There were no needy ones among them, because those who owned lands or houses would sell their property, bring the proceeds from the sales,
grace that rested on them. Great grace "is ever the one secret of great spiritual power. Looking at the incidents connected with the text, we observe -
I. THIS WAS NOT THE FIRST BESTOWMENT OF GRACE. Recall the scene of the Pentecost. Show in what sense that may be spoken of as the first coming of the Spirit. Explain why that coming was attended with outward signs, and why the presence of the Spirit is not now manifest in such miraculous gifts. The "grace" in us may be as great - may be greater - though the attendant signs and expressions differ. Show what are the first signs of" grace" working in us. Signs in thought, feeling, conduct, and relations. Illustrate by what is said of Saul of Tarsus: "Behold, he prayeth."
II. THAT FIRST GIFT OF THE SPIRIT WAS WELL RECEIVED AND USED. This may be illustrated in the earnestness and zeal of the apostles, as well as in the active, devoted, and zealous life of those converted under the apostolic teachings.
III. BECAUSE WELL RECEIVED AND USED, MORE GRACE WAS GIVEN. The further grace enabled them to suffer nobly and well; to testify for Christ even before governors and kings, and to pray together and live together and work together, in loving union and mutual forbearance, and charity. And so we come to apprehend afresh God's great and ever-working law, expressed in the familiar words, "To him that hath shall more be given;" "We are not straitened in God;" "Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord," etc. God's grace is indeed "free," sovereignly free, but he has been pleased to set it under conditions; and one of the chief conditions is that we shall have used wisely and well the grace already received. To those who are faithful in using grace the promise applies, "He giveth more grace." Then, if we feel the need of and long for "great grace," let us see that we deal rightly in response to the leadings and movings of the grace we have. Empty the vessel in service for others, and God will be sure to refill it. Trim the lamp, and let its light shine brightly all around, and God will be sure to replenish it with abundance of fresh oil. - R.T.
With great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
I. IN THE GREAT NUMBER OF WITNESSES. Here were more than were necessary for the fabrication of a cheat, and too many to keep it long a secret (1 Corinthians 15:5, 6).
II. IN THE WELL-KNOWN CHARACTER OF THE APOSTLES. They were poor, timid and friendless; and, therefore, unlikely to devise, and unable to execute, a scheme for imposing a falsehood of this nature upon the world. Above all, they were proverbial for integrity in principle and conduct. Such qualities would render any evidence respectable. Will it be said that their simplicity exposed them to delusion? There were among them Peter, sufficiently acute, and Thomas sufficiently scrupulous. Will it be said that, as followers of Christ; they were interested in the success of this story. Alas! in what way could the story advance the interest of any of them, if Jesus was not risen? It would have been much more natural, as well as reasonable, for them, as indeed they did after the crucifixion, to have shrunk from the public view.
III. IN THAT THERE WAS AMONG THEM CONSISTENCE, BOLDNESS, AND CORRESPONDENT BEHAVIOUR.
1. They were perfectly consistent. Numerous as were the testifiers, there were no divisions, contradictions, or separate interests: and if there were some little variations in their narratives, respecting minute matters, these are reconcilable, and tend rather to confirm their accounts, by evidencing that there had been no combination.
2. They were undaunted. Though before, mortified with disappointment, and shaking with terror, they shunned even the light, they now openly and eagerly proclaimed that He who had been crucified, was risen from the dead.
3. There was also correspondent behaviour. They exhibited that life which the resurrection necessarily enforced. They were animated with that joy which it was calculated to inspire. They manifested that anxiety and diligence to maintain and propagate the religion of their Lord which it could not fail to produce.
IV. IN THAT THEY BROUGHT TO THEIR SUPPORT THE TYPES AND PROPHECIES OF THE WORD OF GOD. The argument was of wonderful power with those Jews who had cherished the revelations which the Most High had vouchsafed to them; and it is of astonishing import, of irresistible force to every man, who considers soberly the wonderful, the supernatural, the connected, the singularly significant nature, of the Jewish economy.
