Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT MEN IN THE HIGHEST RELIGIOUS POSITION MAY BE ALL WRONG IN THEIR THEOLOGY. The priests were grieved that the apostles taught the people that which we know to have been God's own truth (ver. 2). In every age since then, the teaching of pure doctrine has been a veritable grief to those who have been regarded by many as the religious authorities of the land.
III. THAT MEN IN THE HIGHEST POLITICAL POSITION MAY BE USING THEIR POWER AGAINST THE WELL-BEING OF THE STATE. The state officials "came upon" the apostles of our Lord (ver. 1), and "laid hands on them, and put them in hold" (ver. 3). How often has this scene been re-enacted since then; the men in office using their authority to restrain and silence the teachers of truth, the reformers of national life!
III. THAT FAITHFUL MEN HAVE THEIR CONSOLATIONS WHEN OPPOSED AND SILENCED BY THE STRONG. That was not a very unhappy evening which Peter and John spent in the stronghold of the temple. As they walked within the narrow bounds of their captivity, they thought rejoicingly of the "five thousand men" who had heard the word they had spoken, and had believed it and been saved by it. Spiritual successes are an ample compensation for material discouragements (Acts 16:25).
IV. THAT TO FAITHFUL MEN GOD GRANTS COURAGE AND CONSTANCY ACCORDING TO THEIR DAY. (Vers. 5-13.) Before the Sanhedrim Peter and John show themselves brave and fearless. There is nothing apologetic about their demeanor, nothing supplicatory about their tone. They stand erect and they "speak straight on," as men who stand before God and who speak for him. In truth, they are men in whom dwells (ver. 8); hence their noble attitude and their manly spirit. God gives them grace according to their day. So will he to us also. Let us be receptive of his truth when he speaks to us; let us be faithful at our post when we speak for him; and then, when the trial hour shall come, he will nerve us for the scenes through which we shall have to pass, and we shall be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."
V. THAT THERE IS ONE, AND ONLY ONE, ROAD TO HEAVEN. (Ver. 12.) Many paths lead into it; there are many ruts in the road; many very different pilgrims along it; many views as we look out on either side of it and at different stages on it. But there is only one way: this is found in him who says, "I am the Way."
VI. THAT THE SPIRITUAL TRIUMPHS OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH ARE THE MOST COGENT WITNESSES ON ITS BEHALF. (Ver. 14.) In presence of reclaimed drunkenness, silenced profanity, cleansed and uplifted impurity, regenerated selfishness, humbled pride, what can infidelity or irreverence do? It is dumb; it is helpless.
VII. THAT HUMAN ERROR 18 IMPOTENT IN ITS CONTEST WITH DIVINE TRUTH. (Vers. 16-21.) Authority, in the person of this Jewish Sanhedrim, is ill intentioned enough; it is willing enough to smite; it Considers patiently and earnestly how far it dares to go; it threatens, forbids, threatens still further, and then impotently and ignominiously releases. Error is often fiercely antagonistic, industriously hostile, actively opposed to the truth of God; but let us take courage in dark hours - it is held under restraint; there is a point beyond which it cannot go; it will be compelled to relax its hold, and truth will come forth, before long, rejoicing in its liberty. - C.
I. THEIR APPREHENSION. Its causes.
1. The jealousy of those in ecclesiastical power. Caste, privilege, and established professions are ever jealous of popular influence. It is ill for learning and for religion when they come to be identified with the interests of a class. But neither can be shut up to the few. Light and truth are the common property of all, as there is no function higher than that of the genuine teacher of religion, so there is none which attracts more suspicion and jealousy. The essence of bigotry is exemplified by the Sadducees. Not believing in the Resurrection, they would put down any teaching of it by force. The force of persecution never comes from love of truth, but ever from some form of interest. The temper of the truth-lover is ever for free speech and free thought. He knows that the truth, being a beam of God, cannot be quenched, and is reflected with all the more glory from the mists of error. Often men mean by "the truth" their own opinions and prejudices. History shows, and passion constantly ignores, that to put down opinions is impossible. The spirit of man acquires force both in good and evil by resistance. Let what you consider false be either ignored, or, far better, honestly examined and discussed. But, in fact, no absolute falsehood can live an hour; and when desire is shown for suppression of free utterance, fear of the truth, not love of it, is betrayed.
2. Another cause was the popular acceptance of the gospel. The thousands may be despised as individuals, but their collective feeling commands respect. When the multitude wait on a preacher, and their lives are changed by his influence, we may be certain that there is a deeper agency at work than appears. The very extravagances which attend popular religious movements are in their way evidences that men are being acted upon by unwonted spiritual power.
II. THEIR EXAMINATION. They stood in the presence of the Sanhedrim - the great ecclesiastical court and ruling body of the nation. It is a sublime contrast between the power that is and the power that is not of the world. The parts of the prisoners and the judges are really reversed. Sincerity is ever the judge; appearances go for nothing in the spiritual sphere.
1. The question. The fact is not disputed; the question is - How is it to be accounted for. What power, whose Name, had been at work here? The surging up of a new power in Church or state is a formidable thing. What is its nature? how must we deal with it? is the care of the powers that be.
2. The answer. First, a good thing has been admittedly done. Out of prostration and weakness a sufferer has been restored to health and freedom. Facts are stubborn things. Our acts speak louder than words, and tell for us or against us irresistibly. So let us live that the facts of our life may plead for us trumpet-tongued. Second, the interpretation of the fact. The name and power of Jesus are behind it. Thus does spiritual force rise up and react against those who idly fought against it. Here was the crucified One darting a ray of his glory upon suffering. The Resurrection: it was no fancy; it stood illustrated in the person of the restored man in the presence of the court. What else was or could be the meaning of the fact? No other explanation is attempted. Accusers and accused stand beneath the shadow of a power of which the one are feeble foes, the others mighty agents. Life is full of these contrasts, these coincidences of extreme opposites; power dwindling into impotence, feebleness lifted into power. The stone cast aside on the highway proves to be the comer-stone of a new building. The rejected of men, who could not save himself, becomes revealed the Elect of God, and sole Source of salvation. Contempt of goodness is avenged by the manifested contempt of God.
III. THE EMOTION OF THE COURT. The judges are overcome in spite of themselves by the extraordinary contrast before them. It is rare that the learned do not feel a deep secret contempt for the ignorant and unlettered. An overvaluation of words and logic blinds to realities. But here the calm eloquence of those simple men breaks out like the ray of a pure gem hidden in some rough matrix, and dazzles the intelligence. Memory is stimulated, and Peter and John are identified as disciples of Jesus. There was a combination of evidences which fairly reduced the judges to stupefied silence. There stood the well-known figure of the paralytic; side by side his confessed healers; the clear statement of the Divine agency in the case has been boldly and impressively given by them; finally their former connection with Jesus is recognized. The whole chain of antecedents and consequents hangs firmly together. The logical recess in fact and thought is complete Infinitely better the silence which bows before irresistible reasons than the silence which is gained by force. Here again extremes meet. Mute are the lips of the unjust, who have evoked eloquence from the innocent; the silencers have reduced themselves to dumbness. 'Tis ever so. When violence seems to have made the truth to retire for a time, it has really sent it on a larger are of travel, from which it will surely return to smite the propelling lie.
IV. THE CONSULTATION. Policy is consulted when conscience is absent. It is dubious, and flies to compromises. There were three courses open: to punish the apostles - this, in the state of popular feeling, could not be ventured on; to approve their conduct - this was conscience' dictate, but conscience was here stifled by a powerful conspiracy of interest; the miserable compromise remained - to discharge the prisoners for fear of the multitude, to warn them against further teaching in fear for themselves. There is danger in all societies and committees of men for the conscience. They are more timid than in isolation, and timidity is mean and treacherous to the noblest instincts of the heart. Men will back one another up in doing things or refraining from doing things, when they would have been more true if left to themselves. 'Tis a moral trial in these respects to act with others. Shelter for our cowardice, stimulus to our active passions, is found in the fellowship of close interests.
V. THE PROHIBITION AND RELEASE. The apostles were no more to "speak in this Name," which had proved so mighty a spell to loose. More definitely utterance of, and teaching in, the Name are forbidden. The Name stands as usual for all that lies behind it - the whole contents of Christian truth.
1. The prohibition aimed at an impossibility. The mind cannot be chained; the spontaneous movements of the spirit cannot be checked by force; the Word of God cannot be bound. Force can only act within the laws of nature; it enters not the kingdom of spirit.
2. The martyr's alternative. Shall he obey God or man? The tyrant must tremble when he hears the question put. Physical necessity is on his side; moral necessity, revealed in the conscience, on the other. The one says to the witness - You shall not; the other replies from his breast - cannot but. Obedience to God gives confidence and security. The tyrant and his victim change places when it is seen that the latter has placed himself against the rock of eternal right.
3. The martyr's decision. He will not obey man rather than God. He has one clear principle only - to obey the voice in his soul. Immediate consequences form no element of calculation. They may he favorable to him, as now in the physical sense, for the many may be for the moment on his side; or they may be fatal. With eye far fixed on eternity, and ear attent upon the Divine voice, he goes forward. He trusts God and is not afraid. His being is only safe in devotion to duty. - J.
I. THE GROUND OF IT.
1. Religious intolerance - "the priests."
2. Political animosity - " the captain of the temple." A representative of Rome, alarmed by the crowd and fearing popular tumult.
3. Rationalistic unbelief - "the Sadducees." The troubles of the Church are thus foreshadowed, proceeding from the three different sources which will always unite against the truth. Against two facts they rose up: the people were taught; the Resurrection was the substance of the teaching. Popular religion is never liked by priests, rulers, and infidels. They are "sore troubled" when the gospel manifests its power. So it was in the Reformation. The old and corrupt Church gained over the state to its purposes. And soon there was a great rising up of the proud intellect of man against the simplicity of the message. At the bottom of this combined movement was a stricken conscience. The Resurrection condemned them all. They knew it. So still the Resurrection condemns the corruptions of the Church, the despotism of the world, and the pride of unbelief. We must never reckon on a peaceful victory. The people are not really cared for by the high ones of this world. They learn no lessons from the past. Progress must be in spite of them.
II. THE MANNER OF IT.
1. Cautious. "Put them in ward unto the morrow" (Revised Version). Fear of the people; recognition of the power of the apostles; bewilderment in the sense of their own guilty part in the Crucifixion; pretended respect for the forms of justice and self-deceived conventionalism. Underneath punctiliousness there is often a great depth of pride and hollow-heartedness.
2. Tentative. It was not a full burst of fury against the apostles, but an experiment to see how far they would go in their defiance of authorities. It was supposed that a night in prison would quell their courage, that an appearance before the Sanhedrim would probably break off the rising plant at the root, for it was seen that there was no great display of physical force among the sect.
3. Ignorant and perplexed in policy, for there could be no decided and deliberate movements against the new doctrine on such grounds. Nor were the elements of the conspiracy congenial. Priests would care nothing for Sadducees, and Roman rulers despised both. They could not have studied either the facts of the ease or the characters of the apostles. They made a dash upon them in the provocation of the moment, hoping to snuff out the light at once. Their ignorance of Scripture and worldliness of spirit made them capable of such folly, and the fruit of it was a very significant rebuff.
III. THE EFFECT OF IT.
1. On the Church itself. (See the rest of the chapter.) Deepening the spiritual life; promoting brotherly love, prayerfulness, and sympathy; preparing for future trials; revealing the utter weakness of the opposition; fulfilling the promise of Christ as to their endowment in the presence of enemies; magnifying the gospel in their sight; helping them to feel that they must hearken unto God and not unto men; deepening their insight into Scripture and enlarging their prospect of the future triumphs of the gospel, which they thought of in the spirit of prophecy.
2. On the world. Drawing to them popular sympathy; making them the talk of Jerusalem, and so leading many to inquiry; testing the hearers whether they were prepared to encounter such dangers for Christ. The five thousand would be henceforth drawn together, and the world would see the Church more distinctly. It was well that the new doctrine should be manifestly put over against the old. Many may have been perplexed by the reverence which apostles showed for the temple and its worship. While still addressing themselves to Jews, it was now plain that to be a disciple of Christ was to break away from Judaism. The effect of the miracle would be heightened; for it would be asked, naturally, why the workers of such a cure should be so treated. It has never been a success to persecute. It shows weakness in the persecutor; it reveals power in the persecuted; it spreads abroad facts that might otherwise be ignored. This beginning of the Church's fight with false religion and worldly pride throws great light along the ages, and teaches us many a lesson concerning Church history. - R.
