The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Almighty God, our heart"s desire is to climb thy hill and find audience with thee in the heavens. Is there not an appointed way? Is not Jesus Christ, thy Song of Solomon, a living way to the Father? We can enter only by him; other door there is none; this is a wide open door, and we enter into it with joy of heart. For every beam of light we bless thee; for every hope that makes us glad we give thee thanks. Thou knowest how much we are in the valley, and how often we pass through dark places. Suddenly thou dost shoot down upon us rays of light; they warm us and give us a new comfort of the soul, so that we look upwards and are made glad with heavenly pleasure. We have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, so that thy name is familiar unto us, but now would we know thee by the love of the heart, by the tender sympathy of the quickened soul, yea, we would enter into communion with the Father and with the Son and with the Holy Ghost. How much we have to overcome that we may do this thou knowest; but thou dost beat even mountains to pieces, and crush the rock before the feet of thy people; and as for the rivers and the seas which divide between us, thou dost utterly dry them up. Therefore we bow before thee with a new song in our mouth, with a new hope brightening our hearts, and for this we bless thee in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Thou hast brought us together not to inflict on us a disappointment. For this thou didst not cause the trumpet of convocation to be sounded. Thou hast called us together into one family and fellowship for the passing hour, that thou mayest reveal thyself to us in some new and unexpected beauty. Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. Let there be a shining from heaven of a great light, that shall chase every shadow away, and create a glory compared with which there is none beside. For all the blessings of the week how can we sing a song of gratitude sufficient? Hast thou not made a way for thyself in the darkness, and hast thou not turned the noonday itself into sevenfold brightness? Thou hast withheld no good thing from us; thou hast given unto us blessings with both hands, and the windows of heaven have been too small to enable thee to pour down upon us all the stores of thy grace.
Yet we have received thy blessings oftentimes with neglect, sometimes with utter forgetfulness, now and then almost with practical contempt. We have not seen thine image and superscription upon thy daily gifts. Thou hast been paying tribute unto us, and we have not repaid thee with our deep love. Yet wherein we have answered thee at all we bless thee for the reply we have given thee, forasmuch as the answer was inspired by thine own Spirit. If we have done anything aright, this also is the Lord"s doing. If our thoughts have lifted themselves up above all clouds, and have fastened themselves with holy awe upon the subject of thine eternity and thy grace, behold this is the greatest of thy miracles. We are prone to search in the dust for our blessings; we hew unto ourselves cisterns, that we may drink at them and be sufficed, and behold, they are broken cisterns that can hold no water. The river of God is full of water. To that river we now repair; may we find in it healing and satisfaction, and see in it all the meaning of thine infinite grace. We are poor, but our poverty is not a hindrance in thy sight, but an attraction. Thou dost give to the poor and needy; thou dost shelter the homeless; thou art the Friend of those who have no friend, the Refuge of the penitent and the distressed, the Sanctuary of men who long to be free from sin. Thou art training us by thine own way and Spirit, and we cannot follow all the course of thy discipline, because we understand it not; but thy way is right; thou wilt justify thy way to us, and when thou hast tried us thou wilt bring us forth as gold. Let this assurance make our hearts quiet every day; may we rest in this holy doctrine, and be quieted with thine own peace. The Lord visit us every one according to our personal need, and where there is special praise for special blessing, the Lord receive the hymn of love, and grant reply still larger than before. Where there is mourning of heart because of loss, pain, bereavement, or anticipation of distress, the Lord grant the healing grace of heaven. We have heard of the balm that is in Gilead, and of the Physician that is there, and we now hasten towards thee that we may be healed. Grant unto us in all our life just what we need. If thou dost not answer our prayers as we expect, do thou grant unto our hearts a peace that holds within its depths all assurance of grace. The Lord"s light come from the whole heavens and make the place glorious. The Lord pity us, and take away the cloud of fear; the Lord himself rejoice in his people redeemed with blood, and cause them to sing a new song of mercy and of judgment. May this hour be the most glorious and memorable in the recollection of the soul. Now we wait for thy reply; we pray in the name of the Saviour; we go by the way of the Cross; our prayers we offer to the presiding Priest that he may magnify them and cleanse them, ennobling all their meaning and purpose, and seeking for us the answer of thy peace. Let our sins fall away from us like a garment, never more to be taken up, and let thy grace possess itself of our hearts, and make them glad with the very joy of heaven. Amen.
