And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.…
The spirit of this reply is that calm but immoveable resolution in pursuing the course of duty which an enlightened conscience shall mark out. The reply of the apostles points out —
I. THE RULE OF PERSONAL CONDUCT; AND THIS AS CONSISTING IN AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE LAW OF CHRIST, AS REGULATING ALL THE PRINCIPLES AND ACTIONS OF LIFE. And here a very wide field opens itself, if we were to follow out this head at length. It takes in the whole length and breadth of the Christian character: it contemplates the servant of the Lord under all the conceivable circumstances of duty in which he may be placed in the world. Suffice it, therefore, to state generally that, in such a man, Christ sits as a King upon the throne of the heart. The line of duty being plainly marked out in the law of Christ, He follows it in the face of all the consequences that may ensue. He will not judge of the extent of his duty by what is acceptable, or otherwise, to those around him, but from the plain command of Christ. What will the world think of me? is a suggestion which frightens away "the fearful and unbelieving" man from following that path which the voice of God within him pronounces to be right. The fear of being reckoned what is called "righteous overmuch," or of being deemed too rigid in his principles, reconciles him to practices which his conscience condemns. Like those base flatterers who crowd the courts of kings, and know no other standard Of good and evil than their prince's burnout, so, in whatever heart the fear of man reigns, that heart will avow neither doctrine, nor sentiment, nor practice, but such as are in good odour among men, however strongly it may be enforced in God's Word as truth, and however it may be inwardly felt to be such. But while discretion regulates the conduct of the courageous Christian, and points out to him the fit time and manner of acting, yet he will not fail to discover his true character. Remembering evermore the "contradiction of sinners against Himself," which his Lord underwent, and with a sense of eternal things fastened on his mind; recollecting, too, the sting he has felt in his conscience when he may have seemed, by his silence at least, to applaud sentiments and practices opposed to the spirit of the law of Christ, he is enabled, by the united influence of all these considerations, to be prepared to risk the loss of all things, rather than desert the cause of God. Such a man, such a Christian, will feel that the more ungodly are those with whom he converses, the more imperative the call made upon him to honour God in an irreproachable life: the greater the darkness which is around him, the stronger the obligation that rests upon him to shine forth in the beauty of holiness. By this were those eminent servants of God actuated, who, in the face of a burning fiery furnace, heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated, could say to the king in whose power they were, "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter." This was the spirit of David, who said, "I will speak of Thy testimony even before kings, and will not be ashamed."
II. THE REPLY OF THE APOSTLES EXPRESSES, WITH EQUAL DECISIVENESS, THE LEADING PRINCIPLES OF PERSONAL BELIEF. If there be any part of His truth which it is plain that "God hath highly exalted"; if there be any one announcement upon which a mighty emphasis is laid by the constant repetition of it, and because it meets the view at all points, this ought to find a rank proportionably high in our own minds. This truth a Christian must learn to prize dearly, and for this earnestly contend. Such a truth, pre-eminently, ix that which teaches that "we are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith." But it is possible to hold such a system of doctrine, as shall pass for a Scriptural acceptance of this truth, while it is either a corruption of that truth, or even in its tendency subversive of it. He must be little conversant with his own heart who is not aware how reluctant man naturally is to be beholden to another for his redemption, even though it were to God Himself; and how unpalatable to the taste which Divine grace has not refined is that religion whose first claim is that all idea of personal merit be renounced. The courageous Christian finds here an exercise for his firmness.
