corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.10.15
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Acts 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-22

Acts 4:1-22

And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them.

The captain of the temple

was an officer of a sort which Luke mentions in the plural in his Gospel (Luke 22:4), and is several times mentioned in the Old Testament, as in Jeremiah 20:1. This officer, with his subordinates, had charge of the Levites, especially of those who kept the night watch in the temple. A hint at the forms and ceremonies which accompanied his duties may be obtained, perhaps, from Psalms 134:1-3, in which verses 1 and 2 are supposed to be the address of these strategoi, or captains or archons of the temple, and verse 3 the response of the Levite watchers. The talmudical name for this captain appears to have been the “man of the mountain of the house [of the Lord],” and he is frequently mentioned in ancient Jewish writings. A little quotation will show a part of his duties: “The man of the mount of the house [or temple] used to make his rounds among the several watches, with burning torches before him. If he found any of the watch not standing on his feet, he said to him, ‘Peace be to thee.’ But if he observed one asleep, he struck him with his staff, and then was at liberty to set on fire his garments. And when he was asked by others, ‘What is the noise in the court?’ he answered, ‘the cry of a lazy Levite, whose clothes have been burned, because he slept on guard.’ Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob said, ‘Once they found my mother’s brother asleep, and burned his garment.’“ It is most probable that this custom is alluded to in Revelation 16:15, “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked” etc. An official of corresponding power, but, of course, different duties, has charge of the temple enclosure in Jerusalem to-day. He is the “Sheikh of the Sanctuary”; and in addressing him the proper form is” Ya Sheikh,” or “O Elder.” (Prof. I. H. Hall.)

Peter and John before the council

1. The name of Jesus was the power that wrought the miracle; or to use the incomparable language of the preacher himself, “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 yon whole.” By the name we are to understand all the powers and prerogatives that centre in the Person. An ambassador borrows all his authority from the name of his sovereign. Paul, in the provincial court at Philippi, saved himself by invoking the name of Caesar. The inquisitors before whom Peter stood on this occasion supposed that Jesus was dead. It was, indeed, true that bodily He had vanished from the sight of men; but He had left behind Him a name in which resided the tremendous power of His spiritual presence, which was destined thereafter to be the working force in history until the whole world should be subjugated to God. For want of ability to discern this fact, Hume and Gibbon and all other undevout historians have been at their wits’ end. They have marked the operations of a mysterious force, working like a magnet, and leading the nations on toward a brighter, better day; but for the most part they have frankly acknowledged their inability to locate or characterise it. The name of Jesus is this unnamed factor in universal history.

2. The name of Jesus, though despised by these inquisitors, has taken precedence of all others in heaven or on earth. Or, again to quote the preacher, “This is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.” Christ dead? Ah, no! Could these ecclesiastics have looked forward through the centuries they would have seen His name written on all scrolls of honour, His Cross glowing on innumerable spires that were to point, like index-fingers, to His throne in heaven, and His kingdom spreading like a vast tabernacle to enfold the world. In vain do kings of the earth set themselves and rulers take counsel together against this Jesus.

3. The name of Jesus alone has power to save; in Peter’s words, “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Among those who listened to the apostle that day there was probably not one who did not cherish some sort of hope of salvation; but if these words were true they were all leaning on broken reeds.

(a) They marvelled that “unlearned and ignorant men” should have such forensic power. Bat they knew nothing of the influence of the Holy Ghost that rested upon them.

(b) They “took knowledge of these men that they had been with Jesus.” The ground of that conclusion lay in the fact that they had manifestly caught His Spirit. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)

Peter and John before the council

A notable miracle had been wrought at the gate of the temple, and a notable sermon had been preached to the assembled crowd, who were filled with wonder and amazement. It is the sequel of that which had been thus done and said which furnishes our present theme. We notice--

I. The offence of the apostles. It was not that they had been the means of bringing healing and health to a disabled man. Most sympathetic souls doubtless were glad. Others, probably (are there not always such?), after a little, began to question this way of coming to his health. It was not according to the regular practice. It was a reflection upon the professed practitioners of the healing art. But this was not the grievance to those with whom the two disciples of Jesus are brought into speedy conflict. These were the ruling class, the Sadducees, of whom were also the officials, both ecclesiastical and civil, who arrested Peter and John and locked them up for more deliberate examination. These were the rulers of the Church in that day; but they were by no means the religious class. The offence of the apostles was not that they had healed the lame man, or even that they had been disciples of Jesus, but that “they taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” It was an offence of doctrine rather than of deed which excited the opposition of these Sadducean rulers. It was the offence of supernaturalism. But there was something more than this in it. Men oppose teachings often because the teachings conflict with the lives which they prefer to live. Supernaturalism always has its foes, for it implies a present God--a God who works, who sees and will judge. Ours is a Sadducean age. Natural science has engrossed the attention of the learned class to a large degree. They will accept mind cure or hypnotism, but not the healing touch of God. They will allow the inspiration of the poet, but not of the prophet. The offence of the Cross is not the only one which stirs up hostility. The offence of supernaturalism is now equally cause of anger and derision as it was in the days of Peter and John.

II. The defence of the apostles. Thus arraigned and thus accused, the two disciples are put in ward until the morrow. This was the very time for which they bad been prepared--the very time to exercise their gift to be witnesses here in the very court of Israel. And that is what they were: not defenders of themselves, but sturdy, truthful, uncompromising witnesses to Jesus and the resurrection. So they rehearse the facts. “You ask us who has done this good deed to the helpless man? Jesus has done it; Jesus the Christ, the Messiah for whom Israel has looked and longed. Nay, you know Him well, Jesus of Nazareth, the Man whom you so lately condemned to death, yes, ‘whom ye crucified’--He is the Author of this cure. For God undid your murder and raised Him from the dead.” So they bore testimony to the thing which had been done. But now they testify to the greater things which He can do. “He is the only One by whom we can be saved. We disciples or your priests and Sadducees can be safe and be saved alone by Him whose name and power has wrought this cure.” The defence of those who believe in supernaturalism is not argument. You cannot reason about the particulars in a sphere which men refuse to recognise. What can you do? You can oppose your faith to their unbelief, your confidence to their incredulity. You can give your ringing testimony to what you know. Testimony will win the day for Christ sooner and more surely than reasoning; for it will secure a hearing for the reasons of the faith that is in the disciples. Witnesses are more important than advocates. A hundred reasons why it should be so are not half as strong as one “It is so.”

III. The change of the judges. After this form of a trial, the accusation and the defence, the court retires to consult. They cannot deny the facts. Facts are unfortunately stubborn things. What shall they do? “Let us silence them,” they say; and so they bring the two unlearned men before them, and charge them, with all the authority they have, and with what dignity they can, “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” How well they were able to enforce their command the further record tells. It is not the last time in the history of the world that men of deep convictions have been met with a similar command. Right or wrong, it is impossible to correct men’s thinking, or, for very long, their speaking, by the mere command or compulsion to be silent. The very command is a confession of weakness. To ask your foe not to strike again is to acknowledge your fear of him. You cannot silence witnesses. The fire which is in men’s hearts cannot be smothered by the authority of courts, civil or ecclesiastical. The truth of God will overcome all lies at last in the kingdom of the truth, h the hot fires of experience the dross will be run off and the pure silver reflect the image of its Maker. All through this passage the name of Jesus is set forth as the source of power, of salvation, and of Divine teaching. (Geo. M. Boynton.)

Bigotry

I was once driven upon an Irish jaunting-car with a little child of four years of age. It began to rain, and a hood was placed over the child’s head. I heard her mutter, “That is such a pretty view.” I said, “How can that be when your head is covered?” “Oh,” she replied, “I see my knees, my shawl, and my pretty little feet.” A good illustration of people who cannot see farther than the extremity of their own beautiful selves. (J. Alexander, D. D.)

Ecclesiasticism has no exclusive rights

The Church ecclesiastical is like a vast water company chartered to supply the Church spiritual from the great river of the water of life. But how absurd it would be for a water company to claim the right to interdict rain from heaven, or to say to the inhabitants of a particular district, “You shall receive no water except it pass through the hydraulic machinery which I have constructed.” (General Gordon.)

The first persecution of the apostles

To the tempter God said, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed.” But the hatred reigns in the breasts of the children of the devil, “he that is born after the flesh persecutes him that is born after the Spirit,” while those who are “counted to the Saviour as a seed” are told to love their enemies. The first-fruit of the enmity was the murder of Abel. The first-fruit of this enmity towards the Apostolic Church was the imprisonment of Peter and John. But it belongs to the disciples of a crucified Saviour to do good and receive evil.

I. The imprisonment of the apostles (verses 1-4). Peter had said to Christ, “I will go with Thee to prison “ etc., and our Lord had said to the sons of Zebedee, “Ye shall, indeed, drink of the cup that I drink of.” And now we see--

1. The first act of violence, which was the arrest of Peter and John. “While they were speaking to the people” gracious words there was a rush in the assembly, and an iron hand was laid on the preachers, not by “rude fellows of the baser sort,” but the priests, of whom Hosea said, “As troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of the priests murder in the way by consent.” The Sadducees were then in possession of authority, which they employed to indulge in the enjoyment of this life, as they believed in no other, and were cruel to all who disturbed their ease. They were, therefore, “vexed that the apostles preached, through Jesus, the resurrection from the dead.” For if He who was known to have been put to death was alive again, He was that “Man by whom came the resurrection of the dead.” What was there in this to grieve any one? Is the present life so long that we should not wish for another? Or were these rulers so wicked that they suspected a future life must be to them a state of punishment? To wish to die like a dog belongs to those who wish to live like a dog. But, whatever men might think or say of the Resurrection, the question with magistrates should have been, What injury will this do to society? Will men be worse neighbours, or subjects, for believing that, after this life, they will rise, and be judged for the deeds done in the body? And yet, how many have felt the rude hand of violence for no other crime than preaching, through, Jesus the resurrection from the dead!

2. The first night which the apostles passed in prison is full of interest. See them led along to where criminals are lodged, the healed man following, not leaping for joy, but asking in sorrow, “Is it a crime, then, that they have made me walk?” Arrived at the gaol, the authorities demand entrance for two prisoners, who have done--what? good to body and to soul. Shall we pity them? No; save your pity for their persecutors. For, if you say, “But what must it be for pious men to pass a first night in a gaol?” I answer, but they are in a good cause, with a good conscience, and in good company; and with these three attendants a man may lie easy on a cold, hard, stone floor; and in a dreary dungeon pass a pleasant night. For now Peter blesses his Lord, that, instead of denying Him, he can suffer for Him; and John feels that he is indeed the disciple whom Jesus so loved, as to hand from His own lips the cup of suffering, that His “beloved may drink also.” Call them not prisoners; their spirits are not imprisoned, but mount together to the mercy-seat, in prayer for grace to suffer well. And they knew that “the Word of God was not bound,” that the Church now numbered five thousand. If the apostles were kept from sleep, it was for joy of such triumphs. But “He giveth His beloved sleep,” which often refuses to shed its balm on royal eyelids, while it rests sweetly on theirs who, exhausted with labours and devotions, sink down, and, like Jacob, though with a stone for a pillow, see visions of God, heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending, in attendance on the:heirs of salvation. Thus Bunyan, passing through the wilderness, lighted on a den, where he slept, and saw what myriads have gladly kept awake to read.

II. Their coming forth and trial (verses5-22).

1. The court is particularly described, as of importance to the narrative. The great men lived in the suburbs, and now called a general meeting in the city. The rulers were probably the president and vice-president of the Sanhedrim; the elders the body of the council; and the scribes, the persons who acted as counsel, and clerks of the court. Annas was the high:priest, as Caiaphas had been. Alexander’s name intimates a heathenish Jew; but he was then a man of note. John is thought to have been the Ben Zacchai, celebrated in the Talmud, who, forty years before the destruction of the temple, saw the gates open spontaneously, and said, “I know thine end”; for Zechariah prophesied, “Open thy gates, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.” “All the kindred of the high priest,” who were a species of nobles, were now assembled, as if their dignities were at stake. Listen to the examination: “By what power, or by what name, have you done this?--you?” For the last word stands as if it were uttered in scorn: “You, fellows, to have done this!” See how “God taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and turneth the counsel of the wicked headlong.” For they venture not to deny the fact. The more contemptuously they treat the apostles, as unequal to such a work, the more they glorify Christ. But who ever heard of trying men for the crime of healing in a moment? Who would think of accusing a physician for curing thoroughly and speedily? They ask, what name has done it; as if alluding to the Jews’ notion of a magic virtue in the name of Jehovah, which modern Jews have affirmed Jesus learned, and by it wrought His miracles. Had the apostles themselves dictated the examination, they could scarcely have made it more to their mind; for it elicited--

2. The defence which they made (verses 8-12). “It was done in the name of Jesus, the Messiah of Nazareth, whose name we pronounced ere we wrought the cure. You, indeed, condemned Him to die on the Cross; but God raised Him from the dead, of which the proof is before you.” The rulers had asked after the wonder-working name, and they now know more than they wished; for what a stab must this have been to their pride! What a thunder-bolt to their consciences I They, aware that Jesus promised to rise again, had set a guard to prevent, and now are told that a miracle has proved it true. But see how Peter turns their attention from healing bodies to salvation for the soul. Who sees not here the fulfilment of Christ’s promise to His apostles, “be not anxious what ye shall say, for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say”?

3. The council’s embarrassment arose from the sight of the apostles and of the man they had cured. “Seeing the freedom of Peter and John,” who spoke like men at their ease, and “conceiving them illiterate and private” men, the rulers could not account for their unembarrassed air. They were not among the literati, nor in any public office, but in private secular life; and they were known to have been with Jesus, who was neither in high station Himself, nor attended by those who were; for it was asked, “Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed on Him?” But the man who was healed was another embarrassing sight, to which the council had nothing to reply. This embarrassment induced them to order all others out of the hall, ashamed to say before them, “What shall we do to these men?” It is, indeed, difficult to know what to do with men who are tried for their good deeds; and still more with men who can work miracles. Often have persecutors seized their victims and then knew not what to do with them. Hence, with a confounding coolness, they plot to smother a miracle, that it may not spread further, as if it were an infectious plague. Thus commenced a long course of threats and orders, not less impious than vain. This was overruled, to bring out to view the great principle of religious liberty. From this time Christ is declared to be the paramount Ruler in religion. “It is impossible for us not to speak what we have seen and heard.” Not to speak at all to any man in the name of Jesus! Bid us, neither breathe nor think! A religion of ceremony may be put down by brute force; but to hide the love of Jesus is as impossible as to “hide the ointment of your right hand.” Having, therefore, threatened again, they let the apostles go; the people made it dangerous to punish (verse 21). Thus ended the first act of persecution, and thus commenced the triumph of religious freedom.

III. The liberty of the apostles was improved in a manner worthy of the men and of their cause. Earth and heaven exhibit scenes full of instruction.

1. On earth, the two confessors, “being let go, returned to their own company” (verses 23-30). A night in gaol, and fierce threats, had wrought no change, except to increase their attachment to a cause that could not be gainsaid; and when restraint was taken off, as the bird whose string is cut soars away to its nest, they returned to their own company. Of the sufferings of a night in gaol, they say, they think, nothing. The threats, however, call forth a united prayer to God, expressing their submission to His Sovereign pleasure, and their confidence in Him as the Almighty Creator. They had astonished the enemy by their very courage; but they knew themselves too well to trust to this; for he that was a hero in the last battle may turn coward in the next; and therefore they ask for boldness. “He giveth more grace”; and they who ask it are the men who endure to the end. The apostles ask that “God’s hand might still be stretched forth to heal”; though one such display of power had cost them one night in gaol. Attention to an apostolic prayer becomes us. Mark its Scriptural character; a large portion is the Word of God; its high rationality; for the Psalm quoted is not misapplied; its deep humility, with its lofty bearing; its superiority to self; with its consecration to the Divine honour; and then say whether these men were either deceivers or deceived? If we pray like apostles, shall we not wisely adapt our prayers to occasions as they arise?

2. Heaven responded to earth; for, they having thus prayed, a second Pentecost followed. As in the first, a mighty sound, like a roaring wind, roused attention; so now, an earthquake, which shook the place where they were assembled, spoke the descending God. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, in new and more abundant measures. Rich recompense for bonds and imprisonments.

Conclusion:

1. Let their testimony sink into your hearts, that “there is salvation in no other name, but that of Jesus the Crucified.”

2. When you have believed, and found salvation in it, you will show the attraction of affinity as they did, who, “being let go, returned to their own company.”

3. Triumph is the testimony of Jesus against all the terrors of persecution; which is a blunt weapon, that has ever failed of its object, from the hour that these apostles were let go, to this moment. (J. Bennett.)

The first persecution of the Church

The authorities were offended because--

I. The apostles taught. This is emphatically true of the priests, who looked upon themselves as the only lawfully constituted teachers.

1. They considered that the apostles were not personally qualified (verse 13). “Unlearned” means they had not been trained in Rabbinical lore--they were not brought up to letters--they were agrammatoi. Men in every age lay undue stress upon “Grammar.” Not to have been trained in the public schools is of itself almost fatal to any man who aspires to the office of a teacher. But were not the priests right? It is necessary we should distinguish between scholarship and learning. Scholarship is proficiency in words and forms and opinions; learning is a large sympathy with life, and a deep insight into the eternal truth of things. In the priest we see scholarship; in the apostles learning; and the learning of the latter is infinitely preferable to the scholarship of the former. But the men of scholarship looked down contemptuously upon the men of learning. Does that surprise you? It has been repeated over and over again in the history of our own country. Did not the clergy sneer at the ministers of Dissent--Bunyan and his contemporaries--whom they now indeed emulate each other to honour? The best thing is to honour the living prophets, the next best thing is to respect and perpetuate the memory of the dead. One fact the history of the Church has indisputably demonstrated--that scholarship alone, however valuable it may be as an accessory, is not a sufficient qualification to teach the people. But though scholarship alone is not a sufficient qualification, yet learning is; and better still to have both scholarship and learning. The ministry of the apostles was characterised by learning, the ministry of the middle ages by scholarship; let us hope Chat the ministry of the future will be distinguished for its happy combination of the two.

2. They considered that the apostles had no official right to teach. They were idiotai--men of no profession, private individuals, in a word, laymen. And the professionals were very indignant that parties outside the sacred pale of the sacerdotal order, and not commissioned, should set themselves up as teachers. Laymen were considered very ignorant men; the idiotai suggested idiots. The priests claimed an exclusive right to teach. This, however, had not always been the case in Jewry. The ceremonies of religion had been entrusted to the priests, the teaching of the people to the prophets. But prophecy had long died out, and the priesthood had stepped into its place; and having once possessed themselves of the power they guarded it most jealously. Does this seem strange? The same thing has occurred over and over again. The now famous pedlar of Elstow was charged with insolence, irreverence, and disloyalty for daring to stand up to deliver himself of the truths burning in his soul. The police came suddenly upon him and immured him in Bedford gaol for twelve long years. Why? What evil had he done? This--that he, a layman, one of the idiotai, should venture to trespass on the prohibited preserves of the priests! This mischievous spirit is still smouldering.

II. The apostles taught the people.

1. Some felt vexed on personal considerations, for the apostles, labouring to enlighten and convert the people, were indirectly undermining the power of the priests. The heyday of priestcraft is generally the “times of ignorance,” and it naturally desires the prolongation of those times. Peter and John held out the lamp of knowledge, and the authorities rushed upon the lamp-bearers and endeavoured to break the lamp. With what result? With the simple result of smashing the glass and letting the flame burn more intensely than before, and kindle five thousand other lamps.

2. Others felt annoyed on ecclesiastical grounds. The priests knew, through the instinct of self-preservation, that the enlightenment of the people meant virtually their deposition. The people had to receive implicitly and unquestioningly the word of priests and rabbis as to what the will of God was; or worse still, their interpretation of it. This monopoly plunged the people into an elaborate system of lifeless traditions and burdensome superstitions. And when the apostles demanded back the key of knowledge and desired to lead the people into the hidden dwelling place of truth, with what reward did they meet? They were cast into prison. Does that surprise you? No; for this history has been enacted over again in Christendom. The key of knowledge was taken away from Europe, and the Scriptures were allowed to lie in an unknown language. Luther on the Continent and Wycliffe in England endeavoured to unlock the treasures, to translate the Scriptures into the popular language, and to scatter broadcast the knowledge of the Divine will; and they were vilified, excommunicated, and hunted about for their pains. Nevertheless the translation of the Bible caused the Papal hierarchy to topple to its ruin in Germany and England. Mark that well. Priests still forbid laymen to peruse and expound the Scriptures--they must believe on authority. The essence of Romanism is to believe on authority. The essence of Protestantism to believe on proof.

3. Others felt annoyed on civil grounds. They would say as all despots have in effect said--“Knowledge is power. If you educate the people you put into their hands a weapon which they have not the wisdom to use. What if they use it for revolution? To avert the evil, we will refuse the good.” That has always been the language of despotism; and forthwith it proceeds to fetter, and if need be, to kill the champions of popular education. No doubt knowledge is a tremendous power--especially religious knowledge; and often, alas! it has been converted to mean, vulgar ends. But are we to reject the use of a thing because of its abuse? Do not have fires, and you will have no conflagrations. Light, no doubt, does multiply the shadows; shall we on that account declaim against the sun?

III. They taught the people, through, Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

1. The teaching reflected deep discredit on the tribunals of the nation. The leading members of those courts had crucified Christ; but yet God had raised Him up from the dead. Now the Resurrection was a complete vindication of Christ’s character; but to vindicate His character was to brand the character of His judges. Therefore those judges were irritated beyond measure. In their furious madness the infant Church saw the fulfilment of the prophecy (verse 25). You have seen a spirited unmanageable horse snorting wildly and plunging desperately--his eyes flashing fire, his nostrils breathing thunders. That is the very figure used in this chapter to describe the raging of the Jewish authorities against the gospel--they were like wild beasts, filled with foolish and unreasonable fury.

2. The teaching was new. The Pharisees were very much in love with the old, and were deemed wiser than their descendants. The Pharisees were the champions of orthodoxy, and in confederacy with the other sections of the Jewish Church put the apostles on their trial for healing the lame man. The Sanhedrim assembled--the court had to decide between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. The miracle they could not deny. The question was, “By what power or by what name have ye done this?” The whole trial turned upon that hinge. Were the apostles orthodox, yea or no? You know the conclusion they arrived at--the apostles were branded as heretics, and forbidden to heal or to preach any more in the name of Jesus. We should never forget that the apostles and the Saviour Himself, were charged with heresy and persecuted to death on account of it. This teaches us two lessons.

3. Their teaching, moreover, flatly contradicted an influential section of the hierarchy. The Sadducees probably prided themselves on how little they believed. They would no doubt style themselves broad thinkers; but certainly they were not broad believers. Breadth of thought is in our time, too, preferred to breadth of faith. But there is something fundamentally wrong with the man whose broad thinking leads to narrow believing. Broad thinking should always lead to broad believing, and where the faith is feeble, it is to me a proof positive that the thinking is not broad, but lax. Anyhow, the Sadducees conspired to suppress the teaching of the apostles. In the Gospels the merciless hostility of the Pharisees is in the forefront; but in the Acts the fierce enmity of the Sadducees; for there the fact and the doctrine of the resurrection find a more prominent place. Scepticism knows how to imprison and behead its opponents as well as superstition. Unbelief, not faith, is the real source of persecution. Let men believe in God, and that He is stronger than the devil; in truth, and that it is more potent than error; in right, and that it will and must prove triumphant over might, and they can afford to be patient, they will see the futility of resorting to physical force. The truth of liberty is based in religion. What has unbelief done on behalf of liberty? It has written. What has Christianity done? It has bled. Infidels have pleaded for it, but Christians have died for it. Did their imprisonment check the mighty progress of the gospel? Nay, “many of them that heard the Word believed.” Times of persecution are generally times of much spiritual prosperity. Some of the early martyrs had for their mystic symbol a candle surrounded by a crowd of angry men puffing as hard as they could to blow it out; but the harder they puffed the more brightly burnt the candle. The English Reformers were sorely harassed, but did they abandon the cause of Protestantism? No; some of them devised an anvil for their coat of arms with the striking motto “This anvil hath broken many hammers.” “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)

Typical religious persecution

I. The persecutors were typical--the “priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees.” Here we have--

1. Men whose tenets were discredited--the Sadducees.

2. Men whose prerogative was invaded--the priests.

3. The subordinate, notoriously accessible to bribes--“the captain of the temple,” the servant of the priests and the Sadducees, who would desire what would please them. Is there not here a type of the agency employed in all religious persecutions? Outraged orthodoxy, slighted privilege, and vile sycophancy have distinguished themselves in many ways and in various combinations in the attacks made on faithful reformers and evangelists from age to age.

II. The ground was typical. The persecutors were “annoyed.” God was not employing them. They were unable to give any explanation. And their own cherished notions were ceasing to command the respect of the people. Has it not been ever thus, when “unauthorised” teachers have been more welcome and more successful than the official representatives of the Church? But the will of the Lord be done.

III. The treatment was typical. They were--

1. Stopped in their preaching. But “the Word” had been effectually spoken. Those who wished and had determined to hinder were restrained until God’s own time.

2. Apprehended. Their reasons were not met with counter-reasons. To deal with truth by physical force! What a confession of ignorance and weakness!

3. Imprisoned. That they could do; but they could not imprison or bind the truth, nor prevent it becoming the instrument of spiritual freedom to those who received it.

IV. The encouragements were typical. The preachers--

1. Had remained at the post of duty until forced away. They had nothing to reproach themselves with on that account.

2. Had the pleasure of knowing that the good work had progressed.

3. Had a whole night for meditation and prayer. In like manner have the Lord’s persecuted servants been comforted and sustained since. (W. Hudson.)

Apostolic trials

Two men disclaiming all original power excited Jewish society by the performance of a miraculous deed. The excitement became in the long run bewilderment. The Jewish leaders were completely baffled. The facts of Christianity have been awkward stumbling-blocks in the way of unbelief. Opponents can see two sides to a theory, but to a fact it is vain to oppose a suggestion of fancy or a jeer of ill will.

I. On the side of the Jewish leaders there was--

1. Illiberality. “Being grieved that they taught the people.” The highest pre-Christian culture! Christ alone has shown Himself the friend of universal man--slave or king. Christianity has a universal appeal. It is not a taper, it is the sun.

2. Shortsightedness. They put the apostles in prison! Fools! They could not put God in prison! Had the apostles been original workers the imprisonment might have met the case. The apostles were put into prison because they did good to the diseased and instructed the ignorant. Christianity is still the physical and moral regenerator of the world. The only charge that can be brought against it is that it continually seeks to do good.

3. Impotence. “What shall we do?” etc. They “threatened” the apostles: that is, they shook their fists at the sun in order to darken the world! They stamped on the sea shore to repel the tide! They sent a message to the wind stating that they would henceforth be independent of air! We see how small men are when they set themselves against truth.

II. On the side of the apostles there was--

1. Complete intelligence within the sphere of their ministry. Though they were unlearned and ignorant men, yet within the compass of their work they were wise and efficient. This is the secret of success. Know what you do know. Do not venture beyond the line of your vocation. Every preacher is strong when he stands on fact and experience. Christians must not accept the bait which would draw them upon unknown or forbidden ground.

2. Unconquerable courage in narrating and applying facts. Look at--

Dignity is proper in the preachers of truth. Christ is the life of Christianity--beware of lauding the system and forgetting the Man. Accusation is the work of every Christian evangelist. Prove the world’s crime.

3. Christian magnanimity in preaching the gospel (verse 12).

4. Incorruptible loyalty to God and His truth (verse 19). “Things that we have seen and heard.” What a field! Missions at home and abroad--schools, labours, sacrifices, death-beds. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Teaching and persecution

1. Not only did Peter and John cure the lame man, they proceeded to “teach the people.” Herein was their greatest fault. Christianity is a teaching religion. It seeks out all the people, and speaks the popular tongue. It is just here that preachers may learn their most useful lesson. Our danger is that we speak to the classes; the apostles taught the masses. We can never get back to that universal speech unless those of you who are educated and highly refined will support us. You must be content to be partially neglected in so far as intellectual luxuries are concerned, and must assist us in providing good wholesome bread for the common people. That is precisely the difference between Christianity and every other religion. Others say, “Keep the people in the dark”; this, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Others draw a screen, as Pythagoras lectured from behind a curtain to his disciples, and from behind they mutter their unintelligible incantations; this lifts its red banner, throws it out upon the willing wind, and on it is written, “This thing was not done in a corner.” Other religions are philosophies only; Christianity is a gospel as well.

2. A very marvellous thing occurs here, in a kind of parenthesis. The rulers put them in prison. “Howbeit”!--God has His finger in this! He comes through very narrow spaces, and seizes very transient opportunities. “Howbeit”--Wait there a while to get the full rush of this glorious announcement--“many of them which heard the Word believed.” Why should not that be the case now, so that whatever may happen to the preacher within the next hour be may know, as he goes to his account, that he has left behind him a harvest before the time?

3. The morning came, and justice must be done. This question was hurled at them, “By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?” Beware of turning your religion into a piece of metaphysical inquiry. It is at that point that Christianity is often defeated in her most beneficent purposes. The learned men wanted to analyse what we now call the modus operandi. Instead of accepting the man, the concrete, positive, indisputable fact, they wanted to lure the apostles, and those who followed them, into metaphysical quagmires and difficulties. Preachers do not answer the “why” and the “how” of merely inquisitive minds. Have the man himself with you, and let him be your argument. Christianity rests on facts, not upon opinions. If the Church of Christ has not the Man with it, any amount of mere philosophical theorising and speculation will do harm rather than good. Where is the man you have saved? Produce him. Where are the hungry you have fed, the ignorant you have instructed, the enslaved you have emancipated? Produce them. This is a fact not a quibble. By whatever means it is done the effect is certain, and the cause of such an effect must itself be good.

4. Peter and John will surely stammer before this glittering assembly I The maid that taunted the rough-spoken Galilaean was too much for Peter; when he sees Annas, etc., there will be no spirit left in him. How does the narrative road? “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost.” That is a thousand Peters: Peter multiplied by the very Deity. Peter?--a straw blown away by the mocking wind, by himself. But Peter “filled with the Holy Ghost” was a man of war clothed with heavenly panoply, eloquent with heaven’s thunder, gracious with heaven’s love. Have we received the Holy Ghost? The question is not, “Are we well trained intellectually?” “Have we read many books?” “Are we able to conduct very subtle arguments?” We shall know whether we have received the Spirit by the fire that is in us. We have received the first baptism, we have been “christened,” Christ-named, christianised in the sense of having been brought to the church, and had the initial water sprinkled upon our forehead; but have we received the Holy Ghost? There is no mistaking Him.

5. Peter having been challenged to give an account of the circumstance, made the eloquent reply which you find within verses 9 to 12 inclusive. Whenever Peter spake suddenly, on great subjects, he spake the very heart of God. How much he makes of Christ in the 10th verse! We seem hardly to have heard the whole style and title of Jesus before. We have them here. We have called the Saviour “Jesus,” sometimes we have called Him “Jesus Christ.” By some short indication of this kind we have made reference to the Redeemer. But how seldom have we given Him His full style and title!--“Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him.” There is no mistaking that address. What Christ do you preach? We have heard of the Christ of the painter--a figure tenderly coloured, set in wondrous lights and shades. We have stood before it, and sometimes we have thrilled in its presence, and felt the waters stealing into our eyes. But that Christ never saved the Soul, it is only a creation of art. We have heard of the Christ of the poet. Christ has been spoken of in flowing rhyme and stately blank verse; but that Christ never came from the intellect into the depths of the heart in its deadliest remorse on account of sin. We must go back to the apostolic Christ if we have to realise apostolic conceptions and to win apostolic successes in the ministry. Peter might well have ended by the statement contained in the 10th verse, but Peter often found it difficult to conclude when Christ was the theme. How can a river end except in the sea? The little pool, the purling rill, soon sinks in the sand; but the river--deep, broad, fluent--moves on through channelled rocks and shady woods, on, on to the solemn sea. Peter went onward. Said he, “This is the stone which was set at nought by you builders, which is become the head of the corner.” The place trembled under the vibration of that living voice! He might have ended there; but it was difficult, let us repeat, for Peter ever to end when Christ was the theme. So he continued, “Neither is there salvation in any other,” etc. The original question was not one of salvation, it was merely a question of healing a lame man. But you never find the apostles confining themselves to the mere incident. Every miracle is only a text. Let an apostle heal a man’s ankle-bones, and from those ankle-bones he swings clear off to Christ’s world-saving Cross. “If we have healed your ankle-bones, we meant it to be symbolic of the greater healing of your soul.”

6. Now, it was the turn of the Sanhedrim to be shut up and put “in hold unto the next day,” and every day after that. When they saw the boldness of Peter and John “they marvelled.” Any man that can be accounted for will never influence his age. He will make a splash in the pool; but the bubbles will be seen a moment, then will sink for ever. You never can make out the secret of a Whitefield. You never can make out the secret power of any man who makes a whole world hear him. If you could account for him you would be as great as he is. What then did the wise and influential Jews do? “Threaten them.” You feel the difference of temperature between verses 11, 12, and verses 16-18. The apostles must not speak any morel There must be an end of this nuisance. Society is not to be disturbed by such propagandists. Peter, having heard the threatening, said unto them, “Whether it be right “ That is the word that makes history, that thrills the ages. And the apostles having received this threatening, “went to their own company, and reported,” etc. What a talk they had! How they reminded one another of the occasion of the movement! And when the company had heard it all “they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said,… “They too became eloquent. And when they had prayed, “the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” Pentecost after Pentecost! Poor Church! Thou hast fallen upon empty times. They are but mean challenges that are addressed to us now. If we could be once more threatened with the prison and the stake, the rod of iron and the keen double-edged weapon, some of us might be heroes. At present we may be but common clay. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Peter and John examined

I. When God is carrying on any design for the manifestation of His glory great opposition will be made to it. Satan will not remain a quiet spectator, and his servants will be stirred up to his assistance. In this combination it ought not to surprise us to find, not only persons of profane principles and wicked lives, but some who, in consequence of their apparent attachment to religion, might have been expected to range themselves on the opposite side. When God way setting His Son on His holy hill of Zion, not only did the “heathen” rage, who were ignorant of prophecy, and had not seen the miracles of Jesus, but the favoured “people,” to whom the oracles of God were committed, and among whom the Messiah had appeared, “imagined a vain thing.”

II. God may expose his people to much discouragement when they are walking in his own way. The apostles preached Christ by express commission from heaven, and on their success depended the conversion of the world. Yet in the outset they were opposed by the supreme authority in the nation. In the course of their ministry they were subjected to danger and suffering, and most of them lost their lives in the cause. Superficial reasoners may conclude that God is at variance with Himself, retarding the execution of His own plans, and may complain that, instead of rewarding, He punishes men for their zeal and fidelity. “But the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” By such dispensations He exercises the faith of His servants, and makes known His power in carrying on His designs in spite of the utmost efforts of His adversaries; while in the behaviour of His people, such examples of courage, patience, and love are exhibited, as afford no slight testimony to the truth of religion. Converts are made by the sufferings of the saints as well as by their doctrine.

III. Christ requires no service for which He does not furnish them with necessary aid. He is no hard taskmaster. As His commandments are reasonable, so His grace strengthens us to obey them. When Peter and John were called to plead His cause before the Jewish council, they were “filled with the Holy Ghost.” Hence did cowardly fishermen become undaunted apostles; hence have simple and uneducated men put learning to silence; hence have feeble and delicate women endured with unshaken firmness, cruel tortures, and death in its most terrible forms. “As thy day, so shall thy strength be.”

IV. Great is the truth, and it will prevail. It confounded and silenced the Jewish council; it made foolish the wisdom of the world, vanquishing its vain philosophy and sophistical eloquence by the plain doctrine of the Cross; it will, in like manner, triumph over infidelity, superstition, heresy, and licentiousness. From what it has already done we may calculate the effects which are yet to be expected from it (Psalms 110:2-3).

V. Let us be careful to maintain a good conscience in our religious profession. This was the constant study of the apostles, and hence they considered not what was honourable in the eyes of the world, what was advantageous or safe, but solely what was right. It was God only whom they were resolved to obey, and they minded not the contrary commands and threatenings of men. You will never enjoy peace of mind, you will never act uprightly and consistently till you learn to regulate your conduct by the fixed standard of truth and rectitude, and not by the shifting opinions and fancies of men. Beware of the vain attempt to serve two masters. The result of such an attempt will be that you will serve neither of them fully, and will lose the reward promised by both. (J. Dick, A. M.)

Righteous boldness

Courage is of various sorts. Brazen courage is simply an outside affair, born of impudence. Many a timid soul will cower before it, but itself will always cower when rightly met. Physical courage is an affair of the body, born of mere brute force. There is a courage of love, conscience, conviction, action, repose. What is Christian courage? Let us to-day look back to the time when Christ’s disciples were first under the fire of persecution and see--

I. Its occasion. Peter and John had healed a lame man, and to the wondering crowd preached Jesus and His resurrection. Out of patience with this continued talk about Jesus--the priests, because Jesus had denounced their hypocrisy and formalism; the Sadducees, because in Jesus was set forth the resurrection, which they scouted and denied--had got the apostles arraigned before the Sanhedrim. In the presence of this august body they proved what stuff they were made of. They had no friends at this court. Wealth, learning, fashion, pride, numbers, and even piety and the national faith, and the very oracles of God, were arrayed against these poor disciples. Peter stood in view of them all, calm and confident, a splendid illustration of the truth that “the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1), and made his reply.

II. Its secret. “Filled with the Holy Ghost.” This made the difference between Peter before the ascension and Peter after it. It was not natural courage, “to the manner born.” Peter’s impetuous ardour often got him into trouble, but his courage failed him when put to the test. He could use his sword under sudden impulse, but his temporary boldness is followed by blank cowardice. He could leap from the ship in impulsive obedience, but he scarcely touches the waters before he cries out for fear. This is Peter by nature. But after Pentecost what granite-like firmness he exhibits! what courage of conviction! what unflinching loyalty to truth! what boldness in the rebuke of wrong! This is Peter by grace. The bank of sand is transformed into a rock of firmness. Impulse has given way to principle. Fear of man is exchanged for fear of God.

III. Its characteristics.

1. Courtesy. Peter gives the men of the court their appropriate titles, recognises their office and authority, and addresses them with deference and respect. Bravery does not consist in brusqueness and bravado and bluster. To speak the truth boldly one need not be a boor or a bear. There is a so-called maintaining one’s self-respect which is simply a manifesting one’s impudence. But the courtesy had no weakness in it. Where grace salts courage, the courage is not noisy or dogged or defiant, but marked by a quiet courtesy in the very repose of conscious power.

2. Prudence. The deed was “good,” and Peter reminds them of it. It is well-doing they are to be examined about, not evil-doing. Peter first turns attention from the method to the thing. The work itself could challenge only gratitude and joy. Of itself it could provoke no opposition. One would think the healing of a lifelong cripple to be a matter about which there could be no two opinions. How can a corrupt tree bring forth such good fruit? He made the most of his circumstances. So will the highest courage always. While scorning compromise of principle, it presses into service every alleviating circumstance. It does not court a tilt or invite a conflict.

3. Frankness. The council demanded by what authority or name they had done this. They got for instant answer, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Here Peter might have stopped. This was the truth, and nothing but the truth. But this was not the truth that put Peter in bonds. He knew he was a prisoner because of some other word that he had been bold enough to speak in the presence of the people, and in the frankness of righteous boldness that word must be spoken now in the presence of the court. “Whom ye crucified,” for this had stirred the priests against him; and, “whom God raised from the dead”; for this had stirred the Sadducees against him (verses 1, 2). This is simply another Daniel (see Daniel 6:10). It was not necessary to pray with “his windows open”; but, having been open when he prayed in security, they must not be shut when the king’s decree threatens with a den of lions any man that prays. Christian courage will wear no masks. The temptation to be compromisingly politic at the point of real danger is most plausibly insidious and subtle, and a brave spirit gets here its sorest test. The man of real Christian courage will die rather than be sheltered behind a truth withheld.

4. Fidelity. Peter had fully stated the facts. But here was a rare opportunity to bring out also the meaning of the facts. Peter might never get such a hearing again. So he makes the rejected Christ the glorious and chief corner-stone in Zion (Psalms 118:22; Ephesians 2:20). These trusters in Abraham and good works are thus told that there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby they must be saved. This was the top and crown of Christian courage. It was transforming the prisoner’s bar into a pulpit. This is another John the Baptist ready to lose his head rather than fail to testify that his hearers are wrong. A brave soul will preach the gospel as fearlessly to the Sanhedrim as to a mass-meeting. Opportunity is obligation.

IV. Its effects. “They marvelled.” The first effect was profound surprise. Then they came to recognise them as men they had seen before in the company of Jesus. And beholding the cripple, a healed and living witness to the truth, “they had nothing to speak against.” They were silenced completely, just as Jesus had said they would be (Luke 21:15). So now--

1. Men wonder first at the boldness. They see nothing behind it, nothing to support it--no arms, government, material resource--and they are astounded. The world knows not its secret. The natural man has not entered into its hiding-place.

2. Then they have nothing to speak against. Christian courage has a wonderful way of disarming opposition. Opposition may still rage, as it did here, but it has no case, as it had not here.

Conclusion:

1. The Spirit of God can make the weakest saint bold.

2. We can afford to trust Christ.

3. Truth will sometimes smite to silence when it does not smite to heal. (Herrick Johnson, D. D.)

Christ the power of God

I. In times of trouble and persecution (verses 1-4) adding all the more to the Church.

II. In giving aid to His disciples (verses 5-8). Fulfilling the promise to Peter of courage and right words.

III. In the salvation of men (verses 9-12). The only name by which men can be saved is His.

IV. In changing character (verses 13, 14). Making His disciples like Himself. (Christian Age.)

The miracle at the Beautiful gate as an epoch

Peter’s discourse delivered on this text woke impulses and started efforts both amongst the adherents and opponents of the true religion that introduced a new order of things. Notice--

I. A new impulse to the world’s antagonism to Christianity. Observe--

1. The representatives of this antagonism--the world against the Church, the defenders of the false in theory and the corrupt in practice. Religion, “the priests”; politics, “the captain of the temple”; scepticism, “the Sadducees” conspired to crush the young Church. The hostile sections of a wicked world are ever ready to merge their differences in an attack on the Divinely pure and good. Pilate and Herod became friends on a similar occasion.

2. The reason of this antagonism. The priests were “grieved” because the apostles arrogated their teaching office; the captain because social tranquility was disturbed; the Sadducees because the resurrection was proclaimed. Wicked men hate truth for different reasons, and according to their passions and interests.

3. Its development. The persecutors

So the antagonism was strong in spirit, but futile in efforts. In sooth, all endeavours to crush truth are fruitless and self-confounding.

II. A new demonstration of God’s power in Christianity.

1. In multiplying its adherents (verse 4). Though the clouds gather, the sun rises. The tides flow, though the force of the mightiest tempest bears against them; and God’s truth moves on to universal empire, though earth and hell combine against it. “Howbeit,” aye, and not only despite it, but because of it. Persecution does two things which give an impulse to the course of the Christian martyr. It presents on the one side such a hideous manifestation of evil as produces a social recoil, and on the other such an exhibition of Christian goodness as awakens sympathy and admiration. As the aromatic plant emits its sweetest odours by pressure, so Christian character gains charm by suffering. As the stars only shine at night, so the brightest virtues can only shine in trial.

2. In strengthening its advocates. See how they heroically expound their cause.

(a) That men in their enterprises often reject the Divine.

(b) That though they reject the Divine, the Divine shall be honoured at last to their confusion.

(c) That He whom they had crucified was the only One that could save them.

3. In confounding its enemies.

(a) The intellectual and social position of the men. Pedants in every age consider those illiterate who do not know exactly that branch of learning in which they pride themselves. The linguist, e.g., despises the man who does not understand languages, although he may know much better the wonders of God’s universe. So Peter and John were not up in Rabbinical lore, but were well acquainted with more important matters.

(b) Their connection with Christ, the carpenter’s son, and the crucified malefactor.

3. They were perplexed. They felt that something must be done, but what they know not. Seventy of a nation’s magnates were confounded by two peasants. It is heaven’s law that the opponents of the truth shall involve themselves in inextricable bewilderment.

4. They were thwarted (verses 19, 20). Note here--

The four chief props of apologetics

Proof from--

1. Miracles--the lame man.

2. Prophecy and Scripture (verse 11).

3. History (verse 21).

4. The heart and experience (verse 13). (O. Smith, D. D.)


Verse 2

Acts 4:2

They taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection.

Apostolic teaching

A tolerably full report of two or three of St. Peter’s sermons is given us in the Acts, and we may assume that they are fair specimens of his ordinary preaching. A striking likeness runs through them.

1. As to style he deals largely in quotations from the Old Testament, and shows how those quotations were fulfilled in Christ, adducing this correspondence as a proof of Messiah-ship. In respect of matter, it may be summed up in one sentence--“Whom ye have slain, but whom God hath raised up.” It was not necessary for the apostles to bear witness to His death, for nobody disputed the fact. But His resurrection was not an “open” triumph. It therefore resolved itself into a matter of testimony, which testimony formed the chief burden of apostolic teaching. Reading the Epistles we cannot help observing a slight difference in tone. The atonement receives more attention, and the doctrinal significance of the resurrection more than the fact. Addressing unbelievers they dwell on the simple facts. Addressing believers they take the bare facts for granted, and expatiate on their doctrinal significance.

I. They taught. Teaching consists in

1. Christianity educates men by teaching them to think. It leads out the mind, and develops its dormant faculties. The masses of men expend more thought upon religion than upon any other subject. The little thinking they do is chiefly in connection with the religion of Jesus Christ. And it stimulates thought not only in the vulgar, but also in the learned. Go to the British Museum; four out of every five books there discuss the problems of Christianity. There is a subtle, indescribable quality in Christianity eminently calculated to provoke thought. Just as the rising of the sun drives away slumber, the rays quietly but effectually tickling the drowsy eye into wakefulness, so Christianity pours such a flood of white radiance on the eyes that it feels constrained to open them. The presentation of Christianity to the mind constrains thought; and in the exercise of thought the world learns to think. The angel Uriel came down to Eden in search of the devil, and noticing a toad crouching at Eve’s ear, he touched it with his mystic wand and up sprang an angel. A fallen one, it is true, but an angel still. Christianity possesses similar powers of transformation. If it only touch the rude, unlettered boor, there gradually will be unfolded a holy angel, glowing with enthusiasm for all that is noble and divine. The foremost nations are those which have come most largely under the influences of Christianity. The religions of the heathen are the greatest obstruction to their progress. Philosophy taught the learned to think, but Christianity aims at making every man a thinker, and man, to be a man, must be a thinker.

2. Christianity teaches men to know. That is the meaning of the word “instruct”--to pile up in the mind the proper materials of knowledge. No amount of hard thinking answers its purpose, unless it leads to knowing. Now, Christianity brings within the sweep of our intellectual vision verities which before lay inaccessible. This confers a vast advantage on us as compared with the mighty minds which lay outside the sphere of revelation. The philosophers are renowned merely for their thinking--indeed, they evolved and formulated the laws of thought for all succeeding generations. Nevertheless, their knowledge was small in quantity and poor in quality. They had excellent eyes; still they did not see very far, and what little they did see was shrouded in obscurity. Did the fault lie with the eyes? No; they lacked light. But this much-needed light the gospel abundantly supplies. Our eyes, maybe, are not so strong as theirs; but the medium through which we see is clearer, and the objects have been brought nearer.

