Act . A Congregation at Prayer.—A model for the times.
I. United.—"With one accord."
II. Fervent.—"They lifted up their voice to God."
III. Reverent.—"Lord, Thou art God," etc.
IV. Believing.—"Who by the mouth of Thy servant David," etc.
V. Intelligent.—They knew whom they addressed and what they wanted.
VI. Merciful.—They asked not for vengeance on their enemies.
VII. Hopeful.—They had large expectations as to the future of Christ's cause—"that signs and wonders," etc. (Act ).
Act . Vain Imaginings.
I. That God's purpose of salvation can be defeated by man's opposition.
II. That Christ's cause can be destroyed even by the fiercest persecution.
III. That the Spirit's work upon the earth can be arrested by the most powerful combinations against it.
The World's Treason against its King.
I. The fact.
II. The impotence of their rage.—It is very useless anger. It accomplishes nothing.
1. It won't alter the purpose of God.
2. It won't make Him afraid. "Are we stronger than He?" asks the apostle. "Hast thou an arm like God?" asked Job 3. It won't shake the eternal throne.
4. It won't change truth into error, or error into truth. It tries to do this. But in vain.
III. The reason of their rage.—
1. Because they hate God Himself.
2. They hate His government.
3. They hate His Song of Solomon 4. They hate His Bible.
IV. God's reasons for allowing this.—Why not arrest the blasphemy?
1. To show what the evil of sin is.
2. To show the abysses of the human heart.
3. To show His power and grace.
V. God's time for interposing.—The close of the Psalm shows that He will interfere at length. He is not slack concerning His promises and threats.—H. Bonar, D.D.
Act . The Christian Conception of God.
I. A triune personality.—Father (Lord), Son (Christ), and Holy Ghost.
II. The Maker of the Universe.—Of "heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is."
III. The hearer of prayer.—Implied in the Church's supplication of His aid.
IV. The inspirer of Scripture.—"Who by the mouth of Thy servant David hath said."
V. The providential ruler of the world.—"To do whatsoever Thy hand and counsel determined before to be done."
VI. The omniscient observer of all men and things.—"And now, Lord, behold their threatenings."
VII. The author of salvation.—The Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose name signs and wonders, moral and spiritual, as well as physical and temporal, were done.
Act . Boldness in Preaching.
I. Because the preacher's commission is from heaven.
II. Because the preacher's message is the Word of God. Which is
3. Much needed;
III. Because the preacher's foes are feeble.—In comparison with those who are on his side.
IV. Because the preacher's helpers are divine.—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Act . Christian Courage.—"And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus," etc. It is always an impressive moment when a jury, or an important deliberative body, is about to render a decision. This is especially true if the question at issue involves vital interests, and the determining body speaks with authority. To such a decision from such a body the text relates. The scene is in Jerusalem, soon after Pentecost. In considering the conduct of these men, thus arraigned, threatened, and commanded, we notice—
I. The test of the apostles' courage.—It is evident that the early followers of Christ did not design or wish to separate themselves from the Jewish Church. They differed from other Jews in believing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah; but they still supposed that the way into the Messianic kingdom was through the portal of the Jews' religion. Hence, although those of kindred spirit met privately for worship in each other's houses and in upper rooms, the disciples of Jesus kept up their observance of the Mosaic ritual, and were constant attendants upon the temple service. See now these men, Peter and John, confronted by a positive command from the nation's highest tribunal to be silent. This is the first utterance of the Sanhedrim concerning the new religion since Christ's resurrection. These men remember how determined this same court had been upon the crucifixion of Him in whose name they have been teaching. If they persist, can they expect a better fate than befell their Master? We can have little conception of the severity of the ordeal. National love, respect for law, pride of race, reverence for institutions hoary with age, strength of social tics, personal friendships, a shrinking from becoming disturbers of the peace, fear for personal safety—all these conspired to intensify the command "not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus." What enables them to oppose the Sanhedrim's command? It is their personal love for Jesus. In their hearts a fire has been kindled, and their breasts are aglow with flame. To be silent is impossible. "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Instead of being silent, they proclaimed Christ with added boldness. There are currents in the sea which, despite opposing winds and storms and tides, move on their way unhindered, impelled by a mighty force hidden far in the ocean's depths. Such a force in the hearts of these disciples was love for Christ. This caused them to listen to the Sanhedrim's decree unmoved. Love had cast out fear. Such courage, resulting from such love, could then, and can always, bear the severest test.