Resurrection by the enemies of the disciples. In addition to the general annoyance at the public preaching of the apostles, the officials of the temple were grieved at the crowding of the people round the new teachers in the temple courts. So in the name of order, but really in the spirit of jealousy, they were arrested, late in the evening, and put in safe keeping until the next day. Jewish rules did not allow judgment to be given at night. Imprisonment was only a precautionary measure; the Jews did not punish by imprisonment. Where mention is made of it, as used for punishment, in the Scripture records, the authorities who inflicted it were not Jewish. The point to which we now direct attention is, that a confession of moral impotence is made in all physical attempts to stop and crush teachers. Intellectual and moral error can only be fairly met by the teaching of the corrective truth. Only when men fail to conquer by reasoning, can they wish to take up material weapons of any kind. When reason fails then men imprison, and beat, and torture, and kill. And physical forces never can succeed in crushing moral ones. It has been true for every age, and is as true as ever today, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Physical restraints are only proper in relation to wrongs that disturb the social order. They are wholly out of place in connection with matters of opinion.
I. THESE PRISONERS WERE ONLY TEACHERS. They only talked to the people. They only appealed to mind and judgment. They only announced some new truths. They only invited the people's belief. Part of the offence against them arose from the known fact that they were unlearned and ignorant men; not specially trained rabbis, and so not regarded as fit to preach. An instance of the class-prejudice which sadly prevails still. Illustrate from the story of great missionaries. They have only been teachers, yet how often, in different countries, they have excited prejudice and suffered persecution! The same is still, in measure, true of all great thought-leaders; all men who are "before their time" must expect to be misunderstood and persecuted.
II. THESE PRISONERS TAUGHT NOTHING AFFECTING SOCIAL ORDER. They did not encourage vice or lawlessness. They did not interfere with family life, local government, social customs, or politics. Like their Master, they dealt with broad and general principles, expecting these, when implanted, to gain their own growth and expressions. Even their little excitement in the temple courts, and temporary interference with the temple order, was a matter of no moment. There was no occasion for the temple police to interfere with them.
III. THESE PRISONERS TAUGHT NOTHING AFFECTING CEREMONIAL RITES. There were, indeed, personal examples of diligent and devout Mosaism; strict in all matters of ceremonial duty. They never uttered a word that could be regarded as disrespectful to the temple or the Jewish system. They never tried to break one single person away from his ceremonial duties. Their teachings were within Judaism, and the most jealous conservators of the old system had no good reason for fearing their influence. This, however, applies to true Mosaism, and not to the burdensome ritual added by the rabbis, against which both our Lord and his disciples vigorously pleaded. But on this particular occasion the apostles had not even attacked the rabbinical system.
IV. THE TEACHINGS OF THESE PRISONERS ACTUALLY TENDED TO PRESERVE SOCIAL ORDER AND MAKE BETTER CITIZENS. Such is everywhere the natural results of the preaching of Christ and the teaching of Christianity. Loyalty to Christ helps to secure loyalty to the earthly ruler, and the virtues Christianity cultivates find their expression in the social and national spheres. Then why were these men arrested? Because the men in power were jealous of the influence they were gaining, and feared they would lose their own authority and influence on the people. Self-seeking is at the root of all religious persecution. And because the men who opposed them could not meet and answer them in argument, they had to fall back upon the unworthy weapons of threatening and force (see vers. 16, 17). Impress that no physical bonds have ever yet been forged that could bind in the truth. - R.T.
Being grieved (!) that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead," is all their case showed last night. And this morning the Sanhedrim - who as much for moral as for civil reasons ought to have been examples of something different from this - render themselves collectively amenable to the same remarks. It was well for all of them that Peter and John were not Romans, either by purchase or by birth (Acts 16:37; Acts 22:28). On the other hand, the silence of Peter and John themselves on this matter is worthy of notice. They remembered something of that great gift, greater grace of their Master, and were now learning in practice some lessons of him. Sometimes the very achievements of silence are great, and great often the rewards of it shall be. They were silent, for the injustice of their imprisonment had been inconvenience personal to themselves, but just as likely advantage to their Master's cause. They were silent, rather than waste time and waken temper as well as prejudice toward them in their would-be judges. And they were silent, on the very wise principle of letting "these men alone," that they might run out the more quickly and self- condemningly their humiliated career. And it was not long before it was seen to what undignified shifts they were brought, Notice -
I. THE VERY ILL-SHAPED INDICTMENT (Ver. 7) It were indeed only by courtesy that it could be dignified with the name of an indictment at all. The Sanhedrim greatly stood in need of a word from the governor Porcius Festus of just thirty years later, when he said to King Agrippa, in reference to Paul, "For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal signify the crimes laid against him" (Acts 25:27). The Sanhedrim are guilty of this very unreasonableness.
1. They interrogate instead of indicting. They are going the way to make themselves beholden to their own prisoners for some information and instruction.
2. There is this prima facto weakness in the very interrogation, that it is not directed to the character of what has been done, but simply as to how something has been done, that is all the while tacitly admitted to be unchallengeable in its nature.
3. However, though their course be ever so much at fault for informality and for worse reasons, it has one commanding excellence about it. It does go at once to the point. It goes home to what was in their own heart. They cannot, in the nature of things, find fault with Peter and John for relieving of his lameness a man now "above forty years old," and who had never been anything but lame. And they cannot find fault with them for doing this on a sabbath day, because it was not the sabbath. So it is only left them to try and find something to take hold of, in "the kind of power," or "the kind of name," by or in which they had "done this thing;" which, it is noticeable, they do not choose to call here by its right name, "a notable miracle" as they do immediately afterwards in their secret conclave (ver. 16). And, further, they may hope to find something to take hold of in "the kind of answer the two apostles may proffer. But this does not prove to be the case; for their discretion, silence, temperateness, cannot be surpassed. If the picture, then, of this trial shows the court put in a foolish position, it shows the accused or the prisoners in an intrinsically proud position. They are masters of the position, strange to say.
II. THE DEFENCE. (Vers. 8-12.) Notice in this defense:
1. That the method of it may be justly assigned to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Peter is emphatically described as filled with the Holy Ghost."
2. That, nevertheless, it is of the simplest character. It might be said to be of nature's simplest style.
(1) It consists of a mere statement of facts. "You ask," says Peter, "of a deed, a 'good deed, done to an impotent man.' You ask by what, by what virtue-call it 'power' or call it a 'name 'as you will - that impotent man has taken the advantage of what is contained in that good deed." And Peter continues, without a word, or tone, or sign of apology, "Be it known to you, and to the whole nation beside, that it is by the virtue of One whom you and they know but too well - Jesus of Nazareth, whom you and they crucified, and - wonderful contrast of rebuke - whom God raised from the dead. Here standing before you, and beside us, your prisoners, is a man, who is more to be remarked upon for the fact that he was made whole by that Name, than simply for the fact itself, that (as none can deny) he has been made whole - genuinely made whole."
(2) It consists, further, of a quotation from the Old Testament, of words most personal to the court listening to Peter, and the application of which to them Peter minces not at all. Peter speaks just as though it were one of those cases in which truth must and will out. There can have been no effrontery in the manner of Peter's utterance, nor any appearance of intentional affront, else we cannot imagine that his sentence would have been allowed to come to an end. Often as wrong manner prejudices the interest of welcome truth, the present was an instance of the converse how truth of the most unwelcome kind got its fair force, being unprejudiced by any flavor of bitterness, spite, taunt, or malignity.
(3) It consisted of a word of genuine universal gospel as well. Now does even Peter speak a more catholic gospel than he is at the moment conscious of. He anticipates in one breath the apostle of the Gentiles, who was yet to come. But independently of this, and stopping short of it, Peter's aim is to speak of that Name of Christ as the Name of the only Savior, rather than to speak of the universal sweep of his dominion and virtue. He has got his foot in; he sees the narrow end of the grand wedge in; he seizes the priceless opportunity, and uses it. The defense had the seeds of triumph in it, and it triumphed.
III. THE EMBARRASSMENT OF THE COUNT. (Vers. 13-18.) This was, in very deed, a most pronounced embarrassment. It is spoken by the historian in five plain enough statements The signs of it, also, were probably only too plain, or otherwise the case was a great exception to a very general rule.
1. Those who sat in the seat of authority were, unfortunately for the position they filled, stricken with amazement. "They marveled" at the imperturbed flow of speech and resolute wielding of argument which proceeded from two men who, as being "unlearned" and unprofessional men, ought rather to have been overawed in the presence of such as themselves - as they thought. In the midst of their amazement, however, they either remembered the fact, or saw in the very bearing of the men the fact, that they were old associates of Jesus.
2. They were fairly stricken with silence. There, present before them - there, at the very side of the prisoners, proffering himself as a living monument of their last evening's work - was the veritable healed man himself. Such a juxtaposition of facts ties into silence very perverse-wayed tongues. "They can say nothing against it."
3. They are stricken with an idea that a private conference with one another may suggest a way out of their undignified difficulty. There is always something very suspicious, ominous of impending disaster, if the men that love the broadest daylight of public glare suddenly are for retreating into the unloved shade.
4. Retired from public gaze, they find themselves still stricken with a perplexity that grows no better for deliberation and secret conference. For one thing only do we seem able to admire in any sense these men. They have eyes to see, and they have not got to the point of seeing facts to deny them. They will not hazard themselves into the position of denying a "notable miracle manifest" to all the rest of the world that lives in Jerusalem. But their perplexity is the greater, what they shall do.
5. Because they are fearful of the one thing, truth, which should have made them fearless, they are stricken with love of an expedient simply so insane in its certain working that it at once worsened their whole case and plight. They will forbid the tide. They will command, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further." They will bid to flow back a river that shows an unmistakable force and breadth and depth of current. They will threaten and prohibit. Whether they are counted as legislators, or statesmen, or judges, they are childish and incompetent.
IV. THE DECISION AND FOLLOWING ACTION OF THE COURT. (Ver. 18.) "They command" the apostles "not to speak at all nor to teach in the Name of Jesus." Thus began the struggle between civil command and human conscience, not indeed in the history of the world, but in the history that has ever shown it in most intensified form, of the Christian Church. Notice:
1. The parties to this struggle. Traced home, they resolve themselves into the wish of some against the conscience of others.
2. The intrinsic and even notorious inequality of these. That wish, it is true, will be said to be founded upon opinion, judgment, experience, consent of many. But this is equivalent to an open betraying of the proportionately easy access to it, of disturbing causes - causes that lay it actually open to suspicion, and render it unreliable. Wish notoriously sins in being the victim of feeling, and none can be "ignorant of its devices." A hundred elements, each one of which is a possible avenue of error, go to form that wish or will of the some which then presumes or endeavors to impose upon the conscience of other some. On the other hand, conscience, whether it be allowed to be more or less of an original faculty or principle of human nature, owns to and justly claims a native prerogative, the prerogative of the judge. And it may err. It will be liable to err, and has in point of fact often shown itself liable to err - on one side, through being uninformed, or ill informed. Yet, whoever flouts it (whether the owner of it himself or another for him), is guilty of flouting pro tern. "The powers that be," and those powers, powers that "be of God." Say whatsoever may be said to the derogation of the individual conscience, that man stands on perilous ground indeed who risks what is involved in neglecting his own conscience, or who takes in hand to supersede that of others, by his own fiat, under whatsoever name or misnomer it may endeavor to pass muster. To very different moral zones of being do the voices of external command and of internal command belong. As once a whole world was on one side, and Noah and the Divine command on the other, so it is quite possible that the whole world might be on one side, and an individual man and his conscience be on the other side, and these be in the right. And it was something like this, though not this, that was to be seen now. The whole authorities of a nation were in this court on one side, and Peter and John on the other; and these were in the right, and the real strength of position lay with them.
