Acts 12:11
The series of miracles wrought by our Lord during his ministry, and the miracles associated with the history and work of his apostles, require to be very carefully compared, Sometimes miracles were wrought by the apostles as agents, and sometimes for them as teachers whose ministry it was important to preserve. And yet, when God would secure the deliverance of his imperiled servants, he did not always employ miraculous agencies. Paul and Sirius were imprisoned at Philippi, but they were rescued by natural means; an earthquake proved effective to the loosening of their bonds, and the jolting open of the prison doors. There must have been some special reasons for the miraculous form in which St. Peter's deliverance was effected. Two things require attention, as introductory to this subject.

1. The nature of New Testament miracles, and their particular mission to the age in which they were wrought.

2. The ideas of angelic ministry which had passed over to the apostles from Judaic associations. The intervention of angels had occurred again and again in the earlier history, and such an event as St. Peter's rescue would not start doubts in a Jewish mind. God's revelations to men, "in sundry ways and in divers manners," were better apprehended by Jews then than by Christians now. From this incident we may be led to consider -

I. THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE MIRACULOUS. Here should be given an historical review of Divine interventions, with some classification of their character and of the circumstances under which the miracles were wrought. It will be found that there are cases in which

(1) natural agencies sufficed, under the ordering of Divine providence, to remove the difficulty;

(2) in which miraculous intervention did not come when we might reasonably have expected;

(3) and in which miraculous agencies were used when we did not expect them. These points may be illustrated to show that the employment of the miraculous is

(a) a matter of Divine sovereignty, and never offered in response to any compulsion of man or of circumstances; and

(b) that it is therefore still a Divine reserve, and we dare not affirm that the age of miracles is past, because the employment of them is to be regarded as entirely dependent on the Divine judgment and will; and as that will acts upon considerations of the higher and spiritual well-being of man, it may quite conceivably be that in some of man's moral states the miraculous may be the most efficient moral force. It is true that miracles may not be wisely employed in a characteristically scientific age such as ours may be called; but the scientific is only a passing feature, and from it there may conceivably come a rebound to a characteristically imaginative, or as some might call it superstitious, age, to which miracle might again make efficient appeal. The incident of St. Peter's release is a peculiar case of employment of the miraculous - peculiar in that

(1) it differs materially from all the other apostolic miracles; and

(2) in that it carries the style of Old Testament miracles over into the New, and is to be classed with the deliverance of the three Hebrew youths from the furnace, and of Daniel from the lions.

II. THE LIMITATIONS OF THE MIRACULOUS. These are even more striking than the uses. In the case of our Lord's miracles the general principle of the limitation is indicated. Miracles he never wrought for the supply of his own needs, only for the exertion of a gracious moral influence on others. These two limitations may be illustrated.

1. A miracle is never wrought unless it can be made the enforcement or illustration of some moral truth.

2. A miracle is never wrought unless those in whose behalf it is wrought are in a duly receptive state of mind and feeling, and so can be benefited by the miracle. It does not affect this principle of limitation that some of those who are related to a miracle may be rather hardened by it than taught and blessed. St. Peter was not miraculously delivered for his own sake, but for the sake of the confidence which the praying Church might gain from such a proof of the Divine defense and care.


1. To the particular occasion.

2. To the tone and sentiment of the age.

3. To the Divine dispensation, with which it has to be in harmony.

4. To the precise underlying purpose for the sake of which it is wrought.

On these principles we may even discern miraculous workings in these our times, though they take forms of adaptation to our thought anti associations, and are not after the precise Old Testament or New Testament patterns. We look for direct Divine agencies in the moral and spiritual rather than in the physical and material world.

IV. THE RESULTS ATTAINED BY THE MIRACULOUS. How far it can be used as evidence or proof needs to be carefully considered. Wiser men only use miracles as auxiliary evidence of the truth of Christianity. And for this use the character of the miracle rather than the power in the miracle are of chief importance. In connection with our text we find one result on which it may be profitable to dwell in conclusion. The Divine rescue of St. Peter brought to the praying and persecuted Church a sense of God's protective presence. So suddenly had persecution burst upon them, so over-whelming did it seem, that they were for the moment paralyzed with fear - just as the servant of Elisha was when the Syrian army surrounded the house - and nothing could so immediately and efficiently recall them to calmness and trust as this wonderful rescue of St. Peter, convincing them, as it did, how tenderly near to them was their living and almighty Lord. Such a moral result will in every age suffice to explain a Divine miraculous revelation or intervention. - R.T.

Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church.
The previous life of this prince had been full of strange vicissitudes. The son of Aristobulus and Bernice, grandson of Herod the Great, brother of the Herodias who appears in the gospel history, named after the statesman who was the chief minister of Augustus, he had been sent, after his father had fallen a victim ( B.C. 6) to his grandfather's suspicions, to Rome, partly perhaps as a hostage, partly to be out of the way of Palestine intrigues. There he had grown up on terms of intimacy with the prince afterwards known as Caligula. On the marriage of Herod Antipas with his sister, he was made the ruler of Tiberias, but soon quarrelled with the tetrarch, and went to Rome, and, falling under the displeasure of Tiberius, as having rashly given utterance to a wish for the succession of Caligula, was imprisoned by him, and remained in confinement till the death of that emperor. When Caligula came to the throne he loaded his friend with honours, gave him the tetrarchies first of Philip, and then that of Lysanias (Luke 3:1), and conferred on him the title of king. Antipas, prompted by Herodias, came to Rome to claim a like honour for himself, but fell under the emperor's displeasure, and was banished to Lugdunum in Gaul, whither his wife accompanied him. His tetrarchy also was conferred on Agrippa. Coins are extant, minted at Caesarea, and bearing inscriptions in which he is styled the Great King, with the epithets sometimes of Philo-Caesar, sometimes of Philo-Claudios. At the time when Caligula's insanity took the form of a resolve to place his statue in the temple at Jerusalem, Agrippa rendered an essential service to his people, by using all his influence to deter the emperor from carrying his purpose into execution, and, backed as he was by Petronius, the Governor of Syria, was at last successful. On the death of Caligula, Claudius, whose claims to the empire he had supported, confirmed him in his kingdom. When he came to Judaea, he presented himself to the people in the character of a devout worshipper, and gained their favour by attaching himself to the companies of Nazarites (as we find St. Paul doing in Acts 21:26) when they came to the temple to offer sacrifices on the completion of their vows. It would seem that he found a strong popular excitement against the believers in Christ, caused probably by the new step which had recently been taken in the admission of the Gentiles, and fomented by the Sadducean priesthood, and it seemed to him politic to gain the favour of both priests and people, by making himself the instrument of their jealousy.

(Dean Plumptre.)

How strangely our prayers are sometimes answered! James and John had prayed that they might sit, the one on the right and the other on the left of the Lord when He came to His kingdom. And now the cup and the baptism came to James in the form of a terrible and disgraceful martyrdom. May I covet the best gift, not the most conspicuous position. May I keep in remembrance that they at the front fall first. But may I not shrink from the front if it be the will of the Lord to assign me that position. "Peter was kept in prison." Kept in prison! All work suspended, and apparently all usefulness at an end. Peter, the most active of them. What does the Lord mean? This question comes up so often in Christian experience. To suffer James to be killed and Peter to be imprisoned would not be our way of propagating the Church. Now, I pray that I may never be scared for the cause of Christ. For my personal comfort let me learn from Peter's case that the Lord may not always keep me out of the hands of the enemy, but He will keep those hands from destroying me. I may see the two soldiers to whom I am chained, blot not the ones that in secret are pouring out prayers for me. Oh, the unknown helpers! The unseen forces of the universe are stronger than the visible agencies.

(C. F. Deems, LL. D.)

One might have expected more than a clause to be spared to tell the death of a chief man, and the first martyr amongst the apostles. I think the lessons of the fact, and of the slight way in which the writer of this book refers to it, may perhaps be most pointedly brought out if we take four contrasts — James and Stephen, James and Peter, James and John, James and James. Now, if we take these four I think we shall learn something.

