Acts 12:5
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was fervently praying to God for him.
Sermons
A Prayer Meeting in Apostolic TimesStems and Twigs.Acts 12:5
Answered PrayersW. Perkins.Acts 12:5
Aspects of SainthoodActs 12:5
Continuance in PrayerC. H. Spurgeon.Acts 12:5
Divine DeliveranceR. F. Littledale, LL. D.Acts 12:5
Divine InterpositionSermons by the Monday ClubActs 12:5
In and Out of PrisonW. Harris.Acts 12:5
Peaceful Sleep At NightLady Bountiful's Legacy.Acts 12:5
Peril and PrayerH. T. Robjohns, B. A.Acts 12:5
Peter AsleepT. L. Cuyler.Acts 12:5
Peter in PrisonJ. Parker, D. D.Acts 12:5
Peter in Prison, Sleeping Between Two SoldiersK. Gerok.Acts 12:5
Peter in Prison; the Weakness of SatanD. Thomas, D. D.Acts 12:5
Peter Prayed Cut of PrisonA. Maclaren, D. D.Acts 12:5
Peter Prayed Out of PrisonW. M. Taylor, D. D.Acts 12:5
Peter's Deliverance from ChainsK. Gerok.Acts 12:5
Peter's Deliverance from PrisonAlexander MaclarenActs 12:5
Peter's Passion, and the Church's CompassionA. Farindon, B. D.Acts 12:5
Prayer and ProtectionJ. McGregor.Acts 12:5
Release from Prison as an Answer to PrayerW. Rudland, Missionary in China.Acts 12:5
Safety Through PrayerActs 12:5
The Church in PrayerP.C. Barker Acts 12:5
The Deliverance of PeterK. Gerok.Acts 12:5
The Deliverance of PeterC. H. Spurgeon.Acts 12:5
The Deliverance of PeterW. G. Craig, D. D.Acts 12:5
The Liberating Power of PrayerActs 12:5
The Power of United PrayerR. Tuck Acts 12:5
The Security of God's ServantsS. S. TimesActs 12:5
The Story of a Prayer Meeting and What Came of ItMark Guy Pearse.Acts 12:5
A Short-Lived TriumphDean Vaughan.Acts 12:1-19
Early DeathDean Burgon.Acts 12:1-19
Herod and PeterJ. Parker, D. D.Acts 12:1-19
Herod and PeterC. S. Robinson, D. D.Acts 12:1-19
Herod the KingDean Plumptre.Acts 12:1-19
Herod Vexes the ChurchW. Arnot, D. D.Acts 12:1-19
Herodian Persecution of the ChurchR.A. Redford Acts 12:1-19
James' Noble EndK. Gerok.Acts 12:1-19
James, Herod, and PeterC. F. Deems, LL. D.Acts 12:1-19
Lessons for the ChurchS. S. TimesActs 12:1-19
The Bleeding James and the Rescued PeterK. Gerok.Acts 12:1-19
The Martyrdom of JamesA. Maclaren, D. D.Acts 12:1-19
The Martyrdom of St. JamesActs 12:1-19
The Quiet Disciples of the LordK. Gerok.Acts 12:1-19
The Weapons of the Church in the Contest Against its EnemiesLeonhard and Spiegel.Acts 12:1-19
Times of Trial Testing TimesFlorey.Acts 12:1-19
Sin in High PlacesW. Clarkson Acts 12:1-19, 24
The Persecution At JerusalemE. Johnson Acts 12:1-25
The Strength and Weakness of Christian DiscipleshipW. Clarkson Acts 12:1-19, 25
The primitive Church is here found, amid circumstances so full of interest that they even tempt attention, in prayer for an acknowledged leader, a prized teacher and pastor and an undoubted apostle. The Church now is praying to God for one thing, in submission to his will - that Peter may be spared to it and spared to the world. The essentials of effectual prayer in the Church cannot differ intrinsically from those in the individual; but they are strikingly presented to the mind here. Under the one word "prayer," a variety of spiritual exercise, as is well known, is continually included, viz. the outpourings of adoration of the one great Object of prayer, the according of grateful praise and thanks to him, the penitential confession of our sin, and self-humiliation on account of it. But there are very many who will join in all this, and from the heart believe in it, who yield either no assent or a heartless assent to what is after all the chief thing in prayer, its chief wonder and chief privilege, namely, petition. Without studying the theory, let us notice one striking instance of the practice of prayer. True theory is never overthrown by fact, but facts often put to rout theory falsely so called, and expose its weak points. We may observe, then -

I. THE QUALITIES THAT MARKED THE PRAYER OR PETITION OF THE CHURCH.

1. It was most distinct in its object. The safety of Peter is the one desire of the heart of all who joined to pray. Individual prayer and private prayer are very likely to become vague, vague and multifarious, vague and indiscriminating, vague and inevitably indifferent. Perhaps the tendencies of public and united prayer are yet more exposed to this snare, for the obvious reasons

(1) that the thoughts of many hearts must be considered for; and

(2) that intercession, which must be the memory of many in want, will generally form a large portion of that prayer. It is well when heart and mind and devotion follow each of these with intelligent distinctness.

2. Sincerity of faith marked the Church's prayer at this crisis. He who cometh to God in prayer must believe

(1) that he is; but

(2) none the less that he lends a willing, gracious ear to prayer; in order

(3) that he may duly, in his own wise time and wise way, answer it, and do nothing less than answer it. Prayer with the mock humility of a timid fear that it is presumptuous to pray, never brought a blessing. The heart's glory in prayer is, if (with George Herbert) it "gasp out," Et vult et potest, of God as the Object and the Hearer of prayer.

3. Great earnestness in petition was displayed by the Church. The heart's desire and prayer to God on the part of those composing it was for the saving of Peter's life. Herod is known to be full of cruelty. He has just "killed with the sword James the brother of John." And he is known to be goaded on by that worst sting, the sting of "desiring to please" certain fellow-creatures. There is only One with whom we are safe, and always safe, in wishing and aiming to please him. Far enough off from Herod's eye and thought was that One. He was torn, and therefore in turn cruelly and guiltily tore others, by a vain, weak, contemptible desire for a moment to "please the Jews." The Church did not cower but did pray accordingly, prayed with earnestness.

4. Patience marked this great instance of prayer. It was, nevertheless, not the patience of silence, but of speech; it was not the patience of sitting down with folded hands, but of kneeling down with clasped hands; it was the patience of importunity, that very characteristic to which Jesus himself in the days of his flesh gave such prominence and such conspicuous honor (Luke 18:1-8).

II. PRAYER WAS IS NO SENSE AT A DISCOUNT BECAUSE IT WAS AN AGE OF MIRACLE, AND OF ABOUNDING MIRACLE.

1. However conspicuously God does the work, and the Word of Christ is strong, and the Holy Spirit's energy is essential and must be conferral, nothing is diminished of the act of prayer (if we may for a moment so call it) in all this history. Men pray, pray constantly, pray even before miracle, and prayer is an actual deed honored of Heaven. It has been truly said that a correct alias for the Acts of the Apostles would be "The Acts of the Holy Ghost," and this is most true. Another not altogether inapt style of the book might be "The Acts of Prayer." For here they abound and in the most significant situation, from those of the first chapter (Acts 1:14, 24) to that of the last (Acts 28:8).

2. The distinctness and promptness of reply to prayer, which miracles wrought made occasionally very evident, even had the tendency to increase faith in prayer. Men would not lie by and do nothing when they remembered how only yesterday God graciously and marvelously interposed undeniably for even eye of sense. Yet the lesson that the temporary dispensation of miracle should have taught the Church for evermore, when miracle of sense was gone is, alas! often lost now. Need the thing signified be lost and wastefully sacrificed because the mere outside sign is gone? It is all our own fault if we do not oftener see for ourselves the fulfillment of the word of Jesus, "Ye shall see greater things than these." It is undeniable that one spiritual miracle, e.g., that of the conversion of Saul, counted for more, counts still for more, will ever count for more, than all the miracles wrought upon the body, that ever were. Let the Church's prayer today oftener challenge some spiritual miracle, and who will doubt the issue?

III. In conclusion, two things might be well observed, as justly to be gathered from this subject.

1. That the very heart of prayer lies in petition. Petition may be considered as the crucial question which prayer involves, and the crowning privilege of it. The petition of the sinner for mercy, pardon, salvation, being ever to be ranked as the typical petition.

