The Servant and the Slaves
Acts 4:29-30
And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant to your servants, that with all boldness they may speak your word,…

"Thy servant David." "Thy holy servant Jesus." "Thy servants" (Acts 4:25, 27, 29). A word or two of explanation may be necessary as to the language of our texts. You will observe that, in the second of them, I have followed the Revised Version, which, instead of "Thy holy child," as in the Authorised Version, reads "Thy holy servant." The alteration is clearly correct. The word, indeed, literally means "a child," but, like our own English "boy," or even "man," or "maid," it is used to express the relation of servant, when the desire is to cover over the harsher features of servitude, and to represent the servant as a part of the family. Thus the kindly centurion, who besought Jesus to come and heal his servant, speaks of him as his "boy." And that the word is here used in this secondary sense of "servant" is unmistakable. For there is no discernible reason why, if stress were meant to be laid on Christ as being the Son of God, the recognised expression for that relationship should not have been employed. Again, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, with which the Apostles were familiar, employs the very phrase that is here used as its translation of the well-known Old Testament designation of the Messiah, "the servant of the Lord," and the words here are really a quotation from the great prophecies of the second part of the Book of Isaiah. So, then, we have here three figures, the Psalmist-king, the Messiah, the disciples. Christ in the midst, on the one hand a servant with whom He consents to be classed, on the other hand the slaves who, through Him, have become sons. And I think I shall best bring out the intended lessons of these clauses in their connection if I ask you to note these two contrasts, the servants and the Servant; the Servant and the slaves. "David Thy servant"; "Thy holy servant Jesus"; us "Thy servants."

I. First, then, notice THE SERVANTS AND THE SERVANT. The reason for the application of the name to the Psalmist lies, not so much in his personal character, or in his religious elevation, as in the fact that he is chosen of God for a specific purpose, to carry on the Divine plans some steps towards their realisation. Kings, priests, prophets, the collective Israel, as having a specific function in the world, and being, in some sense, the instruments and embodiments of the will of God amongst men, have in an eminent degree the designation of His "servants." But then, whilst this is true, and whilst Jesus Christ comes into this category, and is one of these special men raised up for special service in connection with the carrying out of the Divine purpose, mark how emphatically the line is drawn here between Him and the other members of the class to which, in a certain sense, He does belong. Peter says "Thy servant David," but he says "Thy holy servant Jesus." There are many imperfect instruments of the Divine will; thinkers and heroes and saints and statesmen and warriors, as well as prophets and priests and kings; but amongst them all there is One who stands in their midst and yet apart from them, because He, and He alone, can say "I have done all Thy pleasure," and into My doing of Thy pleasure no bitter leaven of self-regard or by-ends has ever, in the faintest degree, entered. "Thy holy servant Jesus," is the unique designation of the Servant of the Lord. And what is the meaning of holy? The word does not primarily refer to character so much as to relation to God. The root idea of holiness is not righteousness nor moral perfectness, but something that lies beyond that — viz., separation for the service and uses of God. The first notion of the word is consecration, and guilt upon that and resulting from it, moral perfection. So then these men, some of whom had lived beside Jesus Christ for all those years, and had seen everything that He did, and studied Him through and through, came away from the close inspection of His character with this thought: He is utterly and entirely devoted to the service of God, and in Him there is neither spot nor wrinkle nor blemish such as is found in all other men. I need not remind you with what strange persistence of affirmation, and yet with what humility of self-consciousness, our Lord Himself always claimed to be in possession of this entire consecration, and complete obedience, and consequent perfection. Think of human lips saying, "I do always the things that please Him"! There followed in Jesus the morn! perfectness that comes from such uninterrupted and complete consecration of self to God. "Thy servant David." What about Bathsheba, David? What about a great many other things in your life? The poet king, with the poet nature so sensitive to all the delights of sense, and so easily moved in the matter of pleasure. is but the type of all other servants in the fact of imperfection. In every machine power is lost through friction; and in every man, the noblest and the purest, there is resistance to be overcome ere motion, in conformity with the Divine impulse, can be secured. We pass in review before our minds saints and martyrs and lovely characters by the hundred, and amongst them all there is not a jewel without a flaw, not a mirror without some dint in it where the rays are distorted, or some dark place where the reflecting surface has been rubbed away by the attrition of sin, and there is no reflection of the Divine light. And then we turn to that meek figure that stands there with the question that has been awaiting an answer for eighteen centuries upon His lips, and is unanswered yet: "Which of you convinceth Me of sin? The holy Servant," whose consecration and character mark Him off from all the class to which He belongs as the only one of them all who, in His fulness, has executed the Father's purpose, and has never attempted anything besides! Now there is another step to take, and that is this. The servant who stands out in front of all the group — though the noblest names in the world's history are included there — could not be the Servant unless He were the Son. This designation, as applied to Jesus Christ, is peculiar to these three or four earlier chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. There is no sign that the proper Sonship and Divinity of our Lord was clear before them at this period. They had the facts but they had not yet come to the distinct apprehension of how much was involved in these. But, if they knew that Jesus" Christ had died and had risen again, and if they were certain that in His character of Messiah there had been faultlessness and absolute perfection, then it would not be long before they took the next step, and said, as I say, "He cannot be the Servant unless He is more than man." And we may well ask ourselves the question — If we admit, as the world does admit, the moral perfectness of Jesus Christ, how comes it that this Man alone managed to escape failure, and deflections from the right, and sins, and that He only carried through life a stainless garment, and went down to the grave never having needed, and not needing then, the exercise of Divine forgiveness? I venture to say that it is hopeless to account for Jesus Christ on naturalistic principles; and that either you should give up your belief in His sinlessness, or advance, as the Christian Church as a whole advanced, to the other belief, on which alone that perfectness is explicable: "Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father."