3. Thinking answers not its paramount purpose except as it leads to knowing; and Christianity conjoins thinking and knowing, thereby perfectly fulfilling our idea of teaching. There is a school of philosophy which disparages thinking, and runs down the metaphysics of the ancients. This school--sometimes called the Positive, and sometimes the Utilitarian--judges thought by its material results. Christianity avoids this extreme--it encourages thinking more or less for its own sake; the profoundest Christian thinkers feel impelled by a kind of natural instinct to grapple with the questions which baffled the giants of ancient days. Another school swings to the other extreme, and disparages knowing. “If God,” says Lessing, “was to hold Truth in one hand, and Search after Truth in the other, and offer me my choice, I should with all deference choose the Search after Truth in preference to the Truth itself.” This is a mistake. To think is well, but to know is better. To hunt for truth is commendable, but to catch truth is more satisfactory. The Greek philosophers hunted well, but it was very little they caught. We do not hunt so well, nevertheless we catch more. Our children know more of God and the soul and eternity than the most accomplished writers of classic times. Christianity lays more stress on thinking than the Positivists; it lays more stress on knowing than the Transcendentalists; and thus it is the reconciliation of the opposite schools of philosophy.

II. They taught the people. There are two stages in religion.

1. The first is that in which is awakened within us reverence for the High--worship of that which is above us. The first essential in the education of the race as of the individual, is to cultivate this sense, and this the religion of the Old Testament was eminently calculated to do. God is seldom mentioned, but some sublime epithet is appended. The religions of nature served to engender fear; but a religion of revelation was necessary to engender reverence.

2. But Christianity marks a second stage--it teaches us also to reverence that which is under us; not only to worship God, but to compassionate and succour the great masses of men. In Plato’s Republic the population is divided into the philosophers who govern, the soldiers who fight, and the people who serve; and the people are immured in slavery the most abject and helpless. Plato never entertained the idea that the vast bulk of mankind are capable of being enlightened, elevated, made pure and wise. But Jesus Christ cherished a larger hope of the human race, the “common people heard Him gladly.” John the Baptist sent to ask Him the evidences of His Messiahship. “The blind receive their sight,” etc., replied He, and, as the crowning proof, “the poor have the gospel preached unto them.” The Saviour adduces this as a more convincing evidence than even His miracles. It was easier to suspend the laws of nature than reverse the usages of society.

3. But Christianity cultivates reverence for the high and reverence for the low. Did it teach the first only, it would establish gigantic despotisms, and authority would crush out freedom. Did it teach the second only, it would establish anarchy, and freedom would destroy all authority. But laying due emphasis on both, it serves as the mainstay of authority, and the sure guarantee of liberty. To the subjects it says--Submit yourselves to those who are above you. To the rulers it says--Respect the liberty of those who are under you. And thus touching the two extremes of government and filling all the space between, it is the very religion which covers all the world’s wants.

III. They taught the people and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

1. They preached the fact of the resurrection by the example of Jesus. “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses.” They preached it. They did not argue and weigh probabilities. The sages had thought and argued much, but left the subject in a state of chaotic uncertainty. What professes to be an historical fact must be judged by historical evidence, and the evidence the apostles brought forward was the undoubted witness of their bodily senses. We require no theories to confirm or confute that. But the Rationalists reply, “The evidence would suffice to establish beyond controversy any event in the history of Greece or Rome; but no amount of evidence can serve to establish the miraculous.” That indeed is theorising with a vengeance! But you will notice that such reasoning shifts the ground of the argument from the realm of history to the province of science. Again we must remind sceptics that the resurrection of the Saviour is primarily an historical question. No amount of evidence can establish the miraculous! Then did they see miracles with their own eyes, still they would not believe. But any candid inquirer can see that such reasoning is not reason, but unbelief “The man who denies that God can perform miracles,” says Rousseau, himself not on terms of amity with the Christian religion, “is not fit to be reasoned with--he should be sent to the lock-up.”

2. They preached the doctrine of the resurrection. Christianity is first a religion of facts; and out of the facts grow the doctrines. First the Gospels, next the Epistles. First the foundation in history, next the development in doctrine. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. What, then, is the legitimate conclusion? That there is life after death.

3. “Preaching through Jesus the resurrection from the dead,” the apostles’ doctrine was much in advance of the highest Gentile teaching. Philosophy unceasingly returned to this fascinating problem; but its utterances were vague, wavering, and contradictory. Is the soul of man immortal? Ages passed before the human mind was sufficiently educated to launch the question, and then philosophy could not return a decisive answer--it could only hope. Will the body survive death? Ancient speculation did not concern itself about this. Christianity has raised the masses of men to a loftier altitude of knowledge than the sublimest philosophers of the old world ever achieved, notwithstanding their strenuous lifelong efforts.

4. Their teaching is also much in advance of Judaism. Is man immortal? Very little is said on the matter in the books of Moses. No doubt it is implied, for Christ perceived it and beautifully evolved it in His conversation with the Sadducees; and we, reading the Pentateuch under the light of the gospel, can perceive in it certain other passages. As you come on to the Psalms the consciousness of immortality becomes more definite; Sheol becomes an important word in the writings of David and the Prophets. But still, when the Saviour appeared, Jewish opinion was divided as to the precise teaching of Judaism. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)


Verse 3-4

Acts 4:3-4

And they laid hands upon them … Howbeit many of them which heard the Word believed.

The impotence and benefit of persecution

1. Peter had boasted, “I am ready to go with Thee to prison.” He was not ready then, and hence the folly of his boast. He was ready now, and so did not boast, but doubtless reflected on his Master’s words, “Thou shalt follow Me afterwards.”

2. The time-honoured method of the opponents of truth was here practised, “No case; abuse defendant’s attorney.” You can’t refute the preacher; lock him up. The only answer that pagan Rome had for Christians was prison and death; the only answer that papal Rome has is the same.

3. But the policy does not answer. The preachers as cheerfully accept the prison as the pulpit when their Master bids them, and may take as theirs the crest--an ox with the plough on one side and the altar on the other, with the legend, “Ready for either.” Ready for work or for sacrifice, Nor does the policy answer in another sense. You may silence the teacher, but you cannot silence the truth. In the case before us “many believed.”

I. In spite of the apostles’ imprisonment. God’s work goes on whether His agents are bound or free, living or dead. It is independent of its best and worthiest supporters. Peter and John are in prison, but the fact that many believed shows that even the chief among the apostles are not indispensable. How foolish, then, the unbelieving anxiety expressed in the question about this or that distinguished minister, “Who can take his place?” Plenty, if God wills; if not the Holy Ghost will take his place.

1. The preacher is imprisoned or dead, but the Word which does the work is not. Fragments of the Bible left behind by the missionaries in Madagascar did more for Christianity than their vocal teaching.

2. The preacher is imprisoned or dead, but his teaching and example are not. They remain in the memory to influence the life. The stone sinks in the water, but the ripples on the lake extend till they reach either shore.

II. Because of the apostles’ imprisonment. Their endurance of persecution for the truth was a guarantee of their sincerity, and an exhibition of the power of the gospel on themselves. It is an easy thing to preach when Christianity is popular, but when unpopular, and when men notwithstanding are prepared to endure bonds or death rather than be silent about it--this shows that they believe in and enjoy the mighty power they preach. So in the milder forms of affliction. How many powerful sermons are silently preached from sick beds! (J. W. Burn.)

Persecution a stimulus

A certain amount of persecution rouses a man’s defiance, stirs his blood for magnificent battle, and makes him fifty times more a man than he would have been without the persecution. So it was with the great reformer when he said, “I will not be put down; I will be heard.” And so it was with Millard, the preacher, in the time of Louis XI. When Louis XI. sent word to him that unless he stopped preaching in that style he would throw him into the river, he replied, “Tell the king that I will reach heaven sooner by water than he will reach it by fast horses.” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

Persecution for well-doing

Sad, that so good news should find so bad entertainment! but happy for some, that as it was raised for so good a Word (Matthew 13:21), so occasioned by so good a deed done to an impotent man. Such may ever our sufferings be, that if a black shadow must needs follow us, it may be only because we walk in the light; and that if it prove our lot to hear and fare ill, it may be for doing well (1 Peter 3:17; 1 Peter 4:16; John 10:32). (A. Tuckney, D. D.)

Peter and John before the council

I. The arrest was brought about--

1. While the service was being held (verse 1). The devil has a keen aversion to the proclaiming of the gospel, and will stop it if he can.

2. By ecclesiastical officials. In proportion as Christ is exalted, the Jewish idea of an official priesthood must lose its hold upon the minds of men.

3. By men who felt deeply--“grieved.” The preaching of the gospel causes heaven to rejoice, and it brings joy to those who receive it, but these men were grieved because of it. How thoroughly even religious men may be out of touch with sympathies that emanate from God! What a pity there should be so much deep feeling wrongly directed! There has been quite a Niagara of human emotion, which, during the Christian ages, has spent itself in win in dashing against the impregnable rock of Christian verities.

II. The detention. Tim apostles had started out to visit the temple at the hour of the evening sacrifice, but as that evening closed they themselves offered a sacrifice with which the Lord would be well pleased. The bars and bolts of the strong door might keep them in, but they could not keep Jesus out. Even on earth suffering saints have Often found what Thomas Cooper calls “the paradise of martyrs.”

III. The trial.

1. Christ was honoured.

2. There was a word for the rulers.

3. There was a word for everybody.

IV. The result.

1. The rulers were impressed.

2. The apostles were threatened.

3. The apostles were released.

4. God was glorified. To Peter and John this would be an all-sufficient recompense. (H. Thorne.)


Verse 5-6

Acts 4:5-6

And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers … were gathered together.

The Sanhedrin in the time of the apostles

1. Of all the ancient Jewish institutions there is none which is of greater interest than that of the Sanhedrin. Though the name is not to be found in the Authorised Version, yet it occurs in the original no less than twenty-two times in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, where it is uniformly, but inadequately, represented by the expression “council.”

2. There were two kinds of Sanhedrins.

I. The great or supreme Sanhedrin consisted of seventy members and a president. Hence it is sometimes spoken of as the Sanhedrin of seventy-one members, and sometimes as the Sanhedrin of seventy, exclusive of this patriarch. To understand the constituencies from which these were chosen, it is necessary to remark that from time immemorial the Jewish commonwealth was divided into the three following classes: First, the priests. These, by virtue of their being descendants of Aaron, were the ministers of the sanctuary, and enjoyed certain privileges arising from the services they rendered in the private life of the laity. Second, the Israelites--the people at large who were distinguished by their princes or chiefs of the several tribes, and by the heads of the families called “the elders of the people,” or, simply, “the elders,” or “rulers,” because they managed the affairs of their respective clans. The third class consisted of the literary laity, the custodians and transcribers of the Sacred Text, hence called the “lawyers,” or the “scribes.” The first class was represented in the Sanhedrin by its four-and-twenty chiefs, “the chief priests.” The second class were represented by their four-and-twenty elders, whilst the scribes had two-and-twenty members.

1. To belong to one of these three classes was simply a preliminary necessity, but it was also necessary to be of unblemished moral reputation, and without any physical blemish. Blindness of one eye, or even squinting, or lameness of one foot, or even repulsive appearance, was a disqualification. The applicant had to be the legitimate offspring of Jewish parents, in the prime of life, and wealthy. One who played dice, lent money on usury, or flew pigeons to entice others, was disqualified. He had to be a father of a family, so as to be able to sympathise with domestic affairs. He had to be learned in the Divine law and secular knowledge, and foreign languages, so that the Sanhedrin might not be dependent upon an interpreter. He was, moreover, required to have been a judge in his native town, and to have been promoted thence to the Small Sanhedrin which sat at the entrance to the temple hall.

2. The newly elected member had not to go through any special ceremony, since the ordination which he had received from his teacher on his appointment to a judgeship at his native town was deemed sufficient. About thirty years before Christ, however, the power to ordain, which had up to that time been vested in every teacher, was conferred upon Hillel I., the president of the Sanhedrin. With the permission of this functionary, any member of this assembly of notables, assisted by two non-ordained persons, performed this ceremony by calling him Rabbi, and by saying, “Behold, thou art ordained, and hast the authority to judge even cases involving pecuniary fines.” The chain in the succession of ordination, however, was broken during the presidency of Hillel II., a.d. 330-365.

3. In the earliest times of the Jewish commonwealth the seventy-one members elected the most distinguished of their number as president, and the next in distinction as vice-president. The former was styled nasi (i.e., prince, patriarch)
, because he represented the civil and religious interests of the Jewish nation before the government abroad, and before the different Jewish congregations at home; whilst the latter was called “the father of the house of judgment,” because he led and controlled the discussions on disputed points. The only one ineligible for the presidency was the king, because, according to the Jewish law, subjects were not allowed to contradict or differ from the monarch. Besides these two high officials, there was a referee, who examined the cases before they were brought before the Sanhedrin. There were, moreover, two notaries, and several menial officials corresponding to lictors, who are alternately called in the New Testament “servants,” “officers,” and “ministers” (
Matthew 5:25; Matthew 26:58; Mark 14:54; Mark 14:65, etc.).

4. The Sanhedrin held its sessions in the hall of squares which was situated in the centre of the south side of the temple court, between the courts of the priests and of the Israelites, and had doors into both. With the exception of the Sabbath and festivals, these sessions were held every day, from the termination of the daily morning sacrifice till the evening sacrifice. On these occasions the president sat on an elevated seat; on his right sat the vice-president, and on his left the referee, whilst the members were seated on low cushions, with their knees bent and crossed in Oriental fashion in a semicircle, according to their respective ages and attainments. They could thus see each other, and also be seen by the president and vice-president. Twenty-three, or one-third of the entire number of members, formed a quorum.

5. Besides being the depositaries of the legislative enactments which were called forth by the development of the domestic institutions and foreign relations of the Jewish commonwealth, the Sanhedrin had both to interpret and to administer the Divine law in its ecclesiastical and civil bearings upon the daily life of the community. All questions of orthodoxy or heterodoxy, morality and immorality, every pretension to prophecy or miraculous gifts, the legitimacy to perform the duties of priesthood, the necessity to extend the precincts of the temple or the boundaries of the city, the desirability of going to war, and even the conduct of the king, all these came within the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrim Though sitting at Jerusalem, its jurisdiction was recognised by Jews everywhere, so that their decisions secured unity of faith and uniformity of practice.

6. In trials of capital offences it required a majority of at least two to condemn, and the verdict of guilty could only be delivered the day following the trial, to enable the Sanhedrin carefully to go over again the whole evidence. The Sanhedrin who found the verdict had to fast all day, and the criminal was executed the day after the sentence. This leniency, however, was not extended to one who gave himself out as the Messiah, or was proved to be a false prophet, or promulgated false doctrines. The trial of such an offender was generally reserved for the forthcoming festival, when all the Israelites came up to Jerusalem. The accused was then tied in the presence of the pilgrims; he was condemned and executed the same day on the festival (Deuteronomy 17:13). But even to such a criminal a stupefying beverage was mercifully administered before his execution, to deprive him of consciousness and lessen his pain. In latter days, however, the sentence of death passed by the Sanhedrin had to be confirmed by the Roman procurator.

7. Whatever we may think of Jewish tradition, which affirms that the Sanhedrin is a Mosaic institution based upon Exodus 18:24-26; Numbers 11:16-24, still both the several classes and the number of members which constituted this assembly of notables are alluded to in the Old Testament Scriptures (Jeremiah 26:8; Jeremiah 26:16; Ezekiel 8:11, etc.; Ezra 6:8; 2 Chronicles 19:8; 2 Chronicles 19:11). The chain of presidents, however, can only be traced uninterruptedly to circa 170 b.c. For about a hundred and forty years the members elected the president from one of their midst. Thirty years before Christ, however, the presidency of the Sanhedrin became hereditary in the family of Hillel I. for fifteen generations; that is, from 80 b.c. to 425 a.d.

8. To enable the student to see with which of the Jewish patriarchs the important events in the lives of Christ, the apostles, and the apostolic fathers synchronise, we subjoin a list of these fifteen presidents of the Sanhedrin with their dates of office:

1. Hillel I

b.c. 30-a.d. 10

2. Simon I. b. Hillel I

10-30

3. Gamaliel I. b. Simon I., the teacher of St. Paul

30-50

4. Simon II. b. Gamaliel I.

50-70

5. Gamaliel II. b. Simon II. a.d.

80-116

6. Simon III. b. Gamaliel II.

140-163

7. Jehudah I. the Holy b. Simon III.

163-193

8. Gamaliel III. b. Jehudah I.

193-220

9. Jehudah II. b. Simon III

220-270

10. Gamaliel IV. b. Jehudah II.

270-300

11. Jehudah III. b. Gamaliel IV

300-330

12. Hillel II. b. Jehudah III.

330-365

13. Gamaliel V. b. Hillel II.

365-385

14. Jehudah IV. b. Gamaliel V.

385-400

15. Gamaliel VI. b. Jehudah IV.

400-425

From the destruction of Jerusalem, however, to the death of the last president, the Sanhedrin held its sessions in different cities of Palestine.

II. There were also Small Sanhedrins, consisting of twenty-three members, who were appointed by the Great Sanhedrim. Every town or village in Palestine, which had no less than one hundred and twenty representative men, had a smaller court, which held its sittings on Mondays and Thursdays in the market-place, or in a room adjoining the synagogue. There were two such courts in Jerusalem itself; one sat at the entrance to the temple mount, and the other at the entrance to the temple hall. With the exception of certain capital offences which belonged exclusively to the jurisdiction of the Great Sanhedrin, the Small Sanhedrin had the power to judge both civil and criminal cases, and there was no appeal against their decision to the Great Sanhedrin. It was only when the judges were divided in their opinion that they themselves consulted the Great Sanhedrim In such a case the decision given by the supreme court was absolutely binding upon the judges of the Small Sanhedrin. As a rule, the members of the Small Sanhedrin were elected to fill up the periodical vacancies in the Great Sanhedrim (G. D. Ginsburg, LL. D.)


Verses 7-10

Acts 4:7-10

By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?

The power in apostolic miracles

The fact of the healing was recognised; and the logical conclusion, that it was a sign of the presence and working of some supernatural power, was not shirked; but the inquiry remained, “What is your power and authority?” The word “power” is that used of our Lord’s miracles, and translated “mighty works.” The term “name” here stands for “authority.” This the Sanhedrin asked because they regarded themselves as the highest religious authority in the land, and they could approve of nothing which had not been submitted for their sanction. They had to learn that God never will allow His grace to be tied with official bonds. Moses gave the high example of the noble spirit. “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that He would put His Spirit on them!” We are led to consider the apostolic miracles, and what was thought of them.

I. The people’s thought of them. Miracles excited the interest of the “common people.” This is true both of our Lord’s miracles and of those wrought by the apostles. The great distinction between the two series is this--our Lord permitted His miracles to witness to Himself; but the apostles turned the people’s minds from themselves. The “common people” are more susceptible to the supernatural than the learned; partly because they are more simple, freer from prejudices; and partly because sentiment and imagination are toned and repressed by knowledge. The simplicity of the “common people” has both its good and its bad side. They hardly knew What to make of St. Peter’s miracle. It was not in their way to think the matter out. Enough for them that it was a sign of gracious power. They must be good men who were the agents of such good work; and so they were prepared to listen with the expectation that their word would be as good as their work. It is a safe principle that if a man’s works are kind and good we may expect kindness and goodness in his words; and we may even assume that there will be truth in them. Our Lord taught us that by their works we may judge our teachers.

II. The priests’ thought of them. The priests stand for the Sadducee section. They were not simple-minded, and so not prepared fairly to consider the apostolic miracle. They had taken up strong prejudices against our Lord which developed into active enmity, and secured our Lord’s death. But their gratification passed into intense anxiety when the guard reported, and the disciples of the Crucified openly declared that He was risen. If that were true they were convicted of the almost inconceivable crime to a Jew, of judicially murdering the long-promised Messiah. In their straits they determined to put a bold face on the matter, and make violence serve their end. Perhaps they even succeeded in deluding themselves; and when news came of this miracle of healing they declared it must have been wrought by some malign power, some strange jugglery; and it was their duty to deal with these men as wizards and mountebanks. To these prejudiced priests the same rule may be applied as sufficed for the people, and the character and quality of the apostle’s works should be allowed to declare their truthfulness, and explain the source of their authority.

III. The apostles’ thought of thee (Acts 4:9-12). They firmly declare that they had wrought the miracle by Divine power entrusted to them; and that they had exerted that power by the authority of that very Nazarene whom they had crucified, but who was risen, and sending forth that grace of which the miracle of healing was an outward sign. The apostles teach us to look upon the miracle--and all the cycle of apostolic miracles--as being signs of--

1. The Divine presence: the Lord was present to heal.

2. The Divine witness, giving public attestation to their teachings and preachings; and--

3. The Divine work, which is to recover men from all the ill and woes brought in by sin, redeeming them from both sin and sin’s effects. Conclusion: Miracles are fitting modes of persuasion only for the unscientific ages and peoples. They are witnesses to eye and feeling for those who are mainly influenced through the senses rather than through the mind. Therefore the age of miracles has ceased; and the ever-working miracle of God’s converting and renewing grace in men’s hearts and lives suffices to convince all open souls that Jesus the Risen is the One, only, all-sufficient Saviour still. (R. Tuck, B. A.)

The pre-eminence and power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth

These are manifest--

I. In the necessity for the gospel, and in its corresponding nature. Two correlative words summarise the whole Bible--sin and salvation. But our knowledge of these is not derived from the same source. There is a distinction between what is revealed and what is only recorded in Scripture. Salvation is revealed. But sin is only recorded. It was already in the world, and the consciousness of it was interwoven with human experience before salvation was proclaimed (Romans 3:20). The Scriptures assume this terrible fact. All their warnings, invitations, and promises are based upon it. All the rites prescribed in the Old Testament and all the forms of worship recognised in the New take it for granted. It lies at the foundation of all prayer. The Scriptures also directly assert it. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” The most formal and elaborate argument of the Bible (the Epistle to Rome) sustains these assertions. On the dark background of natural religion, by which all men are tried and found guilty, the glorious gospel shines resplendent. Jesus Christ is not a light, but The Light of the world, without which there is no deliverance from the power of darkness. God has laid at the foundation of all revealed theology, and of all Christian effort, that Stone which foolish builders have rejected, and has graven upon it this indelible inscription, “Neither is there salvation in any other--for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”

II. In the biblical history of that name. It is not a mere collection of arbitrary titles, but the embodiment of the Divine nature and purpose. The Elohim created the heavens and the earth; but Jehovah Elohim entered into covenant with man. This new name (Exodus 6:3) runs through and characterises the Old Testament economy, until its last prophet proclaims the promise, “Jehovah whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple; even the Angel of the Covenant, whom ye delight in” (Malachi 3:1). The New Testament revelations begin with the fulfilment of the promise that closes the Old. Jesus is the human name of the Covenant Angel. In the synagogue at Nazareth He claims to be the Anointed of God, and from that time His words evoke the recognition of His nature and His mission. Andrew declares, “We have found the Messias,” and Philip confirms the testimony. Nathanael falls down before Him, and says, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel.” The woman of Samaria exclaims, “Is not this the Christ?” Peter falls prostrate at His feet, crying out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” and “No man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Now He is not only Jesus, He is Jesus the Christ, and “Our Lord Jesus Christ.” That name is above every name. It translates the ineffable name of Jehovah into human speech, and interprets it to human hearts. It runs through and unifies all Scripture. It embodies the expressed essence of a thousand titles, by which all that is glorious and amiable in God and man, in heaven or earth, is appropriated to Him.

III. In the constitution of His person. The Incarnation of the Son of God is the most stupendous fact in the history of the universe. This it is that makes His name Wonderful. This is the foundation God has laid in Zion, and calls upon men and angels to behold--the elect, tried, and precious stone, rejected of men, but made in the Divine plan and in human experience, the head of the corner. And that which demonstrates this stupendous fact as the power of God unto salvation is the revealed purpose that Jesus Christ should come in the flesh to be “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Among the human builders there are none whose speech is so utterly confounded, and whose wisdom is more manifestly taken in their own craftiness, than those who undertake to re-write the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, to explain His mission, and the confessed power of His name, omitting the recognition of His Deity, and the cleansing power of His atoning blood. Regarded simply as a man and a teacher, He is a bundle of contradictions. For while we are not competent to set limits to the Almighty, we do know what man can do; and we know that no uninspired and deceitful man could have drawn this consistent portraiture of the incarnate God. It is only when we add to the human name and nature of Jesus--the Divine attributes and purposes of which the angels sang when they declared Him to be “a Saviour who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11)--that we can apprehend the truth and grace which shine out in all His recorded ministry, or the power with which the story of His life comes home to the universal heart.

IV. In the offices that name describes, and for the execution of which He is qualified by the constitution of His wonderful person.

1. He is that Prophet whose coming Moses predicted, and for whose teaching he challenged an absolute credence. His instructions prepare the way for the effectual application of His sacrifice.

2. This Prophet is also the great High Priest, and by the one offering of Himself He has both satisfied Divine justice, and for ever perfected them that are sanctified.

3. Moreover, our Lord Jesus Christ is King. His royal power underlies and gives efficacy to His prophetic and priestly offices.

4. These offices impart a Divine efficacy to the facts of His death and resurrection. He died as a Prophet and Martyr, to confirm His testimony. He died as a King, to conquer death, and him that hath the power of it. He died as a Priest, that by His precious blood He might redeem and purify unto Himself a peculiar people.

V. In all true preaching of the gospel. The power of God unto salvation resides in the gospel, i.e., in the open proclamation of the truth as it is in Jesus; and demonstrates itself in them that believe. “All power,” says the ascending Saviour, “is given unto Me; go ye, therefore, and teach all nations.” So the apostles understood it, and because they believed, therefore have they spoken. When the Jewish council charged them to speak no more to any man in this name, they answered, “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard.” Wherein consisted their inability to keep silence? Doubtless they were constrained by loyalty to Christ. But their loyalty ran much deeper than the external commandment. It was but another name for a Divine sympathy and oneness with Him. (H. J. Van Dyke, D. D.)

If we this day be examined of the good deed.--

Giving the reason

Let us see that we can give a good reason for our work, both to ourselves and also to others. It is well for us again and again to question ourselves as to the real motives and, as far as we can predict them, the probable results of our actions. Let us see that we can give thoroughly satisfactory answers to questions about whose real meaning there can be no possible doubt. Questions such as these, Why do I teach in the Sunday school? Why ought I to teach? What should be the reason for and the object of my instruction? Don’t let us be satisfied with merely general and indefinite answers, such as, “Because it is right,” or “Because it is known and admitted to be a good work.” The real answer should be of this kind, “It is most important that these children and these young people should have a thorough knowledge of the life and words, the example and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. They should be taught to seek for and be guided by His Spirit, they should be prepared for the many temptations they will meet in the world. The conscience must be made tender and able to discern between good and evil. The will must be strengthened so that they may be able to persevere in that course of life which they perceive and know to be right. Moreover, since the conflict upon which they will enter will be of lifelong duration, it is most important that they should be trained to live a disciplined life; that they should be taught that the Church, besides being a school, is also an army, the members of which should lead disciplined lives; that they should learn that a means and a method and a safeguard is provided against all forms of temptation by means of this discipline.” The district visitor should also be able to answer the same questions. They must answer both themselves and others. From the nature of their work they are more likely to be criticised than the Sunday-school teacher; for they deal with those of mature years, with those who can form an opinion, and who are not slow to detect and judge their motives. Let people see, then, that our object is helpfulness. Teach them how many are, by sad experience, proved to be impotent to carry on the struggle of life; tell them how we would instruct them in the laws of life, and help and strengthen them to live happier and healthier lives. St. Peter pointed to effects produced; we must do the same; we must show men and women how those who are really obedient to the teaching of Christ and the discipline of the Church are more able to fulfil the duty to which God has called them. (W. E. Chadwick, M. A.)

May I never be disposed to apologise for any “good deed” which I may have wrought in the name of Jesus, no matter who may be offended thereby. May I never be tempted to give to myself any glory for anything that has been wrought through me by the Holy Ghost. May I not be moved by any regard for the opinions of what is called cultivated society or the opinions of materialistic scientists to attempt to explain away, or explain on some natural principle, that which has been wrought by the supernatural grace of God, by the power of faith in Jesus. May I never be ashamed of Jesus because of the opprobrium thrown on Him by His enemies. Jesus of Nazareth: call Him so, bigoted churchmen; call Him so, powerful worldlings; call Him so, cultivated sceptics; but He is Jesus, and whether of Nazareth, or Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, or earth, or heaven, faith in His name has healed millions, and not a single soul has ever been healed by faith in any other name. (C. F. Deems, LL. D.)

This is the Stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the Head of the corner.--

The corner stone

is the top stone at an angle of the building of great weight and importance in their roofs, built of solid fiat stones, to admit of being walked upon. Christ as the Corner Stone united Jews and Gentiles, as He united the two natures, the Godhead and the manhood. His own name must have helped to endear this Psalm to the apostle (1 Peter 2:4-7). (Bp. Jacobson.)

Men as moral architects

These words, borrowed from Psalms 118:22, are also quoted by all the evangelists except John, and are applied to the Jewish leaders who professed to be the builders of the temple of religion. All men are builders in some form or another. Man is a constructive creature. Some are building scientific systems, some mercantile schemes, some social institutions. All are building their own character. The text suggests--

I. Man’s great need as a moral builder--a foundation stone. A good foundation is essential to a good building.

1. Is it a system that man is building? He must have a foundation principle which will give strength and unity to all the parts.

2. Is it an institution--social, political, or ecclesiastical? It must be based on some good reason.

3. Is it character? Whatever a man’s governing disposition, whether sensuality, avarice, ambition, selfishness, or benevolence and religion, that is the foundation of his character.

II. Man’s great error as a moral builder. Men reject the Divine--

1. In their system of thought. The world teems with intellectual buildings, some of a grand and imposing character; but they have no Divine truth for their foundation. These, like houses on the sand, are constantly tumbling down. The ever-swelling river of history bears on its bosom the wrecks of many such.

2. In their institutional arrangements. A truculent expediency, a false philanthropy, a perverted religious sentiment, form the basis of many political, social, and religious institutions. These cannot stand; many have tumbled down; some are tumbling now; all must go.

3. In their practical enterprises. Schemes of business are launched, great companies are built up, whose foundations are chicanery and fraud, and sooner or later they fail.

4. In their moral character. Man’s character is made up of habits, habits are made up of acts, and acts start from principles which lie at the foundation. But the principles are not Divine. They are selfish, not benevolent; carnal, not spiritual; atheistic, not godly. All these are “wood, hay, stubble,” and cannot last.

III. Man’s ultimate discovery as a moral builder. One day he will find the Divine, which he rejected, supreme.

1. This is often fulfilled in the individual characters of men--in the history of all who have been genuinely converted. The stone which they once set at nought, through the renovating grace of God, becomes the head of the corner. Christ, whom they once despised, becomes their all in all.

2. This is being gradually fulfilled in the life of society. As the old systems, institutions, and enterprises in society which have been founded on wrong principles totter and fall, society begins to look out for a firmer foundation--for the Divine--and the rejected stone in many cases is becoming the head of the corner. The varied edifices in social life are becoming Diviner things.

3. This will be fully realised in the final history of the world. Christ whom the world had rejected, will be the subject of every thought, the spirit of every system, the spring of every activity, the sweetness of every pleasure, the glory of every distinction. He shall be all in all. What a terrible discovery for Christ’s rejecters! (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Christ the Head of the Corner

Christ acts in a two-fold capacity in the building up of human life. He is the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:4-7); and the stone which crowns the edifice and gives it completeness, unity, and strength. He is thus the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. The text sets forth Christ in the latter of these two capacities. Man without Christ is incomplete, disorganised, and weak; in Him he has perfection, oneness, and power. We see this--

I. In the history of the races. Before Christ came humanity lacked its full development. Never before the Advent was there an exhibition even in the ideal of what man could be. Just as man was the crown and perfection of God’s handiwork in creation, so is Christ the crown and perfection of man. And wherever Christ is not accepted and placed in His true position, the fatal flaw of incompleteness is apparent. Note, too, the disintegration of humanity before Christ came, and where Christ’s supremacy is not recognised. “One is your Master,” etc., is the secret of the unity of mankind. Weakness, too, is stamped upon all ancient nationalities, in spite of high civilisation and bloated armaments, “part of iron and part of clay.” Hence their non-survival. Internal weakness, prophetic of sure decay, is the fate of every nation that rejects the Head of the Corner.

II. In the experience of the individual. These principles hold good of man’s--

1. Intellectual life. Ancient and modern antichristian philosophy were and are defective, lacked coherence, had and have no power to quicken. The truth as it is in Jesus alone can survive, because it has in it all that man needs to know, appeals to all his faculties, reason, imagination, etc., and thoroughly satisfies the mind. Then it is a complete and well-rounded unity, and by accepting it man’s intellectual nature becomes at one with itself and with the other faculties. And finally the words of Jesus “are spirit and are life.”

2. Moral life. “One thing thou lackest “ is the allegation against all systems and men out of Christ, and how true Romans 8:1-39. is of all the unregenerate! “Dead in trespasses and sins” completes the fatal category.

3. Business life. The fatal lack here is that of the ennobling motive, “Do all to the glory of God.” Men are “distracted” because of the want of a cohering commercial principle such as “Ye serve the Lord Christ” would supply. And all enterprises are impotent to do more than supply man’s physical needs which are not animated by the Spirit of Christ.

III. In the government of the family. (J. W. Burn.)


Verse 12

Acts 4:12

Neither is there salvation in any other.

Salvation in none other

This is--

1. The substance of every apostolic announcement.

2. The experience of every pardoned sinner.

3. The strength of every courageous confession.

4. The foundation of all missionary preaching of the Church. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

Salvation in Christ alone

I. Salvation is a subject of world-wide interest, for all need it.

1. The infant at birth needs salvation, and unless kindly hands “save” it, and minister to its necessities, it must perish. Through Childhood the saving interposition of others is needed. Even in manhood there is constant exposure to dangers, salvation from which is required. In age, sickness, and sorrow, how great is the need of temporal succour and salvation!

2. The unhappy fall of our first parents has involved all their descendants in ruin. By it the human race has been brought into imminent peril (Romans 3:10; Romans 3:23; Ezekiel 18:4). Nor is the danger of sinners the less real because they are ignorant of it, or affect to make light of it. See to it that you neglect not so great salvation. To give prior consideration to any earthly consideration, however pressing, is a terrible mistake.

II. Salvation in Christ.

1. With the general outlines of the plan of salvation in Christ we are all happily familiar. We know how the Divine pity was extended to man in his fallen estate (Job 33:24). Christ undertook our cause, and purchased our salvation by His death (Isaiah 53:5; Romans 5:6; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18). Now, since Christ was really God, His sufferings had an infinite value, and His life might well be regarded as more than an equivalent for the life of guilty man; and since He was perfectly man, it was both possible and proper for Him to take man’s place, endure his punishment, and procure his salvation, so that God can be, and is “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).

2. The conditions on which this salvation is bestowed are also familiar, viz., repentance and faith (Acts 20:21). Compliance with these conditions is necessary. Nor can you justly complain of this. The seaman, provided with chart and compass, and instructions as to their use, who refuses to follow his instructions, and perishes, has only himself to blame. The man who has taken poison, and refuses the antidote, will have but scant pity.

3. And how much does the expression “salvation in Christ” include?

4. This salvation, as it is needed by all, is adapted to all. Of all so-called faiths the gospel alone is equally suited to all latitudes and Lives. Some religions can only flourish in certain countries, just as some kinds of food are peculiar to certain climates; but this seed of the kingdom is like corn--wherever man lives it will grow.

5. And this greatest of all blessings, while adapted to all, is intended for all. It is cause for thankfulness that the chief blessings even of this world are not the exclusive property of the great and wealthy. And salvation may be the portion of the poor as well as of the rich. Moreover, it may be embraced by the illiterate as well as by the learned.

6. This salvation is in the name of Christ. Amongst the Jews a mystic virtue was supposed to be attached to certain names (chap. 19:14-16). And we rejoice to know that the name of Jesus is still the most potent of charms, and is invested with glorious mystic and saving properties.

III. Salvation in Christ alone.

1. With regard to the salvation of the race, of no other being except Christ has it ever been affirmed, “He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Christ, however, having redeemed all, claims the homage and the hearts of all (1 Timothy 4:10).

2. As to the salvation of the individual, this, too, is to be had in Christ alone.

(a) Look at the various systems of heathenism. How degrading and demoralising their teaching and tendency!

(b) Sometimes an impious priesthood has professed to dispense salvation by external religious rites and sacramental efficacy; but such a claim is mere blasphemy.

(c) Philosophy has often made proud pretensions as to the elevation and salvation of mankind, but her actual performances have not been such as to warrant boasting. Education and civilisation may do much for man; but with regard to his sorest need they are helpless. The greatest benefits which it is in their power to bestow may be enjoyed, and enjoyed to the full, by sinners whose end is everlasting destruction. In the great work of human redemption Christ is absolutely alone (Isaiah 63:1-3; Isaiah 45:22; Matthew 1:21; Hebrews 7:25). (A. O. Smith, B. A.)

Salvation by Christ alone

I. What is implied. That there is salvation for us in Christ, we appeal--

1. To the typical representations of Christ. There were a great variety of sacrifices under the law which typified the Lord Jesus Christ.

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 (Isaiah 45:22), the fulness (Isaiah 1:18), and the freeness (Isaiah 55:1-2) of His salvation!

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. Let us now turn our attention to--

II. What is expressed. 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.

2. There cannot be. We are warranted by the Scriptures to say that, consistently with His 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. 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 (Revelation 7:9-10), and ascribe to ourselves, or to some other, 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”?

Address--

1. The careless. Wherefore are men so indifferent about their spiritual concerns? Is it that they are in no danger of perishing? 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.

2. The self-righteous. It is difficult to convince those who are looking to Christ in part that they are really renouncing Christ altogether.

3. The desponding. By nature and practice. 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” (Acts 3:16; Acts 4:10). (Theological Sketch-Book.)

Salvation only from above

In Germany there was a prison of exquisite beauty; its floors and walls were highly polished; it was roofless, and the prisoner could look out upon the beautiful sky. A prisoner was placed therein, and for a moment congratulated himself upon the polish and splendour of his apartments; he could freely breathe the fresh air and see the stars that decked the brow of night, or the sun that rose in glory; but after a time he observed that the walls were gradually approaching him, softly as the fall of the dew from the hand of night; noiselessly, as by the force of gravitation, those walls drew nearer, inch by inch, and as they came closer and closer the cold sweat stood upon his brow, for he saw that those walls were soon to embrace him in the arms of death. There was but one way of escape, and that was from above; a friendly hand might possibly be put down, but there was no such friendly hand for him. That represents the condition of humanity; the walls are approaching, there is but one way of escape, and the relief comes from above. The Son of the Highest from His Father’s throne is reaching down His hand of power into our dungeon; our hope is to grasp it, or the walls of our dungeon will crush us to death. “There is none other name given under heaven whereby we must be saved.” (J. P. Newman, LL. D.)

Salvation in Christ alone

“You have been a good child to your parents,” said the venerable George

III. to his daughter, the Princess Amelia; “we have nothing for which to reproach you; but I need not tell you that it is not of yourself alone that you can be saved, and that your acceptance with God must depend on your faith and trust in the merits of the Redeemer.” “I know it,” replied the dying princess, with gentle resignation, “and I could not wish for a better trust.”

Christ the only Saviour

“Believe a dying man,” said Dr. Johnson in his last days to his physician. “There is no salvation but in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.”

Christ the only Saviour found out too late

It is not long since that a prominent business man, when closely pressed by his pastor, who had lately come to the church, replied with a call force which was meant to put an end to further pertinacity: “I am interested in all religious matters; I am always glad to see the ministers when they call; but I have in the years past thought the subject over long and carefully, and I have come to the decision deliberately that I have no personal need of Jesus Christ as a Saviour in the sense you preach.” Only two weeks from this interview, the same man was suddenly prostrated with disease; the illness was of such a character as to forbid his conversing with any one, and the interdict from speaking was continued until he was within an hour of death. A solemn moment was that in which a question was put to him, intimating he might talk now if he could--nothing would harm him. The last thing, and the only thing, he said was in a melancholy and frightened whisper, “Who will carry me over the river?” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Christ the only Saviour

A young French nobleman, a particular friend of Napoleon III., becoming unaccountably gloomy in mind, and threatened with insanity, was urged by the Emperor to apply for advice and treatment to the celebrated Dr. Forbes Winslow. He came to London, and the great doctor, after careful questioning, discovered the character of his disease. He was tormented with a thought--and the thought was “Eternity! where shall I spend it?” This haunted him day and night. Dr. Winslow told him he could not help him. He had sought in the wrong quarter for his cure. “Is there no hope, then!” exclaimed the nobleman in despair. “Yes; listen to me, and I will tell you how I was helped and healed” said Dr. Winslow. “When I was younger I had your complaint; and I tried every resource but the right one. At last I carried my case to the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, and He gave me health and peace. Go thou, and do likewise.” The nobleman was astonished, but he stayed while the doctor read to him the portions of Scripture that had been blessed to himself, and after prayer, light and comfort came to him. The new medicine had cured him.

The way of salvation

Salvation is the total restoration of man from his fallen estate; and yet it is something more, for God’s salvation fixes our standing more secure than it was before we fell. It first heals our wounds, removes our diseases, takes away our curse, puts our feet upon the rock Christ Jesus, and baying thus done, at last it lifts our heads to be crowned with the King of heaven. Some people, when they use the word “salvation,” understand nothing more by it than deliverance from hell and admittance into heaven. Now, that is not salvation: those two things are the effects of salvation. We are redeemed from hell, and enter heaven because we have been saved. Observe here--

I. A negative fact. “Neither is there salvation in any other.”

1. Did you ever notice the intolerance of God’s religion? In olden times the heathen respected the gods of their neighbours: but Jehovah put this as one of His first commandments, “Thou shelf have none other gods besides Me.” The Christian religion is just as intolerant. The Brahmin may admit that there is salvation in fifty religions besides his own; but we admit no such thing. There is no true salvation out of Jesus.

2. What is the reason of this intolerance?

3. Now persons say, “Do you imagine, then, that none are saved apart from Christ? “I reply, I don’t imagine it, but I have it here in my text. “Well, but how is it concerning the death of infants? Are they saved? and if so, how?” I answer, Saved they are beyond a doubt; but not apart from the death of Christ. Another says, “But how about the heathen?” Holy Scripture saith but very little concerning them; but there are texts which lead us to believe that there are some who, led by God’s Spirit, are seeking after Him; and it may be that the God of infinite mercy is pleased to make to them revelations, so that they may be made partakers of the blood of Jesus Christ, without having such an open vision as we have received. But this much is certain: no heathen, however moral--whether in the days of their old philosophy, or in the present time of their barbarism--ever did or ever could enter the kingdom of heaven apart from the name of Jesus Christ.

4. But it is a great deal better not to talk upon speculative matters, but to come home personally to ourselves. And let me now ask you this question, have you ever proved by experience the truth of this great negative fact? Once I thought there was salvation in good works, and I laboured hard to preserve a character for integrity and uprightness; but when the Spirit of God came into my heart, “sin revived and I died”; wherein I thought I had been holy I found myself to be unholy. After that I thought, surely salvation might be obtained, partly by reformation, and partly by trusting in Christ; so I laboured hard again. But after fagging on for many a weary day, like a poor blind horse toiling round the mill, I found I had got no farther, for “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” Perhaps I have in my presence some who are trying to gain salvation by ceremonies. You have been baptized; you take the Lord’s Supper; you attend church; and if you knew any other ceremonies you would attend to them. As well might you labour to build your house with water, as to build salvation with such poor things as these. These are good enough for you when you are saved, but if you seek salvation in them, they shall be to your soul as wells without water, clouds without rain, and withered trees, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.

II. A positive fact, viz., that there is salvation in Jesus Christ. Thou hast long been trying to find the road to heaven, and thou hast missed it. Guilt, like a heavy burden, is on thy back, and thou darest not yet cry for pardon. Satan whispers, “It is all over with thee; there is no mercy for such as thou art: Christ is able to save many, but not thee.” Poor soul! Come to the Cross of Christ, and thou shalt there see something which shall remove thine unbelief.

1. Come now with thy defilement, and look at Christ’s purity; and as thou lookest at that purity, like the lily, and thou seest the crimson of His blood overflowing it, let this whisper be heard in thine ear--He is able to save thee, sinner, inasmuch as though He was “tempted in all points like as we are,” yet He was “without sin”; therefore the merit of His blood must be great. Oh, may God help thee to believe on Him!

2. But this is not the grand thing which should recommend Him to thee. Remember, He who died upon the Cross was no less than the everlasting Son of God. If He were a mere man, a Socinian’s or an Arian’s Christ, I would not bid thee trust Him; but since He is none other than God Himself incarnate in human flesh, I beseech thee cast thyself upon Him: “He is able, He is willing, doubt no more.” “He is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by Him.”

3. Recollect again, as a further consolation for your faith, that God the Father has accepted the sacrifice of Christ. It is the Father’s anger that you have the most cause to dread. Now, Jesus was punished in the stead of every sinner who hath repented, and God the Father hath accepted Christ in the stead of sinners. Ought not this to lead you to accept Him? If the Judge -has accepted the sacrifice, sure you may accept it too; and if He be satisfied, sure you may be content also. If the creditor has written a full and free discharge, you, the poor debtor, may rejoice and believe that that discharge is satisfactory to you, because it is satisfactory to God. But do you ask me how I know that God has accepted Christ’s atonement? I remind you that Christ rose again from the dead.

4. Another argument is this--many have been saved who were as vile as thou art, and therefore there is salvation. The chief of sinners was saved years ago; that was the Apostle Paul: but even if thou should exceed him, still that word” uttermost” goes a little beyond you. I could turn to you myself, and tell you that surely there must be salvation in Christ for you, since I have found salvation in Christ for myself. Often have I said, I will never doubt the salvation of any one, so long as I can but know that Christ has accepted me.

5. To quicken thy diligence, however, I will conclude by noting that if you do not find salvation in Christ, remember you will never find it elsewhere. What a dreadful thing it will be for you if you should lose the salvation provided by Christ! For “how shall you escape if you neglect so great salvation?” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

One only way of salvation

I. Other way of salvation there cannot be, for that one way is God’s way; its divinity necessitates its exclusiveness. It is clear, that when man fell, he lay at the mercy of his Sovereign. To Him alone it pertained to determine these two points-whether the offender should have means of salvation at all; and then, what those means should be. If, in the exercise of the mercy in which He delights, Jehovah determined on man’s salvation, and appointed and revealed the way, how can the conclusion be resisted that that way is the only way? The name by which we are to be saved must he “given”; i.e., it must have Divine appointment. If “Jesus” be the name “given,” then must it be the only name that can furnish any valid and satisfactory plea at the throne of the eternal God? If men could have been saved in ways of their own, God would not have devised one of His; and the very fact of His having done so is sufficient to show that men cannot be saved in ways of their own. It is related of Alphonsus, of Castile, that on having the Ptolemaic system of astronomy explained to him, he jeeringly said, that had he lived at the time, to give the Almighty counsel, he could have instructed Him to make a universe better. We now know that the scoff of presumptuous profanity was founded in sheer ignorance. And so it is in every one who fancies that he can dictate to God the way to save him. Men calling themselves philosophers have speculated whether God could have saved men in any other way than that which Christianity reveals, so as to forget the necessity of an interest in the way which He has accomplished. The question with us should be, what God actually has done, and if you admit that God has done what was best, you admit that He has done what alone He could do without ceasing to be God.