1. Now Peter and John [it is to John that Peter turns for comfort after his fall] went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
2. And a certain man lame from his mother"s womb was carried [we may carry those we cannot heal], whom they laid daily at the gate [so massive that twenty men were required to open or shut it] of the temple which is called Beautiful [named only here], to ask alms of them that entered into the temple.
3. Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
4. And Peter, fastening his eyes [a look which read character] upon him with John, said, Look on us.
5. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
6. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
7. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength [literally, "were consolidated "].
8. And he leaping up [ Isaiah 35:6] stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
9. And all the people saw him walking and praising God.
10. And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
11. And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon"s [outside the temple, on the eastern side], greatly wondering.
The Lame Man Healed
YOU will not see the whole beauty of this paragraph unless you connect it with the chapter preceding. You remember the infinite excitement of that chapter: it is the chapter which tells us the marvellous history of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost had been poured out upon the waiting Church. "Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house" where the Church was sitting, "and there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." There had never been such a day in the Church before. The spirit of the day was a spirit of ecstasy; men saw visions and heard voices, and formed such noble purposes as had never before animated their breasts. It was a high day in the Church. The silver trumpet had sounded; the last shadow seemed to have fled away; and the family of God congregated there was filled with ineffable delight; so much Song of Solomon, indeed, that even the vexing property question fell quite out of sight. No man reckoned that anything he had was his own; all that believed were together like a family, and had all things common; they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need. There was no suspicion of selfishness, for no life was bounded merely by its own interests. Life was raised up to a higher level than it had ever attained, and the people were praising God from morning till night; "they continued daily with one accord in the temple, breaking bread from house to house, and eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart." Surely the millennium had come!
After this there will be no more commonplace: anything that can transpire after such a realization of the Divine presence will be of the nature of commonplace, and will be resented in high temper as unworthy to follow such a manifestation! Who would willingly come out of the blue heavens, to walk again on the common earth? Who would voluntarily abandon angelic society, to come down again to the common thoroughfares and pathways of ordinary life? You must enter into this excitement if you would understand the opening words of the third chapter. Probably there are no quieter words to be found anywhere than are these: "Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer." After the excitement of the second chapter, is not this of the nature of an anti-climax? What can come after the thunder, and the whirlwind, and the mighty revelations of the Divine presence? Two men—former partners in the fishing trade, often together, the complement of one another as to many mental and moral qualities—two men "went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer." Then see that the ecstatic hours of life ought to be succeeded by quiet worship, for that alone can sustain the heart with true nourishment. Men cannot live in ecstasy; God grants unto his Church times of refreshing, hours of enthusiasm, days when the whole horizon opens like an infinite door into the upper places of the universe; but after such peculiarly solemn manifestations of power and grace, he expects us to go up into the temple to pray, as he knows such visions make all other life ordinary and common. Whatever luxuries you may enjoy occasionally, you must have bread permanently; we do not live on luxuries, we live on bread. We cannot always live in the extraordinary, for by the very fact of its being always extraordinary it would cease to be other than usual. But were not the men inspired? Had not they seen great sights, and heard great voices, and had they not actually received into their hearts the Holy Ghost? To these inquiries an emphatic affirmation must be returned. Yet, notwithstanding all these special circumstances, the two men "went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer." The clock was not altered; the time-bill of heaven was not changed: the great Pentecostal storm had rushed across the heavens, and had left behind it showers of blessings. Still the quiet clock ticked and travelled on to the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, and Peter and John were not so transported by special ecstasies as to forget their daily and customary engagements with God. Suspect any inspiration that makes you contemptuous of ordinary religious duly. If any men had reason to suppose that they could dispense with ordinary worship, and customary routine, Peter and John were such. They might have said, "We have outlived all this; we are no longer mechanical worshippers, we take no note of time now; we have received the Holy Ghost into our hearts, and for us all Sabbath days, and sacrificial hours, and sacred places, are abolished—we live the higher life, we enjoy the ineffable consciousness." No such speech did they make.
