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Bible Commentaries
Acts 4

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NTBurkitt's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

Observe here, 1. How the apostles preaching to, and instructing the people, stirs up the devil's rage, and brings upon themselves a severe persecution: Well might Luther say, Quid est evangelium pradicare, nisi in nos furorem diaboli derivare? "At the preaching of the gospel gates of Satan's prison fly open, and the walls of his kingdom are shaken; he finds himself in danger of losing his principality." No wonder then that he raises all the powers of hell, and stirs up all his instruments on earth to stop the mouths of the preachers of the gospel.

Observe, 2. The persons by whom, and the cause for which this persecution was now stirred up against the apostles; namely, the Jewish priests, the Gentile captain, and the sottish Sadducees: As they spake, the captain of the temple, the priest and Saducees came upon them. These were distinct persons, and they were differently distasted; the captain, who was placed with the band of soldiers near the temple to guard it, was offended for fear of a tumult from such a vast appearance of people as came to see the recovered cripple. The priests were offended, because the apostle, being private men, went about publicly to teach and instruct the people, not considering the extraordinary call which the apostles had. The Sadducees were displeased, because they preached the resurrection from the dead; that is, through the power and efficacy of Jesus: Asserting Christ to be doth the efficient and also the exemplary cause of the resurrection; and inferring from Christ's resurrection, that all his followers should arise with him, and like unto him.

Observe, 3. How far God suffered these persecutors and this persecution to proceed: They laid hands upon them, and put them in hold. How easily might this band of soldiers have taken away the lives, as well as imprisoned the bodies of the apostles! But God restrained them, and led on the apostles to their suffering gradually; they were yet but young pupils in Christ's school; therefore they shall not have trials beyond their strength. God will not call his servants to a martyr's fire, till he has first endued them with a martyr's faith; for this reason God sufered not the storm of persecution to break forth with over much violence upon this new planted church at first.

Observe, 4. What was the event of that violence which was now offered to the apostles; God over-ruled it for his church's advantage, and a wonderful increase, by a new addition of five thousand souls more added to it.

O wonderful draught of fish at the second casting out of the gospel net! These fishermen, Peter and John, now became, by the help of the Holy Spirit, fishers of men, according to their Master's prediction, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:19

Many which heard the word believed, and the number of them was about five thousand Acts 4:4, This infant-church flourished the more by the frownings of men upon her. Plures efficimur, quoties metimur ab illis, Tertull. "Like a green meadow, which the oftener it is mowed, springs the faster, and becomes thicker."


Verse 5

Here observe, 1. What a combined force did unite and join together of rulers, Scribes, elders, high priests, high priests kindred, and who not? They all, though of different interests, yet hold together as one, to extinguish and put out the light of the gospel, as soon as it began to shine forth. Need we wonder that the devil struggled so hard at the dawning of the reformation to blow out the light of the gospel; when we consider what opposition he discovered against the first plantation and propagation of the gospel? As Herod would have strangled Christ in his cradle, so would the high priest have stifled Christianity in its infancy. They all gathered together at Jerusalem. Sad! that a message of such glad tidings as the gospel, should meet with so bad entertainment.

Observe, 2. How the apostles are here arraigned and questioned. By what name and authority; that is, by what power or virtue they had done this? Some think, they suspected the apostles to have wrought by the black art, being assisted by the devil. But did not this miracle give a sufficient convincing light to demonstrate that it was heaven-born, and shewed evidently that it was wrought by a supernatural and divine power? Cursed men! who accounting it a credit for themselves to do evil, make it a crime for the apostles to do good: Was there any reason for their asking, by what power, when the thing itself proclaimed it to be done by the power of God?

Observe, 3. The bold and resolute answer of St. Peter, to the foregoing malicious and ridiculous question.

Where note, 1. His holy courage.

2. The cause of it.

He was filled with the Holy Ghost. In the 5th and 6th verses, we find a full bench, not of justices, but of professed enemies, enough to have dashed ten prisoners at the bar out of countenance. But behold the ingenuous and holy boldness of a good Christian in a good cause. St. Peter, who formerly, when full of himself, was baffled by a damsel, and frighted into a denial of Christ by a silly wench; now being filled with the Holy Ghost silences and confounds his most potent and malicious accusers.

Lord! how woefully weak are we when we rely on our own strength, but how able to do all things when Christ strengthens us! In te stas et non stas, says St. Austin. "Thou art sure to come down when thou stands on thine own legs; but shall be mightily upheld and carried on, when supported and conducted by God's hand."