I. First, then, JAMES AND STEPHEN. Look at the different scale on which the incidents of the deaths of these two are told; the martyrdom of the one is beaten out over chapters, the martyrdom of the other is crammed into a corner of a sentence. And yet, of the two men, the one who is the less noticed filled the larger place officially, and the other was only a simple deacon and preacher of the Word. The fact that Stephen was the first Christian to follow his Lord in martyrdom is not sufficient to account for the extraordinary difference. The Bible cares so little about the people whom it names because its true theme is the works of God, and not of man; and the reason why the "Acts of the Apostles" kills off one of the first three apostles in this fashion is simply that, as the writer tells us, his theme is "all that Jesus" continued "to do and to teach" after He was taken up. Since it is Christ who is the true actor, it matters uncommonly little what becomes of James or of the other ten. What is the reason why so disproportionate a space of the gospel is concerned with the last two days of our Lord's life on earth? What is the reason why years are leaped over in silence and moments are spread out in detail, but that the death of a man is only a death, but the death of the Christ is the life of the world? James sleeps none the less sweetly in his grave, or, rather, wakes none the less triumphantly in heaven because his life and death are both so scantily narrated. If we "self-infold the large results" of faithful service, we need not trouble ourselves about its record on earth. But another lesson which may be learned from this cursory notice of the apostle's martyrdom is — how small a thing death really is! Looked at from beside the Lord of life and death, which is the point of view of the author of this narrative, "great death" dwindles to a very little thing. We need to revise our notions if we would understand how trivial it really is. From a mountain top the country below seems level plain, and what looked like an impassable precipice has dwindled to be indistinguishable. The triviality of death, to those who look upon it from the heights of eternity, is well represented by these brief words which tell of the first breach thereby in the circle of the apostles.

II. There is another contrast, JAMES AND PETER. Now this chapter tells of two things: one, the death of one of that pair of friends; the other, the miracle that was wrought for the deliverance of the other from death. Why should James be slain, and Peter miraculously delivered? A question easily asked; a question not to be answered by us. We may say that the one was more useful for the development of the Church than the other. But we have all seen lives that, to our poor vision, seemed to be all but indispensable, ruthlessly swept away, and lives that seemed to be, and were, perfectly profitless, prolonged to extreme old age. We may say that maturity of character, development of Christian graces, made the man ready for glory. But we have all seen men struck down when anything but ready. Only we may be sure of this, that James was as dear to Christ as Peter was, and that there was no greater love shown in sending the angel that delivered the one from the "expectation of Herod" and the people of the Jews, than was shown in sending the angel that stood behind the headsman and directed the stroke of the fatal sword on the neck of the other. James escaped from Herod when Herod slew him, and could not make him unfaithful to his Master, and his deliverance was not less complete than the deliverance of his friend. But let us remember, too, that if thus, to two equally beloved, there be dealt out these two different fates, it must be because that evil, which, as I said, is not so big as it looks, is not so bitter as it tastes either; and there is no real evil, for the loving heart, in the stroke that breaks its bands and knits it to Jesus Christ. The contrast of James and Peter may teach us the equal love that presides over the life of the living and the death of the dying.

III. Another contrast is that of JAMES AND JOHN. The close union and subsequent separation by this martyrdom of that pair of brothers is striking and pathetic. By death they were separated so far: the one the first of all the apostles to "become a prey to Satan's rage," the other "lingering out his fellows all," and "dying in bloodless age," living to be a hundred years old and more, and looking back through all the long parting to the brother who had joined with him in the wish that even Messiah's kingdom should not part them, and yet had been parted so soon and parted so long. Ah! may we not learn the lesson that we should recognise the mercy and wisdom of the ministry of death the separator, and should tread with patience the lonely road, do calmly the day's work, and tarry till He comes, though those that stood beside us be gone.

IV. Lastly, JAMES AND JAMES. In his hot youth, when he deserved the name of a son of thunder — so energetic, boisterous I suppose, destructive perhaps, he was — he and his brother, and their foolish mother, whose name is kindly not told us, go to Christ and say, "Grant that we may sit, the one on Thy right hand and the other on Thy left, in Thy kingdom." That was what he wished and hoped for, and what he got was years of service, and a taste of persecution, and finally the swish of the headsman's sword. Yes! And so our dreams get disappointed, and their disappointment is often the road to their fulfilment, for Jesus Christ was answering the prayer, "Grant that we may sit on Thy right hand in Thy kingdom," when He called him to Himself, by the brief and bloody passage of martyrdom. So let us leave for ourselves, and for all dear ones, that question of living or dying to Him. Only let us be sure that whether our lives be long like John's, or short like James's, "living or dying we are the Lord's."

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

1. The scene changes. After intimating that the door was open among the Greeks, the historian shows us that it was shut among the Jews. By His apostles as well as in His own Person Christ came to His own, and His own received Him not.

2. The king who appears here was mild in his natural temper, but fond of popularity. The persecution was not of his own motion, but to please the Jews, as was the case with Pilate.