II. The manifestations of the apostles' courage.—Men are sometimes called courageous when they are only reckless. The man of real courage will be bold enough, and calm enough, to act wisely. His bravery will be something more than bravado. In the conduct of the apostles—commanded by the sanhedrim to be silent, and they resolved meanwhile to speak—every mark of true courage is manifest. They show that their course is not prompted by impulse or passion. They are moved by deep convictions. "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye." They plant themselves on the highest conceivable ground, the sense of right. They have no ambitious ends to seek, no revenge to gratify, no popular applause to gain. There is no other courage so lofty or so enduring as this. It keeps the nerves steady and the head cool and the heart brave. Note, as an evidence of wisdom, how sagaciously the apostles appeal to this self-same principle of right in the minds of their accusers. The idea of unquestioning allegiance to God was deeply implanted in the Jews' religion, and the Sanhedrim was set for its defence and inculcation. Who, then, better prepared than the Sanhedrim to decide whether it be right to "hearken more unto men than unto God"? "Judge ye." This sense that it is right to hearken more unto God than unto men enters into the universal consciousness. Whether this principle is adopted in one's practical life or rejected, it must and does commend itself to every man's conscience. Those who adhere to it gain the confidence of all. It is the right rule for the young to select. Another manifestation of the apostles' courage is seen in the company they keep. "Being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them." The scene now changes from the council chamber of the Sanhedrim to the midst of the Christian brotherhood. Those to whom they are come have doubtless been praying for their imperilled brethren. How changed the aspect! In the Sanhedrim the air was dense with suspicion and malice—here is love, purity, and the peace of heaven. Courage is of the right kind when it seeks to sustain itself by breathing an atmosphere like this. It is a praying circle into which these apostles come. "They lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, Thou art God."
III. The source of the apostles' courage.—What has transformed the timorous Simon to the undaunted Peter? The answer is not far to find. A heavenly influence has fallen upon him. This new-born courage of the apostles, although in them, was not of them. Its source was above: it was a divine energy infused within them; the breath of God's Spirit upon their spirits. Christ did not send the apostles into the trials and persecutions incident to their day without providing them with a power adequate to every want. What Christ did for His early disciples He does to-day. Often to-day the need of Christians is courage. Now the opposition to be encountered is not, usually, persecution or prison doors. It may, however, be something requiring as true a heroism to withstand. So long as the world remains as it is, no Christian, and especially no one just becoming such, will find himself where to stand by his principles will not often be at cost, and require an effort for which he is inadequate only as God shall help him. To this end the Holy Spirit is given.—Monday Club Sermons.
Act . The multitude of them that believed were not the new converts merely, but the general body of the disciples.
Act . Grace.—Not favour with the people, as in Act 2:47 (Grotius, Olshausen, Holtzmann), but divine favour, as in Act 11:23; Joh 1:14 (Meyer, Alford, Zöckler, Hackett), of which Act 4:34-35 furnish proof.
Act . For Joses read Joseph. Barnabas, the son of consolation, or son of exhortation (Holtzmann, Zöckler)—i.e., of consolatory discourse. A title given to Joseph from the sympathetic character of his preaching (Act 11:23). Barnabas afterwards became Paul's companion on his missionary travels (Act 13:2). A Levite—A descendant of Levi, but not a priest. Of the country of Cyprus.—Rather, a Cyprian by birth—i.e., a Jew who had been born in Cyprus.