Observe, 4. A singular instance of the apostles' boldness: namely, in preaching Jesus Christ to them that had imprisoned them. Be it known unto you, that this Jesus whom ye crucified, is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, and is become the head of the corner; neither is ther salvation in any other &c.

Where note, 1. The title given to the rulers of the Jewish church, Builders; So they were by office, and here are called so, to remind them of their duty; namely, to increase, strengthen, and beautify the building, the church of God; not to demolish, weaken, or deface it.

Note, 2. The contempt which these builders cast upon Christ the chief corner stone; they refused him and set him at naught, according to the prophecy, Psalms 118:22 which was a prophecy of the rejection of the Messiah, though the Jews would not so understand it; for they dreamt of such a pompous Messias coming according to their hearts desire, that it should be incredible that any Jews should ever reject or despise him.

Note, 3. the title given to Christ, the corner stone; so called, because he supports and sustains the whole building; and as the corner stone is equally necessary for both sides of the building, which are united to it and borne up by it, in like manner both Jew and Gentile are united in Christ, and saved by him.

Verse 12

Observe here, 1. A positive assertion, that there is no salvation but by Christ; or, that besides, or without him, there is no possibility of salvation, either for Jew of Gentile; both those under the Old Testament have, one and the same common Saviour.

Observe, 2. The ground and reason of this confident assertion, That there is no salvation but by Christ; namely, because there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved:

That is, no other person designed or appointed by God, to be the author of redemption to, and procurer of salvation for, a lost and miserable world, but only Christ.

Take we good heed then, that we do not reject or set him at naught; for in rejecting of Christ, we reject the wisdom of God, the authority of God, the love of God, yea, the salvation of God.

Verse 13

Observe here, 1. How convincing the boldness of the apostles was, together with the undeniable evidence of the miracle wrought by them: When the council observed both, they marvelled, the apostles being unlearned men, yet now able to speak all languages, and the cripple born lame, now able to leap and walk. These men were convinced, but not converted; silence, but not satisfied; they marvelled, but not believed: they were full of admiration, but far from faith. The evidence of the fact, with the courage of the apostles, stopped their mouths at present, but did not cure their hard hearts.

Observe, 2. At what a nonplus the council was, to know what to do with the apostles; they confess the miracle, but consult upon ways and means how to conceal it; and at last conclude upon threatening them, That for the time to come they speak no more in the name of Jesus; that is, not to preach in his name, nor work miracles by a power and authority derived pretendedly from him. Bt the apostles soon let them understand, that they esteemed not the threatenings of the counsel, nor looked upon them as any excuse for the forebearing of their duty; as appeareth by the next words.

Verse 19

Observe here the prudence and integrity of the apostles in referring it back to the judgment of their very adversaries, whether it was reasonable to obey their command, when they charged them to preach no more in the name of the Lord Jesus.

As if the apostles had said, "We have received a command from God to preach, Go teach all nations, Matthew 28:19 and we have received a command from you not to preach: now we leave it with you whether it be fittest and most reasonable to obey God or you?" It is a strong way of conviction to refer a matter to their judgment and conscience, against whom we make opposition.

Learn, That when the commands of God's vicegerents run counter to the commands of God himself, God is to be obeyed, and not man.

Verse 21

Here observe, 1. That notwithstanding this rational plea, which the apostles used, the council added further threatenings and so dismissed them, because of the people, who looked upon the miracle with admiration, and glorified God for working it by the apostles' hands.

Where note, That it was not the sense of sin, nor any apprehensions of God's displeasure that influenced the council to set the apostles at liberty; but either the fear or favour of the people. Thus God made the people a restraint to the ruler's rage.

Observe, 2. That the apostles thus dismissed, went immediately to their own company, (that-is, to the hundred and twenty mentioned, Acts 1:15) and acquainted them both with their danger and deliverance, the better to prepare them for sufferings, and encourage them to hope for the like support under them.

Observe, 3. What use the church makes thereof: they hearing how their enemies lay in wait to persecute and destroy them, apply themselves to God by fervent prayer.

Thence learn, That it is the church's duty when enemies combine together to do mischief, to give themselves much unto prayer. Thus did the church here, and the like, Acts 12:1-12.

Observe, 4. The prayer itself, which they jointly put up at the throne of grace, with one heart and spirit.

And here note, 1. They began their prayer with invocation, and a reverent compellation, suitable to their present sufferings; adoring God's omnipotency in creating and governing of the word. Lord ! thou art God, who hast made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that is therein.

