your gloom so shine that men think you are very serious-minded.” No, but let your light shine. Let the things that shine out be, as the apostle other-where says in regard to them, “Whatsoever is pure, whatsoever is true, whatsoever is of good report, think on these things.” These are the qualities that are to shine with such attractiveness, as that religion shall not repel men, but win them, draw them--“that men, seeing your good work, shall glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
3. Every single quality that belongs to Christian character should be carried up to the condition of beautifulness. That is the aim, not by flash, rare--used only as a medicine is--but beauty that rises like a star, and continues to shine with a steadfast ray. The light that has in it all the primary colours carries them always without any discontinuity. And so the great qualities which grace inspires are to be carried up toward the line of beauty; they are intrinsically so. Now, when a plant seed unknown is sown we watch the unfolding of it, wondering at every step what is to be the outcome. The stem may be coarse, the leaf may be hirsute, and, like the cactus, one may never dream that this great flat, fat, spiny leaf could ever be the mother of beauty until the blossom comes, and then in all the earth is there anything more exquisite and gorgeous than the blossom of the cactus? So in regard to unripe and undeveloped qualities of moral feeling in the soul. Men may, during the process in which they are unfolding, see nothing very lovely; but when they have been carried up to their florescence, or their fruit estate, they are invariably beautiful. Moral qualities, like physical excellences, have a beginning. Some attain more quickly and easily than others the relish of the beautiful; some are the result only of long striving; some grow like autumnal flowers, only when they feel the coming breath of frost itself, out every quality that goes to make the true Christian as Christ longs to see him is an element, that, if carried up to its full extent, touches the line of the beautiful. So of conduct. Whatever is graceful, noble, free, large, manly, lordly in courage, is beautiful; and because it is beautiful it belongs to the religious perfection of man. And all conduct that has in it the element of heroism--how beautiful it is. The fidelity that costs! The self-denial that finds its reward in the fruition of that which is served! The angels of the cradle and the crib--those Protestant saints, maiden women, that, having no family, adopt the children and the household of those with whom they dwell, and spend love, and time, and all service, and pain even, and watchfulness for the sake of others--how beautiful is this quality of conduct! If I read over the qualities that constitute religion, as described in the fifth chapter of Galatians, they will sound to you like the snap of so many harpstrings, and all of them together like the sweep of an old harper’s hand. The joy of religion!--not the joy of reading hymns, or of going to meeting, necessarily, or hearing sermons; but the inward joy which one has from communion with God through hope, and inspiration, and faith; the temperament of joy--peace--the absolute concordance of every quality in us, without any oppositions from any direction; the perfect harmonisation of every element in the soul. “Long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, self-control”--these are the features. The portraiture every one must make up in his own imagination. This is religion. Whoever, then, so lives as not to produce in some way or other the impression of the beauty of religion falls short of the genius of the New Testament. (H. W. Beecher.)
I. A beautiful thing. “The gate Beautiful.”
1. It was fitting that the approach to a beautiful place like the temple should be beautiful. Many beautiful things are marred by the ungainliness of their surroundings. A cathedral in a squalid neighbourhood, a mansion with a tumble-down entry, a picture in a broken frame, an untidy woman, are offensive incongruities. The most beautiful thing in the world is the religion of Christ, but how many are offended by what they see at the front of it--conditions of entrance which Christ never laid down, specimens of Christianity that Christ never produced. Reproduce the beauty of religion in yourselves, and make the path to it attractive, and there will be no difficulty in making converts.
2. The gate led to a beautiful place. This is not always the case. The best things only are placed in some windows. The world presents an attractive outside, but within is death. Once through the gate of God’s house the worshipper should find everything in harmony with the beautiful work he has to perform there; the structure, the service in all its parts should be conducive to the beauty of holiness. An ugly, ill-kept church, a tame, bald service--how detrimental to devotion, how dishonouring to God.
II. Beautiful characters.
1. Peter. There were ugly seams in Peter’s character. He was impulsive, he denied his Lord, he compromised at Antioch. But we must take that character as a whole and like some vast mountainous region, although there may be a morass here, and stunted vegetation there, and yawning chasms yonder, yet how grand the whole! In his deep penitence, his burning enthusiasm, his teaching by word and pen, there have been few more admirable men than Peter.
2. John. If Peter represents the rugged, John exhibits the more symmetrical type of Christian character. He must have had exquisite qualities whom Jesus so loved, and who was specially selected for so beautiful a task as the care of Jesus’ mother. And all these qualities, tenderness, love, loyalty, come out in his letters.
3. Peter and John, a combination which nearly makes perfection of beauty, power and gentleness, zeal and affection. And at the last a good deal of Peter came out in John, and a good deal of John in Perer.
III. A beautiful act.
1. It was beautifully done. “Fastening his eyes upon him.” “He took him by the right hand.” How much may be accomplished by a look. The mere gaze of Peter and John inspired life into a hope that had been dead for long years. There is as much in the way a thing is done as in the thing itself. You may bestow alms so as to deprive them of half their value--grudgingly, morosely, even vindictively. You may help a man so as to make every nerve quiver, and so as to provoke a reluctance to be helped at all. You may wipe a tear and leave a wound in the process. The action should be suited to the act. And if you can do nothing you can always look something, which sometimes will answer as well, and if you can give nothing else you can give your hand, which often will be more acceptable.
2. The deed was beautiful. It was physician’s work, and what more beautiful--restoration to health--for which in its literal sense we may not be qualified; but there are sick bodies to which we may minister by kindly attention--“Sick and ye visited Me”: sick hearts to which we may administer comfort; sick minds that we may relieve by wise advice; sick souls that we may lead to the Great Physician.
IV. A beautiful method.
1. A frank recognition of the impossible. “Silver and gold have I none.” There are few things more unpleasant than to attempt what is beyond our power. We excite expectations that are doomed to disappointment, and bring ourselves into contempt. Before you promise to do a thing be sure you have the means. Don’t let people think that you are a philosopher if you have no wisdom, a philanthropist if you have no money, a doctor if you have no medical skill, a preacher if you cannot preach. Moral deformities are what a man pretends to have but has not.
2. Self-abnegation in favour of the able. “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” To put oneself between the helpless and the helper, what more ugly. Who more despicable than the quack who interposes between the diseased and the doctor? Only he who stands between the sinner and the Saviour. If you cannot help a man, do not interfere with those who can. This is the least you can do; but the beautiful action is to get the two together and then stand aside. This is what Peter and John did; and this is what all men do in dealing with diseased souls, get them to Christ and then get out of the way.
V. A beautiful experience. “Immediately his feet and ancle bones received strength.”
1. Strength was given to the weak. Strength added to strength is abnormal, and therefore not beautiful. There is no grace in the opulent receiving money, or in the competent receiving help, but frequently the reverse. But if a starving man is fed, and a helpless man assisted to do a task otherwise impossible, a beautiful effect is produced. “The whole need not a physician,” and to give medicine to the healthy only results in a disagreeable experience. Go, then, to the sinful, and lead them through the stages of repentance and faith until the dead in trespasses and sins become alive unto God through Christ, and the most beautiful of experiences is the result.
2. The weak was made strong. What experience is comparable to the consciousness of strength--strength of body, of intellect, above all of soul--to resist temptation, to live to and work for God.
VI. A beautiful result.
1. On the part of the man. “Walking and leaping and praising God.”
(3) Worship--the three great characteristics of a personal Christian life.
2. On the part of the multitude.
(1) “They saw and knew.”
(2) “They were filled with wonder and amazement.”
(3) Who can doubt that many were convinced and converted?
3. On the part of Peter. It led to two of the most beautiful sermons in all Christian literature. (J. W. Burn.)
Beauty, designations of
Socrates called beauty a short-lived tyranny; Plato, a privilege of nature; Theophrastus, a silent cheat; Theocritus, a delightful prejudice; Carneades, a solitary kingdom; Homer, a glorious gift of nature; Ovid, a favour bestowed by the gods.
God’s love of the beautiful
It is among the mosses of the wall that the richest harvest of beauty and interest may be gathered. Well do I remember the bright July afternoon when their wonderful structure and peculiarities were first unveiled to me by one long since dead, whose cultured eye saw strange loveliness in things which others idly passed, and whose simple warm heart was ever alive to the mute appeals of the humblest wild flower or tiniest moss. There was opened up to me that day a new world of hitherto undreamt of beauty and intellectual delight; in the structural details of the moss which illustrated the lesson I got a glimpse of some deeper aspect of the Divine character than mere intelligence. Methought I saw Him, not as the mere contriver or designer, but in His own loving nature, having His tender mercies over all His works--displaying care for helplessness and minuteness--care for beauty in the works of nature. Small as the object before me was, I was impressed--in the wonder of its structure, at once a means and an end, beautiful in itself and performing its beautiful uses in nature--not with the limited ingenuity of the finite, but with the wisdom and love of an Infinite Spirit. To that one unforgotten lesson, improved by much study of these little objects alike in the closet and in the field, I owe many moments of pure happiness. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Beauty, true and false
Hearing a young lady highly praised for her beauty, Gotthold asked, “What kind of beauty do you mean? Merely that of the body, or that also of the mind? I see well that you have been looking no further than the sign which Nature displays outside the house, but have never asked for the host who dwells within. Beauty is an excellent gift of God, nor has the pen of the Holy Spirit forgotten to speak its praise; but it is virtuous and godly beauty alone which Scripture honours, expressly declaring, on the other hand, that a fair woman which is without discretion is as a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout (Proverbs 11:22). Many a pretty girl is like the flower called the imperial crown, which is admired, no doubt, for its showy appearance, but despised for its unpleasant odour. Were her mind as free from pride, selfishness, luxury, and levity, as her countenance from spots and wrinkles, and could she govern her inward inclinations as she does her external carriage, she would have none to match her. But who loves the caterpillar and such insects, however showy their appearance, and bright and variegated the colours that adorn them, seeing they injure and defile the trees and plants on which they settle? What the better is an apple for its rosy skin, if the maggot have penetrated and devoured its heart? What care I for the beautiful brown of the nut, if it be worm-eaten, and fill the mouth with corruption? Even so external beauty of person deserves no praise, unless matched with the inward beauty of virtue and holiness. It is, therefore, far better to acquire beauty than to be born with it. The best kind is that which does not wither at the touch of fever, like a flower, but lasts and endures on a bed of sickness, in old age, and even unto death.”
Beauty and virtue
A gentleman had two children--one a daughter, who was considered plain in her person; the other a son, who was reckoned handsome. One day, as they were playing together, they saw their faces in a looking-glass. The boy was charmed with his beauty, and spoke of it to his sister, who considered his remarks as so many reflections on her want of it. She told her father of the affair, complaining of her brother’s rudeness to her. The father, instead of appearing angry, took them both on his knees, and with much affection gave them the following advice:--“I would have you both look in the glass every day: you, my son, that you may be reminded never to dishonour the beauty of your face by the deformity of your actions; and you, my daughter, that you may take care to hide the defect of beauty in your person by the superior lustre of your virtuous and amiable conduct.”
Beauty and virtue
Beauty unaccompanied by virtue is a flower without perfume.
Beauty of a living Christian
A true man after Christ will be the most noble and beautiful thing upon the earth--the freest, the most joyous, the most fruitful in all goodness. There is no picture that was ever painted, there is no statue that was ever carved, there was no work of art ever conceived of, that was half so beautiful as the living man, thoroughly developed on the pattern of Christ Jesus. (H. W. Beecher.)
Beauty of conscience
There is great beauty in conscience. When it tempers the speech, and makes it true and just; when it tempers the actions, and makes them noble and right; when it produces fairness, and honour, and just judgments--how beautiful are all the direct and indirect influences of a Christian conscience in a man! But it sometimes leads Christian men to a sphere of uncharitable judgment. It inspires a high conception of what is right, and men take that conception as a rule by which to measure the conduct of their fellow-men, without consideration of their organisations, without making allowance for their weaknesses, without sympathy with them. There are many men that, adhering strictly to God’s ideal of rectitude, fail to have sympathy with poor, crippled, and broken-down human nature; and they go aside and away from God just in proportion as they do this. It was this cruelty that brought down from our Saviour His most vehement denunciations; for vice and crime were not regarded by Christ as being as guilty as moral purity without any heart, without any sympathy, without any charitable judgment. (H. W. Beecher.)
Beauty an educator
If I am to use things that are beautiful, I must remember that beauty is a moral instructor; I must educate myself with it, that I may become a man of more power, and that I may take that power and employ it in my Master’s cause. If I use beauty as a means of education, I shall be redeemed from the charge of selfishness in it. And if men ask me, “How can you lay out so much for works of art when there is such a demand for money to support missionaries and mission-schools?” I reply, that I am preparing myself by these things to preach the gospel. They help me. The things that fill my house with beauty are not objects for the gratification of my selfishness, but instrumentalities by which I am qualified to do the work of God in this world. (H. W. Beecher.)
Beauty: its utility
People seem to think that God must be a great utilitarian, and that He always makes things for uses. Now, there is many a man that, drawing a sword whose blade is wreathed with all manner of traceries, which must have required days and days of exquisite work, will say, “How foolish it is for a man to spend so much precious time to so little practical purpose! Those things do not make the sword any sharper. Who cares in the day of battle whether there is a picture on the blade of his sword or not?” But when God made rocks, He did not let them alone till He had etched them all over with lines and figures of every description.:He smiled upon the earth, and all sorts of grasses and flowers and vines began to grow upon the surface. And wherever you see that God has walked in the world, you see that He has had an eye to beauty. The unconscious effects of Divine benevolence are everywhere springing out of the ground, and from every tree, from every dead stick, and from every stone. There is something on the globe besides what men can eat, drink, and wear. “What is this flower good for?” says a man; “I cannot eat it.” What are you good for, that nothing is good to you except what you can eat? Have you no appetite except in your mouth? I have an appetite in my ear, and the things that give that appetite food--sweet sounds--are something to me. I have an appetite in my eye, and the things that give that appetite food--form, symmetry, and beauty--are something to me. These things are a great deal more food to me than bread. I pity a man whose appetites are confined to physical things, and I like a man whose appetites rise up to nobler things. On every side of us are witnesses that God did not make the world for iron, and gold, and stones, and meat, and drink, and clothes, alone; but for the mind and soul as well. (H. W. Beecher.)
Beauty, danger of
Gaze not on beauty too much, lest it blast thee; nor too long, lest it blind thee; nor too near, lest it burn thee. If thou like it, it deceives thee; if thou love it, it disturbs thee; if thou hunt after it, it destroys thee. If virtue accompany it, it is the heart’s paradise; if vice associate it, it is the soul’s purgatory. It is the wise man’s bonfire, and the fool’s furnace. (F. Quarles.)
And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
The reciprocal gaze
The gaze was one which read character in the expression of the man’s face, and discerned that he had faith to be healed (verse 16). And he, in his turn, was to look on them that he might read in their pitying looks, not only the wish to heal, but the consciousness of power to carry the wish into effect. (Dean Plumptre.)
The proper effects of the sight of misery
When thou seest misery in thy brother’s face, let him see mercy in thine eye; the more the oil of mercy is:poured on him by thy pity, the more the oil in thy cruse shall be increased by thy piety. (F. Quarles.)
Magnetic influence over our fellow-creatures
You may take a lily and draw it through the sand, and it comes out clean. Nothing holds to it. You may take a magnet and draw it through, and out come the iron filings with it. The magnet knows and catches that which is germane to it--that which is susceptible to its attraction. There are some natures that are like magnets, and that touch lust in you. You do not know what it is that affects you. You feel unwashed after they are gone. There has been nothing said, and there has been nothing exactly done. It is that subtle magnetic power which feeling has on feeling. If on one instrument in the room you sound a given chord, every other instrument in that room has a tendency to sound its octave. If you go among men of strong natures there is a certain vibration in them of a feeling which is strong in you. When you have been with some persons you feel finer, you feel lifted up. And yet they have not exhorted you. There has been no magisterial instruction whatever given to you. You have drunk the wine of being, and by it you are lifted up and strengthened. (H. W. Beecher.)
Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.
Wealth in poverty
What a remarkable combination of poverty which can give nothing, with power which can do almost anything! “Silver and gold have I none”--then we are ready at once to class him with the men from whom no help is to be expected, with those who hang upon others. The speech, however, does not end there. “Rise up and walk,” says the penniless man. Why, Pilate who was the great man at Jerusalem, or Caesar who was yet greater at Rome, would never have dared to utter anything so bold. Peter, however, ventured in Christ’s name, and the result was perfect soundness given immediately by the great Author of life, who has made our frames so curiously and can repair them so easily. St. Peter walked through the streets of Jerusalem on that memorable morning an unobserved and undistinguished man. Many passed him by, probably, who had upon them the trappings of worldly wealth, or were swelling with the pride of office, and if they looked the obscure Galilean in the face, would have taken him for one of the many thousand drudges who filled the streets of Jerusalem. Yet was there a hidden power within which made him really greater than the world’s rulers. And the contrast was equally striking between the utterly defenceless condition of Peter and John and the boldness with which they bore their simple emphatic testimony as witnesses for Christ. Precisely of the same character was the apostle’s defence of the next day before the council. The history of mankind shows nothing grander than these two appearances of the first preacher of the gospel before two such audiences. But I wish you to notice that in the text we have not only a plain historical account of something said and done by one eminent saint, but--
I. A symbolical account of the Church’s work in many ages. It was specially true of the apostles, considering the place they filled, the work they wrought, the testimony they bore, the blessings they dispensed, that being “poor,” they “made many rich”; but numbers, like-minded with them, have trod in their steps, and have earned their praise. The Church which they founded has often been poor as they were. Yet at those very times, more than in her more prosperous days, she has said to many a crippled soul, “Rise up and serve thy God.” Just when she had nothing to bribe men with, when her life would have been destroyed if it had not been “hidden with Christ in God,” then she has been strengthened with might by Him whose servant and witness she is, and her tones have been louder than before, her port loftier, her message clearer, her triumphs more blessed. She has gone abroad from city to city, or from village to village, proclaiming aloud, “‘Silver and gold have I none.’ Let the men who covet either go elsewhere and seek them; they are often baits to snare men’s souls. But I carry with me better treasures. I teach the man of halting pace and crippled limb to run in the ways of righteousness.” Thus often has the Church prophesied in sackcloth, and while many have called her traitress because she would not bow down to images of gold, and some have branded her with heresy, because her message squared not with the creeds that were most in favour at court, others have come thronging from their homes to give her their greeting and blessing. Look, e.g., at the sixteenth century, and the man who did more than any other to distinguish it from the ages of black darkness which went before it. Who was it that said to prostrate Europe, “Rise up and walk”? It was the son of a Saxon miner, singing Christmas carols at fourteen, that he might earn a few pence to supply the cravings of hunger, the companion of the poor till the fame of his deeds brought him to the company of princes. There were mighty princes in that day, one of them governing a larger portion of Europe, and swaying its destinies more absolutely than any single potentate of our own time. On one occasion the monk and the emperor met face to face, and who that reads the scene must not see that the man of power grew little by the side of the fearless, upright champion of truth? It was Peter and the Jewish council over again. If. But we will come to humbler scenes and more every-day characters.
1. Look at one of God’s saints. He has lived a life of faith, and in his humble way has honoured God, served the Church, blessed his generation. And now the day is come that he must depart hence. No inventory need be taken of his goods; no will is wanted. Such an one might say to his weeping children, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.” And who shall despise the legacy? It is better than the miser’s gold. They are not poor, but rich, who inherit his blessing and his prayers; but how often does the portion of the covetous turn to poverty! It looks like a spreading tree rich in foliage and fruit; but a worm is at the root, and lo! one branch withers, and then another, till at last nothing but a bare trunk is left.
2. Take instances from among the living. Look at the lone woman, whose week’s pittance just buys her week’s bread, giving kind looks, pleasant words, spare half-hours, to some ailing or afflicted friend. Look at the little child, who never had a sixpence perhaps of its own, dutiful at home, gentle and patient abroad, running on errands for the sick, brightening with its innocent look and cheerful prattle some desolate fireside where infant -voices were once heard, but are now heard no more. Look at some aged man of God, who finds it hard to make his weakened limbs hold out from Sunday to Sunday, ministering to the sick, offering a word in season to the reckless, pointing the dying sinner to the Lamb of God, comforting many a tried and tempted brother with cordials from the storehouse of God’s promises. Do not all these say in turn, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee”? Is it not a blessed work, that of ministering out of our little to those who have less? Is not your scanty fare the sweeter when you come home from making some dark chambers more bright, and some heavy hearts more hopeful? Very precious are alms like these, worth a hundred times more than the money gifts of the wealthy, ranking higher in God’s account, bestowed at greater cost, more blessed proofs of the power of faith. Oh! if the poor, one and all, were a brotherhood of living, loving Christians, they might almost do without help from others, help from each other to each other would be dispensed so wisely and so seasonably, and large-hearted generosity would find such a response in warm-hearted gratitude.
3. God forbid, however, that because they might befriend their equals more, we should befriend any of them less! God forbid that the miserably stinted measure of all our charities should descend to a yet lower standard!
(1) Many have leisure. How many hours in a month are given by many to any public object? What is the world the better for their mot being compelled to toil at some allotted task?
(2) We might pursue the subject and speak of knowledge, worldly influence, talents of any special kind. Whose are they? Who gave them? Whose are you? Who redeemed you and told you that you were not your own?
(3) And if we speak of what man may do for his brother-man, our prayers, surely, must not be forgotten. Who can say to a neighbour, “What I have give I thee,” if he be not one who remembers them all in turn, when he pleads for his own mercies before the throne of grace? (J. Hampden Gurney, M. A.)
What can be done without silver and gold
I. Silver and gold can do many things. To speak of them as of no value would be folly. Money--
1. Can save our minds from anxiety, supply our wants, educate our children, fill our life with comfort. To speak of such blessings as trivial were both foolish and unthankful.
2. As an instrument of commerce is an essential element in the activity and interest of life. Without it our markets would sink back into the system of barter, and we should be in a ruder condition than those who lived centuries ago.
3. Can he used to relieve distress, to cheer the desolate, to help the struggling.
4. Can be employed in the direct furtherance of religious ends.
5. Gives influence which can be used in the promotion of its highest purposes, and when consecrated by the Christian life of its possessor becomes one of the noblest offerings for the honour of God and the blessing of the world.
II. There are some things which silver and cold cannot do.
1. You may buy a man’s work, but you cannot buy his affection. By paying him his wages you do not on that account secure his respect; while by indiscriminate almsgiving it is not certain that you will earn or deserve any real gratitude.
2. The possession of wealth does not improve, but sometimes spoils a man’s character. It seldom makes him more generous. But those who are very poor may be rich in better things--in the respect and gratitude of others, the sweet temper, the generous heart. How rich the poor are sometimes, in She kindness of disposition which gives happiness to themselves and those around them!
3. Money cannot purchase health, whether for ourselves or those whom we love. David’s treasury was well filled when Nathan told him his child must die. Hezekiah had proud thoughts of wealth when Isaiah commanded him to “set his house in order.”
4. Money cannot purchase grace. Simon Magus thought it could; but Peter said, “Thy money perish with thee.” (Dean Howson.)
Poverty and power
I. God is no respecter of persons, but as a matter of fact poor men stand foremost in the great human line. Weigh what Dives has done for the world, and what the penniless. Because Peter and John, though they had not a penny in their purses, had something to give to that poor man, and to all poor men, and gave it, we are here to-day, and the great world lives. He was the poorest of the poor who brought that gift to us. “Foxes have holes,” etc.; and by hands as poor the gift has been distributed. Perhaps the most heavenly men and women living are among the poorest. The men who have drawn forth the great inventions, poems, thoughts which have blessed mankind have seldom enriched themselves by their toils. They have loved their work too well for that. The world is not bountiful to genius and to love. And thank God it is not: genius lives on a nobler nourishment, and love has a nobler hire. Socrates, Paul, Epictetus, Dante, Luther, Milton found it so. And yet that we may not idolise poverty the world’s most glorious psalms came forth from one of the most splendid and prosperous monarchies of the world. But David knew want before he came to wealth, and perhaps his best work was done in his most struggling days. Still there are eminent instances of the noblest service to humanity from those in the loftiest station to rebuke the supposition that any class has a monopoly of the highest ministries. Sokya-Mouni was a prince, and few out of Christianity have done such work for man as his; and our own great Alfred did, perhaps, the noblest life-work that was ever done by one man for his generation from the height of a throne. The poor may be bigots as well as the rich. St. Giles is as contemptuous as St. James, and God rebukes them both.
II. What are silver and gold compared with the rich endowment of faculty with which God has blessed our race? Which of you now, moaning over your poverty, would exchange for the wealth of Dives, your sight, hearing, or soundness of limb? It would do us good, when we make our plaint against providence, if God compelled us to make the exchange awhile, and try how we liked a splendid paralysis, a gilded blindness or deafness, a park big enough for a province and a shrivelled limb. What cries would rise to heaven for poverty again! Take this healed man, as he clings to Peter and John, half afraid of a relapse, and suggest that he go back to his cripple’s lair with a mountain of gold for his store. Faculty is the true wealth of man. There is many a poor workman trudging to his work at sunrise who has a joy in beholding the pomp and glow of the eastern heavens, hearing the lark’s glad carol, and bathing his brow in the clear air such as Dives would give any price to enjoy.
III. If it is a God-like gift to bestow health on a crippled body, what must it be to give health to a crippled soul? The healing of bodily disease was but the mere fringe of the work of Christ and His apostles. The real disease that paralyses man underlies all that. Sin makes disease the first form of death in every bodily organ. You know why there are so many bleared eyes, bloated faces, shaking hands, and limping feet; and Christ knows too, and He knows also that the only way, in the long run and on a large scale, to heal sick bodies is to save sick souls. And He who can do this for you gives you a boon of which gold and silver yield no measures. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Apostolic poverty and power contrasted with Papal wealth and weakness
Once when Thomas Aquinas visited mediaeval Rome he was shown through all the sumptuously furnished rooms of the Papal Palace, he became almost as much fatigued and dazed as was the queen of Sheba, when she had been dazzled with the riches of Solomon’s kingdom; and then it is related as a fine pleasantry of the Pontiff himself, that he remarked to him, “The Church cannot say in our times, Silver and gold have I none!” And Aquinas replied quickly, “No, indeed! neither can the Church say now, In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Poverty of the rich
A shrewd old gentleman once said to his daughter, “Be sure, my dear, you never marry a poor man; but remember that the poorest man in the world is one that has money and nothing else.” (Christian Age.)
Poverty a stimulus
A nobleman who painted remarkably well for an amateur, showing one of his pictures to Poussin, the latter exclaimed, “Your lordship only requires a little poverty to make you a complete artist.” (Horace Smith.)
Something better than money
A poor converted woman of India said, “I have no money to give to missions, but I am able to speak of the Saviour to my neighbour.” Could a volume tell more of the duty of the people of this country who have found Christ? Said a young man at a meeting, “I worked for Mr.
, a well-known Christian, for eight years, and he never Spoke to me of religion.” The woman in India had learned what is better than money--the power of personal influence.