3. Keeping Judas out of view — this is the first breach in the apostolic circle. The Church had learned to walk by faith, and even the fall of an apostle will not crush them now. In the case of James, the Lord shows that He will not always interfere to protect His servants, and in the case of Peter that He will sometimes, lest the spirit should fail before Him. This first apostolic martyrdom marks a law of the kingdom, and illustrates the Master's word, "My kingdom is not of this world." Not an inch of territory will Christ maintain for Himself by the sword.

4. Observing that no Divine power was put forth, either to protect James or to avenge him, and finding that one murder procured him favour, Herod determined to perpetrate another. Peter was imprisoned, but the remainder of the king's wrath it pleased God in this instance to restrain. "Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was made," etc. — a remarkable antithesis. Man proposes, but God disposes; and the prayer of faith reaches the Disposer's hand. James was suddenly seized and taken off, but there was time to pray for Peter. God opened the door of opportunity through Herod's desire to keep all quiet till after the passover; the Church eagerly entered that door.

5. Peter meanwhile was sleeping, and his sleep brought as much glory to God as his wakefulness, although he had sung psalms till the rafters rang again. He slept in Gethsemane through weakness of the flesh: he sleeps here through the strength of his faith. How sweet to lie down every night ready, if the Lord will, to awake in heaven!

(W. Arnot, D. D.)


1. "Now about that time" — we know that troubles never come alone. A time of famine was prophesied (Acts 11:28). Famine might kill slowly; Herod would find a quicker way! How well it would have been when Herod "stretched forth his hand" to have kept it there! Such would be our way. God's thought has a wider compass, and He needs more time for the exemplification of His purpose.

2. "He killed James the brother of John with the sword." This was not a Jewish method of killing people. But what is crime if it cannot be inventive? What if a king cannot take a short cut to the consummation of his purpose? Beheading is quicker than stoning! The wicked cannot wait. They need no further condemnation. Justice can wait. "Though hand join in hand the wicked cannot go unpunished."

3. Having performed this trick of cruelty, Herod proceeded further. That is the natural history of wickedness! It gathers momentum as it goes. You cannot stop with one murder. You acquire the bad skill, and your fingers become nimble in the use of cruel weapons. Murder does not look so ghastly when you have done it once. How many people have you murdered? Murder is heartbreaking; life-blighting; hope-destroying! "He proceeded further." The one glass needs another to keep it company. Crimes do not like solitude; and so one crime leads to another. If you calf do one sin, the whole life is lost. We are not thieves because of a thousand thefts; we are not liars because of a thousand lies; we find our criminality in the opening sin. Therefore, what I say unto one, I say unto all, "Watch"!

4. "Because he saw it pleased the Jews." There are those who like to see you play the fool and the criminal, but what will they do for you in the critical hour? All the while Herod thought he was king; in reality he was a slave. Sometimes the judge has been the prisoner. Sometimes the conqueror has been the loser. Herod lived upon the popular pleasure. Therein he tarnished his crown, and sold his kingdom, and lost his soul!

II. PETER'S DELIVERANCE. In ver. 5 there is a pitched battle. Read it: "Peter therefore was kept in prison:" there is one side of the fight; after the colon — "but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him." Now for the shock of arms! Who wins? Prayer always wins. You can only be of a contrary opinion when you take in too little field. There is no action of any importance that is bounded by a single day. Such prayer as this is irrepressible. The prayers you could keep down if you liked will never be answered. This prayer was answered by a miracle, in which observe —

1. Last extremities (ver. 6). Have we not been in that very same darkness, when we were to be injured, or impoverished, not seven years from date, but the next day? Have we not taken up the pieces of the one loaf and said, "This is all"? So far, then, you have no difficulty about the miracle.

2. Appearances dead against us. Thus — two soldiers, two chains, and the keepers keeping the door before the prison! These were compliments to Peter! The devil cannot avoid paying us compliments all the time he is trying to destroy us. Why all this arrangement about a man like Peter? Why all these temptations addressed to a man like one of us? It is a reluctant but significant tribute to the character whose destruction is contemplated. Have not appearances been dead against us? No letters, no friends, no answer to the last appeal, no more energy, no more hope, the last staff snapped in two. So far the miracle is true.

3. Unexpected deliverers. Have we no experience here? Is it not always the unexpected man who delivers and cheers us? "But a certain Samaritan came where he was," that is the whole history of human deliverance in one graphic sentence. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." "It is always darkest before the dawn." All our life properly read is a chain of unexpectedness. Deliverance shall arise from an unthought of quarter!