Inspiration never lessens duty; true inspiration ennobles our conception of what is due from us to the Divine Being. Any supposed inspiration that has withdrawn men from the Temple and poisoned them with the delusion that they could sufficiently read the Bible at home, is an inspiration coming otherwhere than from Heaven. You cannot read the Bible at home in any exhaustive and final sense. You were not made to live at home always; you have in you instincts that can only be satisfied by great public associations. There is in you that which finds its completion in public fellowship, Christian communion, and general intercourse of mind with mind upon the sublime topics of Heavenly truth. It does a man good to "go up into the temple at the hour of prayer," that he may pray; it does every man good to be now and then in a crowd: public assembly has an educational and social influence upon the individual life. Standing alone, a man may seem to be very great, very important, and very self-complete; it is when he enters into a crowd that he realises his humanity, his littleness, and yet the very greatness that comes of that contraction of individuality. "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together." Peter and John did not, for immediately after the day of Pentecost, under the joyous realization of the newly-given Spirit, they went up into the Temple at the hour of prayer. Are we not wrong in supposing that prayer can ever be of the nature of commonplace? What is prayer? Is it not communion with God?
Our conception of prayer has fallen. Few men can pray all the day. We pray sometimes through the prayers of others, and this is the true interpretation of the priestly element in human nature. Perhaps you cannot sing vocally, but you may sing sympathetically with the great Vocalist.. So sympathetic may you be, that though you may find it impossible to express the sentiments which animate your hearts and give a nobility to your aspirations, yet when you hear those sentiments expressed by a gifted tongue they are made your prayers of by your cordial Amen. We should never give way to the blasphemous suggestion that prayer is or can be ordinary; there is nothing ordinary in any true prayer; to pray is to redeem any day from commonplace. To have one quick, flashing view of God makes common time sacred. If we pray mechanically or by rote, or if prayer be the mere repetition of words which have never passed through the heart, and been stained with its blood, then I wonder not that men have become weary of prayer, and should long for it to cease; but when we truly realise the nature and scope of prayer, and when the heart beats sympathetically through the whole compass of communion with God, there can be nothing commonplace in prayer, even if it immediately succeed the storms and shocks of Pentecost itself. But had the Apostles lost their inspiration? Verily, there was hardly time for any such loss to have taken place, for the narrative reads as if it were almost one, without break, and without any punctuation that would separate substantially the one part from the other. They had not lost their inspiration, as is evident by what they did. Look at the case! Here is a man lame from his mother"s womb, who had never walked to the Temple, but was always carried by friends—carried there every day, and carried every day too to the most attractive spot in all the surroundings of the temple. No man had ever cured him; we are not aware that any man had ever attempted to heal him; but Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said, "Look on us!" That was the first time probably he had ever looked with all his soul. No such speech had ever thrilled him before. Only if we had heard the accents with which Peter said, "Look upon us," should we be able to understand the ardent gaze of the expectant beggar. Verily, these men then had not lost their inspiration, or they never would have taken this course with the suppliant at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They could work this miracle. Let that be taken as a proof of the continuance of their inspiration; and yet we see that notwithstanding the continuance of their inspiration they are going up like ordinary humble worshippers to pray in the temple.
Young men, let me, as your friend and teacher, advise you to beware of any inspiration that leads you away from apostolic practice. Your ambition may be easily excited, and you may not require a very expert tempter of the human mind to say to you that perhaps you may be a genius, a man of a particularly refined and sensitive character. You need not submit to take upon you the yoke of religious custom; your place is the side of the purling brook, yours to watch the meandering stream, yours to hold converse with rising and setting suns. When such temptation seduces you give it the lie. You have not the ardour of holy Peter, you have not the mental crown and moral glow of the divine John, and it will be better for you to follow in the way of apostolic practice than to yield up your religious life at the bidding of an anonymous tempter. The law would seem to be that every miracle should be succeeded by prayer, and every great effort of human life should be followed by a religious exercise, every outgoing of the soul should have its compensatory movement in silent communion with God. After you have been striving arduously and valiantly in the fight, plunge into the bath, so to say, of divine meditation and heavenly communion, and therein leave your weakness and recover your strength. This incidental conversation with the poor lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple gives us some particulars about the Apostles themselves, and those particulars are the more valuable because of the way in which they are introduced into the narrative. It is perfectly evident that having all things common had not enriched Peter and John. We wonder sometimes as to the meaning of the apostolic communion, and here is a sidelight upon it of a very striking kind. The men who belonged to the apostolic communion had neither silver nor gold. Apostolic communion was no priest"s trick: it was no attempt to enrich the apostolate at the expense of the Christian public. Here are two of the most conspicuous of the apostolate saying, quite in an incidental manner as an explanatory basis of proposed action, "Silver and gold have we none."
