And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.…
I. THE PRAYER.
1. It contains a distinct acknowledgment of God's almighty power. "Lord, Thou art God," etc. Our highest conceptions of the power of God are derived from the act of creation. Finite power can shape and fashion, but it can never create.
(1) God created the heaven of heavens: the place where He has erected His throne, and where He is pleased especially to manifest Himself to the heavenly powers. There the humanity of Christ is seen. That world our Saviour has described as His "Father's house." If the Queen of Sheba fainted at the sight of the splendour of Solomon's court, what shall be thought of the temple of the great King? He created all the inhabitants of that world. Of these there are various orders. "Thrones, dominions," etc. Their numbers are great. All derive their existence from God, their immortality, their mighty intellect, their profound and comprehensive knowledge, their burning love, their rich and elevated enjoyments.
(2) He made the visible heavens. The sun, moon, stars, and planets. Their magnitudes; the regularity and rapidity of their motions; the vast sweep of their orbits; all declare the greatness of His power.
(3) He made the earth. Its plains and valleys, its deserts, its hills, its mineral substances, its refreshing springs, its daily and annual motion, with its changing seasons, the clouds which supply it with the fruitful rain, the winds which sweep over its surface, the atmosphere in which it moves, all attest the greatness of His power. He made all that the earth contains. The varieties of the vegetable kingdom; the fowls of the air, with the endless train of sentient creatures. Man, his outward frame, so "fearfully and wonderfully made," his mind, by whose sagacity the secrets of nature are penetrated, and the unruly elements and animals made subservient; and by which the knowledge of God is acquired, and a spiritual worship is presented. The lesson is that the mighty hand which fabricated all this is pledged to defend the Christian from evil. Hence this prayer. The storm of persecution was raging around. The danger is appalling; but God is near; and His people take refuge in His almightiness. What is the power of the rulers before the great Lord of earth and sky? "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe!" Here, then, is an example worthy of imitation. In every perplexity and danger, let us call upon God in prayer, and cover ourselves with His omnipotence. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear."
2. A distinct acknowledgment of God's governing wisdom (vers. 25-28; cf. Psalm 2.).
(1) Because the men who put our Lord to death did that which God had "determined before to be done," some have concluded that they were compelled. But as to the perpetration of it, this opinion is dishonourable to God, and injurious to piety. We shall prove that it is not the doctrine of Holy Scripture.
(a) It was God's purpose that His Son should die. This was the appointed method of human salvation. Man had sinned, and could not be justified without an atonement. That atonement was therefore determined in the counsels of the Divine Mind before time began; for He "verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world." The death of Christ, therefore, was in effect declared in the first promise: was prefigured by the sacrifices of the old dispensations, and was attested by the prophets. But now note that so far as the Jews were concerned, the crucifixion involved a criminal inattention to the predictions of their own Scriptures. They wilfully shut their eyes against the light of the clearest evidence, as to His real character, arising from His miracles and teaching. To suppose that God should solemnly forbid all this wickedness, and reveal His wrath against it, and yet impel any of His creatures to commit it, is a foul aspersion upon His truth and holiness, as well as upon His justice and love.
(b) It has been rashly concluded, that if the authorities had believed in Jesus, and forborne to lay violent hands upon Him, the Divine plan of redemption must have failed; but such apprehensions arise from very imperfect views of the depth of God's counsels. His wisdom could have devised a thousand means of securing the death of His Son independently of all sinful agency. If He "does not need man's work," in order to the accomplishment of His plans, He certainly does not need man's wickedness for any such purpose. But on such a subject it is useless to speculate. The death of Christ has been accomplished, and with it the world's redemption.
(e) Some persons have thought that the prophecies imposed upon the Jewish people a necessity to put Jesus to death; but of this there is no proof. Prophecy, in this case, was simply an expression of God's foreknowledge. Had the conduct of the Jewish and Roman authorities towards our Lord been friendly, the Divine Mind would have seen it to be such; and prophecy would have corresponded with it. Simple foreknowledge no more influences a fact than after-knowledge; and the actions of a moral agent are no more determined by a mere prediction than they are by history.
(2) In all the circumstances attending the crucifixion we have a striking display of the wisdom of God. The Jews unquestionably intended —
(a) To cover His name with indelible odium, but God has made it an occasion of the highest glory.
(b) To subvert His spiritual kingdom. Vain men! The means which they adopted led Him to the possession of a dominion wide as the universe, and lasting as eternity.
(c) By the frightful and tormenting death to which our Lord was subjected, to terrify and scatter His disciples. Here again we see the short-sightedness of man; the Cross was the means of binding the disciples of Christ to Him for ever.
(3) Here, then, is another ground of confidence towards God. He who thus brought good out of evil is always the same. Men are often taken by surprise; but He sees the end from the beginning, and is therefore prepared for all events.
3. A direct application to God for His immediate interposition. They request that supernatural boldness may be given to the apostles in the exercise of their ministry. This is a very remarkable petition, and places in a striking light the singleness of heart of the first Christians. Ease, honour, liberty, friends, life itself, are all to be sacrificed, rather than the word of God should be bound. As one means of inspiring the apostles with the requisite "boldness," the Church pray that miracles may be continued and increased It is here assumed that miracles are the peculiar work of God: for had miraculous power been inherent the prayer would have been absurd. Miracles were indeed wrought by the instrumentality of the apostles, because they were intended to authenticate the system of truth which they were appointed to teach; but the miracles themselves were effects produced by the immediate exertion of God's power; and in every instance they depended upon His will.