Money is not omnipotent
We sometimes think that money is omnipotent, that it can purchase for us every good thing. This is a great mistake. Money cannot buy love. It often wins its semblance. Summer friends swarm around him who rolls in wealth, but the love of a mother, the fidelity of a father, the affection of a sister, the sympathy of a brother, the trust of a friend, are never bought with gold. Money cannot bring contentment, and “Our content is our best having.” Money alone will not secure for us a good education. A rich man, who had neglected his early opportunities, was heard to say sadly, “I would give all my wealth for a thorough education and well-trained mind.” But his money and his riches were alike unavailing. Plenty of money will not of itself insure culture and gentility, yet next to Christian graces and robust health nothing is so desirable as refinement and pleasing, self-possessed manners. The wealth of a Croesus could not give a peaceful conscience. Sin scourges the soul of the rich as surely as of the poor. The poorest boy or girl who has “always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men,” is richer than the richest with a “conscience seared with a hot iron.” A good character is more precious than gold. Yet money is not to be despised. If we have it let us accept it as God’s gift, and use it, not so much for our own pleasure as for the benefit of others. If we have it not let us believe that for our good it has been withheld from us. But whether we have it or not let us remember that it cannot purchase love, contentment, education, culture, refinement, nor a good conscience, and that it will not secure for us either peace, purity, holiness, or heaven. (Christian Age.)
What is money
“What is money, father?” asked a sickly, motherless child. “Why, gold and silver and copper, my boy.” “Yes; I don’t mean that; I mean, What’s money, after all? What can it do?” “Oh,” replied the purse-proud father, “money can do anything!” “Anything! then why did not money save me my mother?” The father felt puzzled, and the boy continued, “It can’t make me strong or well either, father.” And the question, “What is money, after all?” is left to work its impression for good upon many minds and hearts.
Poverty no hindrance to beneficence
A year or two ago a missionary in one of the South Sea Islands wished very much to get a translation of the Gospels printed in one of the languages of the island where he was working. It is not in the South Seas as it is with us. We have one language which can be understood nearly everywhere all over the United Kingdom. In the New Hebrides and other island groups, not only has every island a different language, but often different parts of the same island speak different languages. This missionary had translated the Gospels. He was going over to Sydney with some arrowroot and sago, which his poor people had contributed out of their scanty stores, in order that they might have the Gospels to read in their own tongues and in their own homes. He had saved a little of his own also to add to the offerings. But on board the steamer to Sydney he met a printer, and the printer proved to him that he had not one quarter enough money to pay for the printing. So the missionary was much cast down, and thought that he would have all his trouble and long journey for nothing. When he was landed on the quay at Sydney a little boy, the son of the gentleman with whom he was to stay in the city, met him, and holding out half a sovereign to the missionary, said, “This is to help to print your Bible. My father told me that you had come all this way to get the Bible printed for the poor natives. I had not any money, but father said I might run messages and carry parcels at the warehouse. So I did, and here is my week’s pay.” Brave boy and happy missionary! The half-sovereign did not of course print the Bible, but it helped, and it encouraged the missionary to trust God, who can raise up help for His servants among little boys and kings of great empires. So much interest was aroused in Sydney by the story of the little boy, which the missionary told at many a meeting, that not only were the Gospels printed, but money was gathered to print the whole Bible as soon as the missionary got time to translate it. So the missionary went away back to his island home, glad and thankful. (S. R. Crockett.)
The true sympathy
The richness of any material lessens the necessity for adornment. The finest gems are the simplest set, because no environment can add either to their beauty or value. The story of the Beautiful gate is in itself a gem of such inherent worth, that, like Plato’s Republic, it needs no rhetorical setting. We can hardly imagine the introduction to any great truth told with greater simplicity than this: “Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.” And yet these words lead us to the consideration of a truth comprehensive of the whole scope of practical Christianity. Our first lesson is this--
1. The disciples of Christ in the regular performance of their daily duties have ample opportunities for charity, and hence the necessity of mutual helpfulness. Objects of charity naturally divide themselves into two classes: first, those who are strong enough to approach us for help; and, secondly, those who are so weak that we must approach them to give help. Peter dealt with the latter class. While energy lies at the basis of benevolent deeds, yet no extraordinary exertion is required to discover the impotent men of this world. God usually finds them for us somewhere along the line of our daily duty. God may discover one man’s object of charity in the heathenism of China; another’s on the frontiers of our own civilisation; and yours between your own dwelling and the village church.
2. Wherever there is ability to do good there is always close at hand some object that needs it. The Christian system is so manifold in its organism that a place is afforded for every variety and degree of talents. No Christian is wholly lacking in ability. We are all creatures of want, and mutually dependent on one another. In practice, as in theory, the subjective and the objective are in juxtaposition. We are sometimes misled by the impression that only great deeds count in the kingdom of God.
3. Every Christian can impart vastly more than the impotent man anticipates. Peter’s object of charity was a most dismal sight. Placed before a temple whose cost and magnificence filled all the world with its fame. It is the old, old story repeated again and again to the burning shame of the ages, that costly temples can be built while the more valuable temple of humanity must beg beneath their sculptured arches for bread. We may pause to inquire what Peter had to give more valuable than silver and gold. He had the Christ of history, the Christ of his own rich experience, to impart, which was infinitely more valuable than all the world’s material treasure. “Christ, Christ,” I hear the impotent man repeat, “what need I of Christ? I only want the means of driving away the pangs of starvation.” Then says Peter, with all the authority accorded to an inspired apostle, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” You will notice that the man had merely asked for the means of buying bread; he receives the power to earn his own bread, which was far better. Do we not all receive from God more than we ask for, and infinitely more than we deserve? Two inferences from the above. Men are everywhere about us in spiritual impotency, and they recognise it not. We, as Christ’s disciples, have power to help them more than they anticipate, or we ourselves imagine, until it has been put forth. If religion is of supreme moment to the human soul, how is spiritual impotency possible? Simply because the sinner’s free will positively refuses the spiritual antidote. We have seen that want and the ability to relieve it go hand in hand. Is it true in the vegetable world where by the side of every poison grows its antidote? Is it true in the animal world where the bitten creature knows where to go for remedial efficacy? Who tells the birds of the tropics that a certain leaf placed over the nest protects their little ones from preying reptiles? Is it likely that “man, the paragon of animals,” when bitten by sin should be in ignorance as to the antidote? Let the spiritual impotent “fasten his eyes” on the Truth, and he will receive a larger blessing than he anticipates.
4. Through human means a complete work is accomplished by bringing Christ into actual contact with human wants. There is a mighty power in human sympathy. But sympathy in the abstract is meaningless. It has content only as it is applied to an object. There are two ways in which we may express our sympathy with sinners. First by mingling with them for mere companionship, which always lowers us to their level; and, secondly, by mingling with them for the sole purpose of doing them good, which tends to raise them to our level. We need never be ashamed nor afraid to go wherever we can take Christ with us. It is only through personal, sympathetic contact that the impotent men of this world are likely to know of God and the power of His salvation. Suppose Peter had sent a written message from his home to the impotent man, saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk,” the presumption is that the man would have died as he had lived, impotent. No, the two must come into vital, sympathetic contact. The weakness of the one must arouse the curative energies of the other as they associate.
5. The place where impotent men first find their Lord is always a beautiful gate to them. The place of our natural birth is dear to us. But the place of our spiritual new birth cannot be any the less so. It is a beauty that overrides every material consideration. Thus through life by doing and receiving good are beautiful gates made. By doing good along the quiet lines of our daily duties not only do we confirm our own Christian characters, but strengthen the characters and increase the joys of our fellow-men. (C. H. Ricketts.)
Responsibility for power
Pentecostal energy now begins to find one of its spheres. The power of preaching Christ, crucified and risen, had already been proved. The power of healing was now put forth. The power of testifying before rulers and princes was soon to be shown. The power of toiling, suffering, and dying for Christ would ere long find its expression. Observe--
I. The consciousness of power “Such as I have give I thee.” It must have been a very high and inspiring moment for Peter when he thus felt the healing energy of Christ ready to work through him. We have often been disposed to envy the skilful physician who, when visiting a diseased sufferer, is so conscious of mastery over the disease that he is able to say, “I can heal you.” So many of the sorrows of our life master us that we feel to grow big when we are conscious of the power to make and master any one of them. A simple illustration taken from the life of M’Cheyne sets this point clearly: “His custom in preparing for the pulpit was to impress on his memory the substance of what he had before carefully written, and then to speak as he found liberty. One morning, as he rode rapidly along to Dunipace, his written sermons were dropped on the roadside. This accident prevented him from having the opportunity of preparing in his usual manner, but he was enabled to preach with more than his usual freedom. For the first time in his life he discovered that he possessed the gift of extemporaneous composition, and learned, to his own surprise, that he had more composedness of mind and command of language than he had believed.” That is to say, through this providential circumstance he was awakened to the consciousness of power. What we need in these our times is a higher faith in the varied and abundant gifts with which the Church and the individual Christian are endowed, and a keener power of discernment to find these gifts in ourselves and in others. But powers differ in different persons, both in kind and in degree. None are without some kind of faculty and ability which they may lay on the altar of God’s service.
1. What is called “wealth” is power. All beyond needful expenditure is a man’s wealth. Wealth is what I can save and win by self-denial for the service of others and the glory of God. In that sense we are all of us more or less wealthy, and we might be much wealthier than we are. Such wealth is holy power. A poor widow could glorify God with the wealth of her two mites. But some have wealth in the commoner sense. And your wealth is power--a dreadful power if it has not been first presented to God to be used for Him; a glorious power if it has.
2. Intellect is power. Every man who knows a little more than his neighbour has the trust of a power. It is evident that he can teach and lead others. Surely these times are making larger demands every day on Christian intelligence in these sceptical days. The battle of Christian truth is as that great battle of Inkerman--a soldiers’ battle, a people’s battle--each one of us in our varied spheres making Christian knowledge and experience tell upon the conservation of the Christian verities.
3. Art is power. Such painters as Holman Hunt and Sir Noel Paten are but the high examples of endowments that come in measure to some of us. In Sunday-school spheres and among the children there is room for the consecration of the draughtsman’s skill. And still there is given to men and women the Divine gift of song, and they may “sing for Jesus.” No door will be shut against your song.
4. But every Christian has spiritual power. In this he is like Peter. He may, if he will, lay hold of and use the great power of God. But this lies dormant in so many of us. We could give something to men, something healing, vitalising, the very thing which the dying world wants. And what more do we want? Only what Peter had that day--the consciousness of power. This would stir in us holy impulses, would shake us out of selfishness and apathy. Remember that the words “I cannot” have no place upon a Christian’s lips, if they are applied to any right and good and holy work. Thou hast power with God and with men, and thou mightest prevail.
II. The responsibility of conscious power. All God’s gifts to us are for our giving away to others. Keep any of God’s gifts to yourself and they will speedily rot. You can no more store up God’s present-day manna than the old Israelites could store up the bread that came down from heaven. If He makes an arm strong, it is for work. If He makes a leg strong, it is for walking in search of somebody to help. If He makes a voice strong, it is that we may plead earnestly with our fellow-men for Him, or that we may win men with the gospel-song. If He makes a heart strong, it is that we may inspire others to a nobler life. Try to dam up God’s living streams of blessing, and make a pond in your own grounds, and they will cease to be living streams, they will soon become disease-breeding, stagnant waters, and you will have to be content with the pond, for God will cut off the waters at the fountain-head. “He that hath not (does not make a worthy use of what he has), from him shall be taken away that which he seemeth to have.” (R. Tuck, B. A.)
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.--
The power of Jesu’s name
I. Man morally crippled, helpless, and wretched. Bodily infirmities are the shadows of the sins and weaknesses of the soul. All sin works by privation. It shuts up senses and organs which God meant to be inlets of joy and channels of life. But there is something very suggestive in this cripple’s case--he never knew the joy of movement, “Lame from his mother’s womb.” Can you remember the time when sin was not a source of suffering and weakness? How long have you been borne by the storm of passion into excesses and follies when you have craved the beggar’s dole? You ought to be taking your part with the angels in God’s great workshop; but where are you? In the devil’s, where you labour and are sheltered and sleep like the brute through long monotonous years. A change sometimes breaks the monotony--quarrels, drinkings, and all the rest, and I have heard men talk of this as life! What stroke has crippled you to put up with such a life as this--without God, joy, hope, like the beasts that perish?’ Are you in love with such a life, poor cripple? or are you heartily sick of it, as this man was of his?
II. There is a name which can make you whole again, sound, glad, and free. Your soul wants what that poor cripple’s body wanted--power, and that power is in Christ alone. A man whose system is worn out can be patched up awhile by the physicians, but a new gush of life into it is what he needs. They try to do something like it sometimes, they pour some fresh young life-blood into the exhausted veins. But this is what Christ can truly do for your soul. His life will pass into every crippled faculty and unbind it, and open to your powers a field of the most glorious activity. Lie no longer moaning, “O wretched man that I am!” “The gift of God is eternal life.”
III. This is the time to believe on that name and to rise up and walk. You have been there fearfully too long. How much of your time has been spent wearily in the devil’s service? How much faculty, how much life is left for God? But will God welcome such a wreck as I am? Let that poor cripple and Christ’s works of mercy answer. “The blind receive their sight,… the lame walk.” They were mostly broken fragments of’ humanity that He gathered. Such as you He needs. You have made many an effort at reformation, but the poor palsied limbs have doubled up again. Now rise once more; there is a hand outstretched to you--I.ay hold of it. Refuse it, and to-morrow all power to make the effort may be gone. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The difference between the miracles of Christ and those of the apostles
This difference is here observable. They performed them through Christ, by virtue of His name and authority. They were mere instruments; He was the efficient agent. Christ, on the other hand, performed His miracles in His own name, and by His own authority. He wrought independently. His language was that of omnipotence, theirs was that of faith in Him. He said, “I say unto thee, Arise”; they said, “In the name of Jesus rise up and walk.” He was the Messiah, the Son; they were the servants of the household. (P. J. Gloag, D. D.)
And he leaping up stood.
The healed man’s activity and gratitude
The evangelist describes minutely the actions of the lame man as soon as he began to believe that he was healed. First he leaped forth, releasing himself from the hold of Peter, or leaped up, as if trying the strength of his muscle; then he stood on his feet for the first time in his life, and walked around, to see whether the same power of walking belonged to him which all that were about had. But the pen of the writer, not content with this, adds graphically, “And he entered with them,” unwilling to be separated from the instruments of his cure, “into the temple,” practising his newly acquired powers without the ability to restrain himself, now walking, now leaping, and all the while praising God. “Then did the lame man leap as an hart.” He was of another kind from the nine lepers, who never looked back to give thanks to the Lord Jesus. (Pres. Woolsey.)
They who have witnessed our frailties should also attest our conversion and gratitude. Our gratitude is false and of no avail unless accompanied with newness of life; and this cannot endure long if our thankful sense of the grace to which we owe our deliverance declines. (Quesnel.)
The responsibilities of the saved
Sin has reduced the ,soul to a state of impotence. It has not destroyed the soul’s powers, but only disabled them. When a man is saved, therefore, his crippled powers are straightened and strengthened, and his new vocation is to use them.
I. What faculties are crippled by sin and restored by Christ?
1. Faith. This exists in every soul, but is dormant or perverted. Christ straightens it out and empowers it as an eye to see, a hand to grasp Him and heavenly things.
2. Love. No man is destitute of this: but it is wrenched away from its highest Object, who is its true life, and rests upon unworthy objects often, on secondary objects at best whom it cannot love fully, because unrecruited by the love of God. “We love (R.V.) because He first loved us.” Salvation largely consists in the conversion of the heart, the turning of all the affections to Christ, by whom they are invigorated and sanctified, and made to flow in worthy channels.
3. The will. Paul has given us a graphic picture of what that is in the natural man (Romans 7:1-25.) and what Christ makes it (Romans 8:1-39. and his own life).
4. The active powers. These again are paralysed for all spiritual purposes, but energetic enough in the cause of evil--the tongue: how silent for God, how glib for self or for folly or sin! the hands, how idle for God, how active in other causes! Christ restores these to their true uses, and consecrates them to the service of God.
II. The restored faculties must be employed. Otherwise they will fall into their old decrepitude. Had the lame man returned to his haunt, and neglected to use his limbs, those limbs would soon have become helpless once more. To neglect faith, love, resolution and work for God is to forfeit them. The action of the healed man may illustrate the manner in which our restored faculties are to be employed.
1. With alacrity, “leaping up.”
2. Progressively, “walked.”
3. In union with the Church, “entered with them into the temple.”
4. Thankfully, “praising God.” (J. W. Burn.)
Praise breaking forth
Wherever God’s grace is discerned, and His love is welcomed, there praise breaks forth, as surely as streams pour from the cave of the glacier when the sun of summer melts it, or earth answers the touch of spring with flowers. (A. Maclaren.)
The gate Beautiful
I. The close proximity of physical deformity to natural beauty.
II. The strange association of spiritual riches with temporal poverty.
III. The scribes transformation of popular indifference into abounding amazement. The gospel had been applied, put to the test, and had succeeded in a superhuman manner.
1. It had come into positive contact with poverty and suffering.
2. It had exalted the whole nature of the man.
3. It had set the man on a new course of life. (F. W. Brown.)
A Christian man ought to be like a horse that has bells on his head, so that he cannot go anywhere without ringing them and making a noise. His whole life should be a psalm, every step should be in harmony, every thought should constitute a note, every word he utters should be a component part of the joyful psalm. It is a blessed thing to see a Christian going about his business like the high-priest of old, who wherever he went made music with the golden bells. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It is said of a lately deceased benefactor of a Western college in the United States that, on a recent commencement day, a lady stepped up to him and said, “Governor Hardin, I wish to thank you for this splendid college, and to say that my daughters, who graduate to-day, owe you a debt of gratitude they can never repay.” The white-haired old man broke down, and, while the tears filled his eyes, he faltered out, “Madam, you are the first person to express such a sentiment to me.” How many men who secure scholarships and fellowships, or receive other benefactions, ever think of or thank the generous givers?
“When a boy,” said a prominent member of a church, “I was much helped by Bishop Hamline, who visited at a house where I was. Taking me aside, the Bishop said, ‘When in trouble, my boy, kneel down and ask God’s help; but never climb over the fence into the devil’s ground and then kneel down and ask help. Pray from God’s side of the fence.’” “Of that,” said he, “I have thought every day of my life since.” Continuing, he remarked, “Sanford Cobb, the missionary to Persia, helped me in another way. Said he, ‘Do you ever feel thankful when God blesses you?’ ‘Always.’ ‘Did you ever tell Him so?’ ‘Well, I don’t know that I have.’ ‘Well, try it, my young friend, try it, try it. Tell Him so; tell Him aloud; tell Him so that you are sure you will hear it yourself.’ That was a new revelation. I found that I had been only glad, not grateful. I have been telling Him with grateful feelings ever since, to my soul’s help and comfort.’’
All the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.
The porch--or better, portico or cloister--was outside the temple, on the eastern side. It consisted in the Herodian Temple, of a double row of Corinthian columns, about thirty-seven feet high, and received its name as having been in part constructed, when the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, with the fragments of the older edifice. The people tried to persuade Herod Agrippa I. to pull it down and rebuild it, but he shrank from the risk and cost of such an undertaking (Jos., “Ant.” 20:9, § 7). It was, like the porticoes in all Greek cities, a favourite place of resort, especially as facing the morning sun in winter. (See John 10:23.) The memory of what bad then been the result of their Master’s teaching must have been fresh in the minds of the two disciples. Then the people had complained of being kept in suspense as to whether Jesus claimed to be the Christ, and, when He spoke of being One with the Father, had taken up stones to stone Him (John 10:31-33). Now they were to hear His name as Holy and Just, as “the Servant of Jehovah,” as the very Christ (Acts 3:13-14; Acts 3:18). (Dean Plumptre.)
Solomon’s porch--a hallowed spot for Peter
It must have been a spot filled with cherished memories for the apostle. Every Jew naturally venerated this cloister, because it was Solomon’s; just as men in the grandest modern cathedral still love to point out the smallest relic of the original structure out of which the modern building grew. At San Clemente, in Rome, the priests delight to show the primitive structure where they say St. Clement ministered about a.d. 100. At York the vergers will indicate far down in the crypt the fragments of the earliest Saxon church, which once stood where that splendid cathedral now rears its lofty arches. So, too, the Jews naturally cherished this limb of continuity between the ancient and the modern temples. But for St. Peter this Solomon’s porch must have had special memories over and above the patriotic ideas that were linked with it. He could not forget that the very last feast of the Dedication which the Master had seen on earth, He walked in this porch, and there, in His conversation with the Jews, claimed an equality with the Father which led them to make an attempt on His life. Here, then, it was that within twelve months the apostle Peter makes a similar claim on his Master’s behalf. (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)
Here was a congregation worthy of an apostle; and Peter was ready for the occasion. The people were excited. They “ran together.” This made it possible to address them all at once. They were amazed, and were, therefore, in an inquiring mood. Peter--
I. Called his hearers to quiet thoughtfulness. He asked them the cause of their amazement. Did he pause after his questions to let the hearer’s mind balance itself? The miracle had aroused attention which must now be steadied, in order that judgment might be calmly exercised.
II. Corrected the supposition that the miracle had been done by human ability. Some supposed the cause was in their magical power or extraordinary godliness. But this was a superficial and God-dishonouring hypothesis, as is that which attributes the results of preaching to the preacher’s eloquence, logic, or “magnetism.” Peter corrected this, and we say that conviction, penitence, conversion, and the power to live holy is all of God’s grace.
III. Cleared a way for the truth. If false suppositions had not been removed the true view of the miracle would have been prevented; but by contradicting error Peter brought the minds of the hearers to need a true explanation. So long as astronomers believed the earth to be the centre of the solar system, many false suppositions had to be made, and many phenomena were misinterpreted. Ptolemaic error blocked out Copernican truth. But when the fundamental error had been overthrown the chariot of knowledge could proceed. See the magnificent results in the precision and fulness of modern astronomical science. Conclusion: Let us learn to remove error in order that the way of truth may be open. Let us do this for penitents whom some error may keep in bondage, for inquirers lest some false notion blind them. (A. Hudson.)
And when Peter saw it, he answered.--
A greater miracle
1. This speech is a greater miracle than the cure. The great miracles are all wrought within. Compare Peter before the resurrection with the Peter of this speech, and tell me what has happened. Surely a great cure has been wrought up,m him. You cannot work miracles, because you yourselves are not miracles. We approach the whole case from the outside, and with many lame suggestion we attempt to mend the world’s sad condition. We must be greater ourselves than any work which it is possible for ourselves to do.
2. In this speech Peter vindicated his apostolic primacy. You might have asked questions concerning Peter’s superiority before, but after this all men feel that the first place belongs to him. Any primacy that is not based on merit must go down. For time you may bolster up a man; but a superiority of position that is not based upon fundamental and vital merit falls before the testing touch of circumstances and time. So let this book of God stand or fall. The priests cannot keep it up. Parliaments and thrones cannot give the Bible its lasting primacy. If the inspiration he not in the book itself you cannot communicate it; and if the inspiration really be in the book itself you can never talk it down. By force you may quiet it for a time, but truth is eternal, it returns.
3. The danger is that we be not just to such men as Peter. We may take this speech as a mere matter of course. We hear an eloquent man drop sentence after sentence of singular beauty, and think that he does so simply as a matter of course. In every such sentence there is a drop of sacrificial blood. True eloquence is forced out of men. This speech was not a prepared oration which he took out and read; it was as extemporaneous as was the event itself. The looking people make the eloquent preacher. All the people fastened their eyes upon Peter and John; and, as the lame man had drawn out of Peter spiritual power by his magnetic look, so the people drew out of Peter still higher power by their marvelling.
4. In reply to that wonder Peter declines any primacy based on purely personal considerations. “This is not our doing. It is the Lord’s doing; and it is marvellous in our eyes.” And, with inspired wisdom, he magnified the occasion by attaching the miracle to the omnipotence of a God about whose existence the Jew had no doubt. “The God of Abraham,” etc. The apostles did not snatch at praise for themselves. They maintained their royal supremacy by operating in the presence of the people merely as the servants and instruments of God. We must return to that allegiance to the Divine name and throne.
5. Not only does Peter decline the implied eulogium, he takes upon himself to cut the people to pieces. No great progress can be made in moral reform until our apostles slay us. Flattery will do nothing for us--at most, will but mislead or bewilder us. Hear his speech, “Whom ye delivered up,” etc. That man must succeed in his ministry, or he must be killed! Such a speaker of such an address cannot occupy a middle position. When did the apostles speak with bated breath and whispering humbleness? When did they try to make the best of the case by appeasing the spirit of the people, and by an endeavour to placate sensibilities which had been strongly excited? So we come back to a truth with which this message has made us familiar. We are not to put away the Crucifixion as an historical circumstance, nineteen centuries old. The Crucifixion takes place every day. Realise this circumstance, and there will go up the old cry, and after it will come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
6. In verse 17 the tone changes with wondrous skill. The gospel is not an impeachment only--it is an offer, and he introduces this new phase of the subject with a word which united himself with the people--“brethren.” This verse repeats the very prayer of Christ Himself upon the Cross. So he opens a great door of hope. The Church ought to be fertile in its invention of opportunities for the worst men to return. Tell the very worst man that the door of hope, if not wide open, is yet ajar, and that the very faintest touch of his fingers will cause it to fall back to the very wall.
7. Then comes the keyword of apostolic preaching, and the secret of apostolic success “repent” (verse 19). It is like the sword of which David said, “Give me that; there is none like it.” This word “repent” goes to the root and to the reality of the case. Who has repented? I do not ask who has been alarmed by threatened consequences, and who therefore has professed a change of habit and of purpose. My question is a deeper one. Who has felt heart-brokenness on account of sin, as a spiritual offence against God? Have we not forgotten that old word? Has the Church become too dainty to use it?
8. There is another word in verse 19 of as much importance--“therefore”--which refers to the historical and logical argument upon which Christianity is founded. Peter having gone back to “God of Abraham,” etc., and having traced the history of the Crucifixion, and having explained the secret by which the lame man had been healed, etc., gathers himself up in this one supreme effort, and says, “Repent ye, therefore”--for no sentimental reasons, but on the historical ground of the ancient dealings of God with His people, and because of the culmination of those dealings in the recovery of the man who is standing there.
9. Then Peter’s speech proceeds like a deep, broad river, and ends with “Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you.” Apostolic preaching was tender, but it kept itself to this one theme. And because it did so it turned the world upside down. Preacher, come back from all intellectual vagaries, romances, and dreamings, and stand to your one work of accusing men of sins, and then revealing the living Son of God, who came with the one purpose only of blessing men. Blessing and iniquity never can co-exist in the same heart. The iniquity must go, and the blessing will come. The wickedness must depart, and then angels will hasten into the soul from which it has gone out. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The miracle at the Beautiful gate as a text
It is a law of mind to look through its dominant sentiments, and to subordinate all outward things to its dominant purposes. The apostles were full of thoughts pertaining to Christ, and they looked at all events through this medium.
I. Peter traces the miracle to its true Author.
1. Negatively. He disclaims the authorship--a remarkable demonstration of his honesty. Had he taken the credit his social power would have been regnant at once, and would have had an immense following. And the people were willing to give it him.