So much the better for them! Woe unto the Apostle who spends one half of his life in getting silver and gold, and the other half in watching that they do not run away from him. "Silver and gold have I none;" what had they, then? They had divine energy, spiritual life, social sympathy, and hearts to bless those who needed benediction and assistance. The poverty of the Apostles was in material substance only; and therefore it was no poverty at all. He is the poor man who has nothing but money; there are no poorer men in all the range of civilization today than those men who are overweighted with property. He is rich who has high ideals and noble sympathies, and who lives in the presence of God and in the service of truth. He cannot be alone; there is no solitude for the truly intellectual and spiritual nature. Some men cannot understand silence; if you are nor for ever talking to them, they suppose that you are dull; if you do not walk out hour after hour during the day, and talk the whole time, they inquire considerately as to your spirits, and as to whether there is not something in your temperament that tends toward melancholy. If men have not upon their faces an eternal grin they are supposed to be unhappy. You have met with persons who say they never walk out alone. I thank God I can never walk out in company! Have your riches in your mind, in your heart, in your thoughts, in your purposes, in your beneficent plans, and the night will be as the day, and the day will be sevenfold in brightness. Then you shall not know what it is to feel the chill and pain of solitude. This action of the Apostles also shows how possible it is to be giving less than others, and at the same time to be giving more than they all. "Silver and gold have I none." "Then he could give nothing," would be the swift and shallow reasoning of those who read the surface only. "But such as I have give I thee." That is the giving that does not impoverish; the more given the more left. It is the giving of the sun.
The sun has been giving his light; he has shone for thousands of years, and yet he is as luminous as when he first looked out upon the darkness which he dispelled. Give mechanically, and you will weary of the exercise; but give spiritually, and you will increase your possessions by the very giving of your alms. I take this incident as representing our own Christian life today in some important aspects. Our Christian life has its Pentecost. There are rare days in our consciousness; there are times when we think we are almost going into the celestial company; there are hours of transport, of high, tender realization, in which we know that though we are separated from the heavenly host by time and space, we yet can almost take hold of hands. And are there not days upon which, when we open the Bible, the whole page gleams with a new light, and when the very rustling of the leaves is as the shaking of the tree of Life? Have we not all said—
But the practical lesson immediately succeeds. We are not to live in such ecstasy; we are to go into the ordinary routine, if you so please, of worship. Herein many hearers are hard upon those who preach; the preacher is relied upon for the undue and continual excitement of the intellectual and spiritual nature. We forget that we do not live in excitement, but in the ordinary patient, thankful enjoyment of customary service; and our religious life, like the life of the Apostles, has its work to do outside the Temple.
A man may pray none the less prayerfully because he has aided some poor creature before he entered the sacred place. We should have enjoyed the service many a time much more keenly if before coming to it we had made some sorrowful heart glad. That is the preparation for prayer. To have been with some lonely one; to have created an atmosphere of friendliness around the solitary traveller; to have lifted the burden of life for one short minute from a back too weak to bear it, would have been to have enjoyed in the most profound and satisfactory sense the service of the house of God. If you want to come up at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice with glowing, thankful hearts, ready to receive any communication God may make to them, spend the intervening hours in doing good to those who sit in solitary places. Visit the poor and the friendless; hear their dreary tales; and when you come to the house of God you will come, not in a spirit of criticism, but in a spirit of sympathy, and from the first note to the last there shall be a shining forth and revelation of the Divine presence. Then, finally, the Christianity of this day, like the Christianity of the Apostolic day, must prove its divinity by its beneficence. "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."