2. That it may be placed among the moral defenses of prayer, that the qualities which make it real, which make it strong, which make it a convincing and mighty power, are just the same with those which make work real, strong, and full of fruit. Distinctness of object, sincerity of faith in your practical object, earnestness in the pursuit of it, and patient, persevering determination are the qualities that win the day. And they do so by the verdict of the world. It is an indication that prayer and work have known one another this long time, and, so far from disclaiming a family relationship, persistently assert it. They are the union of the Divine and the human. - B.







Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him.
(children's sermon): —

1. There is more than one way of getting into prison.(1) If you were a minister, and some prisoner wanted you to speak to him about his soul, you might get in to him.(2) If you wanted to see inside you could get an order from the Home Secretary.(3) If you were so unhappy as to have a friend there you might see him at stated times.(4) You might become a prisoner yourself by breaking the good laws of the country: but there was a time when our laws were bad, and people were imprisoned for doing right. This was the case with John Bunyan and with Peter.

2. There are several ways of getting out of prison.(1) Some break out themselves — but this would be impossible to those who like Peter were not only behind strong walls, but chained to a soldier.(2) Friends break in and take them out — but this involves the risk of their being killed, and many prisoners would prefer to remain rather than this should occur.(3) The Sovereign sends a pardon and lets them out. Now Peter knew that he could not break out, and that his friends were not strong enough to take him out, and that Herod was not good enough to let him out. So his friends went to a greater King. who told one of His angels to take him out.

3. The angel found Peter asleep. When night has come it is the proper time to go to sleep. If you have done no wrong and have finished your work you can go to sleep very well. You feel that your father is in the house, and he will take care of you. Now Peter knew that his head might soon be cut off, yet he could sleep comfortably, because he felt that his Father was in the prison with him, and that if Herod did kill him he would go to heaven. Now notice —

I. WHAT THE ANGEL DID FOR PETER. He came into the cell, and the soldiers could not prevent him any more than they could the angel from rolling away the stone from the Saviour's tomb. He filled the prison with light so that Peter could see; then he had to wake Peter up. When you have gone to sleep very tired you have to be shaken before you can awake. So Peter had to be struck by the angel, and then when he was a little awake he lifted him up as though he were a little child. Then Peter's chains fell off.

II. WHAT PETER DID FOR HIMSELF. He put on his clothes and shoes. When a boy is able to dress himself his father will not do it for him. Neither will. God or His angels do for us what we can do for ourselves. And when a child is old enough to walk his mother will not carry him. So the angel, who might have carried Peter and set him down among his friends, told him to walk.

III. WHAT THE IRON GATE DID FOR THE ANGEL AND PETER (ver. 10). There are two ways to open a gate — by using a key, or by breaking it open as Samson did. But Peter did not unlock the gate, nor did the angel break it open. It opened as if it knew that God wanted to let the angel and Peter out. This is what we call a miracle. Let us see what we can learn from the story.

1. That you may pray people out of trouble. When you pray for anyone you carry him to God upon your mind. If your brother were ill you could carry him in your arms to the doctor, or you might tell the doctor about him. When Jesus was on earth many were carried to Him in the arms of others; but some, like the Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter, were carried upon the mind. This is what Peter's friends did. And so we may carry anyone whom we love to God when they are far away and we want them blessed.

2. How strong a power prayer is. It was stronger in this case than Herod and his prison and his soldiers. And it is stronger now than sin and Satan.

(W. Harris.)

It is not the perseverance but the fervency of this prayer which is really in the mind of the writer. The margin of the Authorised Version, and the text of the Revised, concur in substituting for "without ceasing," earnestly; and that is the true idea of the expression.

I. Now, the first thought that suggests itself to me is based on the first word of our text, that eloquent BUT. It brings into prominence the all-powerful weapon of the unarmed. Peter was kept in prison, and we know all the elaborate precautions that were taken in order to secure him. But he was lying quietly asleep. There were some people awake; the Church was awake, and God was awake. Peter was kept in prison; but what vanity and folly it all was to surround him with soldiers and gates and bars when this was going on. "Prayer was made earnestly of the Church unto God for him." On the one side was the whole embodied power of the world, moved by the malignity of the devil; and on the other side there were a handful of people in Mary's house, with their hearts half broken, wrestling with God in prayer; and these beat the others. So they always do, but not always in the same fashion. No doubt there were plenty of prayers offered for James, but he was killed off in a parenthesis. Let us remember, too, that this is the only weapon which it is legitimate for Christian people to use in their conflicts with an antagonistic world. To stand still unresisting, and with no weapon in my hand but prayer to God, is a strong impregnable position which, if Christ's disciple takes up, in regard of his individual life, and of the Church's difficulties and enemies, no power on earth or hell can really overcome him. The faith that keeps itself within the limits of its Master's way of overcoming evil is more than conqueror in the midst of defeat, and that life is safe, though all the Herods that ever were eaten of worms should intend to slay.

II. Further, notice THE TEMPER OF THE PRAYER THAT PREVAILS. I have already said that the true idea of the word of my text is earnestness, and not of perseverance or persistence. The author of the Book of the Acts, as you know, is the evangelist Luke; and he uses the same words as descriptive of another prayer: "Being in an agony He prayed the more earnestly," he says about the Master in Gethsemane. The disciples, when they prayed for their brother, were fervent in supplication. Ah! if we take that scene beneath the olives as explaining to us the kind of prayer that finds acceptance in God's ears, we shall not wonder that so much of what we call prayer seems to come back unanswered upon our heads. Air will only rise when it is rarefied; and it is only rarefied when it is warmed. And when our breath is icy cold as it comes out of our lips, and we can see it as a smoke as it passes from us, no wonder it never gets beyond the ceiling of the room in which it is poured out in vain. I dare say — for they were but average people after all — they prayed a deal more fervently to get Peter back amongst them because they did not know what they were to do without him than they prayed for the spiritual blessings which were waiting to be given them. But still they prayed earnestly; and if you and I did the same we should get our answers. And then, remember that, of course, this earnestness of petition is of such a kind that it keeps on till it gets what it wants. Although the word does not mean "without ceasing," it implies "without ceasing," because it means "earnestly." A man that does not much care for a thing asks languidly for it and is soon tired. And this is how many people pray: they ask for the thing and then go away, and do not know whether God ever gave it them or not. But others, who really want the blessing, plead till it comes. These good people were praying the night before the execution; no doubt all day long they had been at it, and nothing came of it. The night fell, they continued, nothing came of it. But, according to the story, the answer came so late that Peter had barely time to get to the Christian home that was nearest before daybreak. And so at the very last possible moment to which it was safe to defer Peter's deliverance, and not a tick of the clock sooner, did God send the answer. He does in like fashion with us many a time: and the great lesson is, Wait patiently on Him. Rest in the Lord, nor faint when the answer is long in coming.

III. And now the last point that I would suggest does not lie so much in my text itself, as in its relation to the whole incident. And it is this — THAT FERVENT PRAYER HAS OFTEN A STRANGE ALLOY OF UNBELIEF MIXED WITH IT. You remember the end of the story, so life-like and natural; how Rhoda in her excitement leaves Peter standing at the door in peril, whilst she rushes into the house to tell everybody what had happened. Then, while they are arguing inside, as to whether it is Peter or his angel, see how Peter keeps on hammering at the door. "Peter continued knocking." There we see the whole nature of the man in that graphic phrase. How true to nature is what was going on inside! The people that had been so fervently praying for the answer could not believe it when they got it. The answer stood, waiting outside, to be admitted, and they could do nothing but discuss whether it was Peter's angel or his ghost. And through all our lives there will be more or less, in varying proportions, of this strange alloy of fervour with coldness, and of faith with wavering unbelief, and in our most believing prayers a dash of unpreparedness for the answer when it comes. There is another thing that may be suggested, and that is that we should, if I may so say, expect to get more than we expect, and believe that however large may be our anticipations of what God will do for us if we trust ourselves to Him, the answer when it comes will be astonishing even to our widest faith. "He is able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think."