3. The unconquerable deep facts of human nature and life to which these phenomena conduct. For we get here a suggestion and a glimpse of the idea according to which God has provided for the security of his mighty grasp on the mighty mass of mankind. There is left no doubt which is the mightier. This method of securing a certainty and even facility of hold upon the vastest bulk of mankind, to disintegrate it if one corrupt mass, or gradually to reintegrate it, without recourse to flood or deluge or any physical force, invites most grateful and reverent study. The analogies of physical nature, more and more laid bare to light by science, offer many an inferior harmony with it. God's moral hold upon the great mass depends on and is regulated by his hold upon the individual and the individual conscience; and often exhibits itself in this shape - that one conscience touched will prevail against ten thousand men, will suffice to make "a divided house," and put a wonderfully centrifugal tendency into the constituent parts of what seemed a very compact whole. While, on the other hand, thousands and all the influence they could wield, and all the torture they could apply to martyrdom itself, will leave the conscience unharmed and unmoved. "Command," then, and "threat," varied only by "threat" and "command," are the singularly weak weapons to which this embarrassed and undignified court now resort. And these soon enough crumble to their touch.
V. THE REBUFF SUSTAINED BY THE COUNT. (Vers. 19-22.) This rebuff contains not a few points which make it remarkable.
1. It is no doubt uttered in a respectful tone and manner, but for decision of language and firmness of front it wants nothing. It distinctly emphasizes the subordinate character of the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrim; it distinctly emphasizes their prisoners' knowledge of it; and as distinctly it emphasizes the intention of the prisoners to continue to do the things they were commanded not to do, and respecting which they were threatened.
2. The rebuff administered by Peter and John contains a reiteration of that which was so often the unconcealed strength of the apostolic message - the doctrine and impulse of "God," the matters of fact, such as they themselves had "seen and heard. Three forces sustained (and should still sustain) the Christian preachers - that they spoke things within their own knowledge, that they found themselves irresistibly moved to speak of these things, and that their undying conviction was that those things were the things of God. Upon what a platform of unassailable strength do they now stand, who hold this reply only to prohibition and threat, Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard"! The implications are manifest. That the apostles must do what is right; that by right they mean what is so in the sight of God; that this may utterly traverse and contravene the criterion of right with the Sanhedrim; and that they are cognizant of a call to speak which they cannot and will not disobey.
3. The rebuff so fits in to truth, to time, and to circumstance, that there is nothing left for those most smitten by it but to sit down quietly under it. Except for the inanity of "further threatening" Peter and John, those who now smart are also like certain others, "speechless" (Matthew 22:12). So sometimes does God cover with the shield of his wondrous protection his servants. They are without a shred of worldly position, of influence, of wealth. They sit on no throne, can summon no legions, nor wield one weapon. Yet are they themselves kept safe as "the apple of his eye." They gaze, too, with the light of the Divine eye on human hearts, darkened with guilty tumult because unloyal to the truth. And it is entrusted to them to wield the weapon of unanswerable rebuke. Many a victory falls far short of what it seems. Greater than all, it showed, was the victory of Peter and John, when the Sanhedrim, after enduring keen rebuke and blank rebuff, nevertheless" let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done." It is so, God protects and exalts and all in one honors his servants with highest service in his Name. - B.
I. Compare the CIRCUMSTANCES of this testimony with those in which Jesus stood. Some of the same were present. Actuated by similar feelings against the truth. But notice:
1. Called together on the ground of one specific fact - the miracle done (ver. 7) undeniably real.
2. Without any accusation as in the Lord's case. No false witnesses called.
3. In appearance, at least, orderly and candid; inquiring, "By what power, or in what Name, have ye done this?" certainly evincing, as does the sequel, considerable reaction from the fury of the Crucifixion. Conscience was at work. A sign that the gospel was already beginning to lay hold of Jerusalem.
II. Consider the TESTIMONY borne by the apostle.
1. The substance of it. It pointed to the signs of Divine power present; connected those signs with the Name and authority of Jesus Christ; clearly announced the fulfillment of Scripture, and invited all to rejoice in the blessings of the gospel.
2. The inspiration of it; seen in its simplicity, boldness, wisdom, and yet supreme gentleness and love. A perfect respect for the old, and yet an entire acceptance of the new with all its consequences. It was not the address of a criminal excusing himself, or of a suspected man putting by the misconstructions of enemies; it was the appeal of a herald and inspired ambassador, fulfilling his Divine office to be a witness to Jesus. There was in it a sublime indifference to human opposition, and yet a confidence in the sufficiency of the gospel which could not have been of merely human origin. Peter spoke as one "filled with the Holy Ghost," the Spirit of truth, life, and love; as a true Israelite, without one word of disparagement of what was represented in that Sanhedrim; and yet as a true apostle of Christ; as the priest of that restored temple, of which Jesus was henceforth the Corner-stone; and as a true prophet, able to connect the present with the past and the future, and say, "Thus saith the Lord." - R.
Isaiah 28:16; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:7. The construction of our modern buildings does not permit of special importance being given to a foundation, stone. We now put in memorial stones. Very probably the Scripture figure is taken from the immense work of masonry, found necessary at one corner of the temple area, in order to complete the sacred precincts. This corner foundation, raised right up out of the valley, made a deep impression on the Jewish mind, and was regarded as the foundation of the temple. Some prefer to think that reference may be to the virgin rock which was probably covered by the holy of holies. A foundation, in the sense of a basis-truth or principle, is necessary for a religious system or a personal faith. Here St. Peter's words are addressed to certain persons, and we consider -
I. THE BUILDERS. Such the Sanhedrim regarded themselves as being, because they were at the head of the ecclesiastical government of the people; they settled the order of ceremonies, duties, and obligations, and required men virtually to take their religion from them. They would advise and direct, and the people should have no will of their own in religious matters. Explain that a new rabbinical system had grown up round the Mosaic, and crushed out its life. For this rabbinical system, as bringing the people entirely under their sway, the members of the Sanhedrim were so jealous. Fix attention on the exceeding peril and amazing folly of men in trying to formulate and impose a religious system, when one had been fully revealed and its principles adequately detailed. No wonder they went astray, binding burdens on men's shoulders grievous to bear. No wonder they were wholly wrong, both in their foundation and in their superstructure.
II. THEIR FOUNDATION-STONE. What can man's foundation, for any religious system he may construct, ever be but works - man's works? There is nothing else they can select. If they want anything better, they must give up trying to find it or to lay it, and let God both find and lay. Disguise it how we may, call it by what skilful names we please, men's foundations for religious systems or personal hopes are always self; something we can do ourselves. Illustrate from other systems than Christianity, showing that self and self-service and works are the foundations of Brahmanism, Mohammedanism, heathenism, and Catholicism. Those trying to feel confidence in the foundation-stone of self are sure to pass by, and fail to find interest or attraction in, the stone God offers to lay in Jesus Christ, the sure Foundation. This point may be urged in its application to personal religious seeking and experience. Many a man has had to see the utter ruin of his buildings raised on self, before he could find interest in, or care to build upon, the Rock of Ages.
III. THE CORRECTION OF THEIR MISTAKE. The great Master-Builder interfered, choosing his own good and wise time. Sanhedrims and rabbis could only be under-builders. Because of their willful errors he puts them aside, and sets forth the apostles in their stead - just as, in older days, he made prophets take the place of incapable priests - and bade those apostles lay firmly down the despised Stone, even Jesus, the Nazarene. It is to be the very Head of the comer, and the whole erection of the Christian Church is to lean safely up against it and upon it. Impress that still there are mistaken builders, who pass by Christ, and assume authority to lay other foundations. And still it is as true as ever it was, that God makes Jesus Christ, for each soul's salvation and life, the "tried Stone, the precious Corner-stone, the sure Foundation; and he that believeth on him shall not be ashamed." - R.T.
Neither is there salvation in any other, etc. The contrast between the position of Christ's heralds thee and now. They pointed to one miracle just wrought; we point to the whole succession of wonders along the line of Christian history. Already the Name of Jesus is "above every name."
(1) A proclamation;
(2) a warning;
(3) an invitation.
I. A PROCLAMATION. "None other name."
1. The proclamation of witnesses. They knew the person, they saw the power, they were subjects of the grace. The Name was a history, testified by those who published it. Others could take knowledge that they had been with Jesus. So Christians still can speak of the Name as in their own hearts and lives "above every name."
2. The proclamation of inspired teachers. The name misunderstood among Jews, because salvation itself nothing to them, not spiritually regarded. The Name of the "Messiah" represented the promise of atonement, spiritual deliverance. The apostles themselves taught of God, otherwise would never have known the secrets of the Name. They proclaimed salvation necessary to all, denouncing the self-righteousness of the Jews.
3. The proclamation of sincere philanthropists. "Under heaven given among men." The standard set up at Jerusalem, but it meant conquest of the whole world. No name will bear this test but Christ's. Other names, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, have but a limited range, of sympathy - divide the world, not unite it. The history of man is a progressive preparation of the race to acknowledge a Name which shall be adapted for universal recognition and homage. A missionary spirit the test of a true Church.
II. A WARNING. There are other names among men. Recall the chief dangers of our present time. The builders at the temple of human progress are setting at naught the corner-stone. An emasculated Christianity, robbed of its deepest adaptation to the wants of men; a mere bundle of moral principles and examples. The pride of the human intellect set on the throne; in rationalistic criticism; the dry bones of the Bible offered instead of the living reality; in socialistic theories put in place, of spiritual change, which alone can produce the fruits of righteousness; in sophistical arguments against the leading doctrines of the gospel; and pretended philanthropy, which means nothing but trifling with the awful realities of sin, and undue exaltation of the material above the spiritual interests of men. Other names in the Church. The priest hiding the Savior; the ritual shutting out the truth; sectarianism dishonoring Christ; names of leaders and teachers made into temptations to spiritual pride, and mere hero-worship substituted for simple-minded obedience to Christ's commandments. Yet the Name above every name in fact, and must be seen to be so. The Name of the coming Judge, who, though he find not faith on the earth, will still destroy all that exalteth itself against him, "that God may be all in all."
III. AN INVITATION.
1. To acceptance of a free gift. "Given amongst men." Contrast between Christ's method of helping men and that of the world's teachers.
2. To separation from a lost cause. The names of the world represent the old things which are passing away. Come out and be separate. Name the Name of Christ in order to realize salvation. Half-hearted religion no joy.
3. To anticipation of a final victory. As the Name we honor represents a life which went up from the lowliest places on earth to the highest in heaven, so those who are called after the Name rise to the throne to reign with Christ. Will you sell such a birthright for vain delight? Will you forfeit such a prospect for lack of faith? - R.
simplicity of the gospel message. From it we may learn what things were set forth as the primary and essential facts of Christianity, before the development of Christian doctrine. Theology is a science formulated by human genius; for it we are mainly indebted to Augustine and Anselm and Calvin. But it would be a sad thing indeed, for the thousands of" wayfaring men," if an adequate apprehension of a human theology were essential to personal religion. This sermon deals with facts, with the known historical facts of our Lord's life, death, and resurrection; and with the unknown facts, declared upon the apostolic authority, of Christ's office, commission, and authority, as risen and exalted. Upon these facts the sermon makes deductions and applications, as in our text.
I. SALVATION. Some have strangely suggested that by this word St. Peter only refers to bodily healing, and simply asserts that in Jesus Christ is the true miraculous power. But we cannot thus lose the deeper meanings and applications of truth. Sin is the great human ill, and salvation, to be any salvation at all to man, must deal with and compass it. For this sin that has wrought and is working in us we need "salvation," and it is but to mock us to say that Christ is not the Savior from sin. Show what a large, comprehensive word "salvation" is; compare it with healing, teaching, reforming, etc. It is the word which expresses the deepest need to which any soul can ever awake. At the very edge of death the aroused jailor cries, "What must I do to be saved? Plead as to whether there has yet been open vision to the discovery of this master-need. What, indeed, can it profit any one of us to gain the whole world, and have our soul unsaved?
II. SALVATION BY A NAME.
1. A name stands for a person, and includes whatever rights may belong to him. Illustrate by the ambassador acting in the name of the queen; travelers finding safety in using the name of Englishmen; Moses coming forth in the Name of Jehovah. So the apostles went forth, spoke and wrought, in the Name of Christ. And salvation is by the Name, i.e. by the present rights and power of the living Savior, whom apostles introduced to men.