II. We argue the same thing from the Divinity of the Executor of the plan; that is, from the person of the Redeemer. He is “God manifest in the flesh.” Now if this is true, then that there can be no other Saviour must of necessity be as true. Either such a Mediator and such means of salvation were necessary, or they were not. If they were not, God could never have had recourse to them, for He is infinitely wise, doing nothing in vain, never using great means for little ends; and if they were, then all others must have been not only inadequate, but infinitely inadequate. The Mediator between God and man must either have been created or Divine. Then if a creature were sufficient, no matter how exalted, a Divine Mediator was infinitely above the exigency of the case; and if, on the contrary, a Divine Mediator was requisite, then was a created infinitely beneath the exigency of the case. We might base our argument, with equal conclusiveness, on the wisdom or the goodness or the justice of God. Take, in connection with the Divinity of the Saviour’s Person, the sufferings which He endured. Then, if all this was not necessary, the adoption of such a plan was at variance with the Divine justice and goodness.

III. We argue exclusiveness, on the ground that the plan revealed is the only one that bears to be tested by the principle of adaptation to what the existing case requires. This principle of adaptation is largely appealed to, as exhibiting the evidence of Divine perfection in the works of creation. This principle is as applicable in the moral world.

1. The gospel plan of salvation is in the essential and elementary principle of it, as well as in its provisions, adapted to the circumstances of man as the party to be saved. As guilty and condemned, he needed pardon and justification; and these are provided for by the mediatorial propitiatory obedience unto death of the divinely constituted and Divine Saviour. As depraved and sinful, he needed renewal in the spirit of his mind, sanctification; and this is provided for him by the work of the Holy Spirit in association with the work of Christ.

2. It is the only scheme adapted to the character of Him who saves. There is no salvation in any other, because He is the only Saviour by whom, and His the only name by which, in saving the lost, the glory of God is in every point secured.

IV. The last ground on which we rest the exclusiveness of the gospel method of salvation is the completeness of the salvation itself. It is a salvation worthy in all respects of God, and fully meeting the wants of man. It is a salvation from guilt, sin, suffering, death, hell, to a state of pardon and acceptance and favour, to the exercise of holy principles and holy affections, to life, to happiness, to usefulness, to heaven, and all for eternity. All God’s works are perfect, and this not less than others. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Jesus the only Saviour

This passage is remarkable as forming part of a sermon by Peter--who thrice denied this very Jesus--and as having been first delivered in the hearing of the judges and murderers of Jesus. When Jesus stood before their tribunal, He told them that “hereafter they would see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of power,” and when the sacred writer speaks of His second coming, he says, “Every eye shall see Him, and they also that pierced Him.” Now, it must have been a foretaste of this fearful truth when His apostles stood in their presence. In illustrating this subject, let us--

I. Remove an objection. A difficulty arises in the minds of some, as if the doctrine savoured of intolerance. They rest satisfied with the general idea that Christianity is true and important, but do not feel that it is the only Divine religion. Now these views are precisely those of the ancient heathens, who would have allowed an image for Jesus as one amongst many idols. What they found fault with was the universal demand that every idol should be destroyed, and that Jesus alone should be regarded as the object of worship and the author of salvation. But this is evidently the very spirit of Christianity. No blood can cleanse sin but that which was shed on Calvary; no power can open the gate of heaven but that of Him who “hath the key of David, opening so that no man can shut, and shutting so that no man can open”; no power can overcome the “strong man armed,” but the power of Him who binds Satan in chains and bruiseth him under the feet of His people. If men would only meditate on the solemn truth, that “God spared not His only-begotten Son,” who “died the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God,” he would see that it is blasphemy to imagine that the salvation of man can be secured in any other way. For if so, God would have spared His only-begotten Son. Nor is there any ground for imagining that the doctrine of the text is at all inconsistent with just views of the benevolence of God. Suppose a body of men cast ashore on a desert island, smitten with disease, and famishing, and that in such circumstances one solitary ship was descried making towards the island, loaded with bread, but carrying an infallible physician, who offered to supply and heal the diseases of the people and to carry them to a land where they should hunger no more, and where there should be no more death--what would you think of the perishing men if they objected to all this because there was only one ship by which to escape, only one physician, only one supply of bread--because vessels had not been sent to all sides of the island, and bread of various kinds, and physicians of various qualities? Would you not think them insane and deeply ungrateful? Now this is the very case before us, only not nearly so strong. And what are we to think of such as object solely on the ground that God has not sent many deliverers instead of one; and instead of hailing the glorious offer, stand by callous and indifferent, and imagine that somehow or other they will escape, although death and famine are raging around.

II. Explain the truth.

I. We are said here to be saved by the “name” of Christ. This is a mode of expression sometimes used in Scripture; as, e.g., “The name of the Lord is a strong tower”; where by the name of the Lord is meant God Himself. We speak of the “greatest names” of antiquity, and of men filling the world with the “terror of their names,” when in both cases we mean not the names but the persons. And so we are saved by Christ Himself, although in Scripture we are said to trust in His name. “In His name shall the Gentiles trust.”

2. The form of expression, also, in the first part of the verse, is peculiar. The apostle does not represent Christ as giving salvation as a thing disconnected from Himself, but as a thing existing in Him, as a great treasure-house of spiritual blessings in Christ, from whom all the members united to Him by faith derive strength, nourishment, and salvation. The general doctrine here is, that Christ is the only Redeemer as He was the only Creator; and that He only is able to create us again, as He was to make us at first. The special doctrine is, that this fulness of mediatorial power is laid up in Christ as the Head of His Church, and that it descends from Him upon all His members, like the holy anointing oil from the head of Aaron, which flowed down to the skirts of his garments. The general truth is, that Christ alone hath removed the curse of the law and silenced the accuser of the brethren. He hath died, the just for the unjust, that He may bring us to God, and is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. The special truth is that it hath pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell, and that we become partakers of all the blessings which He hath purchased only when by faith we become branches of the true vine, living stones in the spiritual building of which Christ is the chief corner-stone. And these blessings are in no other. The merits of saints only exist in the imaginations of blinded idolaters; for every saint is by nature a child of wrath, even as others. If we desire blessings we must go to the Master of the house direct, for none of the servants can supply our wants.

III. Show the concurrence of scripture in this truth. The whole stream of revelation from the beginning points to Jesus and His finished work. The law which was given by Moses pointed to that grace and truth which were to come by Jesus Christ. The prophets prophesied beforehand His coming and sufferings. The angels of heaven filled the air with melody at His birth, and announced that the great Deliverer had at length arrived. The Spirit of God descended like a dove, and rested on His head, and a voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him.” John, who baptized Him, said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” etc. Old Simeon said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,” etc. Philip said to Nathanael, “We have found,” etc. And what was the uniform doctrine of the apostles? “Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And the song of heaven is full of Christ’s atonement. (J. Begg, D. D.)

Salvation exclusive but comprehensive

I. The nature of this salvation. St. Peter might well have meant--

1. Salvation from physical discomfort and pain. The circumstance was the healing of the cripple which the judges thought was effected by magic, but which the apostles ascribed to the name of Jesus, who had simply employed them. Pain and discomfort, although they may be transfigured by resignation, may yet crush out heart and hope, and our business in imitating God is to cure it if we can. Our Lord did by His apostles what He still does by generous hearts. The inspiring force of our hospital system is the grace and charity of Christ.

2. National salvation. This was the point of the reference to Psalms 118:1-29. Christ’s way of delivering the nation was by becoming the corner-stone of its hope. For Israel was the real cripple. As a political body the Roman power had broken it. Still more was it crippled morally. The devotion of prophets and psalmist had died away, and in its place were Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians. The old heart had been eaten out. What Israel wanted was new life, and its only Saviour was He who had healed the cripple.

3. Spiritual salvation. This was implied by the national, and the spiritual salvation of the nation implied that of the majority of its members. A nation is but an aggregate of individuals seen as such by God. To save men they must be taken one by one. Did not the Redeemer, who gave Himself a ransom for all, love me and give Himself for me? Does not the Spirit, by whom the whole Church is governed and sanctified, dwell in each separate soul? Does not a mother deal with her children personally? So Christ dealt with Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, as if there were no other souls in existence.

II. Salvation in this sense is no monopoly of Israel. What was Israel that she should claim the sole monopoly of the saving name? The final absolute religion could not but be universal. The question of the Gentiles had not been raised, but there was behind the apostles the broad commission. The old infection of nature still remains in the world. Who mill save it? Now, as eighteen centuries ago, Jesus washes out the stains of a guilty past, and gives new desires, aims, hopes, enthusiasms, and renews by His eternal Spirit what His enemies have destroyed.

III. Salvation was exclusively confined to the power of the Lord Jesus. Christ was not one among many possible saviours; He was the only Saviour. And the ground of Peter’s confidence was that he had not a human speculation or theory, but, as he firmly believed, the final, absolute, one truth. Error may pay its insincere and splendid compliments to that which contradicts it. Truth can only firmly, tenderly, unvaryingly say, “It is I who save; neither is there salvation in any other.” “No man cometh to the Father but by Me.” The apostles speak as men who had found the secret of life, hope, happiness, salvation, and their highest ambition was that others might share their privilege.

1. When we affirm that there is salvation in none other than Jesus, we do not deny that other religions than Christianity have in them certain elements of truth. They would not exist if they had not. The element of truth in them enables them to resist dissolution. But they cannot save.

2. When we affirm that Christ alone can save men, we do not deny that other agencies can improve mankind. Education, etc.

3. But such influences as these are bounded by the horizon of time; they have no effects in the great hereafter. They are not opponents nor rivals; they move in a different sphere.

4. There can be no doubt that this conviction was in the first ages of Christianity, and has been since a great motive power in urging devoted men to spread the religion of their Master. (Canon Liddon.)

Christ our only home

On a huge cross by the side of an Italian highway hung a hideous caricature of the Beloved of our souls, who poured out His life for our redemption. Out of reverence to the living Christ we turned aside, disgusted, from the revolting image, but not until we had espied the words Spes unica, in capitals ever its head. Here was truth emblazoned on an idol. Yes, indeed, Jesus, our now exalted, but once crucified Lord, is the sole and only hope of man. Assuredly, O Lord Jesus, Thou art spes unica to our soul.

“Other refuge have we none,

Hangs our helpless soul on Thee.”

We found this diamond in the mire of superstition: does it sparkle any the less? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

None other name

A few persons were collected round a blind man, who had taken his station on a bridge in the City Road, and was reading from an embossed Bible. Receiving from the passers-by of their carnal things, he was ministering to them spiritual things. A gentleman on his way home from the City was led by curiosity to the outskirts of the crowd. Just then the poor man, who was reading from Acts 4:1-37., lost his place, and, while trying to find it with his fingers, kept repeating the last clause he had read, “None other name,--None other name,--None … ” Some of the people smiled at the blind man’s embarrassment, but the gentleman went on his way musing. He had lately become convinced that he was a sinner, and had been trying in many ways to obtain peace of mind. But religious exercises, good resolutions, altered habits, all were ineffectual to relieve his conscience of its load, and enable him to rejoice in God. The words he had heard from the blind man, however, rang their solemn music to his soul--“None other name.” When he reached his home and retired to rest, the words, like evening chimes from village towers nestling among the trees, were still heard--“None other name--None other name.” And when he awoke, in more joyful measure, like matin bell saluting the morn, the strain continued, “None other name--None other name.” The music entered his soul, and he awoke to new life. “I see it all; I see it all! I have been trying to be saved by my own works--my repentance, my prayers, my reformation. I see my mistake. It is Jesus who alone can save me. To Him I will look. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name--none other name--none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”

The power of the name of Jesus

A brave cavalry officer was dying of his wounds. He thought himself on the field, at the head of his gallant men, and fancied that a heavy gun was just in front of them ready to be fired. His distress was great. At length he thought the gun had been fired, and his men, badly cut up, were retreating. Here I interposed, saying, “There is no gun there; you are safe among friends.” “Let me alone,” he sternly replied; “I must recover my command and renew the attack.” “No,” said I, “let us not think of battle scenes. You are soon to die. Let us talk of Jesus.” The mention of that name seemed to exert the powerful influence I had often heard ascribed to it. His agitation ceased at once; his delirium passed away; a smile lit up his pallid features. After a moment’s silence, he said in a low tone, “Jesus, Jesus! It is He who said, ‘Come unto Me,’ etc. I want rest, I am weary.” Soon after he entered the glorious rest of heaven. (W. Baxendale.)

The one saving name

The text declares that Christ’s is the only saving name on earth. Other terms are used elsewhere to indicate the paramount value of His religion over all other instrumentalities for man’s well-being in this world and in that to come. But, either from an inadequate idea of moral evil, or from a failure to see the perfect fitness of God’s remedy for it, this truth is yet widely unfelt or denied. Men resort elsewhere, and apply to this or that pretender, instead of the only infallible Physician. With some insufficient and temporary expedient, they patch up evils which the miraculous touch of the Son of God is requisite to cure. Lanterns and lamps are of no little use, but he would not be accounted wise who should propose to substitute them for the sun. Let us consider some of the substitutes which have been proposed by some men for the great instrument of man’s highest good.

I. Liberty--the goddess, as Mammon is the god, of the present civilisation. Summoned upon the theatre of Europe by the fearless voice of Luther, breaking forth in the tremendous throes of successive French revolutions, and winning her more complete triumph in the New World, liberty is one of the strongest passions of modern history. And no wonder. When you have entered the house of human bondage, and remembered its dreadful secrets, no wonder your blood boils. The Bastiles of tyranny have fallen before this potent indignation. Let them fall. All honour is due to those who have lifted the yoke from the neck of humanity, and said to myriads, “Ye are men, go free.” But then we need only glance at the condition of the freest nations to see that Liberty can be no substitute for the gospel. Under her dominion men may know their rights, but they need another master to teach them their duties. Liberty must take law into her partnership, or she is but another name for license. And when the general relations of society are equitably adjusted, and justice done between man and man, what a wide empire of character is beyond her reach! National liberty, glorious boon as it is, is external. But the liberty wherewith Christ makes His people free is carried into the inmost recesses of the mind. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty--Liberty from anger and malice and lust and drunkenness, and the whole legion of evil spirits wherewith society is possessed.

II. Modern civilisation. The crying demand for a spiritual regeneration is postponed for external ease and luxury. When the sacred writer wished to describe the growing degeneracy of the chosen people, he said, “Jeshurun [a term of endearment for Israel] waxed fat, and kicked.” That phrase describes the two great eras in a nation’s growth: first, of prosperity; and secondly, of insolent power, forgetting right. Thus modern civilisation has woven so thick a veil, that many seem to be incapable or indisposed to see underneath the living texture of Divine laws, and our accountableness to the will of the Supreme. Strange and deplorable result, if home become so attractive that it should prove a rival to heaven! Sad mistake, if the charms of earthly friendship and comfortable life should dull our sensibilities to our holy relationship to God and Christ! We need to know that what is best and safest in this modern civilisation has flowed from Christianity; but that, so far as it is disconnected from Christ, as its controlling principle and sanctifying motive, it is base and soulless and dangerous; that there is hazard of entombing our souls in this magnificent earthly good. The splendid gift of life was not bestowed that we might dress in purple or fine linen, or fare sumptuously every day, or even that we might ride a mile a minute, cross the ocean in ten days, or send a despatch round the globe in the twinkling of an eye. He who rides a mile a minute ought to be using that grand conveyance on no fool’s errand. He who can cross the Atlantic in ten days should feel himself commissioned to do some great and good work for man, when the Almighty has thus put in his hands the sceptre of the winds and waves, and they obey him. He who can send swifter than the sun’s flight messages from clime to clime ought to charter the telegraph with some good tidings of good. Modern civilisation is all good and safe, when kept down at the proper secondary mark; but if it arise, and assume prouder titles, and the privilege of monopolising immortal capacities for mortal uses, the watchmen must cry aloud, and spare not. For none can look abroad, and not see that the world, so called, has got a fearful hold of men’s minds. Everything, even virtue, is to be turned to profit. What does not bring money is not, in general, thought to be worth anything. Then is there no fear that we have another God than the Lord of heaven and earth, even Mammon, as the actual deity of our worship! Tried by every rule, and weighed in every balance, modern civilisation, as such, is found wanting. Ill can it suffice for its own temporal needs, and keep itself out of fire and water; how much less meet the great need of immortal man! Ill can it stand in the place of Christ for the healing of the nations. Its god is gold, its aim is self; too many of its governments are tyrannies; too many of its cities Sodoms; its highest honours are military butcheries; and its only tolerable deserts are discoloured reflections from His glory who died on the Cross.

III. Reformation, philanthropy, a new organisation of society. The plea is ingenious, because it has some truth to give it countenance, that, notwithstanding Christianity has existed so many centuries, the dreadful evils of society have gone unreformed. True, but it is because it has been corrupted, both under Greek, Catholic, and Protestant forms. But there it is, in the life of Christ, in the books of the New Testament, and it will never suffer man to give sleep to his eyes until it has made all things new. It is said, also, by the reformer, that though men make institutions, institutions, in turn make men. For example, that you may preach heavenly-mindedness, but how can you expect any considerable amount of spirituality in the brutal camp, or in the damp, cold cellars of city pauperism? We confess we cannot. It becomes, accordingly, a matter of the last consequence that the permanent institutions of society, and the customs of the time, should all square with the Christian standard, Christ must sit as sole and final umpire upon all the great questions that now agitate society. And in this just judgment, whatever Christ, by His Word, rejects, we, who are His followers, must reject; and whatever He commands we must do, let whoever will say nay. So much we yield to reformation. But what we protest against is, simply, that moral reformation, or any new organisation of society, can take the place of the religion of Christ. For, in the outset, how could these great moral movements start, unless there were the heaven-derived and omnipotent influences of Christian ideas acting behind? This is the ever-flowing river that sets in motion all the wheels and complicated machinery of practical philanthropy. This is the exhaustless reservoir and lake that fills all the pipes, aqueducts, and fountains, and quenches a city’s thirst, and cleanses a city’s impurity. Christ is the reformer’s wisdom and guidance and strength, and without Him he could do nothing. Then, again, grant that you could by a possibility get the world all reformed, the timepiece wound up and running well, properly more equalised, education and happiness universal. How long would the millennium last without Christ? Self is still there, and passion is busy, and the old man will again come to life though he has once been crucified with the lusts thereof; and then the world is as bad as it was before, and you have all your work to do over again. No; Christ is the only Sovereign and legitimate Reformer, as He is the Saviour of the individual soul, and those only who go forth in His name and spirit are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.

IV. Education. We grant, indeed, that if the world is ever to be better and happier, it must be in no slight measure by a better family and common school nurture. But education, like all other great movements of benevolence, is powerless of good when disjoined from Christ. The culture of the mind exclusively becomes a doubtful good, if moral training keep not an even pace with it. Jesus, as the perfect representative of our spiritual nature, encourages the earliest moral training, He called children to Him, and pronounced His blessing upon them. At one time He set a little child in the midst, and bade His disciples be converted and become like little children, or they could not enter His kingdom. And He left it in charge to His apostles, “Feed My lambs.” Education, then, in its higher forms, has the explicit encouragement of Him who knew what was in man. (A. B. Livermore.)

One saving name

We can destroy ourselves and each other, but we cannot save ourselves or each other. There are some dangers and evils from which we can save both ourselves and our fellows, but from the worst we can neither save ourselves nor others. All that in this case we can do for ourselves is to look to a Saviour, and for others to direct them to a Redeemer. We are seldom satisfied with what we have. Eve desired the forbidden fruit; and the Jews desired a Saviour entirely different from Him to whom the prophets had given witness, and whom God had sent. To this fact Peter calls attention, and then adds, “Neither is there salvation in any other,” etc. Note here--

I. Salvation.

1. Ignorance with respect to the highest subjects is compared to darkness; to be called out of darkness into marvellous light, is in part salvation.

2. Foolishness is ever attendant upon sinfulness. To receive wisdom from above, and to be made, concerning the highest ends and the best means, truly wise, is in part salvation.

3. The imagination is a faculty ever busy for good or evil. Unless connected with knowledge and wisdom, its fabrications are vain and wicked. To have all such imaginations cast down, is in part salvation..

4. The heart of man is a tree bearing corrupt fruit, and a fountain pouring forth bitter water. To have created within us a clean heart and a right spirit, is in part salvation.

5. The will of man was created to correspond to the will of God, as a wheel within a wheel, but it has fallen from its place and revolves out of its sphere. Like the rudder of a ship, the will was intended to keep men true to the glory of God while compassing the broad way of God’s commandments. But the helm is in the hands of pirates, and the vessel’s prow is to the rock, or the quicksand, or the iceberg. To be delivered from a rebellious and wayward will, and to be made ready to do the will of God as an obedient child, is in part salvation.

6. Conscience is a faculty which many suppose can never become corrupt. But a man may do evil when he acts conscientiously, for there are evil consciences. To have the conscience cleansed and healed by the precious blood of Christ, and rectified by the Holy Ghost, is in part salvation.

7. God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27). As the painting or the statue to its subject, as the mirror to the spectator, so was the first man, in the beginning, to his God. But the mirror is broken, and the statue is defaced, and the painting is rent, and the child has fallen and is disfigured and maimed. To have the mirror replaced, the picture renovated, the child healed, and the Divine likeness restored, is in part salvation.

8. With a sinful nature we are born. To have our sinfulness crucified and its dominion destroyed, is in part salvation.

9. The position of man was, in his first estate, righteous and filial. But we have fallen from our position by sin, and are accounted guilty and ungodly. To be justified, is in part salvation.

10. There is an evil spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience. To be delivered from his presence and power, is in part salvation.

11. There is evil in all human institutions and arrangements. God’s world is good, but man’s has much evil. To be made to overcome the world, is in part salvation.

12. Death has crept over our human nature, spiritual death. To be morally and religiously quickened, is in part salvation.

13. Punishment hangs over our guilty heads like a thunder-cloud pregnant with storm, and the impending tempest murmurs in our present sorrows. The wages of sin is death, and all the evils to which flesh and soul are heir are as instalments of the wages of sin. To have the firmament of life cleared of these clouds by the forgiveness of sins, is in part salvation.

14. Such are the derangements of evil, that the forgiven and regenerated are exposed to affliction, and it is appointed that they too should die. To be sustained in the hour of tribulation, to go down into our grave and to rise again, shouting, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” is in part salvation.

15. Paradise was lost by Adam, but paradise is regained by Jesus Christ. To enter that garden as our own, and enjoy its innumerable delights, and to realise therein everlasting life, this is the consummation of salvation. This salvation God promised at the beginning, this God has provided, and this we offer you in the preaching of the gospel.

II. Salvation in a person.

1. Deliverances are sometimes wrought by things. The shipwrecked one is saved by clinging to a floating spar, the tenant of a house on fire by the trap-door in the roof. And deliverances are effected by things employed by persons, as by a crew in a lifeboat, a fireman and the fire-escape, a physician and his medicines. There are, moreover, persons whose profession is some work of salvation, as the medical practitioner, the fireman, and the lifeboat crew.

2. The salvation of which we have been speaking is not in the Divine purpose, or in the Divine fiat, or in anything, but in a living Saviour.

3. To be saved by a Saviour.

III. Salvation in a person whose name is made known.

1. Six thousand years ago the Saviour of men was simply called the seed of the woman. Then He was denominated the Shiloh, the Prophet, Wonderful, Root of Jesse, Righteous Branch, Jehovah our Righteousness. And the angel who announced the conception said, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus,” etc.

2. Jesus is the name given among men as the name of the Saviour. To this Jesus give all the prophets witness as the Christ of God. This Jesus was proclaimed Saviour by the angel Gabriel, by another angel, and by a multitude of the heavenly host. This Jesus was introduced by one of the greatest prophets the earth has ever known. The works He wrought bare witness of Him. The heavens were thrice rent, and from the excellent glory a voice came, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Eclipse and earthquake saluted Him as the Saviour when He died; resurrection revived His renown, and ascension established it for ever, “That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.” It is an interesting fact that the name Jesus occurs nearly seven hundred times in the four Gospels, Christ alone some sixty times in the Gospels and in the Acts, Jesus Christ but five times in the Gospels, and Christ Jesus not once in those books. We may regard Jesus as therefore the name given among men.

3. Joshua, to which name Jesus corresponds, is composed of a portion of the name Jehovah, and of a word which signifies salvation. So that the etymon would signify the Lord’s salvation, or Lord of salvation. This name was given to the Son of Man, to a Bethshemite in the time of Samuel, to a governor among the cities of Judah in the days of Josiah, and to a high priest in the days of Haggai. The name, though in use, was not common, and it was given the Son of Mary with a special signification.

4. But who is this Jesus? He is God manifest in flesh. He has all the attributes and properties of God, but while on earth He “made Himself of no reputation,” etc. He has all the attributes and properties of humanity, but without sin. In Him is all that is requisite for complete redemption. God has given this name--in writing to be read, by preaching to be heard; given it Himself that it may never be forgotten, and that it may be above every name; given it among men, that men may read and hear it, learn and repeat it, incorporate it with their prayers and their songs, and that it may become as familiar in their mouths as any household word.

IV. Salvation limited to this person.

1. There have been other names under heaven given among men. The Pharisees gave the name of Abraham, and said, “We have Abraham for our father,” and the name of Moses, saying, “We are Moses’ disciples.” The false prophet of the sixth century gave his own name. The Church of Rome gives the name of the Holy Catholic Church, the names of angels, saints and martyrs, and above all, the name of Mary. But Abraham was the ancestor of the Saviour, not the Saviour; Moses was a prophet of the Saviour, not the Saviour; Mahomet was self-deceived and a deceiver; the Church is composed of the saved, not of saviours; the angels minister to the heirs of salvation, they cannot save them; and Mary is indebted for her own salvation to her own son Jesus.

2. But not only have other names been put forward, but things have been presented as saviours. Thus, sacraments are given among men as means of salvation, and men-made creeds, and membership with particular churches, and good works. But these are given among men by men, and not by God.

3. It would be interesting to inquire into the causes of other names and things being put forward. Perhaps the chief cause is pride. We shrink from the practical acknowledgment of entire and absolute dependence upon the grace of God for our redemption; we despise the simplicity of faith, or we are not prepared to follow after holiness. But, however, this may be, “neither is there salvation in any other.”

4. There is much mystery surrounding this name, the mystery of the holy incarnation, of the union of the Divine and human natures, of oneness with the Father, co-existing with subjection to the Father, of the temptation and agony, and of the “Eloi, Eloi,” of the grave, and resurrection and ascension; but we cannot afford to neglect the name Jesus because of the mystery which surrounds it, because “neither is there salvation in any other.”

5. There are differences of opinion concerning Him who bears this name Jesus. Some deny His Deity, others His true humanity. Some refuse to recognise Him as victim and priest, and do Him homage only as a teacher; others leave Him in the sepulchre among all the mighty dead. The unbelieving Jew still accounts Him an impostor, the believing Gentile crowns Him Lord of all. But amidst this diversity of opinion we may not say, “I suspend my judgment.” We must on this subject make up our minds. Nor can we hold error without fearful peril, for “neither is there salvation in any other.”

6. Many who say they are saved by Christ show no signs of redemption. As we look at them we say, “Saved from what?” If they be saved, what must they have been before? There are men who boast that they are saved, who are such children of the devil, that many have said, “If this be salvation, may Heaven keep it far from me!” But what then? Although many who say they are saved exhibit no signs of salvation--yea, more, although but few be saved--yea, more, if as yet not one soul has been saved, my text abides true, “Neither is there salvation in any other.”

7. Many men think their own cases too singular to be saved by Christ Jesus. One man is sceptical, and his doubtings are, in his judgment, of the most extraordinary character. There have been sceptics many, but none like himself. A second was once an atheist or a deist, and in the denial of religious truth proceeded farther than he can conceive it possible for an infidel to go. A third has been a blasphemer. A fourth has been a licentious profligate. A fifth has been more cruel than a beast of prey. A sixth once wore the form of godliness while destitute of the power. A seventh once heard the Word with joy, but endured only for a while; tribulation arose and he was offended. The eighth has been a bitter persecutor. Now, each of these say, Jesus may save others, but He cannot save me. But whatever eminence a man may have in that which is sinful, if he be saved at all, he must be saved by the Redeemer of the least of sinners. There is one sun to rule our day, one moon to rule our night, one atmosphere round our globe in which to breathe and move, and not another. “Neither is there salvation in any other.”

Conclusion:

1. And are there any persons here who believe not on Jesus? If there be, who can they be? Surely not the children of believing parents? Not those who are now, or who have been, in our Christian schools? Not the possessors of a New Testament? Not those who regularly or even occasionally hear the gospel? Not such as know this name Jesus? Or is it so, that the unbelievers here consist of these very classes? Not believe! Why do you not believe? This name, by faith in this name, saves. The ignorant by faith come to this Jesus as a teacher; the unwise by faith come to this Jesus as wisdom’s fountain; the foolish builders by faith come to earth’s Creator; the impure by faith come to this Jesus, as to a fountain opened for sin and all uncleanness; the conscience-wounded creature comes by faith to this physician of souls, that He may make him whole; the fallen come by faith to this Jesus, mighty to save, that He may lift them up; and if you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you will be saved.

2. My brothers, believe. Do I hear you say, “Go thy way for this time”? For this time! Why for this time? Ah, I know why--that you may drink more freely of this world’s pleasures.

3. Believers in this name, do your utmost to make it known. When you see it, does it not sparkle beneath your eye as the gem of gems? When you hear it, does it not sound as heaven’s sweetest music in your ear? and in your heart of hearts, do you not feel it to be the power of God to your salvation? Then do your best to sustain the men by whom, and to uphold the places in which, this name of names is preached. (S. Martin.)

Only one way in

Standing opposite Fort William, a missionary heard the Mussulmans and Chinamen saying, “There are very many gates into Fort William--there is an hospital gate, a water, gate, and others. Now, Sahib, it is just the same in regard to heaven. Chinamen get in at one gate, Mussulmans in at another, and Hindoos in at another!” “Yes,” the missionary said, “that is true; but there is a sentinel at every gate, and every sentinel has the same watchword, and you cannot get into it without that watchword.” There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Christianity the only reformatory force

1. Four great facts confront us at every turn.

2. These are four facts, confirmed by the whole race, that stand to-night unchallenged. And we stand here to advocate the great thought in the text that the only power whereby vice can be suppressed and virtue developed is the power of Christianity, manifested through a personal Christ, resident in the human heart.

I. The liberalism of to-day is opposed to such a thought, and points us to other sources of reformatory power.

1. Our attention is directed to China, where a name is held as sacred as the name of Christ by us. Once a year the Emperor, surrounded by his court, enters a temple, and exclaims: “Confucius, Confucius, how great is Confucius; before Confucius there was no Confucius, and since Confucius there has been no Confucius; Confucius, Confucius, how great is Confucius!” Now what was the radical conception of humanity by Confucius? It was that humanity is radically good, that it is capable of the highest form of virtue, independent of any external force; hence he gives to his countrymen the five relations. The great reformatory force of Confucius was subordination; the obedience of the wife to the husband; of the child to the parent; of the youngest brother to the eldest brother; of the youngest friend to the oldest friend; and of the subject to the Emperor. Let us honour Confucius for the moral principles he gave his countrymen; but those principles have been tested under the most favourable circumstances, and what are the results? Go all through the Chinese Empire, and what do you find? Lying and theft, and all forms of dissipation; the degradation of women; and an expenditure of £33,400,000 annually in one branch of idolatry.

2. Then in the East there is another rival name, the name of a man who sways his sceptre over more than 100,000,000 of people in China, Japan, the Isles of the Sea. Sakya-Muni went forth with the two great ideas that vice is the result of the change that is apparent all around us, and that to secure virtue the mind must rise to that law under which no things change. Hence the name Buddha is given to one who ascertains that changeless law. I have no interest in misrepresenting this great man. I would estimate him a providential man, as Socrates and Plato. But when he is brought as a rival against my Master I am bound to sit in judgment upon his proposals to make humanity better. He gave noble precepts to his people, and that six hundred years before Christ came into the world. He issued His commandments,” Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” all of which, however, can be traced to Moses. But now go all through where Sakya-Muni has swayed his religious sceptre. Here not only are his precepts violated, but all the precepts in our Ten Commandments.

3. In India we find another rival to our Master in the form of Brahma. The great theory in Brahminism for the elevation of humanity is that as sin abides in the flesh, and virtue in the intellect, we must reduce the physical to the minimum, and exalt the intellect to the maximum, and then we suppress vice and develop virtue. Well, let us judge of Brahminism by its results. Let us go to that fair land, where all nature is lovely and only man is vile. Look at the idolatry--360,000,000 of gods! Woman is degraded; childhood, especially female child-hood, is sacrificed; Thuggism prevails, and there vices are dominant. And all this is the result of the insufficient reformatory force in Brahminism.

4. I do not mention Mohammedanism, for Mohammedanism is not original; it is plagiarism.

II. Now turn to Christianity. What is Christ’s radical idea of the condition of humanity? It is that human nature is bad, and that this badness is in the condition of the will, conscience, and affections, and that out of this moral condition flows vice, and that out of vice comes the misery of the world. Now, what does He propose to do? To transform by a supernatural power.

1. We must not look upon Him as a mere philanthropist; Christ’s philanthropy is subordinate to His supernatural power. Christ did not come to improve the physical condition of man. Do you tell me that He performed miracles? True; but not as a philanthropist. He did not raise all the dead, or heal all the sick; but only where He could write a credential for His great mission to renew the human heart. The significance of the miracles of Jesus Christ is this, that all through the East there prevailed the idea that sin was in matter, and that there was no power in the universe by which matter itself could be controlled. Hence He performed His miracles simply to prove that He was higher than nature, and that matter was subject to Him. He was not a philanthropist in the ordinary sense. The orphans cried in the streets of Jerusalem, but He erected no orphan asylum; He never founded a college. He might have given to the world a perfect system of science and a Materia Medica that would have alleviated the sufferings of humanity. But He did nothing of the kind. He might have anticipated great inventors; whatever to-day seems to be the glory of our civilisation must have floated through His Divine imagination. But this was not the purpose of His coming. Nor did He come as a statesman. Twice He was invited to be a judge, but He declined; once He was asked to be a king, but He refused. He expressed no preference for this form of government or that. He knew that government was oppressive, and slavery fearful, but He issued no proclamation of emancipation. The social evil prevailed, but He organised no meetings for reclamation. Intemperance prevailed, yet He never offered the pledge of total abstinence to any. War prevailed, yet He did not organise peace societies. Even idolatry cursed every hill and valley, yet He organised no crusade against idolatry. What He did not do is as remarkable as what He did do. The infidels of to-day arraign Him because He did not do these things.

2. But listen! His eye looked down the ages, and, passing over China, saw what subordination or subjugation had failed to do; over the region swayed by Buddha, and saw what his teaching had failed to do; over India, and saw that intellectual culture had proved a failure; over Rome, and saw that law had failed to suppress vice or develop virtue; ever Greece, where art was in its glory; and there He saw that the aesthetics of civilisation had failed, and that art was not a reformatory force. Then He said, “I will now enter the citadel of man; I will come to each individual, and ask him to permit Me to incarnate Myself in him; to enchain his conscience to My severe morality, to harmonise his will with Mine, to enthrone Myself in his affections; I will make each man a living, walking, speaking Christ.”

3. He resolved not to do what men could do. He knew that man, unaided by Him, could educate the mind, could bless the orphan and comfort the widow; but He resolved to touch the fountain of life that all the streams might be pure, and just in proportion as He is received as the regenerator of the human heart, in that proportion do public charities become facts, and benevolence is a sublime truth in the world. A learned Chinese in Philadelphia wrote a series of articles to this effect--that in his country there were houses of charity for the reception of the widow and the aged, but he should have had the honesty to tell two facts--first, that in his country there is no house of charity which antedates the introduction of Christianity; and, secondly, that on the banks of the Yang-tse-kiang there is a house of charity for animals which antedates Christianity. Those Chinese are in advance of Darwin, for they say these animals are to be men in the next world. In the same city I attended the semi-centennial of the Bible Society. First came upon the stand a mute, who, in his graceful language, recited to us the Beatitude, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Then came a beautiful girl born deaf, but Christian science had taught the mute lips to speak, and she whispered, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Then came a Chinese lady who was born blind, brought to this country and converted, and Christian science had taught her fingers to read deftly in the language of the blind, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Christian science is doing to-day what Christ did in His person. The genius of Christianity working through renewed hearts is writing its credentials in favour of our Divine Lord. Is it true He did not found a college or a university? He did something better; He placed in the hands of each man a book that should tell men of the character and the claims of Almighty God; that should inform man of his own origin, that he is immortal, and responsible to the ages as he is to God; a book that should present to him the noblest specimen of virtue and the grandest laws of morality, and wherever this Book has spread its banner of wisdom and love knowledge has been diffused, universities founded, and science advanced. Christ did not come as a statesman? He declared the brotherhood of mankind; He announced the eternal principles of truth and justice, and He knew that wherever these principles were accepted, from a heart that had been renewed by Him, there government would be modified, oppression would cease, and liberty would be enjoyed. Is it true He did not organise missions to reclaim the poor courtesan? He knew it was necessary to create a new affection in the heart of men and of women, for Him to be received into the human heart, to restrain passion; and He knew that, having been thus received, there would come a reformation of this fearful class in society. Only in a Christian land, and as Christianity becomes a living force in society is the social evil branded and banished. Is it true He did not offer the pledge of total abstinence to any? He knew that antecedent influences would be at work at first, and that great moral forces must operate. Is it true He did not organise peace societies? He whispered that Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and He very well knew that only as humanity is transformed by His power would war-passions cease and men live in sweet harmony together. Christian men have organised the only peace societies in the world. (J. P. Newman, LL. D.)


Verse 13

Acts 4:13

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John.

St. Peter; or, true courage

The grace of God, which St. Peter’s character and story specially forces on our notice, is the true courage which comes by faith. There is a courage which does not come by faith, but from hardness of heart, obstinacy, anger, or stupidity, which does not see danger or feel pain. That is the courage of the brute. One does not blame it. It is good in its place, as all things are which God has made. It is good enough for the brute; but it is not good enough for man. You cannot trust it in man. And the more a man is what a man should be, the less he can trust it. The more mind a man has, so as to be able to foresee danger and measure it, the more chance there is of his brute courage giving way. The more feeling a man has the more chance there is of his brute courage breaking down, just when he wants it more to keep him up, and leaving him to play the coward and come to shame. Yes; to go through with a difficult or dangerous undertaking a man wants more than brute courage. He needs to have faith in what he is doing to be certain that he is in the right. Look at the class of men who in times of peace undergo the most fearful dangers. Not a week passes without one or more of them, in trying to save life and property, doing things which are altogether heroic. What keeps them up to their work? High pay? The amusement and excitement of the fires? The vanity of being praised for their courage? Those are motives which would not keep a man’s heart calm and his head clear under such responsibility and danger as theirs. No; it is the sense of duty. The knowledge that they are doing a good and noble work, that they are in God’s hands, and that no evil can happen to him who is doing right. Yes; it is the courage which comes by faith which makes men like St. Peter and St. John. “I will not fear,” said David, “though the earth be moved, and the mountains carried into the midst of the sea.” The just man who holds firm to his duty will not, says a wise old writer, “be shaken from his solid mind by the rage of the mob bidding him do base things, or the frown of the tyrant who persecutes him. Though the world were to crumble to pieces round him, its ruins would strike him without making him tremble.” Such courage has made men, shut up in prison for long weary years for doing what was right, endure manfully for the sake of some great cause, and say--

“Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.”

There is but one thing you have to fear in heaven or earth--being untrue to your better selves, and therefore untrue to God. If you will not do the thing you know to be right, and say the thing you know to be true, then indeed you are weak. You are a coward, and sin against God. And you will suffer the penalty of your cowardice. You desert God, and therefore you cannot expect Him to stand by you. But who will harm you if you be followers of that which is right? (Psalms 15:1-5.) There is a tabernacle of God in which, even in this life, He will hide us from strife. There is a hill of God in which, even in the midst of danger, and labour, and anxiety, we may rest both day and night--even Jesus Christ, the Rock of Ages--He who is the righteousness itself, the truth itself. And whosoever does righteousness and speaks truth, dwells in Christ in this life, as well as in the life to come. And Christ will give him courage to strengthen him by His Holy Spirit, to stand in the evil day, the day of danger, and having done all to stand. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)

Christian heroism

The Church was born and nursed amid storms. The advocates of Christianity have frequently met with unexpected opposition and cruel persecution. Men whose office it was to promote the progress of truth have striven to impede its course. Persecution intimidates the weak, but ennobles and purifies the true. The text teaches us three things about the genuine disciple.

I. That Christian men are inspired with Divine courage in times of persecution. “They saw the boldness of Peter and John.” There is a wide difference between a Christian and a worldly man in times of trouble. The worldly man is timid, irritable, and restless; the Christian man is calm, courageous, and hopeful. Nothing can calm and strengthen a man more than a full assurance of God’s protection. Three things show that the disciples were endowed with Divine fortitude.

1. Look at their noble defence. Peter speaks courageously and eloquently for Christ.

2. Look at their bold attack. Peter charged his accusers with ignorance, they had rejected Christ; he charged them with sin, they had crucified Christ.

3. Look at their undaunted spirit. They were commanded to cease from preaching; but they remained steadfast to the truth. God can inspire His children with courage to meet the fiercest conflicts of life--to endure pain, to suffer poverty, to bear bereavement, to meet persecution.

II. That Christian men are inspired with Divine wisdom in times of persecution. “And perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men.” Christ had promised to impart wisdom to His disciples in times of danger. “When they deliver you up, take no thought how and what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.” “I will give you a mouth and wisdom that all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay and resist.” Three things show that the disciples were Divinely instructed.

1. They were enabled to make a special declaration of the power of Christ. The examination was particular--“by what name” they had performed the miracle. The answer was particular--“by the name of Jesus.” It was a merciful work, a successful work, a Divine work.

2. They were enabled to make a suitable declaration of salvation in Christ: “neither is there salvation in any other.”

3. They were enabled to make a public declaration of their faith in Christ: “there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” They believed in the supremacy of Christ. They knew He was both the Sou and the Sent of God. His word was true. His work was complete. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” Christian men ought to speak boldly in defence of the truth. Speak for Christ anywhere and everywhere, in the shop and in the market, at fasts and at feasts. Speak of His life, His atonement, His resurrection, His intercession.

III. That Christian men are inspired with a Divine influence in times of persecution. “And they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” The man who has frequent intercourse with Jesus will reflect his Master’s spirit. Communion with Christ makes a man gentle, patient, courageous, devout, and zealous. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai his face shone with such a Divine lustre that the children of Israel “were afraid to come nigh him.” The influence the disciples possessed is noticeable for three things.

1. It was a visible influence. “They saw, perceived, took knowledge of them.” There is something in the conduct, disposition, and countenance of a good man that reports itself; his influence is felt in the world, the Church, the family circle. A Divine life cannot be concealed; the light must shine.

2. It was a mighty influence. They silenced their accusers, they convinced their hearers, they converted five thousand men.

3. It was a spiritual influence. The miracle only excited attention, the word produced conversion. (Joseph Woodhouse.)

Christian heroism

We sometimes hear it stated that courage is a quality that is decreasing; that men are wise, enterprising, and refined, but not courageous. That opinion is not true even of physical bravery. It also ignores the altered conditions of life. If we look into life and see what is necessary to realise any great purpose in it, we shall conclude that opportunities are not wanting for the display of high heroism. The old bravery is not extinct, it is transformed and directed to better ends. It is the fortitude that comes from faith, love, and duty that is needed in these times. Christianity is the religion of heroism, as opposed to the creeds of expediency and prudence. It begets in us that temper of mind from which high achievements naturally flow. It reveals a universal conflict between truth and error in which true chivalry must be shown. The boldness of the mariner or the adventurer we may not all be called to rival, but the boldness of Peter and John we must all possess, if we are to fight our battle faithfully and attain the crown of life. Peter and John are examples of the new courage--the heroism of hearts inspired by love, and living for the benefit of others. Christianity had to fight. How did it bear itself in the conflict? Did it take counsel of safety, compromise, policy? No! what one is struck by in the action of the apostles is an audacity that is caution, a calmness that is power, and a love that impressed friends and foes. Peter declares that it is by the power of the risen Christ the healed man stood before them. That is the true explanation of all progress. The confidence, the contempt of suffering, the holy elevation of soul with which Peter uttered that statement filled all with surprise; they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus. That was the result of Peter’s boldness. R turned judges into criminals, and apostles into judges. It brought about their acquittal, and the still greater progress of their cause. If Peter had wavered, all had been lost. Similar devotion do we need to-day, not only for the conflict of Christian truth with error, but for the destruction of evil in laws, institutions, and habits, and for the every-day battle of life.

I. Christian heroism results from fellowship with Christ. The sense of the heroic is in all men; the disposition to admire the great and exceptional in the lives and acts of men. Life would be very monotonous if all men occupied one level of power. The sameness of nature is broken up by mountains, torrents, cataracts, and by crises. So the torpor of social life is broken up, and a new sense of power reached, by the presence of heroes, and of the heroic. The hero is one whose faculties are raised to a higher plane of power than ordinary men reach. Before Christ came there had been such characters. In various countries and at different times they had appeared: military heroes like Alexander; political heroes like Pericles; intellectual heroes like Plato and Socrates; artistic heroes like Phidias; reforming heroes like Elijah, Buddha, Confucius; patriotic heroes like Moses and David. But, wonderful as were the doings of these men, they do not fully satisfy the sense of the heroic. Their mastery over nature was not complete; their knowledge was limited; their sympathies were not universal; their greatness was measurable. The world needed the expression of a higher enthusiasm. Jesus Christ realised and transcended all these conditions. The special qualities of all other heroes meet in Him. Consider His personality, His knowledge, His labours, His conflicts, His sufferings and triumphs. And now that He is exalted to the throne of the universe, and praised and adored as the glorified Son of God, what is His purpose towards His disciples? To impart unto them His own enthusiasm, courage, power, and glory. How does Jesus Christ infuse His spirit into His disciples?

1. He reveals to them the high possibilities of their nature. The unheroic mind sees the actual as the measure of the possible. The heroic mind says, “All things are possible.” Jesus Christ is the measure of human possibility. He sees and awakens the capabilities of men. He saw the possibilities of Peter, of Paul, of Augustine, of Luther, of John Howard, of Carey, and educated their faculties to realise them.

2. Jesus Christ gives absolute certainty about the truth He teaches. If Peter had doubted, boldness would have fled.

3. Jesus gives courage by demanding the surrender of self. All cowardice results from self-consciousness. Let self be devoted to a worthy end, fear dies.

4. Jesus Christ teaches us that heroism is the universal law of heaven. The heroisms of earth are the commonplaces of heaven.

5. Jesus Christ concentrates our powers on one great aim. Distraction destroys heroism. The balloon must be steered.

6. Jesus Christ sustains His followers by His presence. Peter denied Jesus when he was charged. The Master does not disown the servant, but stands by him.

II. Christian heroism should be manifested in various spheres.

1. In witnessing to Christ in common life.

2. In faithfulness in temptation.

3. In new methods of Christian service.

4. In loyalty to personal conviction.

5. In responses to special calls to duty.

6. By the boldness of our prayers.

III. Christian heroism produces great results.

IV. Christian heroism is possible to all. Peter the denier transformed into Peter the heroic witness. Be not discouraged, cleave to Jesus, and in Him be strong. (J. Matthews.)

The boldness of apostolic preaching

I. The position and character of these men who were grieved at the apostles’ teaching of the resurrection. Most of them were Sadducees, rich, courtly, influential, holding the Pharisees in contempt as did the Pharisees the common people. A crisis was now impending. The impress of the Great Teacher was too great to be denied. Tone, look, manner, put the apostles’ training above suspicion. All had admitted the originality of Jesus as a teacher, and had opposed Him on this account. Lo! this originality has reappeared. The old controversy had suddenly returned. Jerusalem was in a moral upheaval. In this God’s hand strikingly appears. To confront the Sadducees was the initial work of Christianity. The question of “Jesus and the resurrection” must be settled at once. Other questions might be postponed till Sadduceeism received its deathblow. So the risen Christ confronted them everywhere and “sore troubled” them.

