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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Acts 4

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

CHAP. IV.

The rulers of the Jews offended with Peter's sermon, (though thousands of the people were converted that heard the word,) imprison him and John. After, upon examination, Peter, boldly avouching the lame man to be healed by the name of Jesus, and that by the same Jesus, only we must be eternally saved, they command him and John to preach no more in that name, adding also threatening. Whereupon the church fleeth to prayer: and God, by moving the place where they were assembled, testified that he heard their prayer, confirming the church with the gift of the Holy Ghost, and with mutual love and charity.

Anno Domini 33.


Verse 1-2

Acts 4:1-2. The priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, &c.— These three kinds of men,on different accounts, were prejudiced against the apostles.

The priests were offended, because the apostles, whom they looked upon only as private men, undertook to teach publicly; the Sadducees were displeased, because, in testifying the resurrection of Christ, they effectually preached that doctrine which they disclaimed and detested, the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead: and the captain, who was placed with a band of soldiers near the temple, in order to guard it, seeing such a crowd of people gathered together about the apostles, began to apprehend a tumult.


Verse 3

Acts 4:3. For it was now even-tide. Or, evening. As Peter and John went up to the temple at three in the afternoon, this expression makes it probable that some hours might be spent in preaching to the people; and consequently, that what we have in the former chapter, is only an abstract, or brief heads of the discourses that they made on this occasion, which probably is the case in general with the speeches recorded by the sacred historians, as well as by others.


Verse 4

Acts 4:4. The number of the men was about five thousand. Dr. Benson concludes, that five thousand men were converted on this occasion, besides the three thousand mentioned before, chap. Acts 2:41. If it had been said, as there, that so many were added to the church, it would have determined the sense as he and others understand it; but the use of the word εγενηθη here, became, favours the interpretation,thatthewholenumber,includingthosewhohadbeenconverted before, became about five thousand. See ch. Acts 1:15 in the Greek. It is hardly to be thought, unless it were expressly asserted, that another day should be so much more remarkable for its number of converts, than that on which the Spirit descended. However, supposing only two thousand were now converted, it is a glorious proof of the truth of Christianity; and no example can be given of the philosophers, or any other teachers, succeeding so gloriously in making converts to such holy and self-denying doctrines.


Verse 6

Acts 4:6. And Annas the high-priest, and Caiaphas, See the note on Luke 3:2. John and Alexander were evidently persons of great note among the Jews at this time; and it is not improbable, as Dr. Lightfoot and others suppose, that the former might be the celebrated Rabbin Jochanan Ben Zaccai, mentioned in the Talmud, the scholar of Hillel; and that the latter might be the Alabarch, or governor of the Jews at Alexandria, brother to the famous Philo-Judaeus, and in great favour with Claudius Caesar. Josephus mentions him often, and tells us among other things, that he adorned nine gates of the temple with plates of gold and silver. Of the kindred of the high-priest, is read by some, Of the pontifical family. Dr. Hammond explains this of the twenty-four members of the Aaronic family, who presided over the twenty-four courses; others refer it to those who were nearly related to Annas and Caiaphas; but Grotius thinks that it includes the kindred of those who hadlately been in the office of high-priest, which, he says, made them members of the Sanhedrim. These were the very persons who had procured the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore theythought themselves highly concerned to suppress his disciples and their doctrine.


Verse 7

Acts 4:7. And when they had set them in the midst, It was the custom for the Sanhedrim to sit almost in a circle, or oval, and to set the prisoners in the midst of them: St. Peter and St. John being so placed, the court demanded of them, "By what power, human or diabolical, angelic or divine, have you cured this man; whose name have you invoked to the working of this miracle; or from whom had you your authority to preach so publicly to the people?—From us you had it not, though we alone have the authority to give a commission to any man to do so?"


Verse 9

Acts 4:9. Made whole; Σεσωσται, he is cured, or saved. See the note on Acts 4:12.


