When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying…
This expression is not the one which we should expect the Christian brethren to use in the circumstances. The sentence would seem clearer to us if it read, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted admission into the kingdom of Christ," or "to share in the salvation of Christ." The prominence of the word "repentance," and its place as the initial step to "life," are remarkable and suggestive. Repentance is not made of so much importance in our presentations of the gospel as it was by the apostles, but for their use of it we may find some adequate reasons.
1. The teaching of John the Baptist, and his requirement of repentance as preparatory to the reception of Messiah, retained its influence upon them.
2. When their Master had sent them out on their trial mission, he had given them this distinct message, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
3. When their Lord had been shamefully crucified, by the schemes of the leaders and representatives of the nation, and they had been confirmed in their belief in his Messiahship by his resurrection and ascension, they felt that the judicial murder of the Messiah was the greatest of national crimes, and so they realized how essential was repentance as preceding a profession of faith in him. They had spoken to Jews who, as a nation, through its representatives, had said, "His blood be on us and on our children," and therefore St. Peter, when answering their question, "What shall we do?" on the day of Pentecost, said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). And in his sermon following on the healing of the lame man, he said, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted" (Acts 3:19). And when called to plead before the great council, he further declared concerning Christ, "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31). Having this prominent to their minds as the very gist and essence of the gospel message, the Jerusalem disciples spoke in accordance with it when they accepted St. Peter's explanations, and said, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. The force of the combination of these terms, repentance" and "life," will be felt if we consider -
I. REPENTANCE AS THE FIRST GOSPEL DEMAND. The distinct meaning of the term should be noticed, and the precise meaning of the two Greek equivalents for our one word "repentance" may be pointed out. It is in the higher sense that the term is used by the apostles, and it includes
(1) conviction of sin;
(2) sorrow for sin;
(3) desire to be delivered from sin;
(4) serious purpose to put away and resist sin.
If the gospel were merely some educational or even some moral scheme for elevating the race, it need make no demand for "repentance." It is a scheme for the deliverance of men from the penalty and the power of sin, and this it can never effect save as it can work along the line of man's own will. And the only sign and expression of a man's sense of sin and desire to be freed from it is this "repentance" which the gospel demands. It is the only attitude which the gospel can meet, the only state of mind and feeling with which it can deal. A man is closed in and buttressed against Divine salvation, redemption by grace, until he "truly and unfeignedly repents," and so feels the need and value of Divine forgiveness, healing, and life. This point may be fully illustrated and enforced, and it may be shown that still the preaching of the gospel fails that does not make first demand for repentance. St. Paul's great address to the learned Athenians has this for its point and application: "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
II. REPENTANCE IS THE FIRST SIGN OF LIFE. The way in which our Lord made his disciples familiar with the term life" should be pointed out. Right relations with God are spoken of as "life," "eternal life." Those relations into which we may come through the Lord Jesus Christ are emphatically recognized as "life; " the only true, eternal, spiritual life. It is this "life" into which the disciples recognize that the Gentiles are admitted. When this is fully apprehended, the place of repentance in relation to the life will be readily recognized. To feel sin and the need of a Savior is the first sign of the life; it is its first breath; with it the life necessarily begins. Men absorbed in self find a new life when self is crushed in the dust. Men" dead in trespasses and sins" are raised up, to look and breathe and speak, when sorrow for sin comes to them. This is well illustrated in T. Moore's familiar poem of 'Paradise and the Peril' 'Lalla Rookh.' The most precious thing on earth, that which may even open heaven's gate to the banished pert, is the tear that falls from the eye of the penitent sinner.
III. REPENTANCE GIVES PLACE TO LIFE. It is here called "repentance unto life. Repentance is a step up to something else. Repentance is a temporary condition of mind and feeling, through which a man passes to something better, something permanent. Show how it passes
(1) into the joyous sense of forgiveness;
(2) into the blessed life of trust in the Dying Savior; and
(3) into the infinite happiness of setting our love upon Christ, and finding ourselves sanctified by the responses and gracious workings of his love to us. In conclusion, urge that repentance is still the one and only threshold of life. Humbled" we must be "under God's gracious hand," before we can be "exalted in his due time." We dare not hold back today our Lord's demand of "repentance unto life:" - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.