2. Positively. He shows--
(1) That their God had wrought the miracle. “The God of Abraham.”
(2) That their God had wrought it in order to glorify His Son--not merely to restore the invalid--and to attest the Messiahship of Him whom they had put to death.
II. He connects the miracle with the name of Christ. He had unbounded faith in Jesus, and had therefore power to perform works that should demonstrate His Divine authority; and the effects produced on the bodies of men were only faint types of the results which faith in Christ will produce on souls. Jesus is here presented--
1. In the titles that belong to Him.
(1) “Holy One and Just.”
(2) “Prince of Life.”
2. In the history of their conduct.
(1) They delivered Him up.
(2) They denied Him, their Messiah, in the presence of a heathen scoffer.
(3) This was done in opposition to the tyrant’s wish.
(4) They preferred a murderer.
(5) They killed Him.
3. In His relation to God. God had--
(1) Glorified Him.
(2) Raised Him from the dead.
(3) Overruled their conduct towards Him.
(a) It was the purpose of the Father that Christ should suffer as announced in prophecy (Psalms 22:1-31; Isaiah 53:3-10; Daniel 9:26).
(b) That the conduct of the Jews was made to subserve this purpose. So perfect is the control which the Monarch of the universe has over His creatures, that He makes the greatest rebels work out His grandest plans.
(c) The Jews were ignorant of what they were doing. This was said not to extenuate their guilt, but to convict them of their folly and impotence.
III. He develops the Christian plan of restitution (verses 19-26). Which--
1. Aims at a thorough spiritual reformation as a necessary condition. This includes--
(1) A change of heart. “Repent,” etc.
(2) Forgiveness of sins. “That your sins may be blotted out.”
(3) Invigoration of being. “When the times of refreshing shall come.”
2. Is ever under the direction of God. “From the presence of the Lord” “i.e., by His providence. Observe--
(1) That the invigorating influence of the scheme is from God. The times of refreshing are from His presence.
(2) That the chief Agent of this scheme is from God. “He shall send Jesus.”
(3) That the revelation of this scheme is from God. “Which God hath spoken,” etc.
3. Shall realise its end before the final advent of Christ. “Whom the heavens must receive,” etc. Christ is now in heaven, but His work proceeds on earth, and when His work is accomplished He will come again, and not before. Pre-millennialism is a delusion.
4. Is the grand burden of prophetic truth. Observe--
(1) The cases of prophetic reference to Christ.
(a) Moses (verse 22; cf. Deuteronomy 18:15-19, LXX.).
(b) Samuel (verse 24). Moses and Samuel are the most distinguished names in Jewish history; but they are mentioned as samples.
(c) All the prophets. We may not be able to trace references to Christ in each, yet in the majority of the prophetic books there are notes of hope struck from the harp of future ages, flashes of light from that bright day which Abraham saw afar.
(2) The reason for these references (verse 25).
5. Was first to be presented to the Jews (verse 26). Christ was sent--
(1) To bless, not to curse. Justly might we have expected malediction.
(2) To bless with the greatest blessing. Iniquity is the greatest curse; to men from that is the greatest boon.
(3) To bless the greatest sinners first. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
How he denounces (verses 14, 15); how he comforts and grows gentle (verses 17, 18); how he pleads (verse 19); how he promises (verse 20); how he proves (verse 21). It makes one think another Joseph has come to the pulpit (Genesis 45:4-5). (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. Jesus presented.
II. Sinners condemned.
III. Pardon proclaimed. (J. T. McCrory.)
I. Begins (verses 12-16) by disclaiming the miracle as his own and ascribing it to Christ.
II. Goes on (verses 13-16), to set before the people their sin.
III. Continues (verses 19, 21) by holding out a hope of mercy.
IV. Crowns all (verses 19, 21) by a summons to repentance and a changed life. (Monday Club.)
I. The exordium is stamped with humility (verse 12).
II. The body is marked by fidelity (verses 13-18).
III. The application is redolent of mercy (verses 19-26). (J. Bennett, D. D.)
This was in thorough consonance with the miracle. The people were excited, the apostles were calm; the people clamoured in darkness, the apostles spoke from the serene elevation of cloudless height; the people were startled by a spectacle, the apostles were controlled by law. Was it not almost a mockery to ask the people why they marvelled? Are great works to be regarded without surprise? Are men to become familiar with the outstretched arm of God and to be calm? The power that can restore is one that can destroy; what if that dread power be preparing itself to strike? It would strike but once--its stroke would be death. Peter’s speech may be regarded as showing--
I. The false method of looking at human affairs--“As though by our own power,” etc.
1. The visible is not the final.
2. Second causes do not explain life. There is a false method of looking at the results of--
The man who does not look beyond second causes lives in distraction--in chaos!
II. The true method of regarding extra, ordinary events--“God hath glorified His Son Jesus.” “Faith in His name hath made this man strong.” That is the sublime explanation of all recovery, progress, abiding strength and comfort. Forget God, and society in every phase and movement becomes a riddle without an answer; its happiness is but a lucky chance--its misery an unexpected cloud. Regard life as controlled and blessed by the mediation of Christ, then--
1. There is discipline in every event--design, meaning, however untoward and unmanageable the event.
2. A purpose of restoration runs through all human training. See how new, how beautiful, life would be, if after all its happy experiences we could say, “God hath glorified His Son Jesus”! Physical recovery; spiritual forgiveness; special interpositions; even death itself.
III. The Only Method Of Setting Man Right With God. “Repent ye therefore,” etc. The men who worked miracles spoke plain words about men’s souls. There is no ambiguity here. Are the old words “Repent,” “Be converted,” being allowed to slip out of Christian teaching, and are we now trifling with the character and destiny of men?
1. Every man must repent, because every man has sinned.
2. Every man must be converted, because every man is in a false moral condition.
IV. The sublime object of Christ’s incarnation--“To bless you,” etc.
1. Where iniquity is there is no blessing.
2. Physical restoration is the type of spiritual completeness.
1. Two practical lessons arise out of the subject.
(1) It is not enough to wonder at the mighty works of God.
(2) God’s glory is even identified with the well being of man. “Restitution,” “Refreshing,” “Blessing.”
2. Peter’s appeal rested upon a solid Biblical basis; Moses, Samuel, and all the prophets. God’s message is the summing up of all the voices of holy history. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The threefold testimony of Peter concerning Christ
1. The substance of all miracles (verses 12, 17).
2. The Redeemer of all souls (verses 18-21).
3. The accomplisher of all prophecies (verses 22-26). (Lisco.)
If you see a man on the railway track before an approaching train, or if you see a child in the roadway in danger of being run over by a horse, you have no right to be silent and inactive. It is a sin not to speak out. If you see the first outbursting of flames in a neighbour’s house it would be criminal not to cry “Fire.” Truth cannot be kept to yourself without sin. Silence on popular forms of wrong doing is criminal silence. Silence concerning the duty of repentance and the possibilities of salvation in the presence of the impenitent and unsaved is not to be thought of by the true disciple of Jesus. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Why look ye so earnestly upon us as though by our own power and holiness we had made this man to walk.--
“Show me the doctor”
A man, blind from his birth, a man of much intellectual vigour, and with many engaging social qualities, found a woman who, appreciating his worth, was willing to cast in her lot with him and become his wife. Several bright, beautiful children became theirs, who tenderly and equally loved both their parents. An eminent French surgeon, while in this country, called upon them, and, examining the blind man with much interest and care, said to him:--“Your blindness is wholly artificial; your eyes are naturally good, and if I could have operated upon them twenty years ago, I think I could have given you sight. It is barely possible that I can do it now, though it will cause you much pain.” “I can bear that,” was the reply, “so you but enable me to see.” The surgeon operated upon him, and was gradually successful. First there were faint glimmerings of light; then more distinct vision. The blind father was handed a rose; he had smelled one before, but had never seen one. Then he looked upon the face of his wife, who had been so true and faithful to him; and then his children were brought, whom he had so often fondled, and whose charming prattle had so frequently fallen upon his ears. He then exclaimed: “Oh, why have I seen all of these before inquiring for the man by whose skill I have been enabled to behold them! Show me the doctor.” And when he was pointed out to him, he embraced him with tears of gratitude and joy. So, when we reach heaven, and with unclouded eyes look upon its glories, we shall not be content with a view of these. No; we shall say, “Where is Christ--He to whom I am indebted for what heaven is? Show me Him, that with all my soul I may adore and praise Him through endless ages.”
Credit due to Christ
The engineer of an express train sees, just ahead, a switch wrongly turned, and knows that if he cannot stop the train it will go over the bank and be destroyed. The stoker jumps out, but the brave engineer resolves to share the fate of the engine. Speedily he reverses the action, and with all his strength rolls back the wheels, Just as the fatal point is reached, they cease to move, and the train is saved! What meanness would it be, when unharmed, they reach the town, for the stoker to say, “We were in great danger, but by my presence of mind I saved the train.” Yet what greater meanness is it for us to take the credit to ourselves when it belongs to Christ. God’s influences come upon you in mighty tides, and you have no right to claim for yourself the glory which belongs to Christ. (H. W. Beecher.)
Glory to be given to God
If I were a pupil of Titian, and he should design my picture and sketch it for me, and look over my work every day, and make suggestions, and then, when I had exhausted my skill, he should take the brush and give the finishing touches, bringing out a part here and there, and making the whole glow with beauty, and then I should hang it upon the wall, and call it mine, what meanness it would be! When life is the picture and Christ is the designer and master, what greater meanness is it to allow all the excellence to be attributed to ourselves. (H. W. Beecher.)
Glory due to Christ
That workman should do ill who having built a house with another man’s purse, should go about to set up his own arms upon the front thereof. In Justinian’s law it was decreed that no workman should set up his name within the body of that building which he made out of another man’s cost. Thus Christ sets us all at work, it is He that bids us to fast, and pray, and hear, and give alms, etc. But who is at the cost of all? whose are all these works? surely God’s. Man’s poverty is so great that he cannot reach a good thought, much less a good deed; all the materials are from God, the building is His, it is His purse that paid for it; give but therefore the glory and the honour thereof unto God, and take all the profit to thyself. (J. Spencer.)
The work of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of men
1. The disposition of the crowd to make heroes of the apostles when they should have recognised in the miracle the power of God is an illustration of a common and not altogether mischievous instinct. When through foreign invasion or internal revolution the institutions of society are broken up, the blind submission which a whole nation sometimes yields to a popular chief, or the heir of an illustrious name, sometimes renders it possible to restore law and order. The intellectual supremacy of great men has also its uses; it preserves something like order in our intellectual life. It is the same with that conspicuous moral excellence which wins more reverential homage. The example of great saints has been a law to successive generations.
2. But there is hero-worship in the Bible. The Jews had their fighting men, poets, orators, statesmen, saints; but you find no disposition in the Old Testament to surround them with glory. The heroism of Wallace is commemorated in the national songs of Scotland, but there is no Psalm to celebrate the heroism of David. Nor does Jewish history exalt Moses as the history of Europe exalts Charlemagne, as the history of England exalts Alfred or Elizabeth. The genius of Isaiah does not receive the same kind of homage that we concede to the genius of Dante or of Shakespeare. There is the same absence of hero-worship in the New Testament. Luke never analyses the apostles’ power nor dwells upon their personal qualities. That they were in any way remarkable is never intentionally suggested. The saints of the Old Testament and the saints of the New are transparent; God shines through them.
3. That is the Christian law. Are men steadfast in righteousness, fervent in charity, temperate, fearless? Do not glorify them; glorify God who made them so good. Are they wise? Glorify God who is the Giver of wisdom. Have they wrought great deliverances for mankind? Why look ye on them as though by their own power or holiness they had wrought these deliverances? Joshua fought well; but when the men of later days look back upon his victories, they say--“We have heard with our ears, O God,” etc. And we find the greatest of the apostles saying, “I planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the increase.” This address of St. Peter’s about the miracle is a vivid illustration of the spirit of both Testaments.
4. In recent times we have failed to maintain the traditional spirit of Judaism and of Christianity. We dwell on the goodness, temperament, and intellectual power of Peter, Paul, and John; and treat them as ordinary historians treat sovereigns like Elizabeth and Cromwell, statesmen like Burghley and Walpole and Chatham. We inquire what there was in the men that accounted for the success of their work. No doubt their character and endowments had a direct relation to their work. But the gifts were from God; their power was His. In the spiritual, as in the natural life, when the blind receive sight, Christ gives it; when the lame walk, it is Christ who makes them strong. “His name through faith in His name, hath made this man strong” is the explanation of all wonders.
5. Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Baxter, Wesley, and Whitefield, what were they all but ministers of God by whom England or Europe came to know and believe a truer gospel? They should be transparent to us as the Jewish prophets and heroes, and as the Christian apostles were. Their noble qualities may be honoured as God’s gifts; but still it was not their power or their holiness that first loosened and then broke the fetters by which the spiritual life of nations was bound; it was God who did it all. This holds true of all effective spiritual work in our own time. When men are prevailed upon to submit to Christ’s authority, their great decision is not to be attributed to the impassioned eloquence, the vigorous argument, the pathetic entreaty of the preacher, nor to his personal sanctity, nor to his fervent zeal, but to the direct appeal of the Spirit of God to the conscience and to the heart.
I. Everything short of the actual conversion of men to God we can accomplish without God’s help; but for that we are entirely dependent upon him.
1. Canvass the town for children and you can fill your Sunday schools. Make the teaching interesting, let the rooms be pleasant, have cheerful singing, let the teacher be kindly and earnest, and you can keep the children when you have them, and enable them to pass excellent examinations in Scripture, and you can soften their manners, refine their tastes and elevate their morals. And if you are satisfied with this there is no need to pray. But if you want the children to love and serve Christ, the Spirit of God must be with you, and must work directly on the inner thought and life of your scholars.
2. Build an attractive church, get a good organ and choir, let there be an educated and earnest and eloquent man in the pulpit, and you can get a crowd of people to hear him and he may produce a profound impression. But if men are to be moved to real penitence, and are to be inspired with real faith, the light and power of the Holy Spirit must reach individual hearts.
3. Many of us know what this means. For years we were familiar with truths which ought to have exerted irresistible control over us; we believed them; sometimes we felt their power. But we can remember when these very truths came to us as though we had never known them before. Perhaps we were listening to a sermon; but we had listened to sermons before, and to sermons not less impressive, and had listened unmoved; others heard the same sermon and it did not touch them. Perhaps we were reading a book; but we had read the book before, and it had never taught us what we now learnt, and others have read the same book and learnt nothing from it. What made the difference was a silent voice to which then, for the first time, we consented to listen. The Spirit of God came to us, and we suffered Him to lead us into the truth.
II. Our perverse reluctance to believe that all life and light come from God is inexplicable. We have to learn the same lesson over and over again in many forms; and we look back upon wasted years, and mourn that we had not learnt the open secret earlier which would have made all those years bright and noble and glorious success.
1. The lesson has to be learnt at the beginning of the religious life. We want the pardon of sin and that change which will render it possible for us to do the will of God. And we try for months, perhaps for years, to make our penitence for sin more agonising and our hunger and thirst for righteousness more keen, hoping that at last we shall have assurance and strength. It is all in vain; and then we discover what we knew from the first--that we can trust God to forgive, us, and to inspire us with the life and power of the Holy Ghost: we trust Him and we pass into a new world.
2. But the lesson has to be learnt over again. We are now liberated from distress about our past guilt, and we know that we are the sons of God; but we find that we are unequal to many duties, and are overcome by many temptations. We subject ourselves to discipline; we pray; we think upon the transcendent motives to righteousness. It is all in vain. And then, again, we discover what a child might have taught us, what we always knew, that evil passions are to be burnt down to their very roots by the fire of God; that we are to be strong for holy living in the strength of God: we trust in Him once more, and as long as we trust we are kept in perfect peace.
3. But we have not learnt the lesson even now. We engage in Christian work. We do our best, and hardly anything comes of it. Then once more we discover what we always knew; God and only God can bring right home to man the truth which is on our lips; we trust in Him, and then our work begins to prosper.
III. Entire dependence in God is the secret of ministerial power.
1. For the work of the Christian ministry it is necessary to secure men of intellectual power, and men who have received the most thorough intellectual training. There is an Antinomianism in relation to Christian work not less fatal and far more subtle than the Antinomianism of the Christian life. Men have argued that since they can do nothing for their own salvation without God, they will attempt nothing. They might as well say that they can get no harvest without the rain of heaven and the heat and light of the sun, and that therefore they will not plough nor sow. And men have argued, that since Christian work can never achieve its highest results apart from the direct appeal of the Spirit of God to the souls of men, that learning and eloquence are worthless, and that we should leave everything to God. What insanity there is in this!
2. But among ourselves there are not many who are likely to be infected with this heresy.
Our peril lies in the opposite direction.
1. We look back upon the great evangelists of the past, and think that if we could only have them with us again the most glorious days of the Church would return. If St. Bernard with his fiery passion, Luther with his audacity and immense moral force, Whitefield with his affectionate spirit and his charming eloquence, Wesley with his calm and resolute strength and his keen sagacity were here--then we might hope to see a great religious reformation in England. But what can we do? This self-distrust is only the specious cover of a want of faith in God. The illustrious preachers of former days are with us no longer; but the great Preacher of all is with us still--the only Preacher whose voice can raise the dead, whose power achieved all the triumphs which we connect with the famous and sacred names in the history of Christendom. Could these great saints come back again, it would not be to take the work from our hands because we are unequal to it, but to tell us that the same Spirit that was with them can still reach the hearts and consciences of men.
2. Even when we pray we sometimes forget that our trust should be in the Spirit of God. We ask that for the success of our work we may have a larger knowledge of the thought of God, a more fervent passion for the honour of Christ, a profounder solicitude for the rescue of men--wise and necessary prayers, but incomplete, fatally incomplete. For the prayers imply that if we ourselves had greater “power,” greater “holiness,” we should be successful. This was not what the apostles thought--“Paul planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase.”
3. What is true of men is also true of ecclesiastical systems. It is not the perfection of its organisation that enables a Church to redeem men. There have been preachers in the Church of Rome, spite of its monstrous polity, who have done glorious work for mankind and for God. There is no “power,” no “holiness” in Presbyterianism, in Methodism, in Congregationalism, in Episcopacy, to work spiritual miracles. The chief merit of an ecclesiastical system lies in the measure in which it is transparent and lets the glory of Christ shine through.
4. The same test is to be applied to all theologies and all methods of spiritual discipline. Do they break down everything that comes between the soul and Him who is the fountain of mercy and of power?
(1) Tell me that my good works are necessary before Christ will forgive my sins, and you put months, and perhaps years, of painful moral struggle between me and Christ; tell me that He will forgive me at once, as soon as I come to Him, and Christ is already at my side at the very beginning of my new life. The doctrine of justification by works seems less likely to be true than the doctrine of justification by faith.
(2) Tell me that to make sure of the Divine forgiveness I must confess my sins to a priest, and there is danger lest the priest should come between me and Christ. Tell me that I can confess to Christ, and then, again, Christ is near to me while I am in the agony of my repentance. The doctrine which affirms that the priest has power to absolve seems less likely to be true than the doctrine which denies it.
(3) Tell me that the priest must consecrate the bread and the wine before the Church can have the real presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper, and then the Church must wait till the priest has pronounced the words of mystery and power. Tell me that wherever two or three are gathered together at the table of Christ, Christ is among them, and then there is no delay, either in His access to us, or our access to Him. Those who maintain the theory of sacramentalism seem less likely to be in the right than those who reject it.
(4) But here, too, we must remember that the truest and simplest doctrine may be made a fetich, and may come between the soul and Christ. If you think that any doctrine is so true and so simple that by its own “power” or “holiness” it will regenerate and save men, you will be separated from Christ as completely by the soundest belief as other men are by the most corrupt.
IV. The truths which we have been considering should teach us to be of good heart about the work, which is Christ’s rather than ours. We are conscious--all of us--that we have little strength to do any noble service for God and for mankind. The consciousness deepens as we grow older. But neither our weakness nor our unworthiness is a reason for despondency. If we had to measure our own strength and earnestness against the difficulties of our work we might despair; but our confidence is in the strength and in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The results of our labour will transcend all that could be anticipated from the labour itself. This kindles our enthusiasm, and is a motive for strenuous exertion. If we are only perfectly loyal to Christ, even we may do very much for the rescue of men. The true minister of Christ does not stand alone; he is in alliance with Christ Himself; this is the secret of the minister’s power. But very much depends on the sympathy he receives from his Church. You remember the famous description of an orator. It was not his voice alone that spoke; his eyes, his face, his hands, his feet--they were all eloquent. And a Church is a living body. The minister is its voice; but, if he is to speak to any purpose, the voice must not come from a body struck with death, with fixed features, glassy eyes, and rigid limbs; there would be something ghastly in that. Eyes, hands, face, feet, must all have life and passion in them, and must all speak; they must share the sorrow and alarm with which the minister tells men of the infinite evil of sin, and the rapture with which he triumphs in the infinite love of God. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
The God of Abraham … hath glorified His Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up.
St. Peter’s testimony
I. The vindication of Christianity from a Jewish standpoint. “The God of Abraham,” etc., not God generally considered, but God in relations acknowledged by the Jews--the God of Abraham, as such, had glorified Jesus. If this were the case, then Judaism was logically at an end. The God of Abraham, in a sense, had glorified Moses, and had so terminated the patriarchal dispensation, which every good Jew would acknowledge was thereby legitimately closed, and religion thus advanced a stage. Now the same God had glorified the great Teacher whom Moses had predicted (Acts 3:22), under whom the legal dispensation must pass into the Christian. When that Teacher came He said, as Moses might have said, “I come not to destroy, but to fulfil,” and when He died He exclaimed, “It is finished.” By glorifying Jesus, therefore, God put His seal upon the further advance which religion had made out of Judaism into Christianity. A true servant of the God of Abraham was thus logically a Christian.
II. The glorification of the humiliated Christ.
1. No depth of Christ’s degradation is here left unexplored.
(1) He who claimed to command legions of angels was “delivered up.”
(2) He who demanded the profoundest homage and the complete allegiance was “destined.”
(3) This denial came from “His own” for whom He had done so much, and to whose loyalty He had every right.
(4) It took place in the presence of a heathen governor, whose jurisdiction was thereby acknowledged, and in spite of even his protestations.
(5) And to crown all the release of a murderer was demanded, while the Prince of Life was handed over to the Cross.
2. The glorification reversed all this. Deep as Christ descended it was higher that He rose.
(1) Jesus was released from a more terrible than Roman tyranny after Jews and Romans had been allowed to do their worst.
(2) The belief and confession of the apostles then, and of adoring Christians since, more than compensates for the denial before Pilate--the inveterate denial which has since characterised the stubborn race. The grand testimony of Paul before Felix, Festus and Nero makes atonement for the shameful denial of Caiaphas and his rabble before the Roman judge--not to mention the innumerable testimonies all through Christian history which, “before princes and governors” have been borne to Christ.
(3) That Cross to which Christ was nailed gave Him power to give life to dead humanity, and that power He now wields from the throne of heaven.
III. The inveterate depravity of the human heart--the denial of the Holy One and the preference of a murderer. Here sin is seen in its ghastliest development, but the ghastliness lies in the circumstances. We are horrified at the Crucifixion, but the Crucifixion was only a detail, the denial was the essence of the act. And this denial of Christ, and the preference of one who is “a murderer from the beginning” is normal. The sinner is doing to-day that the only logical outcome of which is crucifixion, and letting loose the devil on his life. This is what is being done on a large scale, and the same is being done on a smaller. What is history but the record of the preference of murderers to deliverers? What was the reward of Socrates, of Savonarola, of Cromwell, of the early Christian martyrs, and later Protestant confessors?
IV. The impotence of seeming might and the power of apparent weakness. The power of Rome was at its greatest, and the malignancy and craft of Judaism most intense and concentrated, and both were exerted to crush the Prophet of Nazareth. And both said that He was crushed--killed upon a cross and shut up in a carefully guarded tomb. And then it might seem was that poor, weak Prophet at His weakest and poorest. Who could help Him now? Himself. “The Prince of Life,” “could not be holden of death”; and that “stone cut without hands” has crushed in succession the mightiest despotisms that have dominated the race. And that the weakness of God is stronger than the power of man, let the history of all great and beneficent monuments bear witness. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The leader is killed but the cause flourishes. The thinker starves; but his thoughts become the potent forces of the world. The inventor dies of a broken heart with the products of his genius lying in ruins around him; but his invention lives, and helps to make civilisation what it is.
V. The potency of faith--Of all things the weakest in the world’s estimate. Are there not circles in which faith and folly are convertible terms? And on what does this faith rest? On what the world would call an accomplished failure. “Stark imbecility”--then says the world. But here, again, God chooses the weak things to confound the mighty; for in this early instance of its exercise it accomplished what all the science of the world before and since has failed to do; it gave a man perfect physical soundness. And here, and here alone, is the cure for personal, social, literary, commercial, national unsoundness. Everything else has failed. Let this be tried on a large scale, and faith in Christ will give “perfect soundness” to a crippled world. (J. W. Burn.)
Men denying the Just One
I. The Person against whom the outrage was perpetrated. Men thought Him a mere Jew; and yet He possessed a universality and fervour of love inconsistent with the Jewish character generally. Men regarded Him as only a carpenter; and yet He evinced a strength of mind and soul which enabled Him to grapple with Divine things altogether beyond the grasp of the Jewish doctors. Men thought Him a mere man; and yet there were profound depths and majestic heights about His nature, which entirely separated Him from the common herd.
1. He looked like a man; but His words proved Him more.
2. He looked like a man; but His works proved Him more.
3. He looked like a man; but His life proved Him more.
II. The nature of the outrage that was enacted.
1. It was the culminating act of human transgression.
2. It was sin against their highest good.
III. The outcome of it all. God turned the curse into a blessing. “He made the wrath of man to praise Him.”
1. From the death of Christ came deliverance from the curse.
2. From Christ’s death came the magic force which conquered man’s rebellion.
Sinai’s terrors and the Levitical law failed to evoke the deep affection and fervent devotion of men. But the Cross of Christ succeeded. (Homilist.)
The rejection of Christ
How terrible an evil this was Peter showed--
I. By the testimony of a heathen. The sentiment of common humanity was against this treatment. How often has the conduct of professors shocked the prayerless.
II. By the nature of the thing itself. This is set forth in an awful gradation. The rejected One was--
3. The Prince of Life, without whose interposition no man could have had life.
4. God’s own chosen Servant.
Those who in rejecting Him had repudiated purity, justice, needful grace, and indispensable Divine service, might well prefer a murderer. What is reserved for those who now reject Christ with clearer light and further knowledge?
III. By God’s manifest opposition to it.
1. Men put Jesus to death, but God raised Him from the dead.
2. Men cast Him out, but God declared Him to be His accepted servant by the Resurrection.
Men thought the Crucifixion would put an end to His influence, but God augmented that influence by the energy of the Holy Ghost which empowered the apostles. The argument showed that they had been fighting against God, and that God had completely overcome their evil course.