III. The occasion on which the two apostles announced this great principle suggests to us yet another application of it: IT WAS WHEN THEY HAD BEEN PREACHING THE TRUTH OF CHRIST THAT THE PROHIBITION WHICH THEY RESISTED CAME FORTH FROM THE COUNCIL. Their answer, therefore, naturally reminds us of the foundation on which is to be constructed the rule of faith. Here, too, as in the former case, the course of a resolute follower of Christ is to be founded on a principle. It may not be self-willed, but it must be conscientious: not caprice, which is irresponsible, but reason, which is consistent, must be his guide. And the principle, on which the rule of his "faith" is constructed, is obvious and distinct. In a matter so peculiar, and so closely affecting himself, as religion, he declines to listen to any voice except that which speaks to him immediately from heaven. Whilst he acknowledges, in common with one who wrote on the evidences of Christianity, and against the infidel, that, considering the circumstances in which man is placed, it is even highly probable that a revelation should be made to man; yet, for that very reason, because it is a revelation — something hitherto unheard of that God should speak to man — he requires that the voice which speaks shall be one that shall instantly be recognised to be the voice of God. If a Roman poet, familiar to us all, could say, "'Tis when he thunders from the sky that we believe Jove is really king there," the Christian may, with much more reason, require that the voice to which he is called upon to attend in the things that everlastingly concern him shall be attended by credentials alike Divine. Those of us who admit this reason will, as a necessary consequence, take the Scriptures as our sole rule of faith. Had the Holy Ghost spoken unto us only a few enigmatical words, it had been necessary to spell and scan them with the most inquisitive earnestness, and to eke out from some other source a supplement to a communication so scanty. But, when we have a volume of such bulk, beginning with the foundation of the world, and ending with the last dispensation, it is not easy to understand upon what principle we are to look for any other communication (as from God) from any other quarter whatsoever. Nor, in thus upholding the undivided claim of the Scriptures to be the rule of faith, need any simple-minded advocate of truth be perplexed by questions that have startled some. If any should inquire how the Church is to extract from a body of truth lying scattered over so wide a surface her own confession of faith, the reply is that she can only do it by the study of that Scripture itself. To aid in ascertaining its meaning she will not disdain the writings of the pious and learned of all by-gone days; she will take them, however, as guides to her judgment, not as superseding it. The Word of God will thus be made the supreme authority; and if any should propose to modify the plain assertion of Scripture upon any point, the servant of Christ, tenacious of the principle he has adopted, will reply, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye." And yet it is remarkable that, in thus asserting the paramount duty of listening to no other voice than God's, he need not shut his ear to that of the Church; and this in two respects: first, because the Church has taught agreeably to God's teachings; and, far more, because such is the course acted upon by our Church itself. For what was the procedure of those men who drew up our doctrinal standards? They made the Scriptures the single court of appeal. With them tradition is not an assessor with Scripture upon the throne of judgment, but sits in a lower place. It may be no small satisfaction to an inquirer after the right way, thus to have it made clear to him, that he may be at once jealous for the honour of God, and not conceited]y negligent of the opinions of men. But, that the balance of truth in this matter may be duly preserved, it is well to urge that the rule of faith is not the blended voice of God and man, but that of God only. It was not until "Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child Samuel," that he bade him give to the voice this reply, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth."
IV. There is yet another case which comes within the range of that broad principle which the apostles Peter and John laid down. THAT PRINCIPLE WILL FURNISH A RULE FOR MAINTAINING THE PURITY OF GOD'S TRUTH. Taking the Church from its commencement, it will be seen that error has been found in it of a more or less mischievous nature. Every period has witnessed its peculiar corruptions. And thus the men of each age have had a corresponding duty imposed upon them, to be very jealous for the Lord Of Hosts. The Israelites, when the whole generation that rebelled in the wilderness were cut off, entered into Canaan, and soon fell into the idolatry of their new neighbours. Other Christians, again, were for engrafting on it the pagan philosophy, for rejecting the Old Testament and the moral law — a specious and insinuating heresy. The vigilant sentinel would cry out to those who were in danger from this subtle enemy, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, and not after Christ." But, when it shall have been successfully maintained that it is "right to hearken unto God rather than unto man" in all of these respects, the whole practical use of the demonstration may yet be lost. For some may say, "You need a key which is to unlock to each individual the sense of the Scripture, a curb to the vagrancy of each man's private construing of that very voice to which you bid him hearken. Unless you will open a door to the entrance of as many varieties of opinions as there are men to frame fancies, another voice must be listened to." Whoever will not yield up the very citadel of Christian liberty, must manfully defend the truth in this matter. It is in religion as in our daily conduct. There are certain laws of morals which are defined; and the conscience of each man is to make his own application of them to his own case. This is discipline under which we are all held, and from which none of us can escape. The keeping of ourselves from hour to hour is not by any specific rule provided for every case that can arise, but by the going back to some grand principle which we have the task of applying. If there be any truth in the foregoing remarks, then every one must gird himself with the armour of resoluteness; for a yet more subtle foe may be in the rear. When the unanswerable nature of our arguments shall have silenced the adversary, he may employ another expedient to wrest out of our hands the weapons which they grasp. The voice of God may have been so clearly heard by unwilling ears that it cannot be gainsaid; but there may be a demand set up for not speaking of these things, and for forbearing to characterise the opposed errors by such titles as probably belong to them. Under the specious plea of charity, and an abstinence from evil speaking, many, on whom the mantle of Peter and John may have fallen, will be "straightly charged to speak no more" that of which they are inwardly convinced. "We cannot but speak the things which we have heard and seen." Truth, if it be such, must find its utterance; just as love will express itself, or any other emotion: "Wisdom is justified of her children," not by their suppressing, but by their declaring her claims: "I tell you, if these should hold their peace, the very stones would cry out." Why shall not this strong language of the Lord have a fitness always as heretofore? The remarks that have been offered, if they are to be practically applied, imply such a state of things in the Church as it is never joyous to contemplate. Courage implies danger — unshaken firmness is an attitude which tells of encroachment. It suggests itself as another reflection from this subject, how painful the sensation and the effects of a period of religious dissension! The occasion which calls for firmness is not one of serenity.
(R. Eden, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.