Verse 10

Acts 4:10. By the name of Jesus, &c.— The time of Christ's resurrection was that of the celebrating the passover, the most solemn festival of the Jews; the scene was in Jerusalem, the metropolis of Judea, and at that time crowded with Jews, who came thither from all parts of the earth, to keep the passover. The actors and witnesses were the chief priests and elders, Pontius Pilate the Roman governor, and the Roman soldiers who guarded the sepulchre. Now, if the account of guarding the sepulchre had been false, it is not to be doubted, but the chief priests and elders, who are said to have obtained the guard, and sealed the door of the sepulchre, would, by some authentic act, have cleared themselves of the folly and guilt imputed to them by the evangelist. All the several charges upon the whole government of Judea, might have been answered at once by an attestation from the chief priests, setting forth, that they never demanded a guard to be set at the sepulchre, confirmed by the testimony of the Roman soldiers, (many of whom were probably at Jerusalem when the gospel was written,) denying that they were ever upon that guard. This, not only the reputation of the chief priests, but their avowed malice to Christ, and aversion to his doctrine and religion, required; and this they would probably have done at all events, had they been at liberty to propagate and invent what lie they pleased. But that a guard was set at the sepulchre, was, in all likelihood, by the dispersion and flight of the soldiers into the city, too well known in Jerusalem for them to venture at denying it: for which reason they were obliged to invent a lie consistent with that known fact, however absurd and improbable the lie might appear, when it came to be considered. Now, as the report put into the mouths of the Roman soldiers by the chief priests and elders, is no proof of the falsehood of this fact, but rather of the contrary; so does the naming the scene, the actors, and the witnesses, form a very strong proof of its being true, since no forger of lies, willingly and wittingly, furnishes out the means of his own detection; especiallywhen we consider that this account is related by that evangelist,who is said to have composed his gospel forthose Christians who dwelt in Judea, many of whom then living were probably at Jerusalem when this thing was done,—not to mention again the absurdity of the report of the disciples coming by night, and stealing the body, as it stands in the evangelist, and taking it, as it was afterwards prudently amended by the Sanhedrim, and propagated by an express deputation from them to all the synagogues of the Jews throughout the world; in which, without making any mention of the Roman guard, they say no more than that the disciples came by night, and stole away the body,—taking it, we say, in the manner in which these wise counsellors were, on mature deliberation, pleased to put it, it may be sufficient to observe, that the theft charged upon the disciples was so far from being proved, that it was not so much as ever inquired into. And yet the accusers were the chief priests and elders of the Jews; men in high reverence and authority with the people, vested with all the power of the Jewish state, and consequently furnished with all the means of procuring informations, and of gaining and extorting a confession. And what were the accused? menof low birth, mean fortunes, without learning, without credit, without support; and who, out of pusillanimity and fear, had deserted their Master, upon the first occasion offered of shewing their fidelity and attachment to him. And can it be imagined that the chief priests and council would not have made inquiry into the fact, the belief of which they took so much pains to propagate, had they themselves been persuaded of the truth of it? And had they inquired into it, can it be supposed that out of such a number of mean persons as must have been privy to it, no one, either from honesty, or religion, or fear of punishment, or the hope of reward, would have betrayed the secret, and given them such intelligence as might have enabled them to put the question ofthe resurrection out of all dispute. For had it been once proved that the disciples stole away the body of Jesus, their word would hardly have been taken for his resurrection. But how did these poor men act? Conscious of no fraud or imposture, they remained in Jerusalem a week or more, after the report of their having stolen their Master's body was spread over the city, and in about a month returned thither again: not long after which they asserted boldly, to the face of their powerful enemies and accusers, the chief priests and elders, that God had raised from the dead that same Jesus whom they had crucified. And what was the behaviour of these learned rabbins, these watchful guardians of the Jewish church and state? Why, they suffered the disciples of Jesus, charged by their order with an imposture tending to disturb the government, to continue unquestioned at Jerusalem, and to depart thence unmolested; and when, upon their return thither, they had caused them to be seized and brought before them, for preaching through Jesus—the resurrection, what did they say to them? Did they charge them with having stolen away the body of their Master? Nothing like it: on the contrary, not able to gainsay the testimony given by the apostles to the resurrection of Jesus, vouched by a miracle just then performed by them in his name, they ordered them to withdraw, and conferred among themselves what they should do with them.