V. IN THAT IT LEFT HIS ADVERSARIES DESTITUTE OF ANY SATISFACTORY OR REASONABLE REPLICATION. Much it behoved the rulers of the Jews to prove to the people, who were many of them struck with the miracles of Christ, that they had not "crucified the Lord of Glory." In their care to secure the sepulchre, they betrayed their anxiety to do so. And, blessed Lord, could they have produced Thy sacred body after the third day, with what triumph would it have been exhibited! But there was no such refutation of the resurrection.
VI. IN THAT IT WAS ACCOMPANIED WITH THE CONFIRMATION AND BLESSING OF GOD, AND PRODUCED GREAT AND EXTENSIVE CONVICTION. The establishment and rapid progress of a religion, whose Author was crucified, and its propagators twelve of the most despised men; of a religion so opposed to the strongest propensities of nature, so different from anything to which man had been accustomed, and so destructive to ancient, venerated, and congenial systems; and this, too, by means so simple, and seemingly inadequate to the object, is of itself a demonstration of the wisdom and power with which its witnesses unto the people spake.
I. THE GREAT FACT TO WHICH THEY GAVE TESTIMONY.
1. This fact was of essential importance in the Christian scheme. All the great events of our Lord's history are of vast importance, both in themselves or in their relation to each other. What would the death of Christ have availed if He had not also risen?
2. The apostles were witnesses of it. Hence they were prepared everywhere to vindicate the doctrine of the Resurrection.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THEIR TESTIMONY. "Power" may refer to —
1. The miracle they wrought.
2. The unction, the energy, the extraordinary influence of their ministry.
3. Their marvellous success.
III. THE ABUNDANT GRACE WITH WHICH THEY WERE ENDOWED. "Great grace." Application:
1. Let us learn to give great prominence to the fundamental doctrines and facts of Christianity.
2. Let us remember that the success of our labours depends not only on what is preached, but very greatly on how it is preached.
3. Let us all, and always, mind to have great grace — the grace of humility, of patience, of charity, of faith — if we would have great success.
(W. Antliff, D. D.)1. The resurrection of Christ is the most important event in all history. It expresses in itself the whole gospel of God to man. When a new apostle was elected it was that he might be "a witness" to it.(1) This fact is the demonstration of all the other vital things in the gospel that went before it. By it Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power. By it God publicly owned Him in the face of earth and heaven, and testified to all things vital in His life and mission, to the sinlessness of His character, to the Divine truth of His teaching, and to the sufficiency of His atonement.(2) It is also the pledge and promise of all that is yet to come. It opens the gate of a future life; it is the pattern and the assurance of our own resurrection; the Church arose again in Christ, and each individual member of it has power and privilege to say, "Because He lives, I shall live also!"
2. With truth therefore, this fact is put in the Scriptures, and in derived systems of theological thought, as the key-stone of the arch of Christianity. Take it away, and the whole system crumbles to pieces. Our preaching is vain; your faith is vain; we are yet in our sins; we have no more hope in Christ for this life, or for any other.
3. Such a fact, from its very importance, requires the very strongest confirmation, and, being a fact of history, confirmation of a strictly historical kind.
I. THE FACT itself.
1. It is a fact quite capable of proof. There is no difficulty in imagining it to have occurred. There are no invincible laws against it. There are no natural principles or instincts of the human mind which reject it. All that can be averred is that it is not in the line of our experiences.
2. What is sufficient evidence? All human laws assume that the testimony of two witnesses, when that testimony is unchallenged and when it is confirmed by collateral evidence, is enough. This is not to say that any two men would be believed in anything they might choose to say. They must be honest men worthy of belief, and must be able to show that they had adequate opportunity for ascertaining or observing the thing to which they give testimony, and that they were the dupes of no illusion, and that they were in full possession of their faculties. Then, the human mind is so constituted that it must receive their testimony. If it were not so; human society would be no longer possible; no important ease could be decided in any court of law; in fact, no law could be administered at all.