IV. By the keen rebuke which the apostles were directed to keep up. “Whereof we are witnesses.” (W. Hudson.)
Ye killed the Prince of Life.--
The Prince of Life
The title suggests--
I. That Jesus is the source of life.
1. Of natural life. “In Him we live and move,” etc. It is only for Him to say to dead Lazarus “Come forth,” and He proves Himself to be the source of life. Let us not, then, deny Him the use of the faculties He has given.
2. Of spiritual life. H we admit that we cannot give ourselves physical life, how absurd to think we can give ourselves spiritual life. And yet multitudes are under this delusion. It is only by Christ’s almighty fiat that the “dead in trespasses and sins” can “hear the voice of the Son of God and live.”
3. Of eternal life. Jesus is the life of all the joy, the glory, and the love of heaven.
II. That life centres in Him as regards sensible enjoyment of it. The common comforts of Christ without Christ are monotonous and miserable; but if Christ be enjoyed in them, if He be eaten with our bread, received with our water, breathed with our air, then life has a blessedness and a dignity conferred upon it which the world knows nothing of.
III. That He sustains the life he gives. “He giveth power to the faint,” as well as life to the dead. Does the life of faith, of hope, of love, wane through trial and loss and disappointment? Christ has inexhaustible resources of vitality for their invigoration. Dost thou fear lest thou shouldest lose thy little life in the fierce conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil? Hear His promise, “They shall never perish.”
IV. That He brings life to fruition. “Be thou faithful unto death,” etc.
V. That He does all this in a princely manner. “I am come that they might have life … abundantly.” (J. Irons.)
We are witnesses.--
In the days of George Stephenson some scientists proved conclusively that a rail-train could never be driven by steam power; but the rushing expresses have made all the world witnesses of the splendid achievement. It was proved conclusively that a steamer could never cross the Atlantic; but the work was done, and the passengers on the Cunard and the Inman Lines are witnesses. There went up a guffaw of laughter from some of the wise men at Professor Morse’s proposition to make lightning his errand-boy, and it was proved conclusively that the thing could never be done; but now the news of the wide world, put in your hands every morning and night, has made all nations witnesses. In the time of Christ it was proved conclusively that it was impossible for a man to rise from the dead. The disciples took the witness-stand to prove to be true what the wiseacres of the day had proved to be impossible. Now let me play the sceptic for a moment. There is no God, for I have never seen Him with my physical eyesight. Your Bible is a pack of contradictions. There never was a miracle. Your religion is an imposition on the credulity of the ages. There is a suppressed feeling which would like to cry out in behalf of the truth of our glorious Christianity. “We are witnesses!” If this world is ever brought to God, it will not be through argument, but through testimony. You might cover the whole earth with learned treatises in defence of religion--you would not convert a soul. In order to have faith we must have testimony, and if five hundred men get up and tell me that they have felt the religion of Jesus Christ a joy, an inspiration, I am bound as a fair-minded man to accept their testimony. I want to put before you three propositions, the truth of which I think you will attest with overwhelming unanimity.
I. “We are witnesses” that the religion of Christ is able to convert a soul. You say conversion is only an imaginary thing. We know better. People laughed at the missionaries in Madagascar because they preached ten years without one convert; but there are thirty-three thousand converts in Madagascar to-day. People laughed at Dr. Judson because he kept on preaching five years without a single convert; but there are twenty thousand Baptist Christians in Burmah to-day. People laughed at Dr. Morrison for preaching seven years without a single conversion; but there are fifteen thousand Christians in China to-day. People laughed at the missionaries for preaching at Tahiti and in Bengal years without a single conversion; yet in all those lands there are multitudes of Christians to-day. But why go so far to find evidence? “We are witnesses.” We were so proud that no man could have humbled us; we were so hard that no earthly power could have melted us. But one day a power seized us, from which we tried to wrench ourselves, but could not. It flung us on our knees, and when we arose we were as much changed as Gourgis the heathen. He went into prayer-meeting with a dagger and a gun, but the next day was found crying: “Oh, my great sins! Oh, my great Saviour!” For eleven years be preached the gospel of Christ to his fellow-mountaineers, and the last words on his dying lips were, “Free grace! Oh, it was free grace!” There is a man who was for ten years a hard drinker. The dreadful appetite had sent down its roots until they were interlinked with the vitals of body, mind, and soul; but he has not taken any stimulants for two years. What did that? Not temperance societies. Not prohibition laws, Not moral suasion. Conversion did it, “Why,” said one upon whom the great change had come, “sir, I feel just as though I were somebody else!” There is a sea captain who swore all the way from New York to Havana, and from Havana to San Francisco, and when he was in port he was worse than when he was on the sea. What power was it that washed his tongue clean of profanities, and made him sing to the glory of God? Conversion. There are thousands who are no more what they once were than a water-lily is nightshade, or a morning lark a vulture, or day night.
II. “We are witnesses” that the gospel has the power to comfort. When a man has trouble the world says: “Now get your mind off this; go out and breathe the fresh air! plunge deeper into business.” What poor advice. Get your mind off of it I when everything reminds you of what you have lost. They might as well advise you to stop thinking. Take a walk in the fresh air I Why, along that very road your dead wife once accompanied you. Go deeper into business! Why, she was associated with all your ambition, and since she has gone you have no ambition left. And yet you have been comforted. How was it done? Did Christ come to you and say: “Get your mind off this,” etc. No. There was a minute when He came to you, and He breathed something into your soul that gave peace, so that you could take out the photograph of the departed one and say: “It is all right; she is better off; I would not call her back.” There are Christian parents who are willing to testify to the power of this gospel to comfort. Your son had just graduated and was going into business, and the Lord took him. Or your daughter had just left the school, and you thought she was going to be a useful woman and of long life, but the Lord took her. Or the little child came home with the hot fever that stopped not for the agonised prayer, or for the skilful physician. What has enabled you to stand all the trial? “Oh,” you say, “I threw myself at the feet of a sympathising Saviour, and when I was too weak to pray, or to look up, He breathed into me a peace that I think must be the foretaste of that heaven where there is neither tear, nor a farewell, nor a grave.” Is there power in this gospel to soothe the heart? There comes up an answer from comforted widowhood, and orphanage, and childlessness, saying--
III. “We are witnesses” that religion has power to give composure in the last moment. We are very apt when we want to bring illustrations of dying triumph to go back to some distinguished personage--to a John Knox, or a Harriett Newell. Such illustrations are of no use to me to-night. I want you for witnesses. I want to know whether you have seen or heard anything that makes you believe that the religion of Christ gives composure in the final hour? “Oh yes,” you say; “I saw my father and mother depart.” How did they seem to act? Were they very much frightened? Did they take hold of this world with both hands as though they did not want to give it up? “Oh, no,” you say; “she had a kind word for us all, and there were a few mementos distributed among the children, and then she told us how kind we must be to our father in his loneliness, and then she kissed us good-bye and went asleep as calmly as a child in a cradle.” What made her so composed? Natural courage? “No,” you say, “mother was very nervous; it was because she was so good.” Here are people who say, “I saw a Christian brother die, and he triumphed.” And some one else, “I saw a Christian sister die, and she triumphed.” Conclusion: You see I have not put before you to-night anything like guess-work, but affidavits of the best men and women, living and dead. Two witnesses in court will establish a fact. Here are not two witnesses, but millions. If ten men should come to you when you are sick and say they had the same sickness, and took a certain medicine and it cured them, you would probably take it. Now, suppose ten other men should come up and say, “We don’t believe there is anything in that medicine.” “Well,” I say, “have you ever tried it?” “No, I never tried it, but I don’t believe there is anything in it.” Of course you discredit their testimony. The sceptic may come and say, “There is no power in your religion.” “Have you ever tried it?” “No, no.” “Then avaunt!” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
And His name through faith in His name hath made this man strong.
The power of faith
Faith in the name of Jesus is faith in Himself. The result of its exercise here was a manifest continuance of what Jesus “began to do” in the way of healing, and on the same condition.
I. Faith moved Peter to seek the poor man’s good. Faith had united the apostle to the Saviour, and brought him into sympathy with His benevolent designs. The love of “Christ still constrains those who enjoy it by faith” with like results.
II. Faith enabled peter to pronounce the man’s cure. Peter believed the promise, “The works that I do shall ye do also”; that Jesus, though out of sight, was able and willing to cure the cripple; and, acting under a gracious impulse which that faith secured, he bade the man be whole. It was faith that made this conduct consistent; but without faith it would have been an act of presumption, and even of blasphemy. When God is taken at His word and fully trusted, there is exercised a confidence which enables its possessor to defy all adverse power. This is the faith which overcomes.
III. Faith furnished an evidence of Christianity which even its adversaries were obliged to admit. The cripple had been seen and known, and his cure had taken place in the presence of all. The faith exercised, being invisible, might have been talked of long without becoming the means of any one’s full persuasion; but here was an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace. What could be said against such an evidence? And what can be said at this day against the evidence presented in conversions and holy lives? But to some even this evidence is as nothing. They love not the Lord; they have no sympathy with His gracious purposes; and they lack that spiritual discernment which can come only in connection with the faith which is the evidence of things not seen. (W. Hudson.)
Influence of the name of Christ
While infidelity is boastful, it is refreshing to note such facts as these: Eighty years ago, William Carey wrote from Bengal: “The people here hate the very name of Christ, and will not listen when His name is mentioned.” To-day the Rev. W. R. James writes from Serampore: “By all means see to it that the name of Christ is plainly printed on the title-page of every book or tract that we print. We have now arrived at that point of time in the history of Christian missions in Bengal, when the name of Christ is more of a recommendation to a book than otherwise. Very often have I heard natives ask for a ‘Life of Jesus Christ’ in preference to any other book.”
The influence of faith
Two men are wandering over the mountains in Nevada. They find curious veins running through the rocks One of them studies these veins with the interest of a geologist, and chisels out a few specimens for his cabinet. The other, who is an expert in ores, believes that he has found a silver mine of great richness. When his companion has passed on with his specimens in his pocket, he returns and stakes out a claim. He perfects his title to that claim. He works it, and becomes a millionaire. Now was it the mine that enriched this man or his faith in the mine? Evidently his faith. And so it is the world over. It is not enough to know of a good thing and to be able to grasp it. We must believe in it and take possession of it. There is, of course, no value in faith, if what we believe is worthless, A lunatic, whom we knew years ago, imagined that he was a millionaire. He would take you into his little chamber, and after carefully locking the door, would open drawers full of bits of paper on which he had written figures for various amounts. He would say, “Here are bills and bonds worth millions of dollars.” When asked why he did not use them to buy what he needed, he would reply, “No, no, they are too precious.” That man’s faith was great, but it was baseless. It was like the faith of worldly men in material things. They are heaping up riches that are as worthless for the soul as his bits of paper were for the wants of this life. “Jesus”;--The old Greek orators, when they saw their audiences inattentive and slumbering, had one word with which they would rouse them up to the greatest enthusiasm. In the midst of their orations they would stop and cry out, “Marathon!” and the people’s enthusiasm would be unbounded. My hearers, though you may have been borne down with sin, and though trouble, and trial, and temptation may have come upon you, and you feel hardly like looking up, methinks there is one grand, royal, imperial word that ought to rouse your soul to infinite rejoicing, and that word is Jesus.
Faith in a name
When John Howard wanted to visit the prisons of Russia he sought an interview with the Czar. He explained his object, and the Czar gave him permission to visit any prison in his empire. It was a long and weary journey; he knew how jealously the prisoners were guarded, and how averse the gaolers were to permit any one to visit them. But he set out in perfect confidence. When he arrived at a prison he would make his application, and was prepared for the refusal which invariably came. Then he produced the Czar’s mandate, and the prison doors were immediately opened to him. He had faith in that name, and it was justified by the results.
But now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it.--
Apostolic reassurance for the desponding
The apostle seems to say, “Ye have rejected Christ, and this is a great evil; ye know not the privilege of faith in Him, and therefore your loss is great; but still do not despair.” In order to reassure his hearers he--
I. Reminded them of the Divine origin of the prophecies of the Old Testament. God had shown what the prophets had set forth; the prophets as with one mouth had declared the mind of God; and of every part of revealed truth it was to be remembered that “the mouth of the Lord had spoken it.” This, in the judgment of a Jew, was a firm, foundation, and this foundation remains to this day. But what was now to be built upon it?
II. Indicated the key-note to which all the prophetic harmonies had been tuned. It was “that Christ should suffer.” Then it would become evident that salvation through the death of Jesus was not a new doctrine invented by His disciples. One who began to apprehend this would quickly discern new meaning in the leading events of the last few months.
III. Affirmed that God had accomplished His own word in regard to Jesus by unconscious agents. They bad ignorantly pursued Him to the Cross. This was some mitigation of their guilt, though not an excuse for their sin. But in all their error and evil conduct God was bringing His own purpose to pass. The Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering, and His death and resurrection made and declared the way of life open to all who should repent and believe. Wicked men had not meant to accomplish this, but God had wrought His sovereign will. Peter’s hearers must now feel that God had been infinitely better to them than they had been to themselves.
IV. Tenderly hinted that those who, while doing wickedly, had unconsciously fulfilled the will of God were still objects of benevolent concern. Being of the stock of Abraham, they were the children of the covenant. Peter’s endearing word “brethren” contained the suggestion of great blessing. There are still those who need encouragement, and this can best be obtained from the Word of God, which sets forth the Saviour of men accessible to all penitent, inquirers. (W. Hudson.)
The guilt of unbelief
1. An act of cruelty excites both compassion for the sufferer and indignation at the actor, and perhaps the latter feeling is the stronger. Your sympathy with the martyr is almost lost in your anger at the persecutor, because, perhaps, you do not make sufficient allowance for him. He may have been acting under a mistaken sense of duty. “Whosoever,” says our Lord, “killeth you shall think he doeth God service.” Much, too, may have to be attributed to the temper of the times. Many a man who now only argues against heresy would have been for the stake when the rights of conscience were less understood. Men are apt to condemn the Jews--and very justly--for their crimes, but Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and here St. Peter corroborates this. He did not hesitate to charge on them the crime of having “killed the Prince of Life,” but, as though he feared driving them to despair, he used words which seem in a measure to extenuate their crime. But we shall find that this plea of ignorance does not apply to modern unbelief.
2. What right had Peter to make this allowance? He must be understood to mean that the Jews were not acquainted with the character and dignity of Christ. They did not crucify Him as the Messiah, the Son of God, but as a blasphemous pretender. But were they innocent in that their ignorance was involuntary and unavoidable, arising from the insufficiency of the evidence, or from feebleness of understanding? St. Peter did not imply this, otherwise he had impeached the whole of Christ’s ministry, and represented His miracles as defective credentials. Undoubtedly the ignorance was blameworthy. They might and ought to have known that Jesus was the Christ, and ignorance is only excusable when we do not wilfully neglect the means of obtaining information or cherish prejudices which bar out the truth. Yet it is probable that we use the Jews too harshly in respect of the crucifixion. It was not in that, but in rejecting the final evidence afforded by the descent and miracles of the Holy Spirit, that they committed the unpardonable sin.
3. It may be strange to us that, though He did so many mighty works, Jesus was rejected by His countrymen. But we do not sufficiently consider their powerful prejudice in favour of a Messiah attended with all the pomp of earthly dominion. It is true they were to blame for cherishing this prejudice, since due search into prophecy would have dispersed it; but it is also true that it was contracted not through shutting their eyes altogether against prophecy, but through fixing them so intently on one part that they overlooked all others. They associated with Christ’s first coming the characteristics of the second. So, then, the Jew had not sinned against all the evidence that Christ meant to afford--he had sinned against a suffering Redeemer, but not against a triumphant; and so the sin was something that admitted of extenuation--a sin against evidence as yet incomplete. The ignorance was not excusable; it was only not unpardonable.
4. Here comes in the case of modern ignorance and unbelief--the sin of those who, by rejecting Christ, “crucify the Son of God afresh.” Can the plea of Peter be urged in favour of modern infidels and of those who nominally believe in Christ without the consent of the heart? Remember that the Jew had not the whole of the evidence before him; but we have the whole before us. The Jew crucified Christ whilst His appearance was that of an ordinary man; we crucify Him afresh now that He has assumed His Divine glory. Christ had not then given the most touching proof of His love, nor was it understood even by the apostles that His death was a propitiation; but now the whole plan of redemption is set forth, and we who reject Him crucify afresh a loving Saviour, and one who sends down His Spirit to persuade us to be reconciled. What did the Jew in comparison with this? And how absurd to plead an extenuating ignorance! How can anything be known if this is not? Or, if the ignorance be not impossible--besotted as men are by the cares of the world, or the pleasures of sin--men might, if they would, know what they do. Ignorant they may be, but unavoidably and innocently ignorant they cannot be. Therefore “he that believeth not shall be damned.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
In His name
In the New Testament special potency is attributed to the utterance of a name, especially the name of Jesus. Some of these I will enumerate. Jesus promises that He will be with every two or three who assemble in His name (Matthew 18:20). He promises to help those who pray in His name (John 14:13-14; John 15:16; John 16:23-24; John 16:26). It appears, also, that devils were cast out by the use of the name of Christ. This, at first sight, seems like magic. For magic is essentially this, a power obtained over the supernatural world by the use of charms and talismans. In the story of the “Forty Thieves,” the door of the cave opened by enchantment to whoever used the right word, and said, “Open Sesame,” whether it was said by the robbers or by the good man. If, therefore, we believe that by merely putting the word “Christ” at the beginning or end of our prayer, we shall obtain some blessing from God which He would not otherwise bestow, we degrade Christianity to the level of a magical process and demoralise it. Now, I think it quite clear that the whole spirit of Christianity and teaching of Jesus is utterly opposed to any such magical notions. According to Jesus, men were saved, not by the use of His name as an outward formula, but by obeying His precepts and doing good actions. In the Sermon on the Mount He distinctly rejects any such merely outward use of His name (Matthew 7:22-23). Elsewhere He says, “Many deceivers shall come in My name.” “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord! shall enter,” etc. What, then, does He mean when He says that God will hear us and help us if we pray “in His name”? To answer this question we must understand the peculiar way in which the Jews regarded the name of any person. A name with us is an arbitrary appendage, having no relation to a man’s character. But to the Jew a name carried a mysterious power, expressive of what was deepest in the parent’s heart, and capable of influencing the child’s destiny. If the man or woman appeared to develop new qualities, the name was changed. So Jesus added to Simon’s name that of Peter--a rock: and Saul’s name, which meant “a destroyer,” was changed to Paul, which means “a worker.” Thus it happened that to come in the name of any one meant to come in his spirit. So John the Baptist was said by Jesus to be the Elijah that was to come, because he came in the spirit and power of Elijah. When the Lord said to Moses, “Thou hast found grace in My sight, and I know thee by name,” it means that the Lord knew his character, and that it was equal to his work. Whenever trust “in God’s name” is spoken of, it means trust in His wisdom, or His love, or His providence. When it is said that “a good name is better than riches,” it means a good character. When Jesus says that “he who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward,” it signifies that he who is in sympathy with the spirit of the prophet, and helps the prophet on that account, shall have the reward of being himself filled with the same prophetic spirit. And so when He tells them to “pray in His name,” He means to tell them to pray in His Spirit; to “cast out devils in His name” is to cast them out by the power of a Christian spirit. There are a great many devils in the world--devils of pride, of vanity, of lust, of dishonesty, of falsehood, of cruelty. Now, if we attack these devils in the name of the devil we can do nothing If we meet pride with pride, falsehood with cunning, selfishness with self-will--if we try to put down evil with evil, we shall never succeed. We must cast out devils in the name of Christ--that is, “overcome evil with good.” There is a wonderful power which belongs to him who allies himself to truth and right. When we “overcome evil by good,” then only do we cast out devils in the name of Christ. And so, to pray “in the name of Christ” does not mean to put the name of Christ at the end of our prayer, and say, “We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord”; but it means when we pray to be in Christ’s Spirit; to forget our vanity, selfishness, egotism; to desire the good of others; the coming of God’s kingdom of love. If we pray thus, we may ask what we will and it shall be done unto us, for we shall ask only what God wills. To meet together “in the name of Christ” means to meet for the purpose of doing good and getting good. Where the spirit of Christianity is there is the coming of Christ. Therefore, when Peter said to the lame man, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk,” he did not utter these words as a charm. But he thus openly avowed his faith in the Master he had denied a few weeks before, and the man was healed, not by the magic of words, but by the wonderful power which attends a sincere faith in God. Not the word of Jesus, but the faith in Jesus cured him. Not the word, but the thing, makes the power of Christianity. When I see a man walking the road of duty, faithful to every obligation; true and just, when those around him are false; when I see him hold his principles of honesty, though the world grows dishonest, standing by his purity, no matter what comes; then I say that this man is casting out devils “in Christ’s name.” And when I see a youth, beset by temptations from without and within, making a brave struggle to be true to his mother’s counsels and his father’s honour, and saying to the Satan who tempts him to go astray, “Get thee behind me,” I say that this boy also is fighting devils “in Christ’s name.” And when I see a young girl in the midst of a happy home, surrounded by love, called to leave life and all its hopes, and go to meet the great mystery, and going tranquilly, peacefully, trustingly, comforting all around her with the comfort wherewith she herself has been comforted by God, I say that she is going to heaven in the strength “of Christ’s name.” The name of Christ stands for immortality, for He is the Resurrection and the Life. The name of Jesus Christ means Saviour and King. Jesus means Saviour, Christ means King, and the whole means that He who saves men is the King of men. It means that love is to conquer hatred, that truth is mightier than falsehood, life than death, eternity than time. (J. Freeman Clarke.)
Repent ye therefore and be converted.
I. The Apostle Bade Men Repent And Be Converted.
1. Repent signifies, in its literal meaning, to change one’s mind. It has been translated “after-wit,” or “after-wisdom”; it is the man’s finding out that he is wrong, and rectifying his judgment. But although that be the meaning of the root, the word has come in Scriptural use to mean a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it, the love of what once we hated, and the hate of what once we loved. Conversion means a turning from, and a turning to, from sin to holiness, from carelessness to thought, from the world to heaven, from self to Jesus. The words in Greek are “Repent and convert,” or, rather, “Repent and turn.” It is an active verb, just as the other was. When the demoniac had the devils cast out of him, that was repentance; but when he was clothed and in his right mind, that was conversion. When the prodigal was feeding his swine, and on a sudden began to consider and to come to himself, that was repentance. When he set out and left the far country and went to his father’s house, that was conversion.
2. Repentance and conversion are the work of the Holy Spirit. And yet Peter says, “Repent, and be converted”! “How reconcile you these two things?” We tell men to repent and believe, not because we rely on any power in them to do so, not because we depend upon any power in our earnestness or in our speech, but because the gospel is the mysterious engine by which God converts the hearts of men, and we find that, if we speak in faith, God the Holy Ghost operates with us, and while we bid the dry bones live, the Spirit makes them live--while we tell the lame man to stand on his feet, the mysterious energy makes his ankle-bones to receive strength--while we tell the impotent man to stretch out his hand, a Divine power goes with the command, and the hand is stretched out and the man is restored. The power lies not in the sinner, not in the preacher, but in the Holy Spirit.
II. There was good reason for this command. “Repent ye therefore.” The apostle was logical. It was not mere declamation. What, then, was the argument?
1. The Jews put Christ to death. And this is spiritually true of you. Every sin in the essence of it is a killing of God. Every time you do what God would not have you do, you do in effect, so far as you can, put God out of His throne, and disown the authority which belongs to His Godhead. When Christ was nailed to the tree, sin only did then literally and openly what all sin really does in a spiritual sense. Will you not repent if it be so? While you thought your sins to be mere trifles, you would not repent; but now I have shown you that every sin is really an attempt to thrust God out of the world. What, then, if the authority of God should be no more owned in the universe--where should we all be? What a hell above ground would this world become! Do you not see what a mischievous thing, then, your iniquity has been? Then, truly, there is abundant reason why you should repent and turn from it.
2. He whom they had slain was a most blessed person--one so blessed that God the Father had exalted Him. Jesus Christ came not into this world with any selfish motive, but entirely out of philanthropy, full of love to men; and yet men put Him to death! Now God does not deserve that we should rebel against Him. If He were a great tyrant domineering over us, putting us to misery, there might be some excuse, but, when He acts like a tender father to us, it is a cruel shame that we should live in daily revolt against Him. You who have not believed in Christ have mighty cause for repenting that you have not believed in Him, seeing He is so good and kind.
3. While they had rejected the blessed Christ they had chosen a murderer. Sinner, thou hast despised Christ, and what is it thou hast chosen? Has it been the drunkard’s cup? Thy lust? What devilish things to set in the place of Christi What have thy sins done to thee that thou shouldst prefer them to Jesus? What wages have you had? Oh, then, this is a thing to be repented of.
4. Christ whom they had despised was able to do great things for them. “His name through faith in His name,” etc. If you will trust Jesus to-day, all your iniquities shall be blotted out. Believing in Him, He can make thee blessed. And is not this cause for repentance? With hands loaded with love He stands outside the door of your heart. Is not this good reason for opening the door and letting Him in?
5. “I wot that through ignorance ye did it.” As if He would say, “Now that ye have more light, repent of what you did in the dark.” You had not heard the gospel, you did not know that sin was so bad a thing, you did not understand that Jesus was able to save to the uttermost. Now you do understand it. The times of your ignorance God winked at, but now “commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” Greater light brings greater responsibility. Do not go back to your sin, lest it become tenfold sin to you. “Now ye have no cloak for your sin.” Therefore, because the cloak is pulled away, and you sin against the light, I say as Peter did, “Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.”
III. Without repentance and conversion sin cannot be pardoned. Many Oriental merchants kept their accounts on little tablets of wax. On these tablets they indented marks which recorded the debts, and when these debts were paid, they took the blunt end of the stylus or pencil, and just flattened down the wax, and the account entirely disappeared. Now, he that repents and is pardoned is, through the precious blood of Christ, so entirely forgiven that there is no record of his sin left. If we blot out an account from our books, the record is gone, but there is the blot; but on the wax tablet there was no blot. But sin cannot be removed except there be repentance and conversion. This must be so, for--
1. It is most seemly. Would you expect a great king to forgive an erring courtier unless the offender first confessed his fault?
2. It would not be moral; it would be pulling up the very sluices of immorality to tell men that they could be pardoned while they went on in their sins and loved them. Does not conscience tell us this? There is not a conscience here that will say to a man, “You can hope to be saved and yet live as you list.” But whether your conscience shall say so or not, God says “He that confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall find mercy,” but there is no promise for the unrepenting. “He who goeth on in his iniquity and hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”
IV. Repentance and conversion will be regarded as peculiarly precious in the future, for my text says, “When the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”
1. He that repents and is converted shall enjoy the blotting out of sin in that season of sweet peace which always follows pardon. When the prisoner first gets out of prison, when the fetters for the first time clank music as they fall broken to the ground! when the sick man leaves the sick chamber of his convictions to breathe the air of liberty and to feel the health of a pardoned sinner! Oh, if you did but know what a bliss it is to be forgiven, you would never stay away from Christ I But you do not know, and cannot. Oh, “repent and be converted,” then, and you will.