II. The consciousness of the Sadducees as to the power of Christianity. “We cannot deny it.” If the miracle is undeniable, then the source, in the risen Christ, is undeniable. Only one resource remains--silence the preachers! But can they be silenced? The leader of the hour was lately a weak man, who quailed before a servant-maid. Now he stands, with John unflinchingly before the most formidable tribunal of the country. How is it? The secret escapes their own lips. “The boldness” astonishes them, and they put it down to the fact that they had been with Jesus. Was this conscience? No. There was no sense of guilt here. It was fear. In the boldness of Peter and John they saw the answer to “His blood be upon us and our children.”

III. No one can have been with Jesus as a disciple and not show it thereafter in his spirit and action. The human heart was made for Him, and when renewed receives His fulness. This is the secret of Christian influence. (A. A. Lipscomb, LL. D.)

Courage comes from faith

Courage comes from faith! Faith always leads us out of self and teaches us to believe in the possibilities of others. No nature can be strong that is not enthusiastic, and no nature can be enthusiastic that has not faith. The man who has faith in other men and other things, and other manifestations of life and character than his own, will always have courage. And this faith of which we hear so much in the matter of religion is not only a Bible quality; it is a quality which is found in the busiest market-places of life and among the most successful of earthly heroes. Columbus bound in his prison was, after all, a stronger nature than the crowned Ferdinand upon his throne, for his faith realised an undiscovered continent. It was said of William Pitt, the younger, the Prime Minister of England at twenty-three years of age, that no one ever entered his closet, if it was for only five minutes, who did not come out of it a stronger and braver man than he was when he went in. Count Cavour, when he made Italy the free kingdom that it is, was once asked how he came to be so trusted by everyone, and said, in reply, that it was simply because he believed in men, and trusted them. There can be no courage without faith; for it is faith which bears our trembling natures away from their earthly moorings to some unknown, unseen reality, which exists because the soul believes in its existence.

Serving God with boldness

Mr. Moody told of a young man who attended his meetings at the Hippodrome in New York. He was long before he would confess to this belief in Christ, and when at length he did so, Mr. Moody asked him what had kept him back. He replied that he knew he had to make a clean breast of his profession to his room-mate, and he was deterred by the fear of being laughed at. Eventually he summoned up courage. He sat in his room reading the Bible, and presently he heard his mate coming up the stair. His first impulse was to shut the Bible and put it away in his trunk. His second thought restrained him, however, and he continued his reading. His bed-fellow came in and saw him with the Bible before him, and going up to him, said, “Are you interested in such things?” “Yes, I am.” “How long have you been so?” “Since Mr. Moody preached on such and such a text at the Hippodrome.” “Well now, that is strange, I was impressed with the same address, and all these nights I have been trying to screw up my courage to read my Bible before you.” “And I have only succeeded to-night in getting my courage up to read mine before you.” Mr. Moody remarked, “We want men who have got boldness and courage. If it is right to serve God, then let them serve Him with boldness, without regard to what man will think.”

And perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled.--

True religion the wonder of men

This astonishment was the natural effect of the appearance of a true Christianity differing so greatly from all its surroundings, of an effect disproportionate to the apparent cause. Strange coincidence that in the moment of their amazement the rulers should give the true explanation, “They have been with Jesus.” This should remind us, in the face of those powers now leagued against us, that we too possess a supernatural power, ever-victorious, be the combat what it may. This amazement--

I. Was the manifestation of the spirit of the world which relieves only in the visible, whether as to power, riches, or science.

1. None of these characteristics were found in these men, therefore when the power of the invisible and Divine appears in them, it is beyond the comprehension of the world which ignores that the visible is the Son of the invisible, and lives by its inspiration.

2. It is remarkable that this amazement was felt by the representatives of a holy religion. One could understand the Romans, men of war, or the Greeks, lovers of art, or the worshippers of gods which were only personifications of natural or human feeling, feeling such amazement. But here we are in the land of the prophets, yes--but religion was in a state of decay, impregnated with the spirit of the world. Therefore its pride was punished and its wisdom confounded.

II. Arose from the illiteracy of the disciples.

1. Opposition does not exist between religion and science in itself, but between false knowledge and religion. Two conditions of religious knowledge proceed from the nature of its object, which is God.

2. Application to the present time.

Influence of unlearned but true piety

Next came a negro servant. He was my next evangelist. I used to watch him in the field, and in the house, and even now, with my mature reflection, I cannot remember ever to have seen him do a wrong act. As I worked beside him in the field, he used to tell me his experience, and where he learned this and that hymn; and then he would sing as only the African can sing, and I used to wish that I could have such religion as that negro enjoyed. When we went to bed--he and I slept in the same garret, he in one corner and I in the other; some people would think it a dreadful thing to have to share a garret with a negro--when we went to bed he used to pile his pillows up behind him so that he could lie sitting up, take his hymn-hook, and fasten his candle up somewhere so that he could see. He would sing hymn after hymn with such relish and enjoyment, the big tears frequently rolling down his dark face, that I used to be cut to the heart with remorse, that I, a minister’s son, brought up with every advantage, should be so much worse than a poor negro. I would lie there and pretend to be asleep, while all the time was singing right at my conscience, and I was crying heartily to hear him. Oh, how glad I should have been could I have changed places with that poor negro serving-man, if it hadn’t been for cheating him I I think that lived, acted out religion does more good to children than all the talking that can be done, though talking certainly should not be omitted. That African did me more good than all the ministers that ever came to my father’s house. (H. W. Beecher.)

Unbelievers astonished

There are two sets of problems which excite the attention of the unbelief of every age--intellectual and practical. The first provokes antagonism, the second, mostly wonder. It is with the second that we have here to do. Note--

I. The courage of the weak in the presence of irresistible might. What that might and that weakness were had been felt eight short weeks ago. Nor had the one grown weaker or the other stronger by lapse of time. Yet in the face of the power which could commit them to prison, to scourging and to the cross, these two helpless men deliberately brought themselves into collision with the authorities. The like has been witnessed in every age, when the tender child, the gentle maiden, the aged have dared the fires of martyrdom for the cause of Christ. The like is still witnessed in the conflict with the powers of darkness, the resistance to worldly solicitation, the endurance of contempt, poverty, and affliction even with gladness. Whence this courage? asks the infidel. Ah! we know. “We have been with Jesus.”

II. The victory of the ignorant when confronted with the wisdom of this world. What chance had these uneducated fishermen in the presence of whole college of learned Rabbis? Yet the Rabbis were made to look very foolish, and the fishermen won a triumph such as a philosopher might have envied. So has it ever been. It was so with Jesus as a child, it was so with Him as a man. “Whence has this man letters?” It has been so with His followers ever since. How often has Christianity been slain in the opinion of its opponents! Scholarship has left no weapon unused. But the victory of Christianity is all along the line. And this not because of the labours of its learned “apologists.” The disciples of Celsus were not vanquished by the treatises of Origen, but by the witness of obscure slaves and artisans. The tide of infidelity in the last century was not stemmed by Butler’s “Analogy,” but by the testimony of Kingswood colliers and Lincolnshire labourers. The good fight of faith to-day is not won by academic men in secluded cloisters, but by “unlearned and ignorant “ successors of the men who could not but speak the things they had seen and heard. And sceptics marvel. They need not, for it is an open secret, “We have been with Jesus.”

III. The persistency with which christians adhere to a discredited cause. Here were men calmly avowing themselves disciples of a crucified malefactor, and prepared to be crucified themselves rather than abandon not simply His cause, but His very cross. It was this which astonished the cultured Greek and the practical Roman; it is this which has astounded both persecutors and onlookers ever since. The offence of the cross has not ceased, yet millions still glory in it. Wonderful, says the worldling, that these fanatics should renounce our pleasures and profits, and deliberately prefer a life of self-sacrifice and service of others. Wonderful, says the modern thinker, that men in the nineteenth century should hold to a creed formulated in the first. Not at all wonderful, says the Christian, “I have been with Jesus.”

IV. The reason of it all, which is the greatest wonder. How can there be fellowship with Jesus? And if that were possible, how can that fellowship make men bold in persecution, invincible in argument, enthusiastic in attachment, and so hold the field all through the centuries? Ah, perhaps we ourselves cannot tell. All we can say is, “We have been with Jesus, and He has baptized us with the power from on high, which has made us bold. We have been with Jesus, and have learned of Him, and with His wisdom have been made wise. We have been with Jesus, and His love has created a union which death, life, angels, principalities, powers, etc., cannot break.” We can say nothing further to a wondering world except “Come and see”; then you will know what we know, but cannot speak. (J. W. Burn.)

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

Christians who have been with Jesus

The apostles are called unlearned and ignorant, or private men, i.e., men of private education. They were not men who then appeared unlearned and ignorant. The freedom with which they spake, their knowledge of the Scriptures, and the force of their reasoning, convinced the rulers that they were at that time men of superior abilities and acquirements. But it was matter of wonder how these men who had only had a private education, and never had been instructed in the Jewish schools, should so speak; but the fact that “they had been with Jesus” was sufficient to account for it all. It is here observable, that though Christ chose men of private education, yet He sent them not forth to preach until they had been for some time under His own immediate instruction’: Paul, whose early education had been superior, was previously instructed in the doctrines of the gospel by Ananias. Even in that day, when uncommon gifts were bestowed by the Spirit, a preparatory education was ordinarily required for the gospel ministry. Novices were not to be introduced into so great and important aa office. How absurd is it, then, in this day, when supernatural gifts have ceased, for the unlearned and ignorant to assume, without a previous education, the work of public instruction!

I. The expression “being with Jesus” may be applied to--

1. All who enjoy the gospel. Peter and John, and their fellow disciples, were admitted to familiar converse with their Lord. You have His gospel, which communicates the instructions they heard, the works they beheld, the example they followed, and the devotions in which they joined. In regard therefore to all the purposes of faith, knowledge and virtue, you may be with Him as truly as they were. If a living voice will touch the heart more sensibly, yet the written word is better adapted to enrich your memory and improve your knowledge.

2. The true believer. He has received the renewing influence of the Spirit of Christ, and experienced the sanctifying power of his gospel. This the first disciples had. Barely to behold Christ’s works and receive His instructions, was but a small thing compared with this. But there are times when true believers have special intercourse with Christ.

II. Those who have been with Jesus. Should--

1. Be watchful against all sin. You have seen Him who suffered death to redeem you from iniquity; how can you continue any longer therein?

2. As having been trained up under His instructions, excel in religious knowledge.

3. Show themselves to be like Him. Learn of Him to be meek and lowly, patient and contented, pious and heavenly.

4. Set their affections on things in heaven, for Jesus is there.

5. Like the apostles, discover zeal and fortitude in the cause of Christ.

6. Be loving. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

Fellowship with Jesus

I. Life’s truest fellowship. It is with Jesus.

1. It is real. “Enoch walked with God.”

2. It is spiritual (Romans 8:1-39.).

3. It is heartfelt (Luke 24:32).

4. It is sustaining (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

5. It is efficacious (Romans 8:37; Philippians 4:13).

6. It is constant (Matthew 28:20).

II. The marks of life’s truest fellowship.

1. Simple faith (Acts 4:7-12).

2. Manly courage (Acts 4:20).

3. Sanctified wisdom (Acts 4:19).

4. Decisive choice of associations (Acts 4:23).

5. Faithful consistency of character in all things (Luke 1:6).

III. The influence of life’s truest fellowship.

1. It awakens surprise. “‘They marvelled.”

2. It produces conviction. “They took knowledge of them that had been with Jesus.”

3. It disarms the enemy (Acts 4:21.) (Homiletic Review.)

Been with Jesus

I. We must be much with Him by meditating on His great love for us displayed in His sufferings on our behalf.

II. We must be much with Jesus in studying the example He has set us.

III. We must be much with Jesus in holding communion with Him. (Homilist.)

Keeping company with Jesus

I. It is possible to keep company with Jesus.

1. In His Word.

2. In the sanctuary.

3. In the closet.

4. At His table.

5. In every path of service.

II. Keeping company with Jesus will result in some assimilation of character.

1. In proportion to the degree of intimacy.

2. The constancy of the intercourse.

3. The regard we have for our Companion.

III. The resemblance to Christ, in habit and character, will be manifest to the world. The disciple rosy be unconscious of it, but.

1. God will see and reward it.

2. Angels will note it and rejoice.

3. Brethren will discern it and be encouraged or rebuked.

4. The ungodly will be forced to confess it, to the honour of religion. (Homiletic Review.)

Fellowship with Jesus

I. As a spiritual possibility. By many lightly esteemed, by some ignored, and by others denied, fellowship with Him in His work, word, worship, is real (1 John 1:3). As real now as with the disciples of Emmaus, as with the youths in the fire, as with Paul, John, or Peter.

II. As an essential experience. However ignored or denied, it a necessity of spiritual life. Christ cannot be known but by fellowship.

1. It is the initial act of living faith. Consciously or unconsciously, each soul that seeks has fellowship. The woman touched hem of garment, and fellowship resulted, though she knew not its meaning. So in prayer of contrite as well as in sublimest communion.

2. It is the constant solace of earnest spirits: Mid life’s perplexing problems and heavy sorrows, this is support. It is indispensable. The body would as soon forget to breathe as the heart to talk with and lean upon Christ. “Lo I am with you alway,” is Christ’s promise: “I am continually with Thee,” is the heart’s reply.

III. As a moral inspiration The apostles possessed the secret of true courage. They, of all men, could be bold--

1. Because they believed and did the right. They knew their mission and their message So be Divine; this made them invincible. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” “Who is he that shall harm you if you be followers of that which is good?”

2. Because they believed and did the right from a right motive. They were no time-servers. Many can do the right when such doing is popular. Inquiring too often what will please, what will suit, not what is right, what will profit.

3. Because they believed and did the right from a right motive under the immediate inspiration of Christ. Here was the true secret of courage. “Fear not, for I am with thee”; “Go in this thy might.”

IV. As the secret of real influence. “They took knowledge of them,” etc. Priests and scribes and rulers felt the force with which these men spoke. They exerted an influence which--

1. Transcended social distinctions; they were but fishermen.

2. Surpassed educational attainments. “They were unlearned and ignorant men.”

3. Lies within our reach. It was when Jacob had been alone with God that he was enabled to meet and to overcome his brother. Be much with Christ, and you shall be a prince amongst men. (W. H. Burton.)

Fellowship with Christ essential to courageous testimony for Him

I. In the presence of the world. To have heard or read of Him is not enough: we must be with Him; walk with Him in a consenting will, love Him as having first loved us, be joined to Him in one Spirit. They who have been with Jesus fear not the pomp, nor the scoffs, nor the threats of men. A man’s religion before the world is one of those things by which his genuineness as a Christian are most readily tested. By testimony for Christ I do not mean an obtrusive introduction of His name and doctrines at all times; but a prudent uncompromising assertion of His rights and defence of His precepts and servants when occasion requires.

II. Before the foe within, a more formidable feat. Many a man could bear testimony for Christ before a world in arms, who yet is ignominiously silent in the council chamber of his own heart. There--where he hopes, or fears, or loves--his Redeemer’s name is not heard, his Saviour’s precepts are not alleged, his Master’s example is not heeded. Would you find a remedy for this and uplift the spirit so that it may assert Christian motives, press Christian rules of action, put forward Christ as his pattern? Christ must dwell in your heart by faith.

III. In the time of sorrow. Ere we have gone on long in life, hopes betrayed, fears realised, joys dashed with bitterness, are every man’s companions. And sorrow is a stern suggester of doubts and misbelief. Would you bear a consistent testimony in the presence of sorrow? Here, above all, you require the Saviour’s presence. Hearing and reading of Him may do while the weather is fair, and the sails are set, and the sea is smooth; but when the sky is overcast, and the winds are awake, and the sail is torn, and the billows rage, we want Him in the boat to steer.

IV. In the period of prosperity. If sorrows are open foes, successes are to us enemies in disguise. Many a man has borne noble witness to his Saviour in adversity, but how few have glorified Him in the broad sunshine of prosperity I It was the custom of persecutors to try not merely tortures to shake the constancy of the martyrs--these only a few craven dispositions heeded--but also to tempt them by the offer of advancement, of lands and houses, of rank and honours. And the father of persecutors follows the same plan. “All these will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” How shall the man of wealth, the magistrate, the statesman, render a fearless testimony to the Master of his talents and time? Only in one way--only on one condition. That way is the way of reality--that condition, communion with his Lord for himself. “They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” How different is the decent toleration of religion, the respectable patronising of God, His service and His people, the worldly-prudent care to grasp the world in one hand and just touch the refuge with the other; from the genuine Christian character, whose fountains gush evermore within, which is found always fearless on the side of God and good, submitting to obloquy if need be, enduring hardness as a good soldier of Christ. And there is nothing short of being with Jesus that will create such a character. You cannot put it on--it must result from the gradual accretion of many experiences, trials, failures, prayers, years spent under the eye and within the sound of the voice of the Saviour. You cannot build it up on the shifting sands of fashion, or on the soft and tempting soil of self-indulgence: its foundations must be on the holy hills, or it will never stand.

V. In the hour of death. There will come a day when each one will be called to wrestle with the last foe: to bear, in the presence of his past life, and in the presence of those who are to outlive him, his witness to Christ. Would we meet death fearless, and in humble assurance that we have a part in One who has robbed him of his terrors? There is but one way, and that way is, to have been with Jesus during our lives. There is nothing but the reality of the Christian life, which can ensure the peace of the Christian’s death.

VI. In the day of judgment. Then who are they that shall escape the wrath of the Judge, whom the crash of falling worlds shall strike unmoved and fearless? There will be found a multitude whom no man can number, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Angels and men shall take knowledge of them, that they have been with Jesus. (Dean Alford.)

The Christian’s exemplification of religion

I. By what marks men should take knowledge of the Christian that he has been with Jesus.

1. By the exclusive dependence with which he regards Him as his Saviour.

2. By the simplicity with which he acknowledges Him as a Teacher.

3. By the fidelity with which he follows Him as his Example.

II. To what end this manifestation is demanded of him.

1. It were a motive of irresistible urgency (if no other existed), to one who knows his obligations to redeeming goodness, that He who bought him from the condemnation of endless death, is hereby honoured in the estimation of men.

2. To this powerful impulse I would add the animating consideration, that the conduct resulting from a spiritual and saving communion with Jesus Christ by faith, may be advantageous to others; and induce them to glorify God in the day of their visitation.

Lessons:

1. Remember, ye who profess to seek Jesus, that as the Jews took knowledge of the apostles that they had been with Him, so the world is taking knowledge of you.

2. If any here, like the chief priests and Sadducees, are taking knowledge of those who have been with Jesus, to blame the good part they have chosen--to cavil at the principles they profess, the joys they feel, the self-denial they practice, or the faith in which they delight--Let such ungenerous observers bear in mind Who hath said, “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)

Communion with Christ discovered

I. When may we be said to have been with Jesus?

1. When we have been engaged in private devotion.

2. When we have been attending public worship.

3. When we have been partaking of the Holy Communion. There “we dwell in Christ, and He in us.”

II. By what proofs should men take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus?

1. By our humility.

2. By our zeal.

3. By our heavenly-mindedness.

4. By our holiness--hatred of sin, and determination to avoid it. (R. Davies, M. A.)

The assimilation of character

It is a law of our nature that we become like those whom we habitually admire and love. This is the principle according to which religions, whether true or false, react on men’s minds and hearts for good or evil. By worshipping, men are assimilated to the moral character of the objects which they adore. In China, Buddhist priests have been heard to say, “Think of Buddha, and you will be transformed into Buddha. If you pray to Buddha and do not become Buddha, it is because the mouth prays, and not the mind.” The same is true in the highest degree of Christianity: communion with God in Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, must have an assimilating effect, very gradual, indeed, but sure. “There are,” it has been well said, “some men and women in whose company we are always at our best. While with them, we cannot think mean thoughts or speak ungenerous words. Their mere presence is elevation, purification, sanctity. All the best stops in our nature are drawn out by their intercourse, and we find a music in our souls that was never there before. Suppose even that influence prolonged through a month, a year, a lifetime, and what would not life become? To have lived with Christ must have made us like Christ: that is to say, a Christian.” (W. Burner, M. A.)

The odour of grace

Men carry unconscious signs of their life about them. Those that come from the forge, and those from the lime and mortar, and those from the humid soil, and those from dusty travel, bear signs of being workmen, and of their work. One need not ask a merry face or a sad one whether it hath come forth from joy or from grief. Tears and laughter tell their own story. Should one come home with fruit, we say, “Thou art come from the orchard”; if with hands full of wild flowers, “Thou art from the fields”; if one’s garments smell of mingled odours, we say, “Thou hast walked in a garden.” But how much more, if one hath seen God, hath held converse of hope and love, and hath walked in heaven, should he carry in his eye, his words, and his perfumed raiment, the sacred tokens of Divine intercourse! (H. W. Beecher.)

Fellowship with Christ: its visible effects

Often when I am on the beach, or even from my window, I look across the bay; and I can just see a speck gleaming against the grey sands, or the surf-beaten, sullen-looking cliffs of Howth beyond; and I know at once what the speck is by its whiteness. At other times when the storm has come, and the waves are sweeping over the rocks, I see a light speck upon the dark cloud curtain; and I know it is a brave little sea-gull in its white coat. So when we have given ourselves to Jesus, it should be easy for those round about us to see that we have. When, like the bird on the sands, we are doing our lowly work, the white robe should be visible; and in sorrow and trouble the whiteness should gleam as it did in the lives of those men of whom we are told in the New Testament that others “took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” (J. Bowker.)

Communication with Christ the secret of power to bless men

On Thursday evening, March 29, 1883, for above an hour all who had occasion to use the telephone in Chicago found it vibrating to musical tones. Private and public telephones, and even the police and fire-alarm instruments, were alike affected. The source of the music was a mystery until the following day, when it was learned that a telegraph wire, which passes near most of the telephone wires, was connected with the harmonic system; that tunes were being played over it, and that the telephone wires took up the sounds by induction. If one wire carrying sweet sounds from place to place could so affect another wire by simply being near to it, how ought Christians in communication with Christ in heaven to affect all with whom they come in contact in the world. The Divine music of love and gentleness in their lives should be a blessing to society. (Homiletic Monthly.)

Communication with Christ the source of pulpit power

It is related that one of his hearers once asked, “How is it that Mr. Bramwell always has something that is new to tell us when he preaches?” “Why,” said the person interrogated, “you see Brother Bramwell lives so near the gates of heaven that be hears a great many things that we don’t get near enough to hear anything about.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christ’s people--imitators of Him

I. What a believer should be--a striking likeness of Christ. You have read lives of Christ beautifully and eloquently written, but the best life of Christ is His living biography, written out in the words and actions of His people. A Christian should imitate Christ in--

1. His boldness. This is a virtue nowadays called impudence, but the grace is equally valuable by whatever name it may be called. Christ dealt out honest truth; He never knew the fear of man; He stood out God’s chosen, careless of man’s esteem. Be like Christ in this. Have none of the time-serving religion of the present day, which only flourishes in a hot-bed atmosphere, a religion which is only to be perceived in good company. No; if ye are the servants of God, be like Jesus Christ; never blush to own your religion; your profession will never disgrace you--take care you never disgrace that.

2. His loveliness. The one virtue of boldness will never make you like Christ. There have been some who, by carrying their courage to excess, have been caricatures of Christ and not portraits. Let courage be the brass; let love be the gold. Let us mix the two together, so shall we produce a rich Corinthian metal, fit to be manufactured into the beautiful gate of the temple. The man who is bold may accomplish wonders. John Knox did much, but he might have done more if he had had a little love. Luther was a conqueror--still, if while “he had the fortiter in re he had been also suaviter in mode, he might have done even more good than he did. So, while we too are bold, let us ever imitate the loving Jesus.

3. His humility. In England a sovereign will not speak to a shilling, and a shilling will not notice a sixpence, and a sixpence will sneer at a:penny. But it should not be so with Christians. We ought to forget caste, degree, and rank, when we come into Christ’s church. Recollect, Christian, who your Master was--a man of the poor.

4. His holiness.

II. When should Christians be this? For there is an idea in the world that persons ought to be very religious on a Sunday, but that it does not matter what they are on a Monday. Is there a time when the warrior may unbuckle his armour, and become like other men? No; at all times and in every place let the Christian be what he professes to be. I remember talking with a person who said, “I do not like visitors who come to my house and introduce religion; I think we ought to have religion when we go to the house of God, but not in the drawing-room.” I suggested that there would be a great deal of work for the upholsterers in that case. “How is that?” was the question. “Why,” I replied, “we should need to have beds fitted up in all our places of worship, for surely we need religion to die with, and consequently every one would want to die there.” Aye, we all need the consolations of God at last; but how can we expect to enjoy them unless we obey the precepts of religion during life? Imitate Christ--

1. In public. Most of us live in some sort of publicity. The eagle-eyed, argus-eyed world observes everything we do; and sharp critics are upon us. Let us live the life of Christ in public. Let us exhibit our Master, and not ourselves--so that we can say, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth “in me.”

2. In the Church. How many there are like Diotrephes, seeking pre-eminence, instead of remembering that there all men are equal--alike brethren. Let your fellow-members say of you, “He has been with Jesus.”

3. In your houses. Rowland Hill once said he would not believe a man to be a true Christian, if his wife, his children, the servants, and even the dog and cat were not the better for it.

4. In secret. When no eye seeth you except the eye of God, then be ye like Jesus Christ. Remember His secret devotion--how, after laboriously preaching the whole day, He stole away in the midnight shades to cry for help from His God. Take care of your secret life.

III. Why should Christians be this?

1. For their own sakes. For their honesty’s sake, their credit’s sake, their happiness’ sake; let them imitate Christ.

2. For religion’s sake. The professor who has not lived up to his profession; the man who eaters the fold, being nought but a wolf in sheep’s clothing--such men injure the gospel more than the laughing infidel or the sneering critic.

3. For Christ’s sake. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” Be like Christ, since gratitude demands obedience; so shall the world know that ye have been with Jesus.

IV. How He can be so.

1. You must know Christ as your Redeemer before you can follow Him as your Exemplar.

2. You must study Christ’s character. There is a wondrous power about that, for the more you regard it the more you will be conformed to it. I view myself in the glass, I go away, and forget what I was. I behold Christ, and I become like Christ.

3. “But,” say you, “we have done that, and we have proceeded but little farther.” Then correct your poor copy every day. At night recount all the actions of the twenty-four hours, scrupulously putting them under review. When I have proof sheets sent to me of any of my writings, I have to make the corrections in the margin. I might read them over fifty times, and the printers would still put in the errors if I did not mark them.

4. Seek more of the Spirit of God. Take the cold iron, and attempt to weld it if you can into a certain shape. How fruitless the effort! Lay it on the anvil, seize the blacksmith’s hammer with all your might; let blow after blow fall upon it, and you shall have done nothing. But put it in the fire, let it be softened and made malleable, then lay it on the anvil, and each stroke shall have a mighty effect, so that you may fashion it into any form you may desire. So take your heart, put it into the furnace; there let it be molten, and after that it can be turned like wax to the seal, and fashioned into the image of Jesus Christ. Conclusion: To be like Christ is to enter heaven; but to be unlike Christ is to descend to hell. Likes shall be gathered together at last, tares with tares, wheat with wheat. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The true joyfulness of a witness for God

I. On what it is founded.

1. The experience of grace in the heart.

2. The pure Word of God on the lip.

3. The exemplary walk in the life.

II. How it shows itself.

1. In the pulpit by the joyful opening of the mouth.

2. In the world by the fearless testimony of the truth.

3. Under the cross by peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

III. How it works.

1. To the confusion of the adversaries.

2. To the building up of the Church.

3. To the glory of God. (C. Gerok.)

The means of silencing blasphemers

I. Joyful perseverance in testimony.

II. Exhibition of fruits of work. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 14

Acts 4:14

And beholding the man which was healed … they could say nothing against it.

Practical testimony to Christianity

“Have you ever heard the gospel before?” asked an Englishman at Ningpo of a respectable Chinaman, whom he had not seen in his mission-room before. “No,” he replied, “but I have seen it. I know a man who used to be the terror of his neighbourhood. If you gave him a hard word he would shout at you, and curse you for two days ariel nights without ceasing. He was as dangerous as a wild beast, and a bad opium smoker; but when the religion of Jesus took hold of him he became wholly changed. He is gentle, moral, not soon angry, and has left off opium. Truly, the teaching is good!” (Homiletic Monthly.)

Months closed and opened

I. The mouths of the rulers were closed. They could say nothing against the miracle--

1. As a fact. There was the man; that he was lame, that he now walked they all knew. There are equally incontrovertible facts to-day. Men are sober who were once drunkards, honest who were once thieves, and the enemy cannot deny it.

2. As blessed fact. Not a man amongst them but would have confessed that lameness was a misfortune, and the cure of it a blessing. Similarly when sceptics see lives, homes, circumstances transformed by the power of the gospel, they can say nothing against the blessedness of the transformation.

II. The mouths of the rulers should have been opened. If they could say nothing against the fact they ought to have said something for it.

1. They should have accounted for it. If they rejected the apostles’ hypothesis of the cure they should have framed one more satisfactory. And so now. The blessed facts of moral healing have to be accounted for, and sceptics are bound logically to account for them. The process requires painstaking and honest research, and candour when the conclusion is reached. But no one has ever reached but one conclusion which will satisfy all the conditions of the case--the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

2. They should have been grateful for it and encouraged its repetition. However much it may have gone athwart their convictions, at least the sum of human misery was by so much reduced and the sum of human happiness augmented--why, then, net more? The Marquis of Queensberry candidly confessed his disbelief in Christianity, but he could not ignore the blessedness of its results, and so in logical consistency with the knowledge which should have upset his illogical unbelief contributed to General Booth’s scheme.

III. The mouth of the rulers was opened.

1. In secret confession of the truth of the fact (Acts 4:16). And there is much of this nowadays Not all of it is like that before us hypocritical. Many sceptics are privately convinced of the unsoundness of their position, and many heathen are secretly convinced of the truth of Christianity. Let us hope that both may come into the public light. But these rulers, like others to-day, “love darkness rather than light,” etc.

2. In open prohibition of its repetition (Acts 4:18). What a result! Here were men objecting to other men being made healthy and happy. Why? Because it was done in an objectionable way. Let us not be surprised, for there are doctors who forbid the use of any remedies that are not in their pharmacopoeia, although the use of those remedies has been proved to be beneficial, and there are also Christians who forbid a certain style of preaching and preachers although they convert souls.

3. Ineffectually. The mouth of the rulers was opened to close those of the apostles, instead of which mouths which were open all along opened wider.

The golden muzzle

1. It is no new thing for the gospel to be opposed.

2. Nor a strange thing for the great, the official, the powerful, and the influential to be foremost in such opposition. The opposition of ungodly men is--

3. The best and perhaps the only way to silence opposition is by exhibiting the blessed results which follow from the gospel.

4. Those who would say anything if they could, can say nothing of what they would, when they see before their eyes the cures wrought by the word of the Lord Jesus. “The man that was healed” is our best apologist. Better than Paley’s “Evidences,” or Butler’s “Analogy,” is the proof given by results.

I. The gospel is vindicated by its results.

1. On a broad scale in nations. England, the islands of the Pacific, Jamaica, Madagascar, etc.

2. In individual conversions from open sin. Some of the worst of men have become clear instances of the purifying power of the gospel.

3. In restoring to hope the comfortless and despairing. Very marvellous is its efficacy in the direction of healing mental maladies.

4. In elevating saints above selfish aims and designs, and inducing heroic consecrations. The biographies of gracious men and women are demonstrations of the Divine power of the Word.

5. In sustaining character under fierce temptation. Wonderful is the preserving salt of grace amid surrounding putrefaction.

6. In holy and happy death-beds. These are plentiful throughout history, among all ranks; and they never fail to convince the candid. Many another catalogue of results might be made. Many a man is unable to be an infidel because of what he has seen in his mother, wife, or child.

II. Gospel-works and workers must look for like vindication. Nowadays men ask for results: the tree must bear fruit, or the cry is, “Cut it down.” We do not shrink from this test.

1. The minister must find in his converts a proof of his call, and a defence of his doctrines, methods, peculiarities, etc.

2. A society, college, or institution must stand or fall by its fruits.

3. The individual professor must abide the same test.

4. The Church in any place, and the Church on the largest scale, must be tried by similar methods.

5. Even our Lord Himself loses or gains honour among men according as His followers behave themselves.

III. The gospel and its workers deserve vindication at our hands. Those who are healed should boldly stand with Peter and John as witnesses and fellow workers. This suggests a series of practical questions:--

1. Has it produced blessed results in us?

2. Have we come forward to stand with the preachers of it in evidence that it has wrought our cure? Are we continually witnessing to the truth and value of the gospel of Christ?

3. Does the influence of the gospel upon us so continue and increase unto holiness of life as to be a credit to its influence?

4. Are there not points in our character which harm the repute of the gospel? Should not these be amended at once?

5. Could we not henceforth so live as more effectually to silence the opponents of the Word? Let the Church plainly see that her converts are her best defence: they are, in fact, her reason for existence. Let converts see the reason why they should come forward and declare their faith, and unite with the people of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Opponents silenced by Christian consistency

The behaviour of some professors has often given the wicked an opportunity to reproach religion. Lactantius reports, that the heathen were wont to say, “The Master could not be good, when His disciples were so bad.” The malice of sinners is such that they will reproach the rectitude of the law, for the obliquity of their lives who swerve from it. Oh that your pure life did but hang a padlock upon their impure lips! (William Secker.)

Conversions the test of a good ministry

Certain gentlemen waited upon Rev. Matthew Wilks to complain of the eccentricities of his discourses. Wilks heard them through, and then produced a long list of names. “There,” said the quaint divine, “all those precious souls profess to have found salvation through what you are pleased to call my whims and oddities. Can you produce a similar list from all the sober brethren you have been so much extolling? “ This was conclusive: they withdrew in silence.


Verse 16

Acts 4:16

What shall we do to these men?
for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done … we cannot deny
.

Healed men

(1) The miracle

Few things are more striking than the continuance and growth of Christianity; first, under the circumstances of difficulty and persecution; and next, under the conditions of maintenance to which it is restricted, viz., moral persuasion and impression. The Church is its own sufficient witness. It is of God, because it has so triumphed. The conditions under which its most signal triumphs have been won have been far removed from any that human sagacity could have devised. How often the things that threatened its destruction have proved the signal means of its salvation! The Jews prevail upon Pilate to crucify Jesus; that very death accomplishes His redeeming purposes. The Sanhedrin persecute the little Church, and break it up; but it simply scattered coals of living fire, which ignited everything they touched. So it has been a thousand times since. Tempests of persecuting passion have only carried in every direction the pollen of the Christian flower, which has fructified and brought forth a hundred-fold. Precisely this result was produced by this persecution: unwittingly it furnished occasion for one of the most signal triumphs of early Christianity. The whole issue turned upon the character of the alleged miracle, and upon the power whereby it was wrought. If it could be established that such a miracle had been wrought in the name and by the power of Jesus, the Christian doctrine was indubitably attested. The question therefore really was the relation of miracles to Christianity, the question that scepticism is discussing still. Only the Sanhedrin never thought of taking the ground of modern scepticism, which, not so closely confronted by contemporary fact, affirms that miracle is impossible. Their insinuation was the old Pharisaic blasphemy, “He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils.” It is not always deficiency of evidence that causes men to reject Christianity.

I. The healing of this cripple is a striking illustration of the peculiar benevolence and grace of Christianity. Amid thousands who needed healing this beggar was the selected object. Lordly priests and wealthy nobles crowded the temple, some probably victims of painful disease, but to none of them were the apostles sent. It was surely in purposed and beautiful harmony with the character of the gospel that neither our Lord nor His apostles sought for illustrious patients. They did not, of course, exclude the rich. Our Lord gladly went to the house of Jairus, and to that of the centurion. To the poor, characteristically, the gospel was preached. They especially awakened the Master’s compassion, because of their greater misery. There is a sense in which special solicitudes of the Christian worker will gather round the rich, whose peculiar spiritual peril the Master indicated when He said, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven!” It is not easy to make Dives conscious of his spiritual poverty. Men who receive their “good things” in this life are in danger of neglecting the life hereafter. But it is the distinctive grace of Christ’s gospel that to the very poorest its blessings may come. It saves the respectable Pharisee, but it has its greatest triumph and joy in saving the outcast publican. It comes to “seek and to save the lost”; to “call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Its characteristic agencies are reformatories and ragged schools, theatre preachings and midnight meetings, city missions and missions to the heathen. When do its workers seek the palaces of nobles, or a place among the rich? Its glory is to fill its churches with “healed men.”

II. The promptings of the healed man’s gratitude.

1. Its piety.

2. Its human fidelity.

III. In this perilous crisis of the infant Church it was saved by the presence and testimony of this healed cripple. What could these few peasants and fishermen have done against the might and hostility of the Sanhedrin? If, as is sometimes affirmed, Christianity be only human, the miracle of its establishment and propagation by such apostles, and under such circumstances, is surely as great as the miracle of the Incarnation. Five thousand converts within a few days, as the result of simple religious teaching, are surely as difficult to credit as the healing of the lame man. It was not the first time that Peter had stood before Annas and Caiaphas, who would exult in having in their hands again the leaders of the sect. What could be easier than to crush this accursed thing? The difficulty lay in certain incorrigible facts. The vitality of this pestilent heresy was derived from these facts. First, there were the notorious miracles which Christ Himself had wrought, crowned by His own indubitable resurrection. And now His followers seem to be working similar marvels. A fact such as this was worth a thousand arguments. It utterly baffled the Sanhedrim It compelled them to admit the miracle, and, with it, its undeniable inferences. The healed man, not the eloquence of its apostles, saved the infant Church. Such has often been the vindication of the Church; not the learning of its doctors, or the arguments of its apologists, but the spiritual life of some humble, simple-hearted disciple, who has justified its work by himself demonstrating its healing power. (H. Allon, D. D.)

Healed men

(2) The argument

In religious systems the ultimate test of validity must ever be practical efficiency. Let us then apply this test to Christianity. Putting the argument in the broadest way, it stands thus: The fact of human sinfulness is proved from the universality of the consciousness of moral imperfection, and the assertion of the Christian Scriptures. Now philosophers, theologians, and moralists have set themselves to correct this evil, and to exert such influences as may quicken within men holy affections, and array their will resolutely and effectively on the side of purity and piety. The world has had along history. All kinds of experiments have been made in it. We know what was the faith, and what the kind of life that it produced in Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, China, and other non-Christian nations. We know how various forms of Christianity have worked in Europe. We know the effects of infidelity. And the comparative claims of these various systems are submitted to our verdict. Which of all the theologies, philosophies, or moralities propagated amongst men has been the most effective in making men good? We might rest the argument first upon a broad historical view of nations and peoples; we might compare Christian nations with idolatrous or Mohammedan nations; and point out how little non-Christian faiths have done to correct moral evil in men. We gladly admit that they have done something, and cannot question the true and noble elements of Buddhism, etc., and the very worst superstition is better than unchecked godlessness and vice. There may be religious traditions of a primitive knowledge of God which even a Bechuana has not lost. Yet who would hesitate to recognise the moral superiority of Christianity, and the greater practical power of its truths? A similar line of argument, secondly, might be maintained respecting different forms of Christianity. Just in proportion as it has been spiritual, biblical, have the nations who have received it been virtuous, noble, industrious, and powerful. The connection between Popery and the state of nations such as Spain, Austria, Italy, and Ireland, not to speak of France; and between Protestantism and the state of nations such as Germany, England, and the United States, is too obvious to need exposition. And one has only to think of the principles, religious, social, and political, of the two systems, to see that the result is inevitable. Sacerdotalism, in all its forms, is antagonistic to the noblest life of nations or men. But these lines of argument demand volumes for their adequate illustration. Let me take one or two of the fundamental elements of Christianity, and look at their adaptation to make men holy.

I. The Bible. It is our authoritative religious book, claiming to be a supernatural revelation of the thought and heart of God. Is, then, the Bible, as tested by its history and practical moral power, the efficient instrument for recovering men? On many sides its claims are disallowed. It is denied that it is inspired--only as Plato, and Bacon, and Shakespeare, and Milton are inspired. It is not, we are told, even true as a history. Its chronology, statistics, science are false, its miracles impossible violations of natural law, its prophecies but remarkable coincidences or sagacious prognostications. There is in the Book nothing that may not be accounted for on natural principles. How, then, are its Divine claims to be vindicated? Christianity has scholars abundantly competent to reply to the scholars of infidelity. Nay, the chief learning and science, criticism and philosophy of the world, are Christian. Hitherto, moreover, every assault of hostile criticism has only called forth new champions, who by fresh researches and lines of argument have shown how impregnable and manifold its defences are. But the vindication of the Bible need not be left to learned argumentation. We may appeal to the religious character and achievements of the Bible. Alone among the religious books of the world it is a book of history; and further, itself has a history. The Bible is not like the Zendavesta, a book of liturgies; nor like the Vedic Hymns, a book of impossible legends; nor like the writings of Confucius and Plato, a book of moral philosophy; nor like the Koran, a book of mere doctrine and precept. Fundamentally and characteristically it is history. What, then, is the moral character of the Bible? and what have been its moral effects? Take as a test of the Old Testament the Book of Genesis. Is it history or is it legend, from God or of men? Do we need a Niebuhr to give us a reply? Nay, verily. Make what abatement we may for historic or scientific difficulties, indisputable religious characteristics remain.

1. How are we to account for its characters, Abel, Enoch, Abraham? Hew is it that Abraham, the “friend of God,” is not, like Hercules, a demigod or a hero? Always in closest intimacy with Jehovah, he is yet always as human in all his thoughts and actions as the men of to-day. How is it, again, that the Jehovah whom he worships is not like Zeus, an incongruous conception of supernatural attributes, human imperfections, and even vile passions. While the worshipper has no single trait of divinity, the Jehovah whom he worships has no single trait of humanity. How is it that these conceptions of the human and Divine, and of their relations, so incomparably transcend all the mythologies of the world, that in fundamental ideas we have neither surpassed nor altered them since?

2. How is it, again, that the morality taught in the Book of Genesis so singularly transcends even that of Plato; nay, that it is so wonderfully accordant with the moral conceptions and feelings of our own day? Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, are fully delineated, and their faults exposed. Wrong is never confounded with right. How came it to pass that when the philosophy of a Plato and the morality of an Aristotle were so signally defective, this old book of three thousand years ago anticipated the fundamental theology and morality of our nineteenth Christian century? Is not the only possible answer--These were men whom God had healed, and this is God’s record concerning them? Difficulties of science or of history have no weight against these moral evidences, based as the former are upon ignorance or erroneous interpretation, which greater information might remove. But there can be no mistake about these positive features, and before the claims of the record can be rejected these must be accounted for.

II. Turning to the New Testament, still grander moral delineations are presented to us. Peerless and Divine stands the moral portraiture of Jesus Christ. Whence is it? of man or of God? Whatever we may think about Christianity, Christ Himself is the greatest moral miracle of human history. Had Jesus never lived, could His character have been imagined? Has any conception of romance approached it since? Think of--

1. His calm, majestic strength, His perfect self-possession and dignity, and yet His nature intense even to passion in its emotions. He denounces the Pharisees, but without a vestige of unholy passion; He drives out the money-changers, but without a spark of religious fanaticism.

2. The wisdom of His holiness. His is not the innocence that is ignorant of human life, it is the strength that is above it.

3. His self-consciousness and self-assertion. When He speaks concerning Himself it is to avow His human faultlessness, to assert His Divine perfection and prerogative. His character, He claims, has been subjected to unparalleled tests, and without the discovery of a single flaw.

4. The singular proportion and adjustment of His character. What a wonderful harmony of greatness and gentleness, holiness and pity, strength and sympathy; the grandeur of the loftiest manhood, the tenderness of the gentlest womanhood. We reverence as much as we love Him, we love Him as much as we worship Him.

5. His moral excellences in combination with His intellectual greatness.

6. His conception of His own kingdom. He, a peasant of the mountain village of Nazareth, conceives a kingdom of pure spiritual life, alike adapted to the ancient Asiatic and to the modern European, to the shivering Esquimaux and to the torrid Hindoo; a kingdom of universal brotherhood, in which all men are to be knit together in holiness and love. May we not, then, fairly appeal to the moral portraiture of the New Testament in proof that it is of God? Not merely to its healed men, but also to their Healer. Scepticism has had its men of genius--why has it never produced another gospel? Upon the moral integrity of its Christ Christianity is staked. He alleged that He wrought miracles. But if He never did them, the loftiest truth, the purest morality of the world is the offspring of a lie--a moral solecism so great that our entire consciousness rejects it.

III. Nor are the effects of Christ’s Gospel or the religious history of the Bible less conclusive. We know what Christianity did in apostolic times, when it came into contact with the unutterable depravities of Greece and Rome--what it found its converts, and what it made them. We know what it has done in every land to which it has come since; what just now Europe is in contrast with Asia, America in contrast with Africa. We know what fifty years ago the South Sea Islands were, and what--the officers of our navy and the intercourse of our merchant ships being witness--they are now. And its latest triumphs have been the most signal. A few chapters of the Bible, sometimes a single page, has sustained and propagated the Christianity of Madagascar; inspiring its converts with the virtue of saints and with the heroism of martyrs. No other book does this. Stand in a pulpit and read to men Plato or Milton or Bacon: where are their converts? whose hearts do they change? whose lives do they sanctify? Read to them the Bible, and healed men spring up everywhere, “walking, and leaping, and praising God.”

IV. We might take the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, and reason from them in the same way.

1. No doctrine, e.g., has been more demurred to than the doctrine of atonement. It has been represented as unrighteous and immoral. It is sufficient to reply--

2. So with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It is objected to as loosening the bonds of responsibility, as encouraging a perilous laxity in morals; inasmuch as men who are taught that all their goodness is from God, and that a Divine power external to themselves must “create in them a clean heart,” and “renew them day by day,” are not likely to strive to be good. Again we appeal to the inexorable logic of fact, to healed men. Who in religious life are the most sensitive to sin, the most scrupulous in holiness, the most consecrated in service, the most beneficent in help? Beyond all dispute, they who theoretically believe, and who practically illustrate the new birth of the Spirit. In a word, we boldly submit all the fundamental doctrines of Christianity to this test of results. Conclusion: Every Christian minister, every town missionary, almost every member of a Christian Church, could adduce instances, some of them scores and hundreds, which would stand the test of any judicial investigation. No one rejects Christianity because its influences are pernicious, or Christ, because His teaching is immoral. When Christian men are charged with inconsistency, the very charge implies a standard far higher than any other in our social life. Reason with a sceptical objector, you may be ignominiously defeated. But the argument from moral result is unanswerable. The most ignorant can say, “Whether this be of God or not I cannot tell; this I know, that whereas once I was blind now I see.” If the objector tells you what his philosophy is, you show him what your Christianity has done. He challenges the philosophy of your creed, you challenge the moral effects of his infidelity. Where are its religious penitents, its rescued reprobates, its Magdalens and prodigals? And if he has found no such moral power to make men holy, he will, if a true man, tell you with a sorrowful heart, how reluctantly he rejects your Christianity. He who feels no such anguish, or who chuckles over any discredit of a benign and holy Christianity, is simply a fiend and not a man. In this way, then, even gainsayers may be made to confess, “That a notable miracle hath been done by these Christian teachers, is manifest to all them that dwell in the land, and we cannot deny it.” (H. Allon, D. D.)


Verses 18-31

Acts 4:18-31

And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor to teach in the name of Jesus.

Christian courage

I. Its test. The apostles did not wish to separate themselves from the Jewish Church, for it was while entering the temple that Peter and John restored the lame man. See these men, then, confronted by a positive command from the nation’s highest tribunal to be silent, a tribunal, too, that had condemned their Master. National love, respect for law, pride of race, reverence for institutions hoary with age, strength of social ties, personal friendships, a shrinking from becoming disturbers of the peace, fear for personal safety--all these conspired to intensify the command “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” What now enables them to oppose the Sanhedrin’s command? Their personal love for Jesus. To be silent is impossible. Bound to their nation by enduring ties, a stronger cord binds them to Jesus. “We cannot but speak.” And speak they did, with added boldness. There are currents in the sea which, despite opposing winds and tides, move on their way unhindered, impelled by a mighty force hidden far in the depths. Such a force in the hearts of these disciples was love for Christ.