Act . Having land, or a farm belonging to him. Whether in Palestine (Holtzmann, Zöckler) or in Cyprus (Hackett) is not said, but most likely in the former. Though the Levites had no share in the soil of Canaan, that destroyed not their right of private ownership within the forty-eight cities assigned them, or in the territory adjacent to these (see Jer 32:7). The money.—The price realised by the sale of his farm. At the apostles' feet.—As a voluntary contribution to the common fund, for distribution among the poorer brethren. The case of Ananias (Act 5:1) shows that Barnabas was under no compulsion to either sell his farm or donate his money.
The Apostles and the First Christians; or, the Effect of the First Persecution
I. It united the congregation.—Contrary to the expectations of its instigators, the hostility directed against the followers of the Nazarene resulted in banding them more closely together.
1. In amity and concord. The multitude, by this time, numbering at least five thousand persons, were of one heart and soul—"heart" representing the intellectual (Mar ; Mar 2:8; Mar 11:23; Luk 2:35; Luk 3:15; Luk 6:45), and "soul" the emotional (Luk 2:35; Luk 12:22; Joh 12:27) side of human nature. In their views of divine truth had emerged no divergence, in their regards for one another no estrangement, in their plans no division. As brethren they were of one mind (1Pe 3:8), walked by the same rule (Php 3:16), and cherished the same love, being of one accord and of one mind (Php 2:2). "All wished the one thing, to be blessed; all thought the one thing, to remain true to the Lord Jesus; all felt the one thing, the comfort of the Holy Spirit; and this oneness of heart in willing, thinking, and feeling was the moving soul in the action of the whole body" (Besser). "At the time of Constantine Eusebius was able still to write of Christians, ‘One and the same power of the divine spirit goes through all members, in all is one soul and one liveliness of faith'" (Ibid.). Alas! that such cannot now be affirmed of the Christian community as a whole, or of Christian individuals, who are not only gathered into rival communities, but often filled with mutual jealousies and engaged in mutual strifes.
2. In self-sacrifice and beneficence. "Not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things common." Thus "they abolished property, as it were, without abolishing it, and possessed it as though they possessed it not. Everything, both heart, soul, and spiritual life, and also all property and worldly enjoyments were in common, so far as was lawful and expedient" (Stier). They so considered each other's needs that none were allowed to want. There were no beggars among the Christians. Owners of houses and lands, like Barnabas the Cypriote, sold these and cast the proceeds into a common treasury, out of which distribution was made to each disciple according to his need. That this was an attempt to establish communism as a rule of the Christian society cannot be made out (see on Act ). Most likely it was prompted by a desire to relieve the necessities of those who, in becoming believers, had been obliged to renounce their worldly goods.
II. It inspired the apostles.—Instead of intimidating the leaders of the new society, the opposition of the Sanhedrim fired them with increased zeal.
1. To continue their work of preaching. Changing not their theme, manner, or place of preaching, they kept on repeating the old story of the resurrection of Jesus, knowing it to be true, and to contain the one Gospel for sinful men. The Church had prayed that they might be enabled to speak the word with boldness (Act ), and so abating nothing of either their confidence in the message they proclaimed, or the courage with which they set it forth, undaunted by fears or frowns, they gave witness of what they had seen and heard. As a consequence, their preaching was accompanied by great power—i.e., with deeply convincing effect; and no preaching will tell that lacks this element of boldness.
2. To undertake additional toil. Naturally, at first, the labour of distributing the common funds fell to the apostles as the heads of the community, and as persons in whom the community had confidence. Before long, however, it was seen that even apostles might be overburdened with work. Besides, the work in question was of a sort for which less than apostolic talent might suffice. Accordingly, another order of officers, the diaconate, was soon after called into existence to superintend this department of Christian activity (Act ).
III. It enriched both.—Designed to dispirit them in their religious ardour and discredit them in public estimation, the persecution of the Jewish rulers had the contrary effect. It enriched them.
1. With divine favour. "And great grace was upon them all,"—upon apostles and believers alike. There is no reason to depart from the ordinary sense of the term grace, though some (Grotius, Kuinoel, Olshausen, and Holtzmann) understand by it the favour of the people (compare Act ). That the apostles were recipients of this grace from Heaven was evidenced by "the great power," or convincing effect with which "they witnessed of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus"; that the disciples generally were not without experience of the same was attested by the munificent liberality which they displayed.