2. Perhaps these “times of refreshing” may also relate to times of revival in the Christian Church. The only way in which you can share in the refreshment of a revival is by your own repenting and being converted. Of what use is a revival to an unpardoned sinner? It is like the soft south wind blowing upon a corpse.
3. The text means, according to the context, the second advent. Jesus is yet to come a second time, and like a mighty shower flooding a desert shall His coming be. His Church shall revive and be refreshed. But woe unto you who are not saved when Christ cometh, for the day of the Lord will be darkness and not light to you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Repentance, a change of mind
The original “a change of mind” or “an after-thought.” Now that is exactly what the Holy Spirit produces in the convicted soul. “There is,” says the wise man, “a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Now it is the work of the Holy Ghost to dispel this false view of our way, and to bring us to see things as they really are; and when we yield to His convicting influences, the light of truth flashes into our soul, and we come to ourselves. Now we see things from an entirely different point of view, and cry out against ourselves--against our folly and our sin. “What a fool I have been!” cries the awakened and repentant soul. “So many years I have lived in this world, and yet have I never really begun to live at all! My whole past has been a wasted existence. I have been simply exercising my faculties in furthering my own destruction!” The first step in a real repentance is taken when we open our eyes to see things as in the light of the Holy Ghost, when we escape from the long delirium of a life lived under the influence of the great deceiver, and thus undergo a change of mind with respect to God and to sin, and the value of things seen and things eternal. (W. Hay Aitken.)
Repentance not mere sorrow for sin
It is a common thing to find people confusing between repentance and sorrow for sin, and this leads sometimes to most distressing results. I remember once insisting very strongly upon the importance of making this distinction. The next day an intelligent Christian man said, “Ah, Mr. Aitken, if I had heard that sermon of yours last night when I was seeking salvation, I believe it might have saved me long weary years of misery, during which I was really and earnestly desirous to give myself to God, and yet fancied I had no right to come to Christ, because I could not feel the sorrow for sin that I thought I ought to feel.” Now it is quite possible to experience a good deal of sorrow for sin without any real repentance, and it is equally possible to have a sincere repentance, and yet to be ready to cry out against ourselves because we don’t feel as much sorrow for sin as we think we should. Indeed this impatience at our own hardness of heart and lack of true spiritual sensibility is often a feature of true repentance. But observe that on no less than ten occasions men are directed to repent, the word being for the most part employed in the imperative mood. Now it is obviously absurd to suppose that we should be thus commanded to produce within ourselves a certain state of feelings; for obviously our feelings constitute just that element in our nature over which we have least control. We cannot command our feelings at will, and therefore it is simply ridiculous to commandpersons to do so. It would be folly were I to say to you, “Feel very happy,” or “Feel very sorrowful.” Again, we find repentance expressly distinguished from godly sorrow. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance … not to be repented of.” Now, if it may be the cause of repentance, it must be distinct from repentance, for an effect must always be distinct from its cause. It does not, however, always stand in this relation. Godly sorrow may sometimes flow from a real repentance, just as in another case it may proceed and lead up to it. Of this we see an instance in David, who poured forth his soul in the sorrowful language of the fifty-first Psalm long after he had both repented and had been forgiven. (W. Hay Aitken.)
Repentance and its results
Peter had now proved that the people were in an evil case, and pointed out that the only way of escape was by repentance and conversion. But the apostle urged this duty on three special grounds.
I. In order that they might attain proper relations to God. “That your sins may be blotted out.” There stood against them an account by which they were bound, and that account could not be cancelled except through repentance. Then God would not treat them as sinners. The reason for this condition is obvious since God can do nothing that is morally unfit. To attain this right relation to God is to enter the way of ultimate personal perfection.
II. In order that they might cease to stand in the way of blessing designed for their fellow-men. “That the times of refreshing,” etc. The world was full of sin and weariness. God knew all about it, and had promisedseasons of refreshment. They were to be granted “from His presence,” by His decree. But He would bless men through men, Repentance and conversion were therefore required. So now. Domestic piety will be promoted by those who penitently turn to God. The purification and quickening of particular churches will be aided by such as mourn over sin and forsake it. And the multiplication of purified and quickened churches would soon work mighty changes in Christendom.
III. In order that they might promote the coming of the great final manifestation of the redeemer. “And He shall send Jesus.” (W. Hudson.)
What is repentance
It is, right about face! I think these soldiers understand that expression. Some one has said that every one is born with his back to God, and that conversion turns him right round. If you want to be converted, and want to repent, I will tell you what you should do. Just get out of Satan’s service, and get into the Lord’s. Leave your old friends, and unite yourself with God’s people. I shall be gone on a journey shortly. If, when I am in the train, a friend should say, “Moody, you are going in the wrong train.” “My friend,” I should say, “you have made a great mistake; the guard told me this is the right train.” You are wrong, I am sure you are wrong. “the guard told me this is the right train.” Then my friend would say, “Moody, I have lived here forty years, and I know all about the trains. That train is the wrong one.” He at last convinces me, and I get out of that train and get into the right one. Repentance is getting out of one train and getting into the other. You are on the wrong train; you are in the broad path that taketh you down to the pit of hell. Get out of it to-night. Right about face! Who will turn his feet towards God? “Turn ye, for why will ye die?” In the Old Testament the word is “turn.” In the New Testament the word is “repent.” (D. L. Moody.)
True repentance is practical
I heard one say, “It is an awful-thing to be a slave to the winecup; I wish that I had never tasted it. The first opportunity I get I will turn over a new leaf.” He did not say what the new leaf would be, but he was going to do any quantity of reforming work. Alas I he never did anything at all, for he was drunk again the next day. A beautiful penitent to look upon; but a wretched hypocrite in due time, for he returned like the dog to his vomit, and the sow which was washed to her wallowing in the mire. If you repent of sin, down with sin! In God’s name, down with sin! When repentance is hearty it is practical. When a man truly turns to God, he turns away from sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We must repent now
Years ago, on a summer afternoon, I stood on a little harbour-wall and saw two vessels trying to make the entrance. They were lying in a narrow channel, and, since there was not water enough to keep them up, they were lying on their side. But far out the tide began to turn, and one wave after another passed under them, and every wave in the channel made the water deeper; and I saw in a little while that the water was twelve feet deep in the harbour, and the green, foaming waves rushed in like a millrace. I looked again towards the narrow passage, and saw on one vessel that they had taken advantage of the wind at the right moment, and on that first vessel they floated in on the full tide. Upon the other vessel they were not on the alert, though sailors do not often make that mistake, and when they tried to make the harbour the tide had turned, and they could not. The water grew shallower; they gave up the attempt; and gradually the vessel heeled over, and lay just as before on the bank of sand. At nightfall I went down again, and in the dark gloaming I saw the forsaken vessel, and I prayed that I might not miss the tide which God gives to our souls, nor quench His Spirit within my heart. (J. Watson, M. A.)
Repentance implies the utter forsaking of sin
Every time a man takes a journey from home about business, we do not say he hath forsaken his house; because he meant, when he went out, to come to it again. No; but when we see a man leave his house, carry all his goods away with him, lock up his doors, and take up his abode in another place, never to dwell there more, this man may very well be said to have forsaken his house indeed. Thus it is that every one of us are to forsake sin so as to leave it without any thought of returning to it again. It were strange to find a drunkard so constant in the exercise of that sin, but sometimes you may find him sober, and yet a drunkard he is, as if he were then drunk. Every one hath not forsaken his trade that we see, now and then, in their holiday suit; then it is that a man is said to forsake his sin, when he throws it from him, and bolts the door upon it, with a purpose never to open any more unto it. Ephraim shall say, “What have we to do any more with idols?” (Hosea 14:8). (J. Spencer.)
I. Consider the state of the soul before conversion
1. The Bible speaks of it as a state of death. Death is so offensive in physical nature that we are compelled to bury even our beloved friends; and had we eyes and hearts to see and feel the realities of the spiritual world a soul dead by sin would be more offensive than a decaying body. We bury the physical dead, but it is impossible to put away a dead soul from society. The world would have been better without you, for as a corpse putrifies the air we breathe, so a dead soul is a corruption which gives forth evil and prevents good. A dead soul may--
(1) Have great influence. Your influence might have been exerted for the good of society, but you have lived only to enjoy your own self, and so instead of being a helper of the highest interests of mankind, you are drawing sap from the human tree and are yielding no fruit.
(2) Be a moral person. You have not committed any crime, but you are dangerous to society. Your goodness is an argument to a bad man against being “religious,” and the children of your family say, “Why, father never goes to church, nor reads the Bible, nor prays--why should I?” People will follow a moral sceptic because they wish to have an excuse for sin.
(3) Be an openly wicked man.
2. How can it be known whether I am in this state of death or not? If you be in this state there will be--
(1) No growth of goodness in your character. Some persons appear to grow more beautiful every year, but others become more wicked as they grow older.
(2) No strength to do holy things. You may do as you like with a dead body; it can make no resistance, and likewise a dead soul is helpless in the hands of Satan.
(3) Troubles and obstacles which will cause you to despair. In such a case men, but mostly women, rush to intoxicating liquor, and their last state is worse than the first. A dead soul is one “having no hope, and without God in the world.”
II. Inquire, what is conversion?
1. It is a new life. You may see advertisements offering for sale an ingredient which improves the breath. Now conversion does not improve the old sinful breath, but it gives a new holy breath within the soul. Just as God by His Providence gives us at birth physical lungs with which to breathe the air about us, so His Holy Spirit creates spiritual lungs in our soul by which we breathe in the atmosphere of the kingdom of God.
2. A second incarnation of God. The first was in Christ, the second in the soul of His disciple. God is not limited to the body of Jesus. He shall also fill every believer with all His fulness. Socrates, speaking of true friendship, describes it as one spirit in two bodies. Now conversion is one Spirit in God and also in you.
3. A moral transformation. It is that change which makes a man who has loved sin to shun it as he would a poisonous serpent.
4. A birth for humanity. It is to realise that you are born to be the brother or the sister of every one, and to prove it by your active goodness. It is that union with God which unites us to our fellow-man.
III. I would urge you to be converted: because--
1. Unless converted you are at war with God. How shameful to be at war with a loving Father!
2. The gospel assures you of pardon.
3. The Lord loves you.
4. God can convert you. (W. Birch.)
I. What conversion is, and wherein it lies. The conversion to be treated of is not--
1. An external one, or what lies only in an outward reformation of life and manners, such as that of the Ninevites, for this may be where internal conversion is not, as in the Scribes and Pharisees.
2. Nor is it a mere doctrinal one, nor a conversion from false notions before imbibed to a set of doctrines and truths which are according to the Scriptures; so men of old were converted from Judaism and heathenism to Christianity.
3. Nor the restoration of the people of God from backsliding when they are in a very affecting and importunate manner called upon to return to the Lord (Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 3:22; Hosea 14:1-4); so Peter when he fell through temptation and denied his Lord, and was recovered from it by a look from Christ, it is called his conversion (Luke 22:32). But--
4. The conversion under consideration is a true, real, internal work of God upon the souls of men.
(1) In the turn of the heart to God, of the thoughts of the heart.
(2) Conversion lies in a man’s being turned from darkness to light; the apostle was sent to turn them from darkness to light (chap. 26:18), that is, to be the instrument or means of their conversion by preaching the gospel.
(3) From the power of Satan unto God as in the above place (chap. 26:18). Satan has great power over men in an unconverted state.
(4) Conversion lies in turning men from idols to serve the living God; not merely from idols of silver and gold, of wood and stone, as formerly, but from the idols of a man’s own heart.
(5) Conversion lies in turning men from their own righteousness to the righteousness of Christ.
(6) Conversion lies in a man’s turning to the Lord actively under the influence of Divine grace; and by this phrase it is often expressed in Scripture as in Isaiah 10:21; Act 11:21; 2 Corinthians 3:16.
II. The causes of conversion.
1. Not by the power of man; what is said of the conversion or turning of the Jews from their captivity is true of the conversion of a sinner that it is not by might nor by power, that is, not of man, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts (Zechariah 4:6).
2. Nor is conversion owing to the will of man; the will of man before conversion is in a bad state; it chooses its own ways, and delights in its abominations, it is in high pursuit after the desires of the flesh and of the mind.
3. God only is the author and efficient cause of conversion.
4. The moving or impulsive cause of conversion is the love, grace, mercy, favour, and good will of God, and not the merits of men.
5. The instrumental cause or means of conversion is usually the ministry of the Word.
III. The subjects of conversion. Lost sinners redeemed by Christ are the subjects. (Theological Sketch-Book.)
1. All through the New Testament one great saving change, involving entirely new relations with God on the one hand, and with sin on the other, is represented as indispensably necessary, and one only, and it is to this great change that we give the name of “conversion.” The word, particularly in the original, seems to be a suitable one to indicate it, looking at it from man’s point of view, because it connotes a turning round and a turning towards, with a view to resting in. The word too, in common use, suggests just such a radical change. We speak of “converters” that change iron into steel; of converting a sailing ship into a steamer, or an old-fashioned gun into a breechloader.
2. This great saving change is represented as the true starting-point of the spiritual life. It is therefore not a life-long work, for if all our days be consumed in making the start, what time is there left to that journey? The locomotive requires to be placed upon the turntable, and to have its position reversed, before it can proceed on its return journey. But if the whole four-and-twenty hours are consumed in getting the engine turned, what is to become of that journey? And where is the station-master that would be content to go on all day asking, “Is that engine being turned?” or would feel content on hearing that the process was going forward?
I. Conversion is closely connected with, but distinct from, repentance. Repentance represents the negative, conversion the positive, element. Repentance consists in the honest repudiation of the old, with the accompanying feelings of regret and humiliation; but conversion consists in the acceptance of the new, with all natural, spiritual exultation in God. Repentance is the discovery of the fatal disease and the mournful confession of it. Conversion is the appropriation of the remedy, the believing touching of the hem of His garment, with the firm persuasion, “If I may but touch I shall be whole.” Repentance brings us down to the dust; conversion sets us amongst the princes and makes us inherit a crown of glory.
II. Conversion implies an original attitude of aversion. “An evil heart of unbelief departing from the living God.” And it is the presence of this attitude, more or less fully developed, that makes conversion necessary. Now this attitude is inherited from our first parents. Hence our position differs from theirs in this, that they had to fall beneath their created nature in order to turn from God, whereas we have to rise above our inherited nature to turn to God. Then, again, as it was by a definite moral act, an act of the will, that man turned away from God, so it is only by a definite moral act that man can be converted to God. And hence it is evident that no ordinance can render the conversion to God superfluous or unnecessary. This is surely a sufficient answer to those who allege that conversion cannot be necessary in the case of those who have been baptized as infants, unless they have lapsed into open sin. On the other hand, however, it must frankly be admitted that there are many of whoso conversion there can be no reasonable doubt, who yet cannot remember in the past any aversion, and hence cannot point to any distinct conversion. They seem to have loved and trusted their Saviour so long as they could remember anything. Again, there are others who, although they can recall a condition of aversion, cannot point to the hour of conversion. This seeming indefiniteness with some, no doubt, arise from temperament, or perhaps to defective teaching. Anxious souls, who wish to come to Christ instead of being directed at once to the Cross, are told that they must wait for certain experiences. But whatever be the true explanation we shall do wisely in thinking less of the accidents and more of the essence of this great change. The question is not when and how did your conversion take place? but, Has it taken place?
III. Must conversions always be sudden? You hear not few affirm with sufficient dogmatism that they don’t believe in sudden conversions except those on a death-bed. I must say, for my own part, that these are the only kind of sudden conversions that I am sceptical about. But my answer is not that all conversions are in their outward appearances necessarily sudden, but that there is no reason why they should not be so. If this matter of turning back again from sin and self to God can be settled promptly, none would wish to see it protracted; for it is only after this point has been passed that real religious experience begins. If conversion can be immediate, there is surely no sense in desiring that the process should be protracted. “Behold, now is the accepted time,” etc. If conversion were one and the same thing as reformation, this might well require time; but if it be a mighty spiritual revolution wrought in man by the Holy Ghost, then it is by no means surprising that it should be completed as rapidly as Naaman’s cure. Let us turn to our text.
IV. Conversion is an imperative duty. The text is a direction couched in the form of a command. “Be converted.” It may occur to you to object, Who can convert himself? If I am to be converted, it is God that must convert me. Now there is a certain sense in which this is quite true. The regenerating power can only come from God; but, on the other hand, man as well as God has his part in producing this great change, and it is to man’s part in it that the word conversion almost invariably refers. Only once is the word used in the Passive Voice, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children,” etc. In that passage the actual moral change is referred to. And it is well that the word should thus be used once lest we should lose sight altogether of the necessarily close connection that must exist between the turning on our part and the change wrought by God on His part. But in the present passage the word is active, “turn again.” Many awakened souls are kept back from Christ because they cannot make themselves feel the great change that they think they ought to experience. They wait and hope and pray that they may be converted, instead of turning right round so as to face the God from whom they have turned away. Now to all such the voice of God through similar passages would seem to say, “Turn ye even unto Me, saith the Lord.”
V. Conversion is the correlative of aversion. Now in this aversion three distinct steps may be discerned. The first is taken in the aversion of the inner eye, the looking away from God; the next in the aversion of the will when we say, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” We prefer to assert our independence; and then follows the aversion of the desires and affections. Now there are three corresponding steps in conversion. We begin to turn Godwards when we allow ourselves to recognise our inward needs, and turn from the empty cisterns that can hold no water, and confess, “My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God.” That may be called the conversion of the desires. We take our second step in the submission of our wills and our decision to yield ourselves to God, and here usually the struggle is the most severe, and when this point is gained the hardest part of the battle is won. But there is a third step, the conversion of our inner vision. For even when our desires are fixed on God and our wills yielded to God, seeking souls are still not unfrequently kept in darkness just because they will turn their eyes to anything else rather than God. They will look at themselves, at their feelings, at their ill deserts, at their own faith, or rather at their want of it, at other people, and their experiences rather than at God. Now when St. Peter calls upon us to turn right round and face towards God, it is in order that we may so fix our gaze upon God as to discover what there is in God for us, and rest at peace in the joy of that discovery. But it would be of little use to call upon us to turn unless such an object were presented to us as should attract and retain our gaze when once we direct our vision towards it. The thought of God and of His holiness repels and even appals the awakened soul. But here it is that we learn the value of the gospel. It was not enough that Christ should bid us return to our Father; it was necessary that He should constitute Himself the way.
VI. Thus we see the connection between the atoning work of christ and conversion. The result of that work is, that the sinner finds in God the very thing he has despaired to find in himself. Gazing on the Cross, he makes the astonishing discovery, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.” Indeed, we may say that in the wondrous vision we find that which converts all our thoughts of God. He who gave His Son for me must needs be worthy of my confidence and love. “Look unto Me,” I hear Him say, “and be ye saved,” and unto Him I look and find that there is indeed “life for a look at the Crucified One.” And this look is conversion; for everything about that Cross seems of a kind to produce a change of thought and feeling that might be called a conversion. I love my sins, but I look at that Cross, and I see in the agony and death of the Sin-bearer what sin really is, and what it must bring me to if I cling to it; and thus my view of sin is changed. I looked upon many of my sins as mere trifles; now I see how exceeding sinful sin must be in the sight of Him who is its Judge, and thus my estimate of the gravity of sin is changed. I once thought of God as though He were hard, austere, and unsympathetic; now I see how tender, as well as infinite, is His love. Thus my judgment of God is changed. I used to love to think of myself as my Own master, but now I see what man is without God, and so my views of myself and of my relations to God are changed. Thus in turning myself to God I turn my back upon my old self. The old is passed away, left crucified on yonder Cross, and all things are become new. But more than even this. Not only am I changed in all my views and feelings, but I am converted to God; that is to say, I am restored to my proper relations with God. Between Him and me there is now nothing but love, and so I am now in a position to enjoy His fellowship and to be strong in His power. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
I. A change. A Scotch lassie, who heard Mr. Whitefield preach, was so impressed that she underwent a change of heart. When she presented herself before the Church to be admitted as a member, the deacon said to her, “My child, is your heart changed?” She replied, “Sir, I do not know whether it is my heart that is changed or the world, but I feel that something is changed; things are different now.” When a man is “converted” he undergoes a change. Instead of being a servant of Satan, or living merely to please himself, he becomes a servant of God, and lives henceforth to try to please God.
II. A substantial change; not merely in name, but in reality. A certain clergyman was preaching to black people. One of the men seemed much impressed, and said he would be a Christian. So the clergyman baptized him, made the mark of the cross on his forehead, and called him by a new name--“Adam.” A week or two afterwards the clergyman had reason to believe that this man was not doing as he ought, and amongst other things that he was not fasting on Fridays. Accordingly, one Friday, he went to the man’s cabin, and, as he expected, smelt the savoury scent of roasting beef. The clergyman said, “Adam, you are breaking the law of the Church; you ought to be fasting; that is beef, not fish.” The man replied, “Well, massa preacher, you cross me and call me a new name, and say I am Christian. So, massa, I take de beef and cross him, and put him in de water, and call him fish.” That is about as great a change or conversion as one man can give another. No rite can convert a living soul. Conversion is a personal act between the soul and God.
III. A change within which transforms the outward life.
IV. An enduring change. A man can get a new “rig-out” for about half-a-crown in Petticoat Lane. You can get a coat and vest for a shilling, a pair Of “unmentionables” for sixpence, a shirt for fourpence halfpenny, a collar and tie--such as they are, for a penny, a hat--what you call a “pot,” for threepence, a pair of stockings also for threepence, and you may get a cane and a ring for a penny! And if you are good at bargaining, you may have a gold-like breast pin with a thing like a diamond thrown into the lot for good luck. While you are in the dark shop the whole thing looks moderately “respectable.” The articles are not new certainly; nor second-hand; they are about tenth-hand. But when you walk out with your purchases on your back--well, you had better have a good-sized sheet of brown paper to wrap yourself in, for I suspect a decent gust of wind might blow them away altogether, or a shower of rain might dissolve them. The fact is the things are not substantial; they won’t stand wear and tear. Man-made conversions are like those cast-off clothes--they are unsubstantial--they will not wear well. (W. Birch.)
That your sins may be blotted out.--
The blotting out of sin
This is the only passage in which the verb is directly connected with sins. The image that underlies the words (as in Colossians 2:14) is that of an indictment which catalogues the sins of the penitent, and which the pardoning love of the Father cancels. The word and the thought are found in Psalms 51:10; Isaiah 43:25. (Dean Plumptre.)
Sin blotted out
A little boy was once much puzzled about sins being blotted out, and said, “I cannot think what becomes of the sins God forgives, mother.” “Why, Charlie, can you tell me where are the figures you wrote on your slate yesterday?” “I washed them all out, mother.” “And where are they, then?” “Why, they are nowhere; they are gone,” said Charlie. “Just so it is with the believer’s sins--they are gone; blotted out; ‘remembered no more.’” “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.”
Obliteration more than pardon
I have spilled the ink over a bill and so have blotted it till it can hardly be read, but this is quite another thing from having the debt blotted out, for that cannot be till payment is made. So a man may blot his sins from his memory, and quiet his mind with false hopes, but the peace which this will bring him is widely different from that which arises from God’s forgiveness of sin through the satisfaction which Jesus made in His atonement. Our blotting is one thing, God’s blotting out is something far higher. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
When the times of refreshing shall come.--
Times of refreshing
I. Are needed. Spiritual life is dependent on direct Divine agency. But as there may be life without health or vigour, so in the believer and the Church there may be real life but great languor, and when such is the case times of refreshing are needed. This Divine influence is often compared to rain, etc. (Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 34:26; Isaiah 61:11), and the result of its exertion is fertility and growth.
1. Personal piety will be deep and personal activity energetic. These are here connected because they should never be separated. Piety without activity will degenerate into spiritual selfishness; activity without piety will be formal and mechanical. As spiritual life generally begins in the closet, it is there that it will be invigorated and revived. As the healthy man requires more sustenance and has a larger appetite than the invalid, so there will be a craving for spiritual food. As in health we crave for the fresh air of heaven, so we shall often ascend the mountain-top of communion with God. And this revived piety, taking cognisance of eternal realities, will prompt to corresponding activity in the cause of Christ. As such times are the result of spiritual influence, by that influence the love of Christ will constrain to holy and individual devotedness.
2. Domestic piety will be more manifest. If the flame of closet devotion be dim, that of the family altar cannot be bright; but when times of refreshing come the members of the household will catch the spirit of devotion, and those for whom parents have long prayed will give evidence of spiritual life. Here, perhaps, more than anywhere are such times to be desired. Worldly amusements, literature, principles, conformity, have in too many instances sapped the foundations of family religion.
3. Social piety will be revived. What dulness and formality there often is in our Church organisations and gatherings, and what a falling off in consequence. But get a season of refreshing, and the pastor will speak direct from the mount of communion a message from God, and Church officers and members, instead of availing themselves of any trifling excuse, will eagerly throng to the services and zealously work all the departments. Equally great will be the change in the habitual converse of Christians. Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth will testify of spiritual things.
4. Sinners will be converted and added to the Church. This has always been a characteristic of such seasons. Witness Pentecost, e.g.
II. May be expected. We are not left in doubt as to the ultimate triumph of the truth. Christ yet will draw all men unto Him. But Christ works by agents, and since the success of the gospel is in proportion to the vigour of the agents, we are led both by the nature of things and the Divine promises to expect a renewal of spiritual invigoration from time to time. And as the fruitful showers of one year will not suffice for the next, but each has its own supply, so we are led to expect for each generation, and for each believer in his successive phases of experience and work, fresh supplies of reviving grace. And the recurrence of such seasons may be expected from the analogy of the past. They have always been sent when the Church’s need has been great. It was so after the Exile (Haggai 1:14), in the days of the Baptist, at Pentecost, in Italy under Savonarola, in Germany and Switzerland, at the time of the Reformation, in America under Jonathan Edwards, etc. (Isaiah 51:9).
III. Must be sought. While we refer their recurrence to the sovereignty of God, yet He has indicated the course which we have to pursue. “I will yet for this be inquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them.” But if we regard iniquity in our hearts the Lord will not hear us, “Repent ye, therefore, that the times of refreshing may come.” This exhortation is needed by dead Christians as well as dead sinners.
IV. Will change the whole aspect of the Church. There will be--
1. Clearer knowledge of Divine truth.
2. More manifest spirituality.
3. Greater joy. (R. C. Pritchett.)
Times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord
I. What they are. The phrase might be read--
1. “Times of cooling,” in allusion to the custom of labourers, especially in Eastern countries, of retiring to the shade during the heat of the day to recruit their exhausted strength. And what are these hallowed hours, whether on the week days or on the Sabbath, but times of refreshing, affording an agreeable pause amid the busy scenes of life, enabling us to retire from the burden and heat of the day to “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land?” Here grows the “tree of life,” of which the grateful Church exclaims, “I sat down under His shadow with delight, and His fruit was sweet unto my taste.” Here gently rolls “the river of the waters of life,” “whose streams make glad the city of God.” Here, like Nathanael under the fig-tree, we can review all ,’the way in which the Lord our God hath led us,” and that is refreshing. Here we can contemplate the unfolded mysteries of redeeming love, and that is refreshing. We can inspect the work of grace in the heart, and that is refreshing. We can look into the promises and examine the covenant which is “ordered in all things and sure,” and that is refreshing. We can think of heaven, and that is “refreshing,”
2. Times of refection. The renewed soul has an appetite as well as the body, and the blessings of salvation are adapted to our necessities. “In this mountain shall the Lord of Hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things,” etc. To these rich provisions we have constant access. Here is food for all, and the whole in pleasing variety. Here is “the sincere milk of the Word” for “babes in Christ,” etc.
