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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Acts 4

 

 


Other Authors
Verses 8-10

DISCOURSE: 1747

THE CRIPPLE HEALED BY PETER

Acts 4:8-10. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

PERSECUTION for righteousness’ sake was foretold by Christ as the portion of all his people: and accordingly we find, that no sooner did his Apostles begin to publish the glad tidings of salvation, than they were arrested as criminals, and brought into a court of justice to answer for their conduct. Peter and John had healed a man who had been “lame from his mother’s womb.” In consequence of this, multitudes were gathered together, to inquire into this miracle, and to learn by what means it had been wrought. Peter declared to them all, that it had been wrought by that very Jesus, who had so recently been crucified by them, but who was risen from the dead, and possessed of all power in heaven and in earth [Note: Acts 3:1-16.]. This testimony was the means of converting an immense number of persons to the faith of Christ [Note: ver. 4.]. But it grieved and incensed the rulers, who immediately adopted measures to crush the rising sect; apprehending and imprisoning the two Apostles, and on the very next day bringing them to trial as disturbers of the public peace. Peter renewed the testimony he had before given, and persisted in declaring, that the miracle had been wrought by Jesus of Nazareth, in proof that he was risen from the dead, and was the true Messiah, the Saviour of the world.

In considering this miracle, we shall notice it,

I. As a ground of conviction to the Jews—

That a great miracle had been wrought, was manifest to all, insomuch that the rulers themselves were constrained to acknowledge it [Note: ver. 14, 16.]. Hence Peter took occasion to shew them,

1. That Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah—

[It was obviously beyond the power of man to effect so great a work, as that of restoring in a moment to the perfect use of his limbs “a man who was forty years of age,” and had been a cripple from the womb. Whence then did Peter and John obtain the power to effect it? This was the point which the rulers desired to ascertain [Note: ver. 7.]; and this could be learned only from the Apostles themselves. Peter boldly answered the interrogatories which were put to him; and declared, that the lately-crucified, and now exalted, Jesus had empowered them to communicate this blessing to the man [Note: Acts 3:16.]. But how could he convey to them this power, if he were not himself alive? or how could he enable them to do what nothing but Omnipotence could effect, if he himself were not omnipotent?

This argument was addressed to the very people who had bribed the soldiers a few weeks before to say, that the Disciples had come, whilst they were asleep, and had stolen the body of Jesus from the tomb. But though the rulers had satisfied their nation by accounting in that manner for the supposed resurrection of Jesus, they did not now dare to bring forward such an absurdity in anwer to the Apostles: for of what use would the dead body of Jesus be? could that enable the Apostles to work a miracle? or would God communicate miraculous powers to them for the express purpose of sanctioning the most wicked falsehood that could be fabricated?

Here then the argument was incontrovertible: a miracle had been wrought: the persons who had been the instruments of effecting it, ascribed the power to Jesus, who, agreeably to the prophecies concerning him, had been “set at nought by the builders, and was become the Head of the corner [Note: ver. 11.]:” there was therefore no alternative left, but to acknowledge Jesus as the true Messiah. How infatuated must they be, who could withhold their assent from so plain a truth!]

2. That they in God’s sight were the worst of murderers—

[They had not been able to fix any charge of guilt upon him: seeing that he had in all things approved himself “The Holy One and the Just:” yet had they insisted on his crucifixion, when Pilate, convinced of his innocence, had “determined to let him go:” yea, though he was “the Prince and Author of life,” they had preferred “a murderer” and destroyer of life before him [Note: Acts 3:13-15.]. It was true, they had acted “ignorantly,” blinded by their own prejudices and passions [Note: Acts 3:17.]: but still they were highly criminal in the sight of God; and must perish to all eternity, if they did not look to Him as their Saviour, whom they had crucified as a malefactor.

What a tremendous charge was this! To be accused of murder! of murdering the Prince of life, and “crucifying the Lord of glory!” But the charge was undeniable: and no hope of mercy remained to them, but by repenting of their guilt, and seeking to be cleansed from it in that very blood which they themselves had shed.]

But, as the miracle in this view is profitable chiefly to the Jews, we shall proceed to consider it,

II. As a ground of consolation to us—

Whilst we enter into all the feelings of the man that was restored, and are ready, as it were, to unite with him in all the expressions of his joy, we cannot but regard his miraculous restoration as calculated,

1. To confirm our faith—

[What cannot the Lord Jesus Christ effect? Whose soul can he not heal as easily, and as effectually, as he healed the body of that poor man? “Is there any thing too hard for him?” — — —]

2. To encourage our hope—

[Long had that man neglected the opportunities which the presence of Jesus at Jerusalem afforded him: for we cannot doubt, but that if he had applied to Jesus for relief, as myriads of others did, he would not have applied in vain. But now the mercy which he had never thought of seeking, was conferred upon him unsolicited [Note: Acts 3:6-7.]. What then will not Jesus do for them that ask him? What though we have slighted him all our days, and have never so much as thought of him till this present hour; will he spurn us from his footstool? Has he not said, that “Whosoever cometh to him, he will in no wise cast out?” — — —]

3. To inflame our love—

[We wonder not at the ecstacies of the restored man: we should rather wonder if he had not so expressed his joy and gratitude. But have not we also cause for joy? Does not every recovery from sickness, or every continuance of health, proceed from the same source? and is it not equally a ground of praise and thanksgiving? The circumstance of his cure being miraculous attracted more attention, it is true; but it added nothing to the value of the blessing bestowed: and if we were duly sensible of the benefits we enjoy, we should glorify our God even as he did.