Peter did not preach a sermon to the man. To the excited multitude he expounded the. Scriptures; he quoted the Psalm and the Prophets, and shewed what new interpretation God had given to His word; but when he came face to face with the man lame from his mother"s womb, unable to help himself, he preached no sermon except as the mention of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is always a sermon, but bade the helpless man rise up and walk. Here is the sphere in which Christian argument may yet secure its highest triumph. Words can be answered by words, phrases beget phrases, and the easy trick of recrimination is the favorite amusement of mere controversialists; but a Church seeking out the lowly, helping the helpless, healing the sick, teaching the ignorant, standing by the cause of righteousness, defying the oppressor, and suffering and working for the right, is a Church whose beneficence is its noblest attribute, and whose character is the only vindication it requires.
Almighty God, we pray thee in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord to work thy wonders in our hearts, and to make us signs and tokens unto all the people. May the change in us be so great that all who have known us aforetime may marvel at the mighty power of thy grace. Enable us to live the heavenly life whilst we are yet upon earth; to speak thy Word; to answer all the intimations of thy purpose; and to respond in one continual answer of obedience to all thy holy will. We rejoice that we are thine in Christ. Thou hast caused us to undergo the vital change which makes us sons of God. We are no more strangers and foreigners; nor are we wandering prodigals, aliens, outcast. We are the children of the living God. We are part of the whole family in heaven and on earth. And this is of the Lord"s mercy, and not of our will. Thou hast recovered us from our fall. We stand in thy house with the light of heaven beaming upon our life because of thy goodness. We therefore praise thee in our song; we lift up our hearts joyously to bless the Lord for all his benefits towards us; and we take heart again, and will pursue our way to the end, confiding solely in thy grace and strength. Thou dost love us, every one. Thou hast sent thy Son to bless us. The Son of Man is not come to destroy men"s lives, but to save them. We therefore look unto him who is our salvation. We trust in his Cross; we look towards the mighty sacrifice which he rendered; and, because of the infiniteness of his love, we stand before thee this day, confident that thou wilt not forsake us, and sure of thine eternal regard.
We come with many wants, and yet all our necessities are one. If thou wilt grant us thy peace, then shall all our life be quiet. Our necessities shall be supplied; the sting of pain shall be taken out of our heart; and in our mouth there shall be a new and living song. Comfort us in all the way of the wilderness. The miles are long; the way is often dreary; all thy clouds sometimes gather over head, and look down upon us with infinite threatening, and we know not which way to take in the darkness. Speak comfortably to our hearts in such hours of gloom, and save us from the weakness and the bondage of despair. Surely we see thee all the day long. Thou dost shine in the morning dawn, and at eventide the stars glitter because of thy nearness; and between the rising of the sun and the going down of the same, is not thy providence a continual miracle? Thine hand is opened in bounteousness; thine eyes melt with pity; the outgoing of thine heart towards us is a continual redemption. We confess our sins, we mourn the hardness of our hearts. "Surely," we have said, "our stubbornness is now subdued, and in tenderness and filial love we will walk before the Lord all the days of our life." And behold, the enemy returns, the fire of hell is rekindled, and all our hopes are cast down. But thou delightest to forgive. The fulness of thy pardon is as the fulness of the sea. Thy mercy endureth for ever.
We pray to be fed with the bread of life. Lord, evermore give us this bread. So strengthen our minds by daily communications of truth, and so uphold our hearts by continual supplies of grace, that our walk may be steadfast before the Lord, that our spirit may show itself to be continually waiting upon God.
We pray always for one another; that the dumb may speak; that the deaf may hear; that all who are carried from thy fold may return because of recovered strength. Magnify thy grace in our experience; so destroy the power of the Enemy that we shall forget his existence, and so release us from all anxiety, and from all secondary attachments, as to bind us in constancy of love to the worship of thy name, and the study of thy word. Lift the burden from the back that is too weak to bear it. Touch with thine own fingers the tears which we dare not approach. Send into every heart some angel to speak of Jesus and the Resurrection. And, when the day shall close around us, and shall no longer be passing before us, but shall become a memory of the heart, may the recollection of this sacred day abide with us, a continual peace, and a continual inspiration. Amen.
12. And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this [man]? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?
13. The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers hath glorified his Son [servant: Isaiah 42:1] Jesus: whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined [had decided] to let him go.
14. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you.
15. And killed the Prince [the same word is rendered Author in Hebrews 12:2] of Life, whom God hath raised from the dead [better, raised once for all]; whereof we are witnesses.