3. Times of humidity, softening, and moisture, when the genial showers or refreshing dews saturate and revive the thirsty bosom of vegetation. Apt emblem of the refreshing influences of the Holy Ghost, which “come down like rain upon the new-mown grass, and as the showers which water the earth.” And how welcome these heavenly showers! How they refresh the soul of the minister, who, having sown the good seed of the Word, is anxious to see “the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear!” How they revive the spirit of the people whose graces open and expand like “trees planted by the rivers of water!” What a happy effect they have upon our religious institutions! What a sweet perfume, as a “savour of life unto life,” do they produce, as you find in a garden after a refreshing shower! And what a beautiful bow upon “the cloud of our mercies as in the day of rain,” do they impress, when they descend in concert with the Sun of Righteousness, like “the bow of promise mid the storm.”
II. The source whence they spring--“The presence of the Lord.” This renders them doubly valuable. The gift is enhanced by the love which we bear to the Giver, especially when we recollect His motive, the way in which our supplies have been procured, the medium through which they descend, the impossibility of procuring others of equal worth, our own unworthiness and “the fulness of joy and the pleasure for evermore” of which they are the pledge and the earnest. They come “from the presence of the Lord,” as the pool of Bethesda was rendered medicinal by the presence of the angel; as the bitter waters of Marah became sweet by the influence of the tree which was cast into them; or as the sorrowing disciples were made glad by the presence of the Redeemer. That the blessed God is present with His people whenever and wherever they meet together in His name, requires no proof. He has promised, “in all places where I record My name will I come unto you and bless you.”
III. Their importance. What would the earth be without the genial showers which water it but a desert, whatever our skill or labour? Thus it would be in our Churches without Divine influences. Ministers might “break up the fallow ground, and scatter the precious seed,” but it would not germinate. “We should labour in vain, and spend our strength for nought.” But when the Spirit is poured out from on high, “The wilderness shall bud and blossom as the rose.” The Holy Ghost is the fruitful source of vital religion. Without His fructifying graces, instructions, invitations, warnings, judgments, mercies, miracles--are all unproductive. But when He descends, “like showers of heavenly rain,” the simplest means produce the noblest effects. And as the Holy Spirit produces vital religion where it has never existed before, so He revives it where it has withered, strengthens it where it is weak, and beautifies, expands, and causes it to unfold where it has been contracted and confined.
IV. How they are to be obtained.
1. By a conviction of their value. This is requisite to give a proper impulse to our solicitude.
2. By fervent and persevering prayer. We must ask in order that we may receive. For the blessings which we require the Lord will be sought unto. And “if ye, being evil,” etc.
3. Prayer must be followed by an avoidance of those inconsistencies and declensions which “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” (W. B. Leach.)
Religious revivals times of refreshing
(text, and Psalms 85:6):--I have selected these words--
I. As the deep utterances of our longings for a revival in our own land.
1. Do we not feel the need of it in ourselves individually? Religion begins with a man’s self and works outward. “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Instead of saying, “What lack I yet?” or “thanking God you are not like other men,” rather cry, “My soul cleaveth unto the dust. O quicken Thou me, according to Thy Word.” Are some secretly flattering themselves that they have not lived in open ungodliness? “Ah, but where is the blessedness ye once spake of?” What report from thy closet? thy scene of daily labour? the house of God, the Sunday school? the chamber of the sick and dying? “Wilt Thou not revive me again?”
2. Is there no need for a revival in our families? Have you set your house in order? Do you walk within your house with a perfect heart? Is there here no too indulgent Eli? Is there no parent troubled with an Absalom? Like Jacob, are you suffering from concealed idols? Difficulties are felt in these modern times by many a parent; but let the “land mourn, every family apart,” and “the voice of rejoicing and salvation shall be in the tabernacles of the righteous.” Let the family Bible, the family altar, and the family pew, secure the family blessing.
3. Is there no need for a revival in our Churches? But let us beware of that censoriousness which can see nothing but faults, and even feel a pleasure in exposing them. The ears of the world are open to these aspersions, and out of their mouths they condemn us. Mark you the example of Christ in the addresses to the Churches in Asia: where possible, praise is blended with censure, and praise has the precedence.
4. Our eyes naturally turn to our nation at large, and we inquire if no revival be needed. What is our national character, habits, and reputation abroad? Look at your senate, universities, markets, factories, press, theatres, prisons, the sins and miseries of your streets, by night as well as by day, and will you not “sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof”? The deep conviction of national sins precedes a revival.
II. The source of a religious revival. Whence is it? “From heaven, or of men?” What more perplexes the worldly philosopher than to see crowds of men, women, and children rushing to the prayer-meeting. On the Day of Pentecost “they were all amazed and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking, said, These men are full of new wine.” But all this leaves the phenomenon of a genuine religious revival unexplained. That a real revival, as tested by the fruits of repentance and a holy life, is the work of the Spirit, we boldly aver. We argue this from the change effected. I appeal to the history of the Church. Say, whether you refer to the conversion of the three thousand, or of individuals, as the malefactor, Zaccheus, Saul of Tarsus, or the jailor, whether in every case it was not as with Lydia--“The Lord opened the heart.” If any fact were necessary to confirm this view, it would be not only the notorious sinners that have been converted, but the humble and despised agents and agency employed. But let us appeal to the Scripture itself. What say apostles of their own success? “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves.” “So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.” “Not by might, nor by power; but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” And the same Voice is heard saying, “And I will make them and the places round about My hill a blessing,” etc.
III. The joyousness of its character.
1. This time is one of “refreshing” from its effects on our own minds. Some of you may be awakened to discover the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and to be alarmed for its consequences. See the penitent at the footstool of mercy beseeching the royal forgiveness; mark the proclamation of the Sovereign’s favour, and watch the change on the suppliant’s countenance! “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” How different now the heart of the suppliant to the trembling with which he approached to present the prayer “Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities!” Was it not so with the jailor when he “rejoiced with all his house”? Was it not so with the men “pricked in their heart”? “They gladly received his word.”
2. Is it not a time of refreshing when we witness large accessions to the Christian Church? Roused to a feeling of compassion for the perishing world, the Church unites her joy on earth with the “joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.” But if the rescue of one sinner be such joy, what rejoicing when at these seasons Satan’s empire is shaken to its centre, and he himself trembles for his kingdom?
3. Then the Churches themselves are so purified and separated from the world, that they not only believe in, but experience the communion of saints. The charity of every one of them towards each other aboundeth. Instead of being idlers, they are in “labours more abundant”; instead of being troublers they are peace-workers of Zion.
4. But we have not reached the height of the joy until we have associated religious revivals with the manifested glory of God. (J. S. Pearsall.)
A revival is the spring of religion, the renovation of life and gladness. It is the season in which young converts burst into existence and beautiful activity. The Church resumes her toil and labour and care with freshness and energy. The air all around is balmy, and diffusing the sweetest odours. The whole landscape teems with living promises of abundant harvest of righteousness and peace. It is the jubilee of holiness. A genial warmth pervades and refreshes the whole Church. Showers of “vernal delight and joy” descend gently and copiously. Delightful influences are wafted by every breeze. Where the dead leaves of winter still linger, the primrose and the daisy spring up in modest loveliness. Trees long barren put forth the buds of beauty and power. The whole valley is crowned with fragrant and varied blossoms. Forms of beauty bloom on every side, and Zion is the joy of the whole earth. If the spirit that renews the face of the earth is a spirit of beauty in the elegance of the germs, the tints of the buds, the verdure of the foliage, the splendour of the blossoms, and the witching glories of the matured fruits of Nature, “how great is His beauty” when acting out His lovely and holy perfections in revivals of religion. (T. W. Jenkyn, D. D.)
Revivals: True test of
The divinity of revivals may be tested by their effect on the family. If they turn the heart of the parents towards their children, and the heart of the children towards their parents, they are of God. If they increase the love of the family; if they cause the tendrils of love to draw the members of the family closer and closer to each other; if under their influence blossoms and clusters of love hang in abundance on the family-tree, then you may be sure that it is the true religion that is revived. But if the family has no blessing, and the dew is on the Church, you may be in doubt whether it is a Divine blessing, or any blessing at all. If religious excitements make home dull, and parental and filial duties and relations tame or tasteless, they may be suspected of being spurious, carnal, worldly. And when there begins to be a desire for a revival of God’s work, it is not wrong to desire that the congregation should be inflamed, and that there should be a multiplication of meetings, in which Christians, coming together, may exchange their thoughts and mingle their feelings; but it is wrong to suppose that a revival should begin in the Church. The family is a hearth raked up, and the fire must be unraked there. And every one must bring his home-brand and lay it on the altar of the Church. Then the revival in the Church will be genuine. Sometimes revivals begin in Churches and thence go into families. At any rate, either first or last, every true revival of religion must reach the family. A revival that does not reach the family is imperfect, if not spurious. (H. W. Beecher.)
Revivals: Use of
One of the blessings of revivals of religion is that they surround men with sympathies that work towards religious growth. Hours of conviction are benificent in this, that they shut men out from the world, and give them to themselves for the time being, and afford them the opportunity of dwelling in their thoughts upon things Divine and spiritual. Anything is favourable to advancement in Christian manhood which tends to countervail that flow of sympathetic action by which the mind is carried away from intercourse with Christ and God. (H. W. Beecher.)
Revivals: Effects of
In the revival shadowed in the vision of the valley of dry bones, there was first a noise, and then a shaking, throughout all the plain. Revivals always produce vigorous stirrings in a Church, and excitement in a neighbourhood. The smooth and chilling ice of the frigid latitudes of formality is disturbed and broken up; and all the barks and ships that were frozen in them are set at liberty. The snows of winter are melted from the face of the earth, and all men awaken to activity and labour. Revivals disturb the formalist, the indolent, the lukewarm, and the wicked. They produce a turbulence in the conscience, an agitation in the mind, tumult in the emotions, commotion in the sympathies, and vigorous animation in all the faculties. (T. W. Jenkyn, D. D.)
Revivals, and seasons of coldness
I remember one week New York was like a second Jerusalem at Pentecost. Merchants ran from counting-houses, and bankers from Wall Street and South Street, hungry and thirsty for an hour of noon-day prayer; and the atmosphere seemed laden with the perfumes of the Spirit, as I saw the orchards of England a short time since laden with the sweet apple-blossoms. Of the thousands that then set out toward Zion, with songs of joy and gladness, how many have held out, and who have held out? Only those who gave themselves fully up to Christ, and have followed Christ fully ever since; the truly regenerated with the Spirit, who have learned to know no other but Christ, and follow no other but Him. The Church gets filled in revival seasons, but it gets winnowed in seasons of coldness and indifference. Only sound piety holds out and keeps fresh at times when worldliness abounds, and popular and fashionable sins pour in like a flood. (T. L. Cuyler.)
Revival: Waiting for
Far in the woods of Maine, in these winter months, there are a hundred camps, and scores of axemen are busy cutting down the huge trees and measuring the logs and sorting them, and throwing them into deep gullies, where they will lie dry and undisturbed until the snow melts and the spring floods come; and then they will be borne out of the ravines into the ever deep-flowing river, and from thence to some Penobscot or Kennebec, and there collected together and bound in mighty rafts, they will float down to the tide-waters. So men are laying dry logs along empty channels, hoping that some revival freshet will come and sweep them down to the deep waters of piety. (H. W. Beecher.)
Times of restitution and restoration
In the text we have
(1) the conditions of salvation by Christ: repentance, and conversion; change of mind, and change of life; reviewing the past with true contrition, and turning to God with full purpose of amendment:
(2) the immediate result, forgiveness; the cancelling of sin; the obliteration of the guilty record; the “casting all our sins into the depths of the sea”; the so passing by, the so dismissing, the sins of those who truly repent, that He remembers them no more: and
(3) the future result; “that so there may come from God’s presence seasons of refreshing”; that so, the number of His elect being at last accomplished, He may send Jesus Christ, the Saviour, who is now in heaven awaiting the arrival of those times of restitution, restoration, reparation of all things which have been the great subject of Divine prediction from the first. The arrival of the times thus described is made to depend upon the repentance and conversion of man.
I. The period of refreshing. The word thus rendered is properly a revival by fresh air; the consequence of letting in a breeze of cool and invigorating air upon one who has been long fainting under a sultry and oppressive atmosphere. Do not we want such times? Are we not all conscious of the oppressive weight of this world’s atmosphere? Do we not all feel ourselves oftentimes fainting with the closeness and sultriness of the air we are forced to breathe? The oppression of persecution is rather “a stormy wind and tempest” which has in it something of a wholesome severity, rousing our whole being into a more resolute and vigorous vitality. But the text speaks of that stifling heat which at once indisposes and incapacitates for exertion; of that sense of breathing an exhausted air, or living in a crowded cabin, which paralyses every energy, and at last forbids repose itself. How seldom does the refreshing breath of God’s Holy Spirit revive Christians into the buoyancy of conscious life and health! How seldom does the sweet influence of the Divine presence lift them into that upper air where no earth-born cloud darkens their sky, and no noxious vapour damps or poisons their atmosphere! They can tell the times when this has been their bright experience. But far more often they sigh for light and air, hunger for food, thirst for water. In prosperity the air of earth is laden with a luscious perfume, lulling us into a stupor which is no repose. In adversity we seem to be confined within the walls of a sick-room,. from which worldly pleasure is banished, without the admission of a heavenly visitant.
II. The time of restitution. What a tangled, disordered, inverted thing is the world as we see it! What a deterioration from any condition in which God could ever have pronounced it to be very good. “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth,” etc. Only see, for example, bow the relations of life are disorganised! See what misfortunes, sorrows, spring out of the affections! See the hearts of fathers turned from their children, and the hearts of children from their fathers. See the weaker and the more trusting half of mankind made the sport and the victim of the stronger and the less sensitive. See the distinction of ranks now cruelly aggravated, and now violently obliterated. And under the government of a righteous and holy God can it be conceived that this state of things should be perpetual? Is not the very extent of the ruin a prophecy of the restoration? Can it be that God should thus have made all things in vain, and suffered His own beautiful handiwork to be thus marred and desolated finally? It has been the language of all prophecy that there shall be a time of restitution. “We,” the same apostle writes, “according to His promise, look for new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” And shall it not be a comfort to the true Christian to look forward to the arrival of that time when the ways of God shall be finally justified to the universe? How does it become us to see that we ourselves be not adding to the confusion. Although the restoration of all things is not yet, yet let us remember that there is a restitution, a reparation, a reconstruction, which belongs to all time; a repentance and a conversion which, if not realised here, can be realised nowhere; a renewal of soul, and an amendment of life under the influence of the Holy Spirit, which is the condition of our ever being admitted into the world in which dwelleth only righteousness. If we would ever enter heaven, we must begin it here. If we would ever see the restoration of all things, we.must struggle day by day here for our own. (Dean Vaughan.)
Times of refreshing and restitution.--
Times of refreshment
The thought is that again expressed both by St. Peter (2 Peter 3:12) and by St. Paul (Romans 11:25-27), that the conversion of sinners, especially the conversion of Israel, will have a power to accelerate the fulfilment of God’s purposes, and, therefore, the coming of His kingdom in its completeness. The word for “refreshing” is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but the cognate verb meets us in 2 Timothy 1:16. In the Greek version of Exodus 8:15, it stands where we have “respite.” The “times of refreshing” are distinguished from the “restitution of all things” of verse 21, and would seem to be, as it were, the gracious preludes of that great consummation. The souls of the weary would be quickened as by the fresh breeze of morning; the fire of persecution assuaged as by “a moist whistling wind” (“Song of the Three Children,” verse 24). Israel, as a nation, did not repent, and therefore hatred and strife went on to the bitter end without refreshment. For every church, or nation, or family, those “times of refreshing” come as the sequel of a true conversion, and prepare the way for a more complete restoration. (Dean Plumptre.)
And He shall send Jesus.
The Missionary Christ
A missionary is “one sent.” Jesus was a missionary when He came to save; He will be a missionary when He comes to judge. These missions have been loosely termed the First and Second Advents as though there were no others. But if the Old Testament theophanies were manifestations of Christ, then Christ came on a pre-incarnate mission. Then, again, He had aa important mission after the Resurrection; and further, we see from the text in conjunction with Acts 3:26 and His promise, “Lo, I am with you,” that He has been engaged in a mission ever since the Ascension. So there are four advents which characterise the successive phases of the mission of the Son of God. The text refers to that in which He is now engaged. Note--
I. The missionary.
1. The name “Jesus” is generally used of the Saviour in His human capacity; and it is not without the profoundest interest that the Great Ambassador from on high is that “same Jesus” who assumed our humanity to qualify Himself for a real brotherhood with our race. We have suggested, therefore, in the name sympathy, helpfulness, accessibility, companionship. While we carefully remember His august position on the throne of the universe, let us not forget that that throne is occupied by our Brother, and that therefore we may “come boldly to the throne of grace!”
2. Christ is the official title which represents our Lord as embodying all that was meant by the “anointed” personages of the Old Testament. He is the reality of which they were the type--the Messiah.
(1) Christ, then, still discharges His teaching functions, and says many things which He could not say to His ancient disciples--not so much revealing new truth as unfolding fresh developments, exhibiting new aspects, and bringing it home in unlooked-for ways.
(2) Christ is the Priest of His Church. Atonement was only one function. He ever lives to apply the benefits of His sacrifice, to make intercession, to pour forth His ceaseless blessings.
(3) Christ is King to legislate, rule, and lead to victory.
II. The Sender God (Acts 3:19). That Jesus was the Sent of God shows--
1. The harmony of the missions of Christ incarnate and Christ glorified. No more frequent thought was in our Lord’s mind than that He came from God except the cognate thought that He was glad to come. So our text regards Christ as still being sent, and, since the effects of His mission are so blessed (Acts 3:26), with the same joy. What dignity and blessedness does this give to those who receive Him! We are amazed at the condescension and love which marked the advent to Bethlehem; but under the same grand auspices does Christ come to our soul, home, church.
2. The relation of Christ.
(1) To the Father.
(a) Subordination. “Send.”
(b) Equality. God only could do what Christ is sent to do (Acts 3:26).
(2) To the Holy Spirit. The “times of refreshing” are regarded as emphatically the Spirit’s, but our text shows that they are also Christ’s. This harmony of operation is seen throughout the New Testament. And what God hath joined together let no man put asunder.
III. The time; “Times of refreshing.” Christ is always here, but He is not always manifest. But He is supremely manifest during periods of spiritual revival.
1. In the revival of personal religion it is the vivid realisation of Christ that brings refreshment. Our dead, dry, barren times are when Christ is partially or altogether hidden. But when the clouds break the showers fall and the Sun of Righteousness shines forth, and all is glad and fruitful.
2. In the revival of Church life it is Christ brought home to the sinner, magnified by the saint, and honoured in all effort that is the prime cause.
IV. The means. “Preached unto you.”
1. Christless preaching is never marked by a time of refreshing. There were learned rabbis prophesying in a valley of dry bones; but it was a rude fisherman that was the instrument of bringing them to life. This Peter did by simply preaching Christ. Scholastic philosophers were scattering their ponderous tomes on an age that was not only dark but dead; but it was a rude miner’s son that awakened Europe into life. This Luther did by simply preaching Christ. Stately essays were read by cultured thinkers in that barren, arid eighteenth century; but untutored evangelists simply held up Christ and times of refreshing came.
2. As a means of revival, therefore, preaching Christ is the chief. Other things are important--architecture, music, visitation, schools, pleasant evenings, etc. But a Church may have all, and yet lack the one thing needful. But the Subject to be preached is a whole Christ: not His tender humanness apart from His sovereign dignity; not His precious promises apart from His atoning sacrifice. Let the whole Christ be preached accompanied by the power of the Holy Ghost, with and through whom He works, and “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” will come. (J. W. Burn.)
Whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things.
Times of restitution of all things
The “times” seem distinguished from the “seasons” as more permanent. This is the only passage in which the word translated “restitution” is found in the New Testament; nor is it found in the LXX. version of the Old. Etymologically, it conveys the thought of restoration to an earlier and better state, rather than that of simple consummation or completion, which the immediate context seems, in some measure, to suggest. It finds an interesting parallel in the “new heavens and new earth”--involving, as they do, a restoration of all things to their true order--of 2 Peter 3:13. It, does not necessarily imply, as some have thought, the final salvation of all men, but it does express the idea of a state in which “righteousness,” and not “sin,” shall have dominion over a redeemed and new-created world. The corresponding verb is found in the words, “Elias truly shall come first, and restore all things “ (Matthew 17:11); and St. Peter’s words may well be looked on as an echo of that teaching, and so as an undesigned coincidence testifying to the truth of St. Matthew’s record. (Dean Plumptre.)
The golden age--the restitution of all things
1. Restitution means the setting up again of that which has been thrown down. When a fallen pillar is restored to its position; or a plant, blown down, or crushed, regains its upright attitude; when a building, overthrown, is rebuilt--there is a restitution.
2. In the universe there has been a great overturning. The course of history seems to be a succession of failures--God setting up, some other power casting down. And, apart from revelation we could not tell what the end of all things would be. In the Word of God we have the assurance of a restitution--a setting up again of all things--a restoration out of the old, but higher than the old--the same and yet different. “The city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof.”
I. The restitution of nature. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth--garnished with wisdom; blessed with love; and, surveying the whole, He pronounced it very good. But through the introduction of evil, a curse soon fell upon creation, and the earth underwent some change, in respect of its beauty and fertility. The world is regarded as full of beauty, notwithstanding its barren deserts, etc.; but had sin never entered, it would have been a scene of order and peace far surpassing our conception. The Cosmos we behold bears traces everywhere of great convulsions; and in this respect nature has been called “a born ruin.” There are revolutionary forces which, if let loose, would rend creation asunder. Meantime these forces check each other; only occasionally are we reminded of their power by a quaking of the earth, or a peal of thunder. But the day is coming when these forces will overleap their present bounds, and involve universal nature in a catastrophe. The two agents appointed by God to work great physical and moral revolutions are water and fire. God has already employed water to change the face of the earth, and the current of history. The other agent to be employed in the destruction of the world is fire (2 Peter 3:10-14). Part, then, of the restitution of all things consists in the restitution of nature. In the beginning of revelation we see God’s first work set up, but soon thrown down, or marred. In the end we read of its being set up again in higher form: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” etc. The first creation was cursed, but in the second creation “there shall-be no more curse.” The first creation has thorns and thistles, but with regard to the second, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree,” etc. The restitution will be not merely a return to primeval beauty, but the introduction of a far higher beauty. For then “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun,” etc. Involved in the restitution of nature is the restitution of Paradise, “The Lord God planted a garden,” etc. In this there was a perfect combination of the useful and the beautiful. It had trees “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” A river, also, went out of Eden to water the garden. And so in the midst of Paradise restored there is “the tree of life, with twelve manner of fruits,” etc., and “a pure river of water of life,” etc.
II. The restitution of man. This is intimately connected with the restitution of nature, as Paul shows in Romans 8:1. Look at man in his first estate. He was made in the image of God in nature and will. He possessed the glorious but perilous gift of liberty. And how did he demonstrate his freedom? Not as God had done in the production of good, but as Satan had done in the production of evil. He showed himself to be free by an act that destroyed his freedom. He was a broken creature, smitten with death. Being spiritually dead, temporal and eternal death was the necessary result. Besides, when man lost the image of God, he lost the sovereignty of nature, and having this dominion, he must have had powers vastly greater than those which remained with him after the fall. But man, the broken image of God, is to be restored. Man, the dethroned and prostrate monarch of nature, is to be reinstated in his sovereignty. This restitution begins in time, as a renewal of the spirit. At the resurrection the body is set up again in a far higher form, like the glorified body of the Redeemer. Then, too, the image of God being perfectly restored, man will enter on his true sovereignty again. The believer will be made a king and a priest to God.
2. All this was seen to be accomplished in Christ, as the representative man. He took up the work at the point of ruin to which man had brought it, and from that regained all that man had lost. He magnified the law which man had despised; and fulfilled all righteousness. He encountered the tempter, and defeated him. The first temptation took place in a garden, and the result was that man was driven into the wilderness. Jesus resumes the conflict in the wilderness in order to restore the garden. He Himself is the image of God, and shows that He is in possession of the lost sovereignty over nature. When He was in the wilderness it is recorded that He was with the wild beasts, who lost their ferocity and rebellion in His presence. In this we have a passing glimpse of man’s returning dominion over the lower creation; of the time when “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,” etc.; just as His miracles, manifesting His power over inanimate nature and the body of man, were a prophetic fulfilment of the great aspiration and effort of the human mind to regain the mastery of nature.
III. The restitution of society. We find much reformation wanted here. Next to the great question--How shall man be just with God?--is the question, On what terms shall he live with his fellow-men? It is the problem of government. Next to the salvation of the individual is the construction of society. The disturbing element in humanity does not lie primarily in forms of government, but in the individual soul; and, therefore, all attempts to regenerate man from without, by ameliorating his circumstances merely, or placing him under a new political arrangement, have failed; for the root of all rebellion is the unrenewed heart. For a machine to work perfectly--even supposing the machine itself to be perfect--there are required honest and competent men to work it; and, therefore, Christianity begins with the individual, and regenerates society from that point.
1. The first form of society is that of the family. Here we have the nursery of all other forms. If families are godless the Church cannot be prosperous. If they are immoral the city cannot be safe. If they are dis-organised the State cannot be strong. But what a dark tragedy broke up the first society of this kind! As we come down the stream of sacred history, we see that God always sets up His work again in the midst of some particular family. In the family of Noah the race makes a new start. In the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a new covenant of grace is established. In the family of David the kingdom of the Jews is confirmed. In the house at Nazareth the foundation of Christendom is laid. But existing families are ever being broken up and dispersed. The institution itself, however, is a Divine idea that cannot perish, and in the restitution of all things the family reappears. God is revealed as the Father of Christ, “of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”
2. Next to the family is the city. Cain, who destroyed the first family, was the founder of the first city; an acknowledgment that man was no longer at home with nature; a city being a fortified place, surrounded by walls, to keep out intruders. Now, what man founded, God has adopted. After His people had wandered in the wilderness He led them to the promised land, and there built that famous capital of the old theocracy, Jerusalem. It was called the City of God, the Holy City. But it was ultimately visited by a terrible overthrow. “But the city shall be built on her own heap.” In the restitution of all things a new Jerusalem rises into view, “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Christ has gone to the unseen world to prepare many mansions for His people; and in the revelation given to John there are glimpses of “That great city, the holy Jerusalem.”