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

He was imprisoned unjustly, and therefore it was no prison to him, but a sanctuary with God's light irradiating it. Peter saw and heard more here than others do in palaces. There are a thousand prisons in life. He is in prison who is in trouble, in fear, in conscious penitence without having received the complete assurance of pardon; he is in prison who has sold his liberty, who is lying under condemnation, who has lost his first love. But whatever our prison is God knows it, can find us, can make us forget our outward circumstances in inward content, can send His angel to deliver us. Peter had been in prison before, and had been miraculously delivered. Fools never learn wisdom; for the people who had shut him up before had seen that you cannot really imprison a good man. His influence increases by the opposition that is hurled against him; goodness turns hostility into nutrition. Who can put an apostle into such a position as Jeremiah was thought to be occupying? You can put his body there, but his soul is swinging around the horizon, and his heart is among the singing angels. You cannot imprison the soul. But a man may lose the liberty of his spirit, and when he gives up the key of his soul he is already in perdition.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Every chapter in Church history develops the old decree that enmity should exist between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. This is the underlying spring of all the commotions, anarchies, persecutions, and wars of the ages. But the "old serpent" assumes no serpentine nor supernatural form in carrying out his aims, but the form of a man — here the form of a malignant and servile king. "On thy belly shalt thou go." Note what Satan cannot do.

I. RENDER UNAVAILING THE INTERCESSIONS OF THE GOOD (ver. 5). It would have been easier for Herod to have controlled the winds of heaven than to have neutralised the prayers of these poor people. Satan was mighty in Pharaoh, but a few of the oppressed ones prayed and their deliverance came. He was mighty in Nebuchadnezzar, but God's people prayed and were rescued from his demon grasp.

II. DESTROY THE PEACE OF A GOOD MAN (ver. 6). Think of the place — a dark, filthy cell, Think of his position — linked to two wretches from whose nature he must have recoiled with horror. Think of those who watched — sixteen soldiers. Think of the time — the night before execution. Yet Peter sleeps; which suggests —

1. A gracious providence. "He giveth His beloved sleep." Sleep is one of God's choicest gifts. How it drowns our cares, restrings the harp of life, binds up our energies afresh. What more did Peter want than sleep? Had he the most comfortable chamber in Herod's palace could he have had more than sleep?

2. An approving conscience. A condemning conscience would have kept sleep away. Peter knew that he was engaged in the right work.

3. A sense of security. He had no fear about the future. He had committed himself to the care of Heaven. "God is our refuge and strength."

III. HINDER THE VISIT OF ANGELS TO GOOD MEN (ver. 8). The Bible teaches not only the existence of angels, but their ministration Note —

1. The ease with which an angel does his work. The walls, gates, etc., presented no obstruction. The chains fell off without effort, and Peter led through his guards without a struggle. God's greatest agents work quietly.

2. The extent to which an angel does his work. Only what a good man cannot do for himself. Peter could tie on his sandals, etc., but could not snap his chains.

IV. CANNOT PREVENT THE FRUSTRATION OF HIS OWN PURPOSES (ver. 11). That Herod's purpose was frustrated is seen —

1. In the deliverance of Peter. This deliverance was —

(1)Consciously Divine. "I know of a surety."

(2)Very wonderful. The disciples were incredulous.

2. In the progress of truth. "Go show these things unto James," etc. What an impulse this fact must have given to the new cause!

3. In his confusion (vers. 18, 19). Satan's plans may be very subtle in their structure, vast in their sweep, imposing in their aspect, and promising in their progress; but their failure is inevitable. They must break down, and their author and abettors must be everlastingly confounded. Take heart, ye children of the truth; as soon as God's day comes "there will be no small stir" amongst God's enemies

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

A beautiful picture of —

I. CHRISTIAN FAITH, which in prison and in the horrors of death lies sleeping like a child in the bosom of God.

II. DIVINE LOVE, which stands with its eyes open over its sleeping and bound children day and night.

(K. Gerok.)

1. When the devil draws his sword, he flings his scabbard away; and though he strike not, yet he hath it always ready. It was already dyed in the blood of James (ver. 2); and now he strives to latch it in the sides of St. Peter also.

2. These words present unto us the true face of the Church militant: one member suffering, and all the members suffering with it; St. Peter in chains, and the Church on their knees. Though they cannot help him, yet they will pray for him; and they will pray for him, that they may help him.

I. PETER'S PASSION.

1. His imprisonment. A prison one would think were not a fit place for St. Peter. Will God suffer this great light to be confined, and this pillar to be shaken with the storms of persecution? Shall he who was to teach and govern the Church now stand in need of the prayers of the Church? It is a common sight to see Herod on his throne, and St. Peter in prison. But in this world it matters not where he is confined who is already out of the world. St. Peter lost not his peace with his liberty, nor was he a saint less glorious because he was in prison. Imprisonment and persecution are not only good, but blessed (Matthew 5:11), as our Saviour says.

2. The motives which induced Agrippa to keep him in prison. You may perhaps imagine that zeal for religion drew his sword. We read indeed that Herod was "a great lover of the Jews" and their religion, but it was not this. Religion may be the pretence, but the cause is his crown and kingdom. It was to please the people who could make his throne secure. But as Seneca says, "He that strives to please the people, is not well pleased himself with virtue: for that art which gains the people, will make him like unto them." If Herod will please the Jews, he must vex the Christians, and be as cruel as a Jew.

II. THE CHURCH'S COMPASSION.

1. And you may know them to be Christians by this (Matthew 5:48). And therefore tells us that amongst the heathen, professors of Christianity were called Chrestiani, from a word signifying "sweetness and benignity of disposition." Is St. Peter in prison? they are not free. Is he in fetters? their compassion binds them in the same chains: and though he alone be apprehended, yet the whole Church doth suffer persecution. For it is in the Church as in Pythagoras's family, which he shaped and framed out unto his lute: there is —(1) "An integrity of parts," as it were a set number of strings.(2) An apt composition and joining of them together. The parts are coupled and knit together by every joint (Ephesians 4:16); even by the bond of charity, which is that virtue which couples all together. And then —(3) Every string being touched in its right place and order begets a harmony.

2. But compassion will not rest in the heart, but will publish itself. If you see it not active in the hand, you shall hear it vocal in the tongue (Psalm 119:131). It will pour forth itself in prayer. The prayers of the Church are the best weapons. This prayer was —(1) The prayer of the whole Church.(2) It was "instant and earnest." For "Fervent prayer availeth much." Otherwise, if it be faint and heartless, it is but breathed out into the air, there to vanish; it is lost in the very making, and, like a glass, in the very blowing falls to nothing; yea (which is worse), it is turned into sin. We may think perhaps that it is a great boldness thus to urge the Majesty of heaven; but we much mistake the God we pray to. He loves to be entreated; He commands us to be urgent. We must knock, and knock again. Though He hear not, we must call till He do hear; and though He open not, we must knock till He do open (Matthew 11:12). Thy hunger will make thy meat the sweeter; and thy frequent prayer will not only obtain, but enlarge thy soul and make it more capable of that good which thou dost long for.

(A. Farindon, B. D.)

Peter was in his cell, and if we could borrow the jailer's lantern and visit that dungeon, we should find a "quaternion of soldiers" watching the manacled apostle. Two of them are in the cell and two are before the door. If the prisoner escapes, the guards must pay the forfeit with their lives. This is stern Roman law. The keepers, therefore, are wide awake. Perhaps some of the leaders in this wicked persecution are awake and busy in preparation for the auto-da-fe on the morrow. Around at the house of Mary, the mother of John surnamed Mark, are a company of God's people who cannot close their eyes on that eventful night. They are holding a prayer meeting and entreating God to interpose and spare their brother "Great Heart" from his cruel doom. It was the right sort of prayer, for the Greek word describes them as straining in supplication; for they realise that this is their last resort. But, in the meantime, where is Peter? Lo, he is fast asleep! The children of heaven are awake to pray for him; the children of hell are awake to destroy him. But the heart for which other hearts are throbbing dismisses its own anxieties, and falls asleep as quietly as a tired child on its mother's breast. There were many things to keep him awake during that doleful night; there was a far away wife, and perhaps a group of children up in that home on the shore of Galilee, and he might have worried his parental heart about them. John Bunyan, when in prison for Christ's cause, tells us that this parting from my wife and children hath often been to me in this prison as the pulling of my flesh from my bones. Especially from my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides. But I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the very quick to leave you. So did the heroic apostle venture all with God. Family, home, labours for Christ, the welfare of the Churches, and his own life, were all handed over into God's keeping, and he, like a trustful child, sinks to rest in his Father's arms. So God "giveth His beloved sleep." Here is a lesson for us all. How did the apostle attain that placid serenity of spirit? As far as we can understand, he attained it by keeping his conscience void of offence, and by anchoring his soul fast to God. An uneasy conscience would never have allowed Peter to cover himself under the sweet refreshment of slumber. Troubled child of God, go look at that most suggestive scene in that Jewish gaol. Paul knew that his martyrdom was just at hand, but he had made Jesus Christ his trustee, and he felt no more uneasiness than he did about the rising of tomorrow's sun. Both those men were just what you profess to be, no more and no less; they were Christ's men. They had no more promise than you have, and no other arm to rely on than you have. In this world, so full of difficulties and diseases and disasters, there are a great many anxieties that make people lie awake. "Tomorrow morning I will go and draw that money out of that bank," says the uneasy merchant, who has heard some suspicions of the bank's solvency. Distrust of our fellow creature's honesty, or truthfulness, or fidelity is sad enough, but a Christian's distrust of his Saviour and his Almighty Friend is a sin that brings its own punishment. Half of the misery of life comes from this very sin. There was a world of truth in the remark of the simple-hearted nurse to the mother who was worrying over her sick child: "Ma'am, don't worry; you just trust God; He's tedious, but He's sure."