Verse 11-12

Acts 4:11-12. This is the stone, &c.— St. Peter's mentioning Christ as the head of the corner, naturally led to the thought of a spiritual and eternal salvation, which it was Christ's principal design to bring in; and with relation to which alone this, and its kindred phrase, the chief corner-stone, are always used by our Lord and his apostles: see Luke 20:17. Ephesians 2:21-22. 1 Peter 2:6-7. And this spiritual benefit is called salvation about forty times in the New Testament; whereas I do not find, that it once uses the noun σωτηρια, salvation, for miraculous cures; no, nor for any merely temporal deliverance at all, unless in Acts 7:25 where Stephen says, that Moses supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them; or, as it is in the Greek, would give salvation to them: and even that deliverance might becalled by this name, because it was typical of the more glorious one by Jesus Christ. And St. Peter here speaks of a salvation which every one needs, including himself and all Israel: but surely it could not be said of himself and the whole council, and of all the people of Israel, Acts 4:10 that they needed miraculous cures in the name of Christ, by which, in that respect, they must be saved. I therefore can by no means think that this strong and lively passage is to be sunk and restrained, as some contend it should, to the case of working miracles: on the other hand, there seems to me to be a great beauty in the occasion that the apostle took, and in the gradation which he made, from the temporal deliverance which had been wrought in healing the poor cripple by the power of Christ, to that of a much nobler and more important kind, which is brought in by Christ to impotent and sinful souls; he therein following the admirable custom of his great Lord and Master, who often took occasion from earthly to speak of spiritual things; as particularly when, upon his having mentioned the miracle of the loaves, he discoursed at large concerning himself as the Bread of life. John 6:26-58. The 12th verse may be thus paraphrased: "Nor is the spiritual and eternal salvation, to which his being the Head of the corner principally refers, to be found in any one whatsoever besides himself: for there is no other person of sufficient dignity, merit, and power, whose name can be pleaded or depended upon for salvation; or whom God has graciously appointed or granted to the men of this lower world, by whom, δει, it is fit, or meet and worthy of God, that any of us should be saved; or by whom we ought to expect, or ever can have, deliverance from sin and misery, from the curse of the law, and the wrath to come." Raphelius, in a remarkable note on this text, endeavours, among other things, to prove that Ονομα, or the name of a person, was a manner of speaking used in reference to one, regarded as God and the Author of salvation. See Raphel. ex Herod. p. 329.


Verse 13

Acts 4:13. Unlearned and ignorant men, Illiterate men, and in private stations of life; αγραμματοι και ιδιωται, men of no education, nor in any public rank of life, as the priests and magistrates were: And they took knowledge of them, επεγινωσκον, would read more properly, and they knew them. Grotius observes, that therulers,having often been present when Christ taught publicly, might have seen Peter and John near him, though perhaps they might have observed them more particularly the night that Jesus was taken, when they had attended their Lord to the house of Caiaphas.


Verse 16

Acts 4:16. A notable miracle Γνωστον, a signal and well-known miracle; one which could neither be doubted nor disproved.


Verse 17

Acts 4:17. But, &c.— "Nevertheless:" The word ' Αλλα is frequently used in this sense both by sacred and prophane writers.


Verse 18

Acts 4:18. Not to speak at all, &c.— That is, privately; nor to teach, that is, publicly. This is the very thing which men, conscious of the truth of the apostles testimony, and self-condemned, would do,—stop their mouths by violence, as they knew they could not answer them any other way.


Verse 19

Acts 4:19. Whether it be right in the sight of God As they professed to believe the being, and infinite perfections of God, they must, on their own principles, easily see the absurdity of expecting obedience to their commands from good men, who believed themselves divinely commissioned. There is a passage which bears some resemblance to this in the apology of Socrates, as recorded by Plato. When they were condemning him to death for teaching the people, he said, "O ye Athenians, I embrace and love you; but I will obey God rather than you; and if you would dismiss me, and spare my life, on condition that I should cease to teach my fellow-citizens, I would rather die a thousand times, than accept the proposal." What are ten thousand subtilties of the antient philosophers, when compared with a sentiment like this. See Plato, Socrat. Apol. p. 23.


Verse 21

Acts 4:21. They let them go, &c.— This dismission was not intended as an acquittal; for it was customary among the Jews to try any accused person after his discharge, when new proofs started up against him. The threatening mentioned in the foregoing sentence, might possibly have included some declaration of this sort. Dr. Heylin reads the last clause, Who all glorified God, &c. So much wiser were the people than those who were over them. Nothing could contribute more to illustrate the miracle, than the circumstance mentioned, Acts 4:22. It shews that the man's case was desperate, and that his disorder was so inveterate and confirmed, as to be beyond the reach of medicine; yet was he in one moment completely cured by the word of the apostles.