2. A name stands for a plea. As St. Paul used his name as a Roman citizen. The Name of Jesus is a sufficient plea to secure acquittal, for all due satisfactions have been wrought by Christ. The Name of Jesus becomes a sufficient plea to secure acceptance, for all required righteousness has been won by Christ; and we, by faith united to him and bearing his Name, come into his power and share his rights.
III. SALVATION ONLY BY ONE NAME. None other name" is designed to be exclusive. Then see what it excludes. Few, perhaps, will now actually substitute something for Christ, and deliberately say, "I will not be saved by Christ." But there was, in older times, a subtle substituting of fancied ideas about God's mercy; and there is now danger of our substituting knowledge and science. Many will try to put something along with Christ. Men try to join their own name with Christ's; or they put together the Virgin Mary and Christ; or the Church and Christ; or even, in subtle forms, the Bible and Christ; or feelings and Christ. All are wrong things if they are set in the first place with Christ; all may be good if kept in their proper second places. For soul-salvation there is only one Name; the essential thing is that we stand in living relations of faith and love with him whose "Name is above every name."
IV. SALVATION IN THE ONE NAME FOR ALL. Otherwise it could not be exclusive. If it is to be the only Name, then it must be the all-sufficient Name, or God would be deceiving us in permitting such broad and gracious invitations to be made to us. The real wants of men are common to all men. We all want health, love, knowledge, and truth; and it is equally true that we all want pardon of our transgressions, liberty from the slavery of self and sin, the life of righteousness, and the hope of the eternal glory. "Salvation" gathers up all these, and all these are found in and through Christ Jesus only.
CONCLUSION. The way of salvation keeps its simplicity. And "to you is the word of this salvation sent." There is one Name - only one Name; believe, and you shall be saved. Search the world over and the ages through, there is no other; and yet one day to this Name "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess." - R.T.
I. THAT LEARNING IS NOT NECESSARY TO GOODNESS. The persecutors of Peter and John "perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men;" not uneducated men, in the worst sense of that term, but lacking in the higher culture of their time. But though thus comparatively unlearned, they were men of strong faith, of true piety, of godly zeal, admirable in the sight of men, acceptable servants of Jesus Christ. Human learning is a desirable, but it is far from being, a necessary, thing to excellence of character or nobility of life.
II. THAT COURAGE IN THE CONDUCT OF THE GOOD WILL ARREST THE ATTENTION OF THOSE WHO ARE IN THE WRONG. "When they saw the boldness of Peter and John... they marveled." Whatever virtues are unappreciated by the ungodly, courage always enlists attention and provokes admiration. Be brave, and you will be heard; stand to your colors with undaunted spirit, and men will, however reluctantly, yield you their respect.
III. THAT ASSOCIATION WITH JESUS CHRIST WILL ACCOUNT FOR ANY EXCELLENCY OF CHARACTER. When the priests and elders wanted to account to themselves for the boldness of these two men they remembered their connection with Christ, and were no longer at fault. That will account for anything that is good. Much intimacy with him who "regarded not the person of man" will always make men brave; frequent communion with that Holy One of God will always make men pure of heart; close friendship with him who came to lay down his life for the sheep will always make men unselfish, etc.
IV. THAT THE REST THINGS ABOUT HUMAN CHARACTER ARE THOSE WHICH ARE SUGGESTIVE OF JESUS CHRIST. There is nothing which is such a tribute to human worth as that men are thereby reminded of Christ. What impression are we most anxious to convey about ourselves? The answer to that question will be a sure criterion of our spiritual standing. If we are nearing the goal which is set before us, if we are attaining to any real height of Christian excellency, we shall he truly and earnestly solicitous that our constant spirit and daily behavior will be suggestive of the temper and the principles of Jesus Christ our Lord. - C.
I. In the presence of FACTS. The historical evidence of the gospel must be pressed home on men's consciences. Make them acknowledge, "We cannot deny it." The facts of Christian life and character before their eyes. Hence the power of great movements like those of the evangelical revivals.
II. In contrast with the MORAL STRENGTH OF DEEP CONVICTION AND STRAIGHTFORWARD ALLEGIANCE TO TRUTH. The shifting of ground, the sophistry, the blasphemy, the dishonesty, the malice, and yet the cowardice of modern unbelief. "What shall we do to these men? The question was not What shall we do with the facts?" but "How shall we escape dealing fairly with them?" Personality is the resort of weak and dishonest minds. If they will not believe, they persecute.
III. IN SENSELESS THREATENINGS AND PRESUMPTION in the presence of the mysteries and glories of advancing faith. "That it spread no further among the people." Folly of such a policy. The people see through the devices of a false Church - are not long deceived by the vain boastings of infidelity. A bold and aggressive method must be the hope of the Christian Church in the climax of opposition now reached. We must plant ourselves firmly on the rock of undeniable facts, and hearken unto God rather than unto men. "All men then will glorify God for what is done." - R.
They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. Fulfillment of the promise, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me." Reward for obedience to the precept, depend on the Spirit. No mere human resources applied to; the men simply spiritual men, bearing witness to Divine facts.
I. A GREAT CHANGE MADE MANIFEST. Fishermen, Jews, once filled with fear, now bold, eloquent, full of the Holy Ghost, proclaiming a doctrine once hateful to them, uplifted to a lofty conception of the kingdom of God. The whole explanation in the fact they had been with Jesus, as disciples, as chosen out by him for their mission, as qualified for it by his gifts of the Spirit.
II. A GREAT EFFECT PRODUCED.
1. By the clear and decided expression of Christian faith. The world is much more impressed by beholding a wonderful contrast to itself, than by seeing Christians compromising principles for the sake of enlarging the Church.
2. By fearless condemnation of evil and proclamation of the kingdom of Christ. We should remember that all wickedness is weakness. We must speak like Peter and John. We must keep the Head of the corner in view.
3. By the wonderfulness of spiritual work and life. Unlearned and ignorant men can render an incalculable service to the cause of Christ by making others marvel, when they speak out boldly their humble testimony. But let all who hear it say, "They have been with Jesus."
III. A GREAT LESSON TAUGHT.
1. To the apostles themselves. The power of faith; the protecting presence of God; the safety of boldness; persecution making opportunity; the suffering servant honoring the Master.
2. To the council. To judge righteous judgments; to learn the method of grace; to see the errors of the past. But we should be warned; for such lessons were in vain, although enforced with such power.
3. To ourselves. The whole incident teaches the strength of the spiritual life; the method or the Christian work; the glory of the believer's prospects. Those that have been with Jesus shall share his victories. - R.
daily watched; sometimes kindly, sometimes unkindly, always keenly. Men do "take knowledge of us." Something must be wrong if our life as Christians is not so toned and charactered as to arrest attention. There was something about the apostles which puzzled the Sanhedrim: there was more than they were able to discern. We may see what actually did impress them, and also what might reasonably have impressed them.
I. The Sanhedrim were struck with the POWER, the COURAGE, which the apostles had gained from Christ. Power, high personal influence, moral courage, had been characteristic of the Lord Jesus. In the apostles power showed itself in firm, noble witnessing to the facts they knew and the truths which had been entrusted to them, however offensive the facts and the truths might be to the rulers who listened. In us the like power, given by Christ, may show itself in steadfastness to principle, even when that may place us in social disability; and in practical consistency, whatever may be our surroundings. Illustrate by firm keeping of the sabbath law; and by such passages as "Having done all, stand;" "Quit you like men, be strong;" "Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." There is great need of a more steadfast opposition to accepted worldly maxims and worldly habits. Christians should dare to be singular when Christly principles and the Christly spirit are imperiled.
II. The Sanhedrim might have been struck with the CHARACTERS of the apostles, as fashioned by Christ. The character of the Lord Jesus had been peculiarly his force, and these apostles had come so fully under its influence that they had become, both consciously and unconsciously, molded thereby. They had learned, as Christ's disciples, to seek "whatsoever things are true," etc. (Philippians 4:8). Their natural characters were being sanctified; and, in measure, they were exerting the influence of personal moral excellence and virtue, even as their Lord had done. This may be illustrated in St. Peter. Pure and lovely character is still the highest power on men everywhere. None can wholly withstand the influence of sweet and saintly lives.
III. The Sanhedrim might have been struck with the RULING PRINCIPLE of the apostles' CONDUCT, which they had learned of Christ. It was the principle of the constraining love. Love to Christ, by whom we are redeemed. Love to the brethren who share with us in the common redemption. And love to the unsaved, for whom we may well desire the unspeakable blessings which we have ourselves received. Love is ever seeking to find expression, and will not be satisfied with measures of self-sacrifice short of the self-sacrifice of Christ for our salvation. We cannot hope to exert the same influence on those about us that was wrought by the apostles on the Sanhedrim, until we learn to be oftener with Jesus. And that we may be in two ways.
1. In the outward fellowship of the Gospels. We may study them better. We may meditate on them more frequently. We may realize more perfectly the Christ they reveal, and so "know him," and feel the power of his presence.
2. We may be with Jesus in the inward fellowship of cherished thoughts. Taking him into our hearts as we take our dearest friend, and often holding with him secret soul-communing. Then men would plainly see upon us, day by day, the signs that we "have been with Jesus." - R.T.
I. A TRUTH WHICH IS PALPABLE TO ALL - that when the Divine and the human are in conflict, the human must yield to the Divine. "Whether it be right... judge ye." The judgment required was one that any man could pronounce; the question may be answered by the humblest understanding.
1. Ordinarily, the commandments of God and of man are in unison; it is, as a rule, our duty to God to obey the human parent, teacher, magistrate, minister.
2. But occasionally, we are compelled to believe that God bids us act in a way directly at variance with the commands of man. The apostles now found themselves in this position. Since then martyrs, confessors, those who have been persecuted for Christ's sake, in every age and land, have found themselves thus placed. And these have included not only the men whose names history has preserved and whose praise poetry has sung, but many thousands who have struggled and endured in quiet homes and narrow spheres, whose heroism no tongue has told, no pen recorded.
3. Then the human authority is nothing to the Divine. We must obey God rather than man; we must give our first allegiance, our most dutiful submission, to the Eternal Father, to the Divine Teacher, to the King of kings, to the Head of the Church himself.
II. A TRUTH WHICH IS APPRECIABLE ONLY BY THE REST - that we are under a holy compulsion to testify the truth we know: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." All can understand that men will speak the truth they know when, by so doing, they will gain anything which satisfies their lower nature - pecuniary reward, or personal prominence, or the gratification of receiving the interested attention of others. But it is not every one who can understand that men feel themselves under a holy compulsion to declare what God has revealed to them in order to relieve a full and burdened heart. This is a case in which "only the good discern the good." But those who are in sympathy with God and with heavenly wisdom will understand that human hearts may be so impressed with the excellency, the beauty, the fruitfulness, the divinity of truth, that they are positively oppressed while they remain silent, until they have "spoken the things they have seen and heard." The word is in the heart as "a burning fire shut up in the bones," etc. (Jeremiah 20:9; Job 32:18, 20; Psalm 39:3; 1 Corinthians 9:16). The fact that not only the apostles of our Lord, but thousands of souls since then, have felt thus constrained concerning Christian truth, suggests:
1. That it is a truth of transcendent worth which it is foolish and wrong to trifle with.
2. That we have not risen to the full height of appreciation of it if we do not feel irresistibly impelled to make it known to others. - C.
Athanasius contra mundum. We must pay no heed to the world's scorn and distrust of enthusiasm.
I. THE RELIGION OF CHRIST AGGRESSIVE BECAUSE IT IS REAL. "The things which we have seen and heard."
1. Not speculative, but simply practical; things of men's moral life, things which concern all, things of infinite importance, having their roots in eternity.
2. Not things of human systems and ecclesiastical dogmas. The apostles did not preach either against the Church of Judaism or about the Church government of Christianity, but about gospel facts which underlie all systems and must make the substance of all creeds.
3. Things of experience - "seen and heard." They spoke as witnesses; and the more we can preach as simply bearing testimony to the gospel, the more power we have. The various false religions of the world powerless to help because they appeal little to fact and experience.
