Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT A NEW ENTERPRISE MAY SURVIVE A VERY DAMAGING BLOW. It was a very serious misfortune to the new Church that two of its members should commit a sin worthy of death, and pay that terrible penalty in the view of all. The apostles must have felt that they and the cause with which they were identified had received a severe blow; but it was far from being a fatal one. It was one from which the cause of Christ soon recovered; nay, it was overruled "for the furtherance of the gospel." Let not any Church or any sacred cause be too much disheartened by a check at the beginning. With truth and God on its side, it will survive and flourish.
II. THAT VERY SERIOUS SIN MAY BE CONNECTED WITH AN ACT WHICH IS OUTWARDLY VIRTUOUS AND GODLY. To those who looked on as Ananias and Sapphira brought the money they did bring and laid it at the feet of the apostles, their action must have seemed pious and generous in a very high degree. But we know it to have been utterly and even fatally defective. It becomes us to search with fearless and faithful glance those of our deeds which men approve as most commendable, lest, while around us is approval and congratulation, there should be entered in the book of account in heaven a sin of great enormity against our name.
III. THAT WE MAY BE COMMITTING A HEINOUS SIN IN AN ACTION WHICH SEEMS VENIAL TO OURSELVES. In all likelihood, Ananias and Sapphira imagined that they were doing an action which, while it was calculated to win respect, was not very, if at all, reprehensible in itself. They probably reconciled it to their own sense of rectitude. Men do so now. In connection with religion and philanthropy they do guilty things which kindle the wrath of the righteous Lord, supposing that they are only departing a few degrees from integrity, or are even worthy of praise. "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
IV. THAT IT IS A FALSE AND MOST PERILOUS THING TO SUPPOSE THAT THE GOOD CONNECTED WITH ANY COURSE WILL COUNTERBALANCE SOME ONE SERIOUS SIN THEREIN. Ananias and Sapphira may have thought that the piety and charity of their conduct would more than balance the sin of their deception. They were miserably wrong and were fearfully disabused of their mistake. If we willfully break one of God's plain commandments, supposing that the virtues of our action will cancel the wrong, and thus allow ourselves to fall into deception (as here), or into dishonesty, or into excess, or, into arrogance and pride, we shall have a sad and, it may be, a rude and awful awakening from our grievous error.
V. THAT THERE IS A FORGETFULNESS WHICH IS NOTHING LESS THAN FATAL. Ananias and Sapphira made a mistake which was simply ruinous. They overlooked the fact that the Holy Spirit of God was in close connection with his Church, and was acting through his servants. They forgot that when they were trying to deceive inspired men they were acting falsely in the face of the Divine Inspirer, so that when they imagined they were lying unto men they were really lying unto God (ver. 4). For this guilty oversight they paid the last penalty of death. Is not their sin too easily reproducible and too often re-enacted? Too commonly men guiltily overlook the presence and agency of the Divine Spirit.
1. A Church does so when it is resting in human and earthly advantages for its prosperity; when the minister trusts to his eloquence, the people to those arts and influences which are from below and not from above; when both are forgetting that there is an almighty power which is within their reach and at the command of believing prayer.
2. The human soul does so when it disregards the influences which are at work upon and within it; when it treats lightly the pleadings of the pulpit, the warnings of friendship, the prickings of conscience, the convictions and impulses which call it to newness of life. Is not this to sin against the Holy Ghost, and is not the penalty of it spiritual, eternal death? - C.
I. THE SIN OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA. Essentially it was the acting of a lie. The part of the produce of the sale was put before the apostles as if it had been the whole. Many will act lies who will shun to articulate them. But the value of actions in a moral point of view lies in the expression they give to feeling. The motive cannot be left out of consideration. This action was intended by the guilty pair to pass with others as having a moral quality it had not. The understanding was that the whole and unreserved produce of the sale of property should in every case be given in. The act of the couple was intended to be received in this meaning while that meaning did not exist. We are responsible for the constructions which we know will in certain cases be put upon our actions. And the action of Ananias and Sapphira is typical of all those by which we dishonestly compromise with conscience, or seek to pass under false colors. There are times when it is a duty to abstain from action, if we know that our action will convey an impression that is false, have an appearance to which no reality corresponds.
II. PETER'S EXPOSURE OF THE SIN. His words are deep and mysterious. Let us not pretend to fathom them.
1. The dark source of crime - "Satan filling the heart." The deeds of sin are dark in every sense: they excite shame in the doer; they shun the light; they are lying in their origin, process, and consummation.
2. The struggle involved in sin. The opposition of the good, the striving of the Holy Spirit, is ever felt. No man lies to his fellow-men until he has first lied to the truth revealed within. Discussions about the personality of Satan and of the Holy Ghost are foreign to the spirit of the simple New Testament language, and only divert the mind from the solemn truth of immediate inner experience. The meaning of these dread figures of speech is sufficiently clear without any dialectics.
3. The peculiar aggravation of this sin. It had not the excuse of overwhelming temptation. They need not have sold the property at all. There was no law or special apostolic edict requiring it. The free spirit of love alone set the practice on foot. Certainly those sins which men commit under no pressure of necessity or of sudden and strong coincidences of opportunity with desire, are the worst. Gratuitous sin, so to speak, shows so diseased a moral state that it infers a person will require a temptation to do right, will go wrong without temptation at all. It was a fixed and deliberate determination, this act of Ananias, taken in the full daylight of conscience. In all probability it was the crowning act of u life long directed to counterfeiting goodness. For how true the proverb, that no one falls suddenly into the extreme of baseness! His life in Judaism had been a counterfeit, his conversion a sham, his participation in the joy and power of the time a mockery; the act which he intended to seal his Christian reputation fixing on him the damnation of the devil-led impostor. And through all or much of this there doubtless ran a vein of profound self-deception.
4. All moral offenses are irreligious. This is important, for the craft of the heart would often separate morality from religion. But a lie to men is a lie to God under all circumstances; it is he whose light is in the breast which falsehood confuses, his truth which is practically denied. There is no genuine morality which is not founded on reverence for the living God. And no security that men will speak truly or act rightly when the pressure of fear or the mechanical action of habit is not felt, except in the sense of the eternal imperative of God.
5. The complicity of the wife in the guilt adds another element of aggravation. The one should have restrained the other. The guilt of their joint act was like a mutual agreement of unfaithfulness. The sanctity of marriage rests on the recognition of the covenant between each soul and God; it is broken down and defiled by the common consciousness of a crime.
III. THE JUDGMENT. It was sudden, marking the interposition of God. It was received in both cases in silence - a tacit confession of its justice. Thus did sin long nourished in the heart at last come forth, full-born, only to meet death. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Great dread fell, as well it might, on all who heard and on the whole Church. It was like a bolt out of a clear and serene sky. And we should learn the solemn lessons that suggest themselves for every time.
1. Moral dangers lurk near every scene of spiritual manifestation.
2. The highest features of spiritual character and action will always find false imitators, and this in the very bosom of the Church.
3. Hence the need of heart-searching for ourselves (for we may be hypocrites without knowing it), of constant prudence and vigilance. "Our enemy goeth about." "Behold, I have told you before." - J.
I. A revelation of THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST.
1. As the kingdom of light. Wisdom in discernment of spirits and judgment of human character. Distinction between pure and false fellowship. Exaltation of the great light-principle of self-sacrifice.
2. As the kingdom of righteousness. The act of Ananias was an act of rebellion against the first law of the gospel, both as a lie and as selfishness.
3. As the kingdom of order and peace. The rising brotherhood was the germ of a new human society, in which all men should be blessed. Ananias sinned against the Holy Ghost, i.e. defied and insulted the Spirit in his new work, trampled on the rising life. As a vindication of the kingdom, the sentence, though it looks at first sight unduly severe, was merciful, as a sign, not merely threatening, but inviting. It cleared the light of clouds.
II. An instructive example of HUMAN WEAKNESS AND SINFULNESS. A Judas among the apostles, an Ananias among the first believers. We must expect such things always.
1. The work of the Spirit is thus shown to be necessary. The deceit of the heart. The power of temptation. The influence of a multitude in hiding us from ourselves. The possibility of being carried away by a wave of excitement. The lure of ambition. Man and wife encouraging one another; Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The gospel needed to lift up even the ties of nature and renew and strengthen them in the grace of God.
2. The Christian Church must be prepared to encounter the facts of human fallibility and sin. We must rest upon the supernatural guidance and support. We must leave judgment in the hands of God. Peter pronounced no sentence. He simply, by spiritual power, proclaimed the truth, and left conviction to work its own work. A great lesson in the exercise of discipline. In the case of the wife, the fact became a prophecy, by inspiration, in Peter's mind. He saw the work of God beforehand. No assumption.
III. A PRACTICAL ADMONITION.
1. Against selfishness and dishonesty. They kept back for themselves part of the price, intending to deceive.
2. Against untruthfulness, which was deliberate, prompted by meanness mixed with ambition and desire of display, daring against the manifest signs of the Spirit. Not a mere lie unto men, but a defiance of God.
3. Against trifling with holy things. They, perhaps, thought that what they kept back would not be needed, but they made light of the Spirit's evident demand. They did dishonor to the infant Church and to the apostles.
4. Rebellion against the Holy Ghost. He put it into their heart to sell their property and join the Church. They recognized his command to give up all for Christ. They saw what he had done and could do. Yet they did violence to his order and might have produced endless confusion in the Church. Fighting against God is perilous work. - R.
I. THE CONVICTION AS EXPRESSED BY ST. PETER. He urges:
1. That evil, in the shape of temptation, had been unresisted. The question "Why?" implies that resistance to the temptation had been possible. Had he resisted the tempter, he would have fled from him (James 4:7).
2. That Ananias was under no kind of compulsion. He was not bound by any rule of the Church. If be had brought, and called it, part, or if he had brought nothing, he could not have been blamed. If he was moved to sell he should honestly set forth what he bad done with the money. Man from his fellowman at least looks for sincerity and truthfulness.
3. And that while Ananias had only purposed to deceive the apostles, he had really been trying to deceive God, who dwelt, by his Spirit, in the apostles and in the Church. "Or, to state it as Peter stated it three hours after to the woman, this couple put God, the all-knowing Spirit, to the proof, tried him whether he would let himself and his Holy Church be taken in with a lie."
II. THE CONVCTION AS FELT BY ANANIAS. Throughout he must have borne an uneasy conscience, and in response to St. Peter's words it smote him hard. Shame and guilt overwhelmed him, and may even in part be allowed to explain his sudden death. Dr. Plumptre says, "In such a case we may rightly trace that union of natural causation and Divine purpose which we express in the familiar phrase that speaks of the visitation of God as a cause of death. The shame and agony of detection, the horror of conscience not yet dead, were enough to paralyze the powers of life."