II. THE WITNESSES.
1. How many are they? The first to see the risen Lord was Mary; then her companions, the other women, shared the privilege with her. Then John and Peter saw Him. Later in the day He met the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the evening He appeared to the brethren as they sat at meat; and again, a week later, to them in presence of Thomas. He came to the apostolic company by the lake; on the mountain more than five hundred brethren at once saw Him. It is probable that six or seven hundred people, at least, saw Christ after He was risen. True, we have not a separate testimony in writing from every one who saw Him. Writing in those days was not an easy matter. We have the testimony of the four Evangelists and of James, Peter, and Paul — to what? Not only to what they themselves saw and heard, but to the fact that a great many others saw and heard with them; and there is no denial from any of these. Here, e.g., is a letter which Paul writes to the Corinthians, which he must have known would not be kept a secret; and he asserts in it that Christ was seen after His resurrection by more than five hundred men, most of whom, he says, were then alive; and yet there is no contradiction. Corinth was full of objectors, and some of them would have been nothing loth to undermine his authority. The casual observation, "Some have fallen asleep," indicates that he knew many of the persons referred to, and that, had it been necessary, he could have given further details respecting them.
2. Are they honest men? Let any one read the Gospels and see. True, and honest, and simple-hearted are they, if ever such men were in the world.
3. As to their soundness of mind. Where is there any sign of weakness or of hallucination in these Gospels, or in the Epistles, from first to last? They seem almost too calm. It is impossible to conceive evidence more perfectly given. They were the subjects of profound emotion; but they knew that the world could have no interest in the state of their feelings, and that what they had to do was to tell faithfully and truly the great facts which had excited such feelings.
4. As to their opportunities for ascertaining the truth. They saw their risen Lord many times and in many places. They heard Him speak; they talked with Him; they touched Him; they saw Him eat; they felt His breath; they saw Him ascend to heaven.
5. But had they not something to gain by this history? Yes; they gained disrepute, persecution, spoiling of goods, as the price of their faithfulness. They gained bonds and martyrdom. If they did not believe it, their course of action makes them the greatest madmen the world has ever seen.
6. Their testimony was received undoubtingly by men of their own generation. It has been said that eighteen centuries is a long time across which to verify important historic truth. But it was grasped and held by those to whom it was near, who could judge of its truth as we judge of the occurrences of our own time, and who could not be deceived. Remember the wonderful effects this belief produced then; and now Christendom, with all the light and love and tenderness it contains, is the fruit of the faith that there is a risen Christ. Conclusion: Eighty years before the resurrection Caesar landed on the coast of Kent. Who thinks of doubting that? I suppose, if eternal salvation depended on believing it, there is not a sane Englishman alive who would fail of heaven; and yet the actual historic proof of this is far less complete, cogent, convincing, than the proof that Christ died and rose and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Men believe without any doubt or difficulty in the Sabine farm of Horace, where his friends quaffed the Falernian wine. We believe that Virgil died on a journey, and that he lies buried, at his own request, at the second milestone from Naples on the Puteolan way. We believe in the plough of Cincinnatus, and in the poison-cup of Socrates; but all kinds of conscientious scruples and honest doubts, which must be treated with great tenderness and delicacy, arise in some minds when they are asked to believe in the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. We feel inclined to say of such, everything in its own place. We would not break any bruised reed, or quench any smoking flax; but if any one will not take the trouble to examine the evidence for the resurrection, and yet will complain that he is unable to believe it, sympathy with such a person may be unfaithfulness to truth, and a slight even upon rationality, because he asks for comfort while rejecting light. Let men be honest and earnest in this great matter.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
I. THAT CHRIST WAS STILL LIVING AND HAD RETURNED TO HIS CHURCH. His death had struck them with confusion and dismay, and their first feeling was one of profound loss. The resurrection was the return of their beloved Master. So we do not worship a dead Christ. He is not a memory but a presence.
II. THAT CHRIST HAD NOT FAILED IN HIS WORK. This was once their impression (Luke 24:21). But after the resurrection all was changed. Here was —
1. Triumph over death.
2. The proof that God had accepted the great sacrifice.
3. The evidence that what seemed a hindrance was the very means by which the Saviour effected His work of redemption.
III. THAT CHRIST WAS MORE THAN MAN. It was a triumphant refutation of Jewish error. They had mocked at His claims (Luke 23:35). Here was the vindication of them. Accordingly the apostles pressed this fact with great persistency (Acts 3:15). He could be no mere man that could break the bars of the grave.
IV. THE SUPERNATURAL CHARACTER OF CHRISTIANITY. If this is granted it is vain to cavil at lesser miracles. Admit this, and all anti-Christian objection crumbles to dust.