II. THE UNIVERSAL OBLIGATION OF SPEAKING FOR CHRIST.
1. Speaking before men. The notion of secret discipleship utterly false. Special value of outspoken faith, both to the believer himself, in confirming, maturing, guiding, clearing the spiritual convictions themselves, and in supporting practice by the help of a solemn, recorded vow of service. The deeper and the more real the feeling, the more necessity to speak it before others.
2. Speaking to men in Christ's Name. We hearken unto God and he bids us speak. It is a power that grows with exercise. The world requires it more and more. Books can never take the place of preaching. In all ages men have looked for and trusted their spiritual leaders. The things of the gospel were not done in a corner, and they must be brought out into public life. Read the Bible in the midday light of modern thought and business enterprise; it is fitted to every stage of human advancement. "Stand up for Jesus." - R.
there could be no manner of doubt that this work was of God, "for the man," etc. We instantly recognize the force of the reasoning. When a man has suffered for forty years from physical deformity or rigidity and is restored in a moment, there is obviously some supernatural power brought into exercise. Long continuance in such a case immensely aggravates the difficulty and enhances the virtue of the cure. In this, as in so many other respects, the moral world answers to the material.
I. IN THE EARLIER YEARS THE SOUL IS RESPONSIVE TO THE TOUCH OF TRUTH. As God made us, and before we are acted upon and injured by the forces of evil, we are impressionable and flexible of soul. The mind is eager to learn and ready to receive; the conscience is quick to approve or to rebuke; the heart is tender and affectionate, readily responsive to goodness and to love; the soul is appreciative of that which is spiritually fair and beautiful; the will is open to change if cause be shown for reformation and return. This is the time when moral maladies can best be cured, when we may well hope that the heart will be healed of its sicknesses, and that the spirit will "be made whole" by the great Physician.
II. CONTINUANCE. IN SIN INDURATES THE SOUL. When a human soul has continued for forty years in an evil habit or in a state of sin, it has become hardened in its way. Conscious wrongdoing acts harmfully on every faculty of our nature.
1. It blinds "the eyes of the understanding."
2. It hardens the heart.
3. It weakens and blunts the conscience so that its stroke is decreasingly effective.
4. It stiffens and fixes the will in its chosen course. Thus it makes the man himself unapproachable, unimpressionable, incurable. They who are passing on from youth and young manhood into middle life, not having entered the kingdom of God, have urgent need to "consider their ways." They are reaching the moral condition in which their conversion to God is a thing of greatest difficulty and serious unlikelihood. In the Book of Life, if their name should be recorded, will it not be added, as a proof of the wonder-working power of the Spirit of God, "for the man was forty years old," etc.? Remember that
(1) salvation is never impossible: at twice forty years of age it is within the reach of penitence and faith; but
(2) it becomes growingly unlikely as the periods of human life pass by. The Holy Ghost saith, "To-day." - C.
I. AN ACT INCIDENTAL TO LIBERTY. "Being let go" - the hand of restraint being taken off them - "they went to their own company;" they followed the bent of their own inclination, and went to those with whom they were in sympathy. This is the constant accompaniment of human freedom. As soon as the parental hand is relaxed, as soon as the teacher's eye is off them, as soon as the restraints of home and the guardianship of elders are removed, the young take their own course, follow their own bent, choose their own company. We never know what men really are until we take away the bonds by which we hold them in check, and they go "whithersoever they will" - whither their own principles allow, and their own tastes direct them.
II. THE WISDOM OF THOSE WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHERS. It is of little use to hold the reins so tight that, as long as they are held by a firm hand, there can be no wandering. What is to be the event when the reins must be thrown up? What will be the course chosen when they whom we guard are "let go"? If we do nothing mere and better than carefully imprison within walls of correct behavior, we shall be bitterly disappointed with the result. It is our wisdom and our duty to provide for the hour when those for whom we are responsible will be "let go," and when they will assuredly go to their own company - will seek out those persons and those things with which they sympathize. We can only do this
(1) by implanting right principles, and
(2) cultivating pure tastes.
These, and these only, will lead the young, in the days when they act for themselves, to shun that which is wrong and to pursue that which is holy, wise, useful.
III. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF FREEDOM. Young people!
1. You will soon stand at the point where you will decide on your own course.
2. If, then, you are right at heart, you will walk in the path of life; choosing the company of the good, the ways of wisdom.
3. If, then, your heart is not right with God, you will be tempted to follow an evil bent. It will be a most perilous hour with you.
(1) To give way to the lower inclinations is to enter the road of ruin.
(2) If you love life and hate death, go not whither you would, but where conviction tells you you should. Hearken to the heavenly voice which says, "This is the way; walk ye in it." - C.
I. THE RESOURCE OF THE DEVOUT. "They lifted up their voice to God with one accord" (ver. 24). They felt, as their prayer indicated, that:
1. All power was in his mighty hand: "Thou art God, who hast made heaven," etc. Vainly would the heathen rage, and kings and rulers conspire against the "holy Child Jesus," the Son of the living God.
2. A gracious purpose was in his sovereign will. However earthly potentates might imagine they were carrying everything their own way, they were but "doing what his hand and counsel determined before to be done" (ver. 28).
3. He could impart a power which would make them superior to all fear of man. They asked for boldness of speech (ver. 29), and, with this end in view, for signs of his presence (ver. 30). Prayer is the constant, unfailing resort of all holy souls. What time we are afraid we must trust in him; we must flee unto him to hide us.
II. DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT. (Vers. 31-33.) The Lord responded to his people's prayer, and granted them:
(1) a manifest sign of his presence and favor (ver. 31);
(2) the fearlessness of spirit they so much desired (ver. 31);
(3) power to testify of Christ (ver. 33); and
(4) inward, spiritual confidence and joy: "Great grace was upon them all" (ver. 33).
God now vouchsafes to his waiting children the blessings they seek of him: the assurance of his presence, power to act as his witnesses, success in their labors, rest and joy of heart in him and in his service.
III. THE COMMUNITY OF THE FAITHFUL. (Vers. 32, 34-37.) The essential part of this passage is the opening sentence, "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul" (ver. 32). The measure which they adopted, viz. a community of goods, was peculiar, exceptional, transitory. It is not a practical method, suited to such conditions as those in which we find ourselves. It is not enjoined by apostolic word, nor is it sustained by subsequent apostolic practice. It was evidently special, local, temporary. But it is essential that those who belong to the same heavenly kingdom, and especially those who are members of the same Christian Church, should
(1) cultivate a true and deep sympathy, "oneness of heart," and
(2) take some practical measures to supply the wants of the necessitous from the treasury of those who have more than they need. - C.
I. OUR HELP IS IN THE CREATOR. Man's need and weakness lead him now to shun and now to seek almighty power. There are awful moments when the soul's sin seems to have called the lightning and the thunder from the sky, to have awoke the threat of the earthquake, the storm, and the sea. Other exultant moments, when the solemn sounds of the deep heart of nature are like the cannon of a friendly force advancing to a beleaguered city's aid. The most powerful conqueror, like Napoleon amidst the snows of Russia, may be in turn conquered by the physical forces of nature. The moral forces represented in the will of the Almighty and All-Holy cannot be successfully resisted. This is the deep truth in the Davidic psalm.
II. PHYSICAL FEEBLENESS WITH MORAL MIGHT.
1. In the case of David and his kingdom. Study the historical circumstances reflected in the psalm. Look at the tiny kingdom of Judah, placed amidst great foes on every hand. She led a threatened life for ages; it seemed impossible she could survive. Yet the small one became a thousand, the vine grew in spite of every cropping fox or wasting boar, the little lodge in the garden was not overthrown till it had sent forth a ray of light over the lands. Moral life, derived from the immediate inspiration of God, was in her. The enmity of the world served but to elicit and mature that life.
2. In the case of Christ and his kingdom. The like relation is repeated in another form. Corrupt Israel joins with pagan Rome in the attempt to suppress the truth and resist the will of God. David, the anointed king of Jehovah's selection, is the type, in a lower relation, of Jesus, the anointed Prince in the higher and purely spiritual relation. Upon this analogy hope is firmly built. As the great prince of olden time had risen in Jehovah's might superior to all his foes, so might his Antitype be expected to lay prostrate faithless Israel's and proud Rome's might beneath his throne of moral majesty.
III. PRAYER THE INSTRUMENT OF WEAKNESS AND OF STRENGTH. Of weakness, for it implies dependence; and were our wishes convertible into facts, there would be no prayer. Some form of helplessness alone brings men to their knees. Yet it is the expression of strength; for strength in weakness is the very secret and heart of moral energy and of Christian piety.
1. The aim of prayer. It is that the human spirit may be united with the Divine, whether in action or in suffering. Action lay before the suppliants now - action chiefly or wholly by utterance, which is ever the special action of the Christian witness. Boldness in that utterance - the very thing which had impressed the Sanhedrim in Peter and John - was the thing needed. The renewal of strength must come in prayer. God grants at one time only sufficient for that time. He does not allow the accumulation of capital. He lends that we may spend and come to him again. But boldness must rest upon the knowledge of facts. So closely does courage link with knowledge that the Greek philosopher even said they were identical. Without some evidence that God is on our side, we cannot have the heart to go on. Where, then, may we look for such evidence? The apostles sought it in the manifestation of Divine energy to cure. This was the significant symbol of his presence and of the intention of the gospel in those days. They were justified on the ground of experience, clear, repeated, and definite, in expecting this kind of encouragement. We, on the ground of our experience, are entitled to expect something different, but equally in its way real. Divine energy to heal through ways and means not less Divine because natural, we are to seek and make an object of our prayer.
2. The answer to prayer. In this case it came in a manner not to be mistaken - by an immediate impression on the senses and on the inward consciousness of all The house trembled; their spirits vibrated to the inner touch of God; their tongues were loosed, and the sought-for fluency and confidence were given. How can we apply this to modern times? No sober Christian teacher dares to encourage the expectation of such "signs and wonders" now. They belong to a past mode of religious consciousness, a disused mode of revelation. For "God fulfils himself in many ways." How important to know in what direction to look for God - the point on our horizon where he may be expected to appear. Much, the greater part, must be left to individual experience. Let every worshipper seek for the Shechinah in his heart. And in general, let us teach that no special manifestation of God is to be expected out of the lines of clear intelligent experience. Experience is itself the ordinary and most precious revelation of God's will. And the experience of every soul, devoutly read, contains past wonders, and prophesies their recurrence. - J.
I. THE CHURCH SHOULD BE A HOME OF TENDEREST, MOST FAITHFUL SYMPATHIES, AND OF HOLY SOCIAL INTERCOURSE. NOW it is too often the place of suspicion, distrust, unhappy emulations. Or it is the place of coldest indifference. None welcome the coming, speed the parting, guest. Or it is only the place of an almost selfish seeking of the proffered religious instruction, or exhortation, or enjoyment that may, under those conditions, scarcely be realized. The germ of the Church showed far otherwise. The highest type of Church life possible on earth may be confidently calculated on to show something very different. And till such difference become plain in any part of the Christian Church, it faintly indeed reflects the glorious reality above.
II. THE CHURCH SHOULD BE "THE ROYAL EXCHANGE" OF CHRISTIAN NEWS, OF CHRISTIAN ENTERPRISE, AND OF CHRISTIAN BUSINESS. The world may know, and all the better that it should know, the achievements of Christ and his truth. But the Church should know them still better, and often under very different aspects. Nor has the Church anything to conceal of its purposes or its methods; yet may these oftener be hallowed, and be more abounding and richer in grace and the elements of success, when considered and matured in the Church. If only we could imagine the account in detail which Peter and John now gave "to their own company" of their experience, and what their eyes had seen and their ears had heard, and of the irresistible impressions of the characters of others which had been made upon their minds, by the events of the past, say, fifteen hours, since they had been put in ward! Now every ear was attention, gladdened thought smiled on every countenance, and emboldened purpose stirred every heart. While anon the "threatenings" (ver. 29), that had been among the things which the chief priests and elders had said to them" (ver. 23), received also their due consideration. It is quite to be supposed that no one of that "company but found himself stronger for the joy of that hour, and more watchful and forearmed for what of forewarning it had in it."