III. THE CONVICTION AS CONFIRMED BY GOD. In the death of Ananias, and in the death taking place in such a sudden and awful manner. "In this case it is plain that the death of Ananias is an event supernaturally arranged by a higher power, because it is connected with the penal sentence of the apostle, which was spoken in the power of the Spirit." It may be pointed out that the Divine judgment here concerns only the sudden death, and the veil is not lifted to show us the eternal judgment, the secret Divine dealings with this so sadly erring disciple. Compare the teachings of such passages as 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Peter 4:6. Impress that, however our sin may be covered over and hidden from our own view now by self-delusions, the time of conviction must come sooner or later. A man must presently see his sin as it is, and see himself as he is. The conviction may come wholly by Divine inward leadings, it may come through providential circumstances, or it may be started by the word of some teacher or friend. Happy, indeed, is he who is brought to conviction in time - in time to seek pardon and eternal life in that living Savior who is "exalted to give repentance and remission of sins." - R. T,
Acts 5:7-11 (or ver. 11)
I. The intimate connection of the proclamation of gospel truth and mercy with THE RENOVATION OF HUMAN SOCIETY.
1. Family life, domestic intimacy, the root of public life. We must choose all our relations with the light of God in Christ.
2. The conspiracy of Ananias and Sapphira was a blow at the work of the Spirit in raising up a new spiritual life on the basis of self-sacrifice and absolute truthfulness.
3. The awful judgment was a proclamation of mercy - Come and hide under this Divine power and be safe.
II. A marvelous display of THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY poured out on the apostles. The words of Peter an example:
1. Of the Spirit of truth and grace in him; he proceeded with the utmost care, publicity, tenderness, pity. The wife had the opportunity of repentance, while the appeal was made, not on the ground of terror, for she knew nothing, but on the ground of simple truth - Tell me the truth.
2. Of the spirit of discernment and, in the Name of the Lord, of prediction. Had not Peter under supernatural impulse foreseen the death of the woman, he would not have dared to utter such words. As it was, it was a responsibility which none but an inspired man would have assumed. Such a fact speaks volumes on the supernatural state of the Church at that time.
III. A GRACIOUS APPLICATION of extraordinary facts.
1. To the Church itself. The solemnization of fellowship. God thus said," Take heed how you join my people." The ethical set in the light of the spiritual. "Be ye holy." The sins of falsehood, presumption, avarice, self-confidence, set forth. The Divine kingdom clearly revealed. If God is so near, and yet to all who trust in Christ near to bless, how glorious this time! What is he not doing? and how little need we fear the world's opposition when he can strike dead our enemies? "Stand still and see the salvation." Compare the Israelites looking back on Pharaoh's host and forward to the promised land.
2. To the world. "All that heard these things." Such facts preached, loudly and widely, where the preacher's voice did not reach. We must remember that grace and providence go hand-in-hand. Fallow ground broken up by the ploughshare of terrible events and warning dispensations. "Judgment begins at the house of God; what shall the end be," etc.? Yet the "fear was a fear mingled with the light of hope;" for these deaths pointed to the way of life. The Church was the more conspicuously revealed as a refuge opened by God for all. So in the terrible times of human history religion has gone forth with special power. What message has philosophy at such times? Where are the rationalists and the doubters in the great crises of the world? Press home the facts upon those who tempt the Spirit of the Lord by untruthfulness, rebellion, indifference, worldliness. - R.
prominent and an active one. She and her husband were at full accord in the matter; and her sin is the more aggravated as she had a longer time to think it over, and had evidently planned what she would say and do if any remarks were made by the apostles or the brethren as to the gift of the land. "The question asked by St. Peter gave her an opening for repentance. It had been in her power to save her husband by a word of warning protest. It was now in her power to clear her own conscience by confession. She misses the one opportunity as she had misused the other. The lie which they had agreed upon comes glibly from her lips, and the irrevocable word is spoken."
I. THE COMMON JUDGMENT. The same fate overtook both, as they had joined together in the sin. Compare the cases of Dathan and Abiram. There was union:
1. In the slow judgment of the deteriorated and debased soul. And this is ever the first form of the Divine judgment on the sinner. Hardening of heart, deadening of conscience, cherishing of blinding and fatal delusions, are as truly direct judgments of God, ever working, as sudden death. This truth needs to be seen more clearly and impressed more constantly.
2. In the swift and immediate judgment of the sudden death, which, in the second case, was prophetically declared to be God's witness to the exceeding heinousness of their sin. The life of all men is in God's hands, and we may well "fear him who can cast body and soul into hell." "The lives of all men are in his hand. Daily he is cutting them off in a moment - even hot with lust or red-handed from crime. His doom now and then antedates the slower processes of human law. The time and fashion of all our deaths are with him. If one day his mercy turned to judgment, and he took from the earth two forfeited lives for, the warning and the bettering of many, who shall say either that the lesson was dearly bought or that the penalty was undeserved? It is well that men should be taught once for all, by sudden death treading swiftly on the heels of detected sin, that the gospel, which discovers God's boundless mercy, has not wiped out the sterner attributes of the judge" (Dr. Dykes).
II. THE MORAL MISSION OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. A solemn awe fell on the minds of all present. Illustrate by impressions now made by a case of sudden death in a congregation, or by such a case as that of Alexis, smitten by lightning at Luther's side. It is said that "great fear came upon all the Church." The Scripture meanings of the word "fear" may be given and illustrated. Here it is a solemn sense of the severity and power of God, and of the strictness of his demands. The members now felt, as they had never done before, what a serious thing it was to make a Christian profession. Dwell on two things.
1. Fear as solemnizing other professors, filling them with new thoughts about insincerity, hypocrisy, and covetousness. Reminding them that no man should enter Christ's kingdom without first "sitting down and counting the cost." "The true ecclesia must be free from such hypocritical professors, or its work could not advance." "God fills our hearts with the spirit of reverence, truthfulness, and godly fear, lest another spirit fills us with lies, with greed, with vainglory, and with presumptuous impiety."
2. Fear as deterring would-be professors. Persons in all ages are too ready to take up the mere profession of Christ's Name, and such need to be shown that such profession involves responsibilities as well as privileges. There is grave danger of our estimating our responsibilities too lightly. The vows of Christ ought ever to be a solemn and a holy burden. "What manner of persons ought we to be?" God is "known by the judgments that he executeth." We still need to recognize his hand, and we must be careful not to lose the impression of his personality in the modern sentiment about law. - R.T.
I. THE TERRIBLE. "Great fear came upon... as many as heard these things" (ver. 11). "By terrible things in righteousness" God sometimes answers us and impresses us. The fearful has a work to do in inspiring awe and leading to conviction and conversion. There are awful truths in connection with the gospel (Matthew 21:44; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:46, etc.), as well as terrible facts happening in the providence of God, which do their work in the mind, solemnizing, subduing, preparing for thought, devotion, consecration.
II. THE BENEFICENT. (Vers. 15, 16.) In apostolic times Christian beneficence took the form of miraculous healing, and it was most efficacious in attracting and winning men. Now it takes other forms hardly less effective. The hospitals of the missionary in India and China, and the philanthropic institutions of England, initiated and sustained by Christian sympathy and self-sacrifice, are great elements of power. Christian kindness, taking a thousand shapes, flowing in a thousand channels, is an untold, incalculable influence for good.
III. THE SACRED. "The people magnified them" (ver. 13). To whomsoever this applied, whether to the apostles only or to the band of believing disciples, it is clear that a certain reverence was paid to those who bore about them such marks of close association with the Divine. To those who walk with God, who are men of prayer and of real devoutness of spirit as well as blamelessness of life, there will attach a certain sacredness which will cause them to be "magnified by the people," and their word will be with power.
IV. THE SUCCESSFUL. It is clear, from the fifteenth and sixteenth verses, that the publicity gained by the "many signs and wonders of one day brought together a still larger congregation of the sick and the expectant the following day. Success in Jerusalem begat success in "the cities round about." The moral and spiritual triumphs of the truth have been elements of influence of signal worth. What God has wrought in opening blind eyes of the mind and cleansing leprous souls has been the means of extending the healing and renewing power of Christ on every hand. What stronger argument have we than this - What Christ has done for such sad and sinful souls he can and will do for you?
V. THE SUPERNATURAL. "Signs and wonders are not now wrought by the hand of the ministers of Christ." But the supernatural is with us still, though the miraculous is gone. In connection with the preached Word, and in answer to believing prayer, the iron will is bent and the rocky heart is broken, the blind eyes are opened, and from the grave of sin dead souls come forth to newness of life. - C.
I. THEY ARE VEHICLES OF DIVINE POWER. The lips and the hands are consecrated to the service of doing good. Here especially the hands. It is a beautiful organ, the human hand, and may stand in Christian thought as the very symbol of beneficence. Signs and wonders are wrought, betokening that God is in immediate connection with the agency of man, that his presence is loving and healing, that Christianity brings in an era of deliverance from pain and sickness.
II. THE REPELLENT FORCE OF HOLY PERSONALITY. False souls are scared by the presence of a true man. They are in polar antagonism to him. They cannot bear his direct glance, his clear tones, his indefinable influence. There are those whose presence silences the ribald jest and scoff. The holy man awakens dread and love wherever he goes. Society seems to divide into its elements as he approaches. He is magnetic. Hence the slander of some is an equal testimony to moral greatness with the admiration and love of others.
III. ITS ATTRACTIVE FORCE. The multitude love goodness and revere it in their inmost heart. And not for long can the sympathies of the multitude be held except by goodness. In this case Divine power set its seal too plainly upon the character and work of the apostles to be resisted. In the vast concourse of sick and suffering in the streets and open places of Jerusalem we have the picture of the effects of Christianity. It is and ever has been the religion of the poor and the suffering. It remains the Divine will that the Christian minister should be the healer, the comforter. His pattern is to be found in the description Christ gave of his own mission in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4.), and it is surely a sign of weakness somewhere when the public organs of Christianity fail to command the attention and to supply the heart-wants of the lowly and the suffering. By the ordinary laws of mind to work for the spiritual help of such is better than all the power to work signs and wonders. Let every Christian minister be like "Peter's shadow," a refreshment and a rest by his spirit and teaching to weary souls. - J.
I. An increase in the manifestation of THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT.
1. In the working of miracles, which bad their special value in rousing attention and proving the nearness of God's kingdom.
2. In the separation, and magnifying in the eyes of the people, of the true Church. The rest durst not join them; the people magnified them.
3. In the solidifying of the Church as a society. Solomon's porch; one accord.
4. In the work of conversion. Multitudes - men and women; notwithstanding the awful deaths.
5. In the diffusion of the glad tidings in the surrounding neighborhood, not as mere idle rumor, but as a practical appeal which brought the needy and suffering to the feet of Christ.