But what if the Lord Jesus Christ has healed our souls? What if, by his life-giving word, he has quickened us from the dead? Should not we praise and magnify his name? Would not “even the stones cry out against us, if we held our peace?” See what the prophet foretold as the effect of the preached Gospel; “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing [Note: Isaiah 35:6.].” See what David experienced as the result of this mercy to his own soul [Note: Psalms 103:1; Psalms 103:3.]; and know, that if the same external demonstrations of joy be not called for, the same internal frame of mind as the healed cripple possessed, should distinguish every one that professes to believe in Christ — — — “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits towards me?” is surely as proper to be asked on account of spiritual blessings, as of any mercies that can be vouchsafed to our poor perishing bodies.]

Improvement—

1. Let us seek ourselves to be living witnesses for Christ—

[Little did this healed cripple imagine what weight he added to the Apostles’ testimony, or how the sight of him confounded all the enemies of the Lord Jesus. And little does the consistent Christian imagine to what a degree he strengthens the hands of those who preach the Gospel. Truly we take courage when we can appeal to the effects of our ministry on the hearts and lives of our hearers. O let those who profess to have received the truth, shew, that the grace of Christ has wrought as effectually on them for the renovation of their souls, as it wrought on the cripple for the restoration of his limbs. Let every temper and disposition of our minds constrain our enemies to acknowledge, that “we have been with Jesus,” and are blessed monuments of his transforming power [Note: See Isaiah 43:11-12.] — — — Such an exhibition of his power and grace will glorify him more than all the bodily cures he ever wrought [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. with Isaiah 62:3.].]

2. Let us never be afraid to vindicate his cause—

[It was but lately that Peter was intimidated by the voice of a servant-maid; but now he boldly confronted the whole Sanhedrim, and charged them all with the murder of their Messiah. Thus, if the whole world were to rise against us for our attachment to Christ, we should not give way to any unworthy fears, or be deterred from confessing him openly before men. We must indeed look well to our own spirit, and guard against the intemperate sallies of an angry or vindictive mind: the apostolic rule should be rigidly adhered to, “Be ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear [Note: 1 Peter 3:15.]:” but still we must never be ashamed of Christ, but “be faithful unto death, if ever we would receive from him a crown of life” — — —]


Verse 12

DISCOURSE: 1748

SALVATION BY CHRIST ALONE

Acts 4:12. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

FROM the account given us of the miracles wrought by our blessed Lord, we should be led, not only to acknowledge him as the true Messiah, but to consider what we ourselves may expect at his hands. His Apostles, Peter and John, had healed a man who had been lame from his birth. The spectators, filled with astonishment, were ready to ascribe the honour of this miracle to them: but they told them by whom it had been effected, even by Jesus, whom they had rejected; but who, notwithstanding their contempt of him, was, and by this miracle had proved himself to be, “the head-stone of the corner [Note: ver. 11.].” They then directed the attention of their auditors to their own eternal interests, and assured them, that as Jesus alone restored the cripple to the use of his limbs, so Jesus alone could save them from everlasting perdition [Note: It is evident that the text refers, not to bodily healing, but to a salvation which the Apostles themselves, and all their hearers, stood in need of.].

In discoursing upon the words before us, it will be proper to notice,

I. What is implied—

Nothing can be more clearly implied than that there is salvation for us in Christ. It may be thought that it is unnecessary to insist upon so plain and obvious a truth, more especially among those who call themselves Christians: but this truth is far from being universally known; and the grounds on which it stands are very little considered: and, if it were as well understood as we are apt to imagine, still there would be a necessity for dwelling frequently upon it, on account of its vast importance, and of “determining with St. Paul to know nothing among our people but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

In confirmation of it, we shall appeal,

1. To the typical representations of Christ—

[There were a great variety of sacrifices under the law, which typified the Lord Jesus Christ. The lamb that was offered every morning and evening, foreshewed “the Lamb of God that should take away the sin of the world:” and the scape-goat, which bore the iniquities of all Israel into an uninhabited wilderness, exhibited in yet more striking colours the removal of our guilt by a transfer of it to the head of Jesus. To dwell on all the ceremonies that were appointed on different occasions for the expiation of sin, is needless: suffice it to observe, that “the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sin;” and that if those offerings had not respect to Christ, they were altogether unworthy, either to be prescribed to man, or to be accepted for him. But the efficacy of those sacrifices for the ends for which they were instituted, proves, beyond a doubt, the infinitely greater efficacy of that sacrifice which Christ in due time offered on the cross [Note: Hebrews 9:13-14.].]