III. THE CHURCH SHOULD FIND THE PLACE IN FULLEST GRANDEUR OF ADORATION, GRATEFUL PRAISE, APPEAL, AND PRAYER, MET TOGETHER IN ONE SERVICE. Everything argues that the scene now before us was one of high inspiration. A large multitude of sympathetic souls hear the simplest tidings on a certain subject of the two liberated apostles; and though doubtless some one must have led off the chorus, forthwith the whole company "lift up their voice to God with one accord." And as we listen to that most real orchestra, what is it that we hear them singing? They uplift first the outburst of adoration; it is the snatch of a song sung by their ancestors a thousand years before (vers. 24-26), and it simulates the responsive too. For it quotes the confirming word and declaration of God, putting it as if in response to the human ascription made first to him: "Lord, thou art God... and thou didst say, Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?" We listen still, and there follows the recitative - a few bars that tell the recent history of the Messiah, the anointed Jesus. But these strains do not die off without pronouncing in majesty the foreseeing, fore determining, sovereign counsel that belongs to God. Then follow appeal (ver. 29) and prayer (ver. 30), and they both were acceptable and accepted. In this appeal and prayer, with the reverent suggestion they venture upon - "by stretching forth thy hand to heal " - there is something touching and pathetic. It were as though those who prayed bespoke of their sovereign Friend that he would not over- look the "threatenings" wherewith they were threatened, but that he would divinely checkmate these by again "stretching forth the healing hand," and again and again working "signs and wonders by the Name of Jesus," so that, together with faithfulness granted to his servants to speak the word, there might be superadded to them "bold- ness" in speaking it. Nothing less belts the character of the Word of God, scarcely anything more dishonors it, than to speak it fearfully, half apologetically, or with halting accents and uncertain sound. It is worthy to be spoken with that boldness which is all its own, and its own least due. Nothing on earth can equal the grandeur of a service like this. Such a service cannot find its habitat except in the Church. But has it found it there as often as it might?
IV. THE CHURCH SHOULD WORK FOR ONE THING - THE EMPHATIC WITNESS OF THE HOLY GHOST. Christianity is the dispensation of the Spirit. It is very certain that the most perfect outline of Christian truth is but a skeleton, and the most complete and harmonious and scriptural body of Christian doctrine but a corpse, except as the Spirit breathes life and power into them. The skeleton may be a marvel of adaptation and symmetry laid bare to the eye of whoever will behold, and the fashioned and filled-in body may be an exquisite model for grace and proportion; but they are dead till the Spirit gives the life. This is not to be supposed to need any proof now; but if it did, the word of Jesus himself about his own truth, previous to his death and after his resurrection, and the conduct and directions of Jesus previous to his ascension and to the day of Pentecost, amply prove it. But though it needs no proof, it may very largely need enforcement. Probably nothing so stays the advent of the grandest effects of Christianity as forgetfulness on the part of its professors of the force necessary, because divinely appointed, to give it effect. The Spirit is not honored as he should be in the Church. The Church does not "look for" his coming, nor wait for him, with much longing and with trustful prayer. At this very time and for some years past there has been a wonderful activity within the borders of the Church - almost preternatural - but, alas! not at all relatively evidencing the supernatural. "Lo, here!" and "Lo, there!" has long been the cry; so-called "revivals" have been proclaimed, and the stir of them, at all events, has been seen in most various sections of the Church; undeniably an unwonted industry of head and hand and foot has prevailed in the region of human instrumentality. And those who have thus wrought have been far too ready to "blow the trumpet and proclaim" a self-made and only self-found triumph. But where has the real life been evidenced? Where have real abounding fruits been witnessed? This is a thing not less remarkable than it seems, but far more so, and it begs to be approached, not with offhand explanation, but with exceedingly reverent scrutiny. That many men of incorrupt life and unsuspected simplicity of aim have labored with extremest zeal to lay hold upon their fellow-men for Christ, and the fruits of their labor have been a grievous gleaning instead of an undoubted crop! Collateral explanations and mitigating considerations must yield to the one solemn account of it. The Holy Spirit has not been in the midst of that work, has not been the beginning and the end of that activity. But what is this which we have here? It is a refreshing crisis for which truly everything had prepared the way. Yes, but without it - if it had not come - everything that had gone before would have been dried to the aridity of the sandy desert itself. "When they had finished praying, the very place where they were assembled together was shaken." It meant the entrance of the Spirit of all power and might. "And the assembled believers were all filled with the Holy Ghost " - Pentecost repeats itself - " and they spake the word of God with boldness." What thought, what hallowed musing, what prayer of the Church, should seek both for itself and for the world another visit of this same kind! - B.
Acts 8.). In every crisis of strain and peril through which our lives must pass, at every moment of supreme difficulty, Sanhedrim threatenings, Worms Diets, or whatever less thing it be before which our faith and courage quail, there is for us no place of help like the secret footstool of Almighty God, nor any weapon like the cry of faith (Dr. Dykes). Notice that the prayer of the disciples is addressed to God, not to Christ. Also that in the worship and prayer one voice led, finding expression for the common feeling, and the rest of the company probably responded with "Amens" spoken aloud. From the exegetical portion of this Commentary the precise meaning and allusions of the prayer may be learned. We dwell on two things.
I. MAN'S PRAISE AND PRAYER. Compare other recorded songs and prayers. Especially unfold that the praise took the form of a psalm. Compare the so-called "Psalms of David." It was a public rejoicing on account of a Divine deliverance that was of public interest. Compare Miriam's song at the Red Sea. Impress the duty of recognizing God's hand in our lives, and praising him for his "merciful kindnesses." The prayer took the form of a request for precisely the things needed at the moment, viz. power to witness and power to work miracles, in attestation of the truth witnessed. An example of directness in prayer.
II. GOD'S RESPONSE. TO MAN'S PRAISE AND PRAYER. A renewal of the special grace and endowment with which the apostles had been started on their work. Renewals of grace are still God's best answers to our prayers (2 Corinthians 12:9). - R.T.
I. THE SCRIPTURAL REPRESENTATION RECOGNIZED. The Holy Ghost spake it. The view given in Psalm 2. corresponds with that which pervades the Bible. The Babel power over against the kingdom of God. God making all things to work together for his purposes. The history of Jesus Christ a wonderful confirmation of this view. The disciples in their faith and fellowship following their Master and accepting the responsibilities of the position.
II. THE SPIRITUAL SUPREMACY ASSERTED.
1. By prayer. Appeal to God to justify the faith of his people. Martin Luther, "God must save his own Church." As the Lord of heaven and earth, the Revealer of his own truth and will, the God of history, which shows his faithfulness.
2. By renewed self-consecration. "Grant to thy servants boldness." They did not shrink from the conflict, but laid hold of Divine strength.
3. By expectation of manifestation of power. The miracle already done was but the beginning of great things. We must not be satisfied with mere moral order as a testimony to Christianity. We should pray for and expect moral miracles; not a repetition of ancient signs and wonders, but marvels of spiritual life - souls healed, the dead raised to life.
III. THE KING ENCOURAGING THE SERVANTS OF HIS KINGDOM. Before the battle closes the commander speaks the word of appeal and encouragement along the line of his army. When God has appointed us to do a real work, he prepares us for it by the special gifts of his Spirit. External sign: "The place shaken" - to remind them that earthly powers were in God's hand. Spiritual grace vouchsafed: "All filled." These sense of a brotherhood, of an army going forth to fight, deepened by the outpouring of gifts upon all. The word spoken" with boldness." Force being made manifest; perfect, love casting out fear. We commence from this time a new stage of the history. Persecution is doing its work - calling out the graces of the brotherhood, turning weak men in-to heroes. The simple, devout dependence of those primitive believers a great example to us. The Church is lacking in boldness. We must be prepared to grapple with the enemy. We must bring their threatenings to God and pray that he will look upon them. Above all, we must ask to be filled with the Holy Ghost. - R.
I. SOCIAL UNITY. It rested on a common faith, a common ideal, a common sentiment. Union with God is the only basis of human social union. Here, from the depths of the spirit-life, this principle was for a brief space brought to light. What was then made visible fact is constantly the invisible fact and ground of the spiritual kingdom.
II. ITS EXPRESSION. The abolition of property. Property is the most tenacious of institutions, because it is the product and the insurance of the person, the individual, the self of each man. Were the self-life, whose instinct is centrifugal and separates us from the commonalty, suspended, in that moment property must cease. For then the centripetal instinct, or love, must exert its force unfettered. This was what took place under the high tide of the Spirit's life in Jerusalem. Men forgot the peculiar in themselves, knew and felt only the universal. One heart, one soul; the ideal of heroes, patriots, philanthropists, was for a fleeting period realized. The magnet of the Name that reconciles drew all wills to itself. Necessarily there was an extraordinary access of power to individuals, for they drank of the very central source of all power; as we are weak who think self-interestedly and unsympathetically. And joy must accompany this entire emancipation of the spirit from the fetters of self. Nor could there be that sense of indigence which makes us ashamed and cramps our energies. All is for each, as each is for all. Self-sacrifice is the last test of love, its only infrangible proof. When the pain of self-sacrifice ceases, there the triumph of love is complete. And in the pouring of men's once private property at the apostles' feet, was the illustrious evidence of the conquest of the Prince of life over the human heart. As if to clench the argument, the special instance of Joseph's sale of his field is given. There is art in this. One such definite fact suggests a multitude of others to the imagination. Christian ethics simply teach that the inducement to work for wealth is the power for social good. Whenever this is seen to be the theory of wealth acted on in our society, it will be evidence of a new stirring of Divine love in its heart. - J.
I. A COMMON SPIRIT in the believing multitude.
1. The spirit of faith.
2. Of self-sacrifice.
3. Of fellowship.
4. Of service.
They were of one heart and soul to speak and work for the new kingdom.
II. A COMMUNITY OF LIFE AND PROPERTY. The simple and natural expression of the common spirit. Not the modern communism, or anything like it, for that is man's experiment to better himself; but the Christian communism was the believers' expedient to accomplish the will of God.
III. A marvelous sign of the SPIRIT'S PRESENCE AND POWER. "Great grace upon all." Great power in apostles; great testimony given to Christ. An active, self-denying, speaking Church challenging the world. - R.
I. The SPIRITUAL FACT set forth. "One heart and soul" in the multitude.
1. Cannot be produced by mechanical means.
2. Is the root of all true strength and prosperity in society.
3. Is the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We should pray for it. The great spiritual revivals of history have brought about great moral and social changes. Reformation; revival of Wesleys and Whitefield, etc.; missionary spirit of the present century.
II. The MORAL MIRACLE wrought. The universal self-denial. The confidence in a new state of things, though only at present at the threshold. The absorption of individuality in brotherhood. A new fact in Jerusalem; testimony to the power of Christ and his doctrine.
III. The PRACTICAL TEACHING EMBODIED in the facts.
1. Depend upon spiritual forces, not on political expedients.
2. Let the multitude work out its own form of brotherhood, from the one heart and one soul; not trust to mere philosophical theorizing and dreams of enthusiasts.
3. Preach Christianity as the great uplifting and renewing power of the world; not revolutionary, not by wars and strifes, but by sanctification of the multitude of wills.
4. Hold up the gospel prophecy to the poor, not to excite in them envy of the rich, not to delude them with predictions of a speedy deliverance from necessary burdens, but to incite them to the prospect of a larger share in the progressive prosperity of mankind, and to co-operation in the work of uplifting their fellow-men. We should be of one heart and soul, rich and poor alike. - R.
this. From this landmark the world has confessedly traveled on again far. But it is not either "taken away" or so much as "removed." It stands where it did, and it is what it was. And it has become also a beacon. Some beacons are for warning, but this for encouragement and for inspiration of the highest degree. In the unanimity so novel and surprising found in this passage of sacred history, there is no great difficulty in distinguishing the essential and permanent amid what was accidental and likely to be temporary. Eighteen centuries fled of the world's and the Church's history have not failed to throw on the subject all necessary light. They have shown that it was none of the genius of Christianity to reduce the complexity of human life and business to a simplicity that would show no problem at all. Christianity has far too much genius for this; its meaning and its resources alike justly more ambitious, almost by an infinite quantity. And they have shown that amid a multitude and a variety of elements and interests, of relationships and duties, Christian principle, motive, and love have been ever engaged, are still engaging themselves, in eliminating one fellowship, one family. Want shall not be more common than resource, nor demand than supply, nor prayer than the loving-kindness which hears and answers, prompt and bountiful. And these things not of physical miracle, but of the community of "kindred minds." Meanwhile we are permitted to examine the conditions of a fellowship that amounted to a unanimity most astonishing. We are permitted to study it not in theory but in actual fact. Notice -
I. THE REAL NATURE OF THIS UNANIMITY SO NOVEL. It is of a moral sort. It is not of an intellectual sort, nor indeed of any other possibly more open to view, but less deep and far-reaching than this. "They were of one heart and one soul. They felt one, wished, hoped, purposed, and sought, as though, instead of being a multitude," they were "all one."