Who, after reading this account of the manner in which the rulers treated these apostles, could ever imagine that the disciples stolethe body of Jesus, or that the chief priests and elders themselves believed they did? But it may perhaps be objected, that this account comes from Christian writers;—and could the objectors expect to meet with it in Jewish writers?—We might expect indeed to find in their writings some proofs of this charge upon the disciples; and had there been any, the chief priests, the adversaries of Christ, would doubtless not have failed to produce them. But the progress which Christianity made at that time in Jerusalem, is a stronger argument than even their silence, that no proof of this charge either was, or could be made. Could the apostles have had the imprudence to preach, and could so many thousand Jews have been weak enough to believe upon their testimony, that Christ was risen from the dead, had it been proved that the disciples had stolen away his body? An infidel may, if he pleases, believe this; but let him account for it if he can.


Verse 24

Acts 4:24. Lord, thou art God, &c.— The sense is, "Lord, thou hast all power, and thy word is fulfilled. Men do rage against thee, but their rage is in vain."


Verse 27-28

Acts 4:27-28. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, &c.— We must here observe, that the hand of God most frequently in the Old Testament relates not so much to his power, as to his wisdom, and providential dispensations. So Job 27:11. I will teach you by the hand of God, that is, by his wisdom, in his providential dispensations. Ecclesiastes 2:24. That a man should enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God: here the hand of God, is his favour, or gracious providence. See also Ezra 7:9; Ezra 8:18; Ezra 8:22. Nehemiah 8:18. The phrase being here joined with God's counsel, and applied to what was done by Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers, and also by the Jews, toward the crucifixion of the holy Jesus,—to which actions so highly displeasingto God, his power could not actually concur, or effectively incline them,—we have great reason here to prefer this import of the phrase before the other; and then the meaning of the words will be, that Jews and Gentiles were assembled to accomplish those sufferings of our Saviour for mankind, which God had foretold, and by foretelling had determined should come to pass, according to those words of St. Paul, Acts 13:27. They that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets,—have fulfilled them, in condemning him, fulfilling all that was written of him, Acts 4:29. As therefore St. Peter and St. Paul, by calling the Jews to repentance for this sin in crucifying the Lord of life, evidence that their sin was not the less, because they did by it fulfil the counsel of God's holy will and kind intentions to mankind, so do they consequently evidence, that God's foreknowledge and determination of a thing future, does not impair the liberty of men's wills in the accomplishment of it; as all the antient fathers have declared in this particular. At the same time we fully grant, that it is grace alone which gives to man the will or power to think, speak, or do any thing that is good.


Verse 29

Acts 4:29. That with all boldness, &c.— Compare Proverbs 16:1.


Verse 31

Acts 4:31. And when they had prayed, &c.— God of old testified his acceptance of the sacrifices or prayers of the pious by sending down fire from heaven, or by appearing after some peculiar manner in the cloud of glory: but now the token of acceptance was, that the house where they were assembled was again shaken, and there was a second effusion of the Holy Spirit, perhaps attended with the like sound, and with the like appearance of a glory, as there had been at first on the day of Pentecost. It does not appear that they had by this second effusion any further knowledge communicated;buttheywereherebycomfortedafterthediscouragements which they had met with from the Sanhedrim; and as they had prayed for fortitude, and a power ofworking more miracles, their prayer was heard, fresh courage infused, and further miraculous powers conferred, to assist them in their work, and to enable them to proceed cheerfully, and with an undaunted steadiness and resolution.


Verse 32

Acts 4:32. Of one heart and of one soul: This is a proverbial expression for the most intimate and endearing friendship.


Verse 33

Acts 4:33. And with great power gave the apostles, &c.— The word απεδιδουν, rendered gave, signifies the restoring of something which is given as a charge, or intrusted to another. If it be taken in that sense here, it may serve to illustrate what is said, Acts 4:20. Several commentators understand the last clause of this verse, of the grace or favour which they had among the people, on account of their love, charity, zeal, and good conduct. See the note on ch. Acts 2:47. Diodati explains the word χαρις, "by the blessing of God, and the good will of the people."