2. To the positive declarations concerning him—

[Nothing can be conceived more clear and strong than the Scripture declarations of Christ’s sufficiency to save. How forcibly has the prophet marked the extent [Note: Isaiah 45:22.], the fulness [Note: Isaiah 1:18.], and the freeness [Note: Isaiah 55:1-2.] of his salvation! He invites “all the ends of the earth,” even persons defiled “with crimson sins,” to accept all the benefits of the Gospel, “without money and without price.” In the New Testament the same things are spoken with all the energy that language can afford. All, without exception, are exhorted to come to Christ [Note: Matthew 11:28. John 6:37.], with all assurance that he will cleanse them from all sin [Note: 1 John 1:7 Acts 13:39.], and bestow upon them freely all the blessings of grace and glory [Note: John 4:10; John 7:37; John 7:28.]. Is all this a mere mockery and delusion? It surely is so, if Christ be not “able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him [Note: Hebrews 7:25.].”]

3. To matter of fact—

[We can draw aside the veil of heaven, and point to some before the throne of God, who are such monuments of grace as leave no doubt respecting the sufficiency of Christ to save any others whatsoever. Behold that man, a murderer; a murderer of no common stamp: he was not satisfied with shedding the blood of a few of his fellow-creatures, or of those who were deserving of death; but he “made the very streets of Jerusalem to run down with blood, and that with the blood of innocents.” Moreover, this was but a small part of the guilt he had contracted; so various and so enormous were his crimes. Yet is he, even Manasseh, a chosen vessel, in whom God is, and for ever will be, glorified.

Seest thou that woman also? We know not the particulars of her conduct; but she was so vile and notorious a sinner, that it was a disgrace to notice her, yea, our Lord’s condescending to notice her was made a ground of doubting his divine mission: nevertheless she also, though once possessed by seven devils, is now in glory. She received, while yet upon earth, an assured testimony, from our Lord himself, that her sins, numerous as they were, were all forgiven [Note: Luke 7:47-48.]: and now is she singing the triumphs of redeeming love, as loud as any in heaven.

We could easily refer to a multitude of others, whose enormities were beyond all measure great, who nevertheless were “washed, justified, and sanctified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.].” But enough has been said to put out of all question the blessed truth we are insisting on, namely, that Jesus is a Saviour, and a great one, and able to deliver all who trust in him [Note: Isaiah 19:20.].]

Let us now turn our attention to,

II. What is expressed—

What solemn asseverations are these in the text! One would have supposed that the former of them would have been quite sufficient: but the Apostle thought no repetitions superfluous, nor any accumulation of words too strong, on such a subject as this. Indeed, it is of infinite importance to every one of us to know, that, as there is salvation for us in Christ, so “there is no salvation in any other.”

1. There is not—

[In whom else can we find the requisites of a Saviour? In whom can we find a sufficiency, either of merit to justify, or of power to renew, a sinner? If we should apply to the highest angel in heaven to give us of his merit, he would tell us that “he himself is only an unprofitable servant; for that he does no more than is his duty to do [Note: Luke 17:10.].” If we should entreat him to change our hearts, he would confess his utter inability to effect so great a work. Shall we then look to ourselves? We are full of sin. Our merit is found—where? not in heaven truly, but in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone [Note: Romans 3:19.]. “Nor have we in ourselves a sufficiency even to think a good thought [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.];” much less to renew ourselves after the Divine image. None but Jesus could atone for sin: none but Jesus could yield such an obedience to the law as should be capable of being imputed to others: none but Jesus can send down the Holy Spirit into the souls of men, or say to them, “My grace is sufficient for you [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]:” and therefore “there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved.”

If there were any other Saviour, the most eminent of God’s servants would have had some intimation of it. Abraham, the friend of God, and the father of the faithful, would probably have heard of him: but he knew of none other; for he sought acceptance through Christ alone, and was justified solely through faith in him [Note: Romans 4:3-5.]. David too, the man after God’s own heart, who was inspired to write so much respecting Christ, would probably have been acquainted with such an important fact in order to his own salvation; but he sought refuge in none but Christ; “Purge me with hyssop,” says he, “and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow [Note: Psalms 51:7.].” We might hope at least that some information of this kind would have been given to the Apostle Paul, who was more fully instructed in the mind and will of God than any other person: yet he knew of no other name but that of Jesus; he renounced all hope “in his own righteousness, that he might be found in Christ [Note: Philippians 3:9.];” and “he determined to insist on nothing, in all his ministrations, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:2.].”

Whether therefore we consider the insufficiency of all the creatures to stand in the place of a Saviour to us, or the utter ignorance of all the Prophets and Apostles respecting the appointment of any creature to sustain that office, we may be sure that there is none other than the Person mentioned in the text, who is a man indeed, but is, at the same time, “God over all blessed for evermore.”]