Whence learn, That the power and wisdom of God in creating and governing the world, doth afford singular support and comfort under the sense of present of future sufferings. He that made all things by his power, will over-rule all things by his providence for his own glory and his church's good.

Note, 2. The apostles used scripture-language and expressions in their prayer: they allude to Psalms 2 and acknowledge that all that enraged malice of men and devils against the Messias, which was foretold long ago by the prophet David, was now come to pass: For both the Jewish council and the Roman governors had combined together against Christ, and in opposing him, had opposed the Father that sent him. Of a truth against thy holy child Jesus are they gathered together, to do what thy hand and thy counsel had determined before to be done.

Where we see, 1. That all the sufferings of Christ were fore-ordained and determined by God the Father; God from all eternity decreed that Christ should die a sacrifice for sin.

2. That this decree of God did not necessitate the Jews to sin; but they acted freely and voluntarily, according to the wicked determinations of their own wills. God foresaw and permitted it, but no ways influenced or compelled them to it. He over-ruled those evil instruments to fulfil his holy purposes, while they intended only to fulfil their own wicked counsels.

Observe lastly, They close their prayer with a fervent petition, that God would strengthen them, and glorify his Son.

1. That God would strengthen them against their fears; steel them with courage, and fortify them ith impregnable resolution; Grant that with all boldness we may speak thy word. Boldness to preach the gospel, when unjustly forbidden, is a special gift of God, and a great effect of God's grace unto his servants.

2. They request that God would magnify, not them, but his Son by them, in giving them power to work miraculous cures in the name of Jesus, for confirming of the gospel, Grant that signs and wonders may be done by the name of the holy child Jesus.

Where note, That the gift of miracles, though promised by Christ, is yet prayed for by the apostles. God will have the performance of his promises to be the answer of our prayers.

Verse 31

Observe here, 1. The special and speedy answer which the Lord gave to the apostles' prayer: As a testimony thereof, the place where they prayed is miraculously shaken, and many eminent graces and special gifts of the holy Spirit were poured out upon the apostles, particularly a greater measure of boldness to preach the gospel; and, as some think, the wonderful gift of conferring the Holy Ghost was now conferred upon the twelve; so Dr. Lightfoot. The Holy Spirit, which caused them thus to pray, gave them that holy boldness which they prayed for; with signal shaking of the place which they prayed in.

O! how ready is God to hear and answer the prayers and pleading of his righteous servants, especially when suffering for righteousness sake!

Observe, 2. The great unity, and happy unanimity which was found amongst the ministers and members of this infant church, this purest and most primitive Christian church; They were of one heart and of one soul: That is, they were one in doctrine and opinion, and they were one in heart and affection; A singular pattern for succeeding Christians to the end of the world, so to carry it one towards another, as members of the same body, and influenced by the same head.

Observe, 3. At their unanimity, so their liberality, in contributing to the necessities of each other. They called nothing their own, when their brethrens' wants required it; the rich readily sold their possesions and goods, to help and relieve the poor. Notwithstanding, this example cannot be a copy for after-times, to follow as a command, or to imitate as a perfection: Seeing that such was the state of the church at that time, as was never since, nor like to be; it was but newly born: It was all in one city; all in a possibility to be soon scattered by persecution. Res qua erat temporaria necessitatis et lieri arbitrii, non debet in exemplum trahi, multo minus ut necessaria obtrudi.

The lesson to be gathered from this instance for our instruction, is this, That those who are of ability, ought to abound always in ordinary, and sometimes in extraordinary acts of charity. We must always relieve the saints' wants as we are able, and sometimes upon an extraordinary occasion, above what we are well able.

Observe, 4. How the apostles with great authority and assurance gave testimony to the resurrection of Christ, and their doctrine found great favour and acceptation with the people, With great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all Acts 4:33. The resurrection of Christ from the dead, was the great point now in controversy, therefore with evident miracles and wonderful gifts of the holy Spirit, did the apostles perform their testimony of his resurrection. So that as Christ was declared to the apostles to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead; in like manner, the apostles by miracles and wonderful gifts did bear witness to the certainty of our Saviour's resurrection, and their doctrine found acceptance with the people.

Learn hence, 1. That our Lord Jesus Christ by the almighty power of his Godhead revived and rose again from the dead, to the consternation of his enemies, and the consolation of all believers.

2. That the doctrine of Christ's resurrection being not only attested by the preaching, but confirmed by the miracles of the apostles, found deservedly belief in the world, and is a point of infallible certainty amongst all those whom willful obstinacy has not blinded.

Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Acts 4". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/acts-4.html. 1700-1703.
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