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…
1. It is remarkable in the very first order of it. It is the first conversion that was wrought by the apostles in the Christian Church; the first-fruits of the gospel; the first handful of ripe ears of corn offered up to God to sanctify the whole harvest; the goodly bunch of Eskol gathered by these first spies, the apostles, betokening the Church's fruitfulness.
2. It is remarkable for the time and season when these converts embrace the faith and profess religion. We all know it was a sad time of persecution.
3. It is remarkable in the condition and quality of the persons: a mixed, confused company of men, strangely disposed and affected before their conversion. They run together, and flock about the apostles, with no very religious purpose, but merely to gaze and wonder at them. Nay, worse than so, they fall a-scoffing and deriding the apostles. Oh, the greatness of God's mercy that He would, and, oh, the power of Christ's grace that it could, convert such converts as these!
4. It is remarkable in the great number and multitude of converts. Not a cluster, or two, but a plentiful vintage. Such was the power of religion in those primitive times; so mightily grew the Word, and prevailed.
5. It is remarkable for the complete, entire fulness of their conversion. They are troubled for their sins, "pricked at their heart." They repent, believe, and are baptized. They are diligent in all the duties of God's service, and worship (ver. 24). Their religion is not confined to the Church only, but they are fruitful in all works of charity (ver. 45). They live together in all Christian love (ver. 46). Here is an exact pattern of a through-conversion, a complete and perfect frame of a holy Church.
I. THE MEANS THAT WROUGHT THIS ANGUISH AND COMPUNCTION. It is St. Peter's sermon: "When they heard this." The text tells us of a wound that was given them, that pierced their heart. Here we see both the weapon that made it, and the place where it entered. In bodily strokes, he that means to hit the heart must take another aim, not run his weapon in at the ear; but he that means to wound the heart spiritually, his directest passage is through the ear. In this case there is an immediate conveyance from the ear to the heart. Men may as well expect good corn on their land without ploughing and sowing, as true sorrow and repentance without hearing and attending. The passage and entrance, then, is the ear; but what is the weapon St. Peter uses to pierce and wound them?
1. God's Word in the general, that is the means that works this compunction, that is the choice, sanctified instrument appointed by God for this sacred work. The speaking to exhortation and doctrine is the way to convince and convert souls.
2. It is verbum convictivum. St. Peter makes choice of that Word of God that was most fit to detect and convict them; and he doth manage it so that they could not avoid the edge of it. And this he does by a close application of it to their sinful condition.
3. It was verbum convictivum de his peccatis. He charges them in a special manner with these and these sins as those that are likeliest to perplex their soul and bring them to compunction. As, in course of law, general accusations will ground no action; if we come to accuse a man, it is not sufficient to lay to his charge that he is a malefactor, but we must charge him with particulars. So, would a sinner arraign his conscience before God's tribunal, he must frame an indictment against himself of his more notorious and personal impieties. If we trouble and disquiet and perplex your souls, we have our warrant from St. Peter's example. St. Peter was even now filled with the Holy Ghost, and so the first vent that it found is in this sharp reprehension. This kind of dealing is warranted by the great success that God gave unto it. Peter hath saved thousands with it, and Paul his ten thousands. This is to cast the net on the right side of the ship, as Christ directs Peter; he shall not miss of a plentiful draught. He that means to fish for souls, let him bait his hook with this worm of conscience, and he will take them presently.
II. THE PAROXYSM ITSELF, THE ANGUISH AND COMPUNCTION THEY WERE BROUGHT INTO.
1. It is exceeding sharp; their soul is embittered in them. The Scripture sets out this compunction of spirit in terms of extremity (2 Samuel 24:10; Proverbs 18:14; Romans 2:9; Psalm 51:17). And it is the sense of God's displeasure causes this breaking by three apprehensions, as by so many strokes.
(1) As most deserved and due to us. We eat the bitter fruit of our works.
(2) As most heavy and unsupportable by us. Who knows the power of His anger? Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?
(3) As, of ourselves, unavoidable by us. How shall we flee from the wrath to come? A poor sinner, beset with these anxieties, tortures himself with these pensive thoughts: "What have I done?" "What danger have I run into?" "How bitter are mine anguishes?" "Whither shall I turn myself for ease and comfort?"
2. Consider the goodness of these men's compunction; and it will appear observable for our imitation in these four respects: —
(1) Their compunction is the more observable, because it is wrought in them without the help and concurrence of any outward affliction, only by the dint of St. Peter's sermon.
(2) Their compunction is the more observable because wrought into them by the hearing of one sermon of St. Peter; no sooner charged .with sin but they are convinced presently, and cry cut for sorrow.
(3) Their compunction is the more observable as being wrought in them only by convincing them of sin, not by threatening or denouncing of judgments.