II. Its manifestations. Men are sometimes called courageous when they are only reckless. The man of real courage will be bold enough, and calm enough, to act wisely. In the conduct of the apostles every mark of true courage is manifest.

1. They show that their course is not prompted by impulse or passion. They are moved by deep convictions. They plant themselves on the highest conceivable ground, the sense of right. They have no ambitious ends to seek, no revenge to gratify, no popular applause to gain. “Thrice armed is he who bath his quarrel just.” When the Empress Eudoxia sent threatening messages to Chrysostom in Constantinople to desist from his pungent reproofs, the golden-tongued preacher replied: “Tell the Empress that Chrysostom fears nothing but sin.” Note, as an evidence of wisdom, how sagaciously the apostles appeal to this self-same principle of right in the minds of their accusers. “Judge ye.” This sense that it is right to hearken more unto God than unto men, whether adopted in practical life or not, must and does commend itself to every man’s conscience. Those who adhere to it gain the confidence of all. “What,” was asked by a merchant of a poor boy applying for a situation, “should you say if I were to tell you to work on Sunday?” “I shouldn’t come; for God has said, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,’ and I shall do as God bus told me.” “Then,” said the employer, “you are the boy I am looking for.”

2. The apostles’ courage is seen in the company they keep. “Being let go, they went to their own company,” etc. How changed the aspect! In the Sanhedrin the air was dense with suspicion and malice--here is love, purity, and the peace of heaven. Courage is of the right kind when it seeks to sustain itself by breathing an atmosphere like this.

III. Its source (verse 31). The breath of God’s Spirit upon their spirits. Christ did not send the apostles into trial without providing them with a power adequate to every want. Christians should learn to look to the Holy Spirit to work in them and for them whatever their needs require. If courage is the virtue needed here, then courage will be the product of the Spirit. Before the Sanhedrin the Spirit makes Peter bold; but afterwards the same Spirit made him deeply humble. John, originally a “son of thunder,” was by the Spirit’s agency so transformed as to become a renowned example of Christian gentleness. (Monday Club Sermons.)

The apostles’ confidence in God

In the breast of every earnest man this conflict resolves itself into a question of duty of expediency. The easy thing is to suit one’s convenience; the hard thing is to do right. In the case of Peter and John there was a disagreement between the higher and the lower law. The powers that be are ordained of God; wherefore it is right to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, and be ready unto every good work (Titus 3:1). But if there comes a moment when the soul is hemmed in between the mandate of an earthly ruler and the word of Jehovah, the way is plain: God must ever hold the first place in the soul of a true man. We are resolved to do our duty though the heavens fall! In reaching this determination they were moved by two arguments--

1. It was right. All considerations of mere prudence must stand aside for principle. Conscience has always the right of way. The meanest man on earth knows that God’s service is above time-service. It was perfectly safe for the two disciples to submit that proposition to their inquisitors, as they did when they said, “Judge ye.”

2. It was in line with the ruling motive of their lives. They had some time ago made up their minds deliberately to follow Christ. In that resolve there was no reservation; they had surrendered all. Now the matter is to be brought to a test; will they be loyal to their Master or not? There is no ground for hesitation. So Peter and John stood by their principles. It must have seemed to them as if they were facing death, but no matter. Now mark the immediate result.

These disciples expected imprisonment, the lash, perhaps death, for their temerity; but God had His own plans.

1. Their judges “marvelled” at their courage and “let them go”! The angel of the Lord came and shut those lions’ mouths so that they could not hurt them.

2. The people “glorified God for that which was done.” That term, “the people,” represents an inconstant and untrustworthy factor; but in this instance the good work done upon the impotent man was so manifest, and the subsequent demeanour of Peter and John in court so heroic, that they were perforce convinced and moved to glorify God.

3. The two disciples were themselves emboldened for further service. They had tried God and found Him faithful, and they were ready to try Him again. The lad David was encouraged to go out against Goliath by the fact that God had once before delivered him from a lion and bear that had taken a lamb out of his flock. A man’s courage is like his biceps muscle; it grows by use.

4. The whole Church was strengthened and enheartened by this event. Courage is catching. Heroes make heroes. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)

Obedience to God

The Rev. Mr. Martini, from Spain, says: “I have had the privilege of suffering a little--a very little--for the dear Lord, but in a sense it was my own fault, for I broke the law of my country. In Spain it was against the law for a Protestant to preach to a congregation of more than twenty persons, and that law I broke by addressing an audience of more than two hundred and fifty persons in the open air. I was holding a meeting of twelve persons in a small room, when certain persons entered and told me that there was a large number of people who wished me to preach to them in the open air. I thought, ‘This is a call from God! Shall I obey God or man?’ I obeyed God, and broke the law of man; the consequence was that I was sent to prison for forty-six days. I was well treated by every one. The mayor and all the notables came to see me, and I gave them tracts and Gospels, besides preaching inside the prison to more than fifty persons at a time, although the law forbade me to preach to more than twenty persons at a time outside the prison.”

God before man

A heathen king had a Christian bishop brought before him, and ordered him to abjure his faith and sacrifice to the heathen idols. “My lord and king,” said the bishop, “that I will not do.” At this the king was furious, and said, “Do you know that your life is in my hands, and that if I liked I could kill you? I have only to sign to my servants, and you are a dead man.” “I know that,” answered the bishop; “but before you kill me let me tell you a story. You can decide my fate when I have finished. Suppose one of your most faithful servants falls into the hands of your enemies, and they seek to excite him to rebel against you--to make him a traitor. He, however, remains faithful, and your enemies strip him, and drive him back to his country. Say, O king, when he came to you thus, insulted and outraged for your honour, would you not provide him with your best garments,, and cover his shame with honour?” “So far, so good,” said the king, “but what has all this to do with the case in hand? A pretty story enough, and well told, but I do not see the connection it has with you.” Then the pious bishop answered, “Listen, sire. You may strip me of my earthly garments, but I have a Master who will clothe me with splendour, and fit me for His presence in glory. Shall I barter away my faith to save my garments?” Then the heathen king answered, “You have conquered; go in peace.”

Christian courage

I. Manifested (verses 18-22).

II. Sustained (verses 23-28).

III. Increased (verses 29-31). (Christian Age.)

Not to cease because despised

What would the nightingale care if the toad despised her singing? She would still sing on and leave the toad to his dark shadows. And what care I for the threats of men who grovel upon the earth? I will still sing on in the bosom and ear of my God. (H. W. Beecher.)

Christian courage

Courage is one of the Bible virtues. It was one of the last words of Moses to Joshua: “Be strong and of good courage.” It was almost the first word of the Lord on welcoming him to his new office: “Be strong and of good courage.” It was the counsel given the twelve Hebrew explorers. David recalled the energising word in his charge to Solomon, and in the Psalms he rings out the same voice to all the saints: “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” The correspondent word “boldness” is as often used in the New Testament. It applied to Christ Himself in His preaching; it was what Paul would have the Church pray for as a gift to him; and, as we see in this book of Acts, it was one of the distinguishing traits of the other apostles and the primitive Church. Mark, then, this instance of Christian courage--

I. As belonging to private and non-professional men This was the problem that first exercised the Sanhedrin--confidence where they looked for diffidence. They had not been trained in the schools as rhetoricians who might be expected to command their speech and self-possession before the tribunal or a popular assembly. It would have been a severe ordeal to some men of education and experience. Whence, then, the calmness of these obscure disciples? It was derived from Christ Himself. And so the Sanhedrin soon perceived. Christ, though no professed rhetorician, spoke with calmness, with knowledge and with authority, and these two disciples had taken their style from their Master. I have seen plain men, who had been brought up far from schools, but brought so near to Christ that they could not but speak of Him, and with such knowledge and calmness that they always gained a hearing.

II. As maintained in the face of worldly array and authority. “What will the world say of us?” is a question many persons ask with great solicitude. Some very strong men (like Napoleon) have been very weak here. What the world will do to us is still more startling, if it has a rod in its hands and a will to use it. It seemed as if the whole world was against these two Galileans, and likely to make quick work with them. The Shepherd had been smitten; how could the flock fail to be scattered? The people rather than the rulers were the audience on Pentecost. “Your rulers” are spoken of as if absent. But now the great men began to be astir. How amazed was the Sanhedrin when these two plain men, instead of humbly begging pardon, calmly stood on their defence! They went over the gospel story as unembarrassed as if they were telling it to an audience of friends.

III. As sustained by the sense of a divine presence. “Whether it be right in the sight of God.” There being two here to judge us, which shall have the precedency? The rulers had not been with Jesus, and had not learned this lesson. If Jesus were at their side, what though the whole array of the Sanhedrin confronted them? Precisely this was what the Saviour had promised: “Lo, I am with you alway.”

IV. As having the support of pertinent and palpable facts. When the lame man heard of the apostles’ arrest, he went before the tribunal, ready to give his testimony and share their fate. Standing upright there on his feet, what could the Sanhedrin say? How else could the apostles feet at that sight but joyful and thankful that such a miracle of mercy had been wrought by their hands? This has always been a strong support in the work for God--the good results that have attended it. Paul felt this: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” etc.

V. As encouraged by the companionship of Christian men. “They went to their own company.” In holy joy they lifted up their voices together in the triumphant words of the Old Testament Psalm: “Why do the Gentiles rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” Their prayer went up for greater boldness in their Master’s cause, and new wonders of grace as the fruit of it. (W. E. Knox, D. D.)

The apostles’ confidence in God

The suggestions and the truths which may be gathered from this lesson are many and varied, for example--The vanity of combinations and conspiracies against God as affirmed in Scripture and illustrated in history. The beneficent character of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The necessity and value of mutual sympathy. The power of united and believing prayer as taught in the New Testament. The care of God over His own. The disciples had in a measure been prepared for trouble by the pre-announcement of Christ: “If they have persecured Me, they will also persecute you.” But now it was in sight, and under threat of pains and penalties they were charged to keep silence. But, like the three Hebrew children of Daniel’s day, they needed no time for considering the question. We find no hint or shadow of one that indicates on their part any wavering of purpose. We look for the grounds of this confidence and courage, and find them incorporated in the lesson text. This confidence was based on the omnipotence of God, which was--

1. A fundamental element of the irreligious faith. The Mosaic economy had taught them this. The history of their own people, which they still cherished, and the memories of which were dear to them, was full of illustrious evidences of the power and glory of Jehovah. They had not changed in becoming followers of Christ this fundamental faith in the God of their childhood and of their earlier manhood. This element of their religious faith was further buttressed by--

2. The convincing events of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The facts were then, as they should be now, the unanswerable factors in the propagation of the gospel. When they beheld “the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.”

3. In addition, the Holy Ghost within them enabled them to make forceful and persuasive the truth they advocated. It is true they were neither skilled in arms nor trained in schools; they had neither wealth nor social position, but God was with them, and they were invincible. Pentecost had made them all-powerful. Let us emulate their dauntless courage, touch the sources, as they did, of supernal power, make regnant in our lives the principles they enunciated, and then the world will be at our feet as it was at theirs, and we shall go forth, as did the apocalyptic rider, on the white horse, “conquering and to conquer.” (John D. Pickles.)

Boldness

I. Commanded--

1. Against God’s enemies (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:6; Joshua 1:9; Joshua 1:18),

2. To keep God’s law (Joshua 1:7; Joshua 23:6; 1 Chronicles 22:13).

3. In testifying for Christ (Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:10).

4. In reproving sin (Isaiah 58:1; Micah 3:8).

II. The source of--

1. Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:19).

2. Grace in Christ (2 Timothy 2:1).

3. Distrust of self (2 Corinthians 12:10).

4. Righteousness (Proverbs 28:1).

5. Faith in Christ (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 10:19).

6. Trust in God (Isaiah 50:7).

7. Fear of God (Acts 5:29).

8. Faithfulness to God (1 Timothy 3:13).

9. Prayer (verse 29; Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16).

III. Reasons for.

1. God only to be feared (Isaiah 8:12-14; Isaiah 51:12-13; Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 10:31; Hebrews 12:28-29).

2. Those who trust in God are safe (Proverbs 29:25).

3. God is with His servants (Isaiah 41:10).

4. God can deliver (Daniel 3:17; Jeremiah 1:8).

5. The Lord delivereth (Psalms 34:7).

6. Right requires (verse 19).

7. God will reward (Revelation 2:10). (S. S. Times.)

Testimony not to be stifled

Suppose that some savages have seen a cannon charged and discharged. Suppose that when they saw it charged a second time, dreading the consequences, they should gather stones and clay, and therewith ram the cannon full to the muzzle, by way of shutting in the shot, and securing the safety of the neighbourhood. They know not the power of gunpowder when it is touched by a spark. This is the sort of blunder into which the Sanhedrin fell. They thought they could stifle the testimony of the apostles by ramming a threat of punishment down their throats. They knew not the power of faith when kindled by a spark from heaven. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.--

Apostolic heroism

A great and prolonged conflict was approaching. How were the Christians to meet it? We have the answer here. The apostles’ heroism--

I. Was based on righteousness. “Whether it be right in the sight of God” was a rebuke to those who were only consulting the interests of Judaism or their own. But that which is based on righteousness does not find favour with unregenerate human nature, and much so-called heroism has rested on wrong.

II. Was sustained by reference to God. All is right which is right in His sight. The apostles then referred to the only true authority, doubtless devoutly and in faith. No wonder they were heroic, for the history of their nation showed that such reference to God had stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, etc. How could they fail with Omnipotence on their side? What could the Sanhedrin be to such men? Like faith produces like heroes everywhere.

III. Was manifested in obedience to God. The apostles “hearkened unto God” who had spoken by Jesus, and was now speaking by the Spirit--hence the healing of the cripple, and this defence. The man who was urged to do his duty on the battlefield because he seemed to hear the voice of his country was a hero; but how much more the apostles. They heard God Himself, and as long as He was obeyed what mattered it if men were displeased.

IV. Bore the test of common human intelligence. “Judge ye.” The principle was referred to as an axiom which might be evaded and practically disobeyed, but which could not be intellectually contested; and any position founded upon it is impregnable. When our ways please God we may safely submit them to the arbitrament of human judgment.

V. Was the constant expression of the constraint of conscience. “For we cannot but speak,” etc. To have acted otherwise would have been to violate their consciences by wilful unfaithfulness and neglect of duty. We have seen the works of Christ in the salvation of sinners: then how dare we be silent? (W. Hudson.)

Moral heroism

When John Knox heard of the projected marriage of Queen Mary with the Roman Catholic prince of Spain, he rose in the pulpit at St. Giles, Edinburgh, and told the congregation that whenever they, professing the Lord Jesus, consented that a Papist should be head of their sovereign, they did, as far as in them lay, banish Christ from the realm. Mary recognised her enemy. Him alone she had failed to work upon. She sent for him, and her voice shaking between tears and passion, she said that never prince had been handled as she: she bad borne his bitterness, she had admitted him to her presence, she had endured to be reprimanded, and yet she could not be quit of him; she “vowed to God she would be avenged.” The queen sobbed violently. Knox stood silent until she collected herself. He then said, “Madam, in God’s presence I speak: I never delighted in the weeping of God’s creatures; but seeing T have but spoken the truth as my vocation craves of me, I must sustain your Majesty’s tears rather than hurt my conscience.” (H. O. Mackey.)

Duty to God first

The great classic dramas (the Antigone of Sophocles, e.g.) frequently deal with the complications involved in the conflict between duty to God and duty to earthly authorities.

I. Man’s claims are admitted. Family life and social order demand that some should rule and some should serve. Scripture requires due submission to government authorities on the ground that they are ordained of God, and that resistance to them is resistance of the ordinance of God. All right and reasonable demand of human magistracy are therefore to be loyally met as indirectly the claims of God. But no human authority may interfere with a man’s spiritual religion. Man’s claims are limited to conduct. God alone may rule in motive, thought, opinion and feeling. Even apostles had no dominion over the disciples’ faith.

II. God’s claims are admitted.

1. He may as He pleases communicate His will either directly or indirectly by--

2. These claims must be absolutely supreme. They, indeed, afford the test of all other claims, which must be in harmony with these, if they are to be in any sense binding upon men. The relation in which man stands to God is that of the child who recognises no authority above that of his father.

III. Should the claims of man and the claims of God come in conflict there can be no question as to which must yield. Here was such a conflict, and there were many such in the times of the prophets. The conflict is in regard to things--

1. Absolutely wrong, as when the early Christians were required to swear by the genius of the Emperor. To cease to witness for Christ, or to yield where custom, fashion and caste require what is inconsistent comes under this category.

2. Doubtful. The conflict in this case is the gravest perplexity of life, and sends us back on first principles. No one, however, need find much difficulty who accepts such counsel as this, “Be not conformed to this world,” etc. (R. Tuck, B. A.)

Duty to God the supreme law

The Word of God is not my word; I, therefore, cannot abandon it; but in all things short of that, I am ready to be docile and obedient. You shall have my blood, my life, rather than a single word of retraction; for it is better to obey God than man. It is no fault of mine that this matter creates confusion among you. I cannot prevent the Word of Christ becoming a stumbling-block to men. I know Well that; we must pay obedience to the civil magistrate, even though he be not a man after God’s own heart; I am quite ready to pay that obedience in any matter that does not shut out the Word of God. (M. Luther.)

The one question in conduct

We have here--

I. A criterion of freedom. The two men are prisoners; but who will say that they are not free? Great things may be expected of any man when he has gained the moral liberty to put this question first. The liberty of a Roman citizen at that time was costly, but, like all mere political independence, stopped far short of this. It secured mortal rights; but it could never confer the conscience which inquires, or the power to perform, what is right. That distinction between rights claimed and right done runs very deep, dividing the world into two orders of souls. It may be pure selfishness that insists on its rights. It must be unselfish duty that chooses what is right and does it in singleness of heart. A new commonwealth had just risen from the grave of Christ, and here was its watchword.

II. A test of Christian society.

1. We have one outward witness to the religion of Jesus--the Christian propriety of domestic habits; the Christian talk of the railway and parlour; the Christian tone of literature; the Christian fashion of Sunday and ceremony. But as the eyes of God run over the Christian world, does He not seek some other proof?

2. This brings us to the vital point. Original Christianity is a religion of righteousness. Behold the Divine Man! Observe the proportions of His doctrine--how much about duty, character, the glory of right, the wretchedness of wrong; how little about anything else I Notice what kind of people hated Him--corrupt office-holders, hypocritical devourers of widows’ houses, traders in virtue and blood, etc. Notice what kind of people loved Him--men that wanted to be honest and true, women that wanted to be strong in charity and pure in heart. Infer from these passions that He crossed, and from the noble aspirations that He invigorated, what it was, after three years of loving work, that drove the nails through His hands and feet. Settle it with yourself in this way, what was the vital core of His ministry? Was it not righteousness in man? Was it not to set up a kingdom of “right”? Did not Christ come and die to beget by a new faith a race of men right-thinking, right-feeling, right-reverencing, right-working? He had now but just ascended out of sight. The power of His Spirit had illuminated His messengers. Two apostles there, knowing Him thoroughly, sure of His meaning, are told to shut their lips about Him. The blood scarcely yet dry at Calvary shows that these magistrates’ threats are not empty. But nothing comes into their minds but one open answer, not whether it be prudent, politic, safe, profitable, or even “necessary,” but “Whether it be right.” I take that to be the fundamental ground in practical Christianity. Many other things have been crowded into its place; things of high pretension and considerable value. But we had better go back to the beginning. For what is Catholic, Evangelical, Churchly, reasonable, true as Christ is true, we had best go nowhere else but there. This is -what we mean by the appeal to primitive antiquity and apostolical authority. They make the substance of personal Christianity to be a character that you can trust. Dogma, formularies, symbols, sermons, exist for character. It is the decisive test, as to every particular action, as to its being done or let alone--“whether it be”--not lucrative, fashionable, popular, comfortable, but “right.” Call Christianity a temple--this is its foundation; a kingdom--this is its law; a tree--this is the root; a stream--this is the spring; a creed--this is the conclusion of all its articles.

3. Does the world want this less now than ever before? Take two of the great departments of human conduct for a criterion.

4. In the gospel there are proportions. In one sense the bark of a fruit-tree is as necessary as the root or the sap, the limbs of the body as the heart. But after all we build badly, and we grow badly, unless we set things in their order, always with a view to the one end, and keep the essentials supreme. In the religion of Christ the one end is character. In the kingdom of God the honours are for those who are good and true; uprightness is the nobility; and the business of the citizens is not only to take the name of their King, and to bow in His presence, but to be like Him. An apostolic faith is not handed down, but it fails on the way unless it carries with it an apostolic conscience. Before Mammon, before the spirit of society, before gain and fashion, before all the world’s rulers and elders and scribes, make your answer for God, each one alone, and then stand. In a way that will need no subtle imagination to explain, the grand issue of that old trial in Jerusalem will be yours also: “All men glorified God for that which was done.” (Bp. Huntington.)

Not man’s, but God’s voice to be heard

The spirit of this reply is that calm but immoveable resolution in pursuing the course of duty which an enlightened conscience shall mark out. The reply of the apostles points out--

I. The rule of personal conduct; and this as consisting in an acknowledgment of the authority of the law of Christ, as regulating all the principles and actions of life. And here a very wide field opens itself, if we were to follow out this head at length. It takes in the whole length and breadth of the Christian character: it contemplates the servant of the Lord under all the conceivable circumstances of duty in which he may be placed in the world. Suffice it, therefore, to state generally that, in such a man, Christ sits as a King upon the throne of the heart. The line of duty being plainly marked out in the law of Christ, He follows it in the face of all the consequences that may ensue. He will not judge of the extent of his duty by what is acceptable, or otherwise, to those around him, but from the plain command of Christ. What will the world think of me? is a suggestion which frightens away “the fearful and unbelieving” man from following that path which the voice of God within him pronounces to be right. The fear of being reckoned what is called “righteous overmuch,” or of being deemed too rigid in his principles, reconciles him to practices which his conscience condemns. Like those base flatterers who crowd the courts of kings, and know no other standard Of good and evil than their prince’s burnout, so, in whatever heart the fear of man reigns, that heart will avow neither doctrine, nor sentiment, nor practice, but such as are in good odour among men, however strongly it may be enforced in God’s Word as truth, and however it may be inwardly felt to be such. But while discretion regulates the conduct of the courageous Christian, and points out to him the fit time and manner of acting, yet he will not fail to discover his true character. Remembering evermore the “contradiction of sinners against Himself,” which his Lord underwent, and with a sense of eternal things fastened on his mind; recollecting, too, the sting he has felt in his conscience when he may have seemed, by his silence at least, to applaud sentiments and practices opposed to the spirit of the law of Christ, he is enabled, by the united influence of all these considerations, to be prepared to risk the loss of all things, rather than desert the cause of God. Such a man, such a Christian, will feel that the more ungodly are those with whom he converses, the more imperative the call made upon him to honour God in an irreproachable life: the greater the darkness which is around him, the stronger the obligation that rests upon him to shine forth in the beauty of holiness. By this were those eminent servants of God actuated, who, in the face of a burning fiery furnace, heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated, could say to the king in whose power they were, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” This was the spirit of David, who said, “I will speak of Thy testimony even before kings, and will not be ashamed.”

II. The reply of the apostles expresses, with equal decisiveness, the leading principles of personal belief. If there be any part of His truth which it is plain that “God hath highly exalted”; if there be any one announcement upon which a mighty emphasis is laid by the constant repetition of it, and because it meets the view at all points, this ought to find a rank proportionably high in our own minds. This truth a Christian must learn to prize dearly, and for this earnestly contend. Such a truth, pre-eminently, ix that which teaches that “we are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith.” But it is possible to hold such a system of doctrine, as shall pass for a Scriptural acceptance of this truth, while it is either a corruption of that truth, or even in its tendency subversive of it. He must be little conversant with his own heart who is not aware how reluctant man naturally is to be beholden to another for his redemption, even though it were to God Himself; and how unpalatable to the taste which Divine grace has not refined is that religion whose first claim is that all idea of personal merit be renounced. The courageous Christian finds here an exercise for his firmness.

III. The occasion on which the two apostles announced this great principle suggests to us yet another application of it: it was when they had been preaching the truth of Christ that the prohibition which they resisted came forth from the council. Their answer, therefore, naturally reminds us of the foundation on which is to be constructed the rule of faith. Here, too, as in the former case, the course of a resolute follower of Christ is to be founded on a principle. It may not be self-willed, but it must be conscientious: not caprice, which is irresponsible, but reason, which is consistent, must be his guide. And the principle, on which the rule of his “faith” is constructed, is obvious and distinct. In a matter so peculiar, and so closely affecting himself, as religion, he declines to listen to any voice except that which speaks to him immediately from heaven. Whilst he acknowledges, in common with one who wrote on the evidences of Christianity, and against the infidel, that, considering the circumstances in which man is placed, it is even highly probable that a revelation should be made to man; yet, for that very reason, because it is a revelation--something hitherto unheard of that God should speak to man--he requires that the voice which speaks shall be one that shall instantly be recognised to be the voice of God. If a Roman poet, familiar to us all, could say, “‘Tis when he thunders from the sky that we believe Jove is really king there,” the Christian may, with much more reason, require that the voice to which he is called upon to attend in the things that everlastingly concern him shall be attended by credentials alike Divine. Those of us who admit this reason will, as a necessary consequence, take the Scriptures as our sole rule of faith. Had the Holy Ghost spoken unto us only a few enigmatical words, it had been necessary to spell and scan them with the most inquisitive earnestness, and to eke out from some other source a supplement to a communication so scanty. But, when we have a volume of such bulk, beginning with the foundation of the world, and ending with the last dispensation, it is not easy to understand upon what principle we are to look for any other communication (as from God) from any other quarter whatsoever. Nor, in thus upholding the undivided claim of the Scriptures to be the rule of faith, need any simple-minded advocate of truth be perplexed by questions that have startled some. If any should inquire how the Church is to extract from a body of truth lying scattered over so wide a surface her own confession of faith, the reply is that she can only do it by the study of that Scripture itself. To aid in ascertaining its meaning she will not disdain the writings of the pious and learned of all by-gone days; she will take them, however, as guides to her judgment, not as superseding it. The Word of God will thus be made the supreme authority; and if any should propose to modify the plain assertion of Scripture upon any point, the servant of Christ, tenacious of the principle he has adopted, will reply, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” And yet it is remarkable that, in thus asserting the paramount duty of listening to no other voice than God’s, he need not shut his ear to that of the Church; and this in two respects: first, because the Church has taught agreeably to God’s teachings; and, far more, because such is the course acted upon by our Church itself. For what was the procedure of those men who drew up our doctrinal standards? They made the Scriptures the single court of appeal. With them tradition is not an assessor with Scripture upon the throne of judgment, but sits in a lower place. It may be no small satisfaction to an inquirer after the right way, thus to have it made clear to him, that he may be at once jealous for the honour of God, and not conceited]y negligent of the opinions of men. But, that the balance of truth in this matter may be duly preserved, it is well to urge that the rule of faith is not the blended voice of God and man, but that of God only. It was not until “Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child Samuel,” that he bade him give to the voice this reply, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.”

IV. There is yet another case which comes within the range of that broad principle which the apostles Peter and John laid down. That principle will furnish a rule for maintaining the purity of God’s truth. Taking the Church from its commencement, it will be seen that error has been found in it of a more or less mischievous nature. Every period has witnessed its peculiar corruptions. And thus the men of each age have had a corresponding duty imposed upon them, to be very jealous for the Lord Of Hosts. The Israelites, when the whole generation that rebelled in the wilderness were cut off, entered into Canaan, and soon fell into the idolatry of their new neighbours. Other Christians, again, were for engrafting on it the pagan philosophy, for rejecting the Old Testament and the moral law--a specious and insinuating heresy. The vigilant sentinel would cry out to those who were in danger from this subtle enemy, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, and not after Christ.” But, when it shall have been successfully maintained that it is “right to hearken unto God rather than unto man” in all of these respects, the whole practical use of the demonstration may yet be lost. For some may say, “You need a key which is to unlock to each individual the sense of the Scripture, a curb to the vagrancy of each man’s private construing of that very voice to which you bid him hearken. Unless you will open a door to the entrance of as many varieties of opinions as there are men to frame fancies, another voice must be listened to.” Whoever will not yield up the very citadel of Christian liberty, must manfully defend the truth in this matter. It is in religion as in our daily conduct. There are certain laws of morals which are defined; and the conscience of each man is to make his own application of them to his own case. This is discipline under which we are all held, and from which none of us can escape. The keeping of ourselves from hour to hour is not by any specific rule provided for every case that can arise, but by the going back to some grand principle which we have the task of applying. If there be any truth in the foregoing remarks, then every one must gird himself with the armour of resoluteness; for a yet more subtle foe may be in the rear. When the unanswerable nature of our arguments shall have silenced the adversary, he may employ another expedient to wrest out of our hands the weapons which they grasp. The voice of God may have been so clearly heard by unwilling ears that it cannot be gainsaid; but there may be a demand set up for not speaking of these things, and for forbearing to characterise the opposed errors by such titles as probably belong to them. Under the specious plea of charity, and an abstinence from evil speaking, many, on whom the mantle of Peter and John may have fallen, will be “straightly charged to speak no more” that of which they are inwardly convinced. “We cannot but speak the things which we have heard and seen.” Truth, if it be such, must find its utterance; just as love will express itself, or any other emotion: “Wisdom is justified of her children,” not by their suppressing, but by their declaring her claims: “I tell you, if these should hold their peace, the very stones would cry out.” Why shall not this strong language of the Lord have a fitness always as heretofore? The remarks that have been offered, if they are to be practically applied, imply such a state of things in the Church as it is never joyous to contemplate. Courage implies danger--unshaken firmness is an attitude which tells of encroachment. It suggests itself as another reflection from this subject, how painful the sensation and the effects of a period of religious dissension! The occasion which calls for firmness is not one of serenity. (R. Eden, M. A.)

God to be obeyed at all costs

Unless I be confuted and convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by open and clear grounds and reasons, and also those sayings, adduced and brought forward by me, be confuted, and my conscience be captivated by the Word of God, I can and will recall nothing, because it is neither safe nor advisable to do anything against conscience. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. So help me God. (M. Luther.)

Obeying God rather than men

John Nelson, the Methodist stonemason, being once desired by his master’s foreman to work on the Lord’s day, on the ground that the King’s business required despatch, and that it was common to work on the Sabbath for His Majesty when anything was wanted in a particular haste, Nelson boldly declared, “That he would not work upon the Sabbath for any man in the kingdom, except it were to quench fire, or something that required immediate help.” “Religion,” says the foreman,has made you a rebel against the King.” “No, sir,” he replied, “it has made me a better subject than ever I was. The greatest enemies the King has are Sabbath-breakers, swearers, drunkards, and whoremongers, for these bring down God’s judgments upon the King and country.” He was told he should lose his employment if he would not obey his orders; his answer was, “He would rather want bread than wilfully offend God.” The foreman swore he would be as mad as Whitefield if he went on. “What hast thou done,” said he, “that thou needest make so much ado about salvation? I always took thee to be as honest a man as I have in the worlds, and would have trusted thee with £500.” “So you might,” answered Nelson, “and not have lost a penny by me.” “I have a worse opinion of thee now,” said the foreman. “Master,” rejoined he, “I have the odds of you, for I have a worse opinion of myself than you can have.” The issue, however, was that the work was not pursued on the Sabbath, and Nelson rose in the good opinion of his employer for having shown a sense of his duty as a Christian. (Southey’s Life of Wesley.)

Protestantism

was a refusal to live any longer in a lie. It was a falling back upon the undefined untheoretic rules of truth and piety which lay upon the surface of the Bible, and a determination rather to die than to mock with unreality any longer the Almighty Maker of the world. (J. A. Froude.)

We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.--

Honest Christian speech

I. That which the Christian has heard is worth repeating. He knew not God--words from heaven have revealed to him God. He was far from God--words from heaven have been the means of leading him nigh to God. His heart was at enmity towards God--words from heaven have been the means of reconciling him to God. He knew not how he could be pardoned--words from heaven have directed him to the Lamb of God. So timid was the Christian before he heard these words that he was like a soldier who trembles at the flutter of his own banner, and starts at the clangour of his own trumpet--words from heaven have so aroused his latent courage, that now, armour-clad, and sword, in hand, he glories in the battle of a true life, and instead of shrinking cowardly from the conflict, he now, in the thickest, sharpest warfare stands. Verily, worthy of the world’s acceptation are words which are God’s power unto salvation. And, think you, will the winds waft these words of God? Will the waters spread these Divine voices? Not your winds, O ye husbandmen, not your waters, O ye merchants; but the currents which carried Peter onwards when he said, “I cannot but speak,” and the breath which moved John when He testified, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

II. The spirit of faith inclines the Christian to repeat what he has heard.

1. Observe the order in which religious belief and speech are hero placed. We have heard; and we cannot but speak. This is like Paul’s language, and it is in harmony with that of David, “I believed, and therefore have I spoken. We also believe, and therefore speak.” This order has been reversed, and much mischief has been the result. Are not children often made to say, “We are members of Christ, we believe in God the Father Almighty, and in His Son,” while all evidence is wanting of such union, and of such faith? And converts, before they enter Christian communion, are often required to confess their belief in all the doctrines which that community holds. In some cases men publicly teach and preach before they believe, and the mischief of this false speech is most terrible. Immediately a lad has acquired a few religious ideas, he is often ushered into a Sabbath-school to speak. So soon as an adult is religiously impressed he must confess himself a Christian publicly, and speak. And when he has made a profession, he must be hurried into some sphere of Christian instruction to speak. Now where is the Nazareth in which Christ’s disciples are brought up? Where the wilderness that precedes the showing unto Israel? Where the men who, like Paul, sojourn in Arabia before acknowledging Christ in Jerusalem? Premature effort makes weak Christians, and if you would have in Christ’s Church strong Christians, men who can work, you will certainly keep all young converts for a time at Nazareth; and even after that you will sometimes send them into the wilderness. We have no confidence in number; our confidence is in the right men to do certain things. Faith comes by healing--faith grows by listening--doubts are dispersed by waiting and by inquiry. Moreover, listening, while it permits the honest, unwilful doubter to suspend his confession, is the best means of guiding such into that integrity of faith in which, like Thomas, they can address as living the Saviour whom they thought dead, and cry, “My Lord and my God.” We cannot be always silent, that would be concealment; and we dare not be always reserved, that would mislead; we speak. There is something in the very principle of faith which moves to utterance.

2. But while it is of the nature of faith to incline to speech, that testimony which is the object of Christian faith, exerts the same influence. For what is it that the Christian has heard? Faithful sayings, worthy of all acceptation. And if his heart be right, sensitive, alive, it cannot be to him a matter of indifference whether or not men hear and believe that which he has heard and believed. The word that he has heard is a Divine word; and he would have others hear, that God may be glorified. It is the message of reconciliation; and he would have others hear, that they, too, may be reconciled. The origin, the worth, and the truth of the gospel, move the believer to speak. Its utility, its wonderfulness, the good-will to man that it induces, the believer’s own conscience, obligation to the gospel, all move him to speak. If the Christian history appeared to him a fable, seriousness might bid him” hold his peace; if the Christian doctrine were doubtful, integrity will command silence; but the tendency of the believer’s faith in the gospel is to move him to speak.

3. And beside the inward impulse, there is an external demand for honest, Christian speech. The disciple of Christ believes that which multitudes around him have not heard; and as he detects, by many symptoms, their ignorance, the spirit of faith saith, “Inform them--speak.” He binds to his heart that which many reject; and the spirit of faith saith, “Repeat that which you have heard, persuade, warn, speak.” He sees many perishing for lack of that remedy, of that provision by which he is saved; and the spirit of faith saith, “Tell of the antidote to sinfulness--speaking.” The Christian in the midst of an ignorant community is like a fountain in the desert; a beacon on a dangerous coast; like his Master when surrounded by a multitude of the sick and needy in Palestine. Lepers are before him--he knows what will cleanse the leper. The palsied and the paralysed are around him--he knows what will re-animate the withered nerves. Divers diseases are exhibited to him--he knows what will remove them all. For sin in all its forms, for evil in all its workings and results, the Christian knows a remedy, and has a remedy. “Then keep not silence about it, but of it--intelligently, lovingly, earnestly, incessantly, but seasonably, speak.”

III. Considerations helpful to honest Christian speech.

1. Multitudes, by voice and pen, are sneering at religious faith and speech. Be not driven from either by the sneers of men; but let us learn from them. There is some excuse for them. The world has heard the Church say she believes what the Church cannot prove that she has ever heard; and the world has had reason to suspect that some Christians speak that which they do not believe. Paul told Titus, “There are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, whose mouths must be stopped.” So you see it is not simply talking about religion that the world wants and that the Church requires, but it is seasonable talking, talking about the right thing.

2. We increase our faith by listening. The mere prayer for increase of faith is not enough. How many precious moments in the day are lost, during which you might be directing your ear to Christ! Do not say that there is any incongruity between your listening to the voice of Christ, and your standing before a bench or behind the counter. Wherever it is right for you to be it is right for you to speak to your Saviour. And if you think that you honour Him by fancying that you must be in the place of worship to think of Him, or that you must have the Bible always open before you, you make a very serious mistake; for you want Christ with you everywhere. Thomas Carlyle recommends as a remedy for the false speech of the age, that the tongues of one generation should be cut out. But the cure for the truthless utterances of the Church will be found in placing listening to Christ before believing--in meditation upon the object of faith, and in placing speech after this meditation. Such bridling of the tongue will make perfect men; while clipping of the tongue, as Carlyle forgets, would only make maimed men; and God’s way of redeeming a man is not to maim him, but to make him whole.

3. As it is not mere faith that saves us, but faith in Christ, so it is not religious speech that the world needs, but speech of true religion. As our interpretations of the Bible are not necessarily the Bible, so no Christian system is Christ, and some systems called by His name have no connection at all with Him. Do not let men hear so much about my views (for of what consequence are they?), our principles, our Church, our denomination, our fathers, our tradition, our theology; for amid these sounds men lose the only Name by which a sinner can be saved. (S. Martin.)

The connection between believing the gospel and making it known

I. What we conceive to be believing the gospel.

1. Entertaining it in the mind, so as for the judgment to approve, from a conviction of its importance.

2. Yielding to it, as God’s method of acceptance.

3. So feeling its influence as that the character shall be changed. This faith, generally speaking, comes by listening to Divine truth. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

II. What we include in making the gospel known.

1. Imparting spiritual knowledge to those with whom we are acquainted--husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, etc.

2. Giving Christian education. We commend the cultivation of the mind, but let us not neglect the sanctification of the heart.

3. Distribution of religious tracts, of books, such as “Baxter’s Call,” Romaine’s “Walk of Faith,” etc., but especially of the sacred Scriptures, which are able to make wise to salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ.

4. The preaching of the gospel.

5. Deportment becoming the gospel.

III. The connection between the two. Where there is a real spiritual reception of the gospel there will be a publication of it arising from the following considerations.

1. Sympathy with the distressed.

2. Love to the Redeemer.

3. Anxiety for the cause will induce this.

4. The happiness to be possessed here and hereafter.

5. The glory that will be secured to God. (W. Lucy.)

The gospel cannot be concealed

I have heard say that in the old Bread Riots, when men were actually starving for bread, no word had such a terribly threatening and alarming power about it as the word “Bread!” when shouted by a starving crowd. I have read a description by one who once heard this cry: he said he had been startled at night by a cry of “Fire!” but when he heard the cry of “Bread! bread!” from those that were hungry, it seemed to cut him like a sword. Whatever bread had been in his possession he must at once have handed it out. So it is with the gospel; when men are once aware of their need of it, there is no monopolising it. None can make “a ring” or “a corner” over the precious commodity of heavenly truth. Neither can any one put this candle under a bushel so as quite to conceal its light. It cannot be hid, because there are so many that want it. They are pining, these myriads of London, these myriads all over the world; and though they hardly know it, yet there is a cry coming up for ever from them for something which they can never find, except in Christ. You may depend upon it you cannot stop the gospel being preached while there is this awful hunger after it in the souls of men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Speaking God’s Word

If you really study God’s Word, I believe you’ll get so full of it that you can’t help but speak it out. The reason so many don’t care to work for God is, that they are so empty they cannot find anything to say. You can’t bring water out of a dry well. There are two ways of getting water; the one is by pumping. Now many Christians are like these pumps, you have to pump a long time before you get anything. The other kind of well is what they call artesian; they just dig down until they come to the very fountain itself, hundreds of feet below, then up springs the water into the air, they don’t need any pumping then. I wish Christians would be like artesian wells ever springing up to eternal life. (D. L. Moody.)

Making Christ known to others

Gideon Ousely was impressed with the thought that he ought to preach Jesus Christ to the people; he hesitated for a time till a voice came to him, as if asking, “Gideon, do you know the nature of the evil?” He said, “Yes, I do. I know the nature of sin.” “Do you know the remedy?” “Yes, I do.” “Then go and tell it.” We know the nature of the disease, and we know the only remedy is God’s remedy in Jesus Christ, and we must go and make the remedy known to those who are in the dark valleys of the shadow of sin. There comes to my mind the story of one of our own missionaries in Wales, who, when he was converted, was so full of joy that he ran out of the meeting shouting. A boy went up to him and said, “What’s to do? What’s to do?” Then the man--Griffith Griffiths, well known to many of us--took sixpence out of his pocket, and said to the lad, “Here, go and tell the people that God has saved Griffith Griffiths.” He gave the boy sixpence to do it. He felt that as soon as he knew Jesus Christ it was his business to make Jesus Christ known to others. (J. S. Balmer.)

Christian testimony

A gentleman, sitting in an arbour in the middle of a wood, saw an ant running along the surface of a rustic table which was in front of him. Knowing that ants are fond of sugar, and having a small lump of loaf sugar in his pocket, he placed it on the table, and set himself to watch the movements of the ant. As he expected, the ant soon discovered it, and began sipping. But it had scarcely partaken of it, when, to his great surprise, it scampered off and disappeared. A short time after, however, it returned, followed by some two or three hundred of its friends; from which it appeared that the ant had no sooner tasted the sweet morsel, than it went to invite its friends to become partakers of its joy. And so it is with all who have tasted the joy of salvation. No sooner does Christ become precious to their souls than, like Peter and John, they “cannot but speak” of Him to others.

Constrained to speak about Jesus

An evangelist in an inquiry meeting asked a woman, “Are you resting in Jesus?” Very indignantly she replied, “It is nothing to you whether I am or not; besides, I would not speak about such a subject to any one but God!” In about a fortnight the evangelist was in another inquiry, meeting, and saw this same person speaking very earnestly to another woman. Drawing near to them, he heard her telling the stranger about her own conversion to Christ, and pressing the woman to follow Jesus at once. Much gratified, the evangelist, thinking to test her, said, “Madam, madam, keep your mouth shut on that subject!” “Keep my mouth shut!” she replied, with enthusiasm, “I cannot do it, sir; I must speak about Jesus.” So when they had further threatened them, they let them go.

A reluctant release

I. It was accompanied with great wrong. “They further threatened them.” The dreadful language which had hitherto stood in the place of argument was now made more dreadful. We see here proofs of iniquity, of a settled prejudice against Jesus and His work, and of absolute unwillingness to yield to the evidence of facts. But these threats were sure to be answered as the previous ones.

II. It was a confession that the court was baffled. “Finding nothing how they might punish them.” They had a mind to punish, they had done their best to do so, but severally and unitedly they had failed; and now prudence moved them to do what was no part of their pleasure. They barked and snarled, but were afraid to bite. Often have persecutors been in such a case.

III. It was in deference to a prevalent popular sentiment. “Because of the people.” The people were wiser than their rulers, and more religious. (W. Hudson.)


Verses 23-37

Acts 4:23-37

And being let go, they went to their own company.

Being let go

We do not know what we or other people are until the restraint is taken off. We call ourselves free, but there is not an absolutely free man in the universe. We have the liberty of law. We have the freedom of a theocracy. “The Lord reigneth,” and He would reign to no purpose if He did not restrain every creature, and restrain with singular meaning and graciousness the creature who bears His own image.

I. Good restraints.

1. Socially, in the lowest level. He is an ungallant and wholly undesirable man who is not restrained by the presence of ladies. But for that you could not tell what language he would have used. He could not be in his true self, not because there are ten great fiery commandments staring him in the face, but because of an all-pervading feeling of refinement. But if such men be let’ go, and join their bad set, you see their quality.

2. Or take the limits of hospitality. A man says, “I cannot avenge this insult now, because I am bound to show hospitality; but being let go, I shall feel entitled to say or do things which at present I cannot.”

3. Or, still keeping within the scope of the question, the occasion makes the man. Say it is a solemn occasion, a funeral, people weeping because of the dead and gone. The modest man, at all events, halts, he is silent if not complaisant. He dare not say what he would at other times; but being let go away from the grave and the cypress shadow, you will see what he is really.

4. Look at, the subject religiously. Here we have the subtlest restraints. The tender memories, the old, old long ago, somehow, to kill that ancient time would be like strangling an angel. The old home feeling, the childish sounds, the old family usages, seem to keep us back with “Beware I you had better not do it! Stand still!” Who can estimate the value of a religious education? First prayers, first little verses learned and sung by bird-like lips--who can tell how these things will go with the child when he becomes a man, full of care and tempted to sin? The little things which now are matters of amusement, may stand one day up and say to the man, “You used to be a pure-lipped child, a loved and loving creature; a thousand prayers were offered for your salvation.” When you murder yourself, you murder a whole generation of mentors and suppliants.

II. Bad restraint.

1. A man is shut up in bad society, in a corrupt atmosphere. He never hears a word that touches his best nature; he longs for the higher and purer spaces; for moral liberty; he is a better man than he can be under his circumstances. God will make a difference, because He will have compassion upon some. He knows exactly what restraints are upon us, and what we would be if we could break the chain and fly upward into the blue heaven.

2. Others are crippled for want of means. We regard them as destitute of good deeds and high feeling, and we speak about them with our erring judgment. God will discriminate. He knows what the poor soul will be. There is a way out at the other end! Great moral freedom, liberty for giving the soul spaces to fly in, and temples to sing in not made with hands. God knows what munificence you would show if you had the liberty.

3. Many a man is misunderstood for want of liberty. He is waiting. I have known often splendid talents wait a long time for a chance. I have known men misjudged, contemned, spring up into their true selves when let, go. Their time has come; then you hear the music of their voice, and you know the length of their arm, and they were waiting--great men all the while.

Conclusion:

1. We each belong to a company, and until we have found our company, we are restless. We speak of being “a fish out of water,” as fully expressing the condition of men who are not in their own company. Some of us are only half in our right society. We were born for the gutter and were destined for low companionship, and by a singular force of gravitation we turn to that which is unworthy. Others, again, are the contrary. They are forced to do the things they hate. They say, “It is not our nature; it is not the place I was born into. These are not the surroundings God meant me to enjoy.” So by this discontent of soul God calls us to our own company.

2. But we may be converted! The lowest nature may be converted! The lowest nature may be made into the highest. The man who began with low desires may come to enjoy the desire for prayer. Conversion is the state which we are called upon personally to realise and represent. Mere restraint is not conversion. We are restrained from starting up in the midst of the service and going out. We seem to rise to the great spirit of the occasion, while we are in reality buying and selling, transacting our business. So we cannot tell what we are until the restraints are taken off, when we shall be left to our own company, and being let go, will only go downward. There are grades in devildom, and there is still a lower and lower, until we reach the pit that never ends.