2. There cannot be—

[We presume not to be wise above what is written; or to say what God might have done if he had pleased: but we are fully warranted by the Scriptures to say, that, consistently with God’s honour, as the Moral Governor of the universe, man could not have been saved without a Mediator: nor could any mediator besides Jesus have been found to execute all that was necessary for our salvation. It was necessary that the justice of God should be satisfied for the violations of his law; that his holiness should be displayed in a marked abhorrence of sin; that his truth should be kept inviolate by the execution of his threatenings; and that his law should be honoured, as well by an obedience to its precepts, as by an enduring of its penalties. Now none but Jesus, who was God as well as man, could effect all these things, and therefore none but he could save us.

But there is yet another ground on which we may deny that any other could save us; namely, that if we were indebted to any other, either for righteousness or strength, we could not join in the songs of the redeemed in heaven, but must separate from the heavenly choir [Note: Revelation 7:9-10.], and ascribe to ourselves, or to some other, (inasmuch as we were indebted to ourselves or them,) the honour of our salvation. And how would this comport with the dignity of Jehovah, who has determined “that no flesh should glory in his presence?” It is in vain to say that the glory would ultimately accrue to him: for if we be saved by, or for, any thing of our own, we may, and must, so far take the glory to ourselves [Note: Romans 4:2.]: and that would create discord in heaven, and be irreconcileable with the honour of the Divine Majesty.]

Address—

1. The careless—

[Wherefore are men so indifferent about their spiritual concerns? Is it that they are in no danger of perishing? If that were the case, why is so much said respecting salvation? and why are we cautioned so strongly against relying on any but Jesus Christ? Surely the very circumstance of Christ being sent down from heaven to die for us, is enough to alarm all our fears, and to convince us, that, if the salvation offered us could be procured by none but him, the danger of those who are not interested in him must be inexpressibly great. Let the careless then consider this; and flee for refuge to the hope that is set before them.]

2. The self-righteous—

[It is difficult to convince those who are looking to Christ in part, that they are really renouncing Christ altogether. But the Scriptures are so plain on this point, that there cannot be the smallest doubt respecting it. Salvation is “of faith, on purpose that it may be by grace [Note: Romans 4:16.]:” and if it be, whether in whole or in part, by our own works, it ceases to be of grace: it must be wholly of grace, or wholly of works [Note: Romans 11:6.]: it must exclude boasting altogether, or else admit it. But boasting must be excluded wholly [Note: Romans 3:27.]: and therefore all dependence whatsoever on our own works must be wholly and for ever renounced [Note: Romans 3:8.]. If we will not accept salvation on these terms, “Christ shall profit us nothing [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.].”]

3. The desponding—

[The person healed by Peter and John was a very fit emblem of our state by nature and practice. “We are transgressors from the womb.” But, desperate as in appearance our condition is, there is in Jesus a sufficiency of power and grace to make us whole: “his name, through faith in his name, shall give us a perfect soundness in the presence” of God and man [Note: Acts 3:16; Acts 4:10.]. Let none complain as though they were beyond the reach of mercy: for there is nothing impossible with Jesus: “with him there is mercy; with him is plenteous redemption; and he shall redeem Israel from all his sins [Note: Psalms 130:7-8.].”]


Verses 18-20

DISCOURSE: 1749

CONTEST BETWEEN PREJUDICE AND RELIGION

Acts 4:18-20. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we hare seen and heard.

WHEN we see the enmity of the human heart against religion in these days, we are ready to impute some blame to the persons in whom that religion is displayed: it scarcely seems possible that a thing so excellent and beautiful as true religion should be an object of offence. But if we look back to the first establishment of Christianity, we find that the same aversion to it was then manifested by ungodly men, even though it was exhibited in the purest form, and was recommended by the most beneficent and stupendous miracles. In the history before us we see in a very striking view,

I. The force of prejudice—

Nothing can be conceived more unreasonable than the conduct of the Jewish Rulers towards the Apostles—

[They saw that a wonderful miracle had been wrought in confirmation of the doctrine which the Apostles preached [Note: ver. 16.]. Now what line of conduct would candour have prescribed? Would not any person under its influence have inquired about the doctrine, and compared it with the Holy Scriptures? Would he not have examined carefully whether there was any real connexion between the miracle and the doctrine, and whether it was indeed a testimony from Heaven to the truth of Christianity? But behold how the Jewish rulers acted on that occasion: they imprisoned the Apostles, tried them as criminals, disregarded all evidence in their favour, and, when they could not subvert the doctrine by argument, determined to suppress it by authority. They would have proceeded even to punish the preachers of it, if they had not been afraid of exciting discontent among the people: it was fear alone, and not equity, that prevented them from proceeding to yet severer measures. Their language, in effect, was this: ‘A great miracle has been wrought indeed; but we will not have it mentioned. The doctrine which it was intended to confirm, appears to be from God; but we will not have it mentioned. The tendency of the doctrine, as far as we can judge from the miracle, is most salutary and beneficial; but we will not have it mentioned. The preachers of that doctrine profess to have received a commission from God himself; but we will not suffer them to execute it. They tell us that they open to men the only possible way of salvation; but we care not for the salvation of men, nor will we suffer any further attempts to promote it. They tell us, that it is at the peril of their own souls to decline the office assigned them; but what care we about their souls? they shall not execute their office, though they, and the whole world, should perish through their neglect. They tell us they must obey God; but we care not for God: they shall obey us, and not God; and if they do not regard us more than God, we will make them feel the weight of our heaviest displeasure.’]