Verse 35

Acts 4:35. And laid them down, &c.— Orobio the Jew, in his conference with Limborch, has meanly insinuated, that it was no small advantage to poor fishermen to be treasurers of so considerable a bank; and some of our late infidels have hence in a more indecent manner taken occasion to asperse the apostles of our Lord, as if their conduct was influenced byworldly motives, and temporal views; and as if they greatly advanced their circumstances in life by turning apostles. But their whole character,—their upright, generous, and disinterested behaviour, their readiness to sacrifice their lives for the sake of truth and the welfare of mankind, shew that they were far above falsifying such a trust as this, for the sake of a little money. Accordingly, they very willingly transferred the management of this affair to other hands, ch. Acts 6:2-3, &c. But we ought to take the whole history together; and then, besides the honourable testimony given to them bySt. Luke in this verse, namely, that they distributed unto every man, of that charity, according as he had need; we must further consider, that God continued to them the power of working numerous, astonishing, and beneficent miracles; and that he enabled one of them to strike two of the members of the church dead upon the spot, for treachery and dissimulation, with respect to this very charity. And can we suppose that God would continue to shew such peculiar regard to men, who would embezzle part of a public charity, or make a bad use of any part of it? It must raise in every honest mind a just indignation to see such ungenerous reflections thrown out against the apostles of our blessed Lord, who patiently endured poverty and reproach, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, bonds, scourgings, and imprisonments, and, after all, a violentdeath, to promote truth and righteousness on the earth. One can hardly help suspecting, that they themselves are men of extraordinarily bad hearts, who are so ready to charge others upon all occasions with dishonest designs and corrupt views; and it seems to intimate, what some men would have done upon the like occasion. Where is the infidel to be found, who ever gave such proofs of his honesty as the apostles, of our Lord have done! Men of that stamp, we know, have generally chosen to fall in with the established religion, and not to suffer any thing for their particular sentiments, how contrary soever to those of professed Christians around them.


Verse 36-37

Acts 4:36-37. Joses,—surnamed Barnabas, Considering how common the names of Joses and Joseph were, there seems no just reason to conclude, as some have done, that this was the Joseph mentioned ch. Acts 1:23 nor does there seem any reason to conclude that this Joses was called a son of consolation, to express the great consolation the brethren received from the sale of his estate. The name seems rather to refer to his extraordinary abilities for the ministerial work, and to those gifts of the Spirit, whereby he was enabled both to comfort and exhort; for the word παρακλησις implies both. See ch. Acts 11:23. As Barnabas was a Levite, he could not have sold or alienated his paternal inheritance; (see Leviticus 25:34.) but the land or estate here spoken of might either have been some bequest made by will, or some purchased land in Judea, to which he might have a title tillthe next jubilee; or perhaps some land in Cyprus: and we may suppose it mentioned either as the first foreign estate sold, or as of some extraordinary value.

Inferences.—In the instance before us in the former part of this chapter, we may observe the natural but detestable effects of a proud, bigoted, overbearing temper, even where it seems least excusable. The Sadducees themselves, though they believed no future state of retribution, yet persecuted the apostles as eagerly, as if they, like some other Jews, had expected to merit heaven by their severity to them. Compare John 16:2.

On the other hand, it is delightful to observe the zeal and courage with which Peter and John defended the cause of their crucified Redeemer, even in the presence of those by whom he had so lately been condemned. Thus can God give power to the feeble, and increase the strength of them that have no might, Isaiah 40:29.

The testimony which they bore is well worth our regard: There is salvation in no other; neither is there any other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. O that the ends of the earth might hear and reverence that name! That millions to whom it is yet unknown, may learn to build upon it all their hopes of salvation! May we never be ashamed to own it, nor afraid to adhere to it! but speak of it with such a favour, and defend it with such a zeal, that they who are round about us may take knowledge of us, that we have been with Jesus, and trace the genuine effects of our intimate acquaintance with him.

Never was there an instance of a more memorable combat between the force of evidence and of prejudice; nor a more impudent attempt to bear down the cause of unquestionable truth by brutal violence, than that which this chapter holds out to us. But great is the truth, and it will prevail. May the ministers of the gospel never want that courage in the defence of it, which these holy men expressed; but always judge it infinitely more reasonable, more safe, and more necessary to obey God than man! Never may we be ashamed to profess our reverence and love to him, who is our supreme ruler, and our most bountiful friend! and may he give us such an inward and heart-influencing sense of the worth and sweetness of his gospel, as may effectually prevent our betraying or neglecting it.