3. Are we under the right influence? We cannot test it by mere laws, by mechanical arrangements and impositions. Only love can keep us, and love will keep us. And though we shall always have the liberty of doing wrong, we shall have within us the love which makes the use of that liberty an impossibility. Now ][ am about to let you go. Will you go to your own company? But, remember, young man, wisely trained at home, you have no business with that bad set. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Our own company

I. We all suffer a kind of imprisonment by our circumstances. There is--

1. The chain of work. We and our children must live. And in order to maintain this life, we voluntarily give away every day a part of our personal freedom. This necessity is on the whole a beneficent one, and it is perfectly consistent with personal freedom in the truest sense. But still there is imprisonment of some of the highest faculties. Faith, hope, love, joy, can all indeed have exercise in work, but not their most perfect exercise. What a prison a great city is, and how many are in it with “hard labour!” A fine morning dawns. You would like to wander away, to hear the gurgle of the country stream, to see the bloom on the trees, the bird on the wing, the clouds floating so restfully across the sky. But you are a prisoner. You can look through your bars towards the large and wealthy place but it is only a look. You must soon turn to your work.

2. The chain of habit. Not so much of a man’s own habits as those of the society in which he lives--the conventionalities of life, in which every man is more or less bound. These are not at all insincerities, hypocrisies. They are generally a fair product of the state of society at the time. If our conventionalities were all away, some would be better, and some worse. So that all are in prison by them. There is a great resentment sometimes felt against those who break through; and such attempts generally end in submission. Take, for instance, our social gatherings. With all their freedom and geniality, there is considerable restriction imposed by the mere forms of society. One makes an endeavour to be natural and almost succeeds; but cannot quite. Another seeks to know his neighbour a little better, but the real man escapes him, and goes home to be known far more perfectly by his little children. Another endeavours to speak out his real sentiments; but the astonishment, pain, or disapprobation, make him almost regret that he has spoken--and certainly a little less likely to speak again.

3. The great strong chain of law. That is no doubt a grand safeguard of society. But while it protects it restrains. It protects partly by restraining. It makes some men more virtuous than they would be, and others a little less. A man could do some great good, and would, but the law forbids. He would only involve himself and ethers in difficulties and loss by making the attempt. Or he could do some evil. He has impure thoughts which might become actions; unjust longings which might become fraud, if the law were not there frowning defiance and suspending penalty.

II. In these environing circumstances, there are, now and again, clear providential openings--by which the real man himself comes out, seen by others, or seen only by himself and God! A changing time is always a critical time.

1. When the young man leaves home to come up to the great city, how intense is the parental and the friendly solicitude! “He was safe here; but will he be safe yonder? Will he not slide or perhaps fall? Or will the change strengthen his will for goodness, and draw him more clearly into the ranks of Christ’s faithful ones?” These are the searching solemn questions, but why do they arise? Because it is felt that even at home that youth was not fully known, because there are sleeping possibilities which other circumstances might draw out into actualities, and they are not quite sure how the scale might turn.

2. A change of residence in later life sometimes operates in the same way. There is then a complete break up in one class of associations. Living in the new neighbourhood seems to bring out a new man. It may be a better man, or it may be a worse. The gates of that social prison where before he was held in restriction, perhaps kept from ruin, have been opened, and he will show himself more as he is.

3. The continental journey is another opening of the wall. Persons then go to places the like of which they would never think of visiting at home, and altogether feel a freedom which they would in vain seek for with the ordinary circumstances of life around them. The freedom may be rightly used in putting aside the chains of opinion, prejudice, and custom; or it may be much abused. But it is freedom, and therefore develops some more of the reality of the persons than is usually seen in the walks of their home life.

4. Then again life as it goes on brings many opportunities for freer action and fuller display of the real inward man than ordinary circumstances permit. They are opportunities for good and for evil. To some they are “the gates of righteousness,” into which they “enter and praise the Lord.” To others they are but the door leading to an “inner prison,” where their “feet are made fast in the stocks.”

III. When so released we go to our own company. Every night what multitudes hasten through the door of opportunity to their own company! The day keeps them in prison, the night brings release. Let us follow some, and see what company they keep!

1. Take that young man for whom so much anxiety was felt when he left home. Enter with him--there is no company there. There is the little table for refreshment which is soon over; then he takes down the books to the study of which he will devote these evening hours--and that is the company he keeps. He is smitten with the love of knowledge, and what is far better, with the love of Christ. He is sure that he will have to serve Him in some sphere, and is resolved by study and prayer to make himself ready.

2. Or let us observe this young woman who has been busy all day with her needle. Blessings on her industry! honour to her virtue! peace to her home! To-night she is going to her own company before she reaches that home. There is to be a meeting for prayer, a great blessing is expected, and she must be there to ask among the rest.

3. Take another, a man. He has had what is called a heavy day; but, oh, what a lightsome welcome now that he is home I Little hands are soon in his, and little tongues are telling the wonderful things that have happened during the day; and smiles fall from another face, and there is a comfortable mingling of thought, and love, and sympathy, and heart with heart. The day opened to him the theatre of duty, the night thus brings him to “his own company.”

4. Another; where is he going? Westward, but not out of the city. On he passes along the busy streets under the gas-lights, until he comes to the flaring entrance of the place where his company will be. With perhaps just one twinge of conscience he passes in, and there among the gaudy and giddy throng he sits for hours listening to the music, or watching the display. And these he says are the happiest hours of his life. That man has reduced his soul to a pitiable condition when, having all this world to choose from, that soul “being let go,” finds its own selectest company in a frivolous throng like that.

5. And others go to places still worse, which we cannot describe; where the fires of Tophet are already kindled, where the guests are in the depths of hell, and there find “their own company.”

6. But enough! Where do we find ours? We shall say no more of places now, but speak only about persons. Who are the persons in whose presence and society our souls find their best company? What is their character? What is their aim in life? What will be their end? Suppose we had been imprisoned with the apostles, and with them set free, should we have gone with them to their own company? When we are set free, now and again in the course of our own life, do we long for and seek fellowship with faithful souls and pure hearts? There are but two companies in the universe. Even now there are but two, although in this world they are to us inseparably mingled. The division and separation is taking place by degrees. The gospel makes it. We ourselves make in those selective moments of our life to which we have referred. But it will be made infallibly and visibly at last by the Lord Himself, when the sheep shall be on His right hand, and the goats on His left. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Their own company

The crystallising power in nature. What we call the force of gravitation is a force most mysterious and constant. But the force of gravitation is simple compared with this many-sided ramifying force of crystallisation. The reason--ultimate particles of matter are seeking their own company; these ultimate particles of matter are possessed of attractive and repellent poles; and as these atomic poles attract or repel each other the shape of the crystal is determined. There is as well a certain crystallising power sovereign in society. Men and women have attractive and repellent poles. By means of this social crystallising power many and various social shapes are being formed--not always beautiful and noble, sometimes evil, ugly, disastrous. Concerning this crystallising fact and force in society, in the light of this narrative, consider--

1. Hindrance. See whole narrative as to how Peter and John were hindered from going to their own company. So, often, we are somehow hindered from seeking the company really most congenial to us. Work, social requirements, regard for reputation, lack of money, hinder. Apply to young men, etc.

2. Permission. “And being let go”--work ceases, social requirements allow, special danger to reputation passes, wages are paid. Men are free.

3. Like goes to like. Character asserts itself. These apostles went to the company of the pure because they were pure.

4. Lessons.

Being let go

“Being let go, they went to their own company.” That means for one thing that we do not know until straits come, what a man’s heart and real disposition are. You have your children with you at home, and think that your children have a love for this, and a liking for that, and a strong desire for the other, but “let them go,” and then you will see; as long as they are under parental restraints, you really do not know what they are. They must be tested by being let go. They go to their own resort, and to their own set. Oh, what painful things happen in family life when the children are old enough, and you must let them go, when home restraints are removed! Then you thought they loved whatsoever things were honourable and of good report, and they, perhaps, themselves thought it too. It is not so much hypocrisy as an illustration of the solemn truth that the heart is deceitful and full of evil things. Being let go, the real heart in them takes command, the real pilot takes the wheel and guides the vessel according to his liking. “Being let go they went to their own company.” See, for example, the restraints of religion. I think I am a religious man, you think that you are religious people, but if in some way I could be let go from the ministry, and if you could be let go from the eyes that are upon you in this place, from the associations and routine that brings you here, where would you go? What is in the heart determines the life. To-night you are set free from business, and in a sense you are let go from the office, but are you, is your heart really let go? Are you going into the holy work before us to-night, or is it not the case that even while you are sitting here, that being let go, your heart is back to the stocks and shares, the buying and the selling, that even here your heart is seeking its true home, its true happiness.? It is not in this thing, is it? There are reasons why we come, why in a sense we like it, but let us be honest with ourselves. It is what we like that is the true man or the true woman. How does the heart go when we are let go? But if I have thus spoken of the dark side, bless God there is a brighter side, and I trust that we can even, when we meet here to.night, experience the happiness and brightness of the better side. When we come to the House of God, to the prayer-meeting, from all outward life, because we like to do it, we like to come, like bairnie with her mother, a wee bird to her nest, we fly home to God, to the Bible, to God and the Book of God, and the House of God, when we are let go. We delight when the cords are snapped, and when we can come into the House of God. Only during the day there is a kind of chafing restlessness within us. Oh that the evening would come that I might get to my own company I “Being let go they went to their own company.” Just as at school, I suppose we looked as if we liked our school, we looked as if we were diligent, we had to be so outwardly, but when four o’clock came and the doors were open, did you ever see the schoolboys that departed reluctantly, as if they could hardly cross the threshold and go away from the blessed place? We nearly tumbled over each other rushing away. Being let go, out we went home. And yet we were not hypocrites. It is that our heart was in it, and we were restrained; we were tied up, held back, but being let go, the full momentum and swing of our disposition got out. Thank God, then, for the bright side, and I would say you are encouraged to make much of the bright side. If you know God, then thank God, for that is a fruitful plant that never grew up in the dry dreary sand of our worldly heart. And if I speak to any to whom this word is sad, you say, “Well, brother, I wish I was like it, I wish I could rush to the fellowship of God’s people, as those apostles rushed to their own company, and as children rush home from school, and the tired business men flying home by bus and train to the sweetness and seclusion of their own homes in the suburbs. I wish I had that desire for the House of God.” There is more gladness of heart here than if I were in the theatre or music-hall, or giddy dance or banquet, with its so-called “feast of reason and flow of soul.” Here the best and deepest, the truest thoughts in you get out, and lay hold of the deep, true, living, satisfying God. “Being let go, they went to their own company.” It is that, let me just urge, that we should cultivate still more, this company and fellowship. Do not let a little keep us back. How disappointed the apostles would have been if they went to their own company, and found a small meeting when such great interests were involved. My father said, when he was a lad going to school, they had to take their own fire with them, the coals were not then provided as they are now, and every lad carried his peat under his arm. That was his contribution of heat. Bring your peat under your arm, and like one that is let go, like an arrow from the string, come gladly and brightly, and I will try and come with mine, and “every little makes a mickle,” and it is wonderful what a roaring, open fire we may have, even in this dull neighbourhood of Regent’s Square, what light and warmth before God, and to His praise. Let us come as the apostles did, when being let go they went to their own company. I like to think of the text in its final application. There is a day coming when we shall be let go. The dark side and the bright side of my text will receive its final and truest illustration then, for every man goes to his own place. And when the stroke of death cuts all our cords, and we drop this muddy vesture of clay, and are, at last, let go, we will hardly need the judgment day and verdict of God. Some will rise as glorious ones, treading the way unto the throne of God, and some will go into outer darkness, for they always loved darkness rather than light, and they will get it. Being let go, God at last will say, “I will restrain you no more, I will argue with you no more, you would be free, be free. He that is filthy, let him be filthy still, he that is holy, let him be holy still. Be let go and find your own company.” This is the Lord’s election. This is the natural law that runs through the spiritual world, even He that worketh in all our fellowships and friendships, our likes and dislikes, our drawings and repentings. It is being let go that a man finds his level, and seeks and gets his own company. At the great day when some of us go past the judgment seat on our way home, and hear the word, “Come ye blessed,” it will just be a re-echo of this, for you have been always coming ever since you were converted. It was the end and trend, a focus of all your way and work. Only when some of us hear the thundering curse, “Depart!” we shall understand then that we were, always cursed. “I never knew you,” what a solemn word! How bright! How black! Thank God that grace can make it for you and me all bright. The Ethiopian can change his skin, the leopard can change his spots, the vilest can be changed, and changed by the abundant grace of Christ, received through simple faith in Christ. Another few minutes and you are let go, and you go to your own house, and a rebound will take place. The heart will slip round to its true base. Watch it, for God’s sake, and your own. Being let go when the preacher’s voice is still, the holy words are no longer spoken, the holy place with its associations no longer present here, God grant that it may be all bright. (J. McNeill.)

Company

?:--

I. Every man has his company.

II. Sometimes men are restrained from keeping the company of their friends.

III. When these restrictions are withdrawn, men return to the company of their choice. Life itself is a restraint, separating us from the companions we have chosen, but when it ceases, its restraining power will cease too, and we shall go to “our own company” in heaven or in hell. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Every man to his own place

I. The disciples went to their own company. They naturally desired the society of those who had sympathy with them.

II. Every person belongs to some company. There are two classes: saints and sinners. Affinities, proclivities, etc., are only subdivisions of these.

III. Restraints of life may prevent our openly joining our company.

1. Our work.

2. Public opinion.

3. Policy.

4. Interest.

5. Lack of courage.

IV. When these are removed each person will go to his own place. What a change would follow if this world had no social, civil, or moral law laid upon it--every one a law to himself! The devil in man would make havoc in human history. This has been proved wherever restraints have been slackened.

V. The test of character found here.

1. What is our company?

2. Are we restrained by work, circumstance, or policy from joining it?

3. Is it a company God can approve of?

4. What is our influence on it, and its influence on us?

5. We shall go to our own place at last. (G. F. Humphreys.)

Happy only in “our own company”

The following incident was told in my hearing in one of the villages of Canada to illustrate the truth, which so many ignore at the present day, that there must be a change of heart if we are ever permitted to enjoy “the rest that remaineth for the ,people of God.” “Some years ago there was to be a prize-fight at a certain place in England, and a party of men chartered a steamboat to take them to the place at the time appointed. Another steamer was engaged to take a party of Christians to different kind of fight--a fight against wrong-doing, that every soldier of Christ is called to engage in under the ‘Captain of his salvation.’ The place of the last-named conflict was a Methodist camp-ground. Just as the last bell rang on each steamer (both were chartered to leave at the same hour--half-past two p.m.) two men were seen running towards the steamers as they were moving out from the wharf, and both sprang into what each one thought to be his own company. But, oh! what a mistake! the Methodist saw that he was among prize-fighters, and the prize-fighter found that he was among Christians. Do you suppose those men were contented and happy in their different company? Is a fish happy out of water? ‘No, not happy, but miserable,’ you say. So each of those men were miserable because they were out of their element. The Methodist came to the captain, and said, ‘Captain, I have got into the wrong steamer, and I am not going to stay here; it is like hell to be among these men who are cursing and swearing; take the steamer back and let me get out. I intended to go to a camp-meeting; yonder is the steamer I ought to be in.’ But his trying to get himself righted after he saw he was wrong was fruitless. Well, what about the other man? ‘Oh,’ you say, ‘he was all right and happy among those good Methodist people.’ But you are mistaken, for he was in a worse dilemma than the Christian man. He went to the captain and asked him to take the steamer back, as he said he must go to the prize-fight. But the captain said, ‘No: our orders are to keep on our course as long as there is nothing wrong with the steamer, and we must obey.’ Then the man offered the captain money if he would turn back, but the captain was as determined to go on his voyage. By this time the Methodists thought they would ‘ show their faith by their works,’ by talking to the prize-fighter about his soul; but the prize-fighter could not endure it, so he went to the captain again and begged of him to bring the steamer a little nearer to the shore and he would jump into the water and swim to land.” (John Currie.)

Every creature after its kind

A mysterious, reciprocal attraction drew Peter and John together, although they were by no means alike. Perhaps their differences rendered them more suitable to each other; as a man’s strength and a woman’s gentleness bind two into one in married life. This noble pair were of the three chosen disciples, were companions at the sepulchre, and were together through all the stages of this incident. Now being free they go to their own. Like draws to like. When evil was to be done the rulers laid their heads together. “Birds of a feather flock together”; and if one bird has been for a time imprisoned, when the cage is opened it will fly straight and quick to the place where it left its mates. On this principle proceeds the pigeon telegraph. The instincts of animals are perfect in their kind. When a captive lamb is set at liberty it never halts until it has rejoined the flock. With equal exactness does the washed sow return to wallow with her fellows in the mire. Thus suddenly and surely did a worldling, who had for a time been arrested by the discourses of Jesus, leap back into his element of filthy lucre. As soon as there was a pause in the sermon he went to his own: “Master, speak to my brother that he divide the inheritance with me.” An example of the opposite tendency in a renewed heart is seen in the possessed man whom our Lord delivered at Gadara. Being let go of Satan he went to his own--to his own Saviour and fellow disciples. How often when professing Christians go abrOad, they leave their religion behind them. It was never more than an external thing, a bondage, and therefore when removed the irreligious soul goes to its irreligion. A young man has been accustomed to the order of a Christian household. As the lines of restraint were laid on him while an infant, he is not very conscious of them. But he leaves for the great metropolis. If his religion has been only a cord round his neck, like the bit and bridle which holds the horse, he is now free; he will go to his own and seek the company of the careless or the profane. Cords of this kind were fastened on Judas, but when at last he was let go what a leap he made into his own place! Demas was brought for a time under the mighty influence of Paul, which, however, gave way one day, and to the present world, his chosen portion, gravitated Demas, as a stone sinks when you let it go. But the new creature acts after its kind as well as the old; when the chains of bondage are broken the captive returns to his Father’s house. A youth who has got a new heart becomes an apprentice in an engineering establishment where his lot is east among the profane. In the first hour they discover that a saint is among them, and do everything that devilish ingenuity can suggest to make him one of themselves. If his religion had been a conventional gilding it would have been rubbed off in the first week; but as it was all gold the more it was rubbed the brighter it grew. The first evening came, and each went to his own company--the apprentice, articled by an eternal covenant to the Saviour, went to the fields, the flowers, the birds, with which he had been wont to keep company at home; then to his food, which he enjoyed with the fresh relish of a labourer, and the fresher relish of a child of God constantly getting daily bread from a Father’s hand; then to his Bible, his own Book; then to his own Saviour, in faith’s confiding prayer. A whole legion of wicked men will not overcome this youth--maybe he will subdue some of them and lead them captive to Christ. Yet another lesson. The grave has a greedy appetite, and all go to it. A strange place for Christ’s members to be in! But some day they must be let go, and then they will go to their own company. An atom of air may have been imprisoned in some strong vessel at the bottom of the sea for ages. At last the vessel gives way, and the atom of air, though long an exile, has not forgotten its home, and will not miss its way. It rises in a sheer straight line through the thick heavy waters, nor halts till with a joyful burst it reaches its own. Be of good cheer, disciples of Jesus. Ye are of more value than many atoms of air. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Men will go at last where they are fit to go

It is related of the distinguished Rev. Dr. Bellamy that he had seasons of deep despondency, when he was confident he was going to hell. His brethren often laboured with him in vain. One day, after all reasoning had failed, one of the ministers said, “Well, brother, you know more about yourself than we do. To us you appear very well: but, after all, you may be a whited sepulchre--beautiful outside, but inwardly full of corruption. If so, you will go to hell. I should like, however, to know what you will do when you get there?” “Do?” cried the doctor, with great animation and emphasis; “what will I do? I will vindicate the law of God, and set up prayer-meetings.” “All right!” said the brother; “but in that case the devil will not keep you there; he will soon turn you out as unfitted for his place and company.” The doctor was happy. Men will go at last where they are fit to go; and those who spend their lives in the service of God would be poor company for the devil and his angels, while those who hate God and despise Christians here must have strange notions if they expect to be for ever happy with them hereafter. The disciples, “being let go, went to their own company.” So all will go at last. (J. L. Nye.)

Features of the apostolic Church

By so simple a term is the infant Church designated--“a company.” As soon as Jesus had ascended, we find that there was an assembly of His followers, who continued with one accord in prayer, resorting to an upper room (Acts 1:18; Acts 1:14). This small assembly was speedily increased by fresh adherents. Our Saviour never formally organised His Church: He left it to the operation of the human mind assisted by Divine influence. Men find it necessary to associate together for all important interests, and would be sure to do so for religious purposes.

I. The nature of the Church.

1. It is a voluntary company” one to which men are not born, but to which they attach themselves by choice and from conviction. Such assemblies were at first formed in various places, and were each called a church. The term was not then used, as it has since been, to mark the whole body of Christians in any district; but always either for the whole Church or for some particular society. In the former sense, we read that “Christ is head over all things to the Church.” In the latter we hear of the Churches of Achaia and Macedonia; of the Church which is at Corinth, or at Ephesus, or even in the dwelling of a single family.

2. It is a separated company; a holy society; its members are called to come out from among the people of the world.

3. It is a spiritual society, as opposed to a merely civil association. Nothing secular properly belongs to the Church. Just as we cannot, by artificial embellishments, add anything to the real beauty of nature; so all that man has aimed to add, in the way of pomp and circumstance to the Church of Christ instead of adorning, rather disfigures it.

4. Though human instruments are employed in this society, yet it is wholly of Divine institution. All its varied offices and administrations are of Divine origin: “He gave some apostles … for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

5. It is an immortal company. The individual members die; but fresh generations of saints are continually rising up in succession. The sacred lamp may be removed from one place, but it is only that it may burn brighter in another.

II. The design with which the Church is formed.

1. For the benefit of every individual belonging to it. The Good Shepherd, while He feeds the whole of His flock, has a particular respect to the state and wants of every member. As in the first age all had all things in common, so real Christians will now be ready to share their joys and sorrows; to help the needy in temporal wants; and most of all to cherish a spiritual union and sympathy. Christian intercourse unites the hearts of the saints, “they that feared the Lord spake often together.”

2. For the salvation of others.

III. The manner of its government. As every society, to be well-ordered, requires rules; so there are rules of Church government. These indeed are very few and very simple: real Christians need very little law; the law is for the lawless and disobedient: but theirs is the law of love; love is fulfilment of the law. (R. Hall, M. A.)

The apostles at liberty

I. The whole church is interested in the proceedings of its individual members. Peter and John gave their report to the whole company. It was a report of--

1. Gracious success. A man had been healed, and therein the name of Jesus had been glorified.

2. Opposition, suffering, threatening. This is the kind of report which the Church will render until the end of its beneficent course. The two sides should be looked at together--the one will stimulate, the other will give new aspects of sin, and call for increasing devotion.

II. The right method of treating opposition to the Kingdom of Christ.

1. See what the apostles might have done.

2. What they did do. “They lifted up their voice to God with one accord,” and committed themselves to Him as unto a faithful Creator. A prayer offered under circumstances as peculiar will show the strength and purpose of the Church. It did show--

III. The spiritual and social results which follow the right acceptance of service and suffering.

1. A vast accession of spiritual grace. The disciples “were all filled with the Holy Ghost.”

2. A vast accession of spiritual power. They “spake the Word of God with boldness.”

3. The consummation of spiritual union. They were” of one heart and one soul.”

4. The ideal of social beneficence. They claimed nothing as their own, but had all things common. In such a case opposition became the occasion of infinite good. There was no wordy controversy, but a renewed dedication to Christ. All opposition should be met in the same way. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Christian socialism

The narrative gives us such a view of this as throws the secular thing into contempt, and reveals the lamentable imperfection of modern spiritual fellowship. From it we learn that early Christian socialism was--

I. Attractive. No sooner were the apostles free than they returned as if drawn by magnetic force to their chosen society. There were two things that rendered it attractive.

1. Responsive listening. There is a law of mind which urges a man to communicate what he deems of great importance. It is also a law to seek the most responsive listeners. To those who will give a cordial hearing we go, rather than to the hostile or indifferent. True Christian socialism involves this. There the speaking brother will find an audience all candour and love. This is not the case in the cavilling, captious, secular socialism, and alas! not always in the Church where there is too often the prejudice that deafens the ear and closes the heart.

2. Sympathetic cooperation. For this we instinctively crave, and without it the strongest are weak. Without the breeze of social sympathy the sails of our spirits would collapse in the voyage of duty. Peter and John knew that they had this, and so were strong in prison and before, the council, and when “let go” they instinctively found their way to their sympathetic brethren. Thus was Christian socialism attractive. Kindred souls flowed to it as rivers to the sea. What circle is so attractive as that which has--

II. Religious. This comes out in--

1. Ascription. Here We have a recognition of God’s--

2. Supplication. Note--

(a) Personal protection. Behold their threatenmgs, i.e., those of verses 17 and 21. The meaning is, “Guard us and frustrate the evil designs of our enemies.”

(b) The power of spiritual usefulness. “That with all boldness,” etc. Protection is desired for service, not because they dreaded martyrdom.

(c) Miraculous interposition. “That signs and wonders,” etc.:

(d) “Enable us to work miracles that we may be more successful in spreading the knowledge of Christ.” This power Christ had promised; they had an authority, therefore, to seek it.

(a) A miraculous sign, familiar to Old Testament saints (Exodus 19:18; Psalms 68:8).

(b) An impartation of Divine power--to preach the gospel.

III. Amalgamating (verse 32). Note in regard to this amalgamating force that--

1. It was most hearty and practical (verse 34). The thorough unity of soul expressed itself in the surrender of worldly goods. Aristotle defines friendship as “one soul residing in two bodies.” It was so here. The rising tide of brotherly affection bore away from their hearts all love of gain.

2. It consisted with a diversity of position and service (verses 35, 36). The apostles were both the spiritual and economical heads of the community. Material bodies may get so thoroughly fused as to lose all their individual peculiarities; but minds, however closely welded together by social love, will retain for ever their individuality of being, position, and mission. Social unity is not the uniformity of a regiment moving with one step and in the same garb, but rather like the variety of the landscape, each object clad in its own costume and bending to the breeze according to its own structure and style. It is not the sound of one monotonous note, but all the varying notes of being brought into sweetest harmony.

3. It was produced by the gracious favour of heaven. “Great grace was upon them all.”

They lifted up their voice to God with one accord.--

Resource in trouble

I. God Almighty (verse 24). It is good sometimes to think of the affluence of the Divine power. Take, e.g., the central object in the heavens which God has made: the sun--diameter, 112 times that of our own earth; surface, 12,611 times that of our earth; volume, 1,400,000 times that of our earth. Sun’s light--800,000 times greater than that of the full moon, 22,000 million times more than that of the most brilliant star. The sun--the source of light, heat, life. And yet, all the manifold action on this earth of ours is carried on by the two thousandth three hundred millionth part of the force radiation by the sun. For that is all the earth can grasp of the sun’s rays given out in all directions. It is by this pitiable fraction of the sun’s mighty power that all the earth’s work is done. Now, God is a Sun--how limitless His power, etc.

II. As All-Wise God. David, thousand years before, sang, yet prophesied: “Why do the heathen rage,” etc. (verses 25-27). That is to say, that which was predicted is now taking place. Thou are not, O God, taken by surprise and disappointed. Disastrous as it seems to us, it is shining clear to Thee.

III. An all-controlling God. “For to do whatsoever,” etc. (verse 28). Mystery here, but comfort. Here is the great helpful truth that God controls.

IV. This almighty, all-wise, all-controlling God, laid hold of by prayer (verse 24). No thought unto them that such a God could not answer.

V. This almighty, all-wise, all-controlling God, laid hold of by prayer, that in them the Divine will may be accomplished. They do not ask to be released from persecution, but that in their present circumstances they may be enabled to accomplish their Christian duty (verse 29). They ask for magnificent self-surrender. Thus they take sides with God. They are as One with the nature of things. Defeat is impossible, Theirs must he the deliverance of victory. Application. Do not let your trouble get between you and God. Let your trouble shut you up to God. (Wayland Hoyt, D. D.)

Prayer and the promises are doubly dear in extremities

When I first went to sea, as the winds arose and the waves became rough I found difficulty to keep my legs on the deck, for I tumbled and tossed about like a porpoise on the water. At last I caught hold of a rope that was rolling about, and then I could stand upright. So when troubles invade we lay hold of God’s faithfulness to His promises, and, holding fast, we can securely stand. (H. G. Salter.)

Primitive worship

No doubt there was something in it of a special character. It was held at a moment of danger. There was that, therefore, in the circumstances from which God’s mercy has spared us. Should we be here at all, were it otherwise? Those of us who even in quiet times, when it is respectable to be a Christian, cannot conquer indolence, forego inclination, brave a smile or a sneer, in behalf of Christ; what would they do if the voice of the world turned altogether against Christ? Certainly, then, our thanksgivings should arise to God for having permitted us to live in quiet times. And then we ought to set ourselves to make our worship as much like theirs as by God’s grace we can.

I. The manner of this worship. “They lifted up their voice to God with one accord.” Not their heart only, but their voice.

1. Some have called this the first example of a creed, one of those joint utterances of a common faith which our Church has prescribed to us, e.g., in “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” “Lord, Thou art God, which hast made heaven and earth,” etc.

2. Others have seen in this the proof of the existence of a Liturgy. They have said that, in order to lift up their voice to God in these words, they must first have known them. We will not enter into these arguments: they at least want certainty.

3. It will be enough for us to observe, that, while one spoke, all followed; the well-known voice of St. John or St. Peter led, and they who heard found no difficulty in adding a humble voice, as well as a pure heart, to the words of supplication, accompanying the speaker to the throne of the heavenly grace, and saying the prayer after him. In this elementary point let us be earnest to resemble them. If the heart is engaged, the voice will not be withheld.

II. Its nature. It was--

1. Reverent. How profound is the adoration of God as the alone Great and Good and Holy! How solemn is the sense of that rightful sovereignty over all things! The least that can be looked for in this House of Prayer is reverence; the feeling of the sinful approaching the Sinless, the creature the Creator.

2. Scriptural. “Who by the mouth of Thy servant David hast said.” It is not essential to prayer that it be in Scripture words, but it is essential that it be founded on Scripture doctrine; that our petitions be addressed to God as He is, and not to God as we fancy Him. And we can only know God as He is by becoming acquainted with Him in His Word.

3. Believing. Unbelieving men would have seen only Herod, etc., banded together against God and against His Christ, and said, What are we against the world? But their eye was not thus bounded. Above all human agency for evil, they saw the hand of God working wholly for good. The murder of Jesus, what was it? In itself, a Satanic, a diabolical act; in its consequences, the working out of God’s counsel; the redemption of a world.

4. Practical. We are too ready to let our prayers stop with themselves; to be satisfied if a ray of comfort, if a passing thought of peace is left behind them. We have our reward, even as we prescribed it. But these worshippers looked to conduct, to duty, to future trials of their faith and constancy, and asked for grace sufficient. To quicken this zeal, to strengthen this devotion, they pray that God’s hand may still be outstretched to heal; that He will never leave them without witness, but will give them daily proof that His holy Servant Jesus is indeed strong to help, mighty to save. We ought in prayer to bethink ourselves of coming trial; and while we trust God implicitly with the unforeseen, to ask His help expressly for that which we can see before us. One word of definite request is worth volumes of vague general aspirations.

III. Its effects. An immediate sign followed it. The place was shaken. These things are of the past. Men then looked for outward signs, and wanted them, while faith was young. In this age there is no outward sign which scepticism could not account for: signs would not convince the infidel, and the believing ask not for them. But has God, then, no sign for His people? Has worship no sign of its acceptance? Is there nothing now corresponding to the altar-flame which attested God’s regard to man’s offering? Yes, there is an inward peace following upon Divine communion: a glow of faith, and a comfort of love, and a joy of hope, by which “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are sons of God.” He who seeks God with all his heart, on any occasion of worship, shall find Him, and know that he finds: he shall feel it good for him to be here, and he shall be sent on his way rejoicing. Filled with the Holy Ghost, by a conscious communication between his soul and God, he shall go forth, to bear a more manful and a more consistent testimony to the gospel. Conclusion:

1. Expect great things from worship. Worship will be, in great measure, what you make it in your use and expectation. If you look for much, you will also receive much: if you expect little, you will also reap little.

2. Carry your worshipping thoughts forth with you. Let them not be dissipated by idle words, by foolish levity, just outside or even within these walls. The great enemy will watch you after this service, that he may catch away the seed sown. (Dean Vaughan.)

The prayer of the Church at Jerusalem under persecution

I. The prayer.

1. It contains a distinct acknowledgment of God’s almighty power. “Lord, Thou art God,” etc. Our highest conceptions of the power of God are derived from the act of creation. Finite power can shape and fashion, but it can never create.

2. A distinct acknowledgment of God’s governing wisdom (verses 25-28; cf. Psalms 2:1-12.).

(a) It was God’s purpose that His Son should die. This was the appointed method of human salvation. Man had sinned, and could not be justified without an atonement. That atonement was therefore determined in the counsels of the Divine Mind before time began; for He “verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world.” The death of Christ, therefore, was in effect declared in the first promise: was prefigured by the sacrifices of the old dispensations, and was attested by the prophets. But now note that so far as the Jews were concerned, the crucifixion involved a criminal inattention to the predictions of their own Scriptures. They wilfully shut their eyes against the light of the clearest evidence, as to His real character, arising from His miracles and teaching. To suppose that God should solemnly forbid all this wickedness, and reveal His wrath against it, and yet impel any of His creatures to commit it, is a foul aspersion upon His truth and holiness, as well as upon His justice and love.

(b) It has been rashly concluded, that if the authorities had believed in Jesus, and forborne to lay violent hands upon Him, the Divine plan of redemption must have failed; but such apprehensions arise from very imperfect views of the depth of God’s counsels. His wisdom could have devised a thousand means of securing the death of His Son independently of all sinful agency. If He “does not need man’s work,” in order to the accomplishment of His plans, He certainly does not need man’s wickedness for any such purpose. But on such a subject it is useless to speculate. The death of Christ has been accomplished, and with it the world’s redemption.

(e) Some persons have thought that the prophecies imposed upon the Jewish people a necessity to put Jesus to death; but of this there is no proof. Prophecy, in this case, was simply an expression of God’s foreknowledge. Had the conduct of the Jewish and Roman authorities towards our Lord been friendly, the Divine Mind would have seen it to be such; and prophecy would have corresponded with it. Simple foreknowledge no more influences a fact than after-knowledge; and the actions of a moral agent are no more determined by a mere prediction than they are by history.

(a) To cover His name with indelible odium, but God has made it an occasion of the highest glory.

(b) To subvert His spiritual kingdom. Vain men! The means which they adopted led Him to the possession of a dominion wide as the universe, and lasting as eternity.

(c) By the frightful and tormenting death to which our Lord was subjected, to terrify and scatter His disciples. Here again we see the short-sightedness of man; the Cross was the means of binding the disciples of Christ to Him for ever.

3. A direct application to God for His immediate interposition. They request that supernatural boldness may be given to the apostles in the exercise of their ministry. This is a very remarkable petition, and places in a striking light the singleness of heart of the first Christians. Ease, honour, liberty, friends, life itself, are all to be sacrificed, rather than the word of God should be bound. As one means of inspiring the apostles with the requisite “boldness,” the Church pray that miracles may be continued and increased It is here assumed that miracles are the peculiar work of God: for had miraculous power been inherent the prayer would have been absurd. Miracles were indeed wrought by the instrumentality of the apostles, because they were intended to authenticate the system of truth which they were appointed to teach; but the miracles themselves were effects produced by the immediate exertion of God’s power; and in every instance they depended upon His will.

4. The prayer is marked by the absence of all wrathful feeling. In preaching Christ the apostles violated no law; injured no man; they conferred the greatest possible good upon multitudes. While thus discharging their consciences, and benefiting mankind, they were censured, imprisoned, brow-beaten, and severely threatened. Yet the only allusion made to this cruel and unreasonable conduct is, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings.” How like their Lord who, when He “was reviled, He reviled not again”!; and “when He suffered unjustly,” He forbore “to threaten.” In the same spirit Stephen suffered There was a time when the disciples proposed to punish inhospitable people with fire from heaven. But now they were actuated by holier feelings. The spirit of Christianity is a spirit of love.

5. The prayer presents a beautiful example of Christian unanimity. The assembled multitude “lifted up their voices with one accord.” How different from the congregations of ungodly men, brought together for some worldly object, and actuated by selfishness, anger, or curiosity (Acts 19:32). Here is a complete unity of purpose and desire. Not a wandering eye, no listlessness, inattention, or formality; no silent lips; for here is no cold and unfeeling heart. The Holy Ghost has produced in them all an intense desire for the preservation and extension of the cause of Christ. Oh, when will our assemblies resemble this! When shall we cease to complain of late attendance upon our religious ordinances? of undevout worshippers?

II. The answer which God graciously vouchsafed.

1. They received a sensible token of the Divine presence. “The place was shaken.” The entire fabric was moved by the power of God; but not a stone seems to have been displaced. The effect must have been somewhat similar to that produced on Jacob and Elijah (Genesis 28:16-17; 1 Kings 19:12-13). Only in this case there was no guilt to terrify; for their sin was purged; and the weakest among them was greater in Divine knowledge and heavenly enjoyment than the most distinguished prophet. To them, therefore, the presence of God was the cause of holy joy. Miracles are no longer necessary, and are therefore discontinued; but God is as really present in the assemblies of His people at this day as He was when they met in Jerusalem; and our whole spirit and behaviour in His house should correspond with this conviction.

2. They were favoured with a rich effusion of Divine influence. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” This being the case--

3. The cause of Christianity was greatly extended. The Church prayed that God would “stretch forth His hand”; and now the historian goes on to state, that “by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.”

Conclusion: The subject reminds us--

1. Of our obligations to the merciful providence of God, for our exemption from those harassing persecutions by which the Church was formerly oppressed.

2. In times of trouble to seek relief in prayer. Though we are exempted from legal persecution, we are liable to various other calamities, from which we have no means of escape.

3. Of the true secret of the Church’s power. Weak as the Church is in itself, it is armed with God’s truth. This is the weapon which no form of evil can effectually resist, when it is rightly applied. The Church is also favoured with the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is zeal. Let us return, then, to the first principles of our holy religion. Let us study Christianity as it is embodied in the books of the New Testament, and as it was exemplified by the Church under the Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Spirit. (Thomas Jackson.)

The prayer of the primitive Church

Prayer is not the origin of a movement, but the result of one. You stand on the margin of a lake, and hear a mysterious sound coming from the dead wall of a grey ruined castle that stands on an island near the shore. The sound, however, was not generated in that ruin. The words of a living man, wafted over the still water, struck the old silent keep, and its wall gave back the echo. Prayer, man’s cry to God, is the second of a series of vibrations, an echo awakened in ruined dumb humanity, by God’s sweet promise coming down from heaven. We may discover the specific promise to which this prayer replies (Isaiah 40:26-27). What a sublime position these suppliants occupy! They are admitted into the Divine counsel. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” They were able to mark in the Scriptures the precise spot they had reached in the scheme of providence, as a ship-master marks his latitude on his chart. In the quiet confidence of faith they realise that hostile combinations only accomplish the gracious purpose of God. In verse 29 comes the most important of all their requests. Parliamentary petitions are sometimes of great length. There may be a narrative of facts, long and intricate; there may be the citation of precedents; there may be arguments and plans; but it is common to pass over all these when the document is presented, and to read only what is denominated “the prayer of the petition,” i.e., the clause at the end which declares what the petitioners want. Verse 29 contains the prayer of this petition. And what was it? Not vengeance, not immunity from danger, but grace to be faithful under persecution. This exhibits a beautiful distrust of self and confidence in God. Their only anxiety was lest natural shrinking from suffering should tempt them to conceal the pungent parts of their testimony. Our circumstances are diverse from theirs; yet the pressure which tempts to timid unfaithfulness is only removed from one side to another. “The fear of man bringeth a snare,” but snares are not all of one shape or material. A force that is diffused and soft may have a greater pressure than one that is sharp and hard, as the atmosphere over a man’s body lies heavier on him than any other burden he ever bore. To threaten a witness for Christ with the prison or the scaffold is one way of turning him from his faithfulness, to set before him the favour of a polished but worldly circle is another. If two ships are lost at sea by the false pointing of their compasses it will make no difference as to the loss of property or life that the compass of one ship was prevented from pointing truly by a nail that fastened it to the deck, and that the compass of the other was secretly drawn aside by a mass of iron concealed in the hold. Thus an ancient preacher who held back the truth for fear of the dungeon, and a modern minister who softens and disguises the truth, because a gay, worldly, and critical congregation listen, must stand side by side. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

The burnt offering of a true Church prayer

I. The altar on which it must be placed: the fellowship of believers.

II. The fire in which it should burn: the glow of brotherly love.

III. The wind which must blow on it: the storm of persecution.

IV. The wood with which it should be fed: the Divine promises taken from the ever-green forest of Scripture. W. The God to whom it ascends: the Almighty Creator and Lord of heaven and earth.

VI. The Amen which falls to its lot; renewal and strengthening of the Holy Ghost. (K. Gerok.)


Verses 25-28

Acts 4:25-28

Why do the heathen rage.

Opposition to the gospel

I. Its characteristics.

1. Furiousness, “rage,” a word signifying the neighing or snorting of highly excited horses--Like the prancing war-horse in the book of Job. It is metaphorically used to represent the noise and fury of insolent and overbearing men, and well represents the attitude of Christ’s enemies.

2. Vanity. They “imagine vain things.” Those who aspire to thwart the plans of Christ, to crush Christianity, live in a region of mad dreams. They are agents of consummate folly, and must fall victims to their own delusions.

3. Combination. “Kings and rulers” were banded together. Ungodly men that differ widely in other things, are one in their antagonism to Christ.

II. Its frustration. All that Herod, Pontius Pilate, etc., could do was just as much as God determined they should do. How great is God! He maketh His enemies to do His work. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before “to be done.--

The hand of God

“For to do,” or be the means of doing, that by which Christ became the Saviour of the world. This was the effect, ‘although the secondary agents were ignorant of it. In their blindness and sinfulness they did just so much and no more than God had determined to be done. God decreed the salvation of the world by the death of Christ, but He did not decree the means--man’s sin; but overruled it to the accomplishment of His purpose. This is ascribed to the “hand” of God, which in Scripture implies--

I. Power. This was displayed in the work of our deliverance from the slavery of Satan--the strong man; and this deliverance was effected by the suffering and death of Christ, in “which the great power of God was displayed.

II. Providence or direction. It was not Jewish malice that procured our redemption, but malice overruled by Divine providence.

III. Operation. God by the death of Christ has wrought our redemption, and established His Church as a channel of salvation.

IV. Mercy and grace. The work of our salvation was wrought through the mercy God bears towards us,

V. Wisdom (Job 28:11; Ezra 8:18; Nehemiah if. 8, 18). (W. Denton, M. A.)


Verse 29-30

Acts 4:29-30

And now, Lord, behold their threatenings.

How a Christian ought to pray for his enemies

I. Without anxiety and fear: for he prays to the King of kings. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

II. Without hatred and malice; for he prays against wickedness, not against the wicked.

III. Without pride and scorn; for he prays not for himself, but for the cause of God. (K. Gerok.)

Grant unto Thy servants that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word.--

The prayer of Christ’s witnesses

I. That they may speak and not be dumb.

1. Speech is a chief gift of God and prerogative of man. Where there is a living spring it finds a channel, and where a living soul an avenue of egress. Neither can be imprisoned. On the other hand, where there is no spring, no channel is needed, and none is found. Among living creatures accordingly, where there is not a soul there is not speech; but in that one creature into whom God breathed a living soul, there is speech. Reverence human speech. It is the mark of a being who was made, and may be remade, a child of God; it is a Divinely formed capacity for a Divinely prescribed use. Dread false speech, proud, impure, profane speech, for these are the King’s weapons used against Himself.

2. Why should they be silent who have tasted that the Lord is gracious? Let them tell to all what God hath done for their souls. Let the compressed love which glows in renewed hearts find expression in spoken praise.

3. Silence is a sin, if your cry might save a neighbour from stumbling over a precipice; if your neighbours are on the broad path and your word might lead them into the narrow one; if a brother is sliding back and your reproof might urge him on; if a believer is oppressed with doubts and fears, while your lips might pour the consolations of God into his weary heart.

4. The prayer points mainly to a public ministry, and yet nothing is said about sermons, or even preaching. “That they may speak.” Whether the address be long or short, whether the audience be few or many, whether the style be eloquent or stammering, the pith and marrow of the whole matter is, that one man hoping in Christ and loving his neighbour, speaks to that neighbour about Christ’s redeeming love. Out of this, as the germ, all true preaching springs. If its whole mass were by some chemical process reduced to its elements, this would be the essential residuum remaining indestructible after all ornaments and accessories had been melted away.

II. That they may speak Thy Word. This supplies alike the authority and material of preaching. The seed is the Word; the sower need not scatter any other in his field. This alone is vital; this alone will grow.

III. With boldness. Yet none assume too readily that he has attained this qualification. Here all is not gold that glitters. Beware of counterfeits. To rasp like a file on other people’s tender points, because you have none of your own, is not the boldness here prayed for, but that of some of the inferior creatures. An essential constituent of courage is tenderness. In feudal times battle courage was only one half of knightly bearing; the other half consisted of a tenderness almost feminine. The boldness of speech Which costs the speaker nothing is neither beautiful nor successful. Paul was a bold man, accusing people of being enemies of the Cross, but he wept as he did so; and the tears did more than the reproving word.

IV. With all boldness. Even courage may be one-sided. That is not true courage which is severe to the poor but quails before the rich. As the water of a reservoir will be lost unless the circle of its lip be kept whole on all sides, all the dignity and power of boldness vanishes when it fails on one point. Perhaps the weakest point of all the circle for every man is himself. A surgeon needs a stout heart when he has to operate on others, he needs a stouter to operate on himself. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Boldness in preaching

Some preachers are traders from port to port, following the customary and approved course; others adventure over the whole ocean of human concerns. The former are hailed by the common voice of the multitude, whose cause they hold, the latter blamed as idle, often suspected of hiding deep designs, always derided as having lost all guess of the proper course. Yet, of the latter class of preachers was Paul the apostle Such adventurers, under God, this age of the world seems to us especially to want. There are ministers now to hold the flock in pasture and in safety, but where are they to make inroads upon the alien, to bring in the votaries of fashion, of literature, of sentiment, of policy, and of rank?… Where are they to lift up their voice against simony, and acts of policy, and servile dependence upon the great ones of this earth, and shameful seeking of ease and pleasure, and anxious amassing of money, and the whole cohort of evil customs which are overspreading the Church? Truly it is not stagers who take on the customary form of their office and go the beaten round of duty, and then lie down content; but it is daring adventurer who shall eye from the grand eminence of a holy and heavenly mind all the grievances which religion underlies, and all the obstacles which stay her course, and then descend with the self-denial and faith of an apostle to set the battle in array against them. (Edward Irving.)

The servant and the slaves

“Thy servant David.” “Thy holy servant Jesus.” “Thy servants” (Acts 4:25; Acts 4:27; Acts 4:29). A word or two of explanation may be necessary as to the language of our texts. You will observe that, in the second of them, I have followed the Revised Version, which, instead of “Thy holy child,” as in the Authorised Version, reads “Thy holy servant.” The alteration is clearly correct. The word, indeed, literally means “a child,” but, like our own English “boy,” or even “man,” or “maid,” it is used to express the relation of servant, when the desire is to cover over the harsher features of servitude, and to represent the servant as a part of the family. Thus the kindly centurion, who besought Jesus to come and heal his servant, speaks of him as his “boy.” And that the word is here used in this secondary sense of “servant” is unmistakable. For there is no discernible reason why, if stress were meant to be laid on Christ as being the Son of God, the recognised expression for that relationship should not have been employed. Again, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, with which the Apostles were familiar, employs the very phrase that is here used as its translation of the well-known Old Testament designation of the Messiah, “the servant of the Lord,” and the words here are really a quotation from the great prophecies of the second part of the Book of Isaiah. So, then, we have here three figures, the Psalmist-king, the Messiah, the disciples. Christ in the midst, on the one hand a servant with whom He consents to be classed, on the other hand the slaves who, through Him, have become sons. And I think I shall best bring out the intended lessons of these clauses in their connection if I ask you to note these two contrasts, the servants and the Servant; the Servant and the slaves. “David Thy servant”; “Thy holy servant Jesus”; us “Thy servants.”