4. Spiritual transport (ver. 11). Have we not sometimes taken down our harp from the willows and struck it to some new tone of joy and gladness and hope? Peter did not understand this miracle at first. He thought he saw a vision. "And when Peter was come to himself he said" — that is the point we must wait for. We are not "ourselves" just now. Our eyes are dazed by cross lights, and we cannot see things in their right proportion, distance, and colour. Do not let us imagine that we are now speaking final words or giving final judgments. Innumerable visions float before my wondering eyes. The righteous are trodden down; the bad man has a plentiful table. The little child is torn from its mother's arms. What is it? When we are come to ourselves we shall know and praise the Lord, whose angels have been our ministering servants!

(J. Parker, D. D.)

I. THE VALUE OF SMALL ACCURACIES IN THE EXPRESSIONS OF THE INSPIRED HISTORY. Paley places the first verse among his evidences of Christianity, because Herod is called "the king." For he declares that there was never a period, for more than thirty years previously, nor was there ever subsequently at Jerusalem one who wielded such authority as entitled him to the name of monarch. No one except this Herod, and he only during the last three years of his life, could have been properly called "the king."

II. HOW LITTLE THE NEW TESTAMENT MAKES OF THE MARTYRDOM OF EVEN THE BEST OF MEN. Only two words in the Greek describe James's execution: "killed — sword." The Bible does not dwell upon the deaths of Christians so much as upon their lives. Whitefield used to remark, "You will have no dying testimony from me, you must take my living witness for my blessed Lord."

III. THAT THERE IS A LIMIT SET TO THE WICKEDNESS OF THE WICKEDEST OF OPPOSERS (ver. 3). Herod was a time server and a trimmer. His political motto is found in "It pleased the Jews." He thought he had made a hit when he slew John's brother. But even in that crime he only helped to fulfil a prophecy of Christ (Mark 10:39). So Herod "proceeded further"; but all he was suffered to do was "to take Peter." There he had to pause before a higher power. The all-wise God permits sin to move on for a while, but He may be trusted to interpose when the time for restraining wrath arrives (Psalm 76:10).

IV. THAT PRAYER IS THE WELCOME INSTRUMENT OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN SEPARATED FRIENDS (ver. 5). A friend when I was abroad sent me a letter with a triangle in it. At the top of it he wrote "the mercy seat"; and drew for the base a rough wavy mark, which he meant for the ocean; then he wrote his initials at one angle and mine at the other. He felt that I knew that the shortest path to those we love is around via heaven, where our faithful High Priest is to receive our petitions.

V. THAT TRUE RELIGIOUS TRUST IS ALWAYS TRANQUIL AND UNDISMAYED (ver. 6). Peter must have understood that he was now in the power of a wild bad man. He could not expect to fare any better than did James. But evidently he was not in the least troubled. This old fisherman meant to have as easy a night of it as was possible with the poor accommodations. He took off his outer garments and sandals before he lay down, as was his habit anywhere. And now think of it: while Herod in the palace was uneasy, and the soldiers wide awake, and the outsiders getting ready for "no small stir" (ver. 18), and the disciples holding an agitated prayer meeting, and an angel on the errand of relief, so that it seems to us as if the whole exterior world was disturbed, Peter went quietly into a sweet good sleep as usual. We have no record of his experiences, but we conjecture he said over the old psalm (Psalm 34:7).

VI. AN AFFECTING ILLUSTRATION OF THE UNHURRIED EXERCISE OF GOD'S PATIENT POWER (ver. 8). The angel had nothing to fear there in the prison, and he knew Peter could take all of time and care he needed without danger. It was not necessary that he should dress in the dark; the messenger from heaven lit up the room for him, and calmed him with tranquil words of direction; and the apostle put on his shoes and his loose garment before he started. The chains had already been removed so cautiously that they made no clanking. There was no hurry nor confusion; when God takes care of a man, He takes good care. How calm God is in the heavens where He reigns; and how little He respected the ingenuities of Herod (Psalm 2:4). We have no wonder that Peter afterwards quoted Isaiah's words with a fresh turn of interpretation after such an experience (1 Peter 2:6). The only thing Herod could do the next morning was to kill his own soldiers; Peter was cut of his reach. Why are we so troubled? How calm is the service of such a Saviour as ours (Isaiah 40:22).