The present season was indeed the golden age of the church; and it is impossible to trace the memoirs of it, if we love the cause of Christ, without a secret complacency and exultation of mind. How amiable and how venerable do the apostles and primitive converts appear in the native simplicity of the Christian character! And what a glory did the grace and Spirit of God put upon them; far beyond all that human establishments, splendid dignities, or ample revenues, could ever give to those who have succeeded them! while the multitude of them had one heart and one soul; and each was ready to impart to his brethren whatever he himself possessed. How high a relish of pleasure must they have received, and how must their joys have been multiplied by each of their number!

Thus does divine grace, when once it powerfully enters into the heart, open it into sentiments of generosity and love. Thus does it conquer that selfish temper which reigns so frequently in the minds of sinful men, and makes them like wild beasts, rather than like brethren to each other. Providence does not indeed call us entirely to give up our possessions, or to introduce a community of goods among Christians, in circumstances so different from those which we have now been surveying. Yet surely it is always our duty, and will be our highest interest, to remember, that we are not original proprietors of what we possess, but stewards, who are to manage what is entrusted to our care, for the honour of our great Master, and the good of his family here on earth; continually ready to resign any part, or even the whole of it, whenever these important ends shall require such a resignation.

In the mean time, it behoves us frequently to lift up our hearts to the great and ever blessed God, who hath made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that is in them, that he would support and extend the progress of that gospel in the world, which he hath so graciously begun to plant. Kings may still set themselves, and rulers take counsel against it; but he knows how to turn their counsels into foolishness, and their rage into shame. He hath anointed Jesus his holy Son with the oil of gladness, and placed him on his throne in heaven; and all the united malice and fury of his enemies can do no more, than what shall make part of his wise and gracious scheme for the government of his faithful people. Let us then pray that he would give freedom of speech to all who are employed in pleading his cause, and that he will plentifully anoint them with the effusion of his Spirit! Nor let the signs and wonders which were done by the name of Jesus in former ages, fail to encourage us in the hope, that he will never desert a scheme which he once so illustriously interposed to establish; and, consequently, let them animate us to exert ourselves in its service, whatever labours, threatenings, or dangers, may meet us in our way.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The success of the gospel could not but provoke Satan's enmity; and the inveterate enemies of the name of Christ cannot be expected long to be at rest.

1. The apostles continued to teach the people, and, as their grand subject, preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. They both testified the certainty of his resurrection, and affirmed, that he was raised up for this purpose, to be the author of spiritual and eternal life to all his believing persevering people, who should be raised up by him at the last day, to a glorious immortality.

2. Multitudes of their hearers believed: five thousand converts were added to the church, notwithstanding the enmity to which they saw their preachers exposed; so mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed. Note; Where the gospel meets with the greatest opposition, it is usually attended with the most remarkable success.

3. The priests, the captain of the temple, who presided over the watches, and the Sadducees, grieved and vexed to the heart, that the doctrine of Jesus, which they had taken such pains to suppress, should now spread with such amazing rapidity; and that he whom they had ignominiously crucified, should be exalted as the resurrection and the life, as the author of all blessedness in time and eternity; rushed upon the apostles suddenly, seized them as criminals, and committed them to safe custody for the night, it being eventide, that they might be brought before the Sanhedrim the next day. Note; They who preach Christ faithfully, must prepare to suffer for him.

2nd, No sooner was the morning returned, than we have,

1. The court assembled to try the innocent prisoners; but little justice can be exposed, when their judges are known to be their avowed and inveterate enemies. The rulers, elders, and scribes, the high-priest Annas, who now enjoyed that dignity, with Caiaphas, who had sat in the chair the year preceding, with John and Alexander, persons of distinguished note, and others of the high priest's kindred, were all leagued against two poor fishermen, to try if their power could not intimidate, or their learning confute, or their authority silence them.

2. The prisoners are arraigned. They set them in the midst, to answer before their judges the interrogatories which they chose to put to them, and haughtily demanded, by what power, human, divine, or diabolical; or by what name, by virtue of whose authority, or by the invocation of what name, have ye done this?

3. Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, endued with singular boldness, and directed by the immediate influence of the Spirit, according to Christ's promise, (Mark 13:11.) said unto them respectfully, addressing them as magistrates and men of rank, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, if we be examined as criminals, this day, of the good deed done to the impotent man; and you demand information, by what means such an act of mercy and power was performed, and he is made whole; we with pleasure appear to give you the fullest satisfaction. Therefore, be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, whom it highly concerns, that by the name, the precious, powerful, all-prevailing name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye have treated with the highest contempt, and most ignominiously crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, disappointing the impotent malice of his murderers: even by him, by this once despised, but now glorified Jesus, and by no power of our own, by no magic charm, but by faith in him alone, doth this man stand here before you whole. This Jesus is the stone spoken of Psalms 118:22 which was set at nought of you, who by station and office should be builders of God's spiritual temple, but which is now exalted of God, and become the head of the corner, by which the church of God is supported and knit together. Neither is there salvation in any other; there is no spiritual or eternal salvation out of him, by the deeds of the law, or by any human power whatsoever; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved; God having appointed him to be the only Redeemer from sin, death, and hell; and all who believe not in him, must therefore perish everlastingly. Note; (1.) Salvation is every sinner's great concern. (2.) Of ourselves we have nothing but misery, sin, and wrath, and have no power of ourselves by nature to help ourselves. (3.) Christ alone can save a sinful soul, by the merit of his blood, and by the operation of his divine Spirit. (4.) God freely offers him in the gospel to the miserable, and invites all men to believe on him to the saving of their souls. (5.) They must inevitably and eternally perish, who neglect so great a salvation.

4. Such an answer quite confounded the court. When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, their undaunted courage, their readiness of speech, and powerful elocution; and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, had been brought up at none of the public seminaries, at the feet of none of their rabbins, nor had ever the least advantages of education; they marvelled at the intrepidity, wisdom, and eloquence which appeared in them; and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus, in whose company they recollected they had seen them formerly; and beholding the man which was healed standing with them, who probably came ready to bear testimony for them, and to do honour to his benefactors, to whatever danger it might expose him, they could say nothing against it; the miracle was too notorious to be contradicted. Note; (1.) In Christ's cause, even before the greatest, we may well boldly stand forth; he will bear us through. (2.) They who have been with Jesus, will carry the marks of it visibly about them: like Moses on the mount, their faces will shine, and their holy and heavenly conversation proclaim their Master's glory.

3rdly, How to punish those against whom they had no charge to lay, they knew not; yet fain would they brand them, if possible, with some mark of infamy.

1. In order to consult upon the case the more freely, they commanded the apostles to be led out of the council-chamber, while they conferred among themselves, saying, what shall we do to these men? our difficulties are greater than ever; for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell at Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it; so that to attempt it, would but expose our own characters: but, that it spread no further among the people, neither the fame of the miracle, nor the doctrine of Christ, in confirmation of which it was wrought, let us straitly threaten them, on pain of our highest displeasure, and at the peril of suffering the punishment due to their contumacy, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. Thus they hope, by silencing the ministers, to suppress the doctrines of the gospel. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus; breathing forth their impotent malice. Note; (1.) The enemies of the gospel often join in close cabal how to suppress the growing progress of the truth; but he who sitteth on the heavens, laughs them to scorn. (2.) Many faithful ministers of Jesus, for the truths which they have maintained, have met the frowns and threatenings of proud priests and prelates, who would fain intimidate and silence them, that they should speak no more in the name of Jesus; but they despise their menaces; they are prepared to suffer, but will not be silent.

2. The prisoners give in their answers; they needed no premeditation to reply, and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. Can it be possible we should be silent, when acting under his express injunctions; or how can we thus acquit ourselves to our consciences, or mankind, for whose sake we preach this salvation of Jesus? Your commands therefore being incompatible with the superior obedience that we owe to God, cannot possibly be observed; for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard; a necessity is laid upon us, and woe unto us if we preach not the gospel. Note; (1.) Where the injunctions of men are contrary to the word of God, we must not hesitate a moment which we shall obey. (2.) They who have experimentally known the salvation which is in Jesus, and tasted its sweetness, cannot but delight to spread the savour of his name, and to make all men, as far as their influence reaches, know the grace which is in him.

3. Unable to fix the least accusation against the apostles, they were compelled reluctantly to let them go, repeating their former threatenings, to try if that would intimidate them, and finding nothing how they might punish them, as they earnestly wished to do—because of the people, who would have risen up against them for such a flagrant act of injustice; for all men glorified God for that which was done; the multitude in general were convinced that this was the finger of God, and could not but adore him who had enabled these men to perform this act of power and mercy; for the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed, and had been so long known by the people, that the cure was rendered thereby the more singular and astonishing. Note; (1.) God can put his restraints upon persecutors, and prevent them, by various considerations, from doing all the mischief to which they are inclined. (2.) They who in old age are cured by the gospel word, are more eminent monuments of divine mercy.