I. First, then, notice the servants and the Servant. The reason for the application of the name to the Psalmist lies, not so much in his personal character, or in his religious elevation, as in the fact that he is chosen of God for a specific purpose, to carry on the Divine plans some steps towards their realisation. Kings, priests, prophets, the collective Israel, as having a specific function in the world, and being, in some sense, the instruments and embodiments of the will of God amongst men, have in an eminent degree the designation of His “servants.” But then, whilst this is true, and whilst Jesus Christ comes into this category, and is one of these special men raised up for special service in connection with the carrying out of the Divine purpose, mark how emphatically the line is drawn here between Him and the other members of the class to which, in a certain sense, He does belong. Peter says “Thy servant David,” but he says “Thy holy servant Jesus.” There are many imperfect instruments of the Divine will; thinkers and heroes and saints and statesmen and warriors, as well as prophets and priests and kings; but amongst them all there is One who stands in their midst and yet apart from them, because He, and He alone, can say “I have done all Thy pleasure,” and into My doing of Thy pleasure no bitter leaven of self-regard or by-ends has ever, in the faintest degree, entered. “Thy holy servant Jesus,” is the unique designation of the Servant of the Lord. And what is the meaning of holy? The word does not primarily refer to character so much as to relation to God. The root idea of holiness is not righteousness nor moral perfectness, but something that lies beyond that--viz., separation for the service and uses of God. The first notion of the word is consecration, and guilt upon that and resulting from it, moral perfection. So then these men, some of whom had lived beside Jesus Christ for all those years, and had seen everything that He did, and studied Him through and through, came away from the close inspection of His character with this thought: He is utterly and entirely devoted to the service of God, and in Him there is neither spot nor wrinkle nor blemish such as is found in all other men. I need not remind you with what strange persistence of affirmation, and yet with what humility of self-consciousness, our Lord Himself always claimed to be in possession of this entire consecration, and complete obedience, and consequent perfection. Think of human lips saying, “I do always the things that please Him”! There followed in Jesus the morn! perfectness that comes from such uninterrupted and complete consecration of self to God. “Thy servant David.” What about Bathsheba, David? What about a great many other things in your life? The poet king, with the poet nature so sensitive to all the delights of sense, and so easily moved in the matter of pleasure is but the type of all other servants in the fact of imperfection. In every machine power is lost through friction; and in every man, the noblest and the purest, there is resistance to be overcome ere motion, in conformity with the Divine impulse, can be secured. We pass in review before our minds saints and martyrs and lovely characters by the hundred, and amongst them all there is not a jewel without a flaw, not a mirror without some dint in it where the rays are distorted, or some dark place where the reflecting surface has been rubbed away by the attrition of sin, and there is no reflection of the Divine light. And then we turn to that meek figure that stands there with the question that has been awaiting an answer for eighteen centuries upon His lips, and is unanswered yet: “Which of you convinceth Me of sin? The holy Servant,” whose consecration and character mark Him off from all the class to which He belongs as the only one of them all who, in His fulness, has executed the Father’s purpose, and has never attempted anything besides! Now there is another step to take, and that is this. The servant who stands out in front of all the group--though the noblest names in the world’s history are included there--could not be the Servant unless He were the Son. This designation, as applied to Jesus Christ, is peculiar to these three or four earlier chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. There is no sign that the proper Sonship and Divinity of our Lord was clear before them at this period. They had the facts but they had not yet come to the distinct apprehension of how much was involved in these. But, if they knew that Jesus” Christ had died and had risen again, and if they were certain that in His character of Messiah there had been faultlessness and absolute perfection, then it would not be long before they took the next step, and said, as I say, “He cannot be the Servant unless He is more than man.” And we may well ask ourselves the question--If we admit, as the world does admit, the moral perfectness of Jesus Christ, how comes it that this Man alone managed to escape failure, and deflections from the right, and sins, and that He only carried through life a stainless garment, and went down to the grave never having needed, and not needing then, the exercise of Divine forgiveness? I venture to say that it is hopeless to account for Jesus Christ on naturalistic principles; and that either you should give up your belief in His sinlessness, or advance, as the Christian Church as a whole advanced, to the other belief, on which alone that perfectness is explicable: “Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.”

II. And so, secondly, let us turn to the other contrast here--the servant and the servants. I said that the humble group of praying, persecuted believers seemed to have wished to take a lower place than their Master’s, even whilst they ventured to assume that, in some sense, they too, like Him, were doing the Father’s will. So they chose, by a fine instinct of humility, rather than from any dogmatical prepossessions, the name that expresses, in its most absolute and roughest form, the notion of bondage and servitude. He is the Servant; we standing here are slaves. The true place, then, for a man is to be God’s slave. The harsh, repellent features of that wicked institution assume an altogether different character when they become the features of my relation to Him. Absolute submission, unconditional obedience, on the slave’s part; and on the part of the Master complete ownership; the right of life and death; the right of disposing of all goods and chattels; the right of separating husband and wife, parents and children; the right of issuing commandments without a reason; the right to expect that those commandments shall be swiftly, unhesitatingly, punctiliously, and completely performed; these things inhere in our relation to God. Blessed the man who has learned that they do, and has accepted them as his highest glory and the security of his most blessed life! Remember, however, that in the New Testament these names of slave and owner are transferred to Christians and Jesus Christ. “The Servant” has His slaves; and He who “is God’s,” and does not His own will, but the Father’s will, has us for His, imposes His will upon us, and we are bound to render to Him the same revenue of entire obedience which He hath laid at His Father’s feet. Such slavery is the only freedom. Liberty does not mean to do as you like, it means to like as you ought, and to do that. He only is free who submits to God in Christ, and thereby overcomes himself and the world and all antagonism, and is able to do that which it is His life to do. The prison out of which we do not desire to go is no restraint, and the will which coincides with law is the only will that is truly free. You talk about the bondage of obedience. Ah! “the weight of too much liberty” is a far sorer bondage. They are the slaves who say, “Let us break His bonds asunder, and cast away His cords from us.” In the wicked old empires, as in some of their modern survivals to-day, viziers and prime ministers were mostly drawn from the servile classes. It is so in God’s kingdom. They who make themselves God’s slaves are by Him made kings and priests, and shall reign with Him on earth. “If a slave, then a son and an heir of God through Jesus Christ.” Remember the alternative. You cannot be your own masters without being your own slaves. Better serve God than the devil; than the world; than the flesh. The Servant-Son makes us slaves and sons. It matters nothing to me that Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the law of God. So much the better for Him, but of no value for me, unless He has the power of making me like Himself. (A. Maclaren, D. D)

By stretching forth Thine hand to heal.

The Gospel of Pentecost

I. The healing hand of God is extended. The hand is an emblem of power, and the gospel is the hand or “power of God unto salvation.” The hand of God is seen in

(a) The gentle ministration of the beauty and bounty of the world.

(b) The sympathy and condolence of social love. He heals us by assuring us that He loves us; by the exhibition of His healing hand in the life of His dear Son; by actual aid; by exceeding great and precious promises. In the gospel God’s hand is stretched out to heal.

II. The thoughtful attention of man is arrested. The apostles prayed that signs and wonders might be wrought. They knew how prone men were to be thoughtless and inattentive, and that it needed some loud bell to be rung in the ears of the world. Under the Old Testament dispensation signs and wonders had been wrought to secure attention to the promulgation of the Law and the proclamations of the Prophets. The apostles were privileged to wield miraculous power, thus arresting the attention of their auditors. These things were

III. The peerless name of Christ is exalted. The apostles fell into the background and hid themselves under the shadow of the Cross. In the name of Jesus they found the secret of unfaltering faith. To the glorious company of the apostles the name of Jesus was above every name; that name, as “Servant,” as the Sent One, the true Messiah, excels all other names of ancient or modern times. Above the names of Peter and Paul, Augustine and Luther, Whitfield and Wesley, rises--Like the sun in his splendour--the name of the world’s great Redeemer, the Essence of light and sweetness, the Symbol of purity and power, the Source of life and salvation. (F. W. Brown.)

That signs and wonders may be done by the name of Thy Holy Child Jesus.

The Eternal Child

I. This description--Child--seems to be an eternally appropriate characterisation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Is it not appropriate to Him as we dwell on the infinite past? Great as the mystery of His pre-existent life is, we cannot accept the authority of Scripture and deny that pre-existence. He was ever God’s holy child.

2. Is it not appropriate of Him as we study His incarnate life o, earth? There are always in His conduct and character the simple beauties we admire in a child--freshness, sensitiveness, wonder, simplicity, even to the point of exquisite artlessness, which is the child’s glory. He wanted everybody else to be a child even as He felt He was a child, and, so He said, “Except ye become as little children ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

3. Is it not appropriate of Him as we contemplate the life He is living now? He lives still, and lives to care for, to help, to bless us. “He is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us; for such a High Priest became us, who is holy, guileless, undefiled.” That guilelessness is the distinctive virtue of God’s holy child Jeans.

II. The history of this child Christ illustrates much in the life of many an one who is also God’s child. As we have seen, Jesus Christ is in some senses unique as God’s child--His only begotten Son. But in many aspects He is the Brother, the Type of every one who is God’s child. “He is not ashamed to call us brethren.” Remembering that, we notice--

1. God’s child may be born in very lowly circumstances.

2. God’s child is often brought up in the midst of most adverse circumstances. We recall Nazareth where He was brought up who was “God’s holy child Jesus.”

3. God’s child should early be accustomed to the means of grace. You find it said of God’s holy child Jesus, that His custom was to go to the synagogue at Nazareth.

4. God’s child will be the subject of the highest spiritual consciousness.

5. God’s child will show that he is the subject of this highest consciousness by his daily life.

6. God’s child must develop into a future of beauty and strength. Growth is the law of life. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The Holy Child Jesus

I. The real humanity of Jesus.

1. While we always contend that Christ is God, let us never lose the firm conviction He is truly man. His humanity was real, for He was born. The gate by which we enter upon the first life, He passed through also. In the circumstances of His birth He is completely human; He is as weak and feeble as any other babe. As He grows up, the very growth shows how completely human He is. “He grows in stature, and in favour both with God and man.” When He reaches man’s estate, He gets the common stamp of manhood upon His brow. “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” The carpenter’s shop must witness to the toils of a Saviour, and when He becomes the preacher still we read such significant words as these--“Jesus, being weary, sat thus on the well.” We find Him needing to betake Himself to rest in sleep, and if sorrow be the mark of real manhood, certainly Jesus has the truest evidence of being a man. If to hunger and to thirst be signs that His manhood is no fiction, you have these. Since the day when the prince of the power of the air obtained dominion in this world, men are tempted, and He, though born pure and holy, must not be delivered from temptation. If, since we have fallen and must endure temptation, we have need to pray, so had He. Leave out sin, and Christ is the perfect picture of humanity. And lastly, as the whole human race must yield its neck to the great iron-crowned monarch, so must Christ give up the ghost.

2. Having thus insisted upon the humanity of Christ, let us gather a few reflections from it.

1. Let us marvel at His condescension. Cyprian well said, “I do not wonder at any miracle, but I do marvel at this, which is a miracle among miracles, that God should become man.” That God should make a creature out of nothing is certainly a marvellous manifestation of power, but that God should take that creature into intimate union with His own nature--this is the strangest of all acts of condescending love. A prince who puts aside his crown, and clothes himself with beggar’s rags to investigate the miseries of his country, is but a worm condescending to his fellow worm. An angel that should lay aside his beauty, and become decrepit, and walk the streets in pain and poverty to bless the race of man, were but a creature humbling himself to creatures a little lower than himself.

2. See the fitness of Christ for His work! He is a perfect man, and so “can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, seeing He was tempted in all points like as we are.” Being not ashamed to call us brethren, He can compassionate the ignorant and those who are out of the way.

3. Behold His near relationship and union to His people. He is no stranger, He is our Brother; nay, our Head. Not a head of gold, and feet of clay, or limbs of baser metal; but as we are, so was He, that as He is so might we be.

4. See the glory of manhood now restored! Man was but a little lower than the angels, and had dominion over the fowl of the air, and over the fish of the sea. That royalty he lost. But all this is given back to us. We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour. It is our nature, Jesus in our manhood, who is now Lord of providence, which sits upon the throne of God at this very day.

5. Rejoice that a blessed channel is opened by which God’s mercy can come to us!

6. See what a door of access is thus opened between us and God!

7. See how safe we are! Our soul’s estate was once put in the hands of Adam; he was a fallible man; how unsafe our salvation was then! The salvation of every believer now is in the hand of a man; it is the man Christ Jesus! But what a man! Can He fail? Can He sin? Can He fall?

8. Here is your adoption! You become sons of God, because Christ becomes a son of man.

9. Here is your acceptance! The man, Christ, is accepted, and you, since He stands for you, are accepted in Him.

II. The humanity as it is here described--“Holy Child.”

1. Christ’s humanity was perfectly holy. Upon this doctrine you are well established; but you may well wonder that Jesus was always holy. He is conceived of a woman, and yet no sort of sin cometh from His birth. He is educated in the midst of sinful persons. It could not be otherwise. He goes into the world, and as a physician must mingle with the sick, so He is found in the very worst of society. The harlot may speak to Him, and from the publican He turns not away, yet from none of these did He receive any corrupt influence. He is tempted, but the prince of this world came and had nothing in Christ. Imputation of sin would be the nearest approach to making our Lord a sinner; but let it ever be remembered that though Jehovah made Him to be sin for us, yet He knew no sin, and even in the conflict, when all the powers of hell were let loose against Him, and when God Himself had withdrawn--which would have hardened our hearts, but did not harden His.

2. Christ is called a “Holy Child” because His character is more aptly pictured by that of a child than that of a man. If you conceive of a perfectly holy child, you have then before you a representation of Christ. There is that in holy childhood which you cannot find even in holy manhood. You note in childhood--

God’s holy Servant

(see Acts 3:26):--The term translated in the Authorised Version here, and in verse 21, “child” is more correctly rendered in verse 25, in regard to David, “servant.” The word is so given in Matthew 12:18, where Isaiah 13:1 --part of the great prophecy of the Servant of the Lord--is applied to Christ. This prophecy and its fulfilment in Jesus was evidently running in the minds of the apostles throughout these discourses. The term “holy” in conjunction with “servant” suggests that God has servants who are--

I. Without holiness--creatures whom God has not endowed with a moral being, and can therefore render neither a holy nor an unholy service. This applies to the laws, forces, substances of nature to sun, moon, stars, the earth, and all its inhabitants except man. These perform an unconscious service.

II. Unholy--creatures in antagonism to the Divine will; devils and evil men. These are servants by right, for God made them for service, equipped them for service, placed them in spheres for service, and gave them a work to do. But their powers and opportunities are occupied in endeavouring to thwart the Divine purpose. Do they succeed? Nay, they are servants in fact as well as by right. Let the conduct of the rulers, fitting types of their class, show this, and Judas also and his confederates in the Crucifixion. Their service is an unwilling service.

III. Imperfectly holy. Such are true Christians, whose lifelong experience is gradual separation from sin and growing approximation to complete consecration to God. In both sides of this experience the Divine and human co-operate. The blood of Jesus Christ is cleansing them from sin, and they are cleansing themselves “from all filthiness of flesh and spirit,” thus “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” The Holy Spirit sanctifies, sets them apart for God. They “present themselves living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God.” Their service is a conscious and glad service.

IV. Holy. Such was Adam; such are the angels. But the holiness was not inherent in the first, for he fell; nor in the second, for some of their order fell. Angelic purity is Divinely imparted, and for their Divine work they are Divinely sustained.

V. Divinely holy. Such and such only is Jesus.

1. He is holy by nature--essentially, eternally.

2. His work is perfectly holy without a flaw, and such as God can accept without the least reservation.

3. His merits make the holiest holy. (J. W. Burn.)


Verse 31

Acts 4:31

And when they had prayed the place was shaken … and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.

Prayer effects miracles

I. Internal.

1. Hearts are savingly affected.

2. Spirits are mightily strengthened.

II. External.

1. Houses are moved.

2. Churches awakened.

3. Enemies frightened.

4. Mountains displaced.

5. The world convulsed. (K. Gerok.)

The blessings of spiritual worship

I. The devotional supplication offered to God. “They prayed.” It was--

1. Earnest.

2. United.

3. Believing.

4. Sincere.

5. Specific.

II. The visible evidence of the Lord’s presence. “The place was shaken where they were assembled together.”

1. The unmistakable proof of Divine power.

2. The reliable sign of Divine nearness.

3. The full assurance of Divine protection.

III. The invisible descent of the spirit. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.”

1. The gift of the Holy Ghost was bestowed.

2. The supply of the Holy Ghost was abundant.

3. Every worshipper received the baptism of the Spirit.

IV. The Christian courage of the disciples. “They spake the Word of God with boldness.”

1. The subject of their speeches.

2. The fearlessness of their conduct.

3. The activity of their labours.

Lessons--

1. To plead with God should be our first thought when surrounded with difficulties.

2. God will grant to our request some token of His presence and help of the Spirit.

3. The prayers of true worshippers bring blessings if we wait patiently at the throne of grace.

4. May we seek by holy fellowship to speak Divine truths without the fear of the world. (Alfred Buckley.)

The gift of the Spirit dependent on prayer

How well I remember a sermon I preached at a great outdoor meeting in the upper part of this State! For several days in that place prayer had been offered for the success of the service, and I had myself been unusually prayerful, and we had a Pentecostal blessing while I was preaching it. That afternoon I took the train for a great outdoor meeting in Ohio. I said to myself: “This sermon was blessed to-day, and it is fresh in my mind, and I will preach it to-morrow in Ohio.” And I did preach it, but not in as prayerful a spirit, and I think no one else had been praying about it, and it turned into the most inane and profitless discourse that I ever delivered. It was practically the same sermon, but on Wednesday it had on it a power that comes from the secret place of thunder, and on Thursday it had on it no such power at all. Oh! pray for us! Poor sermons in the pulpit are the curse of God on a prayerless parish. We ministers and preachers want the power a man gets when he is alone, the door locked; on his knees at midnight; with such a burden of souls upon him that makes him cry out, first in lamentation and then in raptures. Let all the Sabbath-school teachers, and Bible-class instructors, and all reformers, and all evangelists, and all ministers know that diplomas, and dictionaries, and encyclopaedias, and treatises, and libraries are not the source of moral and spiritual achievement, but that the room of prayer, where no one but God is present and no one but God hears, is the secret place of thunder. Secret? Ah, yes! So secret that comparatively few ever find it. At Boscobel, England, we visited a house where a king was once hid. No one, unless it were pointed out to him, could find the door in the floor through which the king entered his hiding-place. When there hidden the armed pursuers looked in vain for him, and afterward through an underground passage, far out in the fields, he came out in the open air. So this imperial power of spiritual influence has a hiding-place, a secret place which few know, and it comes forth sometimes in strange and mysterious ways, and far off from the place where it was hidden. You can find it only by diligent searching. But you may find it, and some of you will find it, and I wish you might all find it, the secret place of thunder. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

The second Pentecost

Notice--

I. The praying.

1. The exuberance of joy, the yearnings of sympathy, the wailings of sorrow seek--very commonly--Loud vocal expression. So the disciples lifted up their voice (Acts 4:24).

2. They prayed together. The soul loves sympathy in joy as well as sorrow.

II. The sharing. Praying and shaking have often been found together. The foundations of the prison at Philippi were shaken. The Lord of old promised to shake the heavens, and not the earth only. The bones were shaken when Ezekiel prophesied in the valley of vision. In mighty prayer the electric current shakes the clouds of blessing, so that heavy showers descend upon us. Hearts are shaken, knees shaken, sinners shaken.

III. The filling. Not half filled, not three parts, but completely. Not filled with doubts and fears, as too often people now are when they pray, but with the Holy Ghost. That is the sort of filling preachers or people, teachers or scholars, require nowadays. To be filled with the Holy Ghost is to be filled with faith, with power, with unction, with heaven.

IV. The speaking.

1. What did they speak? Not the praise of man: much less slander and reproach. Not the mere shibboleth of party, not idle or mischievous words, but the Word of God. How little do many professors speak of God’s Word. But as David said of Goliath’s sword, “there is none like it.”

2. They spake it--how? Boldly. Of course, when they were full of the Holy Ghost they would little heed what men thought of them, said about them, or did at them. Many a fit of nervousness has been cured this way, (W. Antliff, D. D.)

Early Church life

Let us consider--

I. The prayer.

1. Its occasion. The persecution of the apostles.

2. Its substance. It was seasonable, suitable, short, as all the prayers recorded in the Scriptures are; and though they had been so evil entreated yet they beseech God to stretch forth His hand, not to strike and to punish, but to heal.

3. Its success. God never said to the seed of Jacob, “Seek ye My face in vain.” The sign of the acceptance of their prayer seemed much more likely to produce dread than to gender hope; but so God would teach us that He is greatly to be feared in the assembly of His saints; that He will be sanctified by all them that come nigh to Him; that there is something awful even in the dispensations of His grace; that He sometimes answers His people as the God of their salvation, by terrible things in righteousness.

4. Its effect. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” They were now called to fresh duties, difficulties, dangers; and therefore they required fresh supplies of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Their strength was made equal to their day, and they obtained accessions of illumination, of confidence, of courage, of peace, and of joy, and were prepared to stand complete in all the will of God.

II. The preaching. “And they spake the Word of God with boldness.” The very thing for which they had been praying. The very thing Paul beseeches of the Ephesians to implore on his behalf: “that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly.” You see how little they were governed by the opinions of the people around them; that they did not walk in craftiness, nor handle the Word of God deceitfully, nor appeal to the fancies and wishes of the individuals before them; but by manifestation of the truth, they commended themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Suppose a number of persons were to call on a minister on a Sabbath-day morning, and one of them should say, “I hope, sir, you do not mean to-day to be severe against avarice, for my heart goes after my covetousness”; and another, “I trust you will not be severe against backbiting, for my tongue walketh with slanderers”; and another, “Do not represent implacability as being inconsistent with Divine forgiveness, for I never did forgive such an one, and I never will.” What would this minister say to these men? Why, if he were in a proper state of mind, he would say, “Oh, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness! when wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” Our people are not likely to address us in this way, but this is the wish and meaning of many. “Three things equalise,” says Bishop Hall, “the grave, the judgment-bar, and the pulpit: the grave makes no difference, the judgment-bar makes none, and the pulpit should make none.” Daniel addressed Belshazzar as if he had been a common man. John the Baptist was to Herod as rough as the garment he wore. James the First said of one of his chaplains, “Why, this man always preaches before me as if death stood at his elbow.” Why, dearth does always stand at the preacher’s elbow, and he ought to be able to say with Baxter: “I preach as if I ne’er should preach again; and as a dying man to dying men.”

III. The people (verse 32). Verily, if this be “the golden age of Christianity,” we may well exclaim, “How is the gold become dim!” Note--

1. Their number, “a multitude.” This accords with our Saviour’s represcutation of His kingdom as in the beginning--Like a little leaven in the meal, and like a mustard-seed in the ground. But then this little leaven was to leaven the whole lump, and this mustard-seed was to become a tree. Our Saviour first opened His mind to twelve, and then to seventy, and then we read of five hundred brethren in Galilee and a hundred and twenty in Jerusalem; then three thousand at Pentecost. Then as a result of daily additions to the Church, five thousand. We concede that success by itself is not proof of the divinity of a cause. If we did, what should we then do with Mohammedism and Popery? But here we contend that the case is unspeakably peculiar, and that the instrumentalities employed were so perfectly in themselves inadequate to the result, that the effect must induce us to exclaim, “This is the finger of God.”

2. Their character. “The multitude believed.” The subject reported by the apostles had been unknown, or held in contempt, before; but now the people received is, not as the word of man, but as it was in truth, the word of God; and the belief became productive of godliness in the soul, and the influence of it worked effectually in them that believed. Is this always the case with belief? You believe! so do the devils--and tremble, and remain devils still; and wicked men may hold the truth in unrighteousness. Take heed, therefore; he is a vain man, says James, who says he has faith and has not works.

3. Their unity. They “were of one heart and of one soul”--one object influenced them; one cause engaged them; one principle swayed them. It must be obvious that the views, and tempers, and inclinations of men are very various; and therefore they are only to be brought into a state of social connection by an object that is important and interesting to all: and you find such aa object as this in the gospel. Therefore, in the language of prophecy, it is said, “All nations shall flow unto it,” as so many streams flowing from different sources towards the same fulness--the sea. When the brazen serpent was erected in the midst of the camp, it became the centre of attraction and regard. Our Saviour, in allusion to this, says, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” If there were but one well for the inhabitants of a village or a town, why they must all repair to it or perish. Old Jacob, therefore, said when he was dying, “Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” Isaiah said, “To Him shall men come.” They were of one heart and of one soul; one in their need of the blessing, one in their desire after it, one in their valuation of it, one in their concern to diffuse it, and to extend it to all their fellow-creatures. They were as one family, as one body, where if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, and if one member be honoured, all the members rejoice. You will note here, as they were now so numerous in Jerusalem, they must have worshipped in various rooms, and have been addressed by various preachers; but though they were divided into so many parts, there were no parties among them. They had not yet learned to be carnal, and to walk as men, saying, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos.”

4. Their liberality. You have heard often of the communion of saints, and here you have it literally. Their property, by a conventual giving and receiving, being intermingled, became a kind of joint stock, from which every man drew according to his need. (W. Jay.)

Waiting for the Spirit

When tidal rivers meet the sea, a sight may often be witnessed very strange to the uninformed spectator. The day is fine, the breeze is steady and favourable, the rippling waters dance in the sunlight; and as the anxious watcher waits for the long-absent friend who is expected from a distant land, he rejoices in the favourable conditions which will hasten the happy hour of meeting. Eagerly he scans the horizon for the expected ship. Presently it appears, rapidly draws nearer, and the bounding heart shows its restless eagerness by a hundred sighs. But lo! the great vessel slackens speed, and presently drops anchor. Then from the horizon comes another, a stately ship, her snowy sails filled by the breeze. She, too, draws near, and turns away, or furls her sails and waits. And then another and another come, and are stopped on their course by some unseen barrier. Perplexed and impatient, the watcher appeals to a seaman, and gets for answer, “Oh, it’s the tide; they are waiting for the tide.” And behold, even while they speak there is a change in the aspect of the shore. The hurrying waters, which have been flowing so rapidly down to the sea, are stopped; they creep up again over the strand. From far away in the southern ocean a mighty wave is flowing on unseen. It rises and flows and fills the channels, and washes against the sea-wall, and reaches almost to the dock sills, and the gates are opened, and the waiting fleet wakes up to new life; anchors are raised; sails are spread; steam is once more at work; and the stately procession comes up the stream and into the harbour--the ocean steamer with its living freight of a thousand souls, the merchantman from the East with precious cargo of silks and spices, and lesser craft from their various voyages, and with their various stores of goods. (London Missionary Society’s Report.)

Conditions of the baptism of the Spirit

Some of the older States in the great Republic across the Atlantic complain sadly of excessive drought. In bygone years the rain was wont to descend in copious fertilising showers; but now the clouds hover high in the air and float away to other regions. And why? Because the old-established States have been completely shorn of their ancient forests, and as a penalty they now fail to attract the clouds; or, if they attract them, they fail to draw from them the “water of life.” What then do the inhabitants do under these blighting circumstances? They plant cannons in the high places of the land, and when they see a cloud sailing high in mid-air they fire their artillery; the air shakes, and in the shock the cloud rends and pours its precious contents on the thirsty soil--rain often descends the day after battle. That is the modern way of obtaining rain; but the grey-haired settlers declare the old way was better, and they are now busily planting trees in the denuded regions--trees will draw water from the clouds easier than artillery. In like manner the Israel of God is lamenting the excessive drought in the present day--some of you are longing for a “season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,” you are fervently praying for the “day of visitation.” We see the clouds of the Divine promises heavy-laden with water; but they sail high in the empyrean--no showers descend. What do the Churches do? They fetch the American revivalists, they send here and there for the big guns of the Christian ministry. The guns shoot, the air trembles, the clouds burst, the torrent falls. But it is a torrent, and like all torrents it drenches the surface and soon passes, and the earth is as parched as ever. I say nothing against your resorting to extraordinary means to force on a revival--forcing is now a complicated art, not only in horticulture, but in all departments of activity, temporal and spiritual. But I show you a more excellent way--cultivate more assiduously the “trees of righteousness,” grow more vigorously in grace and knowledge, fulfil more faithfully your duties to men, and discharge more promptly your obligations to God and your Redeemer, and the clouds of the Divine promises, big with mercy, shall break in showers on your heads. Get you up, gird your loins, live lives of holiness and consecration, and soon you will hear the “sound of abundance of rain.” (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)

The secret of power

I. The outpouring of prayer. “When they heard, they lifted up their voice to God.” It would seem that not a word was said to one another. “We know it was earnest and fervent prayer, because of the men by whom it was offered, because of the special source that gave the inspiration from which it sprang, and because of the result that followed. Prayer is the only preparation by which we can be meetened for the work, and the only power by which the work can be blessed. Not mere repetition of forms, either from printed page or stereotyped memory, but the uprising and outpouring of prayer like a living power out of a living soul, in which God the Spirit shall plead with God the Father the merits of God the Son, and then shall God’s work be sustained by His grace, and be prospered by His Divine power indeed. Prayer without work is mockery; work without prayer is vanity, and must lead to despair, vexation, and grief. If Israel is to rally her broken ranks to the conflict, bearing her glorious standard, to march in undaunted power and all-conquering might against the Amalekites and all that assail her, it must be preceded by the uplifting of the arms upon the mountain above the plain. It must be special prayer, prayer with point, with a purpose, for your ministers, for all your instrumentalities. Gather them all like a golden sheaf into your arms, and bring them all into the presence of the God of all grace, and the Spirit of all power. Prayer that shall spring from a sense of our own responsibility to God for everything, the utter inability for anything of ourselves; prayer that shall bring down the Divine power to make us say, “I can do all things.”

II. They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.

1. All filled with it, not merely Peter, and John, and James. And so must it be with every servant of God. It shall be sought not merely for the minister, or the church officer, or the Sundayschool teacher, but for all, that it may give the tenderness of the still small voice; that it may be heard in the thunder of every Boanerges; that it may give Divine vitality and power to the sweet, soft music of every Barnabas; that it may be as a living two-edged sword out of the mouth of every Apollos; that it may be as the Divine fire that shall glow in all the reasoning of all Pauls; that the Church may become an embodiment of Divine life and power.

2. They were all filled--not merely drops and rivulets. It came like a river that proceeded from the throne of God; or rather the broad, deep tide from the fathomless ocean of the fulness of the Divine grace and glory above. It came and filled them, and overflowed, and poured its living tide throughout the world around them. And so it must be. “Prove Me now herewith, and see if I will not pour out the blessing till there shall not be room to receive it.” We want more depth, and breadth, and power of religious emotion, and life, and faith, and service. Our life too often is so restricted in its dimensions, so feeble in its spirit, so low-toned in its vitality, and so circumscribed in the mode of its operation. We want as men of God to be filled with the fulness of God.

3. They were filled with the Holy Ghost--not merely with excitement, mental vigour and determination, indignation, compassion, grief, despair, but with the Holy Ghost. There is the power we must have.

III. What followed. They all sprang to the work in which the two brethren had been previously engaged. “They spake the Word of God with boldness” is spoken of all the brethren. There are none who have a voice that cannot speak and sing of other things; and there must be none that do not speak of Jesus. It must be spoken at all becoming times and with all becoming promptitude, for soon our voices will be hushed in the silence of the grave. (J. P. Chown.)

Power to be witnesses

1. These feeble Christians moved the Hand that moves the world. The place was shaken, but not the people. The ground trembled, but they had found a refuge in God. It is after and in answer to prayer that the Lord arises to shake the earth. Quick and strong vibrations are felt in the political sphere. God’s saints groan. God hears and answers in His own good time, and then the most firmly-rooted national, social, religious tyrannies totter and fall. The shaking was a sign that prayer was heard. They had acknowledged God as the Maker of heaven and earth. In answer He gives a token that Almightiness is at hand for their protection. The commotions of our day are encouraging to the Christian. Hollow hypocrisies are shaken in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain (Hebrews 12:27).

2. But besides this symbol of power, a more specific answer was given. “They were filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke the Word with boldness.” They did not fear their enemies, they distrusted themselves lest danger should shake them from their steadfastness. Now they have obtained what they asked, they are at ease, as is the magnet on the surging sea, fixed to its pole because loosed from holds, The steadiest thing in a shaking world is a disciple whose life, loosed from the dust, is hid with Christ in God.

3. Thus endued with power, all that was required of them was to bear witness to a fact: “The resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Christ had promised them power for this purpose, and now the promise was fulfilled.

Work for those who are filled with the Spirit

Is there nothing for men who are filled with the Spirit of God to do now? Are there no vile iniquities still going on buttressed up with immoral wealth and political chicaneries which may coexist very well indeed with all the pomposities of a fashionable religiousness; but to-day if there were but one stirring of the Spirit in our dead hearts would be spurned back to the hell from which they came? Look at the streets of London, shameless with prostitution; look at glaring and multiplied incentives to drunkenness which roll into the coffers of some one, a stream of wealth, tainted with the tears of women and the blood of men; look at the nefarious sweaters’ dens, where greedy Jews and Christians make their vile money out of human misery. Look at the universal worldliness around us, look at the passionate mammon worship, at the reckless competition, at the desecration of Sundays in the mere voluptuous wantonness of pleasure. Lock at the dangerous increase of the guilty madness of betting and gambling in every school, office, street among rich and poor. Look at the rapid degradation of our journalism by the paltry flunkeyism of gossip and the evil malice of slander; look at the bad and false spirit of our so-called religious newspapers. O God, give us saints; O God, pour out the Spirit of Thy might. Were it but in the hearts of one or two to slay these dragons and not fear their poisonous breath! O Christ, send us but two or three heroes for this new Thermopylae. O Holy Ghost, fill one or two hearts with Thy rushing mighty wind, and mitre one or two brows with Thy Pentecostal flame! Priests we have in plenty, and Churchmen, but oh, send us men filled with the Holy Ghost! (Archdeacon Farrar.)


Verse 32

Acts 4:32

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.

Unity among Christians to be desired

Melancthon mourned in his day the divisions among Protestants, and sought to bring Protestants together by the parable of the war between the wolves and the dogs. The wolves were somewhat afraid, for the dogs were many and strong, and therefore they sent out a spy to observe them. On his return, the scout said, “It is true the dogs are many, but there are not many mastiffs among them. There are dogs of so many sorts one can hardly count them; and as for the worst of them,” said he, “they are little dogs, which bark loudly, but cannot bite.” “However, this did not cheer me so much,” said the wolf, “as this, that as they came marching on, I observed they were all snapping right and left at one another, and I could see clearly that though they all hate the wolf, yet each dog hates every other dog with all his heart.” I fear it is true still; for there are many professors who snap right and left at their own brethren, when they had better save their teeth for the wolves. If our enemies are to be put to confusion, it must be by the united efforts of all the people of God; unity is strength. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Unity requires dissimilarity

Unity subsists between things not similar and alike, but things dissimilar or unlike. There is no unity in the separate atoms of a sand-pit; they are things similar; there is an aggregate or collection of them. Even if they be hardened in a mass they are not one, they do not form a unity; they are simply a mass. There is no unity in a flock of sheep; it is simply a repetition of a number of things similar to each other. But in Christian unity we find something very different, for the Christian Church is made up of dissimilar members, without which dissimilarity there could be no unity. Each is imperfect in itself, but each supplying the deficiencies of other members of the body spiritual, as do the physical members of the physical body. Now, if you cut off from the spiritual body any one member, as in the physical body, you destroy the unity of the whole body. (T. H. Leary, D. C. L.)

Unity assisted by fire

There was a blacksmith once who had two pieces of iron which he wished to weld into one, and he took them just as they were, all cold and hard, and put them on the anvil, and began to hammer with all his might, but they were two pieces still, and would not unite. At last he remembered what he ought never to have forgotten; he thrust both of them into the fire, took them out red-hot, laid the one upon the other, and by one or two blows of the hammer they very soon became one. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The social instinct

I. God’s voice assures us that “it is not good that the man should be alone”: and knit into the very stuff of our personality is the instinctive dread of loneliness and the craving after intercourse with our fellow-men. We know that it is only in fellowship with others that the life which belongs to us as men can find its essential exercise and development. Conscience, justice, sympathy, honour, pity, love: these are but a few of the words whose whole wealth of meaning lies in a man’s dealings with his fellow-men. Every principle of morality, every safeguard of reason, every canon of taste, depends for its significance, if not for its sanction, on our position as members of a great community: and it was by a true and deep insight that the Greek declared that he who would live in solitude must be either more or less than man. The social instinct is astir in the very act of self-consciousness: and I would show something of the reality of the satisfaction which is offered to it in the Church of Christ--God’s answer to the needs of man.

II. There are two ways in which we may measure the adequacy of any communion and fellowship into which we are invited. Sympathy lives, so to speak, in two dimensions: breadth and depth: and we may call it great either for the extent which it can cover, or for the inner depths which it can reach. So, too, it may be cramped and narrow, either because it moves within a scanty range, or else because its diffuse activity hardly goes below the surface of life. And in correspondence with these two measurements of sympathy, there are two distinct ways in which the desire for communion may seek and seem to find its satisfaction without reference to Christianity.

1. On the one hand we may find an almost infinite scope for sympathy and fellowship, if we share or understand the wants and hopes and aims of our generation, and so bear our part in its corporate action. Probably there never was an age which offered wider range more varied opportunity, more hopeful schemes for such an exercise and development of the social instinct. Whatever help we have to give, we can pass at once into commerce with hundreds of our fellow-men. Whether the feelings with which we go out into the world are mainly benevolent, political, or scientific, we are at once admitted to a tract of interest and work in which the social instinct moves without the fear of limitation.

2. It is when the other measurement is forced upon us that we feel the practical defect of a purely natural communion, however wide and intelligent, with our fellow-citizens or with mankind. Every human soul has energies, mysterious and profound, which find no exercise or answer in that diffusive interest which is ever losing, in intensity what it gains in width. For while our inner life looks out to no horizon, in our social relations we are hemmed in on every side: in each wider range of fellowship, more of our personal feelings and convictions have to be repressed or misunderstood: as we pass from love to friendship, from friendship to acquaintance, from acquaintance to association, at each stage we feel that less of our true self is active and satisfied, that we are exchanging the full and blessed sympathy “where hearts are of each other sure,” for the excitement and effectiveness of living in a crowd. And from the partial and superficial communion which thus beckons on and disappoints in ever-widening fields of ever more restricted feeling, most men turn to seek in friendship or in home a sympathy which has less to fear from the second measurement of which I spoke. Probably we all know the intense relief of passing from the jar or compromise of society at large into some inner sphere of love where “we mean what we say, and what we would we know.”

3. And having found the refreshment and confidence of such sympathy, most men come to live a double life: passing across day by day from the diffuse and shallow fellowship of the wide world to the quiet trust and swift intercourse of the chosen few: trying to supplement the extent of one communion by the depth of the other: even as the great poet of our day cries--

“God be thanked, the meanest of His creatures

Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with,

One to show a woman when he loves her.”

But must we put away for ever all thought and hope of any communion which shall be at once both wide and deep? Is there any power which can bring the souls of men together in a sympathy without either exclusion or reserve?

III. “I believe in the communion of saints.” This is the answer of the christian church: she, and she alone, still clings to the hope and promise of a fellowship and sympathy which shall be at once deeper than any depth which a man can fathom in his own soul, and wider than the world itself: a brotherhood into which the most ignorant and outcast and sinful may through penitence find entrance, a brotherhood in which the most sensitive and thoughtful and exacting soul shall never feel or fear the touch of cruelty or stupidity, but ever be led on from height to height, from strength to strength, from glory to glory, by the answer of a love which never is out of sight, and yet never can be outstripped. By what means then does the Church propose to make good her promise of a sympathy both wide and deep? Must we look back for the plainest answer to these questions to the days when “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul”? It is, in deed and truth, a humiliating necessity. But still we cannot doubt that the Divine spirit of that communion is with us now: we know that, for all the noisy and obtrusive quarrels which are the shame and plague of Christendom, the strong love which held together the souls of martyrs and evangelists, the love which was stronger than death, is among us still: that in pure homes, in the fellowship of Christ’s work among the poor and suffering, we can still see, in the perfect harmony of self-forgetful work, the inherited secret of Christian unity and the earnest of its achievement in the Church triumphant. But there is one plain ground of fellowship which lies so near to the experience of our daily life, that it is easy for all to see and measure. For at the outset, Christianity, and Christianity alone, sets before us all one Lord. Alike in earth and heaven we are to be brought into the true fellowship one with another by a service and devotion which is not mutual but common: by seeking first the same Lord and Saviour. The real secret of sympathy is to love in the first place, not one’s friend, but that which he loves better than himself: and the fulfilment of the social instinct is found in the concentration of all hearts upon the one true God. We shall better understand what the communion of saints may be, in proportion as we can give our hearts, our strength, our lives, to Him who gave Himself for us--to Him who, since He was lifted up from the earth, alone can draw all to Himself, and link them in the one sufficient sympathy of one unending Love. For “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” (F. Paget, D. D.)

Neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.

Nothing our own

Their conduct was answerable to so great a change as had been brought over their spirits. In several respects it was singular; such as befitted their special condition, but was nowise applicable to any other community or any after generation. Among these was the community of goods;--a usage into which they fell by a natural consequence of the relation in which they stood to one another and to the rest of mankind, and even by their own position and expectation upon the earth. They were few, and they were brethren. If they had been numerous, or if they had been divided, the idea would have been from the first as impracticable as it soon became. But at the outset it almost forced itself upon their observance. What was wealth to them? They were set upon a profession of self-denials. There was nothing that they cared to purchase or inherit in the places that were so soon, as they imagined, to be destroyed. Their minds were attracted but by incorruptible treasures and enduring abodes. For this reason it was, that none of them said “that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” Let us trace a few lines of reflection over so great a subject. What can we consider our own? Relatively, in certain connections, and to a certain extent, everything that we can conceive of. All the objects that delight the senses, all the pursuits that interest the attention, all the truths that occupy and nourish the mind, are ours. We have no need to become the proprietors of anything, in a commercial sense, in order to make it belong to us. The poor borderer upon a rich domain may use and enjoy it more than its real occupant and lord. He who borrows a book from a wealthy library may render it more truly his than it is the collector’s, whose name is written in it, but whose understanding has never grown familiar with its contents. Whatever we can avail ourselves of for the purpose of our instruction, of our profit, of our happiness, is our own. Whatever we can put away at a calm distance from us, doing without it and feeling above it, is more than our own. The fruits of our endeavours are ours, the days of our being, the circumstances of our condition, the pictures of our fancy, the associates of our hearts. The universe offers itself to the eyes that can love its beauty, not only as a spectacle, but as a gift; and the very Lord of that boundless whole is manifested as the portion of obedient souls. Since everything we know is imaged in the mind, and the mind is ourself, we may call the powers of nature and the lessons of wisdom our tributaries, wherever those powers are surveyed or those lessons embraced. But if we are ready to be elated with such a description of the extent of the authority that has been committed to men, we have but to take into view that opposite truth which accords better with the expression of the text, and account that none of the things which they possess are theirs, in any absolute sense. We may say, with the apostle to his Corinthians, “All things are yours.” But then we must add, in the words of the same great testifier, “Ye yourselves are not your own; ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Let us turn to this side of our theme, and remark some of the leading particulars that belong to it. None of the things which we possess are absolutely our own.

1. Not our worldly goods. Who created them? He who made them to be transitory. Who bestowed them? He who has a right to take them back. For what purpose have they been lodged in the hands of prosperous men? For their special benefit and gratification? Yes. But for their occupation, their exercise, their trial also, and more. In the first place, the changes of events prove to us that we do not hold’ by any absolute tenure what we seem to hold; for how often it is suddenly snatched from us, or drained gradually away! So much for chances. And then come in the settled decrees of our condition and the demands of our consciences. Consider them both, and you will see how amply they vindicate the expressions of the text as applicable to all men and times and places. You will have no community of goods; and indeed we can scarcely conceive of any social project so unnatural, so unjust, so impracticable. Yet still the goods of the wealthiest cannot choose but flow into the community. He must part with them, whether he will or not, and regularly part with them. He can have no enjoyment from them but by their use, and their use is their perishing. They are not his but as they pass, and when they are gone whose are they? They must be spent and distributed, and return into the common stock from which they were amassed. Reflect further on what the various obligations of life admonish us ought to be. Are we not stewards and debtors, rather than owners and lords, in the portion that is allotted to us? Much is due to the service of our brethren; and all is in pledge to Him, to whom the whole must be accounted for. Benevolence, justice, and truth are greater apostles than Peter and James and John; and honest contributions must be brought and laid down at their feet.

2. Our friends and the objects of our affection are not our own. You look into the faces of those you love, and take them by their cordial hands, and they seem to be yours, because their countenances have been always bright towards you, and you are well assured that their help is ready in the time of your need. But how many such have circumstances parted, and misunderstandings estranged! And how often has death severed the tie which no trials of life could weaken! Children are in a sense your creatures. None can share with you your parental rights. I will not say, that they may so disappoint your hope as to leave little disposition to rejoice in their belonging to you; that they may so grieve and burden your lives as to lead you to wish that you had been childless. But at least you are well aware, that what no temptations of after days might be able to make unworthy of your regard, the decree of heaven may remove from your side. The infant and the youth are as liable to be summoned away in their unsullied freshness, as the grown man in the fulness of his strength and the midst of his labours; and how can you claim as yours what is so changing and so frail? Rejoice, rather, that they are in better hands and at a wiser disposal; that their portion is in the assignments of an eternal Providence; and that their true Proprietor is the Holy Father, whose angels have a charge over them here, and who will never dismiss those blessed ministers from their office of love. (N. L. Frothingham.)

The unity of the early Church

I. The unity. “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and sou!.” The Church of that day was a great contrast with the world, where there were “wars and rumours of wars,” envious and jealous hatreds. Unity ever set forth in New Testament as a fundamental conception of the Church. Christ prayed for it. Apostles strove to preserve it. The ideal we should ever keep before us.

II. The manifestation. “Neither said any of them that aught of the things that he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” This a convincing evidence of their unity. Teaches the surpassing love of that brotherhood of Christ. The principle is just as true to-day. The Church is a partnership in preaching the gospel and in good works.

III. The causes. By examining the context we may discover some of the causes or conditions.

1. Fidelity. They had been entrusted with the gospel. They had faithful leaders (Acts 2:14; Acts 3:12; Acts 4:3-8; Acts 13:19). They had faithful people (verses 24-30).

2. Prayer (verses 24-30).

3. Recognition of God’s providence (verse 28).

4. Holy Spirit (verse 31). Notice it came in answer to prayer. To believers (cf. chap. 2:4)
. Churches need renewals (
cf., Acts 2:4; Acts 4:31)
of Holy Spirit.

IV. The results.

1. Great spirituality. Scatter the embers of a dying fire and it goes out. Rake them together and you have warmth and glow. So with a divided and a united Church.

2. Great power. “A city set on a hill,” etc. Such a Church can make the powers of darkness tremble. Keep this ideal before us and we shall be a united, spiritual, and aggressive Church. (E. E. Curry.)

