The Grateful, Emboldened, and Prayerful Church, and the Spirit's Witness
Acts 4:23-31
And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.…

With all the naturalness of simplest truth, we are told how the apostles, in their new character of discharged prisoners, run away at once to their brethren of the Church. And we are in this passage taught how -

I. THE CHURCH SHOULD BE A HOME OF TENDEREST, MOST FAITHFUL SYMPATHIES, AND OF HOLY SOCIAL INTERCOURSE. NOW it is too often the place of suspicion, distrust, unhappy emulations. Or it is the place of coldest indifference. None welcome the coming, speed the parting, guest. Or it is only the place of an almost selfish seeking of the proffered religious instruction, or exhortation, or enjoyment that may, under those conditions, scarcely be realized. The germ of the Church showed far otherwise. The highest type of Church life possible on earth may be confidently calculated on to show something very different. And till such difference become plain in any part of the Christian Church, it faintly indeed reflects the glorious reality above.

II. THE CHURCH SHOULD BE "THE ROYAL EXCHANGE" OF CHRISTIAN NEWS, OF CHRISTIAN ENTERPRISE, AND OF CHRISTIAN BUSINESS. The world may know, and all the better that it should know, the achievements of Christ and his truth. But the Church should know them still better, and often under very different aspects. Nor has the Church anything to conceal of its purposes or its methods; yet may these oftener be hallowed, and be more abounding and richer in grace and the elements of success, when considered and matured in the Church. If only we could imagine the account in detail which Peter and John now gave "to their own company" of their experience, and what their eyes had seen and their ears had heard, and of the irresistible impressions of the characters of others which had been made upon their minds, by the events of the past, say, fifteen hours, since they had been put in ward! Now every ear was attention, gladdened thought smiled on every countenance, and emboldened purpose stirred every heart. While anon the "threatenings" (ver. 29), that had been among the things which the chief priests and elders had said to them" (ver. 23), received also their due consideration. It is quite to be supposed that no one of that "company but found himself stronger for the joy of that hour, and more watchful and forearmed for what of forewarning it had in it."

III. THE CHURCH SHOULD FIND THE PLACE IN FULLEST GRANDEUR OF ADORATION, GRATEFUL PRAISE, APPEAL, AND PRAYER, MET TOGETHER IN ONE SERVICE. Everything argues that the scene now before us was one of high inspiration. A large multitude of sympathetic souls hear the simplest tidings on a certain subject of the two liberated apostles; and though doubtless some one must have led off the chorus, forthwith the whole company "lift up their voice to God with one accord." And as we listen to that most real orchestra, what is it that we hear them singing? They uplift first the outburst of adoration; it is the snatch of a song sung by their ancestors a thousand years before (vers. 24-26), and it simulates the responsive too. For it quotes the confirming word and declaration of God, putting it as if in response to the human ascription made first to him: "Lord, thou art God... and thou didst say, Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?" We listen still, and there follows the recitative - a few bars that tell the recent history of the Messiah, the anointed Jesus. But these strains do not die off without pronouncing in majesty the foreseeing, fore determining, sovereign counsel that belongs to God. Then follow appeal (ver. 29) and prayer (ver. 30), and they both were acceptable and accepted. In this appeal and prayer, with the reverent suggestion they venture upon - "by stretching forth thy hand to heal " - there is something touching and pathetic. It were as though those who prayed bespoke of their sovereign Friend that he would not over- look the "threatenings" wherewith they were threatened, but that he would divinely checkmate these by again "stretching forth the healing hand," and again and again working "signs and wonders by the Name of Jesus," so that, together with faithfulness granted to his servants to speak the word, there might be superadded to them "bold- ness" in speaking it. Nothing less belts the character of the Word of God, scarcely anything more dishonors it, than to speak it fearfully, half apologetically, or with halting accents and uncertain sound. It is worthy to be spoken with that boldness which is all its own, and its own least due. Nothing on earth can equal the grandeur of a service like this. Such a service cannot find its habitat except in the Church. But has it found it there as often as it might?

IV. THE CHURCH SHOULD WORK FOR ONE THING - THE EMPHATIC WITNESS OF THE HOLY GHOST. Christianity is the dispensation of the Spirit. It is very certain that the most perfect outline of Christian truth is but a skeleton, and the most complete and harmonious and scriptural body of Christian doctrine but a corpse, except as the Spirit breathes life and power into them. The skeleton may be a marvel of adaptation and symmetry laid bare to the eye of whoever will behold, and the fashioned and filled-in body may be an exquisite model for grace and proportion; but they are dead till the Spirit gives the life. This is not to be supposed to need any proof now; but if it did, the word of Jesus himself about his own truth, previous to his death and after his resurrection, and the conduct and directions of Jesus previous to his ascension and to the day of Pentecost, amply prove it. But though it needs no proof, it may very largely need enforcement. Probably nothing so stays the advent of the grandest effects of Christianity as forgetfulness on the part of its professors of the force necessary, because divinely appointed, to give it effect. The Spirit is not honored as he should be in the Church. The Church does not "look for" his coming, nor wait for him, with much longing and with trustful prayer. At this very time and for some years past there has been a wonderful activity within the borders of the Church - almost preternatural - but, alas! not at all relatively evidencing the supernatural. "Lo, here!" and "Lo, there!" has long been the cry; so-called "revivals" have been proclaimed, and the stir of them, at all events, has been seen in most various sections of the Church; undeniably an unwonted industry of head and hand and foot has prevailed in the region of human instrumentality. And those who have thus wrought have been far too ready to "blow the trumpet and proclaim" a self-made and only self-found triumph. But where has the real life been evidenced? Where have real abounding fruits been witnessed? This is a thing not less remarkable than it seems, but far more so, and it begs to be approached, not with offhand explanation, but with exceedingly reverent scrutiny. That many men of incorrupt life and unsuspected simplicity of aim have labored with extremest zeal to lay hold upon their fellow-men for Christ, and the fruits of their labor have been a grievous gleaning instead of an undoubted crop! Collateral explanations and mitigating considerations must yield to the one solemn account of it. The Holy Spirit has not been in the midst of that work, has not been the beginning and the end of that activity. But what is this which we have here? It is a refreshing crisis for which truly everything had prepared the way. Yes, but without it - if it had not come - everything that had gone before would have been dried to the aridity of the sandy desert itself. "When they had finished praying, the very place where they were assembled together was shaken." It meant the entrance of the Spirit of all power and might. "And the assembled believers were all filled with the Holy Ghost " - Pentecost repeats itself - " and they spake the word of God with boldness." What thought, what hallowed musing, what prayer of the Church, should seek both for itself and for the world another visit of this same kind! - B.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.

WEB: Being let go, they came to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.

The Burnt Offering of a True Church Prayer
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