16. And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness [completeness; the only place in the New Testament in which the word occurs] in the presence of you all.
17. And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did your rulers.
18. But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all [all is omitted by the east MSS.] his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.
19. Repent [change your minds] ye therefore, and be converted [this word "converted" occurs eleven times in the Acts], that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
20. And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you.
21. Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution [the only instance of the word] of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
22. For Moses truly [indeed] said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.
23. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.
24. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.
25. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
26. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.
A Greater Miracle
THIS speech is a greater miracle than the cure of a lame Prayer of Manasseh, in connection with which it was spoken. The great miracles are all wrought within. To heal a man with lame feet and weak ankle bones is a very small thing compared to the utterance of this eloquent and thrilling address. Compare Peter before the Resurrection with the Peter of this speech, and tell me what has happened. Surely a great cure has been wrought upon him. Who would have known the man again—the ardent, impulsive, often-blundering Peter of the pre-resurrection period? Who could have thought that ever he would have dawned into such glory, and have broken forth into such fluent and noble eloquence? Up to this time all his sentences have been broken; his speech has rather been timid with the spirit of an enquirer; we have never found in him, except upon one occasion, the boldness of an inspired expositor. But now he takes the case in hand with masterly completeness and ease, and fearing no Prayer of Manasseh, because not speaking the words of Prayer of Manasseh, he explains the position and vindicates it at every point with sublime and telling effect.
Peter was no conjuror. In himself the miracle had first been wrought, therefore, to work a second miracle upon the lame man became a commonplace to apostolic power. You cannot work miracles, because you yourselves are not miracles. We are but mechanical reformers; we approach the whole case from the outside, and with many a lame suggestion we attempt to mend the world"s sad condition. We must be greater ourselves than any work which it is possible for ourselves to do. When we attain that superiority over our own efforts, when Peter is a greater miracle than Peter"s cure, we shall see lame men leap up on every side, and behold them walking, and hear their loud thrilling songs of thankfulness because of recovered hope and newly-given strength.
In this speech Peter vindicated his apostolic primacy. You might have asked questions concerning Peter"s superiority before, but after this speech every objection must be hushed. Its grandeur is so superlative, its strength is so massive, its simplicity is so frank, its mastery is so abounding, that when the grand voice ceases all men feel that the first place belongs to Simon Peter. Any primacy that is not based on merit must go down. For a time you may bolster up a Prayer of Manasseh, you may preach him up, you may, in many ways, contribute to his transient primacy; but any superiority of position that is not based upon fundamental and vital merit falls before the testing touch of circumstances, and before the impartial test of time. So let this Book of God stand or fall. The priests cannot keep it up, though they be robed with white garments and crowned, and have staves and mitres in their hands. Parliaments and thrones cannot give the Bible its lasting primacy over human thought and human actions. If the inspiration be not in the Book itself you cannot communicate it; and if the inspiration really be in the Book itself you can never talk it down. By force you may quiet it for a time; but truth is eternal, it returns. Men leave it, supposing it to be dead, but it rises and reasserts its sovereignty.
Thus our position is a very independent one as regards the Bible, and as regards all the miracles which the Bible records. I do not receive the Bible because it is recommended to me by official authority. The Bible commends itself to me. It affrights me, it charms me; it appalls me by the outflashing of sudden light and unexpected glory, so that I run away from the dazzling revelation. Then it seeks me when I am weary, and lonely, and sad, and hopeless; and when all life has gathered itself into the image of a deep, grim grave. Then it talks to me as no other book can talk. Song of Solomon, as Peter"s primacy rests on Peter"s sovereign power of mind, and sovereign power of moral influence, so the primacy of the Bible over all other books rests upon what the Bible itself can do beyond all other books to give light and strength and hope to human life.