3. Next to the city is the empire, or union of cities and states. Very early the idea of universal empire took possession of the human mind, and in the immense tower erected on the plain of Shinar we have the first embodiment of that idea. In the very attempt to make such a huge confederation they were more divided than before. Their impious attempt brought down upon them a judgment that revealed their real but originally-hidden incongruities. Thus the first Babel prophesied the fate and gave its very name to subsequent systems, political and religious, which have attempted the impossible task of founding a universal empire, or Church on a false and godless principle. In itself, however, the idea of a universal empire is not false but true. The true tendency of the world is to reach a confederation of men, or parliament of the world, notwithstanding national differences. The discoveries of science and the reciprocities of commerce are aiming, consciously or unconsciously, at this stupendous result; which, however, they cannot gain by themselves. The highest end of science and commerce is to herald the kingdom of Christ, which carries in its bosom the highest law--the law of God, and the charter of universal freedom. The idea of the Church is that of a universal brotherhood under the fatherhood of God; and the realisation of this is the splendid goal of humanity. Christ is King of kings and the Lord of lords, and everywhere it is foretold that His kingdom will be universal and eternal. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)
I. “The restitution of all things” will be a clearing away of suffering. This is the special point of that mysterious passage in Romans 8:1-39. in which Paul speaks of the “earnest expectation of the creature.” We see “the creature,” rational and irrational, “subjected to vanity”; to a condition of anxiety and toil, unrest, disease, death; “not willingly”--by no act or choice of its own--generation inheriting from generation its heirloom and entail of distress; and this, St. Paul adds, by the fiat of One who laid it under this subjection--we suppose him to mean, as the penalty of sin; yet that sin is not its own, that penalty not removable by present obedience, but having to be endured, to the bitter end, even by the innocent. The thought pressed upon the apostle, as it presses upon us. And he has one and but one escape from “charging God foolishly.” He adds, with an emphasis which no power of voice and no skill of enunciation can satisfy, the two brief words, “in hope”; and goes on to explain that even before this distressed and disconsolate creature there lies a future of emancipation. Then shall it “remember no more the anguish,” in the joy of a delivery and the transport of a new life. We would detain the apostle and interrogate him concerning these dark sayings. We would ask, Is it of earth as the scene of a future, an everlasting inhabitation; is it of a race of nature, to be cleared of sterility and unfruitfulness; is it of irrational creatures, by man requited too often with neglect or cruelty, that the words are written, “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the unveiling of the sons of God”? Or does “restitution” mean that nations, ignorant of Christ, destitute of the gospel, shall then, in some wonderful manner, “walk in the light of it”? But there is no voice nor any to answer us in these perhaps presumptuous questionings. Thou hast Moses and the prophets, Christ and the apostles--hear them. Soon shalt thou, faithful unto death, be reading these mysteries right in the very sunshine of the smile of God. Meanwhile, “what is that to thee?” Christ says, “follow thou Me.” Earth shall be restored to its original beauty; its face shall be wiped from tears, its scarred and seamed countenance shall be radiant again with a more than Eden loveliness: for it is one of those “all things” which must receive “restitution” when the heaven which has “received” Him shall send Jesus back.
II. Man, his soul and body, his very being and life, is among these “all things” which are awaiting a restoration. Set before the mind’s eye the character which you most admire, the person whom you best love--can anything but blind idolatry paint even him to you as perfect? But supposing that the very qualities which you love in their imperfection were but intensified and glorified; that the only change were in the refining away of the dross and alloy of the thing loved, would not the perfecting be a gain unmingled, the “restoration” a joy unspeakable and full of glory? And if it has happened to any one to behold the gradual overclouding of magnificent faculties--the growth of small imperfections, till the result was almost the unloveliness of the lovely; if it has been yours to stand finally by the grave, and bury out of your sight, a face and a form once all but Divine to you, surely you have felt then that the one solace for the loving must be the thought of the restoration, in soul and body, of the loved. But if this be true in cases of exceptional loveliness, how shall it be in the average experiences of human character and attainment? Where is the man not soiled and spoilt by imperfections? What shall we say of faults and blemishes, of follies and meannesses, of failures and irresolutions and broken vows, as we are conscious of them within? Who that has seriously tried the struggle to be holy has not found himself vexed and irritated, if not reduced to despair, by perpetual failure? But if it be so, that I, this faulty man, ever failing, halting, vanquished--seeming to make no way in the race of duty, and purity, and eternal life--shall yet certainly, if I continue to fight, be more than conqueror when I die; shall be clean, sanctified wholly, filled with peace and love, made anew in more than all the thoroughness of the first perfection, when God looked upon all the work of His hands and beheld it “very good”; then I will arise, if need be, from a thousand falls in one day, “cast down but not destroyed,” to say, “Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy, for greater is He that is for me than all that can be against me.”
III. That “restitution of all things” which thus affects earth and the man has an aspect towards God. If there be one thing clear in the Scripture narrative, it is the nearness of God to the as yet sinless Adam. The hiding from God, the expulsion from Paradise, the subsequent approach through sacrifice, the first “calling upon the name of the Lord,” which is mentioned as a feature of the exile--are all so many hints of a change in the facility, the nearness, and the constancy of access to God. The whole history of the race, the whole experience of the life, has been the commentary upon this parable. The sinner has been in hiding from the face of God. Calling upon Him has been an effort. Sin has made it so. Now it is one of the express revelations of “the times of refreshing,” that then the conscious presence, the spiritual Sheehinah, the Divine companionship, will be restored. “I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God,” etc. The greatest of the restitutions will be the restoration of God’s presence. In the prospect of admission into the very presence of God, let us be willing to endure now the difficulty of the pursuit and the delay of the attainment. Every moment now spent in seeking God is an earnest of the time when we shall have found. (Dean Vaughan.)
For Moses truly said unto your fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you … like unto me.
The promised Prophet
I. The appropriateness of God revealing Himself through a human being. For man is the Divine image, and hence God reveals Himself to man through a man, otherwise we could have no knowledge of God. The office of prophet is the most appropriate way of revealing God’s will. When we carry on this line of thought we are landed in the idea that an incarnation of God alone could adequately convey to man the mind and nature of God.
II. A single prophet after the similitude of Moses is to be the mediator for the ages. Now, only one Person answers this description, and that is Christ. He is incarnate God. God’s Spirit He alone could take, and through its gift to men in the different ages make them the channel of Divine revelation (Acts 3:24). As a matter of fact “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” and the prophets were His instruments in the history of the Church. God has spoken in these last days by His Son; and the prophets between Moses and Christ were really the inspired messengers of the one great Prophet. This is the idea of Peter (1 Peter 1:11).
III. The life and death of Jesus, therefore, become the climax of Divine revelation. The previous revelations were but shadows of this. A human history became the embodiment of Divine thoughts, mercies, and self-sacrifice. The blaze of Divinity that was intolerable at Sinai becomes not only bearable but entrancing in the face of Jesus Christ. “We beheld His glory,” but it did not scare men as on the holy mount.
IV. Disregard of the words of Jesus is punishable by death (Acts 3:23). “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.” If disobedience to Moses was visited in many cases by death, how much more disloyalty to Christ (Hebrews 10:28-31). The gospel has penalties of the severest kind for its rejection, as well as bliss beyond compare for its reception. The alternative is thus clearly set before us. (R. M. Edgar, M. A.)
The Prophet like unto Moses
Christ and Moses were alike--
I. As founders of dispensations. It was the greatness of Moses that he was employed by God in inaugurating a new era in the history of His kingdom. In this respect he stood at the head of the Old Testament line of prophets, and in a sense apart from them (John 1:17). He had the ordering and settling of the “house” of God in the form in which it was to last till Christ came, who “as Son over His own house” would revise its arrangements and reconstitute it on a better basis (Hebrews 3:2-7). Prophets subsequent to Moses stood within the lines of economy already established. They could enforce and maintain, but while predicting the advent of a new age in which great changes would be wrought, they had no authority to introduce such changes. It was reserved to Christ to so remodel Mosaic institutions, or abolish and supersede them, as to place the Church upon a permanent basis, and adapt it for the reception of the Gentiles.
II. In the freedom and intercourse they enjoyed with God. Moses enjoyed, as was necessary, the freest intercourse with heaven. God spake with him, not in a vision, or dream, or in dark speeches, but “mouth to mouth” (Numbers 12:6-9), “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). This is made a feature of distinction between Moses and the later prophets. In Christ this peculiarity appears in a higher form. Intercourse with the Father reaches the highest degree of closeness and intimacy (John 14:10). Christ’s insight into the Father’s will was perfect (John 5:20-21), His communion habitual and uninterrupted.
III. As mediating between the people and God. These points involve others. There was resemblance--
1. In the degree of authority with which they were clothed, and in the mighty signs which authenticated their mission.
2. In the fulness and grandeur of their revelations.
3. In the severe penalties attaching to disobedience to their words (Deuteronomy 18:19; Hebrews 2:1-5; Hebrews 10:28-29). (J. Orr, B. D.)
The resemblance between Christ and Moses
As Moses was born in a strange land, so was Christ born in a world and country which knew Him not, in a city which rejected Him. To preserve His life Moses was laid in an ark of bulrushes, as Christ’s life was preserved by the lowliness of the manger in which He lay. Both were of the house of Israel, and children, the one of a priestly, the other of the royal race. The jealousy of Pharoah put the life of Moses in jeopardy as soon as He was born, as Herod sought the life of Christ because of the same jealous fear, whilst both kings ordered the male children to be slain in order to preserve the stability of their respective thrones. Both were mediators between God and a sinful people, and as Moses pleaded for the children of Israel, so does Christ for mankind. Both Moses and Christ were legislators of God’s people, the former for those under the old covenant, the latter for those under the new. As Moses led the people from slavery into the land promised to their fathers, so did Christ deliver His people out of the power of Satan and go before them into heaven. Both Moses and Christ proved the truth of their mission by miracles and signs. As Moses sent forth the twelve to survey the land and encouraged the people to persevere and to enter into Canaan, so did Christ send forth the twelve to teach the people by what means they might take possession of the spiritual Canaan. (W. Denton, M. A.)
Reasons for repentance
Peter urged the Jews to repent because--
I. They believed the prophets. Those prophets had told of the Messiah and His claims, and in those prophets they professed to believe. But they had rejected Christ, and hence the necessity according to their own beliefs of repentance. This appeal is a pertinent one to-day.
II. They already claimed religious privileges (Acts 3:25). Hence their guilt in rejecting Christ. Abraham, the patriarchs and prophets had all been believers, and the blessings of the covenant could be attained only by faith. But faith implied repentance. How many value their privileges under the Christian dispensation, and yet live in sin! But these privileges call them to repentance.
III. God had crowned all their former privileges by sending Jesus. Yet they had rejected Him. So now--
IV. Without repentance they must remain in a state of depravity. They would not be “turned from their iniquities.” Those who do not repent and receive Christ remain among the enemies of God and in the bond of iniquity.
V. Without repentance they must be excluded from the people of God (Acts 3:23). (W. Hudson.)
Ye are the children of the prophets and of the covenant.
The children of the covenant, the Saviour’s first care
I. All who have been dedicated to God by believing parents, are children of the covenant which God has made with their parents, and especially with Abraham, the great father of the faithful.
1. The blessings of the covenant with Abraham were all included in three great promises. The first was, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”; the second, “To thee and to thy seed will I give this land”; the third, “I will be a God to thee and to thy seed after thee.” Of these promises the first was made to Abraham as an individual, and as the ancestor of the Messiah, and we have nothing to do with it, except to receive the Saviour whose coming it reveals. The second was made to Abraham, considered as the progenitor of the Jewish nation; and this promise also has been fulfilled, and we have no concern with it, only so far as it has a typical reference to the heavenly Canaan. The third promise was made to Abraham, considered as a believer, in covenant with God; as the great father of the faithful, or of all who should believe with a faith similar to His own. Of this covenant circumcision was the seal which answers to our baptism.
2. And now the question is, Are the baptized children of professed believers, like the Jews, born in covenant, and stand in the same relation to God? Notice--
(1) It is frequently predicted that the Gentiles should be brought into covenant with God. Thus in Hosea, God says, “I will call them My people which were not My people.” This passage is quoted by St. Paul, to prove our point, and in Isaiah the Jewish Church is assured that the Gentiles shall come to her light, that they shall come bringing her children in their arms, and that these shall supply the place of the children whom she had lost.
(2) We learn from many passages in the New Testament, that all these promises were fulfilled. We are there told that Abraham is the father of all who believe, that the blessing of Abraham has come upon the Gentiles; that all who belong to Christ are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Now one of the privileges which Abraham enjoyed, was the liberty of bringing his children into covenant with God, and one of the promises which was made to him was, “I will be a God to thy seed after thee.” If, then, Christians are Abraham’s heirs, they also have the same privilege; and God’s language to every Christian parent is the same. It appears, then, that Christians stand in the same place, which was formerly occupied by the Jews; we take up what they laid down; we receive the privileges and blessings which they forfeited; and therefore if their children were in covenant with God, so, my Christian friends, are ours. This conclusion is confirmed by St. Paul when he says, “If the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches,” i.e., relatively, holy as being dedicated to God in the ordinance of baptism.
II. If these truths have been established, it follows, that we are authorised to address every baptized child of believing parents in the language of our text. To all such, then, I say, To you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, hath sent Him to bless you, etc.
1. One of the privileges which the Jews enjoyed in consequence of being children of the covenant was, the enjoyment of the first offer of salvation. Thus, when Christ commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel, he charged them to begin at Jerusalem. This command the apostles strictly observed. They preached the gospel at first, we are told, to none but the Jews only; and St. Paul, addressing the Jews at Antioch, says, It was needful that the gospel of Christ should first be preached to you. So now God sends the offer of salvation first to the children of believing parents. In this respect He acts as a wise earthly prince would do. Were such a prince disposed to confer distinguishing favours, he would doubtless offer them to the children of his obedient subjects, who had sworn allegiance to him before he offered them to the children of rebels or strangers. Now your parents have sworn allegiance to God, and engaged to use all their influence to induce you to do the same. In token of their readiness to do this, they have solemnly and publicly dedicated you to God; and He has so far accepted this dedication, that He now sends you the first offer of pardon and salvation through His Son. At the same time He can confer these blessings upon you only by turning you from your iniquities; for so long as you cleave to them, it is impossible that Christ should bless or prove a blessing to you. At the same time you cannot be turned from your iniquities but by your own consent. Christ’s language to you is, “Turn ye at My reproof, and I will pour out My Spirit upon you, I will make known My words unto you. Come ye out from the ungodly world, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and be a Father to you, and ye shall be My sons and My daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
2. And now I ask every baptized person what answer will you return to these invitations? While you were infants, God permitted your parents to act for you; but now you must act for yourselves, and stand or fall by your own choice. And what is that choice? Will you take your parents’ God to be your God? Will you take upon yourselves that covenant which they have made in your behalf, and perform its duties, that you may enjoy its blessings? Will you receive Christ as all must do who would receive power from Him to become the children of God? and as a proof of your willingness to receive Him, will you turn from your iniquities, and renounce all sinful pleasures and pursuits?
3. Permit me to suggest some considerations which may induce you to return such an answer us your duty and happiness require.
(1) You are this day to determine whether God or the world shall be your portion, whether Christ or Satan shall be your king. One of these masters you must serve, but not both.
(2) The choice you make will make a complete discovery of your true characters. If you choose to persist in pursuing worldly objects, it will prove that you are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; nay, that you are irreconcilably God’s enemies, and that the tears, entreaties, and example of your parents cannot induce you to love Him.
(3) Your choice is to be made for eternity. You are not to choose whether you will serve sin and Satan in this world, and God in the next; but whether you will be the slaves of sin, and, of course, the enemies of God for ever.
(4) Your choice will decide, not only your character, but your doom. You must receive the wages of that master whom you choose to serve.
4. Will you, by your conduct, say to all about you, I am a wretch so totally devoid of goodness, that I prefer the world to God, hell to heaven?
(1) If so, surely your guilt will be no common guilt; for you can make no excuse. You cannot even plead ignorance; for you have lived in pious families, and had a religious education. You reject a known, and not an unknown God. After seeing the difference between a life of religion and a life of sin, you deliberately choose the latter. Nay, more, you reject not only God, but your parents’ God; you violate not only the obligations which all His creatures are under to love and serve Him, but the peculiar obligations which result from your baptismal dedication to God. In addition to this, you will be guilty of the most inexcusable ingratitude. In giving you pious parents, God has conferred on you one of the greatest blessings which He could bestow. And will you requite Him for this favour by practically saying, I regret that my parents were pious, or that they dedicated me to God?
(2) If so, remember that as your guilt will be no common guilt, so your punishment will be no common punishment. How awfully aggravated it will be, you may learn from the terrible threatenings denounced against the unbelieving Jews who, like you, were children of the covenant. Christ declares that the very heathen will rise up against them in the day of judgment and condemn them. They who know their Lord’s will and do it not shall be beaten with many stripes. And will you then, by refusing to turn from your iniquities, pull down upon yourselves this terrible fate? Shall all the prayers and exertions of your parents only serve to increase your condemnation? Shall the baptismal water, with which you have been sprinkled, be converted into drops of liquid fire? You are like Capernaum, raised, as it were, to heaven by your privileges. Will you, by abusing or neglecting them, be yourselves cast down to hell--to the lowest hell? And now I wait for your reply.
III. What answer shall I return to Him that sent me, to Him who sends His Son to bless you in turning away every one of you from your iniquities? I suspect that most of you will return no direct answer, but plead for time to deliberate, for a little longer delay. But this cannot be granted. You have already delayed too long. The Jewish children were required to partake of the passover, and appear before God at the solemn feasts, as soon as they arrived at a proper age; and this, as we learn from our Saviour’s example, was the age of twelve years. If they refused or delayed to comply, they were doomed to be cut off from the people; to lose for ever the privileges which they slighted. Now a large proportion of those whom I am addressing, have not only reached, but overpast this period of life. You ought then long since to have embraced the Saviour, and thus have become prepared to appear at the table of Christ, who, the apostle tells us, is our passover that was sacrificed for us. Already you are liable to be cut off for ever from His people, in consequence of delaying to receive Him; and will you then talk of a longer delay? God’s language to you is, “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” “To-day, if ye will hear My voice,” etc. I cannot but fear that some are still delaying a reply, and saying to the preacher as Felix did to Paul, “Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.” But, my friends, I cannot depart without a direct and decided answer. Indeed, if you persist in delaying, I have one; for, in this case, to delay is to refuse. Beware lest there be among you any profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright; for ye know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected, and found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. Conclusion: It was my duty first to offer Christ to others. This duty I have discharged, and am now at liberty to make the same offer to you. Your heavenly Father is more careful for your happiness than even your earthly parents. They refused or neglected to give you to Him in your infancy, but He has provided a Saviour, through whom you may present yourselves to Him and be accepted, The Gentiles accepted Christ, when the children of the covenant rejected Him. Will you then imitate their example? Will you give yourselves to that God whom the children of the covenant neglect? Will you accept the privileges which they despise? If so, the blessing of Abraham will come upon you and your families, as it has on thousands of the Gentiles; and God will make with you aa everlasting covenant, as He did with him, to be a God to you. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The life of Samuel manifests--
I. A holy childhood Four things conduced to this.
1. A mother’s prayers.
2. Dedication to God.
3. A Divine message.
4. Acceptance of the heavenly call.
II. A noble manhood.
1. He was a champion for God. God’s service is ennobling.
2. He was an instrument of God.
(1) An instrument of defence to the people.
(2) An instrument of vengeance, soul, etc.
(3) An instrument of instruction.
3. He was a king maker and governor.
III. A useful end. The great man often does as much in his death as in his life. Samuel, in the solemn moments of his end--
1. Vindicated his life. Not in egotism, but as an example.
2. Reasoned with and admonished the people. He urged them to serve the Lord.
IV. A happy death. He had served God in life. God honoured him in death, and he went to his reward. Here we see the steps to happiness. Mothers, much of your child’s future rests on you. Childhood, how important is your training! A useful life and a happy death follow this. (Homilist.)
Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you.
Sent to bless you
I. God sent Jesus to bless us. We should have thought that after the Jews had slain the prophets, God would have had no more to do with them; or that if He sent His own Son, it would be to take vengeance upon them. But when the Jews murdered Jesus, what would you expect God to do? A human father could scarcely forgive such murderers; it needs a God to do that. What did He do? This: He raised up Jesus, and not to punish evil-doers, but to bless. Many look upon religion as a sad thing; but it is the most joyous inspiration of life. Jesus is not a taskmaster; He gives rest to the weary and help to the heavy-laden. He charms the dullest life, sweetens the bitterest cup, salves the deepest wound, heals the most stricken heart, gives joy to the sorrowful, peace to the troubled, hope to the despairing, pardon of sin to the penitent, salvation from the power of sin to the believer, and eternal felicity to all who trust Him.
II. God sent Jesus to bless us in turning away every one of us from our iniquities. Without sin life would be very joyous; but when we yield to anything which we know to be wicked, gladness at once departs. A man may gratify his wicked propensity, and by so doing satisfy, for the time being, his physical appetite, but the hunger of his soul for peace is not satisfied. The greedy boy, who hides behind the door, away from his brothers, to eat the whole of his big apple alone, is fully satisfying his appetite, yet he is unhappy, and comes from his feast vexed, sullen, and spiritless. Had he divided the apple amongst his brothers, what a joyous lad he would have been! Greediness, or any other sin, brings sorrow to the soul.
1. The greatest blessing, therefore, that God can give us is to turn us away from our sins. We may turn away from sin in our outward life, and, at the same time, love and indulge it in our hearts; but Jesus would turn us from sin altogether; and in order to do so, He begins first with the heart. Make the fountain pure, and the stream shall be pure. The philosophy of the unbeliever tries to guide the human ship by outside pressure; but Jesus puts a rudder to it, and gives it a magnet of love to show its pathway in the trackless deep. He is not satisfied with half-measures. We must be turned away from our sins. There has been, unfortunately for the world, a church-organisation which has allowed its priests to sell indulgences for sin. But Jesus knows sin to be so hurtful, that He could not, at any price, give a licence to permit it. He came to take sin away. A man says, “If I do not cheat, I shall have to go to the workhouse.” Jesus teaches us to reply, “Under such circumstances you would be happier if you walked along an honest path to the workhouse, than on the road of cheating to a palace.” As you would hastily pass a house in which you know the small-pox to be, so would Jesus have us turn away from sin. May the Lord, likewise, turn away every one of us from our sins!
2. The text goes on to say, that God sent Jesus to bless us, in turning away every one of us from our iniquities. Then the worst man in the world is capable of being saved. Here is a man who has been guilty of many crimes, and is now standing at the bar to receive sentence. The judge may say within himself, “No good can be done with this man; he has been twice in penal servitude, and we must now get rid of him altogether.” “Penal servitude for life!” But God dooms no man to life-servitude to sin. Jesus comes to open the prison doors in the soul of every one of us; and the man who is the chief sinner of this age may be saved. Your life may be like a tangled string, which you have tried to unravel, but failing to do so, you have thrown it among the ashes. That tangled string wearied your patience, and you gave it up; but though your life just now is like the tangled string, Jesus is not weary of blessing you, and in this world He will never give you up. As every tangled string can be undone, so every sinful life can be converted. God sent Jesus to bless such as you; and His skilful fingers, His loving heart, and His patient Spirit will work in you until you are like Himself.
III. Jesus turns us from our iniquities by--
1. The powerful inducement of pleasing God. To call upon a man to turn from iniquity because it will be a good thing for himself is to appeal to his lowest motive, and is not the most successful way in winning souls. To bribe a man by promising something good if he will serve the Lord, or to intimidate him by the threat of the torment of hell, is a popular way of winning men, but it is the least successful. The most powerful force in the heart of a child is the love which constrains him to obedience, because if he did wrong he knew it would grieve his mother. Jesus draws us effectually from sin by reminding us of the loving heart of God; our sin grieves Him, and it should pain us to grieve His loving heart.
2. Revealing the goodness of God. His goodness in first loving us should draw us to Himself. After Jesus had risen from the dead, He said, “Go and preach the gospel to every creature, beginning at Jerusalem.” He was not angry because the Jews rejected and crucified Him; and there was nothing in His heart but love to them. (W. Birch.)
The servant of the Lord and his blessing
I. The boldness and loftiness of the claim which is here made for Jesus Christ.
1. Long ago Peter had said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And as long as Jesus Christ had been with them none of them had wavered in that belief; but the Cross shattered all that for a time. “We trusted that it had been He that should have redeemed Israel.” There had been plenty of pretenders to the Messiahship (Acts 5:36), and death had disposed of all their claims. And so it would have been with Christ, unless He had risen from the dead. But the faith and hope in His Messiahship which had died with Him on the Cress, rose with Him to newness of life--as we see from such words as these.
2. Now the characteristic of these early addresses contained in chap. 2.-4., is the clear decisiveness with which they put forward Christ as the fulfilment of Jewish prophecy. The Cross and the Resurrect el poured a flood of light on the Old Testament. Almost every word here has reference to some great utterance of the past, which now for the first time Peter is beginning to understand.
(1) “God, having raised up His Son Jesus.” The reference is not to the resurrection, but to the prediction in Acts 2:22. Now that prediction, no doubt, refers to the prophetic order, and the word, “a prophet,” is a collective, meaning a class. But the order does not come up to the ideal of the prophecy. For the appendix to the Book of Deuteronomy is plainly referring to the prophecy, when it sadly says, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses.” The prophetic order, then, was a prophecy by reason of the very incompleteness of the noble men who composed it; not only by their words, but by their office and by their limitations, they pointed onwards to Him who not only, like the great law-giver, beheld God face to face, but from the beginning dwelt in the bosom of the Father and therefore declares Him perfectly to men. The manifold methods and fragmentary portions of the revelations to the prophetic order are surpassed by the one final and complete utterance in the Son, as noonday outshines the twilight dawn.
(2) “His Son Jesus” means, literally, a “boy” or a “child,” and like our own English equivalent, is sometimes used with the meaning of “a servant.” For instance, we talk about “a boy,” or “a maid,” or “a man,” meaning thereby to express the fact of service in a graceful and gentle way; to cover over the harsher features of authority. So the centurion in Matthew’s Gospel, when he asks Christ to heal his little page, calls him “his boy,” which our Bible properly translates as “servant.” The reasons for adopting “servant” here rather than “son” are these: that the New Testament has a distinct expression for the “Son of God,” which is not the word employed here: and that the Septuagint has the same expression which is employed here as the translation of Isaiah’s, “the Servant of the Lord.”
(a) Now it is interesting to notice that this expression as applied to Jesus Christ only occurs at this period. Altogether it occurs four times in these two chapters, and never again. Does not that look like the frequent repetition of a new thought which had just come to a man and was taking up his whole mind for the time? The Cross and the resurrection had opened his eyes to see that the dim majestic figure that looked out on him from the prophecy had had a historical existence in the dear Master whom he had lived beside; and we can almost perceive the gladness and surprise swelling his heart as he thinks--“Ah! then He is ‘My servant whom I upheld.’ Of whom speaketh the prophet this? Wonder of wonders, it is of Jesus of Nazareth, and we are His witnesses.” If you turn to the second half of Isaiah’s prophecies, you will find that they might almost be called the biography of the Servant of the Lord. And whilst I admit that the collective Israel is often intended by the title “the Servant of the Lord,” there remain other parts of the prophecy which have distinctly a person for their subject, and which cannot apply to any but Him that died and lived again. For instance, is there anything which can correspond to the words, “when His soul shall make an offering for sin He shall see His seed”? Who is it whose death is the birth of His children, whom after His death He will see? Who is it whose death is His own voluntary act? Who is it whose death is a sacrifice for others’ sin? Who is it whose days are protracted after death, and who carries out more prosperously the pleasure of the Lord after He has died?