But unreasonable as this was, it shews, as in a glass, the precise manner in which the enemies of religion act at this day—

[The truth and excellence of Christianity are universally acknowledged, together with the obligation of all persons to obey it: yet no sooner does any one begin to obey it from the heart, than his friends and relatives endeavour to check his progress. In vain does he bring his sentiments to the test of Scripture; or urge the commands of God, and the awful judgments that will await him if unfaithful to his God: authority, as in the case before us, usurps the place of reason, and the will of man is put in opposition to the will of God. Unreasonable and impious as this is, it is the practice of parents, of masters, of all that are in authority, as far as the laws of the land, or the liberal spirit of the times, will admit — — — and wherever religion most flourishes, there will this conduct most openly prevail [Note: The terms “unreasonable and wicked” are still applicable to the generality of unbelievers. 2 Thessalonians 3:2.].]

This however, for the most part, serves only to call forth,

II. The power of religion—

Beautifully was it exemplified on the occasion before us. Behold the Apostles;

1. How firm their conduct!—

[Lately had they all fled from their Master through fear of participating his troubles; but now they face the whole Sanhedrim, undaunted, undismayed. They knew that God was on their side; and therefore they “feared not what man could do unto them.” This was, and ever will be, the effect of true religion: “the righteous are as bold as a lion:” and they who truly fear God, will cast off every other fear — — —]

2. How forcible their appeal!—

[Their words were few, but unanswerable: for who can doubt whether man should rule, or God? Who can hesitate to determine the question in general, or how to act upon it in his own case? If man can do more for us than God, or prove a more formidable enemy than God, then may we prefer his favour before God’s, and have a greater dread of his displeasure: but if man be so weak as to be crushed before the moth, then may we set at nought all his threatenings, and persist without fear in the service of our God. Indeed, if “we have seen, and heard” aright the blessed truths of the Gospel, we shall so feel their constraining influence, as to defy every effort of men or devils to counteract them.]

From this history then we may learn,

1. What is that doctrine we are concerned to hear—

[That is the true doctrine which proclaims salvation in “the name of Jesus.” This it was which the Apostles preached; and which every minister must preach. There is indeed “salvation in no other name;” and therefore all who desire salvation should embrace it with their whole hearts — — —]

2. What is the treatment we must expect to meet with—

[If we either preach or profess the foregoing doctrine, we must expect the same scenes to be again realized as were exhibited in the Apostles’ days. The enmity of the human heart against God is still the same as ever; and “they who are born after the flesh will still, as much as ever, persecute those who are born after the Spirit.” “Let none then think it strange, if a fiery trial be sent to try them” — — —]

3. What is that conduct we are bound to observe—

[Amidst all the injuries they sustained, the Apostles yielded not either to invective or complaint. But they were immoveable as rocks. Thus must we possess our souls in patience, and maintain our profession steadfast unto the end — — —]


Verse 27-28

DISCOURSE: 1750

CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS FORE-ORDAINED

Acts 4:27-28. Of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

A COMPARISON of events with prophecy is a source of the strongest conviction and consolation to the mind. So the Apostles found it in the hour of trial, when, for the Gospel’s sake, they had been imprisoned, and menaced with the severest punishment that could be inflicted on them. They saw that the prophecies relating to their Divine Master had all been unwittingly fulfilled, even by his bitterest enemies: and they comforted themselves with the thought, that the same God, who had so accomplished his own gracious purposes in relation to him, would in like manner bring glory to himself out of the sufferings which they also were called to endure. They cite before God the prediction brought to their minds; and they declare, that, in all which had been done to the holy child Jesus, they saw nothing less than a complete accomplishment of God’s eternal counsels and decrees.

In discoursing on these words, I will,

I. Confirm their assertion—

The assertion is made in the form of an appeal to God: and it relates to the sufferings of Christ,

1. As fore-ordained of God—

[All of them were fore-ordained, when God determined to give up his only dear Son to die for the sins of men. Man had merited condemnation: and Jesus must be condemned by a legal process, and be “numbered with transgressors.” Man had incurred the penalty of God’s law, and was to be accursed from God: and Christ must die a death which God’s law pronounced accursed, even the death of the cross [Note: Galatians 3:13.]. In executing this judgment, there must be a concurrence of all orders of men, Jews and Gentiles, the highest rulers and the lowest populace; Jews, to accuse him according to their law; and Gentiles, to adjudge him to a death which was not recognised by that law, and which could be inflicted by Gentiles only. Man had deserved the utmost shame and contempt: and to these must Jesus be exposed, even as one “worthy to be abhorred” by all mankind [Note: Isaiah 49:7.]. He must be scourged also [Note: Psalms 129:3.], though that was no part of the punishment connected with crucifixion. A vast number of very minute circumstances, also, were to attend his crucifixion. He was to be betrayed by one of his own Disciples; sold for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave; and, whilst yet upon the cross, to be taunted by the populace, and challenged, if he were not an impostor, to save himself. Vinegar was to be offered to him, instead of a draught that should assuage his anguish: lots were to be cast for his vesture: and though no bone of his was to be broken, he was to be pierced in his hands and feet, and in his side even to the heart [Note: John 19:36-37.]. Together with these, and a multitude of other minute circumstances which were ordained of God to be attendant on his death, it was appointed that he should “make his grave with the rich.”