(T. L. Cuyler.)

Dr. Alexander was often heard to say in substance as follows: "Clergymen, authors, teachers, and other persons of reflective habits lose much health by losing sleep; and this because they carry their trains of thought to bed with them. In my earlier years I greatly injured myself by studying my sermons in bed. The best thing one can do is, to take care of the last half hour before retiring. Devotion being ended, something should be done to quiet the strings of the harp, which otherwise would go on to vibrate. Let me commend to you this maxim, which I somewhere learnt from Dr. Watts, who says he had it in his boyhood from the lips of Dr. John Owen: Break the chain of thoughts at bedtime by something at once serious and agreeable. By all means break the continuity, or sleep will be vexed, if not even driven away. If you wish to know my method of finding sleep, it is to turn over the pages of my English Bible without plan, and without allowing my mind to fasten on any, leaving any place the moment it ceases to interest me. Some tranquilising word often becomes a Divine message of peace."

(Lady Bountiful's Legacy.)

I. DANGER. Peter might say, "There is peril for me."

1. Intimated in the sayings of our Lord (John 16:2.; 21:18, 19). Has the dark day at last come?

2. In the race now on the throne. The race of Edom. In the Old Testament always hostile to the Church. Well did the Herods sustain the traditions of their race. Herod the Great sought to kill Christ; his son slew the Baptist; and his son had just put James to the sword. In this connection note a striking providence. The family was at this time numerous; in a century scarcely a descendant remained; and like many a petty Asiatic dynasty, might have passed into oblivion. But God set them on a hill, brought them into contact with the Divine kingdom and the King. So brought under this central light, all their dark deeds become illuminated for the warning of all time. They knew not the part they played. Our relation to the kingdom of God should be our chief concern. We may then leave fame and all other results to Him.

3. In the man's motives. Everything depended on his pleasing the Jews. He had imperilled the favour of Caligula by resisting the contemplated outrage of erecting the emperor's image in the temple. Claudius was now emperor, and to stand well with him it was necessary to secure the favour of the people. The opportunity now was to strike a fatal blow at Christianity.

4. In the deeds of Herod already done. The persecution of the Church, the murder of James, one of the inmost three. Distinguished service no exemption from suffering.

5. In the respite given. For some unknown reason it was intended to make Peter's trial solemn and public. Strict regard, therefore, was paid to the traditional law that no feast day could be a day of judicial trial. Sentence was therefore deferred till after the Passover. In the motive and deliberateness of the respite read certain doom.

6. In the character of the imprisonment. No chance of escape. Peter had been delivered before; now extra precaution.

7. The last night had come.Lessons:

1. In direst extremity the Lord's people may be at peace. Note —(1) Peter's conscience is at rest. A step between him and death; but asleep.(2) He expects no deliverance. No watching! Delivered, he will believe his deliverance to be a dream (Psalm 126:1).

2. Man's extremity is often God's opportunity. For the highest illustration, see Romans 5:6.

II. HOPE. Observe the "but." The might of prayer is set against the power of Herod.

1. Time was given for prayer. Contrast with the case of James.

2. The prayer was special. They wanted one thing. No vague generalities.

3. Earnest — stretched out, strained — prayer at white heat. Same word is used of Christ's prayer in the garden, and in James 5:16.

4. Ceaseless. One prayer would not suffice. As the imprisonment went on prayer went on. For the style of the prayer, read Acts 4:24-28.

5. Rose with the terror of the exigency. In the dead of the night, as the last hope was dying away, "many were gathered."

6. Courageous. Nothing could have been more obnoxious to the government than this act, if discovered.

7. On a large scale. Perhaps as many were gathered as the house could hold; some in one room, some in another.

8. Grounded on the words of the Lord Jesus. One disciple would remind of one promise, another of another, e.g., "Ask, and it shall be given," "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name," "If two of you shall agree." We know some who were present. None so notable as Saul (cf. Acts 11:30, with Acts 12:25). The late persecutor now praying for the persecuted! Knocking! Perhaps this emissaries of Herod! Away Rhoda! See!

III. DELIVERANCE. Supernatural, yet how simply told.

IV. SURPRISE. Perhaps Peter knew of this prayer meeting, and so wended his way thither. Note here —

1. The genuineness of the history. An impostor would have made the disciples welcome the answer to their prayer. The history makes them astounded. Which is truest to the deepest things of life?

2. Truth oft mingles with superstition in the best minds. "His angel." It is true that for everyone there is an angel guardian (Matthew 18:10). It is not true that he can assume the form and voice of the person guarded.

3. The grace of expectation does not always accompany the spirit of prayer. It does sometimes (1 Kings 18:42-44).

4. Deliverance came at the very last moment (ver. 18).

(H. T. Robjohns, B. A.)

I. THEY CONFINED THEIR EFFORTS TO PRAYER.

II. THEY CONTINUED IN THIS EFFORT. They must have had strong faith.

III. THEY REAPED THE BENEFIT. The answer —

1. Filled them with amazement.

2. Was superabundant.

3. Was speedy.

(Stems and Twigs.)

I. THE CHURCH SUFFERING. The name of Herod is to the Christian Church almost all that Ahab is to the Jewish, and Peter comes before us in these earlier chapters of the Acts as another Elijah — the prophet of fire. Herod stretches out his hand to vex certain of the Church, which must have been driven to its wits' end. Stephen had already been stoned, and almost all the leading men had been scattered. And now the Apostle James is slain. The trembling Church clings about Peter. And now Peter is carried off to prison; and Herod is going to put him to death as soon as the Passover is over. How the hearts of the Christians must have sunk down within them, sick with helplessness! Oh these dreadful times, when it seems so hopeless, so useless to do anything more; the conflict is so unequal!