(b) But that name on Peter’s lips is not only a reference to prophecy, but it is a very beautiful revelation of the impression of absolute perfection which Christ’s character made. Here was a man who knew Christ through and through; and the impression made upon him was this: “All the time that I saw Him there was never a trace of anything but perfect submission to the Divine will.” Jesus asserted the same thing for Himself. “I do always the things that please Him”: “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” Strange claims from one who is meek and lowly of heart! Stranger still, the world, not usually tolerant of pretensions to sanctity, has allowed and endorsed the claim.
(c) So the claim rises up into yet loftier regions; for clearly enough, a perfect and stainless man is either an impossible monster or something more. And they that fully believe that God’s will was absolutely and exclusively done by Jesus Christ, in all consistency must go a step further and say, “He that perfectly did the Father’s will was more than one of us, stained and sinful men.”
II. The dawning vision of a kingdom of world-wide blessings.
1. Peter and all his brethren had had their full share of Jewish prejudices. But I suppose that when they found the tongues of fire sitting on their heads they began to apprehend that they had been intrusted with a world-wide gospel. The words before us mark very clearly the growing of that consciousness, while yet the Jewish prerogative of precedence is firmly held. “Unto you first”--that was the law of the apostolic working. But they were beginning to learn that if there were a “first,” there must also be a “second”; and that the very words of promise to the father of the nation which he had just quoted pointed to “all the nations of the earth” being blessed in the seed of Abraham. If Israel was first to receive the blessing, it was only that through Israel it might flow over into the whole Gentile world. That is the true spirit of “Judaism,” which is so often spoken of as “narrow” and “exclusive.” There is nothing clearer in the Old Testament than that the candle is lighted in Israel in order that it might shed light on all the chambers of the world. That was the genius of “Judaism,” and that is Peter’s faith here.
2. Then, again, what grand confidence is here! What a splendid audacity of faith it is for the apostle with his handful of friends to stand up in the face of his nation to say: “This Man, whom you hung on a tree, is going to be the blessing of the whole world.” Why, it is like the old Roman story of putting up to auction in the Forum the very piece of land that the enemy’s camp was pitched upon, whilst their tents were visible over the wall. And how did all that come? Was all that heroism and enthusiasm born out of the grave of a dead man? The resurrection was the foundation of it, and explains it, as nothing else can do.
III. The purely spiritual conception of what Christ’s blessing is. What has become of all the Jewish notions of the blessings of Messiah’s kingdom? That had not been the kind of kingdom of which they had dreamed when they had sought to be first in it. But now the Cross had taught Peter that Him hath God raised up a Prince and a Saviour to give--strange gift for a prince to have in his hand--“to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins.”
1. The heart, then, of Christ’s work for rice world is deliverance from sin. That is what man needs most. There are plenty of other remedies offered for the world’s ills--culture, art, new social arrangements, progress of science and the like, but the disease goes deeper than these things can cure. You may as well try to put out Vesuvius with a teaspoonful of cold water as to cure the sickness of humanity with anything that does not grapple with the fundamental mischief, and that is a wicked heart. There is only one Man that ever pretended He could deal with that, and it took Him all His power to deal with it; but He did it! And there is only one way by which He could deal with it, and that was by dying for it, and He did it! So He has conquered. “Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?” When you can lead a crocodile out of the Nile with a bit of silk thread round his neck, you will be able to overcome the plague of the world, and that of your own heart, with anything short of the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ.
2. The secret of most of the mistaken and partial views of Christian truth lies here, that people have not got into their hearts and consciences a sense of their own sinfulness. And so you get a tepid, self-sufficient and superficial Christianity; and you get ceremonials, and high and dry morality, masquerading under the guise of religion: and you gel Unitarian and semi-Unitarian tendencies in churches. But if once there came a wholesome, living consciousness of sin all such mutilated Christianity would crumble.
3. So I beseech you to put yourself in the right place to understand the gospel by the recognition of that fact. But do not stop there. It is a matter of life and death for you to put yourselves in the right place to receive Christ’s richest blessing. You can only do that by feeling your own personal sin, and so coming to Him to do for you what you cannot do for yourselves, and no one but He can do for you.
4. And notice how strongly the text puts the individuality of this process. “Every one”--or rather “each one.” The inadequate notions of Christianity that I have been speaking about are all characterised by this amongst other things: that they regard it as a social system diffusing social blessings and operating on communities by elevating the general tone and quickening the public conscience and so on. Christianity does do that. But it begins with dealing with men one by one. Christ is like a great King, who passing through the streets of His capital scatters His largesse over the multitude, but He reserves His richest gifts for the men that enter His presence chamber. Even those of us who have no close personal union with Him receive of His gifts. But for their deepest needs and their highest blessings they must go to Christ by their own personal faith--the flight of the solitary soul to the only Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
Christ and His blessing
I. The parties concerned. Why was the first offer of Christ made to the Jews?
1. Because they were the only Church of God for that time. And God hath so much respect for the Church, that they shall have the refusal and the morning-market of the gospel.
2. They were the children of the covenant (verse 25). God follows a covenant people with more offers of grace than others.
3. Christ came of them after the flesh, and was of their seed (Romans 9:5), to teach us to seek the salvation of our kindred first.
4. That He might magnify His grace and faithfulness, not only in the matter of the gospel, but even in the first offer of it (Romans 15:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15).
5. This was necessary too for the confirmation of the gospel. Christ did not steal into the world privately, but He would have His law set up where, if there were any falsehood in it, it might easily be disproved; and because the main of the Jewish doctrine was adopted into the Christian, and was confirmed by the prophecies of the Old Testament, they were the only competent judges to whose cognisance these things should be first offered.
6. That the ruin of that nation might be a fit document and proof of God’s severity against the contemners of the new gospel (Acts 13:45-47).
7. That the first ministers might be a pattern of obedience, to preach where God would have them, to preach in the very face and teeth of opposition.
II. The benefit offered: wherein is set forth the great love of God unto the people to whom the gospel comes.
1. In designing such a glorious person as Jesus Christ: “having raised up His Son Jesus.”
2. In that He gave notice, and did especially direct and send Him to them: “hath sent His Son.”
3. Why He came among them in His Word: it was “to bless them.”
III. The blessing interpreted. They expected a pompous Messiah, that should make them an opulent and potent nation. But Christ came to convert souls unto God.
IV. What it is to be turned from sin. Take these considerations:
1. Man fallen, lay under the power and guilt of sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). So man was both unholy and guilty.
2. Christ came to free us from both these.
(1) The guilt (Ephesians 1:7);
(2) and the power (Titus 3:5).
3. To be turned from sin implies our whole conversion. Though one part only be mentioned, the term “from which,” yet the term “to which” is implied (chap. 26:18).
4. That remission of sins is included in our conversion to God (verse 19, chap. 5:31).
V. It is a blessed thing to be made partakers of this benefit. Blessedness imports two things--
1. An immunity from, or a removal of, the great evil, and that is sin.
(1) The great cause of offence between God and us is taken out of the way (Isaiah 59:2).
(2) We are freed from the great blemish of our natures (Romans 3:23).
(3) We are freed from the great burden of sin.
(4) Being turned from our sins, we are freed from the great bane of our persons and all our happiness (Psalms 32:1-2; Romans 8:1).
2. The enjoyment of positive good. It is a blessed thing to be turned from our sins because--
(1) This is the matter of our serenity, comfort, and peace here (Isaiah 32:17).
(2) It is the pledge of our eternal felicity hereafter; for heaven is the perfection of holiness, or the full fruition of God in glory (Hebrews 12:14; Ephesians 1:13-14). (T. Manton.)
Christ and His blessing
I. God raised up His Son Jesus to be a prophet (verse 22, Deuteronomy 18:15).
1. To teach the will of God (Isaiah 61:1).
2. To expound it to us (John 14:2; John 15:15).
(1) By His prophets (1 Peter 3:19; Nehemiah 9:30).
(2) Himself (Hebrews 1:1-2; Hebrews 2:2-3).
(3) His apostles (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).
(4) His ministers (Ephesians 4:11-12).
II. God sent Him.
1. By promise in the Old Testament (1 Peter 1:10-11; 1 Peter 3:19; Genesis 3:15).
2. In person in the New (Galatians 4:4-5).
(1) First to the Jews (Acts 2:39; John 4:22).
(a) He was first promised to them.
(b) Born of them.
(c) Manifested Himself first among them (Matthew 4:12; Matthew 4:17).
(2) To the Gentiles also (Acts 2:39; Acts 11:18; Acts 15:7-9; Galatians 3:14; Genesis 22:17-18).
III. He was sent to bless us (Genesis 22:17-18).
1. To purchase a blessing for us (Galatians 3:13-14).
2. To apply it to us.
IV. His great blessing is conversion from sin (Psalms 1:1; Psalms 32:1; Psalms 23:2). lsit not a blessed thing to know--
1. Our sins pardoned (Matthew 9:2).
2. God reconciled (Romans 5:1).
3. That we have an interest in Christ (1 John 3:24).
4. To have a pacified conscience (2 Corinthians 1:12).
5. To delight ourselves in the best things (Psalms 1:2).
6. To be related to God (Galatians 4:6).
7. To have all things blessed to us (Romans 8:28).
8. To have an infallible evidence of our title to heaven (Romans 8:1; Matthew 25:46).
V. Christ has purchased this blessing for us (Matthew 1:21; 1 Peter 1:18; Titus 2:14; 1 John 3:8).
(1) Pardon; therefore conversion (Ezekiel 18:30; Acts 2:38).
(2) Peace with God; therefore conversion.
(3) Redemption from misery; therefore conversion (Luke 13:3).
(4) Heaven; therefore conversion (John 3:16; Hebrews 13:14).
2. How? Note--
(1) All men are sinners.
(2) Christ undertook to cleanse us from our sins.
(3) This could not be but by purchasing the same grace we lost by sin.
(4) No way to obtain grace but by the Spirit of God.(Ezekiel 36:27; Numbers 14:24).
(5) God would not send His Spirit until man’s sins were satisfied for, and so God reconciled.
(6) Christ by His death satisfies for sin (1 John 2:2).
(7) And so purchased the donation of the Spirit (John 16:7).
(8) The Spirit sent into our hearts, turns us from sin (2 Thessalonians 2:13). (Bp. Beveridge.)
The blessed mission
I. God’s gracious act, “Raised up Jesus.”
II. God’s merciful purpose, “To bless you.”
III. God’s blessed way, “By turning every one of you,” etc.
IV. God’s great encouragement, “To you first” (H. Allon, D. D.)
The gospel blessing
I. The work is not described only as Christ’s, but rather as God’s work in Christ. We are too ready to make a difference; to think of God as all justice, and of Christ as all love. In past days men had used a loose and unscriptural language about Christ’s calming God’s wrath. The language of Scripture is always this: “God so loved the world,” etc. What things soever the Son doeth, these also doeth the Father likewise. There is but one will, one work. Never run away from God, but ever seek Him and see Him in the Son.
II. Christ has a mission to us. There is no thought more delightful than that of the mission of Christ as He now is in heaven; of His having an errand, and apostleship still towards us (Hebrews 3:1). We are all called to from heaven: that is the meaning of “partakers of a heavenly calling.” We are all like Saul of Tarsus when Jesus Christ spoke to him suddenly from heaven. Christ is calling to us. In His Word, by His minister, in conscience, by His Spirit also. And then, as we recognise this truth, we are told also to fix our thoughts upon Him as “the apostle of our profession” (or confession). God has sent, is sending, Him to us, with a message, addressed to each one of us separately, “every one of you,” not a vague, general, promiscuous mission, but a direct and single one to each. You are not lost in a crowd. If this be so, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great,” because so minute and so personal, “a salvation?”
III. A mission of what sort? Is it that of One who comes from the dead to appal and to terrify? the apparition of a reprover and a prophet of evil? Hear the text: “to bless you”; to speak well of you; to declare good to you; and in the very act of doing so, to communicate the good of which He tells. Is not this the very notion of a Gospel? It is not a threatening, a reproof, it is not even a condition of acceptance, or a rule of duty: it does not say, like the Law, “Do this, and thou shalt live”: its essential character is that of an announcement; tidings of something already done; the good news of some change which God has made in our state and in our prospects. And what is that? Surely that God forgives us, whatsoever we are. God sent Him not to curse, but to bless; not to judge the world, but to save.
IV. How is this mission of blessing made effectual?
1. Is it a flattering of human vanity, a lulling of human indolence, the intelligence that God has forgiven, and that therefore man may lie asleep in his sins that, where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, and that therefore we may continue in sin if only to swell the triumphs of Divine grace? None of these things. “Sent Him to bless you, in turning away each one of you from his iniquities.”
2. Does this description of Christ’s work seem to militate against the former? Does any one say, Then, after all, the gospel is a law: it is only the old story once again, You must be holy, and then God will save? Oh the ignorance and the hardness of these hearts of ours! Is there no difference between working for forgiveness and working from forgiveness, between being holy because we are loved, and being holy that we may be loved, between the being commanded to turn ourselves from our sins, and the being blessed by finding ourselves turned from them by another? Your hearts tell you that there is all the difference! Which of us knows not something of the force of gratitude? Which of us has not felt that it is one thing to please a person as a duty, and another to please a person out of love? Which of us has not known the strange effect of a word or an act of affection, from one whom we are conscious that we have injured? how it sometimes rolls away the whole barrier between us, makes us ashamed of our ill-temper, and heaps coals of fire upon our head? Even thus is it with the man whom God has forgiven. How did David begin to inquire, “What reward can I give unto the Lord for all His benefits that He hath done unto me?” and answer himself, saying, “I will receive the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord”: yea, I will love much, having been much forgiven!
3. But there may be some here present who cannot understand the connection of the words. They may be saying, I know that my sins are wrong; and I can understand being required to part with them: but how can it be a blessing to give up this pleasant thing which sin is to me? But does your sin make you happy? Have you found the pleasure of sinning as great as its anticipation? Have you found the morning after sinning a bright and pleasant awakening? Have you never known what it was to curse the fetter which bound you, and to long (even without hoping) to be free? Have you not sometimes looked back upon a past and now unattractive sin with bitter remorse, with astonishment at your own infatuation? Then that experience has shown you what it would be to look back upon a life of sin, from a world where it will be too late ever to repent. A thing which has all these marks of misery upon it cannot be happiness. If there is any power or any person, in earth or in heaven, who can set us free from this influence, the coming of that power or that person may indeed be said to be a blessing. Cost us what it may, it will be a blessing if it succeeds. And when that victory is wrought wholly through the power of love; through an assurance of free forgiveness; through the agency of an inward influence as sweet as it is constraining; how much more may it be so regarded! God grant that each one of us may know it for ourselves! (Dean Vaughan.)
The blessing of Christ in the heart
Lady Somerset at Chicago said that in a fisherman’s but in the extreme north-east of Scotland, she saw a picture of our Saviour, and as she stood looking at it the fisherman told her its story: “I was way down with the drink,” he said, “when one night I went into a ‘public,’ and there hung this picture. I was sober then, and I said to the bar-tender, ‘Sell me that picture, this is no place for the Saviour.’ I gave him all the money I had for it, and took it home. Then, as I looked at it, the words of my mother came back to me, I dropped on my knees, and cried, ‘O Lord Jesus, will you pick me up again, and take me out of all my sin?’” No such a prayer is ever unanswered. To-day that fisherman is the grandest man in that little Scotch village. “I asked if he had no struggle to give up liquor; such a look of exultation came over his face as he answered, ‘Oh, madam, when such a Saviour comes into the heart He takes the love of drink right out of it.’ This Saviour is ready to take every sin out of your heart if only you will let Him.”
Christ’s errand of mercy
After the long, sharp winter, a bright, beautiful day comes like a benediction. As I looked up toward the welcome sun, this thought came into my mind: Yonder sun is ninety-six millions of miles away. These rays of light have travelled all that stupendous distance, and yet I have only to drop the curtain of my eyelid and I am left in total darkness. There might as well be no sun as to have his rays shut out at the last instant from this little doorway of my eye. Even so has the Lord Jesus Christ come from His infinite, far-away throne, on His errand of mercy, to a sinner’s soul. That sinner has but to close up his heart’s door and keep it bolted, and for him there might as well have been no redemption and no Redeemer. Eternal life is refused, eternal death is chosen at that very spot, the door of the human heart. (T. L. Cuyler.)
The generous mission of Christ
When Madame Sontag began her musical career she was hissed off the stage at Vienna by the friends of her rival, Amelia Steininger, who had already begun to decline through her dissipation. Years passed on, and one day Madame Sontag, in her glory, was riding through the streets of Berlin, when she saw a child leading a blind woman, and she said, “Come here, my little child, come here. Who is that you are leading by the hand?” And the little child replied, “That’s my mother; that’s Amelia Steininger. She used to be a great singer, but she lost her voice, and she cried so much that she lost her eyesight.” “Give my love to her,” said Madame Sontag, “and tell her an old acquaintance will call on her this afternoon.” The next week in Berlin a vast assemblage gathered at a benefit for that poor blind woman, and it was said that Madame Sontag sang that night as she had never sung before. And she took a skilled oculist, who in vain tried to give eyesight to the poor blind woman. Until the day of Amelia Steininger’s death, Madame Sontag took care of her, and her daughter after her. That was what the queen of song did for her enemy. But, oh, hear a more thrilling story still. Blind, immortal, poor and lost, thou who, when the world and Christ were rivals for thy heart, didst hiss thy Lord away--Christ comes now to give thee sight, to give thee a home, to give thee heaven. With more than a Sontag’s generosity He comes now to meet your need. With more than Sontag’s music He comes to plead for thy deliverance. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
God’s plan for making us happy
We are told, in a simple allegory, that when man was made in the image of God, one of the bright angels about the throne was appointed to wait upon him, and to be his constant companion. After this beautiful image had been marred by sin, Happiness could no longer recognise the Heavenly Father’s likeness upon earth, and pined to go back to her happy home on high. Fallen and wretched man now wandered about searching for a friend to make good his loss. He looked on the fair face of Nature, and saw her gay and cheerful; but Nature assured him that she could offer no alleviation for his misery. Love appeared so bright and joyous, that man, in his disappointment, turned next to her; but she timidly shrank back at his approach, while her tender eyes overflowed with tears of sympathy. He now sought friendship, and she sighed and answered, “Caprice, anxiety, and the fear of change are ever before me.” Disappointed at these repeated failures, man followed after Vice, who boasted loudly, and promised great things; but even while she talked with him the borrowed roses dropped from her withered brow, and disclosed the wrinkles of sorrow and the deep furrows ploughed by pain. Retreating in haste from the haunts of the vile enchantress, he now sought for Virtue, hoping that the secret of happiness might be learned from her; but she assured him that Penitence was her proper name, and that she was powerless to bestow the boon he craved. Brought down at last to the verge of despair, man applied to grim Death, who relaxed his forbidding aspect, while he answered with a smile: “Happiness can no longer be found upon the earth. I am really the friend of man, and the guide to the blessedness which his heart yearns after. Hearken to the voice of Him who died on the Cross of Calvary, and I will, at last, lead man through the shades of the dark valley to the delectable mountains, where Happiness makes her perpetual abode.” The allegory which I have thus tried to repeat, is a mere expansion of the text. God does not secure happiness to His people--
I. By making all of them rich. Instead of saying, “Blessed are ye rich,” He says, “Blessed are the poor.” The only really happy rich man is the one who acts as God’s steward, paying his lawful tithes to the Church, and dealing kindly with the suffering poor. Dr. Guthrie says: “Money will buy plenty, but not peace; money will furnish your table with luxuries, but not you with an appetite to enjoy them; money will surround your bed with physicians, but not restore health to your sickly frame: it will encompass you with a crowd of flatterers, but never promise you one true friend; it will bribe into silence the tongues of accusing men, but not an accusing conscience; it will pay some debts, but not one, the least, of your debts to the law of God; it will relieve many fears, but not those of guilt, the terrors that crown the hour of death.”
II. By bestowing on us the empty honours of the world. It is true, multitudes imagine that happiness is to be found in them; but experience always proves how grievously they were mistaken. The devil seems to have persuaded himself that even the Son of God could be tempted by such a bribe. A mandarin puffed up with a sense of his high position was fond of appearing in the public streets, sparkling with jewels. He was annoyed, one day, by an uncouth personage, who followed him about, bowing often to the ground, and thanking him for his jewels. “What does the man mean?” cried the mandarin; “I never gave you any of my jewels.” “No,” returned the other; “but you have let me look at them, and that is all the use you can make of them yourself. The only difference between us is, that you have the trouble of watching them.”
III. By affording them a large share of worldly pleasure. Most of the things which are called “worldly pleasures “ not only fail to make people happy, but leave positive misery behind them. And then, the terrible phantom, which, in moments of solitude and silence, must disturb the minds of the most frivolous--the end; when God shall bring all these things into judgment. When the Chevalier Gerard De Kampis, a rich and proud man, had finished his magnificent castle, he gave a great entertainment to all his wealthy neighbours. At the close of the sumptuous banquet, the guests made speech after speech, lauding their host to the skies, and declaring him to be the happiest of men. As the chevalier loved flattery, this fragrant incense was most acceptable; and nothing disturbed his equanimity, until one of the guests who had, thus far, kept silence, gravely remarked: “Sir Knight, in order that your felicity should be complete, you require but one thing, but this is a very important item.” “And what thing is that?” demanded the astonished nobleman. “One of your doors must be walled up,” replied his guest. At this strange rejoinder several of the guests laughed aloud, and while Gerard himself began to think the man was mad, he preserved self-control enough to ask: “Which door do you mean?” “I mean that through which you will one day be carried to your grave.” The words struck both guests and host, and the proud man saw the vanity of all earthly things, and began from that moment to lay up treasure in heaven.
IV. But by sending His Son Jesus, “to turn away every one of them from his iniquities.” There can be no salvation for us, unless we are delivered from our sins. God only makes men happy by making them holy (Matthew 1:21). Lycurgus would allow none of his laws to be written, insisting that the principles of government must be interwoven with the lives and manners of the people, as the only sure way of promoting their happiness. He who would abide by the commandments of God must be able to say with David, “Thy word have I hid within my heart.” He who will be received into the presence of God and enjoy the blessedness of heaven, is “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). We are made heirs of glory only by putting on Christ; but we are “made meet for the inheritance of the saints” through a studied and careful conformity to the Divine precept: “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” Say of no sin, however trivial it may appear, “Is it not a little one? “ but following after holiness, let evil under every possible disguise be your abhorrence. (J. W. Norton, D. D.)
The gospel turns men from sin
If a physician were called to see a patient who had a cancer on his breast, the only thing to be done would be to cut it out from the roots. The physician might give palliatives, so that the patient would have less pain--or he might make his patient believe it was no cancer--or forget that he had a cancer near his vitals; but if the physician were to do this instead of removing the evil, he would be a wicked man and the enemy of his patient. The man’s case was such that the only favour which could be conferred upon him would be to cut out the cancer. Now all agree that sin is the great evil of the soul of man. Nothing can make man more spiritually happy here, or fit him for happiness hereafter, but the removal of sin from his nature. Sin is the plague-spot on the soul which destroys its peace, and threatens its destruction unless removed. It is therefore certain that if the love of God were manifested towards man, it would be in turning man from sin which produces misery, to holiness which produces happiness. (J. B. Walker.)
Turning away every one of you from his iniquities.--
The blessedness of conversion
I. That the indulgence of sin is the grand source of human misery. We increase by our own transgressions the maladies to which we are naturally exposed: our understandings become more confused; our affections more depraved; our passions, appetites and tempers more unrestrained and virulent; our disappointments more bitter and acute; and all this progressive advancement in evil and misery is the consequence of increasing indulgence in sin.
II. That christ especially blesses His people in turning away every one of them from their iniquities.
1. In that as a prophet He enlightens their understanding to perceive the evil, the misery, and the ruinous consequences of sin, both as it regards the present and the future state.
2. This turning from iniquities is progressive; at first the gross and outward acts of sin are cut off, unlawful and expedient pleasures, and indulgences follow, many things of a doubtful and indifferent nature are then relinquished. The tongue, the temper, the thoughts, are gradually brought more and more under regulation and restraint; holy principles are cultivated; the spirit of fervent charity takes possession of the soul; and pity, meekness, forbearance, compassion, patience, holy resignation, lively hope, and heavenly joy increase and abound. (T. Webster, B. D.)
The return of the affections to God
The history of man on this side of the grave is like the history of the natural world: the seasons change; if the winter chills, the summer warms; if darkness wraps in its shade, light cheers with its brilliancy. Thus joy and sorrow, hope and fear, satisfaction and perplexity are mingled together. Under these circumstances it is very material to know whether there be any mode of defending ourselves against such an increase of sorrow, and of insuring to ourselves such an increase of comfort. Here in the text is a chart to the wanderer, a light to the benighted, a shelter to the forlorn, a certainty to the dubious! The misery of man lies chiefly in the circumstances of his moral condition; he is wretched under the effects of his iniquities. His remedy must be found in the return of his affections to God; God sent Christ to bless you by turning you away from your iniquities. The sorrows of man mainly issue from the depravity of his affections. He is guilty before God. Certainly his passions, earthly and selfish, spurn every barrier when occasions exasperate their movements. To restrain them under such excitements is as impracticable, as, by the weight of the dews of heaven, to chain down the fiery matter which a volcano is about to cast forth. But to come to individual experience. From whence does the largest portion of man’s sufferings arise? Is it not from the disordered state of his affections? Is there not a disease of the heart, which is widely prevalent, and which no skill can heal? To reproduce happiness in a sinful being requires, therefore, a remedy applicable to the inward disease in his mind; a remedy which not only respects a new and favourable relation on the part of God, but also a new and holy state of the affections on the part of man. In other words, the happiness of a sinner will depend first upon, the conviction that God has pardoned him, and secondly, upon the consciousness that he loves the Being who has thus tenderly dealt with him. Now the remedy which Christianity brings forward to the view of him who believes it, is exactly of this kind. “Jesus Christ came to bless you by turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” He holds out to us pardon and peace, and He gives us the disposition to love the nature and the heart from which that pardon flows! In this complex operation the means of human happiness are unfolded. The pardon of sin is complete and free, unclogged with any condition or qualification. “There is no more condemnation,” but perfect reconciliation and peace. Now the belief in this truth, under the agency of the Spirit, conveys healing to the heart. Sin becomes loathsome when its consequences are thus made visible in the personal sufferings of Jesus Christ, and obedience to the will and mind of God then becomes identical with peace and happiness. Thus Christ blesses by turning away from iniquity, by procuring at once the pardon of sin, and by healing the disease of sin; by restoring peace in the relations between God and man, and by making God’s character the glowing object of attractive imitation. (G. T. Noel, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25