And all these things the Apostles speak of,]

2. As executed by man—

[The Psalmist clearly predicts the union of all manner of persons, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, in the execution of this bloody tragedy. And the Apostles call God to witness, that the prophecy adduced had been literally fulfilled in Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentile soldiers and the people Israel [Note: Psalms 2:2-3. with ver. 25, 26.]. Yea, so exactly had every prophecy been fulfilled, that it seemed as if all the different classes had been called together, to examine carefully into the predictions; and each person had had his part assigned him, so that not one jot or tittle of them might remain unfulfilled. Judas shall betray him. The chief priests, unable, by reason of their subjection to the Romans, to execute their own law, shall deliver him to Pilate, the Roman governor. He, willing to pacify them, shall have him scourged; but afterwards shall be constrained, by their clamour, to give orders for his crucifixion. The populace shall be ready enough, each in his place, to fulfil the rest; and the Roman soldier, to ascertain, or complete, his death, shall pierce him with the spear. All shall be as active as if they had conspired together to perform their respective parts, and to accomplish every prediction respecting him. Thus it had been ordained of God that it should be: and thus, in fact, it was; even one acting an independent part, as occasion called for it, and as his situation enabled him to act: and thus was there as complete an agreement between the predictions and events, as between a seal with ten thousand lines and the impression taken from it.]

Their assertion being thus confirmed, I will proceed to,

II. Shew the proper and legitimate consequences to be deduced from it—

If we mark only the expressions in my text, we shall be ready to draw from them very erroneous inferences and deductions. We shall be ready to say, ‘If what these people did was only “what God’s hand and counsel had determined before to be done,” we must not condemn them: they were only instruments in the hand of a superior power: and if there be any evil in what they did, it must be traced to Jehovah himself, whose counsel had decreed it, and who, by his power, stimulated them to the commission of it.’ But all this is quite erroneous. Though God had ordained these things, he never instigated any man to the commission of them; he only elevated men to situations, where, if they were so disposed, they might execute all the evil that was in their hearts, and left them at liberty to follow their own will. It was thus that he elevated Pharaoh to the throne of Egypt, and gave him up to the hardness of his own heart: and Pharaoh, of his own mind and will, persisted in his opposition, till the Jews were irrecoverably delivered, and he with all his army were destroyed. Thus St. Peter told the Jews, that though Jesus had been “delivered according to the determinate counsel of God, they with wicked hands had crucified and slain him [Note: Acts 2:23.].” “As for God, he cannot be tempted of evil; neither tempteth he any man [Note: James 1:13.].” In all that those murderers did, they were voluntary agents, and put forth only the evil that was in their own hearts. Therefore to them, and to them alone, must be imputed all the evil which they respectively committed.

But if we look to the facts, they will afford very rich and useful instruction. From them may be

deduced the following most important consequences:

1. That Christ is assuredly the true Messiah—

[If there had been but few predictions relative to the Messiah’s death, and they such as admitted of being carried into effect by a well-concerted conspiracy, the fulfilment of them would have had comparatively but little weight in a subject of such importance. But they were so numerous, so minute, and, if I may so express myself, so contradictory, that it was not possible for his friends to form a conspiracy equal to the occasion. Besides, there were many of the predictions which could not be carried into effect, but by enemies. Who but enemies could deliver him up to the Gentiles? who but enemies could nail him to the cross, and load him with such contempt, and pierce him to the heart with the spear? But when we see so many prophecies fulfilled by people wholly unconnected with each other, yea, and hostile to each other, as Herod and Pilate were, and Jews and Gentiles were, the conviction is irresistible: He is, and must be, the predicted Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world — — —]

2. That no opposition, however sanctioned by the great and learned, should at all weaken our conviction of the truths we have received—

[Against the Lord Jesus Christ were engaged all the great and learned of the land. But was his religion, therefore, the more questionable? No: if there had not been one added to his Apostles as a witness for him, he would still have been the same Almighty Saviour, worthy of all possible honour and trust. So I may say with respect to us at this day. Many will urge, as they did, in reference to our Saviour, “Have any of the rulers and of the Pharisees believed on him? But this poor people are cursed.” Yes, many will ask, with a kind of confidence, ‘What do your governors in Church and State think of your opinions? Do you find them walking in the same strict and self-denying ways that you do?’ I grant, there are not many rich, or mighty, or noble, or wise, that are called: and that, for the most part, it is to the poor that the Lord Jesus Christ is preached; and that by them, almost alone, is he received. But, if this invalidated not in any degree the testimony of the Apostles, neither does it weaken our testimony respecting the Gospel of Christ. “It is to the word and to the testimony” that we make our appeal; and by that must all sentiments be tried and judged. And, if we speak according to the Scriptures, we should not regard it, even though, like Elijah, we, in appearance, stood alone in the midst of the land. I grant, that singularity will not prove us to be right: but neither will it prove us to be wrong. Christ’s have ever been a “little flock,” and his way “a narrow way:” and if ever we would be saved, we must come forth, like Lot, from Sodom; and be saved, like Noah, in the Ark prepared for us.]