II. THE UNFOLDING GRACE OF GOD to mankind. Solomon's porch the place of meeting still. The center of new life in the midst of the old corruption. Invitation to both Jews and Gentiles. Public place, yet connected with the temple. The Divine society inviting all to new life - a life that healed, that cared for the sick and dying, that drew the multitudes, the miracles giving confidence and pointing out the way. The manifest testimony of the world to the Church, speaking of man's preparation for the gospel, The marvelous progress of the truth in the growth of the Church a sign that the grace was being abundantly bestowed. A time of great awakening and many conversions is a time of tremendous responsibility. At least the shadow of the messenger falls upon us, as he passes by. It is not said that the shadow healed, but it may help to the faith which is a prerequisite. The people magnify the work, though they may not receive the blessing. God works generally from the lower to the upper strata of society. All great moral changes have begun among the people. The rich will resist, for it is hard to them to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The Church must look well to itself if it is to be the power of God in the world. The circle of grace will widen if only the force keeps going out from the center. We must avoid the fatal mistake of enlarging that circle by mere human methods. Let God do it in his way. What we want is not large Churches as, communities, or wealthy societies, or great signs and wonders wrought in our cities, but "believers added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women;" and they will be "the more added" because the rest dare not join themselves unto them because the Spirit of God is manifestly among them. Our great danger is impatience and unbelief. Resorting to our own expedients, because we think God's methods fail. Out of the dark cloud of Ananias's and. Sapphira's sin broke forth a new baptism of zeal, devotion, and spirituality. - R.
mother of them all," to seek, not in vain, healing virtue, we seem to be removed by a world's diameter from the Jerusalem that was stricken to the heart and its very sky darkened by the Crucifixion. And we also seem removed by centuries from the time when certain lips (which could not open but to speak truth whether simplest or deepest) had said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,... behold, your house is left unto you desolate!" and when Jesus "wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes." On the contrary, we are in fact separated only by weeks from the dread solemnities of the Crucifixion, and scarcely by months from the lamentations of Jesus over Jerusalem. Yet the sun is shining again; storm, darkness, and nothing less than the chill of severest winter are passed over; and summer days, with striking similarity to the best of those of Jesus himself, burst on Jerusalem. Surely it is second summer with Jerusalem. Reminiscences of bright days, indeed, these were, and they were bright in their own brightness; yet, alas! to linger but for a while. Meantime what a touching evidence they were, for Jerusalem, of the unrevengefulness of Jesus, of his forgivingness, of the very wistfulness of his loving-kindness! Let us notice the distinguishing features of these days.
I. THEY ARE A GLORIOUS REPRODUCTION OF SOME OF THE GRANDEST OF THE DAYS OF CHRIST'S OWN MINISTRY. That such a thing could be said with literal truth was part
(1) of the condescension of Jesus; again, it came
(2) of the genuine reality contained in the profession that he wore human nature; and
(3) of the one absorbed interest of his heart in the work of man's salvation. The point is surely worthy of attention, so beautiful in its own moral bearings; so significant of the intention of Jesus to share his ultimate triumph and glory with his own people, and their captains and princes not last; and so great a contrast to the methods and the "inward thoughts" of the "world" and "the kings of the earth." Jesus is not of those who would cut off from the followers in his train those who might be successful imitators of his career, sharers of his renown. He is exactly the opposite of this. He calls, invites, incites us all to seek to be in every best sense imitators of him, and promises that so we shall not fail of a just share of his renown. The likeness between these days and days in the ministry of Jesus Christ is patent in respect of:
1. The miracles which found a place in them.
2. The beneficent character of those same miracles.
3. The abundance and the variety of them - ranging from the healing of" the sick" to the healing of those "vexed with unclean spirits."
4. The very methods by which the friends of the afflicted compassed the bringing of them within the reach of the "virtue" which in some way "came out" of the apostles. The "touch of the hem of the garment" must be allowed to be equaled by the device of securing the chance for some impotent man of the "shadow of Peter... overshadowing him."
5. The eager, longing, thirsting appropriation of such blessings on the part of the masses of the people. Crushed by want, by suffering, by sin; hope, light, nay, almost the mind crushed out of them; - with what irresistible, unceremonious tide do these ever press forward, and sweep round or over every obstacle, when genuine help, precious, precious, precious salvation proffers itself! What care they for Sanhedrim and Sadducee? They are the rulers, and the others are cowed and cower before them.
6. The widespread practical success of the miracles - " they were healed every one."
7. The moral triumph which "the people" accord to the authors, or those who appear as the authors, of their blessings. They repudiate sophistication, and "render honor to whom honor is due." Indeed, there are not wanting very satisfactory and sufficient indications now that "the people," on the one hand, rendered to the apostles the distinction justly due to them as the trusted servants of their vanished Master, and, on the other, recognized the fact that "the power was of God." Infidelity was not altogether either the prevalent or the hardened fact in some directions then that in some directions it is now. "The people" had a great idea of the impregnability of the position of the man who did "works such as none other could do," and "such as no man could do save God were with him."
II. THEY GIVE NOW WITH UNCHALLENGEABLE AUTHORITY THEIR PROPER DIGNITY AND STATUS TO THE COMPANY OF THE APOSTLES. Peter and John are the two apostles whose names and whose work had hitherto received prominence. Of these Peter has been with evident and with just design by far the more prominent. Till Paul shall come upon the scene he will also remain similarly conspicuous. But during these days the whole college of the apostles seem to receive the baptism of their work, as on the day of Pentecost they had received the baptism of the Spirit for it. They are "all with one accord in Solomon's porch." And the chief evidence of the dignity and status, not artificial but real, which were now given to them, may perhaps be best expressed in a somewhat antithetical mode of statement, viz. that
(1) while "the people magnified them" with hearty acclamation for instant and grateful acknowledgment,
(2) "no man of the rest (i.e. presumably of those who would not care to be classified altogether among the people," and who would have been quite prepared to snatch at any possible dignity at which they could "dare" to snatch) "durst join himself" to those apostles. They did not dare this, because their abilities could be immediately put to the proof. They did not dare it, because of the warning, so fresh, of the end of Ananias, when he had tampered with the sacredness of the society organized by the apostles. And likely enough, in many cases, they did not dare it from a sincere awe and an intelligent, respectful reverence for men who were doing the things that the apostles were now doing. Any way, the result was obtained that round these apostles was drawn the cordon of a moral regard and a moral support, which would be a strong comfort to the believers and a strong condemnation to the unbelievers. A very few hours were to find the use of this. And a very few hours would show that it inferred no danger of the access of superficial vanity or the incursion of deeper pride.
III. THEY GO BEYOND OTHER MOST SACRED DAYS OF MIRACLE IN THE DIRECT SPIRITUAL RESULTS WHICH THEY RECORD. (Ver. 14.) It is quite possible that, among the "multitudes both of men and women" who now were "added to the Lord," some may have proved apostates as time went on. On the other hand, the supposition would be most gratuitous that any disproportionate number turned thus away. The fair inference from what is said here and from the tenor of the history that follows would be, if anything, in a contrary direction. Assuming this or contenting ourselves readily with the other and lower estimate, in either case we are justified in noting the kind of use to which at this time miracle was ordained to be subservient. It is not to be disputed that the fervent attachment which bound not a few to the person, yes, and to the character and truth, of Jesus during the days of his flesh was wakened and fixed by some miracle that he had wrought for them or theirs. Nor need it be denied that that attachment answered to a genuine spiritual change, a change of heart, evidencing itself in a change of life. Nevertheless, it can scarcely be said that this was the clear rule in the operation of the miracles of Jesus, or that this was their aim. Neither, perhaps, now was this the primary object of the miracles and "the many signs and wonders wrought by the hands of the apostles." But the miracles were distinctly the pioneers of those spiritual results. In the track of miracle went a most efficacious working of the convincing and converting Spirit! The miracle drew many together; it wakened and held the attention; it undoubtedly did have this practical and so far forth moral effect, viz. the effect of compelling many to say, "Lo, God is here! and to feel it. To deny the possibility of a miracle-falls nothing-short Of denying a personal God. To allow the fact of any individual miracle is to allow that God is offering to the help of a poor memory, to the help of a struggle always arduous enough against sense and the numbing sway of habit, to the help-of conviction itself, the enlivening touch of his personal presence. Sophistry has a vanity in weaving its web to snare miracle, but vainly weaves. The faith that inheres in the world's great heart is too strong for it, and sweeps away that vanity with equal ease and contempt. In the track, then, of miracle viewed for a moment thus, it is quite optional what follows. The miracle, like all other mercy, may be to condemnation, as Jesus said, If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin (John 15:22, 26). The miracle may be what it so often was in the very dearest specimens of it, those of Jesus himself, to the great gratification of curiosity - that of people, of priest, and of ruler, and after a while to their deeper sleep and their more reckless disbelief. But it may also be all the blessed contrary. In the track of what or of whom would the quickening, enlightening. convincing, converting Spirit himself rather follow? And this is what was seen nosy. When Jesus himself wrought his own mightiest works, the Spirit's course seemed restrained. But, wonderful grace! when his disciples and apostles are facing the world and encountering the inevitable dangers involved in doing so, mighty miracles are brought home by the mightier Spirit, and spiritual results follow such as may be described in terms unknown to the lifetime of Jesus himself. "Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." Nevertheless, then were plainly fulfilled the words of Jesus to his disciples, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do: because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12). - B.
lookers-on, who, from one cause or another, were hindered from belief. Dr. Dykes says, "To the friendly attitude of the common people there stood contrasted, exactly as during Jesus' ministry, the displeasure of the official and educated classes.... Somewhat later a number of the rank-and-file even of the priesthood went over to the new faith. At this period, however, all the sacred and ruling orders appear to have been kept aloof from the Church by a public opinion of their own, so strong that no individual member of these orders had as yet the courage to oppose it." The term, "Of the rest," may include -
I. THE SANHEDRIM PARTY. This partly consisted of Sadducees and partly of Pharisees. Both were hindered from belief in Christ by prejudice. Doctrine blinded the Sadducees; pride of ritual holiness blinded the Pharisees. Sadducees were offended by our Lord's miracles and spiritual demands, and hopelessly enraged by the report of his resurrection, which they regarded as a mischievous absurdity and an impossibility. Their doctrines prevented their being persuaded. Pharisees were prejudiced to a ritual system in the observance of which alone could salvation come. To their notions salvation by faith in a person, and such a person as the Nazarene impostor, was, on the face of it, unworthy of intelligent beings. These classes are but examples. Still the prejudice of doctrinal notions, and the delusion that somehow salvation must be by works, keep men from Christ.
II. THE ADHERENTS OF THE SANHEDRIM PARTY. All great parties in a state have adherents, hangers-on, people who watch and take their cue from them, and hope to get their own benefit through the party. These men are always ready to avoid what their party avoids, and to shout what their party shouts. Such men there were in Jerusalem at the time of the apostles, and, whatever might be the force of conviction and persuasion brought to bear upon them, they were hindered by personal interest. Joining the Christians would not answer their ends, and they could not see their way to offending the party that was in power. Time-servers never can believe until they put away their time-serving. Self-interest and faith cannot dwell together.
III. THE OFFICIALS OF THE TEMPLE. Priests, Levites, door-keepers, singers, etc. These were hindered by the spirit of officialism, one of the most narrowing and conservative forces acting on men. The new is always suspected by the official mind. The routine and order must not be touched. There was much, both in our Lord's teaching and in that of his apostles, that could not fail to grieve and alarm the temple officials. And still, stiffened creeds and rigid ecclesiastical forms are often fatal hindrances to those who teach the creeds and minister the forms.
IV. THE RICH MEN OF THE COMMUNITY. These were hindered by observing what a poor lot the first Christians were, and class pride kept them from Christ. It was the constant sneer of the enemies of the early Church, and is fully expressed by Celsus, that the Christians were drawn from the very dregs of society, from the publicans and the slaves. Yet we glory in this, that "God hath made the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom." - R.T.
miraculous character of such cures. We may consider -
I. HEALINGS ALONE. God has provided in nature sufficient and efficient healing agents for all man's diseases, lie has given to some among men healing skill, to be used in the service of others. No nobler ministry is entrusted to men than that of healing. A vast and almost overwhelming mass of human suffering calls for the healer's art. Though some forms of bodily disease are beyond human cure, few, if any, are out of the reach of relieving agencies. Apostolic healings materially differed from those of the ordinary doctor.