V. THAT IT IS POSSIBLE FOR MAN TO BE RAISED FROM THE DEAD (1 Corinthians 15:20).
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Great grace was upon them all
I. IN THEIR EARNEST AND UNITED PRAYERS. They held frequent communion with the God of all grace. This practice was habitual (Acts 1:14). On any unusual occasion of trial, prayer was their first and last resort (Acts 4:31; Acts 12:5; Acts 21:5). If "great grace" is to rest upon believers in our time, it will be when they realise the cheering promise of their Lord (Matthew 18:20). No matter how small, or how great the number, nor from what quarter, nor the place of assembly, He — the Prophet, Priest, and King of His Church — will be present to bless.
II. IN THEIR STEADFAST DEVOTION TO SCRIPTURE DOCTRINE. Indifference to Divine truth is always the sign that the spark of grace in the heart is near extinction. The first-fruits of the day of Pentecost, instead of dividing themselves up into rival factions, to suit their individual caprice, "continued steadfast in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42).
III. IN THEIR LOVE ONE TO ANOTHER (ver. 32). When a company of Christians in Numidia had been taken prisoners by barbarians, and the churches to which (hey belonged were unable to pay their ransom, they sent to the Church in Carthage. Bishop no sooner heard of this than he set himself at work, and never relaxed his efforts until he had collected the necessary sum. This substantial token of brotherly kindness was not more gratifying than the letter of Christian sympathy and tenderness which accompanied it. "In cases like these," wrote the bishop, "who would not feel sorrow, and who would not look upon a brother's sufferings as his own?" As the apostle says, "When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26). Therefore, we must consider the captivity of our brethren as our own captivity. We must see Christ in our captive brethren, and redeem Him from captivity who redeemed us from death.
IV. IN THE HOLY JOY AND PEACE IN BELIEVING WITH WHICH THEY TRIUMPHED IN EVERY PLACE.
V. IN THE SPIRIT AND DEPORTMENT WITH WHICH THEY RECOMMENDED THEIR RELIGION TO THE WORLD (Acts 2:47). A Christian young man was asked what had led him to turn aside from his wild and thoughtless career to become a follower of Jesus. Was it a sermon or a book that had improved him? He answered very emphatically, No. Had any one spoken to him specially on the subject of religion? "No. It was a Christian man, who boarded at the same house with me." "Did he ever talk to you about your soul?" "No, never, till I sought an interview with him; but there was a sweetness in his disposition, a heavenly-mindedness about him, that made me feel that he had a source of comfort and peace, to which I was a stranger. His whole life was a sermon. I sought an interview with him. He pointed me to Jesus Christ, prayed with me and counselled me." In this, and in all such cases, religion is preached most eloquently to the world. About twenty years ago, a Christian woman of London was asked to take charge of a Bible-class of three young women. Although the work was a very humble one, she shrank from its responsibilities, and, with many misgivings, consented to the trial. The first month's experience was so encouraging that she consented to go on with the work, and the class constantly increased in numbers. From fifty, it soon grew to eighty, and a larger room was provided. In the course of a few years the Bible-class became five hundred strong; and now, at the age of sixty-nine, the faithful teacher (Mrs. Bartlett) has fallen asleep in Jesus. She was not a woman of marked ability, but simply one who gave up her whole self to the service of the Lord. This was the secret of her success. She knew the members of her large class, and called them by their names. She visited them at their homes, and wrote letters to the absent ones. For each, and for all of them, she prayed unceasingly. Her pupils are scattered over the whole earth, and many of them are telling to others the good tidings she brought to them.
(J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Theological Sketch-Book.We shall now seek an illustration of the text, by inquiring wherein such eminent grace appeared in these primitive believers.
1. Great grace appeared in their earnest and united supplications.
2. If appeared in their steadfast adherence to the apostles' doctrine.
3. In a constant adherence to the worship and service of God.
4. In their great love to one another.
5. These primitive Christians were full of holy joy and peace in believing, and they triumphed in every place.
6. Their spirit and deportment were such as recommended their religion to the word (Acts 2:47).They abounded in those Christian graces which are lovely even in the eyes of men in general.
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