3. That no trial shall come upon us beyond what our all-wise God shall see fit to permit, and what our infinitely gracious God will overrule for our good—

[Of all the heavy trials which our blessed Lord sustained, there was not so much as one which was not allotted to him by infinite Wisdom, and rendered subservient to the great ends of his mission. No one could seize him before his time: and though they drove nails through parts full of small bones, and pierced his side with a spear, no one was permitted to break so much as one of his bones. Now, thus will God take care of us, both in our individual and collective capacity. The attempts to destroy his Church have been numerous and sanguinary: but the gates of hell have never been able to prevail against it. And our trials, also, may be heavy; but God has engaged, that “they shall all work together for our spiritual and eternal good.” We may well, therefore, adopt the language of the Psalmist; and say, “We will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled; though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof [Note: Psalms 46:2-3.].” Behold the Lord Jesus Christ as enthroned in glory, and see in what his troubles have issued: or behold Joseph, when at the highest post of honour in Egypt, and his parents and his brethren were bowing down to him. There you see in what his successive trials issued; and how every one was but as a link in the chain of God’s eternal purposes; a link without which, humanly speaking, all God’s purposes respecting him had failed. Be not then cast down, because your troubles are numerous and heavy, and because you cannot yet discern what will be the end of them; but commit yourselves to God, in the assured expectation, that “if you suffer with your adorable Lord, you shall also reign with him in due time, and be eternally glorified together.”]


Verse 31-32

DISCOURSE: 1751

THE BENEFIT OF UNITED PRAYER

Acts 4:31-32. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.

WHETHER, as has been said by many, the blood of the Martyrs has been the seed of the Church, we will not undertake to determine: but we have no doubt but that persecution has greatly tended to benefit the Church in all ages: it has produced a greater degree of separation between the Church and the world, and has thereby contributed very essentially to keep the saints from much contamination, which from a closer union with the world they would of necessity have contracted. It has also driven them to prayer, and brought them help from above: and further, it has united them more with each other, and stirred them up to a greater measure of zeal in strengthening and encouraging one another to fight the good fight of faith. The very unreasonableness of the persecutors has in many instances confirmed the saints in their determination to hold fast the profession of their faith without wavering [Note: Philippians 1:14.]. Certainly if ever persecution was unreasonable, it was so in the instance before us. A most benevolent miracle had been wrought by the Apostles, who took occasion to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name they had wrought it, as the only Saviour of the world. To prevent the extension of their influence, the rulers and elders laid hands upon them and imprisoned them, and with many threats commanded them to speak no more in the name of Jesus. But, behold the effect that was produced, both on the Apostles, and on the whole infant Church! the Apostles were no sooner liberated, than they “went to their own company and reported all that had been said unto them:” and the consequence was, that they all betook themselves to prayer, and obtained help from God to prosecute their work with augmented energy and effect.

The points to which we would call your attention are,

I. The prayer they offered—

The particular point of view in which I wish this to be noticed is, as illustrating the holy superiority to all personal considerations, which the first Christians manifested in the midst of their deepest trials: they disdained to think of their own ease or interests, in comparison of God’s honour, and the welfare of mankind. Yet so far were they from ostentation, that it is from what is omitted, rather than from any thing expressed, that we collect this exalted sentiment. In their prayer,

1. They view the hand of God himself in their trials—

[They address Jehovah as the Creator, and consequently the Governor, of all things both in heaven and earth. They bring to mind a prophecy of David, wherein it was foretold, that all the powers of the world would combine against the Lord and his Christ. They acknowledge that this prediction had been verified in the opposition which had been made to their Divine Master, by all, whether Jews or Gentiles. But in all this they see and confess the hand of God, ordering and directing all things in such a way that his own decrees and purposes should be all fulfilled [Note: ver 24–28.].

Now all this may at first sight appear to have been irrelevant to their case: for, what reference had it at all to their sufferings? The connexion between the two must, as I have said, be found in that which is implied, rather than in that which is expressed. It is as though they had said, ‘Thou, Lord, hast foretold that thy Church and people shall be persecuted: thou hast shewn us, in the person of thy dear Son, what we are to expect at the hands of ungodly men: but, as in his case, so in ours, nothing can be done but what thou thyself hast ordained; nor can the bitterest foe upon earth exceed the commission which thou, for wise and gracious ends, hast given him. We therefore bow not our knees to deprecate any trials, which thou mayest see fit to send, but only to ask of thee such a measure of grace, as shall enable us to sustain them, and such manifestations of thy power as shall carry conviction to the minds of our most obdurate enemies.’ Thus,]

2. They desire only that God may be glorified in them—

[They desire to rise to the occasion, and to have their energy increased in proportion to the difficulties which they have to contend with. Their own concerns are swallowed up, as it were, in the honour of their God. Happy attainment! How surely must those supplications prosper, which are dictated by such a principle, and proceed from such hallowed lips!]