The danger is that we be not just to such men as Peter. We may take this speech as a mere matter of course. It is so that we take too many speeches. We hear an eloquent man drop sentence after sentence of singular beauty, and think that he does so simply as a matter of course. In every such sentence there is a drop of sacrificial blood. The sentences that move the world and live through all time are heart-drops. The foolish hearer may allow them to pass without recognition or appreciation, but those who have spent long time in the sanctuary of thought, and have often bowed themselves down at the altar with wonder, will recognize in such speeches as Peter"s the very grace and glory of Divine truth. Consider what this man was; how he had been brought up; how often he had stumbled and blundered; how the inspired writers never shrink from telling his mistakes and sins. Then see him, in the presence and hearing it may have been of the most learned men of his day, giving this exposition and no other. Do not go beyond the four walls of the case itself, and upon this speech you may risk your greatest and deepest commendation of Peter as a thinker, as a saint, as an apostle, as an expositor of heavenly mysteries. To such men the world owes all its higher wealth.
True eloquence is forced out of men. This speech was not a prepared oration. It was not something which he took from his secret place and read, as if the whole trick had been arranged—the cure, and the wonder, and the eloquence. The sermon was as extemporaneous as was the event itself. This eloquence came out of the circumstances which had just transpired. The looking people make the eloquent preacher. All the people fastened their eyes upon Peter and John; and, as the lame man had drawn out of Peter spiritual power by his magnetic look, so the people drew out of Peter still higher power by their marvelling—their sceptical yet gracious wonder. In reply to that wonder, see how Peter declines any merely public primacy based on purely personal considerations. Peter stood before the people, not in his personal capacity, but in his representative capacity. Said Hebrews, "This is not our doing." "Whose doing is it?" "It is the Lord"s doing; and it is marvellous in our eyes." And, with the infinite cunning of inspired Wisdom of Solomon, he magnified the occasion by attaching the miracle to the omnipotence of a God about whose existence the Jew had no doubt. Said Hebrews, "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Song of Solomon, Jesus." The Apostles did not snatch at praise for themselves. The original leaders of Christian thought and sentiment did not leap upon pedestals which the people, in their idolatrous wonder and love, set up as temptations in their way. They maintained their royal supremacy, their all-dominating sovereignty, by operating in the presence of the people merely as the servants and instruments of God. We must return to that allegiance to the Divine name and throne. The books you have written were written by the finger of God, in so far as they are true, and wise, and useful. The lives you have lived you have lived by faith in the Son of God, in so far as they have been true, beneficent, and honorable. You must resent merely personal eulogium. Accept it as an encouragement in the meantime; lift the wondering eyes from yourself to God, and you shall have added power every day.
Not only does Peter decline the implied eulogium of the wondering look, he takes upon himself to cut the people to pieces. No great progress can be made in moral reform until our apostles slay us. Flattery will do nothing for us—at most, will but mislead or bewilder us. We want knife work; we want to be pierced to the heart, told our sins one by one, and brought to the bar of judgment man by Prayer of Manasseh, like so many hopeless and self-condemned criminals. Hear his speech in proof of what I have said. Speaking of Jesus Christ, he says, "Whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate.... But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of Life." That man must succeed in his ministry, or he must be killed! Such a speaker of such an address cannot occupy a middle position. A man who so assails his contemporaries must have a good cause with which to sustain his heart and renew his courage, or he will be borne down, and the heel of the insulted public shall bruise his head. When did the Apostles speak with bated breath and whispering humbleness? When did they try to make the best of the case by appeasing the spirit of the people, and by an endeavor to placate sensibilities which had been strongly excited? They never lowered the tone of their impeachment. Christ"s death was never less than a murder, and the men who had taken part in the Crucifixion were never treated as other than murderers. There is no euphemism here; there is no attempt here at the smoothing down of very harsh asperities. On the contrary, we have here the bitter, stern, tragical, truth, and that truth has to be repeated day by day, and age by age, until every man feels that he himself has been the murderer of Christ.
