On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 4:23-30.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 317 - October 1882


Chapter 4: 23-30.

Undeniably there was now a power on earth intrinsically superior to that of man beyond all comparison, but not at present at work to preclude shame and suffering, above all for Christ's sake. Nor was it merely with dark heathenism that it clashed, but with the highest authority of the Jewish people, now proving themselves as opposed at least as the heathen to the light and truth and power of God manifested by the presence of the Holy Spirit here below. The wonders and signs done by the apostles, the tongues of the Gentiles spoken in a moment by Jewish Christians who, had never learnt them, the mighty works of God in redemption set forth, and unselfish grace raising the believers above what not only their own habits craved, but the nature of man universally, did not, rich as they are, constitute the entire testimony for the name of the Lord Jesus. A particular sign before the temple done in His name had roused not more the amazement of the multitude than the jealous fears of the religious chiefs, sore troubled because they proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. How blinding is the influence of unbelief! They could not deny the reality of the miracle; they would net believe the gospel. They put in ward and further threatened the instruments of divine power. They have not a word to say about their own Scriptures bearing witness to their rejection and God's exaltation of the Messiah; yet they charged the apostles not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus, desirous of punishing them, but finding as yet no means how to do so, because of the people whose favour they dreaded to lose, without the fear of God. A truly lamentable picture of those who .claimed to be exclusively His people on the earth!

Little did they know that God had begun to call a new corps of witnesses from His ancient people, and that He would gather in mere from the Gentiles. And so the Spirit is intimating in this very book as a fact, the ground of which is explained in the Epistles.

"But being let go they came unto their own [company], and reported all that the chief priests and the elders said unto them. And they on hearing [it] with one accord lifted up their voice unto God and said, Master, thou [art] he that made the heaven, anal the earth, and the sea, and all that in them [is]; who by the Holy Spirit, [by the] mouth of our father David thy servant, didst say, Why did Gentiles rage and peoples meditate vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Anointed [or Christ]. For of a truth in this city against thy holy servant Jesus whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate with Gentiles and peoples of Israel were gathered to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel foreordained to come to pass. And now, Lord, look upon their threatenings and give to thy bondmen with all boldness to speak thy word, while [lit., in that] thou stretchest forth thy hand for healing, and that signs and wonders be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus." (Verses 23-30.)

What made these believers "their own company?" What drew the two apostles to them instinctively and immediately on their dismissal from the council? It was the Spirit of God who had gathered them to the name of the risen Christ. The people of Israel, their leaders at least, were now becoming their enemies as His; a new people was being formed with a high priest sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For He has obtained a ministry the more excellent, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant which has been enacted upon better promises. It is not that they then understood their own privileges as they are here put, nor that the statement here made reaches their best and highest blessings ; but they knew the one on high who was the accomplishment and securer of all, and hence they were more and more attracted to the circle of those who confessed Him and detached in principle, as gradually more in heart, from their old belongings and their old boast.

And "their own company" responded with one accord on hearing their report of all that the religious chiefs of the nation had said. It is a remarkable outpouring to God, and proves how deeply they err who fancy that there can be no agreement in prayer save through a previously composed and commonly possessed form: a grave interference with and practical denial of the power of the Holy Spirit, the only right and adequate spring of all that should characterise the assembly of God. For He it was who guided in this spontaneous spreading out before God of their then passing circumstances, according to the written word and in striking identification with the Lord Jesus. " Master," said they, in the sense of Sovereign owner and disposer of all, "thou art He that madest the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and all that in them is." They acknowledge His glory in creation, but turn at once to His prophetic word through David in the beginning of Ps. ii. This they distinctly apply to that unnatural combination which Jerusalem had just beheld between Gentiles and Jews, between Herod and Pontius Pilate, against Jesus the Messiah. He who at first created all, governed all; and He had revealed His will in His word.

For beyond a doubt it was of the Holy Ghost that David so spoke. To no event since the Psalm was written can the opening words apply save to the one just before them; of that strange union and daring guilt they do speak with precision, where Jew and Gentile set themselves with their rulers in array against Jehovah and His Anointed as never before or since. There are great principles in Scripture, but also exclusively personal prophecies. But though they discern in it a Satan-directed conspiracy, in which evil seemed to have all its way without check even to the crucifying of the Lord of glory, they are clear that the enemy with all his hosts has in reality gained nothing but defeat. The others thought it not at all when they held their council and adjudged Jesus to the death of the cross; but they were gathered by Him who is higher than the highest, to do whatsoever His hand and His counsel predetermined to be done. And so it ever is, even in this world lying in the wicked one though it be, but not always so conspicuously as the written word made . it in that which was and is so infinitely momentous to God and man. But how solemn to see " in this city," as everywhere, that men who are the nearest concerned, the perpetrators of these horrors against God and His Christ, are the last to perceive the import of their own acts, still less God's gracious and worthy purposes by them! In truth, not one sparrow falls on the ground without Him; and the very hairs of our head are all numbered.

Futile and wicked effort! The murderous violence of man but rivets the bands and cords He would burst asunder. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. But this is far from all. Then shall He speak to them in His wrath and vex them in His sore displeasure. This, however, is not yet; for, instead of judgments to punish their evil and overwhelm their pride, His grace is mean while sending oft the gospel, repentance and remission of sins preached in the name of Jesus to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. The promise of His Father is sent forth on the disciples, the Holy Ghost as power from on high to associate those who believe with Himself in heaven. When this work of heavenly grace is done, God will take His place for the earth and Israel especially. He has in no way forgotten or repented of His promise to Abraham or David. "Vet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: Jehovah hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." Do any contend that this latter part of the Psalm is now accomplished, spiritually as they call it, under the gospel? It is perfectly demonstrable that such a strain of Scripture is precluded by the context. For it is declared that Messiah shall [not save nor unite to Himself as members of His body, but] break them with a rod ct' iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. So Rev. ii. 7 shows that the faithful who are now being called will share in this with Christ at His coming, instead of its being fulfilled in some allegorical way at this time—a sense unworthy of all just interpretation. Hence the final appeal is to the kings and judges of the earth to pay homage to Jehovah and the Son, lest He be angry, and they perish under ever so little a kindling of His wrath. It is not a call to the poor and heavy-laden to believe the gospel; it is a question of the future .and manifest kingdom of God when the Son of man comes in power and glory. Compare Ps. viii. and Dan. ii. vii. Still, whether it be then or now, blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.

In vain do some following a few Rabbis limit or even apply such words to the reign of David or Solomon; for they go beyond their glory, and still more their successors. Neither attempted to reign to the ends of the earth, or required the homage of its kings as such; nor was any man called to trust in either; nor was lack of reverence visited with perdition. That Christ has not yet executed the judgment of verse 9 is no proof that He will not, but rather the solemn assurance that He will.

In our scripture it is noticeable that these who so definitely use the Psalm for its accomplishment in the uprising against the Messiah stop short thus. Not a thought is expressed of His asking for Jehovah's giving the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. He is occupied with His heavenly relations and offices now. He will ask for the earth when He is about to come and execute judgment on the living and the dead. Then will be His appearing and His kingdom. Now He is hid in God, the source of gifts for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ, till we all come unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.

Hence the praying saints do not ask for such vengeance from God on their adversaries, as 'we find in the Old Testament, and emphatically the Psalms which reflect the inmost feeling of the godly concerned, whether in their past preparatory accomplishment or in their complete fulfilment at the end of the age. It is not, as many in ignorant presumption dare to think, that these intercessions against the wicked as in Psalms vi. x. liv. lix. lxxxiii. and the like, are vindictive but solemnly judicial when the time and instruments are there to pour out God's wrath on all who despise Him. But now it is the day of grace and salvation, the accepted time, while Christ sits on the right hand of God, and the Holy Ghost is uniting to Rim the one body, the church, and sovereign grace in the gospel flows out overflowing for the while all difference between Jew and Gentile who are called to heavenly glory. In a spirit suitable to this do they pray "And now, Lord, look upon their threatening, and give to thy bondmen with boldness to speak thy word, while thou stretchest forth thy hand for healing, and that signs and wonders be done by the name of thy holy servant Jesus."