1. They were immediate.
2. They were without the use of medicinal agencies.
3. They were complete, without peril of any return of the disease.
4. They were wrought by spiritual power - and that not the apostles' own, only operating through them - reaching the very springs of vitality and giving new life. How such healings illustrate the Divine work in sin-sick souls may be fully shown.
II. HEALINGS WITH TEACHINGS. This was the special feature of the apostolic ministry. The end was not reached when a suffering man was cured; that was but the means to a further and higher end, even that soul-healing which comes by the reception of Christ the Savior, whom apostles taught. Illustrate how medical missions are made the agency for winning the attention of the heathen to the gospel message. Point out what are the particular points of spiritual teaching which gain effective illustration from bodily healings; e.g.:
1. The assertion of a necessary relation between sin and suffering. Suffering is no accident, no mere calamity; it is the divinely appointed fruitage and consequence of sin. It is designed to fix the character of sin, to give men conviction through feeling, vision, and sympathy, of the evil of sin. When more clearly understood, suffering is seen to be the corrective agency through which man may be delivered from sin.
2. The assertion of the Divine relation to suffering. God does not pass aside of the diseased or disabled; every day he is working gracious works in sick-rooms and hospitals. Of this his constant work Jesus gave full illustrations in his miracles, when he came to "show us the Father;" and of this apostles renewed the assurance when they healed, in Christ's Name, all the sick and suffering ones that were brought unto them.
3. The consequent assertion of the Divine relation to sin. God would not concern himself with the mere effects; we may be quite sure that he deals with the cause. The great Physician is concerned about our sin. lie would not that any of us should perish in our sins. And, therefore, when the apostles healed a sufferer they preached unto him Jesus, who is precisely this, "God saving men from their sins." - R.T.
I. DIVINE INTERPOSITION. (Ver. 19.) How vain all bolts and bars to shut out those whom God would have to enter, to shut in those whom he would have escape! The hour had come for his interposing hand, and all the contrivances of man's wrath were broken through as if they were but "the spider's most attenuated thread." We often wish for the direct interposition of God now; we often ask for it; we often wonder that it does not come, thinking that the hour for Divine manifestation must have arrived. The duty and the wisdom of true piety are
(1) to ask God to deliver in his own time and way;
(2) to expect his delivering hand at some time and in some way;
(3) to wait in patient endurance till his time has come;
(4) to recognize his gracious hand in whatever ways he may be pleased to act.
II. A DIVINE INSTRUCTION. "Go, stand and speak... all the words of this life" (ver. 20). Doubtless the apostles well understood what was the tenor of their commission. They were to speak all those words which would enlighten their fellow-citizens on the great subject of the new spiritual life which they had begun to live. They who stand now in the relation of religious teachers to the men of their own time, may take these words of the heavenly messenger as a Divine instruction to themselves. They are to "speak all the words of this life;" i.e.
(1) to explain and enforce the truth, that beneath and beyond the life which is material and temporal is the life which is spiritual and eternal;
(2) to make known the conditions on which that life is to be entered upon - repentance toward God, and faith in a crucified and risen Savior;
(3) to make clear the way by which that life is to be sustained - by "abiding in him;"
(4) to assure all disciples that "this life" is to be perpetuated in the other world.
III. THE DIVINE DEMAND. "We ought to obey God rather than man" (ver. 29). God demands our first obedience - that is the teaching of his Word; it is also the response of our own conscience. We agree, when we consider it, that God has a claim, transcendently and immeasurably superior to all others, on our allegiance. That Divine One who called us ourselves into existence; by whom we have been endowed with all our faculties; in whom "we live, and move, and have our being;" from whom we have received every single blessing we have known; who is the righteous and holy Sovereign of all souls throughout the universe of being; on whose will absolutely depends our future destiny ; - to him we owe our allegiance in such degree, that any claims man may have upon us are "as nothing, and less than nothing." There are many reasons why we should yield ourselves to his service - the example of the worthiest and the best of our kind; the excellency, dignity, exaltation of that service; the present and future advantages we gain thereby; the awful issues of disloyalty and persistent rejection, etc. But there is one thought which should weigh the most, and be of itself sufficient - " we ought to obey God." We cannot decline to do so without violating the plain teaching of our moral judgment. When we do yield ourselves to him, we put ourselves in the right and have the strong and blessed sanction of our conscience. We should hear the voice within, saying daily, hourly, in tones which will not be silenced, "You ought to obey God." - C.
I. THE TEMPER OF THE RULING POWERS
1. Zeal. It is good or evil in its effects, according to the objects to which it is directed. There is no mood of which more opposite descriptions have been and may not be with justice given. In the excitement of feeling, the fire and fervor which zeal implies, egotism may be so easily mistaken for public spirit. Our self-passions may and must mix with those of a purer kind. Resentment against injury to our interests or indignity to our party, or contempt for our opinions, is constantly mistaken for pure zeal for the kingdom of God and the cause of goofiness.
2. Whenever anger and violence break out it is a proof that the dangerous force of zeal is at work. The only way to correct its mischief is by denying any personal interest which is apart from that of the truth. It is the clear calm gaze at truth which cools the undue heat of zeal, or gives the force its true direction. Here violence showed that egotism was the principle of priestly zeal, and passionate interest, divorced from truth. The apostles are seized and put in prison. Zeal is blundering, thinks that force is a remedy for moral feebleness, believes that truth and spirit can be put down.
II. THEIR VIOLENCE DIVINELY REBUKED. The angel of the Lord comes as an emissary of freedom, for the Word of God cannot be bound. And freedom means new scope for duty. God does not give liberty to tongue and hand for nothing. "If our virtues go not forth from us, 'Tis all as one as though we had them not." Freedom imposes duties. If God sets us free front the fear of man, which muzzles the tongue, then let us go and publicly speak to the people "all the words of this life." Again, with freedom courage is given. The apostles go at daybreak to the temple, and in the teeth of ecclesiastical prohibition proceed to teach. How truly is courage the gift and grace of God! Too often we think of it as a mere pagan virtue founded on pride. Far otherwise with the true courage of the Christian soldier. "It was a great instruction," said Mrs. Hutchinson, in her 'Memoirs,'" that the best and highest courages were beams of the Almighty." As every passion and energy of the soul contains its opposite, so moral courage contains fear of God, moral cowardice contains the false courage to be untrue to God. The apostles, having chosen the fear of God and obedience for their guide, knew no other fear.
III. RENEWAL OF OPPOSITION. (Vers. 22, etc.) Here is another study of the human heart. When men are blinded by passion, the strongest arguments and warnings of God seem only obstacles on which wrath breaks with the greater vehemence. The news conies that the prison is empty, and under significant circumstances. The guard stands as before at the door, unconscious of the prisoners' escape. The tidings are confirmed from another source. The prisoners have escaped and are again in the temple, teaching. Was not this the finger of God? Would not men in their senses, free from the madness of passion, have argued that they did wrong to offer violence to a power so majestical and so contemptuous of the fetters of force and the ordinary laws of nature? Yet once more the foiled attempt of human force against the will of God is renewed, and the apostles are brought with a gentleness due to the fear of their captors before the tribunal.
IV. THE CONTEST OF WORLDLY AUTHORITY WITH SPIRITUAL. The Sanhedrim are at the outset again baffled and defied.
1. Authority weak without moral support. The judges can only helplessly repeat themselves. They refer to their former command and ask why it had not been obeyed. As if the apostles had not warned them it should not be obeyed. Might without right can only repeat its experiments and its failures; is no match for right which rests upon eternal might.
2. Physical weakness mighty is moral support. Here were but a few unarmed men, without armed following, only temporarily backed up by the uncertain sympathy of the crowd. What is the secret of their immovable bearing? It is moral. Obedience to the higher law is the secret of all command over the minds of others. Here again is the coincidence of opposites. The servant of self-interest is weak, though he sits on a throne and is surrounded by guards; while one moral will, one divinely determined personality, suffices to set a city in com- motion and to overturn established order.
3. Truth irresistible. The truth of the place, time, persons, circumstances, launched from firm lips, is certain to go home. This is infallible. If we fail with the truth, it is because of want of respect to some of these conditions.
(1) The act of God in raising Jesus is again insisted on. Fearful fact in its grandeur, disquieting in its stubbornness, illustrated now by the events of every hour.
(2) The guilt of the crucifiers again emphasized. Their own dark passions are reflected in the cross of wood, and at the same time God's rebuke of them and disappointment of them.
(3)The exaltation and dominion of Jesus again set forth. At the fight hand of God; at the apex of the moral universe, he now draws men unto him, changing their hearts and pardoning their sins.
(4) The living evidence again appealed to. We, living, acting men, working works that by the confession of one of your number (Nicodemus) no man can do unless God be with him; we, not in our independent name and personality, but as vehicles and agents of a holy power, are the evidence that these things are so. And if they are so, then is the power of the Sanhedrim, with all its sup- port in Roman arms, the mere shadow and ghost of authority. It is superseded by that of Jesus the true King of Israel. Well may the priests and rulers be cut to the heart by a conviction, all the more penetrating because it is in the minds of all, yet adored by none.
(1) The root of courage, energy, moral influence, and command lies in conscience, or obedience to God.
(2) Where men combine against conscience and conspire against truth, they undermine the foundations of authority and prepare their own ruin. - J.
1. It was the result of marvelous success. We must expect such opposition when God gives us power among the people. The proud and formal have no liking for that which can be set in contrast with their own inefficiency.
2. It proceeded from the sect of the Sadducees, i.e. the heretical school. The league between the high priest and the scoffers was a sad sign of religious degeneracy. So it is. When religion decays it becomes the food of unbelief. The latitudinarians hate spiritual earnestness.
3. It was weak and timid, evidently because there was a reproaching conscience and a growing apprehension in the background. The apostles were put into the public ward or prison, but probably not very jealously guarded.
4. The empty form of justice and wisdom was maintained - the council was summoned, that the weight of ecclesiastical authority might be used to crush the feeble apostles, that the people might be awed by the fear of great dignitaries. They often are, but the Spirit of God can overcome such fear.
5. Divine wisdom is more than human craft. The public trial or examination of the apostles was a public proclamation of the weakness of their enemies and the heavenly sanction given to their cause. The angelic deliverance of the prisoners became a notorious fact through all Jerusalem. The effect on the council, on the captain of the temple, on the populace, must have been immense. Evidently there was great excitement. "They feared the people, lest they should be stoned."
6. The two weak apostles in the presence of the council, boldly challenging the contradiction of facts and appealing from man to God - a striking manifestation of spiritual power. "We are witnesses, so is the Holy Ghost."
7. The division in the council between the furious fanatical party and the temperate Gamaliel party, reminding us of the division in the nation itself; some dead to the voice of God, others ready to follow it though not recognizing it. The influence of Gamaliel a sign of hope; there was a remnant still according to the election of grace, and it promised a future restoration of Israel.
