Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 316 - September 1882
Fox the servants of Christ the conflict was now beginning. On the one side worldly power and religion, position and numbers; on the other, faith in His name whom their adversaries had crucified. What could have seemed more unequal? Yes, to those who leave out God, and His Son, and the Spirit sent down from heaven. But in the believer is not this inexcusable unbelief? Why do we not always reckon on divine intervention, till He is giving up people to their own delusions?
"Now beholding the boldness of Peter and John, and aware that they were unlettered and simple, they wondered, and recognized them that they were with Jesus" (ver. 13). In none does the Spirit's power shine more conspicuously than in such as can boast nothing of this world's advantages. For high and low cry up the learning of the schools: the high, as making the most of what they themselves have enjoyed; the low, in general, as excusing their own deficiency and overvaluing what they have not. But in the things of God nothing has power like faith in the God who is glorifying Christ. And learning, whenever leaned on an object, so far from being a help, is apt to become a positive hindrance and a real snare. Man as such is capable of attaining it in the highest degree; and pride generally follows, if not the applause of men. But the ways of God are not as ours; and He was pleased to humble man, not only by Christ crucified, but by choosing the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise. In the front rank of these stand the apostles who, speaking broadly, had not one distinction in the eyes of the world, not one of which flesh could vaunt. Such certainly were Peter and John now in presence of Jewish rulers, who, having rejected Jesus, had lost God, were putting forth nothing but an arm of flesh against His purposes and His servants. The rulers saw their bold bearing, on the one hand, and on the other their ignorance of letters or of any public position which could whet their powers or impart experience and presence of mind. If they could not but wonder, they did also recognize their having been with Jesus. " This could only aggravate their uneasiness, especially as an unanswerable witness was present. "And seeing the man that was healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply." (Ver. 14.) How solemn the position of men who, bearing the name of God's people, are so entangled by the enemy that they cannot deny the truth to which they are at the same time determined not to bow! To own it would be, they think, their ruin. Not so in truth, but their salvation! It would have been the humbling discovery of their sin, and of God's unspeakable grace, of a rejected but exalted Messiah, whose name by faith in it brings life and remission of sins. But no: they will not come to Him that they may have life. They love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. They value the glory of men and not the glory of God, who is in none of their thoughts. It is not only the unbelieving who perish, but the fearful, the cowardly, bent on present interests according to their own reckoning, and for their own pleasure, in contempt of evidence to their consciences adequate, yea overwhelming, that they are fighting against God. Did not the man stand before all with the apostles who notoriously had never stood before?
Their guilty dilemma they did not disguise from themselves nor one from another when they got rid of the presence of those who morally condemned them. "But, having commanded them to go aside out of the council, they were conferring among themselves, saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable sign hath been done through them [is] manifest to all that inhabit Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it be not spread farther among the people, let us threaten them [severely, lit., with threat] to speak to no man longer in [lit. on] this name." (Ver. 15-17.) Here the unerring word of God lays bare the workings of hardened feeling without conscience among His enemies; and none are so bitter, none so obdurate, as those who, responsible as His people to do His will, have made up: their mind to do their own. They fully knew the remarkable deed just wrought by the apostles; they recognised it as not merely a miracle but "a sign"; yet did they strengthen themselves against the Almighty, running on the thick bosses of His buckler. In the face of the evident finger and instructive lesson of God, they deliberately strive together to extinguish its effects. They are well aware that "these men" claim nothing for themselves, assert nothing but the name of Jesus. But this is the very thing they themselves had to fear and would banish for ever if they could. How vainly. It is the day pre-eminently for bearing witness to Jesus. This is the true and great business of the believer; this his one unfailing joy and duty; in the gospel, in the church, with friend or with foe, with few or with many, habitually in word, often in deed, sometimes in silence, but always are we called to be His witnesses. Had not He Himself said to these very men with others, as His last charge, "We shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and ye shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth?" Could these blind, plotting, self-condemned Jewish . rulers stifle that testimony? So they. hoped in the infatuation of unbelief which hid their own exceeding iniquity as well as God's will and glory from their eyes.
The charge not to speak at all nor teach in reference to (or resting on) the name of Jesus, which the council laid on Peter and John, was therefore as bold as it was wicked; and the more so as emanating from rulers who claimed the highest authority in religion. How solemn to think that so they treated unwittingly their own Messiah! And why was it unwitting Had God given them ineffectual light in the prophets? They own at that moment a manifest sign in the man that was healed. This they could not deny; that they would not believe. And so abiding in darkness they knew not the impiety of their enforcing silence about the Messiah whose loving kindness was better than life to His servants.
"But Peter and John answering said unto them, Whether it be right before God to hear you rather than God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard." (Ver. 19, 20). This reply put the case with unswerable plainness and moral power. A ruler, especially a religious one, is bound to uphold what is righteous before God; and their charge simply amounted to heeding themselves in preference to God; for they demanded not a word more in the name of Jesus, though God had openly and just now honoured it unmistakably. As for the apostles, faith in Christ, love to souls, special call, divine authority, and devotedness to His glory, all wrought to open their lips in His testimony and praise. The things they had seen and heard were so bound up with what was due to Jehovah and His Anointed, as well as with the believer's blessedness and the unbeliever's misery, woe be to them if they held their peace! A necessity was laid on them no less than on Paul at a later day. They had received a personal command from Him by whom kings rule in divine providence; only theirs was on the ground, of grace and truth unknown to earthly governors as such, and for ends immeasurably higher and more enduring. Were those who claimed His sanction in a lower sphere authorised to set it aside in a higher? They might attempt it, but as surely would it be to their own irremediable destruction, as it would be in vain for those who heard the voice of One on high mightier than the noise of many waters, let the floods lift up their voice never so loftily.
"And they having further threatened them let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them on account of the people; because all were glorifying God for what had been done. For the man on whom this sign of healing was wrought was more than forty years old." (Ver. 21, 22.)
Threatening, and further threatening, are tokens of weakness and ill-will, not of power which knows how to forbear till the critical moment came. It is the natural resource of such as have not the truth, and withal no plea of unrighteousness in those they would punish. And in this case, as often, the people were feared, not God. Not that they loved but rather despised the people; but they were necessary as an instrument of influence, and the loss of this they dreaded above all. What a contrast with that Ruler, who is just, ruling in the fear of God! Their character is as darkness, and the end death: He, as the light of the. morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain. Government, poor as it may be now, is right and needful; but it is never right when those who should exercise it shrink from fear of the people, instead of acting before God who authorised them. Alas! it was the council that was without God and opposed to Him; and the poor and simple, ignorant as they might be, in this case did all glorify God for that which was done. They were familiar for many years with the sufferer who by divine power was healed; and they had no class interest which was wounded by owning the good hand of God. The Jewish rulers feared not God but the people, and would. have punished the holy servants of Christ if they could only have found an excuse plausible before men. They were in the darkness of nature, with the pride of possessing the law of God, and under the direction of Satan. The wisdom of their wise was perishing, and the understanding of their prudent hid. Learned or unlearned were obliged alike to own in the presence of His revealed mind that they could not read it. Henceforth it was with the servants and confessors of the Lord Jesus; the Spirit given them was self-evidently, not of cowardly fear, but of power and love and a sober mind. The truth of Christ too nearly concerns God and man to be shelved. If truly received, it commands conscience and heart, mind and soul. If the rulers could not deny the sign before their eyes, still less could the apostles refrain from confessing the truth of Christ, the Saviour in heaven for man on earth. For them to withhold God's glad tidings in Christ would have been treason spiritually. Indifference to Christ or the gospel is cousin-german to infidelity