2. With popular acceptance. Though not the best meaning of the term "grace," it need not be excluded. Instead of damping the cordiality of the people towards the apostles and disciples, the persecution of them and their cause on which the ecclesiastical authorities had entered rather helped to augment the same. In this respect persecution is always a failure—never killing, but rather strengthening the cause against which it is directed.
1. The excellence of Christian unity.
2. The beauty of Christian charity.
3. The power of Christian truth.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Act . All Things Common; or, a Sermon on Christian Socialism.
I. How the early Christians were led to this experiment.
1. They were not in any way commanded or counselled so to act by the apostles. At least it does not appear from the narrative that they were. Who originated the proposal is not told.
2. Most likely the plan adopted was suggested by the necessities of the situation. In the course of a few weeks as many as five thousand men (possibly not including women and children) had passed over from Judaism into the Christian Church, in many instances, doubtless, not only snapping the ties that bound them to their kinsmen and relatives, but also throwing themselves out of their accustomed employments.
3. The plan would probably commend itself to them as desirable. As being in accordance with
(1) the precepts (Mat ; Mat 19:21; Luk 12:33), and
(2) the practice (Joh ) of Christ, who not only enjoined the renunciation of earthly goods but shared a common purse with the Twelve.
4. The movement may have sprung from the warm hearts of the richer members of the Church who compassionately regarded the destitution of their Christian brethren.
II. The exact character of this early experiment.
1. The sale of goods and lands was not compulsory, or binding on believers as a term of communion. The language of Peter to Ananias and Sapphira (Act ), and the case of John Mark's mother who had a house in Jerusalem (Act 12:12), show this. It is not needful to add that it was their own goods and not other people's that these early Christians cast into the treasury.
2. It is not clear that all the Jerusalem Christians were placed upon this common fund. Possibly only those were who from age, infirmity, lack of employment, or want of friends were destitute of support (the mention of "widows," Act , points to this); and even of those it does not appear that all received an equal aliment ("according as he had need," Act 4:35, favours this).
3. Hence what wears the aspect of a universal sustentation fund was probably nothing more than a voluntary relief fund, to which those contributed who felt themselves able and were moved thereto by love to Christ and sympathy for their needy brethren, and out of which those were supported who were unable to maintain themselves.
III. Indications that this early experiment was not designed to be permanent.—Even should it be conceded that the experiment in question was of a strictly communistic character, and that the apostles originally meant it to become a fixed practice, there is ground for thinking that they pretty soon changed their minds in this respect.
1. It was not mentioned at the First Council in Jerusalem as a method of living which might be imitated by the· Gentile Churches. On the contrary, Paul and Barnabas were directed to remember the poor (Gal )—i.e., to lift collections from the rich Gentile congregations for the support of the poor disciples in the Judæan metropolis.
2. It was probably found that the experiment had not been successful in Jerusalem, but rather hurtful. If it met an emergency, it appears to have been followed by the usual results which flow from common funds. It destroyed the independence of the Jerusalem Church, which became practically filled with lazy paupers, who sorned upon their wealthier brethren. "The system of common property" (among the New England Pilgrims), writes Bancroft, "had occasioned grievous discontents; the influence of law could not compel regular labour like the uniform impulse of personal interest; and even the threat of ‘keeping back their bread' could not change the character of the idle" (History of America, i., 238).
Christianity and Socialism.—"As a movement for the deliverance of the poor and their introduction to a good and happy life, the gospel of God's love in Christ thoroughly agrees with socialism." Yet "there is a broad line of distinction between the two."
I. Socialism insists on external and economic conditions for good; Christianity insists on the inward and moral, because all social disorders are spiritual at heart, and the spiritual is the ultimate root of all life.
II. Socialism makes the community the final and absolute proprietor of all wealth; Christianity makes God the proprietor and us His stewards for others.
III. Socialism too much seeks to enforce its doctrine of property by brute force; Christianity by the moral leaven of love in the soul of man.