(4) This compunction is the more observable because, ye see, it is a full yielding to the accusation. St. Peter charges them with horrid sin, and, without more ado, they plead guilty to all, confess the whole indictment. They are not enraged against the apostle for this sharp reproof. They take no exception against the accuser. They make no defence of the fact. They excuse it not. They demur not. None of all these shifts, but they accept of the accusation; they confess themselves guilty, and, with sorrow of heart, acknowledge they are murderers of the Lord of glory.
(a) Such power and such strength was in the Word of God preached by Peter. His words are like sharp arrows in the hand of a giant: they return not empty.
(b) Such prevalency hath the Grace of God in the hearts of this people. Like a sovereign antidote that served to drive the poison of sin from the heart into the outward parts by an open confession. That is the second particular of the text — their anguish and perplexity; and it briefly affords us a threefold meditation.(i.) It lets us see the outfall of sin; the issue and end of it is sorrow and vexation. It may be sweet in the mouth, but it will be bitter in thy bowels.(ii.) It shows the inlet and first entrance of grace; it begins with sorrow and sharp compunction. The first physic to recover our souls are not cordials, but corrosives; not an immediate stepping into heaven by a present assurance, but mourning, and a bitter bewailing of our former transgressions.(iii.) It shows us the downfall of despair. Are these converts, whom God means mercy to, thus sharply tortured? How bitter are their torments whom He plunges into perdition I
III. THE COURSE THEY TAKE FOR EASE AND REMEDY. They repair to Peter and the apostles, crave their help and direction: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" And this course of theirs is qualified with three conditions.
1. They take a speedy course. As soon as the wound is given and felt, they presently seek for help and direction. They put it not off till some other time, as Felix did when he felt the first shiverings and grudgings of contrition. Nor think they that they shall outgrow it in time, that their hearts are like good flesh that will heal of itself. No; delays in this kind breed a double danger.
(1) Good motions, if not cherished, will vanish away, and then the heart grows harder.
(2) Hath God pricked thine heart? Take the wound timely, lest it grow worse.
2. It was an advised and proper course they make choice of St. Peter and the rest of the apostles. And the wisdom, shall I say, or the happiness of this choice will appear in four particulars.
(1) They are spiritual men, physicians for the soul. A. wounded spirit cannot be cured but by spiritual means.
(2) They repair to the apostles. Why, Peter was he that wounded them! Best of all, none like him to cure them. What Hosea speaks of God is true of His ministers in a due subordination. "They have wounded, and they heal us; they have smitten, and they will bind us up."(3) They repair to Peter and the rest; they come to men of practice and experience. These apostles knew what it was to have a wounded spirit; these had crucified Christ; Peter had denied Him, the rest had forsaken Him, and it cost them dear ere they could be recovered. None like these to direct their conscience. They do it —
(a) more skilfully,
(b) more humbly,
(c) more tenderly.
(4) They are unanimous, all here in a joint consent and concurrence of judgment.
3. It proves successful, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" It discovers a threefold effect that this compunction hath already wrought in them to help forward their conversion.
(1) It represses their censoriousness. A man truly sensible of his own sins will have little lift or leisure to censure and judge, much less to reproach or slander others. It will make him judge himself, and condemn himself, and think worst of himself of all other men.
(2) This compunction and perplexity makes them reverent and respectful to St. Peter and the other apostles. God's ministers are never in season with the world till men come to distress and perplexity. In the time of ease and jollity a minister is but a contemptible man; he and his pains may be well spared. But when sorrows surprise you, and your hearts are wounded, then one leaf from the Tree of Life to stanch the bleeding wilt be precious to you. This is the honour of our ministry to be able to help in such helpless times.
(3) It makes them inquisitive. "What shall we do?" Surely it is the voice of anguish and perplexity. They speak as men at a loss; they know not how to shift. But they were men acquainted with the law; nay, devout zealots of the Jewish traditions (ver. 5); and yet we see they are now to seek how to ease themselves in that great perplexity. Whence arises this sudden amazement? Was it from the surcharge of sorrow that had overwhelmed their spirits and. darkened that light which was formerly in them? It often proves so. It shadows out the insufficiency of the law to breed peace and comfort to us. It may perplex us, but it cannot quiet us; discover our sins, but not remove them. Or was it not they placed all their religion in some outward observations, without the life and piety of inward devotion. Rituals with substantials are the beauty of religion, but severed and divided will breed but cold comfort to us.
2. It makes them docile and tractable, willing and desirous to receive instruction. Compunction bores and. opens the ear, and makes it capable of direction.
3. It begets a readiness to undertake any course that shall be prescribed for relief and comfort. In our ease heaven must fall into our laps, or we will none of it. If it put us to pains or cost it is toe dear a bargain for us to deal withal. But when our souls are in perplexity we will be glad to accept of mercy upon any terms; we will take heaven at God's price then. "I will do anything, Lord, I will suffer anything to get hell out of my soul now, and to keep my soul out of hell hereafter."
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?