VII. IF PEOPLE ARE SURPRISED BY ANSWERS TO PRAYER, IT IS BECAUSE THEY DO NOT "CONSIDER." Peter's conclusion (ver. 11) is in edifying contrast with the petulant rebuke which Rhoda received from the Christians (ver. 15). He had "considered the thing" (ver. 12). That must be the reason why he was not "astonished" as they were (ver. 16). Rhoda was not "mad," only "glad." A clearer mind was never known than Peter had, only he had now and then to "come to himself," and get his bearings. The one grand conclusion is found well phrased in the remark of Christian in "Pilgrim's Progress." After some days of useless suffering, he suddenly exclaimed, "Why, I have all along had in my bosom a key called Promise, which is able to open any door in Doubting Castle!" What is the reason anyone now is afraid of the power of Giant Despair?

(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

We have here a royal persecution in its beginning, progress, and end. We see it in its success, failure, and punishment. We have before us a whole career, in its pride and its humiliation, its triumph and its discomfiture, its short-lived arrogance and its frightful dismay. That is the aspect of the chapter towards them that are without. Its aspect towards the Church within shows what danger, anxiety, and death itself is to the Christian; enough to bring out great graces and to exercise faith and patience, but not enough to make a single true heart doubt where safety, strength, victory lie. Let us look —

I. ON THE DARK SIDE OF THIS PICTURE. There is a king stretching forth his hands to vex certain of the Church.

1. His first act of aggression was directed against an apostle. "He killed James the brother of John with the sword." Such is the short record of the first and only apostolical martyrdom of which we have any record in Scripture. Far more was told of the martyrdom of the deacon Stephen. Such is the character of the Scriptures. One thing is dwelt upon and another briefly told. Simplicity, naturalness, undesignedness, absence of rhetorical trick and stage effect, this we notice throughout, and we think we can see it to be of God. Thus one of the chosen witnesses passed away early from his work to his reward. It was scarcely fifteen years, I suppose, since he had first heard that word which had changed him from a fisherman into a fisher of men. He had been one of the favoured few in various striking occurrences of the Saviour's life and ministry. He had been one of two brothers, who, in days of ignorant zeal, had proposed to call fire from heaven upon a Samaritan village, and who, again, in days of a no less ignorant ambition, had asked to sit on His right hand and on His left hand in their Master's glory. Boanerges, sons of thunder, He had named them, in days when the impetuosity of nature had not yet been checked by the influence of grace. But now this was past; past too the mighty transformation of Pentecost, and the devoted years of the ministry which that day had opened. To him, first of the brothers, is that prophecy fulfilled, "Ye shall drink indeed of My cup," etc. And see how lightly the inspired record passes over that great transition. Not one word of the circumstances. No death bed scene, no dying testimony, save indeed that best of testimonies which the death itself afforded. He had given his life in one sense; now he gave it in another. Nothing is made of it. He did his duty; and to him, as a matter of course, belonged the recompence of the reward.

2. The fate of the next destined victim is widely different. He too seems to be marked out for martyrdom. The appetite for blood is ever whetted by its indulgence. It was a crowded time in Jerusalem: strangers from all parts of the world flocked together to the festival; and the spectacle of an apostle's execution was to be their pastime in the intervals of religious duty. Such is religion when it is once possessed and saturated with bigotry, fanaticism, and party zeal! All seemed to promise well and surely for the persecutor and his people. Peter then was kept in the prison: by night and by day he is the one care of sixteen armed men. Surely nothing can elude such vigilance? So might man well judge. There is one, there is but one, impediment, which brings us to —


1. "But there was fervent prayer going on by the Church unto God concerning him." Is there not great meaning in that little word "but"? The Church below was calling in a help, not of man, to counteract man's design. Little would Herod or his friends account of that; but He who neither slumbers nor sleeps has Israel in His keeping, and let no man presume to say, apart from Him, what one day or one night may bring forth!

2. The last night is come, but not gone. Peter sleeps, while the Church prays: it is their time for action, it is his for repose. "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength"; "Cast all your care upon Him, for He careth for you." What if his martyrdom is to follow close upon that of James, and they who were so lately partners in a fisher's calling, and have since been associated in a noble ministry, are to be speedily reunited in a blessedness not of this world — "lovely and pleasant in their lives, and even in their deaths not divided"?

3. "And, behold an angel of the Lord stood near," etc., etc. God does nothing in vain: He begins where man must end, and ends where man can begin. Deliverance achieved, reflection follows. "He comes to himself," and to the right conclusion.

