Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers…
To suppose that it has been withdrawn is —
I. TO SUPPOSE THAT THE ONLY PRACTICAL END OF CHRISTIANITY HAS BEEN VOLUNTARILY ABANDONED. If Christianity cannot renew men in the image of God, she ceases to have any special distinction above other religions. Her mission here was to overcome Satan in the realm in which he had hitherto triumphed, to re-establish the empire of God.
II. Not only would this practical end be abandoned, but THE STANDING EVIDENCE TO CHRISTIANITY WOULD BE DISCONTINUED. The miracles and prophecies are past, and no accumulation of arguments can demonstrate to our neighbours at this moment that Christianity is a power which can actually make men superior to their own circumstances and sins. The only real and effective evidence is living men who have been regenerated. Wherever men can be pointed to whose lives are a manifest example of salvation from sin, there is the standing evidence that Christianity is "the power of God unto salvation." Is it supposable that Christ has withdrawn or diminished that power which would show continually that He "saves His people from their sins"?
III. The converting power is also THE CHURCH'S GREAT ATTRACTION. It is true that some would attract men by ceremonies, or talent, or the charms of architecture or music, — attract them that they may convert them; whereas the true order is, Convert, that you may attract. The one is the order of the charlatan, who trusts to factitious allurements for attracting the public, in the hope that he may cure some; the other, the order of the true physician, who trusts to the fact of his curing some as the means of attracting others. Whenever the Church sends into a family one new convert glowing with love and joy, she kindles light which will, in all probability, give light to all that are in the house. Whenever she is the means of making one shopman turn from his sins, and exhibit to his comrades a picture of holy living, in all probability she will soon have others from that shop at her altars. Whenever she brings one factory-girl to sit, like Mary, at the feet of Jesus, very probably in a little while other Marys will be with her.
IV. The converting power is also THE PRINCIPAL LEVER WHICH CHRISTIANITY CAN USE FOR RAISING THE STANDARD OF MORALS IN NATIONS.
1. Instruction is the basis of all moral operation; but instruction in morals, as in science, is of little force unless backed by experiment. One tradesman converted, and manfully taking ground among his companions against trade tricks once used by himself, casts greater shame upon their dishonesty than all the instructions they ever heard from pulpits; or, rather, gives an edge, a power, and an embodiment to them all. One youth whom religion strengthens to walk purely, among dissipated companions, sends lights and stings into their consciences, which mere instruction could not give, because it shows them that purity is not, as temptation says, unattainable. And so with all the virtues; it is but by embodying them in the persons of men that they become thoroughly understood by the public mind.
2. Just in proportion as the number of converted men is great or small, will be the amount of conscience in the community generally. Each new convert adds somewhat to the existing moral influence, and weakens the ties which bind men to sin. Where no one is godly, moderately correct persons are almost ashamed of their lack of badness; where a tenth of the adults are godly, even ordinary sinners are ashamed of their lack of goodness; and where a fifth, or a third, of the adults are so, the hindrances to the conversion of the rest are as nothing, compared with those that exist where the great masses are still living in their sins.
V. The converting power is also THE ONLY MEANS WHEREBY CHRISTIANITY RAISES UP AGENTS FOR HER OWN PROPAGATION.
1. That which is wanted in an agent, above all, is zeal, burning desire to save sinners. This zeal is never a mutter of mere conviction, but always a matter of nature. It is "Christ in you." It is "the love of Christ constraining you." Agents with this nature we can have only by successive outpourings of the Spirit of God, by constant accessions of new converts.
2. When they who have been great sinners are themselves converted, having been forgiven much, they love much, and frequently become mighty instruments of winning others to Christ. When "numbers turn to the Lord," saying, "We have redemption in His blood, even the forgiveness of sins," — then some will assuredly appear with plain marks that the spirit of the prophets is in them, and that they are called to spread, far and wide, the glorious salvation of which they themselves partake.
3. Nothing so re-animates the zeal of old Christians as witnessing the joy and simplicity, the gratitude and fervour, of those who have been lately born of God. While the old disciple is to the young one an example of moderation and strength, the young is to the old an example of fervour; the one shedding upon the other a steadying influence, while he receives in return a cheering and an impelling one.
4. It is also wonderful how much the occurrence of conversions heightens the efficiency of men already employed in the ministry, or in other departments of the work of God, The preacher preaches with new heart, the exhorter exhorts with revived feeling, he that prays has double faith and fervour; and the joy of conquest breathes new vigour into all the Lord's host.
(W. Arthur, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?