II. THE CHURCH PRAYING. Then comes a blessed "but." "But prayer was made without ceasing." Though every other door be shut, this one is ever open. We have seen in our day what has been called an attempt to go back to primitive custom in the Church. We can do nothing better, if only we go back far enough. I find no controversy about vestments, no going to law about attitudes, no mystery of the mass, but I find prayer constant, everywhere. The primitive Church was born in a prayer meeting, and in the prayer meeting she renewed her strength. The prayer meeting is the thermometer of the Church — it tests what degree of warmth there is. The prayer meeting is the barometer of the Church, and points us to showers of blessings or to seasons of drought. The Church's warming apparatus is in the prayer meeting room. The light that is in the Church comes in that way. A praying Church is a mighty, prosperous, resistless Church. He helps the Church most who sets himself to make the prayer meeting most largely a success. Let us turn to this company. "I don't see any hope whatever," says one; "if we had only somebody of influence to plead with Herod, but we all are so poor. And then there are all these rulers and Pharisees urging him on." Then says some simple soul timidly, "I think we had better pray about it." But nobody noticed it. Then another sighs: "Herod has declared his purpose, and the Jews will take care to keep him up to it." "No hope," says another bitterly; "Peter is inside that iron gate and those stone walls, chained to soldiers and watched by sentries! Poor Peter! there is not a chance for him." "I think we had better pray," says the simple soul again, more urgently. "Really, brother, do be practical! Whatever can prayer do in a case like this?" ask they all impatiently. "What can it not do?" says the simple soul. "Ah, but you see God works according to law," says another very solemnly. That silences them all. The simple soul doesn't know what law means; most likely none of them do. They only think of it as something very dreadful indeed that shut Heaven's door and left Peter hopelessly in prison. And so Peter might have perished and the Church have died out — all because God works by laws! But now there is a familiar knock, that told of an earnest and resolute man. "Ah, here is Brother Faith," says the simple soul, looking up brightly. "Well," says Faith, "what are you going to do?" "Have you got anything to propose?" at last one asks doubtfully. "Yes," Faith answers, "I happen to know One who has great influence with Herod, and could get him to change his mind about this matter. And besides that, He has the key of that iron door, and He can open it. And as for the soldiers, they are bound to do His bidding. I think we had better speak to Him." "Who can do that but Caesar?" they ask in a tone of disappointment. "And however are we to get at Caesar? Besides, there is no time to communicate with him." "No," says Faith, "I mean One here in Jerusalem, our Heavenly Father." "But God works according to law." "True," says Faith, "and isn't this a mighty, deep, abiding law, that 'like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him'? And is not this a law, that 'if we know how to give good gifts unto our children, our Father shall much more know how to give good gifts to them that ask Him'? I believe in law," says Faith, "but I believe at the back of all law, its source and strength, is the heart of our Father God. He can help us, and He will. Let us pray." And without more ado Faith knelt down, and one by one all followed and they began to pray. Oh Faith! verily thou hast logic and philosophy and common sense and the promises and everything on thy side — for thou hast God. As they pray on they get to the very heart of God. Was not this poor trembling Church the very Bride of God's dear Son, for whom He had lain down His life? What then? If God had given His Son for their sakes, could He withhold His help? Oh Herod! you cannot succeed against this. This little company has got hold of Omnipotence.

III. LEAVING THE COMPANY LET US SEE HOW IT FARES WITH PETER. Poor Peter! the sentence has gone out that tomorrow he must die, amidst every condition that should afford his enemies a gloating triumph. Little wonder if we find him cast down, beset with grief and fear. But look, here he lies, asleep. Well, what else should he be doing? Of old he slept because the flesh was weak; now he sleeps because his faith is strong. Ah, it is the very climax of faith when it has learnt to sleep. Many a man can fight the good fight of faith, who cannot sleep the good deep of faith. Now suddenly the dungeon is illuminated as with the glory of the Lord. Then Peter saw the angel, he felt the fetters loosened, and forth he went. Then the angel was gone, and Peter stood under the starry heavens — free. At first his thoughts went up to God to thank Him for His great deliverance. Then his thoughts went away to the little company that had met in prayer for him. He found the door shut! The prison gate fell back before him; but here were they, praying that Peter might be fetched out of prison, and they had forgotten to leave their own front door on the latch for him. The only place that Peter found impassable was the house of his friends! Have we not heard of the little maiden who when the church met to pray for rain took her big umbrella with her; and when the congregation came out to find their prayers answered, they almost forgot to be thankful in their concern about their dresses and bonnets, whilst she went safely sheltered on her way? When you begin to pray, let faith set the door of expectation open. So is it that many go on praying for forgiveness, and they forget to go to the door to see if the Saviour is there. Many are praying for the peace and joy of the indwelling Christ, and lo! He Himself is standing without knocking and waiting if they would but open unto Him and let Him come in. Poor Peter! it seemed a cold reception for him, standing there and knocking thus. Eventually Rhoda, hearing someone, creeps timidly to listen. They were times of peril, and all kinds of dreadful things might happen; and fearfully she asked who it was. It was Peter. And in very joy, without staying to open the door, she ran in and carried the good tidings — "Peter is come." "Nonsense," said one, "you are mad." Ah, they were a little like us of today, it seems. "But I am sure it is he: I heard his voice," persisted the damsel. Then said one and another rather frightened — "It is his ghost." It is wonderful what people will believe in sooner than believe in answers to prayer. Then the company crept timidly to the door. Yes, there was Peter himself, and he told them how the Lord had sent an angel and delivered him. Then they saw why this mystery of Peter's imprisonment had been permitted — that they might prove the mighty power of prayer. And Peter went forth beyond the reach of Herod. But a little time after, Herod was smitten by the angel of the Lord. Do let us believe in God, and let there be no limit to our faith, since there is no limit to the power and goodness of our God. We have access to the same God; let us make much use of it. If Herod be dead, his successors are still very much alive. There are many rulers of public opinion who do stretch out their hands to vex the Church. Others are there whose lust hates that which condemns their indulgence. Our power to triumph over our foes is in our power to pray. What hosts are there who lie away from the reach of the gospel! How can we get at them? Amongst us there are old besetting sins, that are riveted upon wrist and ankle, binding men and women in a miserable bondage, making them useless to the Church — avarice, ill-temper, worldliness, lukewarmness, prejudice, pride. Their gold is under lock and key, and it wants a strong angel of the Lord to loosen it. They are shut up in an inner dungeon of indifference or laziness, bound by the opinion of those about them, as Peter was by the chains of the soldiers. What can we etc.? Let but prayer be made without ceasing of the Church unto God; and rulers shall be powerless for mischief, and prison doors shall be opened, and again it shall be recorded, "The word of God grew and multiplied."

(Mark Guy Pearse.)

An aged woman came to one of our chapels bowed down with sorrow. Her husband was constable of the village and consequently responsible for the conduct of the people. A murder had been committed in the village, and news of it had reached the ears of the magistrate. The murderer had escaped, the magistrate was very angry, and said he would punish the constable instead of the murderer, as is often done in some parts of China; but he was an old man, so the magistrate took his son instead, and everybody said that unless the murderer could be found he would lose his head. So she had come with her heart almost breaking to know if Ah-kying, the native helper, could assist her. He told her that to go and plead with the magistrate for her son would be useless; but he could pray to God for her; that God would hear and answer prayer, and help her if they prayed to Him. The mother said she would gladly pray to God if she knew how. So they knelt down together. Ah-kying told the Lord all her trouble, asked God to deliver her son, and also that both mother and son might be saved from eternal death. She returned to her home, told her husband and neighbours how this Christian had prayed to God, and how confident he was of his prayer being speedily answered. Day after day passed, and still no news of the poor prisoner; but one afternoon, just as hope was beginning to die away, she saw coming towards the house her son, alive, set free from prison. He could not understand it himself, for he had not the least expectation of being released. That morning the magistrate had sent for him, had him beaten, then set him at liberty. Great was the joy at his return. The mother told him about Ah-kying's prayer, and for weeks they walked about eight miles to the chapel to worship the God who had answered prayer, and saved the son from death.

(W. Rudland, Missionary in China.)

During my recent visit to Italy, when in the hotel, I desired the attention of the waiter, and observing the button to be pressed, I applied my thumb as instructed, but no waiter appeared; I repeated the experiment several times, with no better success. Presently another visitor entered, and, hearing my desire, asked if I had rung the bell. I told him I had, without success. "Ah," said he, "you do not understand; I have been here before," and placing his thumb upon the button, he kept it there till the waiter appeared. That is how we must pray: keep up continuous application until the answer arrives,

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

In the year 1793, when Ireland was in a state of rebellion against England, some discontented spirits in county Wexford thought that now was a favourable opportunity to vent their spleen upon the small settlement of Moravians dwelling in that district. They had long threatened to make an end of them, and when would they get a better chance? The Moravians expected some such attack, and resolved to trust not to their own strength or weapons, but in God. They gathered in their chapel, and with earnest prayer besought Him to be their shield in the time of danger. The attacking party drew near; they had expected to meet with opposition, and were prepared for butchery and the wildest excesses, but instead of that they beheld those whom they had come to slay on their knees before God. They heard the earnest prayers for protection, and stranger still, for forgiveness and pardon for their intending murderers. When their song of praise rang out in the still air there was not one in all that ruffianly band who would have raised a hand against these sweet singers; they felt powerless to harm them. They stayed all that day in the settlement, then with one accord departed, without having injured a single individual or having stolen a single article. So the Lord looked after His own, and did help and protect those who had put their trust in Him.

(J. McGregor.)