II. THE SOURCE OF THIS UNANIMITY SO NOVEL. One thing, one thing only, accounts for it. It comes from spiritual causes, and is of spiritual birth. It answers to the work of deepest impressions and influences made upon whatever was deepest found in certain men. It is true that certain some, who had "no depth" in them, and had experienced no deep influences, seemed caught by the contagion of it; but what they were really caught by was the contagion of the appearance of it. Long before the sun rose to its "scorching heat" they were "withered away." No entrancing Utopian doctrine captivated the "multitude." The Holy Spirit wrought deep in their heart. No calculations of the doctrines of human society, of science, of economy, showed the way to this unanimity, but only the uncalculatingness of "souls" moved by that same Holy Spirit. The doctrinaire and the professed unbeliever may have their version to give of this unanimity, but to the believer in Scripture it is as important to note as it is impossible to disbelieve it, that this great phenomenon was the fruit of a supernatural Being working in men's hearts. Of all lame philosophies of human life and human events, that is the lamest that leaves out the theology of the simplest version of Christianity.
III. THE VISIBLE EFFECTS OF THIS UNANIMITY WERE NOVEL. These visible effects were practical in their nature. They were such as both pervaded and penetrated - they dominated the life of those in whom they were shown forth. They consisted of good deeds. They were the good deeds of genuine "charity." They bespoke the extinction (at all events for the time) of selfishness, and they furnished a literal example of the fulfilling of "the second great commandment," viz. the loving of one's neighbor as one's self. They were effects that showed no labored attempt, nor even the consciousness of effort, and in these very features of them looked the more like "the fruits of the Spirit." Nor could they be confounded with mere detached and individual good deeds. They were systematic, and if they could be said to leave the giver poorer at all, they left him also poorer for all his life. He gave and gave all that he had to give in many instances, and therein notably differenced himself from the man who may work himself up or be worked up to the point of giving one large subscription, but who has never yet risen to the occasion of giving - in one that largest and least - himself, first to "the Lord and then to his people." But this it is that was the attested outcome of the unanimity of these disciples, that they gave themselves to one another. And of this no account offers itself but one that carries with it the inevitable conclusion, that they had first given themselves to the Lord. However, it is the thing patent with which we have here to do, and that was not the profession of a Divine, but the proof of a mutual, love. Pointing to this unusual "multitude," we may say - nay, all subsequent times have said - "The works that they did bare witness of them." For the rich and those who had, by a voluntary leveling down, and by the simplest, most natural organization, put poverty, want, and their attendant evils to flight. Artificial distinction on the one hand, and envy on the other, sank swift below the horizon. Wonderful transformation to be wrought only by the "Holy Spirit" While it lasted it showed a dispensation by itself, unique, "elect, precious." While it lasted, it exhibited the people of God as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people," successfully showing forth "the praises of him" who had called them "out of darkness" into what certainly was "marvelous light."
IV. EVERYTHING REMARKABLE IN THIS UNANIMITY WAS SO FAR FORTH INTENSIFIED IN THE MULTITUDE OF THOSE AMONGST WHOM IT WAS PROVED, The greater multitude of any people must carry so much greater variety. Varieties of age and character, of position and of past life, must in this multitude have been strikingly represented. But all these, whatever they were, did "that one and the selfsame Spirit work to a harmony and union unknown before. To think of the vast variety of opinion, and temper, and taste, and feeling, all meekly, obediently, gladly, lowering their pride! They sway themselves into a rest of peace that "the world knoweth not." And worthy of observation indeed is this. It shuts the mouth of the taunt that Christianity is the religion of a clique, of the weak, of the few. It is the open augury of a religion that is to convince, to unite, and to rule all; but its rule, the rule that is most binding of all rule - that of love. - B.
spirit that should animate the members of Christ's Church in all ages. We do not say models of conduct, because the application of such models in changing generations becomes uncertain. Models of the essential principles, and of the spirit, which we should cherish, are both more helpful and of more constant application. The early Church expressed Christian feeling in outward forms, just as childhood gets impulsive and unrestrained expression for its sentiments . rod emotions. Their new faith in Christ suddenly brought them close together, and made them conscious of new and binding sympathies. There was at first a great gush of impulsive brotherhood. Compare the intense feelings animating, and the extraordinary sacrifices made, when the year A.D. drew near, because of the expectation that Jesus would return on the first day of that year. The feeling was so far right, but the mode of its expression did not gain permanence. Compare the impulse for missions so often strongly felt by young Christians. What these men actually did we may not make a model. The spirit which led them to do it, and the spirit in which they did it, are a model for us all. There are three sentiments that may be cherished concerning our earthly possessions.
I. WE MAY REGARD THEM AS OUR OWN. Illustrate by the parable of the rich fool, who says he will build greater barns, "where I may bestow all my fruit and my goods." This is both a false and an unworthy sentiment; for" what have we that we have not received?"
II. WE MAY REGARD THEM AS CHRIST'S. Compare the sentiment of St. Paul, who could say, "To me to live is Christ."
III. WE MAY REGARD THEM AS OURS IN TRUST. Then they become talents for whose use we are responsible. And we learn to feel that they are not to be spent for self, but used for others; and self-denial, charity, and self-sacrifice are recognized as the first of virtues. Put alongside this sentiment of the early disciples concerning their property, the sentiment of the apostles concerning the disciples themselves - " Ye are not your own;" and then we have the twofold feeling which Christians ought ever to cherish; and our anxiety concerns
(1) holding ourselves for the Lord, and
(2) holding our property at the service of others for Christ's sake. We are not our own. Nothing that we have is our own. All is Christ's. We are Christ's. And then St. Paul argues back, that 'rail thing are" really "ours" in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). - R.T.
grace that rested on them. Great grace "is ever the one secret of great spiritual power. Looking at the incidents connected with the text, we observe -
I. THIS WAS NOT THE FIRST BESTOWMENT OF GRACE. Recall the scene of the Pentecost. Show in what sense that may be spoken of as the first coming of the Spirit. Explain why that coming was attended with outward signs, and why the presence of the Spirit is not now manifest in such miraculous gifts. The "grace" in us may be as great - may be greater - though the attendant signs and expressions differ. Show what are the first signs of" grace" working in us. Signs in thought, feeling, conduct, and relations. Illustrate by what is said of Saul of Tarsus: "Behold, he prayeth."
II. THAT FIRST GIFT OF THE SPIRIT WAS WELL RECEIVED AND USED. This may be illustrated in the earnestness and zeal of the apostles, as well as in the active, devoted, and zealous life of those converted under the apostolic teachings.
III. BECAUSE WELL RECEIVED AND USED, MORE GRACE WAS GIVEN. The further grace enabled them to suffer nobly and well; to testify for Christ even before governors and kings, and to pray together and live together and work together, in loving union and mutual forbearance, and charity. And so we come to apprehend afresh God's great and ever-working law, expressed in the familiar words, "To him that hath shall more be given;" "We are not straitened in God;" "Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord," etc. God's grace is indeed "free," sovereignly free, but he has been pleased to set it under conditions; and one of the chief conditions is that we shall have used wisely and well the grace already received. To those who are faithful in using grace the promise applies, "He giveth more grace." Then, if we feel the need of and long for "great grace," let us see that we deal rightly in response to the leadings and movings of the grace we have. Empty the vessel in service for others, and God will be sure to refill it. Trim the lamp, and let its light shine brightly all around, and God will be sure to replenish it with abundance of fresh oil. - R.T.
I. THE CHANGE WROUGHT in Joseph Barnabas.
1. A Levite, but not passing by the fallen and dying humanity. Notice the contrast between the priesthood of the, old covenant and the priesthood of the new; between the man of a corrupt and decaying system and the new man in Christ.
2. A Cypriot from a country noted for its self-indulgent luxury and sensuality, yet by the Spirit of Christ delivered from selfishness.
3. A man of some wealth, becoming poor for Christ's sake and the gospel's, and subjecting himself to the new law of the apostles. The wonders of the Middle Ages anticipated. Yet our aim should not be to fill the Church's treasuries, but to bless the world with the spirit of self-sacrifice. The abuses of the ecclesiastics have always been their not being true sons of exhortation and consolation, but "greedy of filthy lucre."
II. THE ILLUSTRATION OF GOSPEL PRINCIPLES.
1. Counting all things loss for Christ. Losing life to find it. The Church, as well as the individual, is richest and happiest when it reckons its whole self as devoted to the work of helping others.
2. The sons of exhortation and consolation, i.e. the messengers of mercy, must be examples of self-sacrifice, and enforce their precepts with public deeds of generosity, and manifestation of the work of the Spirit in their own lives. The preaching of the Church will never much affect the world so long as it does not lay its wealth at the feet of Christ.
3. The true law of Christ's kingdom is not "Each one for himself and by himself," but all faithful to the vocation of the Church. "At the apostles' feet." He was a rich man, and probably a highly educated man, but he did not set up a Church for himself. He recognized Christ's rule. He was willing to be a servant that he might fulfill his ministry of consolation to the world, and so he was immediately recognized by those who represented the Master - " surnamed by the apostles."
4. The stamp of special, solemn approval is set on faithfulness to conscience in the money matters of the Church. There is an eye watching our hand. The money brought should be not merely what the world expects to be brought, or what will satisfy the demands of the time and maintain our reputation with fellow-Christians, but what the "law of Christ" dictates, which is the law of absolute self-denial, and overflowing brotherly affection. We may not be a Paul, or an Apollos, or a Peter, or a John, lacking qualifications for such eminence, but we may emulate the example of Joseph Barnabas, and be sons of consolation, channels of blessing and comfort to the world. If we would be so, let us lay what we have at the feet of the apostles, avoiding caprice, self-will, disorder, heresy, strife, self-exaltation. There is a true apostolic doctrine and fellowship in the world. Cling to it, and cast all to it. - R.
reality of the history which it recounts, it is which exalts it to that height. It is one of those unwelcome products of human nature which mean, in equal proportions, three things - the painful, the startling, and the too true. A very crisis of glory is dashed by an incident of darkness, sin, and shame. It is dashed thus, however, in the present instance for "about the space of three hours" only, when the majesty and integrity of truth are terribly vindicated. Let us consider -
I. THE SIN HERE RECORDED. Though it may seem desirable to supplement the words of the narrative, the thought and intent of it want nothing. Thus, though it is not so worded in the case of Ananias, it is plain that when he brought what any way portended to be the full price of his vended "possession" and "laid it at the apostles' feet," either interrogated or without interrogation he gave it to be understood that it really was the full price. The ground of Peter's suspicion on the matter is not stated. But a choice of explanations of it can easily be offered. Something in the manner of the man, even possibly some needless asseveration of the entirety of the price, or something disproportionately small in the price brought as the equivalent of the "possession" parted with, or the discernment of the inspired and spiritually sensitive apostle, not set in motion by any external cause, may quite account for it. In this last supposition Peter will remind us, not unworthily, of Peter's loved Master, in the exercise of a certain spontaneous detection, and in preventing any greater mischief by a certain promptness of anticipation. Be this as it may, in the analysis of the sin under consideration it must be that:
1. The first constituent of it is a capital falsehood, and this needs no further comment.
2. Falsehood the deceiving purpose of which suffers no little aggravation from the cruel affront it offers a new-born loving, holy little society, and the august representatives and leaders of it, now known for their inspiration and for the miracles they had wrought.
3. Falsehood in the matter of a religious and voluntary service.
4. Falsehood that was intended to win for those guilty of it a reputation for zeal toward God and enthusiasm of liberal love toward man, when neither the one nor the other was there.
5. Falsehood that meantime was covering, or seeking to cover, no higher style of character than this, viz. to save stealthily something from (what is inwardly regarded as) the wreck for self, and yet share the contributed beneficence of others. The case was presumably this - a man, under the cover of religious motive and resolve, professes to sell all and give all, forsooth that he may secretly store some, and be placed at an advantage for getting more. The rich young ruler was sincerity, honesty, and enthusiasm, all to perfection, in comparison of this exhibition.
6. Falsehood that was deliberate. It was not the result of any sudden gust of temptation. It was deliberate to the extent of being concerted between two. The unhallowed imagination, thought, resolve, of one heart soon grows into the unhallowed covenant of two hearts. Alas, for the suggested picture, for the mournful portraiture of human nature, for the dark interior, too faithfully drawn, of that household! To sum up, then, what has gone before, the direct falsehood of Ananias and Sapphira (to call them for the moment one) was not the whole sin, but, bad as it was in itself, was but the outside covering of sins, too strong nevertheless to be held of it. "Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some they follow after" (1 Timothy 5:24). The delicacy and exquisiteness of all the fellowship of circumstance amid which the sin of Ananias and Sapphira saw the light, measure the extent of the affront it dared to offer to truth, and augur the fearfulness of the doom that should visit that affront. Hence it comes that we do instinctively understand Peter's inspired estimate of it - that it is a "lie unto the Holy Ghost... unto God," and a "tempting of the Spirit of the Lord." And in thus estimating the sin, in "the light of God's light," Peter reminds us of David, who, bowed in deepest anguish for the sins of murder and adultery, nevertheless cries to God, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned!"
II. PETER'S OWN DIAGNOSIS OF THIS SIN THAT NOW PRESENTED ITSELF TO VIEW. There is manifestly a deeper treatment of such a presentation of human nature open to us; but especially was it open to the inspired apostle. Let us follow his guidance more exclusively. It was given to him to conduct us deeper down into the retreats of human hearts, and we do well to use our opportunity to follow him. Peter indisputably finds these three things. He finds:
1. A proffered interference of Satan.
2. An accepted interference of him, on the part of Ananias.
3. The issue - a "lie to the Holy Ghost."
We touch here distinctly the things characteristic of revelation. They are, it must be noted, the things resented not by the scoffer only, but by the rationalist, and by science, simply quoad science. The provinces of revelation and science in human life, however, are neither contradictory nor mutually exclusive, but they are complementary. And the Christian is the rich man because he feels and knows them such. We have then here, from the lips of Peter, the first introduction, since the ascension of Christ and the descent of the Holy Ghost, of the personality of Satan as the antagonist of the Holy Ghost. His work is immediately what reproduces itself through the human heart, as not merely "a lie," but a "lie to the Holy Ghost." So much for the intrinsic work and the presumably most prized object of Satan. But, again, it is not now Satan, but Ananias, who is standing at the bar of Peter - Peter, an inspired apostle, and laden with the significant attestation of miracle. And the crucial question upon which Peter arraigns Ananias, and is going to found very shortly his stern condemnation of him, is this (though somewhat obscured in Authorized Version): "How is it that Satan has won what ought to be the stronghold of your heart, so that you have 'lied to the Holy Ghost'? No physical necessity, no moral necessity, no necessity whatever, was laid on you to sell your possession at all. And yet you have taken in hand to do this, and 'taken into your heart' to do it, with such superadded suggestion of Satan, that you have made your deed the vehicle of a 'lie to the Holy Ghost,' and of sharp death to yourself." The supreme event follows for Ananias close upon the word of Peter. And a certain irresistible conclusion also for us follows close upon the word of Peter - that either we are reading a fable and a lie, or that Ananias was the tool of Satan, and was held responsible for becoming so! This is among the very first lessons, in the matter of the spiritual relationships and facts of human hearts, taught under the emphatic "dispensation of the Spirit." And he can scarcely be envied who risks his own opinion against such a lesson. We cannot consent to suppose (though some have supposed, it) that Peter's meaning simply amounted to this, that Ananias lied to the Holy Ghost because he lied to him, who was inspired of the Holy Ghost. No; Ananias lied to the Holy Ghost in three degrees. He lied to him in being false to any genuine impulse that he had at first experienced from him; in being false still when he knew that he had forsaken his guidance and yet pretended to be moved practically to join the new society by selling and giving; and, lastly - and this consummates and sufficiently expresses all - in electing to cast in his lot with Satan, in his capacity of arch-antagonist of the Holy Ghost. Upon the whole consideration of the sin of Ananias, it must be concluded that, by human analysis of it, they must indeed be "fools" who "make a mock of sin." Yet, under the searching and deep cutting of Divine analysis as expressed in Scripture, is not the same conclusion reached with tenfold impressiveness?
III. THE DIVINE WITNESS AGAINST THIS SIN.
1. It was "a swift witness." The tares are emphatically not allowed to grow with the wheat and abide a later judgment. The reason for delay (Matthew 13:29) did not exist here.
(1) An unerring eye detects the bad seed.
(2) A steady, unerring hand can uproot the ill growth without uprooting also the good growth.
2. It was a witness so swift that no time "for repentance," no interval of grace, is granted - possibly because there was literally no place of repentance (Hebrews 12:17). Was it now that a real instance was found of the "sin against the Holy Ghost," to be "forgiven, neither in this world, neither in the world to come '(Matthew 12:32)?
3. It was a redoubled witness. The second instance following so close on the first and in its exact track made impressiveness itself yet more impressive, as the rapid redoubled peal of thunder strikes a tenfold terror into the heart.
4. The witness was timed with a precision that examples how closely the eye, the ear, the hand itself of the supreme Ruler of mankind may be always upon the track of human individual life. That eye sees all and to the time. That ear hears all and to the time. That hand is close upon all and to the moment of perpetration, and might stay the deed, or at once reward it or visit it with swift retribution. This is not what is generally and to practical purpose believed. The absolute, physical proof of it would manifestly take off all its strain from faith, and reduce to nothing the moral government of the world. It is enough if example be given, and if the veil now and then be drawn aside, or, as in this instance, suddenly rent to the revealing of that which is behind.
IV. THE SPECIALTY OBSERVABLE IN THE TREATMENT OF THIS SERF. The swift and conclusive visitation of this sin, with arraignment, punishment, and judgment all in one, was a method new for anything done as under the Spirit of Christ. During the personal ministry of Christ on earth nothing can be instanced to resemble it, except the withering of the fig tree, and that does not resemble it. Christ refused to call fire from heaven or to permit a sword in the hand of a disciple. And when the unregenerate impetuosity of Peter did use the sword, Christ went so far as to undo what it had done. Forbearance and long-suffering were unfailing watchwords with Jesus. Let us observe that:
1. One thing justifies this summary treatment, namely, that the agent in it is without doubt none other than the Spirit of detection, of conviction, of unerring discernment, of perfect knowledge. Whether this sovereign Spirit, the Holy Spirit, led the way rapidly through the instrumentality of Peter, or finally, without any use of even the lip of Peter himself, executed swift sentence, the entire responsibility rested with that same eternal Spirit.
2. One thing may with but little less hesitation be counted to explain the reason of this unusual "course of the Spirit," namely, the exact crisis at which the tender young society had arrived in certain moral aspects. The prompt and peremptory "course of the Spirit" on this occasion was not for any external defense of the body of the infant Church, but for the inner defense of it, of its very heart, of its self. In this swift visitation, whatever of kindness there was, that the communion of the true should not be poisoned by the presence of the false, and whatever of stern example there was to operate as an immediate counteractive and deterrent, alike the one and the other meant mercy and consideration toward an infant heart. The elements which went to make that heart just what it now was have already been passed under review. We know full well that the Church was not permitted to depend long for its purity upon such witness as this. Nevertheless, the memory of it and of the principle contained in it has ever lived, lives still a powerful witness in itself, both for the Church and for the world.
V. LASTLY, THE IMPRESSION PRODUCED BY THE JUDGMENT OF THIS SIN. "Great fear came on all them that heard these things" (ver. 5); "Great fear came upon all the Church, and upon as many as heard these things" (ver. 11).
1. The impression that was produced was one of a healthful sort. Many times as fear finds false occasion, this was an occasion most just. Human hearts need betimes such rousing. "Since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation of the world" (2 Peter 3:4), is the languid complaint of the life of far more than those from whose lip it is heard. When God is "strict to mark iniquity" now, men begin to fear, and they think, and they believe, for an hour at least, in the reality of moral distinctions. Pity anal shame it is that men do not understand and believe that there is a sense in which God assuredly is and will ever be "strict to mark iniquity," so that they should "fear before him all the day." It is God's mercy which wakes fear betimes by methods such as that under consideration; for that fear is helpful to remind, and to arrest attention, and to suggest onward thinking. And it is not less God's mercy that he does not use such method very often. For it would make harder those who will be hard. And it would deprive the willing and obedient of the opportunity
(1) of testifying what faith they have, and
(2) of testing that faith, and
(3) of getting greater strength to it.
2. The impression was one that wrought on saint and sinner, on the Church and on "all that heard" of what had transpired. The Divine judgment no doubt aimed at this twofold ministry, in one and the same providence.
(1) Though the "fear were of the nature of a shock to the disciples that formed that cheerful and holy society, yet it tended in the directest manner possible to recover them from the greater shock of such a sight as this, falsehood and hypocrisy and unreality triumphing, or even permitted to breathe amongst them. And
(2) because the fear" was of the nature of a shock, it worked caution and the awe of reverence on the part of those who were outside the Church. These were very forcibly reminded that to be true disciples meant something more and deeper than in an hour's enthusiasm joining themselves to a happy company, whose very earnestness had it in it to enlist a natural sympathy. The sympathy that joins any man to the Church of Jesus Christ must be something different from a natural sympathy. It must be an inward, deepest sympathy wrought by the Spirit. - B.
Acts 13:2). For his character, position, and influence in the Church, etc., see the Commentary. His was by no means the only case of self-sacrifice, but it was, for some unexplained reasons, the most striking case, and it was regarded as a typical one. Possibly the subsequent influence gained by Barnabas led to the preservation of this narrative of his noble self-denial. And we may learn from him what a mission opens for those who can make great sacrifices for Christ.
I. RICHES ARE OFTEN A RELIGIOUS HINDRANCE. Illustrate from our Lord's teaching respecting the "camel and the needle's eye." "How hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of God!" "Not many mighty, not many noble, are called." The poor in this world are often the "rich in faith." Barnabas's property might have kept him from Christ, or made him only such a timid and weak disciple as rich Nicodemus and rich Joseph of Arimathaea were.
II. RICHES OFTEN BECOME A TEST OF RELIGIOUS FEELING. Illustrate from the case of the "rich young ruler," who had some feelings and desires, but could not wholly follow them. Love of position and of wealth was stronger even than longing for "eternal life." Compare Demas.
III. RICHES MAY BECOME A MEDIUM OF RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION, AND SO A MEANS OF RELIGIOUS CULTURE. It did in the case of Barnabas. He used his talents and his gifts for Christ's service and his Church's good, and he further found out how he might, for the same purposes, use his money and his lands. He was both blessed in himself and a means of blessing to others in so doing. Still those who have the trust of riches need the impulse of the example of Barnabas, and may even reach towards the completeness of his serf-sacrifice. Explain that there is sometimes an exaggeration in the surrender of all property, and assumption of voluntary poverty, which is in no sense commended by this example. To use our property wisely and well in the service of Christ is a far nobler thing than to shirk our personal responsibility by surrendering it all to others. The lesson to learn from the record concerning Barnabas is that we should hold all we have - riches, talents, position, influence, everything - at the call and service of our living Savior, and be ready even to sacrifice it all, if in that form we are required to testify our "zeal for the Lord." But the imitation of a high example has this peril. It may be merely the imitation of the act, and not an act dictated by the same motives and done in the same spirit. The followers of "them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" are those, and those only, who act in the hallowing and ennobling influences of the same "constraining love." We must yield and give only for Christ's sake. - R.T.