4. And whither shall he now betake himself? He knows the deep anxiety with which the Church of which he is a pillar must have regarded his imprisonment; so he bends his steps first to one of the homes of the Church. His knock brings to the door a maiden of the household; not at once to open — for they were hard and evil times, and peril might lurk in the admittance of a stranger — but to hearken to the voice which should tell its errand and report upon it to those within. The voice which calls to her is one well known. She had heard it often, we doubt not, leading the devotions of that pious home: she knew it at once for Peter's, and for very joy ran in before she opened. Her tidings were incredible. "They said, It is his angel"; one of those ministering spirits who have in their charge the heirs of salvation, and who, in the character of the angels of Christ's "little ones, do always behold the face of His Father who is in heaven." But no; there is no mistake here, and no apparition; the angel's office is ended, and Peter himself, in flesh and blood, is seen, when they open, to stand before the gate. Silencing with a motion of the hand their eager and wondering exclamations, he tells his own story and bids them, while he departs elsewhere for security, to carry the report of his miraculous deliverance to James, the Lord's brother, and to the brethren at the headquarters of the Church.


1. Just as when the faithful three were thrown into the furnace, "the flame of the fire slew those men" who acted as his executioners; even so the activity of Peter was fatal to the soldiers to whose charge he had been consigned. Disappointed rage must have its victim. If it cannot be an apostle, it must be an apostle's keeper. But the retribution ends not there.

2. Herod himself goes down from Jerusalem to Caesarea. There was at this time a feud between him and the people of Tyre and Sidon. They were ill able to part with his friendship, and came to him therefore imploring reconciliation. This was the crowning point of Herod's triumphs. With an ambition glutted with success, and a vanity inflated by flattery, he appeared gorgeously arrayed. Flattery ran on into impiety, and they all with one accord shouted, "It is the voice of a God and not of a man." This cry was the signal of the Divine punishment. "Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him," etc.Conclusion:

1. The chapter before us is an epitome of all history. In it the world and the Church are arrayed on opposite sides, the hosts of God and of Satan being marshalled for the encounter. On the one side there is kingly power, on the other poverty and insignificance; but the one calculates without the Divine arm on which the other depends. For a time the one succeeds, in the end the other wins. Herod is eaten with worms, but the Word of God grows and multiplies.

2. The practical lesson is to learn the power and practise the grace of that effectual fervent prayer which availeth much.

(Dean Vaughan.)

And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
I. BEFORE MAN — a melancholy death.

1. Bloody and cruel: the noble head of the apostle falls under the sword of the executioner.

2. Premature and sudden: he quits this earthly scene before effecting anything important in his apostolic calling.

3. Without glory and quiet: he departs uncelebrated by the world, unpraised even by the Word of God.

II. BEFORE GOD — a noble end and a beautiful death.

1. He had fulfilled his vocation here below: not how long, but how we live, is the chief matter.

2. He dies in the service of His Lord and preaches as powerfully by his death, as his fellow disciples do by their word.

3. He hastens towards his heavenly destination, whilst he as the first among, the brethren receives the martyr's crown, and is honoured by sitting where he desired at Christ's right hand.

(K. Gerok.)

or, God leads His people —


1. James' short hour and Peter's long day of work.

2. James' sad end and Peter's glorious deliverance.


1. Both promote the kingdom of God — James by his death and Peter by his life.

2. Both carry off the crown of life — James after a short contest, Peter after a long service.

(K. Gerok.)

As the apostle was led forth to the place of execution the person who had accused him was so touched with the courage and constancy which he displayed, that he repented of what he had done, came and fell down at his feet and earnestly begged pardon of what he had said against him. St. James tenderly raised him up, kissed him and said to him, "Peace be to thee, my son, and She pardon of all thy faults." At this, his former accuser publicly professed himself a Christian, and so both were beheaded at the same time.

( Clement of Alexandria.)

1. This is one of those incidents in sacred story which had we lived in the apostolic age would have moved our wonder if it did not shake our faith. The Church is yet in its infancy, and already a chief pillar is moved, leaving the edifice deprived of what was certainly one of its best supports and fairest ornaments — one, in fact, of its twelve precious foundations. What token was there here of Divine love watching over a Divine institution? How shall such a dispensation be reconciled with what we believe of the power, and wisdom, and mercy, and justice, and love, and truth, and faithfulness of God?

2. On the Festival of St. James, we never can do amiss if we refresh our memories by recalling the events of the apostle's life. And this is soon done. Originally a disciple of the stern Baptist, and therefore a man of no common earnestness, James was brought to Christ by the report of his brother John — and therefore was the fourth to become a member of the apostolic band. Subsequently, we are shown his former call to apostleship. On him, with his brother, our Lord bestowed the title "son of thunder"; and (no unapt illustration of the name!) the two proposed to call down fire from heaven on the inhospitable Samaritans. But subsequently there is nothing characteristic recorded of St. James, with the single exception of his ambitious desire for a chief place in the kingdom of Messiah. He was indeed highly distinguished on other occasions — as when he was made a witness of the raising of Jairus' daughter, and yet more of our Lord's transfiguration. Again, he was with our Lord during His agony, and lastly, he was one of the four who heard His prophecy on the Mount of Olives. But of the characteristic events of his life none are recorded — save his call; the token of a fiery spirit alluded to; his ambitious aspiration; and his death.

3. When we say something similar of other members of the apostolic body and rehearse the meagre chronicle of the recorded lives of the other apostles, we all secretly feel that their unrecorded history must have made full amends, by its fulness and variety, for the scantiness of the gospel record. Thomas in India; Matthew in Ethiopia; Andrew in Scythia; Philip, Bartholomew, and the other James — the life must have been most varied, and doubtless was most eventful. But in the case of James we know that this was not the ease. His history brings home to us the familiar phenomenon of a precious life early shortened — a burning spirit suddenly quenched — a large and a brave heart, which was willing to do and to dare all in his Master's service, early laid to rest; the goodly promise of his youth and early manhood all unfulfilled — the work which he longed to do left unaccomplished — a legacy of tears left to friends and kindred; a subject of wonder and perplexity to all.

4. I do not pretend to have anything of importance to say on this difficult problem.(1) The uses of bereavement to the survivors have been often insisted upon. No doubt it is a salutary medicine — just as salutary as it is inexpressibly bitter and repugnant to the natural taste. In this way we speak of the death of children especially; but the wonder is greater when men of grand promise are taken away in their prime, especially at any great crisis of affairs. We are more perplexed at the sight of a John Baptist imprisoned at the end of a year's ministry, a James beheaded before his ministry on a great scale had begun. Add that the first was slain at the instigation of a dancing girl, and the other at the caprice of a cruel tyrant — and the wonder is complete. "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" Will not the wrath of heaven fall on the head of the guilty? Rather — Why was not this prevented, and the life prolonged to the full term of years allotted to man?(2) But do we not, in all our reasonings on this and similar subjects, confine our regards much too exclusively to this world? — think of time and its concerns, too much; the things of eternity and of God, too little? Since, however, this life is inappreciably short in comparison of the life to come — and the concerns of this world inconceivably petty if contrasted with the concerns of the next; we should, in our meditations on the subject now before us, never fail to give a considerable place to the possible share which the concerns of the other life may have in determining the affairs of this. What shall we say, then, of the deaths of the young and the promising — nay, of those whose promise has begun to ripen into performance — so reasonably as this; that it would certainly appear that they were wanted elsewhere? that their appointed work in another world could no longer be kept waiting for them? that they had done quite enough here below to warrant their removal; and that therefore, and only therefore, they were removed?(3) Shall we not, too, further open our hearts to the comfortable thought that the race, however brief, may yet have been fully run? that the spirit may have been perfected, although in an increditably short space of time? that the allotted work may have been accomplished, although the bud of life has scarcely yet expanded into a blossom? and that wondering angels may have already carried away the subject of so many tears to the enjoyment of an imperishable crown?

(Dean Burgon.)

1. Though not by shining gifts, yet by the meek and quiet spirit which is precious in the sight of God.

2. Though not by mighty deeds, yet by patient suffering and holy dying.

3. Though not in the annals of the world's history, yet in the brotherly circles of the children of God.

(K. Gerok.)

Then is tested —






1. Inflexible courage in witnessing.

2. Quiet patience in suffering.

3. Unwearied perseverance in prayer.

(Leonhard and Spiegel.)

S. S. Times.
The Church —

1. May expect to be attacked by its enemies so long as it has any.

2. Often has had to sustain the loss of leaders who seemed to be almost indispensable.

3. Has had to learn that God will not always interfere to save his servants from death — that one's death may be of more service than his life.

4. Often has had to suffer from those who attacked it simply to curry favour with others.

5. Has been taught that many a seeming calamity has turned out to be a blessing signally manifesting the glory of God.

6. Has found that prayer is its best weapon in fighting with persecution.

7. Has found through prayer that God could overcome the enemies whom it was too weak to encounter.

(S. S. Times.)

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