II. And so, secondly, let us turn to the other contrast here — THE SERVANT AND THE SERVANTS. I said that the humble group of praying, persecuted believers seemed to have wished to take a lower place than their Master's, even whilst they ventured to assume that, in some sense, they too, like Him, were doing the Father's will. So they chose, by a fine instinct of humility, rather than from any dogmatical prepossessions, the name that expresses, in its most absolute and roughest form, the notion of bondage and servitude. He is the Servant; we standing here are slaves. The true place, then, for a man is to be God's slave. The harsh, repellent features of that wicked institution assume an altogether different character when they become the features of my relation to Him. Absolute submission, unconditional obedience, on the slave's part; and on the part of the Master complete ownership; the right of life and death; the right of disposing of all goods and chattels; the right of separating husband and wife, parents and children; the right of issuing commandments without a reason; the right to expect that those commandments shall be swiftly, unhesitatingly, punctiliously, and completely performed; these things inhere in our relation to God. Blessed the man who has learned that they do, and has accepted them as his highest glory and the security of his most blessed life! Remember, however, that in the New Testament these names of slave and owner are transferred to Christians and Jesus Christ. "The Servant" has His slaves; and He who "is God's," and does not His own will, but the Father's will, has us for His, imposes His will upon us, and we are bound to render to Him the same revenue of entire obedience which He hath laid at His Father's feet. Such slavery is the only freedom. Liberty does not mean to do as you like, it means to like as you ought, and to do that. He only is free who submits to God in Christ, and thereby overcomes himself and the world and all antagonism, and is able to do that which it is His life to do. The prison out of which we do not desire to go is no restraint, and the will which coincides with law is the only will that is truly free. You talk about the bondage of obedience. Ah! "the weight of too much liberty" is a far sorer bondage. They are the slaves who say, "Let us break His bonds asunder, and cast away His cords from us." In the wicked old empires, as in some of their modern survivals to-day, viziers and prime ministers were mostly drawn from the servile classes. It is so in God's kingdom. They who make themselves God's slaves are by Him made kings and priests, and shall reign with Him on earth. "If a slave, then a son and an heir of God through Jesus Christ." Remember the alternative. You cannot be your own masters without being your own slaves. Better serve God than the devil; than the world; than the flesh. The Servant-Son makes us slaves and sons. It matters nothing to me that Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the law of God. So much the better for Him, but of no value for me, unless He has the power of making me like Himself.

(A. Maclaren, D. D)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,

WEB: Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness,

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