Apostolic socialism

I. The reasons which led the first Christians to form themselves into a community having all things common.

1. From the moment of the founding of Christianity the duty of living for others was insisted on. John the Baptist said, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none,” etc. Nor was Jesus less explicit. “Sell that ye have and give alms.” “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and many other passages which embody the principle of true socialism.

2. Doubtless some would urge that Jesus set the example of founding such a communistic society--not that He required all to part with their possessions, but it would seem that He did require this of the inner circle of apostles. “Lo, we have left all and followed Thee.” “Go sell that thou hast … and come follow Me.” Of this community Judas was the treasurer.

3. Remember again that this took place immediately after the outpouring of the Spirit, the natural effect of which would be the kindling of an enthusiasm which would make them capable of a self-sacrifice impossible to the natural man. It is evident, too, that poverty was very rife, and the newly invigorated affections rendered it impossible for a Christian to feast while others starved.

II. Why was this socialistic scheme abandoned? For it is evident that it did not last long, since we find it nowhere else, nor even here a few years later. The truth is experience taught them that in the existing state of society Socialism would not work. Why? Just the sinfulness and selfishness of men. For society can only prosper if men’s faculties are sharpened, and their energy and industry exerted to the utmost. And it is found that only competition can supply the motive which will induce men to do their best. No doubt if men were perfectly unselfish it would be otherwise, but they are not. When a man’s comfort no longer depended on his own efforts, so that even if he worked harder than others he would fare no better, the spur to exertion would be gone, and he would do less, or even nothing, and thousands would prey upon others. Even the sharp law under which we live, “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat,” is evaded by idle impostors and beggars, but how indefinitely would the number of these social parasites be increased if all had a common right to the wealth of the community. And then again Socialism would give scope for fraud and dishonesty. The basis of any such scheme is that rich and poor give alike all they possess into the common fund. Selfish men, like Ananias, would seek to evade this and to live at the public expense while retaining what others had relinquished. It was this that probably broke up the scheme.

III. Why are these facts recorded? Not merely to teach that Socialism is a mistake, but that it is true as an ideal, but false as a practical system. Its essential underlying ideas are true. It is a Divine instinct which makes us long to give the same blessings to the poor which the rich possess. It is right that each should labour not only for himself but for all. And while we cannot bring all humanity into a communistic society, we must nevertheless keep the ideal of social regeneration on the basis of brotherly love ever before us. (A. M. Mackay, B. A.)

Baptised purses

Miss Margaret Winning Leitch, one of two sisters from Ryegate, Vermont, U.S.A., of Scottish parentage, formerly of the United Presbyterisn Church, now missionaries of the American Board in Ceylon, lately told her scholars the following incident: “A man, being converted, was about to join the Baptist Church. When he was going down into the water to be baptised, upon a profession of his faith in Christ, he handed his pocket-handkerchief to a friend to hold. In doing so, his purse fell out. The friend said, ‘I will hold that too; you wilt not want it to get wet.’ But the man replied, ‘No, when I go down into the water I want my purse to be baptised with me, for that, as well as myself, must be consecrated to the service of the Lord.’” We may well agree with the missionary in her wish that there were more Christian workers with baptised purses.

Remarkable liberality

Perhaps there never was a more charitable man than John Wesley. His liberality knew no bounds but an empty pocket. He gave away, not merely a certain part of his income, but all that he had; his own wants being provided for, he devoted all the rest to the necessities of others. He entered upon this good work at a very early period. We are told that when he had thirty pounds a year, he lived on twenty-eight, and gave away forty shillings. The next; year, receiving sixty pounds, he still lived on twenty-eight, and gave two and thirty. The third year he received ninety pounds, and gave away sixty-two. The fourth year he received one hundred and twenty pounds. Still he lived on twenty-eight, and gave to the poor ninety-two. During the rest of his life he lived economically; and in the course of fifty years, it has been supposed, he gave away more than thirty thousand pounds.

Accumulated riches rightly used

If you go to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I ask you to find out the monument to John Howard the philanthropist, and you will read upon it that the man who devotes himself to the good of mankind “treads an open but unfrequented path to immortality.” Thank God, that path is not unfrequented now, and many capitalists realise their responsibilities. I was chaplain in Switzerland during August. One morning I was walking up a lovely valley by the banks of a river, and through a rich pasture land, enamelled with flowers, when I was overtaken by a young Swiss lad. He pointed to a mighty mountain at the head of the valley, covered with perpetual snow, and said in French, “Why should the good God have made snowfields and glaciers? “I pointed to the stream, and to the rich grass beneath our feet, and told him that the streams which enriched the valleys all around came from this snow mountain. So there are men who rise above their fellows like mountains above the valleys; riches have accumulated upon them as snow upon the lofty heights; but the sunshine of Divine love has melted the snow, which has flown down in fertilising streams, spreading gladness and prosperity around. (Canon Bardsley.)


Verses 32-35

Verse 33

Acts 4:33

With great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

The power of the Apostolic testimony to the resurrection

In what did this great power consist?

I. In the great number of witnesses. Here were more than were necessary for the fabrication of a cheat, and too many to keep it long a secret (1 Corinthians 15:5-6).

II. In the well-known character of the apostles. They were poor, timid and friendless; and, therefore, unlikely to devise, and unable to execute, a scheme for imposing a falsehood of this nature upon the world. Above all, they were proverbial for integrity in principle and conduct. Such qualities would render any evidence respectable. Will it be said that their simplicity exposed them to delusion? There were among them Peter, sufficiently acute, and Thomas sufficiently scrupulous. Will it be said that, as followers of Christ; they were interested in the success of this story. Alas! in what way could the story advance the interest of any of them, if Jesus was not risen? It would have been much more natural, as well as reasonable, for them, as indeed they did after the crucifixion, to have shrunk from the public view.

III. In that there was among them consistence, boldness, and correspondent behaviour.

1. They were perfectly consistent. Numerous as were the testifiers, there were no divisions, contradictions, or separate interests: and if there were some little variations in their narratives, respecting minute matters, these are reconcilable, and tend rather to confirm their accounts, by evidencing that there had been no combination.

2. They were undaunted. Though before, mortified with disappointment, and shaking with terror, they shunned even the light, they now openly and eagerly proclaimed that He who had been crucified, was risen from the dead.

3. There was also correspondent behaviour. They exhibited that life which the resurrection necessarily enforced. They were animated with that joy which it was calculated to inspire. They manifested that anxiety and diligence to maintain and propagate the religion of their Lord which it could not fail to produce.

IV. In that they brought to their support the types and prophecies of the word of God. The argument was of wonderful power with those Jews who had cherished the revelations which the Most High had vouchsafed to them; and it is of astonishing import, of irresistible force to every man, who considers soberly the wonderful, the supernatural, the connected, the singularly significant nature, of the Jewish economy.

V. In that it left His adversaries destitute of any satisfactory or reasonable replication. Much it behoved the rulers of the Jews to prove to the people, who were many of them struck with the miracles of Christ, that they had not “crucified the Lord of Glory.” In their care to secure the sepulchre, they betrayed their anxiety to do so. And, blessed Lord, could they have produced Thy sacred body after the third day, with what triumph would it have been exhibited! But there was no such refutation of the resurrection.

VI. In that it was accompanied with the confirmation and blessing of God, and produced great and extensive conviction. The establishment and rapid progress of a religion, whose Author was crucified, and its propagators twelve of the most despised men; of a religion so opposed to the strongest propensities of nature, so different from anything to which man had been accustomed, and so destructive to ancient, venerated, and congenial systems; and this, too, by means so simple, and seemingly inadequate to the object, is of itself a demonstration of the wisdom and power with which its witnesses unto the people spake. (Bp. Dehon.)

Preaching the resurrection of Jesus

Notice--

I. The great fact to which they gave testimony.

1. This fact was of essential importance in the Christian scheme. All the great events of our Lord’s history are of vast importance, both in themselves or in their relation to each other. What would the death of Christ have availed if He had not also risen?

2. The apostles were witnesses of it. Hence they were prepared everywhere to vindicate the doctrine of the Resurrection.

II. The character of their testimony. “Power” may refer to--

1. The miracle they wrought.

2. The unction, the energy, the extraordinary influence of their ministry.

3. Their marvellous success.

III. The abundant grace with which they were endowed. “Great grace.” Application:

1. Let us learn to give great prominence to the fundamental doctrines and facts of Christianity.

2. Let us remember that the success of our labours depends not only on what is preached, but very greatly on how it is preached.

3. Let us all, and always, mind to have great grace--the grace of humility, of patience, of charity, of faith--if we would have great success. (W. Antliff, D. D.)

The resurrection of Christ historic

1. The resurrection of Christ is the most important event in all history. It expresses in itself the whole gospel of God to man. When a new apostle was elected it was that he might be “a witness” to it.

2. With truth therefore, this fact is put in the Scriptures, and in derived systems of theological thought, as the key-stone of the arch of Christianity. Take it away, and the whole system crumbles to pieces. Our preaching is vain; your faith is vain; we are yet in our sins; we have no more hope in Christ for this life, or for any other.

3. Such a fact, from its very importance, requires the very strongest confirmation, and, being a fact of history, confirmation of a strictly historical kind.

I. The fact itself.

1. It is a fact quite capable of proof. There is no difficulty in imagining it to have occurred. There are no invincible laws against it. There are no natural principles or instincts of the human mind which reject it. All that can be averred is that it is not in the line of our experiences.

2. What is sufficient evidence? All human laws assume that the testimony of two witnesses, when that testimony is unchallenged and when it is confirmed by collateral evidence, is enough. This is not to say that any two men would be believed in anything they might choose to say. They must be honest men worthy of belief, and must be able to show that they had adequate opportunity for ascertaining or observing the thing to which they give testimony, and that they were the dupes of no illusion, and that they were in full possession of their faculties. Then, the human mind is so constituted that it must receive their testimony. If it were not so; human society would be no longer possible; no important ease could be decided in any court of law; in fact, no law could be administered at all.

II. The witnesses.

1. How many are they? The first to see the risen Lord was Mary; then her companions, the other women, shared the privilege with her. Then John and Peter saw Him. Later in the day He met the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the evening He appeared to the brethren as they sat at meat; and again, a week later, to them in presence of Thomas. He came to the apostolic company by the lake; on the mountain more than five hundred brethren at once saw Him. It is probable that six or seven hundred people, at least, saw Christ after He was risen. True, we have not a separate testimony in writing from every one who saw Him. Writing in those days was not an easy matter. We have the testimony of the four Evangelists and of James, Peter, and Paul--to what? Not only to what they themselves saw and heard, but to the fact that a great many others saw and heard with them; and there is no denial from any of these. Here, e.g., is a letter which Paul writes to the Corinthians, which he must have known would not be kept a secret; and he asserts in it that Christ was seen after His resurrection by more than five hundred men, most of whom, he says, were then alive; and yet there is no contradiction. Corinth was full of objectors, and some of them would have been nothing loth to undermine his authority. The casual observation, “Some have fallen asleep,” indicates that he knew many of the persons referred to, and that, had it been necessary, he could have given further details respecting them.

2. Are they honest men? Let any one read the Gospels and see. True, and honest, and simple-hearted are they, if ever such men were in the world.

3. As to their soundness of mind. Where is there any sign of weakness or of hallucination in these Gospels, or in the Epistles, from first to last? They seem almost too calm. It is impossible to conceive evidence more perfectly given. They were the subjects of profound emotion; but they knew that the world could have no interest in the state of their feelings, and that what they had to do was to tell faithfully and truly the great facts which had excited such feelings.

4. As to their opportunities for ascertaining the truth. They saw their risen Lord many times and in many places. They heard Him speak; they talked with Him; they touched Him; they saw Him eat; they felt His breath; they saw Him ascend to heaven.

5. But had they not something to gain by this history? Yes; they gained disrepute, persecution, spoiling of goods, as the price of their faithfulness. They gained bonds and martyrdom. If they did not believe it, their course of action makes them the greatest madmen the world has ever seen.

6. Their testimony was received undoubtingly by men of their own generation. It has been said that eighteen centuries is a long time across which to verify important historic truth. But it was grasped and held by those to whom it was near, who could judge of its truth as we judge of the occurrences of our own time, and who could not be deceived. Remember the wonderful effects this belief produced then; and now Christendom, with all the light and love and tenderness it contains, is the fruit of the faith that there is a risen Christ. Conclusion: Eighty years before the resurrection Caesar landed on the coast of Kent. Who thinks of doubting that? I suppose, if eternal salvation depended on believing it, there is not a sane Englishman alive who would fail of heaven; and yet the actual historic proof of this is far less complete, cogent, convincing, than the proof that Christ died and rose and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Men believe without any doubt or difficulty in the Sabine farm of Horace, where his friends quaffed the Falernian wine. We believe that Virgil died on a journey, and that he lies buried, at his own request, at the second milestone from Naples on the Puteolan way. We believe in the plough of Cincinnatus, and in the poison-cup of Socrates; but all kinds of conscientious scruples and honest doubts, which must be treated with great tenderness and delicacy, arise in some minds when they are asked to believe in the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. We feel inclined to say of such, everything in its own place. We would not break any bruised reed, or quench any smoking flax; but if any one will not take the trouble to examine the evidence for the resurrection, and yet will complain that he is unable to believe it, sympathy with such a person may be unfaithfulness to truth, and a slight even upon rationality, because he asks for comfort while rejecting light. Let men be honest and earnest in this great matter. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The gospel of the resurrection

Let us consider some of the reasons why the apostles attached such importance to the resurrection. It proved:

I. That Christ was still living and had returned to His Church. His death had struck them with confusion and dismay, and their first feeling was one of profound loss. The resurrection was the return of their beloved Master. So we do not worship a dead Christ. He is not a memory but a presence.

II. That Christ had not failed in His work. This was once their impression (Luke 24:21). But after the resurrection all was changed. Here was--

1. Triumph over death.

2. The proof that God had accepted the great sacrifice.

3. The evidence that what seemed a hindrance was the very means by which the Saviour effected His work of redemption.

III. That Christ was more than man. It was a triumphant refutation of Jewish error. They had mocked at His claims (Luke 23:35). Here was the vindication of them. Accordingly the apostles pressed this fact with great persistency (Acts 3:15). He could be no mere man that could break the bars of the grave.

IV. The supernatural character of Christianity. If this is granted it is vain to cavil at lesser miracles. Admit this, and all anti-Christian objection crumbles to dust.

V. That it is possible for man to be raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Great grace was upon them all.--

Manifestations of Divine grace

Grace sometimes denotes the full and undeserved compassion which our Heavenly Father manifests to a lost world. At other times, the term is employed to describe the subduing and sanctifying effects of this marvellous love. In the text it is to be understood as referring to both. Great grace was manifest--

I. In their earnest and united prayers. They held frequent communion with the God of all grace. This practice was habitual (Acts 1:14). On any unusual occasion of trial, prayer was their first and last resort (Acts 4:31; Acts 12:5; Acts 21:5). If “great grace” is to rest upon believers in our time, it will be when they realise the cheering promise of their Lord (Matthew 18:20). No matter how small, or how great the number, nor from what quarter, nor the place of assembly, He--the Prophet, Priest, and King of His Church--will be present to bless.

II. In their steadfast devotion to scripture doctrine. Indifference to Divine truth is always the sign that the spark of grace in the heart is near extinction. The first-fruits of the day of Pentecost, instead of dividing themselves up into rival factions, to suit their individual caprice, “continued steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).

III. In their love one to another (verse 32). When a company of Christians in Numidia had been taken prisoners by barbarians, and the churches to which (hey belonged were unable to pay their ransom, they sent to the Church in Carthage. Bishop Cyprian no sooner heard of this than he set himself at work, and never relaxed his efforts until he had collected the necessary sum. This substantial token of brotherly kindness was not more gratifying than the letter of Christian sympathy and tenderness which accompanied it. “In cases like these,” wrote the bishop, “who would not feel sorrow, and who would not look upon a brother’s sufferings as his own?” As the apostle says, “When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Therefore, we must consider the captivity of our brethren as our own captivity. We must see Christ in our captive brethren, and redeem Him from captivity who redeemed us from death.

IV. In the holy joy and peace in believing with which they triumphed in every place.

V. In the spirit and deportment with which they recommended their religion to the world (Acts 2:47). A Christian young man was asked what had led him to turn aside from his wild and thoughtless career to become a follower of Jesus. Was it a sermon or a book that had improved him? He answered very emphatically, No. Had any one spoken to him specially on the subject of religion? “No. It was a Christian man, who boarded at the same house with me.” “Did he ever talk to you about your soul?” “No, never, till I sought an interview with him; but there was a sweetness in his disposition, a heavenly-mindedness about him, that made me feel that he had a source of comfort and peace, to which I was a stranger. His whole life was a sermon. I sought an interview with him. He pointed me to Jesus Christ, prayed with me and counselled me.” In this, and in all such cases, religion is preached most eloquently to the world. About twenty years ago, a Christian woman of London was asked to take charge of a Bible-class of three young women. Although the work was a very humble one, she shrank from its responsibilities, and, with many misgivings, consented to the trial. The first month’s experience was so encouraging that she consented to go on with the work, and the class constantly increased in numbers. From fifty, it soon grew to eighty, and a larger room was provided. In the course of a few years the Bible-class became five hundred strong; and now, at the age of sixty-nine, the faithful teacher (Mrs. Bartlett) has fallen asleep in Jesus. She was not a woman of marked ability, but simply one who gave up her whole self to the service of the Lord. This was the secret of her success. She knew the members of her large class, and called them by their names. She visited them at their homes, and wrote letters to the absent ones. For each, and for all of them, she prayed unceasingly. Her pupils are scattered over the whole earth, and many of them are telling to others the good tidings she brought to them. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)

Happy state of the primitive Church

We shall now seek an illustration of the text, by inquiring wherein such eminent grace appeared in these primitive believers.

1. Great grace appeared in their earnest and united supplications.

2. If appeared in their steadfast adherence to the apostles’ doctrine.

3. In a constant adherence to the worship and service of God.

4. In their great love to one another.

5. These primitive Christians were full of holy joy and peace in believing, and they triumphed in every place.

6. Their spirit and deportment were such as recommended their religion to the word (Acts 2:47).

They abounded in those Christian graces which are lovely even in the eyes of men in general. (Theological Sketch-Book.)


Verse 36-37

Acts 4:36-37

Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas.

Barnabas

Surnames become necessary as soon as men form themselves into societies. They are then no longer adequately distinguished by the simple “James” or “John,” for others also bear the same name. Some personal characteristic, therefore, has to be selected: the trade, stature, complexion, or disposition of the man will suggest a title for him; he becomes known as James the Smith, or as John the Black, and probably transmits the surname to his posterity. When our Lord chooses His apostles they have to be distinguished in this way. There is Judas Iscariot, and Judas the brother of James. There is Simon Zelotes, and Simon surnamed Peter, etc. The apostles in their turn give surnames, and in the present instance the second name thrust the first out of recollection. “Joses” is from this time known as “Barnabas” alone. Our English translation interprets the name as “the son of consolation.” Take “consolation” in a strong sense, and that is right. The word is elsewhere rendered “exhortation.” It answers to the old English use of “comfort,” in the sense of strengthening, as well as soothing, as we have it in the phrase, “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost.”

I. We shall best understand the nacre by surveying the history. We know little of the antecedents of Barnabas. He was a native of Cyprus, the first stepping-stone across the great sea to the lands of the Gentiles. Its population was partly Greek, partly Oriental; and the kind of education which such a society would afford may have helped to make Barnabas a broader man than his brethren who had been born and bred in the closer atmosphere of Jerusalem. Tradition marks him out as among the seventy sent forth by Christ. Or he may have been one of the fruits of Pentecost. Some of those converts, we know, were “men of Cyprus and Cyrene.” His first appearance has more of action in it than of speech. It was at the moment when, under the fresh impulses of their awakening, the disciples who had “houses or lands” were parting with them for the relief of their poorer brethren. Conspicuous among them was Barnabas. It was a good beginning for a Christian ministry. “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” The interest deepens as we proceed. Six or seven years pass, and an unlooked-for and almost unwelcome proselyte presents himself. It is Saul, who finds himself an object of alarm and undisguised mistrust. The way is opening for a schism between them and this “last of the apostles,” who seeks their sympathy, but who can dispense with it, strong in his own independent authority, and in the promised presence of the Lord. There was needed at that moment some well-known and trusted leader, large-hearted enough to become surety for the former persecutor, and to stand his friend. This friend was found in Barnabas. It was he who joined Peter’s hands with Paul’s, and who told the tale of the wonderful conversion in such a manner as to dissolve all doubt. The “son of consolation” appears here at his appropriate work, reconciling those opposing forces with the sweet reasonableness of his own gentler spirit. He was selected, shortly afterwards, for a mission in which the same spirit would find scope. Tidings had reached the apostles of strange successes attending the gospel in Antioch, and they were not prepared for such an event. The baptism of Cornelius was in obedience to a direct revelation from heaven, but this larger movement appeared unauthorised, and might prove unwarranted. Barnabas was accordingly chosen to visit the spot and make inquiry. Now it is not altogether easy for any man to give unstinted commendation to a work in which he himself has had no share. He is apt to point out what might have been done better, rather than what has been done well. Finely in contrast with that tendency stands out the candid and generous behaviour of Barnabas. He “saw the grace of God,” “was glad,” and expressed himself in terms of warm congratulation and approval. Nay, he threw his own energies into the glorious enterprise, and “exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord.” When he departed he left many further converts added to the infant Church, and the impression that “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.” Next we find that by his urgency Paul was brought from the seclusion of Tarsus, and introduced to the field of work which lay ready for him in Antioch. It was through his generous co-operation that the ministry of the apostle of the Gentiles found favourable opportunities of exercise. But from that hour the lustre of his name begins to pale beside the fervent and forward energy of his incomparable companion. We find in the history no trace of any jealousy; but rather tokens of a noble modesty, akin to that of the Baptist when he drew back into the shade before the perfect light of Christ. This man, who, when others shunned Paul, had become his patron and protector, laying him under no common obligation, is now content to yield the precedence, and to walk loyally and lovingly at his side. When the missionaries differed--if we have to choose between the two--surely it was Barnabas who erred upon the generous side; for what he did was to take a faint-hearted brother whom Paul was too impatient to endure, and to give him that fresh chance of honourable service which made Mark “profitable” ever afterwards to Christ and to His Church.

II. All will acknowledge the peculiar charm which attaches to the true “son of consolation.” There are men who everywhere leave behind them a sense of irritation, like winds that blow dust into face and eyes. They are the opposites to Barnabas. There was sunshine where he came. At his approach the feeble gathered strength, and trembling souls crept out of their hiding toward the light. Hard words were hushed in his company; the sternest grew gentle, and the very churl tried to be liberal. Yet it would be a mistake to suspect him of moral weakness and irresolution. The sunshine has its strength, as well as the wind, though it makes much less noise. Barnabas was once, to Paul’s great wonder, “carried away by the dissimulation” of others; but his very wonder--even Barnabas!”--shows how unusual the symptom was. For “sons of consolation” are also sons of strong encouragement, who can themselves burn against injustice or hypocrisy, and inspire others with a kindred zeal. It is significant that heathen men “called Barnabas Jupiter,” the name that embodied their poor conceptions of what was greatest and best, most fatherly, and most benignant. We recognise the presence of such men in our own generation. The temper of the moment may not tend to exalt them, or to press their example on our imitation. The sterner gifts may be mostly in request. We watch with mingled awe and admiration as some impetuous missionary spirit sweeps by, rousing the dull Church to a measure of its own activity. We applaud the controversialists, who contend for separate sides of truth, or for principles which they reckon overlooked. No doubt there is great need of them. Is there not need also of “the son of consolation,” and may he not do as good a work as they? Surely it is not below the ambition of the strongest to play the part of Barnabas among the Churches of to-day. As long as so many timid, undecided souls remain, needing the tenderest touch and a patience almost motherlike to bring them to decision; as long as there are little children to be drawn into the Saviour’s arms; as long as the Church has her backsliders to reclaim, and her doubters to direct and encourage; so long there will be ample occupation for such a man, and abundant reward. Nor will he live in vain, but rather to the highest purpose, if he be made instrumental, like Barnabas, in dissipating suspicions, and confirming friendships, between Christian brethren. (W. Brock.)

A son of consolation

While some good people are overpraised, there are others who hardly get their dues. One of these too much neglected worthies is Barnabas, the “son of consolation,” or “son of exhortation,” as some Bible scholars prefer to render it. How seldom do we hear his name mentioned either in the pulpit or the lecture-hall or anywhere else! Yet, to my fancy, he is one of the very noblest of the New Testament heroes. As a blind person may detect the presence of a rose by its fragrance, so this good man’s character exhales a peculiarly sweet perfume of godliness to those who will study it. He was just the sort of Christian needed in all our Churches in these days. The Bible is very chary of eulogies; but it does not hesitate to call him “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit.” In some vital points he is a Christian to be copied.

1. He was a native of the island of Cyprus, which was renowned for the worship of Venus, and the very name “Cyprian” is still a synonym of impurity. But, as the brightest light is kindled on a point that comes out of a bed of charcoal, so this light-bearer of the gospel came out of a very dark region of debauchery and idolatry. His original name was Joseph; but another name was given him after his conversion to Christ. They christened him Barnabas, the son of consolation. That is a name to be proud of, and it comprehends a vast deal; it signifies a helper of the weak, a guide to the wanderer, a comforter of the sad, a succourer of the perishing, with an eye to discover misery and a hand to relieve it. My old friend William Arnot has well said that this name bespeaks a fine character. “To possess consolation is to give it; not to give it is not to possess it. The more of it you have, the more you may give; and the more you give to others, the more you retain for your own use. This circle, when it is set a-going, moves perpetually, like the sea giving out its waters to the sky, and the sky sending back the boon by rain and the rivers to the sea again.” The power of this man lay in the same quality that characterised nearly all those first converts to Christianity, and that was their superabounding sympathy. Barnabas, if in New York or Brooklyn or London now, would likely be found in a mission church for the half or the whole of every Sabbath. He would show us how to bridge the chasm between wealth and poverty, and between Christian culture and city heathenism. On many an evening during she week he `would be found beside the squalid bed of sickness, or amid the swarming outcasts of the slums. When the members of our Churches become “sons of consolation” in the broadest sense of the word, bestowing not merely their dollars, but their time, their presence, and the sympathy of their hearts upon the unchristianised masses, we shall have a primitive and Pentecostal revival. Personal sympathy is worth more to the poor, the suffering, and the neglected than silver and gold. Pulpits speak only for an hour or two, and then only to those who fill pews before them; it is by sermons in shoes--and plenty of them--that the suffering and the sinning only can be reached. The curse of too much of what passes for Christianity is itself selfishness.

2. There is another plume in the coronet of Barnabas. He was the father of systematic beneficence. We are told that having land he sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Having given his heart to Christ, he consecrated a goodly portion of his property to his Master’s service. Some others of the new converts may have done this as soon as he; but he is the first one mentioned. He is, therefore, to be regarded as the pioneer in that long procession of systematic givers which reaches on to our times, and numbers in its ranks the Nathaniel Ripley Cobbs and James Lenoxes and William E. Dodges, and many other bountiful stewards of the Lord; and not only they who gave of their abundance, but every conscientious Christian who gives according to his means--however humble--and gives spontaneously. Barnabas did more than fling loose money into Christ’s treasury. He sold real estate and contributed the proceeds. That looks as if there were real self-denial in the transaction, and that the man would stand a pinch for Christ’s sake. When he was converted, the work reached not only the bottom of his heart, but the bottom of his pocket. (T. L. Cuyler.)

A son of consolation

Who is the man who, in his bereavement or pain, receiving comfort from God, radiates it, so that the world is richer by the help the Lord has given him? It is the reverent, the unselfish, and the humble man. The sunlight falls upon a clod, and the clod drinks it in, is warmed by it itself, but lies as black as ever, and sheds no light. But the sun touches a diamond, and the diamond almost chills itself as it sends out in radiance on every side the light that has fallen on it. So God helps one man bear his pain, and nobody but that one man is a whit the richer. God comes to another sufferer, reverent, unselfish, humble, and the lame leap, and the dumb speak, and the wretched are comforted all around by the radiated comfort of that happy soul.

A son of consolation

I. Barnabas was a Levite, yet he possessed land, which was contrary to the old law of Israel, but probably on account of great and frequent changes it was found impossible to maintain the ancient constitution in its integrity. Barnabas was a good name; but how rife is its opposite--the son of complaint, of gloom. To such a man everything appears in its darkest colours. He sees no green on the earth, and in the heavens no blue--all is seen through the medium of a jaundiced eye. Barnabas had much comfort himself because he had much to bestow on others. If we see streams flowing to refresh a neighbourhood we argue that the spring is full. His great contributions did not embitter his spirit. The flow of bounty from that man’s hand acted as the flow of water from the drain on a ploughed field--it sweetened and made fertile the whole breadth of his life. It is the gorging up of water for want of outlet that makes the land sour and leaves it barren. Barnabas was a rich man, and therefore able to bestow practical consolation; but in thus expending his wealth he acquired the better and more enduring riches.

II. Barnabas was a Levite, yet he was a son of consolation--how unlike many of the class to which he belonged, who “despised others.” See, e.g., the parable of the Good Samaritan, Yet is not this note added to show that an order must not be blamed for the vices of individual members? Levi had a remote descendant called Caiaphas; he had another surnamed Barnabas. Let those who assail the ministry and other professions remember this.

III. Barnabas was a Levite--a religious teacher. He could administer comfort from his lips as well as from his purse. Many can only give lip comfort; what we have, then, let us give cheerfully. (W. Arnot.)

Of the country of Cyprus.--

Cyprus

An island in the Mediterranean, one hundred and sixty miles long by fifty broad. A range of mountains runs through its entire length, called Oympus by the ancients, but now known by several names. Salamis, afterwards called Constantia, was one of the principal cities, and Paphos another. The island was colonised by Phoenicians at a remote period, and afterwards divided among petty tyrants when it became subject to the Persian yoke. Next it fell under the sway of Alexander, upon whose death it fell, with Egypt, to the share of Ptolemy Lagos. In the course of time it passed over to Rome, in whose hands it was during the New Testament period. Paul and Barnabas visited the island, and preached at Salamis and Paphos, where they left Christian Churches. When the empire was divided, Cyprus became part of the Eastern section. Richard

I. took it in 1191, and sold it to the Templars, whose oppression drove the people into revolt. Richard resumed the sovereignty, and gave it to Guy of Lusignan, the expelled king of Jerusalem, in 1192. The Lusignans retained it for nearly three centuries, which was a flourishing period for Cyprus. The Venetians were its next masters, but in 1470 Selim

II. seized it. “No grass grows where the Turk sets his hoof,” and ever since ruthless despotism has wasted the fair island, so that from 1,000,000 in the days of Barnabas, the population has dwindled to 100,000. Now under British protection, and with British enterprise, capital, and missionary zeal, Cyprus may become prosperous once more. (F. A. Warrington.)

Having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.--

Practical Christian beneficence

The good Duchess of Gordon set her heart upon the erection of a school and chapel in a needy district of her neighbourhood. The Gordon estates at the time were so encumbered that she did not know where to find the necessary funds. In a letter to her friend Miss Howe, she described some of her efforts and the consequences. “I took up to London,” she says, “a gold vase that cost about £1,200 in hopes of selling it, but could not find a purchaser even at half price. I have still left it to be disposed of. The Duchess of Beaufort, hearing of my vase, thought of her diamond earrings, which she got me to dispose of, for a chapel in Wales, and her diamonds made me think of my jewels; and as the Duke has always been most anxious for the chapel, he agreed with me that stones were much prettier in a chapel wall than round one’s neck, and so he allowed me to sell £600 worth, or, rather, what brought that, for they cost me more than double. The chapel is going on nicely, and I have still enough jewels left to help to endow it, if no other way should open. I do think I may with confidence hope for a blessing on this. It is no sacrifice to me whatever, except as it is one to the Duke, who is very fond of seeing me fine, and was brought up to think it right.” The chapel cost rather more than was expected, and the Duke, following up his wife’s example, offered of his own accord to sell some of his own horses to make up the deficiency. (A. Moody Stuart, D. D.)

The profit and rule of Christian beneficence

“Since I began to obey the law,” said a thriving merchant to me, “I have not only been greatly prospered, but I have found my ability to give somewhat largely the greatest luxury of my life. The money is laid by; the call comes, and I am not tempted to the baseness of inventing excuses; I generally have something, not always enough, for every deserving appeal; I make short work of it, for time I cannot spare, and as soon as I get the facts, and am sure as to the claimant, I give him cheerfully what I think I owe to his cause.” I know another and a wealthier man, who said he and his wife had an understanding. When his wife thought they were rich enough to set up their carriage, the answer was, “Yes, my dear; it will cost just so much a year; we can afford it, and you deserve it if you approve my increasing my charities by an equal sum.” Is not this the law of Christian luxury? I can buy such a picture, or give such an entertainment, only when I give an equivalent to Christ’s poor and to the glory of His cross and crown. (Bp. Cleveland Coxe.)
.


Verse 36-37

Acts 4:36-37

Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas.

Barnabas

Surnames become necessary as soon as men form themselves into societies. They are then no longer adequately distinguished by the simple “James” or “John,” for others also bear the same name. Some personal characteristic, therefore, has to be selected: the trade, stature, complexion, or disposition of the man will suggest a title for him; he becomes known as James the Smith, or as John the Black, and probably transmits the surname to his posterity. When our Lord chooses His apostles they have to be distinguished in this way. There is Judas Iscariot, and Judas the brother of James. There is Simon Zelotes, and Simon surnamed Peter, etc. The apostles in their turn give surnames, and in the present instance the second name thrust the first out of recollection. “Joses” is from this time known as “Barnabas” alone. Our English translation interprets the name as “the son of consolation.” Take “consolation” in a strong sense, and that is right. The word is elsewhere rendered “exhortation.” It answers to the old English use of “comfort,” in the sense of strengthening, as well as soothing, as we have it in the phrase, “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost.”

I. We shall best understand the nacre by surveying the history. We know little of the antecedents of Barnabas. He was a native of Cyprus, the first stepping-stone across the great sea to the lands of the Gentiles. Its population was partly Greek, partly Oriental; and the kind of education which such a society would afford may have helped to make Barnabas a broader man than his brethren who had been born and bred in the closer atmosphere of Jerusalem. Tradition marks him out as among the seventy sent forth by Christ. Or he may have been one of the fruits of Pentecost. Some of those converts, we know, were “men of Cyprus and Cyrene.” His first appearance has more of action in it than of speech. It was at the moment when, under the fresh impulses of their awakening, the disciples who had “houses or lands” were parting with them for the relief of their poorer brethren. Conspicuous among them was Barnabas. It was a good beginning for a Christian ministry. “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” The interest deepens as we proceed. Six or seven years pass, and an unlooked-for and almost unwelcome proselyte presents himself. It is Saul, who finds himself an object of alarm and undisguised mistrust. The way is opening for a schism between them and this “last of the apostles,” who seeks their sympathy, but who can dispense with it, strong in his own independent authority, and in the promised presence of the Lord. There was needed at that moment some well-known and trusted leader, large-hearted enough to become surety for the former persecutor, and to stand his friend. This friend was found in Barnabas. It was he who joined Peter’s hands with Paul’s, and who told the tale of the wonderful conversion in such a manner as to dissolve all doubt. The “son of consolation” appears here at his appropriate work, reconciling those opposing forces with the sweet reasonableness of his own gentler spirit. He was selected, shortly afterwards, for a mission in which the same spirit would find scope. Tidings had reached the apostles of strange successes attending the gospel in Antioch, and they were not prepared for such an event. The baptism of Cornelius was in obedience to a direct revelation from heaven, but this larger movement appeared unauthorised, and might prove unwarranted. Barnabas was accordingly chosen to visit the spot and make inquiry. Now it is not altogether easy for any man to give unstinted commendation to a work in which he himself has had no share. He is apt to point out what might have been done better, rather than what has been done well. Finely in contrast with that tendency stands out the candid and generous behaviour of Barnabas. He “saw the grace of God,” “was glad,” and expressed himself in terms of warm congratulation and approval. Nay, he threw his own energies into the glorious enterprise, and “exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord.” When he departed he left many further converts added to the infant Church, and the impression that “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.” Next we find that by his urgency Paul was brought from the seclusion of Tarsus, and introduced to the field of work which lay ready for him in Antioch. It was through his generous co-operation that the ministry of the apostle of the Gentiles found favourable opportunities of exercise. But from that hour the lustre of his name begins to pale beside the fervent and forward energy of his incomparable companion. We find in the history no trace of any jealousy; but rather tokens of a noble modesty, akin to that of the Baptist when he drew back into the shade before the perfect light of Christ. This man, who, when others shunned Paul, had become his patron and protector, laying him under no common obligation, is now content to yield the precedence, and to walk loyally and lovingly at his side. When the missionaries differed--if we have to choose between the two--surely it was Barnabas who erred upon the generous side; for what he did was to take a faint-hearted brother whom Paul was too impatient to endure, and to give him that fresh chance of honourable service which made Mark “profitable” ever afterwards to Christ and to His Church.

II. All will acknowledge the peculiar charm which attaches to the true “son of consolation.” There are men who everywhere leave behind them a sense of irritation, like winds that blow dust into face and eyes. They are the opposites to Barnabas. There was sunshine where he came. At his approach the feeble gathered strength, and trembling souls crept out of their hiding toward the light. Hard words were hushed in his company; the sternest grew gentle, and the very churl tried to be liberal. Yet it would be a mistake to suspect him of moral weakness and irresolution. The sunshine has its strength, as well as the wind, though it makes much less noise. Barnabas was once, to Paul’s great wonder, “carried away by the dissimulation” of others; but his very wonder--even Barnabas!”--shows how unusual the symptom was. For “sons of consolation” are also sons of strong encouragement, who can themselves burn against injustice or hypocrisy, and inspire others with a kindred zeal. It is significant that heathen men “called Barnabas Jupiter,” the name that embodied their poor conceptions of what was greatest and best, most fatherly, and most benignant. We recognise the presence of such men in our own generation. The temper of the moment may not tend to exalt them, or to press their example on our imitation. The sterner gifts may be mostly in request. We watch with mingled awe and admiration as some impetuous missionary spirit sweeps by, rousing the dull Church to a measure of its own activity. We applaud the controversialists, who contend for separate sides of truth, or for principles which they reckon overlooked. No doubt there is great need of them. Is there not need also of “the son of consolation,” and may he not do as good a work as they? Surely it is not below the ambition of the strongest to play the part of Barnabas among the Churches of to-day. As long as so many timid, undecided souls remain, needing the tenderest touch and a patience almost motherlike to bring them to decision; as long as there are little children to be drawn into the Saviour’s arms; as long as the Church has her backsliders to reclaim, and her doubters to direct and encourage; so long there will be ample occupation for such a man, and abundant reward. Nor will he live in vain, but rather to the highest purpose, if he be made instrumental, like Barnabas, in dissipating suspicions, and confirming friendships, between Christian brethren. (W. Brock.)

A son of consolation

While some good people are overpraised, there are others who hardly get their dues. One of these too much neglected worthies is Barnabas, the “son of consolation,” or “son of exhortation,” as some Bible scholars prefer to render it. How seldom do we hear his name mentioned either in the pulpit or the lecture-hall or anywhere else! Yet, to my fancy, he is one of the very noblest of the New Testament heroes. As a blind person may detect the presence of a rose by its fragrance, so this good man’s character exhales a peculiarly sweet perfume of godliness to those who will study it. He was just the sort of Christian needed in all our Churches in these days. The Bible is very chary of eulogies; but it does not hesitate to call him “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit.” In some vital points he is a Christian to be copied.

1. He was a native of the island of Cyprus, which was renowned for the worship of Venus, and the very name “Cyprian” is still a synonym of impurity. But, as the brightest light is kindled on a point that comes out of a bed of charcoal, so this light-bearer of the gospel came out of a very dark region of debauchery and idolatry. His original name was Joseph; but another name was given him after his conversion to Christ. They christened him Barnabas, the son of consolation. That is a name to be proud of, and it comprehends a vast deal; it signifies a helper of the weak, a guide to the wanderer, a comforter of the sad, a succourer of the perishing, with an eye to discover misery and a hand to relieve it. My old friend William Arnot has well said that this name bespeaks a fine character. “To possess consolation is to give it; not to give it is not to possess it. The more of it you have, the more you may give; and the more you give to others, the more you retain for your own use. This circle, when it is set a-going, moves perpetually, like the sea giving out its waters to the sky, and the sky sending back the boon by rain and the rivers to the sea again.” The power of this man lay in the same quality that characterised nearly all those first converts to Christianity, and that was their superabounding sympathy. Barnabas, if in New York or Brooklyn or London now, would likely be found in a mission church for the half or the whole of every Sabbath. He would show us how to bridge the chasm between wealth and poverty, and between Christian culture and city heathenism. On many an evening during she week he `would be found beside the squalid bed of sickness, or amid the swarming outcasts of the slums. When the members of our Churches become “sons of consolation” in the broadest sense of the word, bestowing not merely their dollars, but their time, their presence, and the sympathy of their hearts upon the unchristianised masses, we shall have a primitive and Pentecostal revival. Personal sympathy is worth more to the poor, the suffering, and the neglected than silver and gold. Pulpits speak only for an hour or two, and then only to those who fill pews before them; it is by sermons in shoes--and plenty of them--that the suffering and the sinning only can be reached. The curse of too much of what passes for Christianity is itself selfishness.

2. There is another plume in the coronet of Barnabas. He was the father of systematic beneficence. We are told that having land he sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Having given his heart to Christ, he consecrated a goodly portion of his property to his Master’s service. Some others of the new converts may have done this as soon as he; but he is the first one mentioned. He is, therefore, to be regarded as the pioneer in that long procession of systematic givers which reaches on to our times, and numbers in its ranks the Nathaniel Ripley Cobbs and James Lenoxes and William E. Dodges, and many other bountiful stewards of the Lord; and not only they who gave of their abundance, but every conscientious Christian who gives according to his means--however humble--and gives spontaneously. Barnabas did more than fling loose money into Christ’s treasury. He sold real estate and contributed the proceeds. That looks as if there were real self-denial in the transaction, and that the man would stand a pinch for Christ’s sake. When he was converted, the work reached not only the bottom of his heart, but the bottom of his pocket. (T. L. Cuyler.)

A son of consolation

Who is the man who, in his bereavement or pain, receiving comfort from God, radiates it, so that the world is richer by the help the Lord has given him? It is the reverent, the unselfish, and the humble man. The sunlight falls upon a clod, and the clod drinks it in, is warmed by it itself, but lies as black as ever, and sheds no light. But the sun touches a diamond, and the diamond almost chills itself as it sends out in radiance on every side the light that has fallen on it. So God helps one man bear his pain, and nobody but that one man is a whit the richer. God comes to another sufferer, reverent, unselfish, humble, and the lame leap, and the dumb speak, and the wretched are comforted all around by the radiated comfort of that happy soul.

A son of consolation

I. Barnabas was a Levite, yet he possessed land, which was contrary to the old law of Israel, but probably on account of great and frequent changes it was found impossible to maintain the ancient constitution in its integrity. Barnabas was a good name; but how rife is its opposite--the son of complaint, of gloom. To such a man everything appears in its darkest colours. He sees no green on the earth, and in the heavens no blue--all is seen through the medium of a jaundiced eye. Barnabas had much comfort himself because he had much to bestow on others. If we see streams flowing to refresh a neighbourhood we argue that the spring is full. His great contributions did not embitter his spirit. The flow of bounty from that man’s hand acted as the flow of water from the drain on a ploughed field--it sweetened and made fertile the whole breadth of his life. It is the gorging up of water for want of outlet that makes the land sour and leaves it barren. Barnabas was a rich man, and therefore able to bestow practical consolation; but in thus expending his wealth he acquired the better and more enduring riches.

II. Barnabas was a Levite, yet he was a son of consolation--how unlike many of the class to which he belonged, who “despised others.” See, e.g., the parable of the Good Samaritan, Yet is not this note added to show that an order must not be blamed for the vices of individual members? Levi had a remote descendant called Caiaphas; he had another surnamed Barnabas. Let those who assail the ministry and other professions remember this.

III. Barnabas was a Levite--a religious teacher. He could administer comfort from his lips as well as from his purse. Many can only give lip comfort; what we have, then, let us give cheerfully. (W. Arnot.)

Of the country of Cyprus.--

Cyprus

An island in the Mediterranean, one hundred and sixty miles long by fifty broad. A range of mountains runs through its entire length, called Oympus by the ancients, but now known by several names. Salamis, afterwards called Constantia, was one of the principal cities, and Paphos another. The island was colonised by Phoenicians at a remote period, and afterwards divided among petty tyrants when it became subject to the Persian yoke. Next it fell under the sway of Alexander, upon whose death it fell, with Egypt, to the share of Ptolemy Lagos. In the course of time it passed over to Rome, in whose hands it was during the New Testament period. Paul and Barnabas visited the island, and preached at Salamis and Paphos, where they left Christian Churches. When the empire was divided, Cyprus became part of the Eastern section. Richard

I. took it in 1191, and sold it to the Templars, whose oppression drove the people into revolt. Richard resumed the sovereignty, and gave it to Guy of Lusignan, the expelled king of Jerusalem, in 1192. The Lusignans retained it for nearly three centuries, which was a flourishing period for Cyprus. The Venetians were its next masters, but in 1470 Selim

II. seized it. “No grass grows where the Turk sets his hoof,” and ever since ruthless despotism has wasted the fair island, so that from 1,000,000 in the days of Barnabas, the population has dwindled to 100,000. Now under British protection, and with British enterprise, capital, and missionary zeal, Cyprus may become prosperous once more. (F. A. Warrington.)

Having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.--

Practical Christian beneficence

The good Duchess of Gordon set her heart upon the erection of a school and chapel in a needy district of her neighbourhood. The Gordon estates at the time were so encumbered that she did not know where to find the necessary funds. In a letter to her friend Miss Howe, she described some of her efforts and the consequences. “I took up to London,” she says, “a gold vase that cost about £1,200 in hopes of selling it, but could not find a purchaser even at half price. I have still left it to be disposed of. The Duchess of Beaufort, hearing of my vase, thought of her diamond earrings, which she got me to dispose of, for a chapel in Wales, and her diamonds made me think of my jewels; and as the Duke has always been most anxious for the chapel, he agreed with me that stones were much prettier in a chapel wall than round one’s neck, and so he allowed me to sell £600 worth, or, rather, what brought that, for they cost me more than double. The chapel is going on nicely, and I have still enough jewels left to help to endow it, if no other way should open. I do think I may with confidence hope for a blessing on this. It is no sacrifice to me whatever, except as it is one to the Duke, who is very fond of seeing me fine, and was brought up to think it right.” The chapel cost rather more than was expected, and the Duke, following up his wife’s example, offered of his own accord to sell some of his own horses to make up the deficiency. (A. Moody Stuart, D. D.)

The profit and rule of Christian beneficence

“Since I began to obey the law,” said a thriving merchant to me, “I have not only been greatly prospered, but I have found my ability to give somewhat largely the greatest luxury of my life. The money is laid by; the call comes, and I am not tempted to the baseness of inventing excuses; I generally have something, not always enough, for every deserving appeal; I make short work of it, for time I cannot spare, and as soon as I get the facts, and am sure as to the claimant, I give him cheerfully what I think I owe to his cause.” I know another and a wealthier man, who said he and his wife had an understanding. When his wife thought they were rich enough to set up their carriage, the answer was, “Yes, my dear; it will cost just so much a year; we can afford it, and you deserve it if you approve my increasing my charities by an equal sum.” Is not this the law of Christian luxury? I can buy such a picture, or give such an entertainment, only when I give an equivalent to Christ’s poor and to the glory of His cross and crown. (Bp. Cleveland Coxe.)
.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 4:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/acts-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology