On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 5:12-20.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 320 - January 1883


Chapter 5:12-20.

The Lord seized the critical moment when Ananias and Sapphira thus sinned unto death, and a death so awe-inspiring, to put fresh and gracious honour on the Twelve. One of their number had just stood prominently before all as the vessel of divine power in judging deliberate and hypocritical iniquity, in which the offending pair had been consenting partners. Now it was according to His wisdom to manifest the normal flow of His goodness and compassion in honour of the Lord Jesus, and in a world ruined through sin and wretched under its dismal effects. "And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; and they were all of one accord in the porch of Solomon.

And of the rest durst nο man join them; but the people magnified. them; and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women; insomuch as even to carry out the sick into the streets and put [them] on beds and couches, that, as Peter came, at least his shadow might overshadow some one of them. And there also came together the multitude from the cities round about [? unto] Jerusalem, bringing sick persons and persons troubled by unclean spirits; and they were healed every one." (Ver. 12-16.)

This witness to the supremacy of the rejected Messiah new exalted to the right hand of God we are apt to forget, being so long accustomed to its absence, and it may be thinking too exclusively of His grace to us and too little of His glory. What mercy it is that keeps up that which is yet mote precious and even more profoundly wonderful, the unchanged efficacy of His blood, the new creation, union with Rim, and the ever-abiding presence of the Holy Ghost in and with us on earth. But we ought not to be insensible to the blessed even if partial display of the testimony to His power over all the groaning creation, and those evil spirits who seduced man to his ruin into their own rebelliousness against God; nor should we ignore the humbling fact that such a display so soon faded away, as doubtless it was meet that it should. The God of all grace (and so now pre-eminently is God revealing Himself) would not stay such an answer on earth to Christ's exaltation to the seat of divine power, were there not the wisest and most adequate reasons, not only on the side of His own moral glory, but because the continuance of such signs anal wonders would be an anomaly in His ways, and mi injury rather then a blessing to be saints, when the assembly fall more and more from the grace and truth which came by our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is evident that here as on other occasions the apostles were those above all distinguished by doing many signs and wonders. Plainly from Acts vi. 8, viii. 6, 7, 13 the power was in no way confined to those whom God set first in the church; for the martyr Stephen and the evangelist Philip were both remarkable in that way. Nor can there be an intelligent doubt, for the believer who reads 1 Cor. xii., that such sign-gifts might be distributed widely encl apart from all public office; even as our Lord intimated in Mark xvi. 17, 18, for " those that believed," not merely for certain prominent functionaries. Here however the mighty works were done by those in the front rank; nor were they done in a corner, but in all publicity, for they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch, of the rest no man daring to join them. The moral effect was immense. On the other hand, the people magnified them; on the other, believers were more than ever added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. "Women" had been emphatically mentioned in chapter i, when the disciple, however closely found together, were only so many individuals cleaving to the Lord in faith, and giving themselves up with one accord to continual prayer, before the uniting power of the one Spirit sent down from heaven baptized all into one body.! The prophecy applied to the Pentecostal gift implied: the common share women were to have in the promise of the Father, and its mighty consequence (chap. ii. 17, 18); and now we hear "women" again named explicitly among the multitudes of believers added to the Lord.

Among the signs end wonders a very special feature is pointed out in verse 15: their bringing out the sick into the streets and putting them on beds and couches that the mere shadow of Peter as he came along might overshadow some one of them. So did the abundant goodness of God by man in honour of Jesus fill men's hearts with confident expectation. Nor do we hear of disappointment. On the contrary we are told that the multitude also of the cities round about Jerusalem flocked thither, bringing sick people and those troubled by unclean spirits; and healing was vouchsafed to them all. How wondrous the virtue of that Name which thus unfailingly invested His servants with power superior to every demand ever evil seen or unseen!

Again come forward the Sadducean party. Liberalism is no more friendly to the truth than traditionalism. And no wonder. Their citadel had been stormed by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They felt themselves assailed and pursued in the open field by the proclamation of the gospel, and by the miraculous powers which magnified the Name of the crucified Messiah.