4. The prayer is marked by the absence of all wrathful feeling. In preaching Christ the apostles violated no law; injured no man; they conferred the greatest possible good upon multitudes. While thus discharging their consciences, and benefiting mankind, they were censured, imprisoned, brow-beaten, and severely threatened. Yet the only allusion made to this cruel and unreasonable conduct is, "And now, Lord, behold their threatenings." How like their Lord who, when He "was reviled, He reviled not again"!; and "when He suffered unjustly," He forbore "to threaten." In the same spirit Stephen suffered There was a time when the disciples proposed to punish inhospitable people with fire from heaven. But now they were actuated by holier feelings. The spirit of Christianity is a spirit of love.
5. The prayer presents a beautiful example of Christian unanimity. The assembled multitude "lifted up their voices with one accord." How different from the congregations of ungodly men, brought together for some worldly object, and actuated by selfishness, anger, or curiosity (Acts 19:32). Here is a complete unity of purpose and desire. Not a wandering eye, no listlessness, inattention, or formality; no silent lips; for here is no cold and unfeeling heart. The Holy Ghost has produced in them all an intense desire for the preservation and extension of the cause of Christ. Oh, when will our assemblies resemble this! When shall we cease to complain of late attendance upon our religious ordinances? of undevout worshippers?
II. THE ANSWER WHICH GOD GRACIOUSLY VOUCHSAFED.
1. They received a sensible token of the Divine presence. "The place was shaken." The entire fabric was moved by the power of God; but not a stone seems to have been displaced. The effect must have been somewhat similar to that produced on Jacob and Elijah (Genesis 28:16, 17; 1 Kings 19:12, 13). Only in this case there was no guilt to terrify; for their sin was purged; and the weakest among them was greater in Divine knowledge and heavenly enjoyment than the most distinguished prophet. To them, therefore, the presence of God was the cause of holy joy. Miracles are no longer necessary, and are therefore discontinued; but God is as really present in the assemblies of His people at this day as He was when they met in Jerusalem; and our whole spirit and behaviour in His house should correspond with this conviction.
2. They were favoured with a rich effusion of Divine influence. "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost." This being the case —
(1) They were, of course, emptied of all that was opposed to His mind and nature; and whatever was defective in the piety of any of them was now supplied. Those that were weak in faith were now inspired with strong confidence. Each of them was entirely sanctified to God, and made perfect in every Christian grace. They were not only saved from all sin, but were filled with the fulness of God. They dwelt in God, by constant acts of faith and love; and He dwelt in them in all the fulness of His Spirit's power. It may be justly questioned whether the power of Christianity was ever more strikingly manifested than upon this occasion. Who were these people? The greater part of them were Jews upon whom the spotless purity of our Saviour's example, and even the resurrection of Lazarus, had failed to make any salutary impression. They had actually been "His betrayers and murderers." Yet they no sooner believe in Jesus, and are brought under the full power of the Holy Spirit, than they become examples to the Church in all ages till the end of time. Who, then, can despair of the conversion of any one? Why should we not in the present day witness displays of the power and grace of Christ equally striking? Even our missionaries never meet with people more deeply depraved.
(2) They "spake the word of God" with renewed "boldness." They had a full assurance of the triumph of the Christian cause, whatever opposition they might encounter. Hence they preached Christ at every opportunity with dauntless ardour; for they felt that God was with them, conferring upon the world the richest blessings.
(3) "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart, and of one soul." The "little flock" had now become a "multitude"; yet were they perfectly one in spirit. No angry controversies agitated them; for they had not learned to attempt the settlement of questions which no human sagacity can solve. The authority of the Son of God was sufficient to fix the assent of their understandings, as it was to sway their will, and command their obedience. There was in them such an identity of feeling, and tenderness of sympathy and affection, as the world had never previously seen. The more wealthy shared the blessings of Divine Providence with the poor; and the hearts of all were so set upon the heavenly treasure, that none of them called the earthly things which belonged to him his own. They lived not under a low degree of Divine influence; nor was that influence limited to a few individuals. "Great grace was upon them"; and it was upon them "all." Thus was the dying request of the Saviour answered (John 17:20-23).
3. The cause of Christianity was greatly extended. The Church prayed that God would "stretch forth His hand"; and now the historian goes on to state, that "by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people."Conclusion: The subject reminds us —
1. Of our obligations to the merciful providence of God, for our exemption from those harassing persecutions by which the Church was formerly oppressed.
2. In times of trouble to seek relief in prayer. Though we are exempted from legal persecution, we are liable to various other calamities, from which we have no means of escape.
3. Of the true secret of the Church's power. Weak as the Church is in itself, it is armed with God's truth. This is the weapon which no form of evil can effectually resist, when it is rightly applied. The Church is also favoured with the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is zeal. Let us return, then, to the first principles of our holy religion. Let us study Christianity as it is embodied in the books of the New Testament, and as it was exemplified by the Church under the Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Parallel VersesKJV: And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.