In 1872 a missionary in the city of Cadareita, Mexico, made it a special subject of prayer that the Lord would open the way for the return of himself, his wife and child to the States for a little season, the circumstances seeming to indicate this as a duty. The needed means were provided, but the country was in a state of revolution, and his friends tried to dissuade him from going, as General Cortinas would probably cross their path, who was a murderous man and regarded as having a special hatred for Americans. He determined to go forward, however, trusting to Divine protection, and they started for Matemoras, some three hundred miles distant, two hired men and their wives accompanying them, the brethren "promising to pray daily for their safety." "The third morning, after commending ourselves as usual into the care of our covenant keeping God," he relates, "we started on our journey, and soon espied the troops of General Cortinas two miles distant, marching toward us. We again all looked to God for protection, and then went on until we met the advanced guard, who commanded us to halt and wait until the general came up. Riding up to our company with the salutation, he asked whence we came and whither we were going; he then asked the news from Nueva Leon. After replying to his question, the missionary inquired if the road was safe between his party and Matamoras. He replied, 'Perfectly; you can go on without any fear, and as safely as you would in your own country'; then bidding us good morning, he rode on, not even inquiring about or examining any of our baggage." Upon reaching Brownville, Texas, friends pronounced the conduct of General Cortinas as truly a miracle, for they "could not have believed him capable of such kindness to Americans so in his power."

(text and Philemon 1:22): — The two passages cover the entire subject. Here are prayers of the same kind as when a mother asks God to restore her sick child, or a Church asks a beloved officer to be spared.

I. THE SIMILARITY IN THE TWO CASES. The circumstances are almost identical. In both cases the Church pleads for the life of an apostle from the hands of a blood-thirsty tyrant, and in both cases the prayer is answered. Learn —

1. The region into which prayer may enter. Men say this is only the personal, inward, and spiritual. To pass from ourselves to affairs of human government and laws or to nature is vain. The examples here are against these statements and show that prayer has a voice in the action of our fellows, in the arrangements of life, and in the laws of nature.

2. Prayer has direct results therein. Good-humoured sceptics say, "Pray for others as much as you like that they may be delivered from nature's laws, and from human wrong — it may do you good in the way of deepening your sympathies, but outward results are impossible." But we see here that through the prayers of the Church Peter and Paul are restored to liberty.

3. Prayer does not always receive the answer desired. Peter and Paul were in prison again, and without doubt the Church prayed for their release. The apostles were released indeed, but by death, not to earthly toil but to heavenly rest. It is a misrepresentation that the Church teaches that the good asked for is always given, Christians pray not with a desire to impose their will upon God and His universe. When the answer is not given according to their desire, they are content to believe that it is in respect of things they would not have desired could they have known as God knows.

4. Yet prayer is a mighty power in the affairs of men — a mighty weapon in the hands of the Church. How unequal the forces; Herod or Nero, with prisons and soldiers, and on the other side a few weak men and women bowed in prayer. Yet note which wins.

5. The Church is. resistless for the purposes of her great mission when fully armed with the power of prayer. A king once led forth his steel-clad chivalry to place a despot's yoke upon the neck of a free people. Just before the battle he saw their ranks bending to the ground. "See," he cried, "they submit already." "Yes," said a wise counsellor, who knew them better; "they submit, but it is to God, not to us." And in a few hours the king and his army were scattered. Let the Church, as she stands face to face with opposing forces, submit to God in prayer and every foe will be vanquished.

II. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE TWO CASES. The same answer is given, but in different ways. In the first case there is direct Divine interposition, in the other nothing miraculous. — Paul pleads his case, is adjudged innocent and set free. Learn —

1. The blessedness of the man who lives and moves in an atmosphere of prayer, around whom cluster as guardian forces, the petitions of the people of God.

2. The exalted privilege of being identified with the visible Church. Men may speak lightly of it, but is it a light thing to be remembered by thousands in their prayers?

III. THE RELATION OF THE ONE CASE TO THE OTHER. The one explains the other. A miracle teaches us that God is everywhere working, and that the ordinary operations of nature are but the veil behind which He screens Himself, and which in the miracle is for the moment removed. Learn —

1. Not to expect supernatural operations in answer to prayer.

2. To recognise God in the natural, and to accept the answer when it comes in the ordinary course of events. It is a miserable condition of mind that sees God in the rescue of Peter but not in the rescue of Paul.

(W. Perkins.)

Mr. Elliot, who laboured as a missionary among the American Indians, was eminent in prayer, and several instances are recorded of remarkable answers having been given to his petitions. The following is striking: — Mr. Foster, a godly gentleman of Charlestown, was, with his son, taken by the Turks; and the barbarous prince, in whose dominions he was become a slave, was resolved that, in his lifetime, no captive should be released; so that Mr. Foster's friends, when they had heard the sad news, concluded that all hope was lost. Upon this, Mr. Elliot, in some of his next prayers before a great congregation, addressed the Throne of Grace in the following very plain language: "Heavenly Father, work for the redemption of Thy poor servant Foster. And if the prince who detains him will not, as they say, dismiss him as long as himself lives, Lord, we pray Thee, kill that cruel prince; kill him, and glorify Thyself upon him." In answer to this singular prayer, Mr. Foster quickly returned from captivity, and brought an account that the prince who had detained him had come to an untimely death, by which means he had been set at liberty. "Thus we knew," says Dr. Cotton Mather, "that a prophet had been among us."

Learn from the narrative —

I. THE TRUE UNITY OF THE CHURCH. Paul tells us that when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it, and here we see how the assault made on Peter affected all the saints in Jerusalem. They felt regarding him as Luther felt regarding Melanchthon when, with amazing boldness, the reformer told the Lord that he could not do without his Philip. They had in him not an interest of benevolence alone but one of identity. Peter's extremity was their extremity. So let one child in a home be smitten all the members are deeply affected. Let some public spirited patriot be stricken, and the whole nation feels the blow. But even more keenly the Christian feels the affliction of a brother in Christ. There is nothing which merges relationship into identity so thoroughly as the gospel. In Christ we are all one; and so each feels the other's woe. And then Christ feels with us; "in all our affliction He is afflicted." This is the true brotherhood. Better than all secret lodges, or mystic grasps, or talismanic passwords is this union with Christ. The Church ought to be the most helpful and loving society in the world; and if it were there would be no craving among men for some other association to meet their needs.

II. THE POWER OF EARNEST, BELIEVING UNITED PRAYER. The answer in this case was long delayed. The last night had arrived, yet they continued, and lo! at the darkest hour the dawn broke. Here is an example for us. We are not warranted to expect such answers as this, yet God would sooner work a miracle than suffer His faithfulness to fail, or let His cause be put back. For the resources of the universe are at His command, and it is equally easy for Him to answer prayer through the ordinary operations of His providence, or through bringing new causes into operation. What we have to remember is that He is the hearer of prayer. Did we do so there would be more definiteness, directness and business-like purpose in our petitions. Is it not a fact that when we have, concluded our devotions it would often puzzle us to tell what we have been praying for? And then when we have asked for certain things, we have become discouraged because we have not had an immediate answer. Why are God's answers delayed? It may be because we are desirous of sharing in the glory of the answer; or because God wishes to mature patience and faith; but in any case if we were more definite and continuous we should see more frequently the results. They tell us of the fixed laws of nature; but who dares maintain that He who fixed those laws cannot use them for the purpose of answering His people's prayers? There are postal laws in this country; but are the facilities for answering letters open to all but those who made them? And yet men who are using the laws of nature every day to help their fellows — e.g., medical men — will deny to their Author the same liberty. Nay, more; if I do not post my letter may I not telegraph for a message boy and send him on with an immediate answer? And am I breaking postal laws to do that? Yet I may send my little liveried messenger, but God may not send an angel!

III. WHILE EARTHLY GLORY FADES, THE WORD OF GOD ENDURES FOREVER. Like a foam bell on the stream Herod dazzled men's eves for a moment with the reflection of the sunlight; and then like it too, he burst and disappeared — while "the Word of God grew and multiplied."

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

1. A triumph of Divine power.

2. A reward of apostolic fidelity.

3. A fruit of intercessory brotherly love.

4. An overthrow of proud tyrannical rage.

(K. Gerok.)