8. The whole occurrence a great help to the Church, to feel its power, to deepen its devotion, to rejoice in hope of victory, to trust in the gracious providence of God. - R.
them. We may view the present portion of the Church's history under this light. It is the history of a succession of incidents, every one of which shows the foe as the party signally discomfited. The apostles are still the representatives of the Church. They sustain the brunt of any attack. And it is noteworthy, that at present, so far as we read, no private member of the Church is exposed to any similar treatment. Notice, then -
I. THE INCIDENT OF A NEW TRIAL OF THE EFFECTIVENESS OF IMPRISONMENT. The high priest and those who were acting with him had not, it appears, learned the lesson which their former failure might well have taught them. It had been attended by circumstances and followed by a sequel which should have made a lasting impression on their memory. But memory's good offices were scorned, and wisdom's lessons set at naught and lost. The experiment is to be tried again, whether certain facts to which the word of the apostles gives great notoriety, with certain comments upon them and explanations of them, can be hushed up, and a prison's doors be mightier than miracles. This very point was soon settled, and in the shape that should have carried conviction and reproof in equal proportions. It is to be remembered that the imprisonment policy stands condemned, not altogether necessarily in itself, but emphatically, in this case, because the facts to which the apostles gave the notoriety so unwelcome to the authorities were facts within the knowledge of those same, and because the whole action of the apostles had the abundant attestation of surpassing miracles. Mouths can be stopped by imprisonment, no doubt. And the method may, no doubt, be a legitimate method, even though there be allowed to be prima facie a likely moral danger attaching to it. That danger has shown itself so repeatedly and so malignantly - in matters of religion to the oppressing of the conscience, in matters of science to the clouding of the prospects of truth and the growth of knowledge. But the point of interest and at the same time the hopelessness of the present conflict turned on the fact that the method of imprisonment attempted to stop the mouth of God's Word and truth. The enemy was confounded signally. An "abundant door" of exit from the prison for the apostles made a more than ever "abundant door of entrance" for the truth, and it occasioned "great boldness" of utterance of "all the words of this life" in the temple of temples, and before the enemy was so much as awake.
II. THE INCIDENT OF A SECOND TRIAL OF ARRAIGNMENT BEFORE THE COUNCIL.
1. In this proceeding embarrassment awaited the council; they stumble upon the very threshold. The prisoners are duly sent for, but they are not to be found. The prison is there; the keepers are there; the doors were shut with all appearance of safety, and if they had been opened, there is not a sign of it nor of any violence that might have effected it; the keys are neither lost nor injured; and the locks are not disobedient to their own keys, as though they had been tampered with. Yet to what all this, when the prison itself proves as empty as ever place was? The officers return with tale and face, no doubt, equally blank; but blankest of all was the astonishment of those in authority under these new circumstances. That "they were in doubt concerning them" (so the apostles) was no unnatural, no unlikely account of the case in which "the high priest, and the captain of the temple, and the chief priests" found themselves. And perhaps it might have suited them and their reputation about as well if all had ended here. But this was not to be. They had meddled with strife, nay, had not "forborne them meddling with God" (2 Chronicles 35:21); and they shall not "leave off contention" before it has worsted them signally, decisively. For:
2. A sudden relief from undignified bewilderment leaves them no choice but to go on with a prosecution, hazardous much more to those who prosecute than to those who are prosecuted. That by this time they began to feel this there are not wanting certain indications.
(1) Though the narrative is very concise, very condensed, it does not omit to describe the tender handling of the prisoners found speaking in the temple - a tender handling the more notable because they were escaped prisoners. "The captain and officers went and brought them without violence; for they feared the people, lest themselves should be stoned" - an unfavorable predicament, all things considered, certainly.
(2) Presumably because the narrative is very condensed it asks a second thought on our part as to what is the precise meaning when it is said, "The high priest, and the captain of the temple, and the chief priests, doubted concerning them [i.e. the apostles], whereunto this would grow." We take it that their innermost darkness began to be harassed with dawning day; their innermost mind with dawning convictions that they had a very new sort of men to deal with; their conscience with dawning of a fear very unfamiliar to their hitherto manner of bearing themselves toward that same conscience. Possibly, more than possibly afterwards, the same messenger who brought word as to where the apostles were and what they were doing stated also the apostles' account of how they had got out of the prison. He would have ample time to do this while the captain and the officers went to bring them. That awkward interval must have been filled up somehow by the dismayed court. Nor can there be a doubt that it was filled up with abundant talk and question and discussion. This or some such view is, it appears to us, essentially corroborated by the apparent silence of the court, when the apostles were at last ushered into its presence, as to their escape, and by its sedulous abstinence from any interrogations upon the matter. Silence absolute on that subject were certainly their best wisdom when they had heard the real facts, and, hearing, had seen them with eyes forced open. The silence of the narrative is one thing, and is a token of historic accuracy and fidelity. The silence of the court is another thing, and is a touch true enough to nature, in fact, a great demonstration of nature, which sometimes, in the supreme effort to cover defeat, then most convicts itself of defeat. What, therefore, with a certain underswell and muttering of conscience first, and then with the unease wrought by the plain discovery of how things had been, it may be reasonably imagined that the high priest and those associated with him wished already that they were well clear of the whole matter.
3. But the moment has come for the arraignment itself. It is at all events plain, its meaning and. its implications not obscure. "You have disobeyed our strict command, have filled Jerusalem with the doctrine we disapprove, and are going far to fix on us the responsibility and possibly the vengeance of the blood of this man." Probably a spirit of contempt and an intention to express it thinly veiled growing fear, when they use the words, "this name," and "your doctrine," and "this man's blood," instead of naming the Name that was already "above every name" and naming the doctrine which was certainly not "the doctrine nor after the commandments, of men" (Colossians 2:22), and naming "the blood which speaketh better things than that of Abel."
4. But the challenge is at once accepted by the apostolic band. They admit their disobedience to human command. They assert their obedience to Divine command, and assert the necessity of it - its moral ought. They at once honor, by a firm and repeated utterance of it, the Name which had just been sorrily flouted, but which, in very deed, designated One who had known the unprecedented transitions of resurrection and ascension, and who owned to the titles of Prince and Savior of mankind. His princely gift is the power of" repentance," his saving gift is the "remission of sins." Occupying a position of vast moral purchase over their judges, the apostles do not propose to shield these from an iota of their responsibility. They had declined to name the Name of Jesus; the apostles do not shrink at all from naming the name of their sin and guilt, nor forbear to describe them as the persons answerable for the blood of Jesus. "Whom ye slew, and hanged on a tree." And so they make out their text. We "ought to obey God." And as God, the God of our fathers, was he who "raised" Jesus, and who "exalted" him, we are his "witnesses," in these glorious wonders, of the history of his Son Jesus. And Peter adds, in one of the most pronounced of the claims of inspiration peculiar to revelation, that, in saying so much, he means that "the Holy Ghost" in them is the real Witness, that Holy Ghost whom God gives to those who obey him. That God is to be obeyed, probably the now judges of the apostles would not presume to deny. Peter and the apostles have made out their case when they have proved that this is all to which their censured and imprisoned conduct amounts. So the close of their defense clenches the opening of it.
III. THE INCIDENT OF A FRESH EXPERIENCE OF HELPLESS INCAPACITY IN THE COUNCIL. This experience was ushered in, indeed, by one of a far more pronounced character. In a word which itself expresses an intensity of suffering, we are told that they of the council "were cut" to the quick, and in the first paroxysm of agony saw no option but to slay their prisoners. The apostles were again called upon to retire from the court (Acts 4:15) while the state of things was deliberated. And "in the multitude of counselors was found safety" of some sort at least, and of some brief duration, thanks to the sage prudence that dwelt in one of them, and apparently only one. Note here to what different issue men have been cut to the heart.
2. But other some to deeper condemnation, and suicide either actual or moral; so Judas (Matthew 27:4, 5), and those here described, with many an ancestor, many a descendant. The blindness of intense anger and the malignant action of intense chagrin may be ranked among the certain precursors of incapacity, but here they reveal it too. And that we read under these conditions, "they take counsel to slay them," serves little more than to make assurance doubly sure that helpless floundering is the present order of things at the ostensible seat of justice.
IV. THE INCIDENT OF A FRESH UNDIGNIFIED ESCAPE FROM AN UNDIGNIFIED POSITION. A Pharisee - save the mark! - leads the way out. And the way out leads just back by the way they came in. That the members of the council put themselves as far as possible just where they were before they stirred at all in the matter is the policy which Gamaliel propounds. It comes to this, that he forcibly argues it were by far the best thing to eat their own, both words and deeds. The conservative shrewdness and blandness of this advice, and of the courteous way in which it is advanced, are equally unmistakable and in a sort admirable. It were uncharitable, however, to deny that it is open to intrinsic commendation also.
1. Gamaliel has noted and treasured and now uses well the lessons of history.
2. Evidently he is before his time, and has a largo and open eye for the principles of even civil liberty.
3. More remarkably still, he seems to have grasped the principle and the very basis of the principle of religious liberty. "These men" (ver. 35) are to be looked at, as some possibly sacred thing should be looked at. "These men" (ver. 38) are to be "let alone," as men possibly doing "the work of God." And their present would-be judges are to "refrain from" them, because they ought themselves to shrink, for their own sake, from incurring even the distant responsibility of "fighting against God." The principle of religious liberty always postulates these two aspects-one presenting the view of the harm that may be done to others by hampering their moral convictions or nature; the other the harm that may be done to self in challenging the most solemn and critical responsibilities which even "angels might fear."
4. It is difficult to resist the impression that Gamaliel was one of those who were" not far from the kingdom of God." The narrative scarcely warrants our saying that he had a leaning to "these men "himself. But this "doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people" (ver. 34), does seem to have had this of religion in him, that" he feared God," and that he dared to say it in connection with taking a very unpopular side. To the advice of Gamaliel his fellow-councilors "agreed," glad to escape the position in which they again found themselves. They retreated from it for reasons which Gamaliel takes the credit of putting before them, but which should have been before them long before, and should have saved them from being where they now were. They do retreat, they know they are in the wrong, they are morally again beaten; but the only thing which would have taken from their retreat the description undignified is withheld, for they do not confess their error. On the contrary, we notice -
V. LASTLY, THE INCIDENT OF A GRATUITOUS BEATING OF THE APOSTLES AND A BARREN COMMAND LAID UPON THEM. Whatever may be thought or charitably hoped of Gamaliel, the adviser in this crisis, very clear it is that those whom he had influenced had no deeper sympathies with the grounds of his advice. Against these they now as much sin in principle as if they had laid violent hands on the apostles, according to the first dictates of their rage. And so again do these men drop awhile from our sight. They drop into the ignominious shade, while it fares far otherwise with their beaten, commanded, but withal released prisoners. Cruelty is the covering with which cowardice now chooses to take its unavailing chance of concealing defeat already too shameful, but which rather adds to it and to the revealing of it. They disappear from view, "beating" the apostles, and "commanding them not to speak in the Name of Jesus." But it is a token of the literal fact that they themselves have been ignominiously beaten along the whole line of battle, the apostles and the truth and "the Name of Jesus" winning the day. - B.
Hebrews 1:14 (Revised Version), "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation?" The precise work of ministry is that entrusted to them, and apostolic assertion of the fact of their ministry is probably designed to oppose the Sadducees'teaching that "there is neither angel nor spirit."
I. ANGEL-HELP AS GIVEN TO CHRIST. The principal instances are:
1. Angel-announce-meats and preparations for his birth.
2. Angel-comfortings in the time of his desert temptations (Matthew 4:11).
3. Angel-strengthenings in the moments of his conflict and agony in Gethsemane.
4. Angel-attendance upon his resurrection.
5. Angel-announce-meats concerning his ascension and his coming again. From these instances we may learn the kind of help which angels may be expected to give to Christ's tempted and tried disciples.