4thly, No sooner were the two apostles dismissed than,

1. They returned to their own company, not ashamed or afraid to join them, notwithstanding all the threatenings of the priests; and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them, and most probably their reply. Note; We must never desert the society of our brethren. The world has its end, if it can confine our religion to our closets, and prevent our open profession of it, by joining those who appear on the Lord's side.

2. When they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God, in prayer and praise, with one accord, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, speaking as if animated by one soul, and said, Lord thou art God, infinite in power, which hast made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; the great Creator and governor, in whose hands are the hearts of all men, and all events directed by thy providence and under thy controul; who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things, endeavouring to suppress the glorious gospel of Jesus? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.

And now this prophesy is eminently fulfilled; for of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed as the true Messiah promised so long before, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, conspiring to destroy the adorable Redeemer; but, in the execution of their barbarous and malicious design, thou didst overrule their wickedness for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done, bringing to thyself the greatest glory, to the Redeemer the greatest honour, and to lost souls a free and full salvation. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings, restrain and disappoint their rage and malice; and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, openly and zealously preaching thy gospel, in nothing dismayed by their adversaries; and own them in their testimony, by stretching forth thine hand to heal: and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus; by the authority derived from this thy incarnate Son, and to the glory of his great name. Note; (1.) In all our dangers, we should make application to him who is able to help us. (2.) All the wickedness and wrath of man shall turn to God's praise, and the remainder of that wrath he will restrain. (3.) The sin of persecutors is not the less malignant, because God overrules it to subserve purposes of his own glory. (4.) God takes cognizance of all the malice of his people's foes, and hears their threatenings; therefore we need not fear them. (5.) They who are to preach the gospel to a gainsaying world, need to be often secretly looking up to God for boldness, that they may not, through fear or shame, be unfaithful to men's souls. (6.) Tokens of God's blessing and presence with us, are comfortable encouragements to us to persevere, even through much tribulation.

3. Their prayer receives an immediate answer from God. When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, as a sensible token of the divine presence in the midst of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, feeling a growing ardour in their souls, experiencing fresh measures of strength, courage, and consolation communicated to them; and they spake the word of God with boldness. Note; When God is for us, we need neither fear nor care who are against us.

5thly, How beautiful is the scene presented to us in the concluding paragraph of the chapter! how unlike the schisms and divisions which have since unhappily rent the church of Christ!

1. The multitude of them that believed, vast as the accessions lately made had been, were of one heart, knit together in love, united in sentiment, and seemed as it were actuated by one soul.

2. With great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, proving the fact by incontestable evidence, and enforcing the truths connected therewith, confirming their testimony, with signs and wonders, and preaching with the most intrepid boldness and zeal the glorious gospel committed to them; and great grace was upon them all, the most evident tokens of the divine favour rested upon them; and the effects of it were an entire contempt of the world, and most fervent love and charity towards all men.

3. They had all things common, and none said that ought of the things which he possessed, was his own, but freely gave up all for the general service; hence there was not any among them that lacked, the poorest being equally supported out of the common stock, while the richer members of the church, as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and of their own accord freely brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet, as trustees for the goods of the community; and distribution was made unto every man, by these faithful stewards, according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, the son of consolation), probably from the admirable faculty that he possessed of speaking peace to wounded consciences; a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, either in Judea or in his own country, sold it, and brought the purchase money, which seems to have been very considerable, and laid it at the apostles' feet; a noble instance of enlarged and disinterested charity deserving a particular memorial. Note; (1.) What we have in the world is not our own, but God's; and, whenever he is pleased to call for it, should be employed in his service. (2.) If we are not called now to the same exercise of charity as in those days of the church's infancy, yet the rich must remember that they are still but God's almoners, and should approve themselves faithful stewards of the gifts entrusted to them. (3.) Objects of real need have a title to our relief according to our ability, especially those that are of the household of faith. (4.) One bright example provokes the zeal of others; and none who shew themselves faithful to Jesus and his cause, shall be forgotten by him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 4:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/acts-4.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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