"And the high priest rising up, and all those that were with him, which is the sect of the Sadducees, were filled with wrath, and laid their hands en the apostle, and put them in public ward. But an angel of [the] Lord by night opened the doors of the prison, and leading them out said, Go and stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this Life." (Ver. 17-20.)

During the ministry of the Lord Jesus here below the Pharisees had been His chief adversaries; self-righteousness, unrighteousness, zealously holding to tradition, and veiled by religious forms, waged constant warfare against the Righteous One; and the more, as He was ever the expression of God's grace and truth to those who owned their true condition of guilt and ruin before God. When He presented Himself as Messiah for the last time to the unbelieving people, and was going, as He well knew, to death, not in rejection only but in atonement, all came out in unambiguous opposition, whatever the pretence, chief priests and elders, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, coming to judge Him, but in result to be themselves judged by the word. Now after He rose from the dead those who said there is no resurrection nor angel nor spirit were naturally the most embittered, notwithstanding their usual self-complacency and character as the mildest of the people. But man never knows himself apart from Christ, any more than he thinks or feels rightly about God. The revealed truth detects and lays him bare in his departure from God; and this is so much the more intolerable as he has a religious position to maintain. Hence the excessive anger of the Sadducean high priest and his party at this time. Their boasted liberty of conscience is only for the different forms of error. The truth of God is ever unwelcome, and those who preach it are mere troublers to be punished without hesitation. They "laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in public ward."

But the God who had acted in the assembly, with a stroke which slew the guilty husband and wife, was not wanting now; and a providential messenger of His power was sent to deliver His faithful servants. "An angel of [the] Lord by night opened the doors of the prison, and leading them out said, Go and stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this Life."

The intervention then was as sensible as it was striking. God is marking in the chapter the reality and the varied forms of His action for His assembly and those members of it in particular who are charged with His word and rouse most the animosity of the, foe. Angelic care has in now way disappeared for His servants, though there is no such display of power as of old, any more than the presence and energy of the Spirit within the assembly. It is our fleshly activity, and our lack of spirituality, which hinder. We grieve the Sprit by our self-confidence and worldly wisdom; and we fail to discern the wonderful ways in which God delivers. Were our eyes more truly opened of the Lord we should see that, when beset with seemingly countless and overwhelming adversaries, they that be with us, if really with and for Christ, are more than they that be with them. Are they not all ministering spirits sent out for service on account of those that shall inherit salvation?

Here no doubt there could be no mistake about the matter; for it was no question of men escaping by strength or skill or any earthly means, but of an angel opening the doors of the prison by night, leading them out, and commanding them to speak in the temple to the people all the words of this Life. The source of the deliverance was as plain as the commission to speak. The religious chiefs were in flat opposition to the God of all grace who would have men that believed through grace to be is chosen vessels in proclaiming all the words of this Life in Christ the Lord. For there is no other Name of salvation given among men, none other way than the Son to the Father. Life in Him, remission of sins through His blood, the gift of the Holy Spirit, such are the first blessings which the gospel announces to every soul that believes in Jesus. And God will have it to go forth freely and fully, let men say or do as they may. But who shall measure the guilt of thus rejecting every testimony from God, not only despising the message of grace, but forbidding and imprisoning the messengers, that the mercy and truth of God in so speaking to man may never reach his ears? Who can wonder that their judgment slumbereth not? The higher the estate, the deeper the fall.

But God, who knows best that His words are the seed of everlasting life, will not have the proud and evil will of man to intercept His message of good. He therefore as in a day of wonders interfered by an angel to do extraordinarily that which He could have accomplished by more ordinary means, if so it had pleased Him. But the occasion itself then was beyond all that is usual; and it was according to His wisdom that, as His power had been shown judicially within the assembly, and in healing grace by the special envoys of the Lord Jesus, so also with marked superiority over the hostile will of man and authority of the world by the angelic deliverance from the prison. The words of this Life must be spoken at His command that souls might hear and live. One can understand how the courage of faith would be confirmed and increased in His servants by an act s ο signal; and what a testimony it ought to have been to the consciences of all, especially to the sect of the Sadducees! But unbelief is as hard and as blind towards God, as it is credulous of its own vagaries, and bent on its own will, even with the knell of perdition sounding in its ears.