So we come back to a truth with which this message has made us familiar. We are not to put away the Crucifixion as an historical circumstance, nineteen or twenty centuries old. The Crucifixion takes place every day, and every day we nail the Son of God to the Cross. Realize this circumstance, let all its teaching sink deeply into our hearts, and there will go up the old cry of contrition and self-condemnation, and after it will come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
In the17th verse the tone changes with wondrous skill. The Gospel is not an impeachment only—it is an offer. Peter says, "I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers;" and he introduces this new phase of the subject with a word which united himself with the people—he called those who heard him by the name of "brethren." "And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers." Is that a novel suggestion on the part of Peter himself? Has he been considering how to extricate these people from the awfulness of their position? Nothing of the kind. This17th verse repeats the very prayer of Christ Himself upon the Cross. When Jesus was dying he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Peter, following along the same line of thought, says, "I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers." So he opens a great door of hope. The Church ought to be fertile in its invention of opportunities for the worst men to return. Sometimes the Church may suggest reflections which the self-condemned man dare not originate in his own heart. Drop a word of hope wherever you can. Tell the very worst man that the door of hope, if not wide open, is yet ajar, and that the very faintest touch of his fingers will cause it to fall back to the very wall. Learn from apostolic preaching the true range and power of apostolic eloquence. Nothing could be sterner than his words, and yet nothing could be more hopeful than the application of those words. In reality, Peter said to those who were about him, "Begin again. Leave your ignorance behind you. Now take a true view of the case, and under this newly-dawning light fall down before God and ask his pardon."
Then comes the grand exhortation in which we find the keyword of apostolic preaching, and the secret of apostolic success, and that word is found at the beginning of the19th verse, "Repent." That is a word which the Church has lost. If now and again we use the word "repent," we use it as a common word, and do not throw into it all the soul"s urgency. It has worked wonders in days of old. It is like the sword of which David said, "Give me that; there is none like it." This word "repent" goes to the root and to the reality of the case. Who has repented? I do not ask who has been alarmed by threatened consequences, and who, in order to escape a penalty, denounced in emphatic language, has professed a change of habit and of purpose. My question is a deeper one. Who has felt heart-brokenness on account of sin? real, genuine contrition on account of spiritual offence against God? Have we not forgotten that old word "repent" in its original signification and uses. Has the Church become too dainty in her tongue to use such words? The word "repent" is a multitudinous word: it carries many other words with it. It is a challenge, an accusation, a threatening, a hope, a law, a gospel. Truly, this word is a polysyllable in its theological suggestions, and therefore ought to be often opened out and examined, and its infinite treasures ought to be well weighed and estimated by the Christian thinker.
There is another word in the19th verse of as much importance as the word "repent;" that word is "therefore." You would not suppose the word "therefore" was a very important one; yet I hold it to be as important as any other word in the whole text. It refers to the historical and logical argument upon which Christianity is founded. "Therefore" is a logical term. "Therefore" indicates the issue and effect of an argument. "Therefore" is a word which is not given first, but last; and it carries in itself the meaning and the force of all that has preceded. Peter then, having gone back to "the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers," and having traced the history of the Crucifixion, and having explained the secret by which the lame man had been healed—the secret of faith in the name of the Son of God—and having pointed to the probable ignorance of those who had crucified the Saviour, and having shown that all this Christian idea was a fulfilment of words spoken by the mouth of all God"s prophets, he gathers himself up in this one supreme effort, and, with the masterliness of an inspired preacher he says, "Repent ye, therefore"—for no sentimental reasons, but on historical grounds—on the ground of the ancient dealings of God with his people, and because of the culmination of those dealings in the recovery of the man who is standing there, the living proof of an undisputed miracle.
Then, after his wont, Peter"s speech proceeds like a deep, broad river—full of Wisdom of Solomon, full of thought, full of hope, full of sympathy, and he ends with these warm words, "Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you." Apostolic preaching was tender; apostolic preaching touched the soul of the hearer, the wound of the spirit, with a most delicate hand. Apostolic preaching was religious preaching, spiritual preaching, personal preaching, direct preaching, and it kept itself to this one theme—the turning away men from their iniquities. And because it did so it turned the world upside down. Preacher of the Living God, come back from all intellectual vagaries, romances, and dreamings, and stand to your one work of accusing men of sins, accusing yourself first and most deeply, and then revealing the living Son of God, who came with one purpose only, the purpose of blessing men—not by giving them new ideas, not by giving them stolen comfort, not by tampering with their moral position, but by "turning away every one of you from his iniquities." Blessing and iniquity never can co-exist in the same heart. The iniquity must go, then the blessing will come. The wickedness must depart, and then angels will hasten into the soul from which it has gone out. Let us know, believe, and say from time to time with frankest speech that no man can really be blessed who has not been turned from his iniquities. Ye cannot drink the cup of God and the cup of devils.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 3". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25