II. ANGEL-HELP AS REALIZED BY APOSTLES. This took several forms.
1. As deliverance from prison (see text, and incident narrated in Acts 12:7).
3. As ensuring safety in times of peril (see Acts 27:23). It may be observed that what may be called the materiality of the angel began gradually to fade away, and the visionary realization of the angel-help took its place. In this we trace the transition to the form in which we now may apprehend the help of the angels. No man may expect such actual working in the physical spheres as St. Peter knew when his prison doors were opened. Even in St. Paul's time this work was done by the natural shakings of the earthquake.
III. ANGEL-HELP AS GRANTED TO US. And we may distinctly affirm that it is granted. The only question is - In what manner do we realize the help? Spiritual forces are around us. We are influenced, for good and for evil, by unknown agencies. This is as yet almost an unstudied Christian phenomenon; one, however, which often brings comfort as a sentiment to pious souls. Such angel-help is very properly put into a secondary place in our consideration when we have a full and strong conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ himself is with us, the Inspiration, Guard, and Guide of our whole life and thoughts. They who consciously realize the presence of the Master will make comparatively little of the presence of the Master's ministers and servants working out his gracious purposes for him. Show with what limitations we may properly cherish the idea of angel-help in everything that is good. - R.T.
Acts of apostles the model for acts of God's people always. Lessons on relation of the Church and the world. Gospel began to lay hold of the masses. Envy and hatred of the Sadducean party, because a religion which lifted up the people, they thought, would lower the wealthy and ease-loving. We must expect social difficulties as the kingdom of righteousness spreads, but the angel's message is the rule of all times; while opportunity offers, stand and speak, not your own message, but "all the words of this life." While we listen to the angel's words, we should keep our eye fixed on the unveiled secret of Divine strength delivering and protecting all true-hearted preachers of Christ's truth.
I. THE GREAT COMMISSION. "Speak... to the people."
1. Copy the example of the Master. "Common people heard him gladly."
2. Best on the adaptation of the gospel to the people's wants. They are deceived by false teachers, run after false remedies.
3. Take courage by the facts of the early history of Christianity. All moral prowess from the people. Illustrate in the course of Christianity in the Roman empire - from the cottage to the throne. In the Reformation, especially in England. Lollards. Luther. Preaching of the revivalists in the eighteenth and present centuries.
4. Note the events. The future in the hands of the people. Speak to them of Christ; for their power is great, and they may abuse it to the destruction of society. Babel-greatness must end in confusion and misery.
5. Consider the responsibility of Christians. Believe, and therefore speak; silence is shame. Activity is the hope of the Church, the cure of its strifes and the uprooting of its doubts.
II. THE GREAT MESSAGE, "All the words of this life."
1. Reality - life. Men's daily struggle is about life. Yet the world full of delusions about life. This life! That life! We invite the people to live the true life, Christ's life, the life that death cannot touch.
2. Announcement. "Words of this life." We proclaim facts, a Divine Person, a life that can be described by example, confirmed by testimony, studied in the written pages. Religion no dream of enthusiasts, no mere sentiment floating like a cloud in the air, no empty ritualism, but words of life translated into action.
3. Philanthropy. "All the words." Different from mere human teachers with their reservations and selfishness. Philosophers taught for money. Christ says, "Speak all to the people freely." Religion in the hands of priests has made the people enemies, but this new message in the temple would shake down the wails of superstition, prejudice, and pride, and build up a new humanity. In our message we must put so much heart that the people see we give them all that we have, because we love their souls first and their earthly interests as included in their spiritual welfare.
4. Aggression. "Go, stand in the temple;" "Be not afraid of their faces." Bold policy always the wisest in spiritual things. Special necessity that the desecrated temple should witness the faithfulness of Christ's messengers. False religion the great obstacle to progress of the gospel. People misunderstand the message; think of priests as their enemies; have reason to think so. The gospel does not reject what is good in other systems, but plants itself in the midst of the world as it is; finds in the temple of the old religion a standing-place from which to preach the new tidings. Every fresh instance of Divine interposition should embolden us. You are free now, go to the work again. In all fields of labor discouragement must be absolutely excluded. Follow the angels of God, and they will point to new platforms. We shall speak with fresh power if we refuse to be thwarted by opposition or put out of countenance by suffering. - R.
this expression used by the angel. But whence the angel, so to say, borrowed it admits of a thought and a question. The angel speaks of the life involved in the fact of the Resurrection - that fact so unwelcome to the pinched, impoverished Sadducees, who now were the leading persecutors of the apostles. However great the single fact of the resurrection of Jesus, its greatness is magnified by some infinite number, when we regard it as an earnest and "first fruits" of very much in its train. Had it been a unique fact, and been designed to remain so, it would have been shorn of the crown of its glory. Solitary grandeur and majesty must necessarily have robbed it of its power to thrill unnumbered millions with hope and joy, and to point all humanity to the one quarter from which light arises to it. And probably the simplest will be the best account of the angel's naming it "this life." "Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life," viz. the life which has been the unceasing theme now for some days, of your thought, your one unbroken affection, and your testimony. We have here an angel's charge. Let us notice of what it is made up. The angel urges -
I. THAT THE LIFE WHICH IS TO SUPERSEDE THE PRESENT LIFE OF EARTH IS NOW TO RE THE BURDEN OF THE APOSTLES' PREACHING. Some persons object to the prominence given in preaching to what is to come and the circle of subjects involved therein. They think it unnatural, artificial. However, not to do this is to put off again the unspeakable advantages of revelation. That the practical duty of the present life should be preached by the Christian preacher is a truism. That it should be preached without the light of the eternal future, and what is most distinctive of it revealed in Scripture, is to turn the back on the priceless gift of revelation. Hence come the mightiest of living practical impulses for right, for elevated, for holy life on earth. The mind stirs with a new and wondering gaze; the imagination is divinely tempted - not to be either deluded in the nature of what it takes hold upon or defrauded in the measure of it; and the heart is reached to its deepest wants. The infinitely enlarged horizon that comes of the revelation of eternal life does neither affect nor for a moment wish to alter the foundations of moral truth and of duty. But it does throw a light and color and interest into the very midst of them, and for the mass of mankind first brings them into the class of acknowledged practical forces. At any time machinery is one thing, and motive force another. Christ's destruction of the boundary view death, and his illimitable extension of the boundary view onward to eternal life, legitimately make the very essence (not at all of the foundations of morality, but) of a very large part of the force of his appeal to mankind. The angel's charge is dead contrary to anything looking in the direction of affecting to be able to dispense with his method or to throw it at all into the shade. And the centuries that have passed since the angel released the apostles at early dawn from prison, and bade them go and preach "the words of this life," have vindicated his charge. The preaching that has been filled with moral aphorisms has been dead and barren of force. That which has reverently but confidently dealt with the tremendous realities of the great future unseen - unseen except by the light of revelation and faith - has been the preaching that has been fruitful of influence and has shown changed hearts and changed lives.
II. THAT "THIS LIFE" SHALL BE THE SUBJECT OF UNIVERSAL APPEAL TO "THE PEOPLE." The distinguishing facts or doctrines of Christianity know no distinction of esoteric and exoteric. They are what may be understood of the people, and they are what may be trusted to the people. Sadducees and others, not a few who would profess themselves conversant with these higher matters of life and its outlook, are putting from them their grand opportunity. But to "the people," "the gospel," "the words of this life," are preached. The gospel is to try its genius and its force among them, and then it tries it ever, not altogether in vain. It is to be noticed that this crowning doctrine or fact of the future life or eternal life is
(1) to be announced in closest connection with the personal history of Jesus Christ - with his Resurrection; and
(2) that it is to be announced with all the fullness and variety of which it may admit - "All the words of this life" are to be enlarged on without stint:
(a) what it is in its own intrinsic self,
(b) what it is as gained for man by Christ,
(c) what it is as illustrated by Christ's own resurrection.
III. THAT THE APPEAL SHALL BE FEARLESSLY MADE BY MEN, MERE MEN, MEN UNASSISTED BY ANY EARTHLY POWER AND EXPOSED TO ALL EARTHLY DANGERS. Jesus Christ has done his work, so far as the part of it on earth was concerned. Angels, it clearly appears, have their share too in furthering the work of Christ on earth. But their share is of a more indirect kind. When Jesus goes, men, feeble, erring, sinful men, are called to take up the work, are honored to take it up. Let this mean what it may, and harmonize with what it may or may not, the fact merits probably more thought than all it has yet received. And if it is to be rightly estimated, equal regard must be paid to two facts -
(1) that man is to be the worker, and that
(2) the man who is thus to work is to be one "called" and one qualified by the Holy Spirit. Thus called and thus equipped within, he is to "go, and stand," as though in unassisted strength, and to stand in the place of courted and solemn observation, in the publicity of" the temple," and to take heed that he "speak to the people all the words of this life." - B.
I. IN FIGHTING AGAINST GOD MAN MAY WIN APPARENT AND TEMPORARY SUCCESSES. Only apparent, because they always lead men on to attempt further schemes, which involve them in utter ruin. Only temporary, because God has the long ages in which to secure the outworking of his purposes. Illustrate by the success of the Sanhedrim in the conviction and death of our Lord, and in the imprisonment of the apostles.
II. IN FIGHTING AGAINST GOD MAN DEALS WITH FORCES BEYOND HIS REACH. And they are sure to master him. Compare man's range of power with God's. Illustrate from the treatment of Christ; death was man's limit, resurrection was in God's power. So with apostles; imprisonment was man's limit, angel-deliverance was in God's power. God's miracles then, God's providences and overrulings now, surely mate and master man's utmost antagonism. This is true of persecutions, infidelity, or other forms of attack on Christian men, the Christian faith, or the spread of the Redeemer's kingdom. - R.T.
principle requires to be seen in the full daylight before it can be made the foundation of great action. Fanaticism borrows its strength from the night of ignorance, not from the noon of truth. Persecution may vindicate itself on the ground of obedience to God, but it proves itself to have no title to such a principle because it destroys freedom.
I. THE GREAT REQUIREMENT. Obedience to God.
1. It is a requirement abundantly set forth in the Scriptures, in conscience, in the teaching of providence in connection with revealed truth, and especially in that inspired guidance which no true and earnest man is left without.
2. Enforced by the work of the Church, by the dangers of the world, by the deceitfulness of the heart, by the promises of God's Word.
3. Rewarded by the sense of inward strength, by superiority to circumstances, by successes in Christian effort - if not in this world fully, in eternity.
II. THE GREAT TRIAL.
1. Human laws, human requirements, human errors, human passions, all may say, "Obey the voice of man rather than of God."
2. Compromise the great danger of the Church. Under its new disguise of a pantheistic submission to inevitable law of development, specially subtle.
3. Lack of moral courage and conviction, obscuring principle and magnifying the strength of surrounding obstacles. We need the Holy Ghost, upholding the work of God in our own hearts, penetrating the deceptions of the world, arming us with spiritual preparation against inevitable assaults from without.
4. Individually the same great question to be settled between ourselves and God. His controversy. "Yield yourselves to God." - R.