IV. Socialism thinks by equalising human conditions to secure the greatest amount of comfort and happiness; Christianity, or Jesus Christ, teaches that all vital development must be spontaneous, and from within, that a change of character is to be sought rather than a change of conditions." Yet "Christianity and socialism need not be spoken of as rivals; they are compatible, and should not be made parties in a quarrel. The fact is that socialism needs to be christianised, and that Christianity needs to be socialised."—A. Scott Matheson.
Act . The Christian Ministry.
I. Its personnel.—No longer the apostles, but the pastors and teachers of the New Testament Church.
II. Its function.—Witness-bearing. Not arguing or philosophizing.
III. Its theme.—The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ—including, of course, all the connected facts and doctrines.
IV. Its influence.—When rightly exercised it wields great dynamic force of a moral and spiritual kind.
V. Its reward.—It attracts towards itself "great grace" both from God and man.
The Best Graces for a Church.
I. The grace of unity.
II. The grace of witness-hearing.
III. The grace of liberality.
Act . The Risen Christ and the Power of the Gospel.
I. The resurrection.—It is not so much with death as with resurrection that the apostles had to do, at least in Jerusalem and Judæa. The death was a believed fact there, not needing witnesses.
II. The testimony.—It was the testimony of apostles; and yet it was not as apostles, or with official authority that they testified, but as men of integrity and good sense, who saw with their eyes, and heard with their ears.
III. The power.—"With great power gave the apostles witness." The word which they spoke was in itself a word of power. But apart from this, the "great power" here spoken of was exhibited.
1. In the accompanying miracles, by which God identified Himself with the apostolic testimony, declaring that their testimony was His truth; for of this the miracles were the seal.
2. In the accompanying power exercised over, and in, men's souls.
IV. The grace.—It is "great grace"; free love in no ordinary measure.—H. Bonar, D.D.
Act . Joses surnamed Barnabas.
I. The possessor of a good pedigree.—He was a Levite, a member of the priestly tribe, though not himself a priest.
II. The owner of a good name.—The son of exhortation, or the son of consolation, with reference to either his eloquence or his sympathy.
III. The author of a good deed.—"Having land he sold it, and laid the money at the apostles' feet."
Joses Barnabas; or, the Consecration of Wealth.
I. The pious landowner.—
1. His name and surname. Joses, or Joseph—an honourable name in Israel. Barnabas, the son of exhortation or consolation—a more honoured surname in the Christian Church. 2. His character and ability. A good man and full of the Holy Ghost; also a talented man, as may be concluded from his rank alongside of the apostles, his power of eloquent speech, and his usefulness as a colleague of Paul.
3. His land and property.—A native of Cyprus, and the possessor of a piece of ground in that island.
II. The great renunciation.—He sold his land, that which men highly value, probably his patrimonial inheritance, and cast the proceeds into the common fund.
1. Out of love to Christ, whose disciple he was.
2. Under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, by whom his heart was filled.
3. From consideration of his fellow-Christians' needs, whom he regarded as Christ's brethren and his own.
III. The cheerful consecration.—He laid it at the apostles' feet.
1. No doubt without reluctance, as a cheerful giver.
2. Without reservation, keeping back no part of the price.
3. Without stipulation, leaving it for distribution entirely under the apostles control.
Act . A Sermon on Wealth.—Its right use exemplified by Barnabas.
I. Wealth possessed.—No sin, at least not necessarily, but a great talent.
II. Wealth surrendered.—Not an obligation imposed upon Christians, yet a sacrifice that may be freely offered.
III. Wealth consecrated.—Whether retained or renounced it should be devoted to the service of God and Jesus Christ.
IV. Wealth distributed.—One way of devoting wealth to God and Christ is to disperse it abroad and give to the poor (Psa ), to do good with it and to communicate (Heb 13:16; 1Ti 6:18).
Act . The True Blossoms of a Christian Congregation.
I. Where the preaching of Christ flourishes there living faith flourishes. "The multitude believed."
II. Where living faith flourishes there genuine love flourishes. "One heart and one soul."
III. Where genuine love flourishes, there true prosperity flourishes. "No one lacked."—Gerok.