From the narrative learn the following lessons —

I. IF EVER OUR ENEMIES GET HOLD OF US, THEY WILL HOLD US AS FAST AS THEY CAN. Herod was not content with ordinary means of keeping Peter in custody. He was too great a prize to be lost. Mark you, if by any fault of our own we ever fall into the hand of our enemies, we need expect no mercy from them. And if without fault we be delivered for a little season into their hands, whoever may be spared, the Christian never is. Men will forgive a thousand faults in others, but they will magnify the most trivial offence in the true follower of Jesus. Nor do I very much regret this, for it is a caution to us to walk very carefully before God in the land of the living. The Cross of Christ is in itself an offence to the world; let us take heed that we do not add any offence of our own. It is "to the Jew a stumbling block"; let us mind that we put no stumbling blocks where there are enough already. "To the Greek it is foolishness"; let us not add our folly to give point to the scorn with which the worldly-wise deride the gospel. We pilgrims travel as suspected persons through the world. Not only are we under surveillance, but there are more spies than we reck of.

II. WHEN A CASE IS PUT INTO GOD'S HANDS, HE WILL MANAGE IT WELL, AND HE WILL INTERFERE IN SUFFICIENT TIME TO BEING HIS SERVANTS OUT OF THEIR DISTRESS. Peter's case was put into God's hands. Well, we can leave it there. But it is the last night! Yes, but just at that last and darkest hour of the night, God's opportunity overtook man's extremity. A light shone in the dungeon. Peter was awakened. God never is before His time; nor is He ever too late. But see, there is Peter asleep! doing nothing! Well, and the best thing for him too, for the case was put into God's hands. Suppose Peter had been awake, what could he do? Had he been fretting and troubling himself, what good could he have done? Sleep on, blessed slumberer! Well might Herod envy thee. Thy spirit is free; and it may be that in thy dreams thou art rejoicing "with a joy unspeakable, and full of glory." When the case is taken into God's hands, and you and I feel that we can do nothing for ourselves, we may take sleep, and while we sleep, His watchful eyes do keep their ceaseless guard, and at the right time deliverance comes.

III. WHEN GOD COMES TO DELIVER HIS PEOPLE, ALL, THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH SEEM TO GO AGAINST THEIR DELIVERANCE SHALL ONLY TEND TO SET FORTH THE MORE HIS GLORY. What contempt He puts upon chains, etc. I know of nothing that seems to illustrate more God's splendid triumph over man's cunning than the resurrection of Christ. So, Christian, rest assured that everything that looks black to your gaze now, shall only make it the brighter when God delivers you.

IV. NO DIFFICULTY CAN EVER OCCUR WHICH GOD CANNOT MEET WHEN HE MAKES BARE HIS ARM. The chains are gone, the warders are passed, but there is that iron gate. You get fretting for months about the iron gate, as those holy women did for hours, who went to the sepulchre and said, "Who shall roll us away the stone?" There was no stone to roll away! And when you go to this place, you will find that there is no iron gate there, or it will open of its own accord. Oh, how often have we had to wonder at our own folly.

V. THE OMNIPOTENCE OF PRAYER.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

We obtain here a pleasing view of —

I. THE DEEP AND TENDER SENSE OF BROTHERHOOD WHICH PERVADED THE EARLY CHURCH. This is one of the best gifts which the gospel brought to men. It is indeed the primary, unique element of the human race as a special, distinct creation. Sin struck a disastrous blow at this distinguishing principle. If reclamation should ever come for the race, this principle must be called into life again. Men must be taught not only to know God as a Father, but each other as brothers. And so we perceive that Christ made this brotherhood the basic element of His kingdom. How beautifully did the early Church display this principle! How closely were they joined together! How generously they sold their property for the common good! Out of the fruitful soil of loving brotherhood sprang up the intense concern of the whole Church for Peter. It is the true cement which binds Christians of every name and country together in an indissoluble bond. It is the only sentiment of sufficient power to arouse the Church to carry the gospel to the millions yet lying in the shadow of death.

II. THE CHURCH IN THE ATTITUDE OF PRAYER FOR AN IMPERILED BROTHER.

1. It was a praying Church. When they had returned from the ascension, they all continued with one accord in prayer. When they would select one to fill the place made vacant by Judas, they prayed. When they had received three thousand souls into the Church they continued steadfastly in prayers. When Peter and John returned after their first arraignment, the whole company lifted up their voice to God. As the result of this habitual prayerfulness "they were filled with the Holy Spirit," "they spake the Word with boldness," the multitude of them that believed "were of one heart and of one soul," "and great grace was upon them all."

2. By the habit of prayer the Church was prepared for trying emergencies (ver. 5). Here was a great emergency. Through this dreary week prayer was their constant occupation. They had no carnal weapons, no distinguished friends at court, no treasures to offer as a ransom; but there was a Power above the might of kings, standing ready to be invoked, and to this Power they made their appeal.

3. They prayed in concert. All hearts were touched, all minds agreed.

4. They prayed unceasingly. Through the long week, amid the distractions of the crowded city, with the danger of a bloody persecution, they prayed. There was no relaxation of energy, no manifestation of doubt, no giving over of entreaty. The vision of their father Jacob wrestling at Mahanaim may have risen before them, or the thought of the unbroken vigils of their Master may have come to strengthen them. Three potent elements met and mingled in their prayer: namely, their sense of need, a present God, and the undoubting conviction that He was able and willing to help. Could it be less than unceasing?

5. They prayed to the point. It was all for Peter. Self was forgotten. There were no diffuse and rambling petitions, no grooved sentences or high-flown expressions, or dull repetitions, certainly no prescribed form. They could not run wide of the mark: "Hear us for Peter in his lone prison."

6. To God direct they spoke. No appeal to angels; no mention of Mary, no saint is thought of as a helper, not even Stephen, or the saintly James, fresh in heaven from his baptism of blood. No living man is called on to help; no message is sent to Herod. They cast themselves on God nakedly. The case is urgent, and the mighty Presence alone filled the scene.

III. THE ISSUE. The festival week is over. The day is fixed to bring Peter forth to his doom. It is the morrow. But the Church is still praying. One place of meeting is full. Most likely all the places of assembly were similarly attended. Peter was asleep in his cell, chained by each arm to a soldier. There is no thunderstorm, no earthquake. No jailer is bribed to release Peter. An angel is in the prison. He aroused Peter. Peter followed him and was free.

(W. G. Craig, D. D.)

I. THE SEVERE IMPRISONMENT.

1. The chains.

2. The keepers.

3. The sleep.

II. THE MERCIFUL DELIVERANCE.

1. The messenger from heaven with his joyful light and awakening voice.

2. The awakening with its fears and joys.

3. The first walking, with its hindrances and aids — walking as in a dream through the first and second watch, and the iron gate.

III. THE GLORIOUS LIBERTY.

1. The firm standing on one's own feet.

2. The joyful reception by the brethren.

3. The impotent rage of the world.

(K. Gerok.)

S. S. Times.
The true servant of God —

1. Can rest in peace even when seemingly in the power of those who intend to take his life.

2. Is never fully in the power of his enemies, God never irrecoverably surrenders him.

3. Has celestial messengers sent to his comfort and deliverance.

4. Is cared for, not only in great, but also in small matters.

5. Though for the while not recognising the fact, yet soon will be sure to see that God has helped him in every deliverance from trouble.

(S. S. Times.)

On the whole narrative we note —

1. The saint's tribulation. Peter in prison — various sorts of prisons.

2. The saint's treasure, Peter slept — peace of heart.

3. The saint's power. Prayer in Mary's house.

4. The saint's deliverance. God interferes.

5. The saint's duty. Peter must gird himself and bind on his sandals, and cast his garment about him and follow the angel.

Sermons by the Monday Club.
This old-world story is full of encouragement and instruction for the men today. It teaches —

I. GOD KNOWS ALL ABOUT HIS CHILDREN. Beyond the bare fact of Peter's arrest, the disciples were in profound ignorance. The secrets of the Roman prison house were well kept. But God kept watch over Peter, knew in what cell he was confined, the names of his guards, and just where, when, and how to send His angel. Peter had no occasion to feel solitary or forsaken. God's children are never alone. The shipwrecked sailor adrift on a spar in mid-ocean; the traveller lost in the trackless desert; the pauper dying in the attic with no friend to speak a word of comfort — all these, if they are God's children, are cheered by His presence. Human experience is so full of enforced solitudes that this is the most precious of all truths. Our recognised afflictions are not the hardest to bear. The tears we shed in secret, the disappointments of which we never speak, the sorrowful hearts which we hide under smiling faces — these are the things that test and strain the fibre of manhood. It greatly helps us to bear troubles like these, to remember that God knows all about them.