I. THE LOWEST DEPTH OF EARTHLY SHAME. "Whom ye slew and hanged on a tree" (ver. 30). The Son of God was "made a little lower than the angels," even a Son of man, "for the suffering of death" (Hebrews 2:9). He stooped to the level of our humanity, in order that he might "taste death for every man." And he underwent that experience in its most dreadful form - in darkness, pain, shame, desertion, inexpressible agony of soul. He went deliberately down to the very lowest point to which he could stoop, that he might finish the work the Father had given him to do.
II. THE HIGHEST SUMMIT OF HEAVENLY HONOUR. "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus... him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior" (vers. 30, 31). "From the highest throne of glory to the cross of deepest woe" he had come; now he reascended from the grave to the throne, to the seat of heavenly power and blessedness. He has become an enthroned Redeemer, a sovereign Savior,
(1) occupying the foremost place in heavenly rank,
(2) dispensing salvation to the lost children of men, and
(3) receiving the willing homage, the affectionate service of the multitude he has redeemed. What more honorable, enviable, blessed position can we conceive than that of One who, seated in the very highest post of honor, is conferring the best of all imaginable boons, and is receiving, in return, the freest, richest, most rejoicing worship and service of his redeemed, both of those who are about his person "in the heavens," and of those also who are serving him and striving to follow him below?
III. THE METHOD OF THE REIGNING SAVIOUR. He is a Prince and a Savior, "to give repentance.., and forgiveness of sins." How does the exalted Lord carry on his great work as he reigns in heaven? By giving repentance and remission.
1. He gives to human souls a sense of the heinousness of their sin.
2. He dispenses to them, through his atoning sacrifice, full and free forgiveness of their sin. Thus he leads men everywhere away from their iniquity, and restores them to the favor and so to the happy service of the Supreme.
IV. THE BLESSED CERTAINTY WE HAVE OF THE FACT OF HIS ELEVATION. (Ver. 22.) The apostles could assure the council that these things were so; they could place it beyond all doubt, inasmuch as
(1) they themselves were witnesses of the facts, and
(2) the Holy Spirit had confirmed their testimony by the signs and wonders he enabled them to work. We too have testimony, both human and Divine.
1. The human testimony of the apostles of our Lord; also of all Christian souls in all succeeding generations, who have witnessed for him and the power of his grace; and also the assurance of our contemporaries, who rejoice in the liberty with which he has made them free.
2. The Divine testimony of that gracious Spirit of God, who, though he works no signs and wonders around us, does work conviction, comfort, sanctity, strength, within us. - C.
exalted, etc. The Jewish temple a material symbol of the Divine method of grace. The chief chamber was the place of God's glory - the inner, nest presence-chamber of the great King; its chief feature, the mercy-seat, a proclamation of love to all. Yet access to the blessedness only by the appointed way, through the consecrated rites and persons; thus the will and righteousness of God sustained at the same time as his mercy. Compare heathen ideas of Divine favors - slavish, cruel, degrading, capricious, destructive of righteousness both in God and in man. Moreover, no heathen system appealed to a universal humanity.
I. THE COMMON WANT.
1. Deliverance from sin, both by remission and moral elevation. Show that the conscience regains satisfaction, the life security, the heart peace.
2. A free and unpurchased forgiveness, lest we should be burdened by their inequalities, destroyed by their despair, seduced by their errors, enslaved by their superstition.
3. Confidence without fanaticism, peace of mind without inertia, and a sense of righteousness without pride.
II. THE DIVINE SALVATION.
1. It is built upon facts - a personal history, an accumulation of historic evidence, an ascent from Bethlehem to the heavenly throne. The supernatural absolutely necessary to hold up the human spirit in its greatest emergency. God's right hand must be seen, must be conspicuous. We cannot depend on mere human sympathy, wisdom, or strength.
2. The twofold character of Christ meets the twofold demand of the soul, for the greatness of the King and the compassion of the Savior. The exaltation of Christ was both human and Divine. We recognize the great fact of mediation and reconciliation.
3. The one supreme test of sufficiency, the gift of the Holy Ghost. We do not appeal to men on the ground that God can save them, or that there is in Christianity a satisfactory theory of the atonement, but on the ground that the Spirit of God is saving them, that the gift is there - repentance and remission.
APPLICATION. What was true of Israel is true of us. The state of the Jewish world was the condemnation of all men. If God so wrought for us," how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" The gift has all God's heart in it. Return his love. - R.
now to his royal princely place. They affirm not only that he now has, but also that he now claims, his royal rights. It is not their way of putting it to say that "He will take to himself his great power and reign;" they say, "Him hath God exalted," or, as Revised Version, "Him did God exalt." This is a truth which the modern Church needs to have more fully and frequently presented to it. Due attention to it would relieve the tendency to exaggerated representations of salvation by faith in our Lord's work. The salvation is revealed to faith in the Lord Christ himself, the Prince and Savior. Christ is actually now -
I. THE PRINCE, OR THE RULING ONE. Explain the ancient theocracy as the direct rule of Jehovah, and show that the idea is realized spiritually in our Lord's present relation to his Church. It should be no disability to regenerate and spiritual men that he is unseen. The quickened soul can have spiritual communications, and the secret soul-life of the Christian man is his real life. Whoever controls it controls the whole bodily life and relations too. In the line of the text it may be shown that, as Prince, Christ's law and claim, brought home to men's souls, bow them down to penitence; and Christ has in full commission the expression of the Divine mercy in forgiveness and restoration.
II. THE SAVIOR, OR THE SAVING ONE. Salvation is not declared to be a result of man's faith in Christ's redemptive work, but of man's faith which opens his soul and life to the present redemptive workings of the living Savior. The moral forces now actually working at the subduing, and persuading, and renewing, and sanctifying of men are the present and active forces of Christ, the exalted and glorified Savior. So apostles preached unto men "Jesus," bade them open their hearts to his love and power, carry to him the burden of their sins and needs, and expect that he would as really - though in a spiritual manner - deal with them as he dealt with the sorrows and the sins of men while he was with them in the flesh. This is the great glory of the gospel message, and the point of it to which prominence should be given in these our times - " Jesus lives." He is exalted, he holds his commission. His "Father worketh hitherto, and he works." As the Prince, he demands our submission and our obedience. As our Savior, he takes our whole case upon him, and delivers, redeems, and sanctifies. - R.T.
I. HOSTILITY. We may "be found even to fight against God." It is, indeed, as new as it is old for men to contend with God and to oppose themselves to those ends for which he is working.
1. Good men do so unwittingly; as when earnest and holy Catholics have persecuted Protestant men and women; as when devout Protestants have thrown obstacles in the way of their more energetic co-religionists who have been evangelizing in ways not considered legal and correct; as when we ignorantly misconstrue the sacred Scriptures, finding out, farther on, that those views we combated were in harmony with truth.
2. Bad men do so deliberately and guiltily:
(1) when they endeavor positively to overturn influences which they know to be holy and remedial;
(2) when they practically encourage that which they feel to be wrong and hurtful.
II. NEUTRALITY. We may take the position which Gamaliel advised with so much policy on this occasion: "Let these men alone" (ver. 38). When any sacred cause comes up before us, challenging our approval and asking our aid, we may determinately stand aloof, declining either to befriend it on the one hand or to withstand it on the other: we neither bless nor curse.
1. It is impossible to take a neutral position, upon the whole, in relation to Christ. "He that is not with him is against him," as he has said to us. Our influence is either telling in favor of his holy service, of Christian truth, of eternal life, or else against these sacred things.
2. It is possible that we may assume a neutrality toward particular institutions, usages, movements, habits; and this neutrality may be
(1) necessary, because we have not the means of arriving at a judgment at all;
(2) wise, because we have not yet had the opportunity of coming to an intelligent decision;
(3) culpable, because cowardly, selfish, unfaithful.
III. CO-OPERATION. (Vers. 40-42.) When they had beaten the apostles - an act of severe bodily castigation was a grim method of "letting them alone; it was probably a concession to the party of hostile action - they did let them go, with strict prohibitions in their ear. We are to be "co-workers with Christ," "workmen together with him;" and we shall become this by:
1. Speaking for Christ. "Daily in the temple.., they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus Christ" (ver. 42). In the Church, in the school, in the home, - anywhere, everywhere, we too may speak for him; uttering the truth which he has taught us to prize, more especially upholding him himself as the one great Teacher, almighty Savior, Divine Friend, and rightful Lord of the human soul.
2. Suffering for him. The apostles endured suffering and shame for his Name; they did so gladly, rejoicingly. We may be "counted worthy" to do the same. Many thousands of men, in heaven or on earth, have had this high honor (Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Peter 4:13). And if we are thoroughly true and unflinchingly faithful to our Lord, serving him to the full height of our opportunity, we shall surely
(1) suffer bodily inconveniences, fatigue, exhaustion, if not pain and sickness, for his sake;
(2) endure the dislike and ridicule, if not the blows and imprisonment, of the ungodly. In such ill treatment we shall find occasion for heavenly joy, as they did. - C.
I. THE CAUTIOUS MAN FALLS BACK ON PRECEDENT. Gamaliel finds some instances that had recently occurred and argues from them, much as a modern lawyer does from the "cases" he can cite. Precedents are often very valuable. They are often sad hindrances to enterprise. They are always most annoying to those who are of impulsive temperament. They are a very doubtful good to men of faith in a living God, who may be pleased to work in fresh and surprising ways.
II. THE CAUTIOUS MAN HAS CONFIDENCE IN THE WORKING OF NATURAL FORCES. Gamaliel says - Wait and watch the working of these things. Religious excitements tend to exhaust themselves. Mountebanks have no staying power. Leaders of sects want money support, and as soon as this is made apparent their followers dwindle away. There is little need for any interference, the natural process of exhaustion will effect all you want. So, still, the cautious man often checks the energy that would deal vigorously with social and moral evils, such as drinking and vice. Earnest men cannot wait for the long outworking of natural forces. With faith in the God of righteousness, they must enter and deal with the evils as a new redeeming force.
III. THE CAUTIOUS MAN RELIES ON THE EFFECTS OF TIME. Though allied to the previous consideration, this somewhat differs from it. Time allays excitement; time tests the value of all things. And the very heads of the Jewish religious system might surely be satisfied that time would be on their side. But men are "perishing in their sins" while we wait; and the earnest man hears God inspire him to active endeavor when he says, "Now is the accepted time."
IV. THE CAUTIOUS MAN FEARS TO AROUSE OR TO MAINTAIN PUBLIC EXCITEMENT. And no doubt much evil attends such excitement, but worse evils attend stagnation. Public excitement only alarms those who do not want anything done. The cautious among us are always seeking to repress special missions, revivals, and reformations, and fear that the blaze blown up so high will soon burn out, and leave only bare cold ashes. Men of faith will ever plead that, maybe, the fire so lighted will burn on forever. Cautious men may sometimes do good work by wisely checking over-impulsive-ness and unduly considered schemes. But they may also check enterprise. They who would do noble work for God must often do as did the great general - land on the enemy's shores and burn the boats. - R.T.
I. INNOCENCE AN OBJECT OF HATE TO THE UNJUST. No wound is more deadly than that inflicted by words of truth upon false hearts. If the heart will not receive the truth, the truth will pierce through it. And murderous counsels show that truth has been denied in the heart. Instead of answering the witnesses with reason for reason, the Sanhedrim seek to stop their mouth with earth and put them to death. A cause is lost when it can be no longer argued in the court of reason, when its only argument is the sword, or the stake, or the rod, or the prison-cell.