It was enough for their hearts that the Lord should look upon the threats of those that sought their injury: He knew best what to permit and what to restrain; and He could deliver. For themselves they besought grace to speak His word with all baldness or liberty. Is this what we are doing or seeking? Do we prize it as our chief joy and duty and business on the earth? Is it merely with Christian companions of like mind, spending an hour or two in the morning with people of leisure, and in the evening with those who have closed their earthly toils? This may be all well; but in such circumstances it is apt to be sitting over the word rather than the word over them, admiring the things which they know, and criticising those who do not know the wondrous counsels and ways of grace. Far different was the heart of these early saints who had much to learn; but in their faith they supplied or added that moral courage and zeal for Christ and divine love which drew them out to speak His word "with all boldness." The Lord granted their desire, not merely in setting at nought when He saw fit for His glory the threatenings of His and their enemies, but in rendering free and bold witness to Himself. His word ran and was glorified as we shall see; and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. They spoke of Him devotedly, and abundantly did He bless them. It never occurred to their simple minds that they should preach for preaching's sake with the inevitable and deserved result of absolutely no fruit. Speaking His word, they looked to Him that it would issue to His glory in bringing souls to God and filling them with divine joy in His grace.

It is true that their faith, according to the word of the Lord (Mark xvi. 17, 18), counted on more than spiritual blessing. The healing of the sick or infirm in His name they desired, as a precious and significant token to unbelievers. So had the Master wrought when here; so would they His bondmen do in witness of His gracious power, as He was risen and in heaven who had vanquished Satan, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that followed. In the confidence of this guarantee on His part they ask Him to grant them with all boldness to speak His word whilst He stretches forth His hand for healing, and that signs and wonders be done in the name of the holy servant Jesus. This was seasonable where God was inaugurating the infinite fact of the Holy Spirit sent down in person from heaven and now permanently making the assembly to be His habitation, His temple or house on earth. What honour too for Him whom the Jews had crucified by the hand of lawless men, that these signs and wonders were done "through the name of His servant Jesus!" When the name of the Lord was professed throughout Christendom, there would have been no adequate object, or even propriety, inn the continuance of such signs, the Scriptures being then accepted in that sphere as the true and full revelation of God. And inasmuch as that profession for the most was unreal and superficial and increasingly to the denial by their works of the Lord whom they professed, how morally incongruous would have been the continuance of these external tokens of honour and power! The more one weighs the matter, the more fitting does it seem that He who vouchsafed miracles at the beginning should not have bound them as an inalienable heirloom to the church or to His servants. He promised that they would follow " those that believe"; and so they did. He never intimated that they were to follow perpetually or absolutely; and they then ceased in His wisdom, as they really could not be now without the danger, yea certainty, of ill results to His dishonour; for they must tend to gloss over the present ruin-state of the assembly, to blunt the conscience of all, if all had them, or to inflate a few if only exercised by a few.

The testimony, the word of God, was then the prime desire which they spread before Him, for they sought mercy and blessing for their adversaries, not vengeance; and the seals of power they asked at His hand did not consist of consuming fire from above, or the earth opening to devour the foe, but rather "healing," and if " signs and wonders " they besought them "through the name of His holy servant Jesus," because their hearts were set on the honour of the Son, even as they honoured the Father. The power prayed for was not for apostolic influence or authority, but for His glory who made Himself a bondman, and to commend the word that reveals Him. It was the Creator, who had, through His servant David, predicted and now accomplished His work, even through His enemies.

It will be noticed that the critical text differs not a little from the received, not merely in the omitting "God" in v. 24, and "in this city," in 27, but yet more in the singular addition given by; א A B C and other authorities. It is difficult to conceive the ordinary text deliberately changed into that ancient form with its unusual apparent harshness; it is easy to understand that later copyists might soften the phrase. It is not often that the older witnesses give us greater copiousness; but here we have distinct instances of it. Further, in 27 and 30, as in iii. 13 26, the true counterpart is "servant," and not or even "child" here, answering to Isaiah xlii., lii., as indeed the Authorised Version rightly translates in 25. Only Jesus is here carefully distinguished as "His holy" One.