II. GOD KEEPS HIMSELF INFORMED ABOUT HIS CHILDREN IN ORDER TO HELP THEM. He kept watch of Peter in order that, when the right time came, He might deliver him from prison. He keeps watch of you and me that, when our need is too sore for our unaided strength, He may put the right hand of His omnipotence underneath the burden. Providence is pro-VID-ence — the foreseeing and arranging that precedes helpful doing. Men have too mechanical an idea of life. Our common blessings are supposed to come in what we call the "order of nature." The farmer who rejoices in a bountiful harvest says: "It was because the seed was good, and the soil was good, and the season was propitious, and I spared no pains." True, but back of all these recognised conditions was God, giving the seed its vitality and the soil its fertility, etc.

III. WHEN GOD HELPS HIS CHILDREN HE EXPECTS THEM TO HELP THEMSELVES. It was possible for God, in working a miracle for Peter's deliverance, to have wrought out every item of it. But that is not the Divine method. There were some things which the apostle could do for himself, and only what he could not do for himself was done for him. In the Divine economy of the universe there is no provision for idleness. Prayer is not such a power as allows men to fold their hands, and expect results which they might secure by the proper use of means. Frederick Douglass says: "When I was a slave, I prayed earnestly for freedom and made no attempt to gain it, and I got no response; but, when I began to pray with my legs, my prayers began to be answered." Men pray for a revival of religion, and make no attempt to secure it by more consecrated lives and more earnest effort, and the revival does not come. If anything comes, it is a temporary surge of emotion, as fatal as it is evanescent. Pilgrimages to Lourdes, and the modern "faith cure," are only different phases of the same mischievous delusion. Prayer and effort are designed to go hand-in-hand. We are "workers together with God," and, so long as we are idle, the heavens keep silence.

IV. WHEN GOD MOVES IN BEHALF OF HIS CHILDREN NO OBSTACLE IS TOO GREAT FOR HIM. Humanly judging, how many and what insuperable difficulties stood in the way of Peter's deliverance! But how easy for God to do that which was impossible for man! He had but to will it, and the keepers were helpless and asleep. He had but to command it, and chains melted like wax in the heat of His word. He had but to say it, and every door opened wide. And yet how apt men are to limit the range of their petitions to the things which it seems to them can be done, and have no heart to ask God for what seems too hard for them. Our philosophies of prayer often ignore the fact that Omnipotence is at the head of the universe. The scientist argues the futility of all prayer, because inflexible laws of nature block the way. As though God were not more than nature, and His assurance, "Ask and ye shall receive," as much a factor in the conduct of the universe as gravitation! We have nothing to do with probabilities. The hand that holds all worlds is able to work beyond our thought.

(Sermons by the Monday Club.)

What can we learn from this story which may do something more for us than even promoting the spirit of confidence towards God in time of distress or perplexity? The answer is to be found in that figure of Scripture which describes sinners as slaves and captives, tied and bound with the chain of sinful habit (2 Peter 2:29). And therefore they need that Deliverer who is sent (Isaiah 61:1). The tyrant enemy of the soul plans its destruction, and takes his measures for keeping it fast in the dungeon of sin, bound with strong fetters of passion and habit to evil associations and bad companions, that he may make it his victim when he pleases. And now see how in every particular of St. Peter's captivity and deliverance we may find the picture of our own souls while under the dominion of sin, and of the steps by which our deliverance is accomplished. In the four quaternions, we have the same image of the incessant siege laid to the soul in its four main parts of human nature — the emotions, the understanding, the memory, and the will, as is figured in Psalm 91:5, 6, where the four Hebrew divisions of daily time into evening, midnight, morning, and midday, each with its special risks and troubles, are signified. And then for the two chains: we know them but too well; the chain of aggressive overt acts, the chain of neglected duties. Any evil habits to which we have become wedded, any dangerous companions with whom we needlessly associate — these are the warders to whom we are linked by the same fetters of inveterate custom, which we are powerless to break. And so, like the apostle, we resign ourselves to laxity and inaction, typified by the loosened belt, cast-off cloak, relinquished sandals, heavy slumber, Then it is, in our worst need, that our succour comes.

1. The first token of the angelic presence was that "a light shined in the prison." So the light of God's Word, while lighting up the conscience, and revealing the foulness of the sins which defile the heart, shows us also Him who can save us from those sins. The bane and the antidote are both set before our eyes together, and we can choose which we will.

2. Next comes the personal call, the direct summons to the individual conscience, "Arise up quickly" — the one note of haste in the whole transaction. Quickly, for the need is urgent, the deadly peril imminent, life itself is at stake, and there is no time for dawdling. The angel "smote Peter on the side." A blow, a shock, some sudden chastisement or calamity, is frequently needed before man, dead asleep in sloth and sin, can be roused to a sense of his condition. But that we may know that the smiting hand is friendly there follows at once, "and raised him up." This denotes the action of Divine grace, not quitting the sinner till he is fully roused, and made capable of exertion; for we read further that "his chains fell off his hands." That is, the first grade of conversion is the sudden breaking away from evil habits and bad companions.

3. But next we find the invariable law of Divine action for and on man observed. God does that part of the work which we cannot do; He expects us to do the part within our own powers and opportunities. To be ungirded meant idleness, relaxation, self-indulgence. And therefore our Lord counsels his disciples (Luke 12:35); and his apostles repeat the injunction (Ephesians 6:14; 1 Peter 1:13). That is, check and restrain yourselves, discipline your powers and passions, prepare yourselves for active work. And the sandals point yet further that this work must take us, so to speak, out of doors, in the service of a charity which, though it may begin at home, may not stop there; which shall go where it is needed, whether for word or work (Ephesians 6:15). The cloak denotes a further advance in effort, implying that we may have to journey some distance and encounter inclement weather, to undergo some personal inconvenience, in the discharge of our duty. And there may be this additional sense, that as the wide cloak covers the whole person, so the whole purpose and will of the now active worker should be engaged in his occupation (Isaiah 59:17). Then comes the most important precept of all, which prescribes not the act only of exertion, but the manner: "Follow me." Only so far as the teacher through whom God's message has reached the sinner is himself a follower of the Lord is his example to be taken for a pattern; but the path of the saints who took Him for their Guide and Model is the only road out of the prison of sin, and into the open air of life and freedom. But the obstacles in the escaping captive's way are not even yet overcome. Two wards or stations of posted sentinels lie beyond the part of the prison from which he has thus far been rescued, and must needs be gone through. First comes the purgative way,. the process of abandoning old evil habit; the "Cease to do evil" (Isaiah 1:16), the path pointed out by the Psalmist (Psalm 119:9); the counsel of me Baptist (Luke 3:13, 14). Next is the illuminative way, the way of light, in which we learn more of God's will, and advance from mere passive blamelessness to active holiness; the "Learn to do well" (Isaiah 1:17); of which is written (Proverbs 4:18). And beyond this is the third and final stage of the unitive way (Jeremiah 50:5); the road which brings us to Christ Himself, and makes us one with Him (1 Corinthians 6:17). Through these first and second wards, then, the converted sinner must pass, and so reach the iron door, which keeps the foulness and sin of the criminal prison from overflowing into the streets of the holy city; as it is written (Revelation 22:15). What is this door, then, that is at once the bar against sin and the issue to happiness and freedom? What but He who has said (John 10:9)? for (Ephesians 2:18). No obstacle awaits us there, if only we have followed in the appointed path; for the gracious words succeed (Acts 12:10); another way of expressing what He has said to all of us (Matthew 7:7), and again, to every soul that strives, even feebly, to do His will (Revelation 3:8). This is the one and only way of access to the city, that New Jerusalem which is the bride, the Lamb's wife, and which has the glory of God. But when that one street, that way that leadeth unto life, has been traversed, forthwith the angel departs from the pilgrims he has hitherto guided, since they have no further need of his services. Once within the holy city, they cannot go astray, for all her streets lead to the throne of God; once in sight of the beatific vision, they want no lesser help, "for in the light of the King's countenance is life" (Proverbs 16:15).

(R. F. Littledale, LL. D.)

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