II. SUGGESTIONS OF NEUTRALITY. Gamaliel is the type of common sense undisturbed by zeal - of clear judgment unbiased by prejudice. It is pretty evident that he did not sympathize with the apostles; still less, probably, did he sympathize with the fears or the fanaticism of his colleagues. He is perhaps "old and cold." Seldom do men of strong reflective habit feel much interest in novelties in religion. Seldom do the observers of life, the students of human history, expect much from sudden popular movements or popular teaching. Such was Gamaliel's character. But where so little is said there is much room for difference of opinion as to what that character really was, how far really inclined to Christ's doctrine, possibly believing in his mission, or a disciple in secret. In the absence of further knowledge of the man, we may consider his counsel, and draw the following lesson : -
1. Prudence and caution are ever seasonable and especially so where there is a temptation to violence and repression of others' freedom. We should never act without a clear call to do so. The alternation of inaction is best in doubtful cases.
2. Experience shows that movements which have no vitality in them come to an end if left alone. They die for want of fuel, while persecution supplies that fuel on which they live. Such had been the case with the insurrection of Judas and that of Theudas.
3. Time is required that the true nature of a movement be clearly seen. Many a seed springs up that cannot live; many a threatened man lives long. A new force cannot be judged by the first appearances and manifestations.
4. There is always a danger in repression. The force you seem to have quelled for the moment only bursts forth in a new direction. You may, while you think to be putting down your enemy, be rousing up a more formidable one, or exposing yourself to attack in some unguarded quarter. Above all, you may be contending against Divine power and will, and inviting its vengeance.
5. Faith in truth, utter contempt for falsehood and imposture, is our safest temper. This gives calmness under every emergency. The truth can never harm us if we are on its side, nor can it be defeated by any power on the other side. After all, this true attitude was Gamaliel's. He was a man who understood and believed in the moral laws. Well would it have been had the Sanhedrim shared his intelligence and honesty. And had his advice been followed at similar crises of religious history, much bloodshed and retardation of the good cause would have been avoided. In private life, how many an occasion when there is a restless desire to act, to fetter the free action of others, to stop the course of moral laws, when the simple question is pertinent! - "Can you not - let it alone?"
III. WEAK VIOLENCE. Threats - prison - rods; to this the Sanhedrim in its might resorts against helpless and unarmed men. Rods are for the backs of those who are not amenable to reason. The chastisement which is appropriate to the fool is absurdly applied to the man who acts from deliberate counsel and proved determination. Blows are no match for prayers. The martyr is never in the tyrant's power. He clings to God's skirts, and malice cannot touch his soul.
IV. THE MARTYR'S JOY. Joy of the purest quality and most triumphal power starts from the very seed-bed of pain. Pain may be to the soul the expression of God's displeasure or of his love. If it is incurred in obedience to him, the soul wears it as a testimonial of his goodness. The honor of suffering for God's sake is one of peculiar worth. There is a natural feeling that any great suffering entitles the patient to some respect. The consciousness of being selected for suffering in the noblest cause ennobles the soul. It feels crowned and throned. Our capacity is enlarged both for thought and feeling and for joy by such an experience. It is strengthened, and every fresh trial, faithfully endured, prepares for new effort, goads to perseverance, and so defeats the persecutor by the very means of his own weapons. - J.
I. REGARD IT AS THE PRODUCT OF JEWISH EDUCATION.
1. Reverence for the Word and will of God - in truth and in providence. The Jews, possessed in their Scriptures a good philosophy of history. Taught that God must triumph.
2. Sense of humanity and righteousness deeply pervading all the Jewish system. "Refrain from these men."
3. Yet evidence of the corrupt and formal state of the Jewish teachers - temporizing policy, weakness of conviction, unwillingness to face truth, the ecclesiastical spirit in its mildest form.
II. CONSIDER IT IN ITS RELATION TO CHRISTIANITY.
1. The influence of Gamaliel on Saul of Tarsus (see Conybeare and Howson; Farrar) and so on the history of the gospel.
2. The contrast between Gamaliel and his fellow-counselors in the Sanhedrim. They agreed to him then, but how about their former action and what followed? The Gamaliel character was then exceptional.
3. The contrast between Gamaliel and the apostles. He was prudent, they were earnest. Consider the necessity of following conviction. Sweetness and light are not means but ends; they have to be fought for, not rested in, before they are fully obtained.
4. The great appeal: "Lest haply ye be found... fighting against God." All must acknowledge it. How easily ignored! The position of the soul is here indicated; it is either fighting with God or against God. Though Gamaliel did not see it, there is no middle position. "A fearful thing to fall into his hands." - R.
I. THE NAME OF CHRIST the source of it. No such spirit in the world. Heroism may sustain strength, but does not give joy, unless it is like the apostles'. Had not the Name been Divine, how could it have produced such fruits in such men?
II. THE TEACHING AND PREACHING, both in the temple and at home, must be in the martyr spirit. We must expect to suffer some dishonor. But such a spirit invincible and victorious.
III. THE HONOUR OF THE CHURCH over against the honor of the world. "Counted worthy." God's reckoning. Spiritual worthies. The joy was not only a secret joy, it was the foretaste of heaven. Enforce the example. - R.
unreal or else they begin to speak something true to a higher nature than that commonly found among men. It is against the grain of nature to rejoice in suffering and pain; it is yet more against the grain of a high nature to rejoice in "shame." There must have been potent causes at work when men are to be found rejoicing in suffering shame, and in being "counted worthy to suffer shame." Neglecting the supposition, which could not be sustained in this case, that there was any affectation on the part of the apostles, it would be still open to question whether this attitude were a justifiable one, whether it were a lovely one, whether it did not betray a disdainful tendency, looking toward haughtiness, with regard to their fellow-men. Perhaps these considerations will be best met by simply asking on what grounds and moved by what influences the apostles now rejoiced.
I. THEY REJOICED IN A CERTAIN FELLOWSHIP OF SUFFERING. They are not of those who stoically glory in "suffering. They are not of those who cynically or self-relyingly glory in shame." They have not courted the one nor flippantly encountered the other. And these facts shelter them from blameworthiness, which might otherwise have very possibly lain at their door. It is a shame already existing, and which has already dragged a long suffering with it and after it - a shame unoriginated by themselves or by anything in themselves - that they are willing, glad, proud to share. This at once lends a character to their rejoicing, and lifts it above a common kind of joy. There has, indeed, been an abundance of shame in the world, and of suffering consequent upon it, that could not in the very nature of things have shed any glory on the principals concerned in them. Yet that abundance of shame and suffering has found a very field of glory, new untrodden paths of glory, and lofty heights of glory for not a few, who, having no part in the guilt, have voluntarily entered into fellowship with the suffering, and the suffering of shame, which it has involved. And here may be said to glimmer forth one of the greater moral facts of our nature. To offer to share and to be permitted to share the joy and prosperity of another can yield little praise to him who offers, may yield some to the person who permits; but to volunteer to share, while innocent one's self, the ignominy and suffering of another is all honor to him who volunteers - in ordinary cases mostly humiliation to him who receives the advantage of that fellowship. To him, however, whose suffering of shame the apostles now rejoiced to share, humiliation of this kind there was none.
II. THEY REJOICED IN A FELLOWSHIP OF SHAME WHICH, BY THE MEMORIES ATTACHING TO IT, WAS TURNED FOR THEM INTO HONOUR AND GLORY.
1. It "gathered round" Christ himself, One whom they knew to be supremely great, supremely good. The center of this fellowship was their own old matchless Friend, who had been such a Teacher, such an Example to them; whom they had seen do so many mighty and gracious works for others; whom they had watched for three years, and more and more wondered at, admired, and loved; whom they had seen tried for no offence, and condemned with no guilt on him, and crucified for sins not his own; whom a self-denying grave had restored, and a self-opening heaven had received; and of whom a descending omnipotent Spirit had given abundant and most touching attestation that he had not forgotten those same disciples, nor the word of his gracious promise to them.
2. It "gathered round" One of whom each of those apostles had, no doubt, his own individual and most precious remembrances. Take one example - Peter. What memories he had of Jesus. And now that, beyond all he believed of Jesus, before he suffered death, being "the Son of the living God," he knew him to be such, how intensified in significance many of those memories must have become! - but not least that of his own at one time great reluctance to share his suffering Master's shame, and his thrice-repeated denial of him! What a blessed revelation for Peter! And what a forgiving condescension of the great Master, that he permits Peter now to take the lead of his fellow-disciples, and gives him the opportunity of showing how he would, if he could, fain repair his old grievous transgression! Personal experience of Jesus Christ brings any one of us to a much more hearty and thorough readiness of surrender to him than all that mere description of him avails to do, though you add to it a willing admiration.
3. It "gathered round" One whose suffering and shame the apostles specially knew to be so unmerited, so absolutely uncaused by self and unendured for any necessity of discipline, improvement, or punishment to self. And yet the suffering and shame had been extreme, and, they well knew it, had been borne so patiently, so meekly, and so forgivingly. How thinking, grateful hearts must have longed, when now at last they were fully enlightened, to share ever so small a portion of his unmerited shame, though he himself had passed on and up, if it should serve his cause! We wonder nothing at the true devotion of those released apostles, but is there no room left for a wonder at the rare reproduction amongst ourselves of the same devotion? Evidently the Spirit had wrought in those apostles a real sympathy with the heart of Jesus, so that they felt this an honor, not such as the world giveth, that they were permitted, were "counted worthy," to stand in any sense on the same level of suffering and of shame with him. Though they might not, could not, suffer the same intensity of suffering as Jesus, yet they could suffer for the same sort of reasons.
III. THEY REJOICED IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF SHAME WITH ONE WHO OWNED TO A NAME IN THE FUTURE GLORY OF WHICH THEY HAD UNQUALIFIED FAITH. "For his Name." Doubtless it has been these eighteen centuries the mightiest force and motive of all. The apostles did not rejoice to suffer with Jesus or in the track of him merely because of their grateful memories, but also because of their exulting faith in him and the career that awaited him. Their very love to "his Name" did not feed only on past mercies add pensive memories; these, indeed, were dainty and tender pasturage for it; but it fed also on the stronger food of faith. "For his Name" was equivalent to an assertion of all he would do and all he would be to the world, as well as all he had done and suffered for it. And hence we are immediately told with what redoubled energy, with what gladdened courage, the apostles did not cease to teach and to preach Christ "in the temple, and in every house." Well might men rejoice to be "counted worthy to suffer shame for his Name," when that Name means all that has been in living form most loving and most beautiful, add all that is to be greatest and most powerful in the world's onward history, till its glory shall culminate in the day of triumph in heaven. The apostles loved the Name of Jesus; they had come to have a perfect faith in it; they had been divinely endowed with a full sympathy with all they could understand of it; and now they were learning, in practical work and in suffering, the things which would make them really like to him who bore that Name. The "Name" of Christ turned the cross from shame into glory. It now does yet more - it turns living men's estimates right round from the false and the unreal to the real and the true. That in which they once gloried becomes their shame, and the reproach of Christ their riches, honor, and glory. So did this Master of men's hearts, sympathies, and lives, among other things that he did by the humiliation and shame to which he bowed, secure also disciples and servants of inflexible fidelity and quenchless devotion and love. - B.