The acceptableness of their prayer will be best seen in,

II. The answer they received—

“The house was shaken wherein they were assembled,” in token that God had heard them, and that he was able to effect whatever should most conduce to their welfare. The Holy Ghost also was poured out upon them in a more abundant measure, not in his miraculous powers, but in his gracious and sanctifying influences: so that the effect was immediately visible in all. Observe the effect which was instantly produced;

1. On the Apostles—

[In them we see an immediate increase of zeal and constancy: “They spake the word of God with boldness; not only not intimidated by the threats of their enemies, but greatly strengthened to execute their office with energy and effect; insomuch. that “with greater power than ever, they gave witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus [Note: ver. 33.].” Mark the connexion of this with their persecution; and see how influential their trials were to render their ministry more extensively beneficial. Their own souls were quickened by the opposition which they met with; they were strengthened from on high in answer to their prayers: every word they uttered was attended with unction and with power: having within themselves the fruits and evidences of Christ’s tender care, they could not but commend him to others, as an able and all-sufficient Saviour, and urge all to seek the blessings which they themselves so richly enjoyed.

Now it is thus that ministers are formed at the present day. If they have experienced but few trials, they possess, for the most part, but little energy. It is only when, under difficult and trying circumstances, “their eyes have seen, their ears heard, and their hands handled the word of life,” that they can speak of Christ with a feeling sense of his excellency. In speculative knowledge they may be complete; but in divine unction they will be very defective; and their words, from the want of that unction, will never reach the heart. Hence God generally permits his most faithful servants to be severely tried, in order that from their own experience they may be able to instruct and comfort the people committed to their charge [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:3-6.].

Next, see the effect produced,]

2. On the Church at large—

[As in the teachers there was an immediate increase of holy zeal, so was there in the hearers a visible augmentation of heavenly love. Instantly “the whole multitude of believers became of one heart and one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things that he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” They all considered themselves as one body: and exactly as the different members of a body, the eye, the ear, the hand, the foot, employ their respective powers, not with a view to any separate interest of their own, but for the collective benefit of the whole, so did these Christians, as soon as ever they were “filled with the Holy Ghost;” every one selling his houses or lands to form one common stock for the support and comfort of the whole.

Mark then here also the effect of persecution; how it united the Lord’s people in one common bond, and advanced their mutual love to a height, which under other circumstances it would never have attained. Doubtless the particular act of casting all their property into one common stock is to be imitated only under circumstances similar to theirs: but the Spirit that dictated that act should abound in us, as much as in them: and it will abound in us in proportion as we possess the grace of Christ. The trials of the saints at this day being light, they know but little of sympathy, and make but little sacrifices for the good of others: but, if they were driven more to God by the sword of persecution, they would feel greater need of sympathy themselves, and would be ready to exercise it in a far larger measure towards others.]

From whence we may learn,

1. Where to go with our troubles—

[Whither should we go, but to that God, who has ordained them all, and promised to overrule them for our eternal good? The Apostles indeed went first “to their own company, and reported all that had been said to them:” but this was for the purpose of comforting and encouraging them, and not with a view to obtain comfort or encouragement themselves; for that they betook themselves to prayer, having engaged all the Church to unite with them in their supplications. The benefit of this measure to all who engaged in it, you have already heard: whilst they were in the very act of pouring out their souls before God, an answer was given from on high; and every soul was filled with grace and peace. And say, brethren, has it never been so with you? Look back to seasons of affliction, when you could find no refuge but in God: have they not proved seasons of peculiar refreshment to your souls? Have you not received “strength according to your day,” so as not only to endure your tribulations, but to glory in them? — — — Bear in remembrance then that direction which God himself has given you; “Call upon me in the time of trouble, and I will hear thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Yes, “cast your burthen on the Lord; and he will sustain you.”]

2. How to recommend our principles—

[It is to the shame of Christianity that there are so many parties amongst us, and that there is so little love exercised by them towards each other. Compare the Church at this time with the Church of Christ in that age: alas! at what a low ebb is vital godliness amongst the professors of the present day! Instead of uniting against the common enemy, they do little but dispute with each other: and, instead of every one denying himself for the good of the whole, they are all immersed in selfishness, and are intent only on their own personal ease or interest. But so did not the saints of old: they constrained their very enemies to say, “Behold, how these Christians love one another!” O that such seasons might speedily return, and that our eyes might witness them in this place! But it is to be feared that we shall never learn this lesson, till we are taught it in the school of affliction. Yet how much better were it to learn it from the example of the primitive saints, and especially from the example of “the Lord Jesus Christ, who. though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich!” Beloved brethren, set these examples before you, and implore grace from God, that you may be able to walk in these blessed paths. Then will you “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” and constrain your very enemies to “acknowledge, that God is with you of a truth.”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Acts 4:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/acts-4.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 19th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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