The Dealings of God With Peter: 12. In the Acts of the Apostles

Acts 3‑9  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Acts 3-9. (Continued)
This is the first time, certainly, when the expression “the church” is applied. At the end of the second of Acts the occurrence of the word is doubtful. It is very probable that it is not correct there. In that place “the Lord added together,” is the true reading. I make this remark because it will show the great importance of having as correct a translation of the Scriptures as possible. I think that those who desire intelligence in the word of God ought to possess such a translation for their own private reading. I do not say that they should have it for use in the meetings, as the less said as to points of this kind, especially at a worship meeting or anything of that kind, the better; but I conceive that here I have the object and purpose of seeking to help the children of God to know the truth as much as possible, and therefore I do not scruple to speak of this, though I do not like it. If we all had the truth of God presented to us in the correct and hest form there would be no need to dwell upon these things, but, unfortunately, we have been accustomed to an imperfect translation, and consequently it is necessary to show, in certain cases, what is really the truth. In the second of Acts, then, the expression is, “The Lord added together such as should be saved.” Those persons composed the church, but now He calls them the church. “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.” It was not their own company—those that were destined to salvation, going on in unbelief, and despising the testimony of God; but those that bowed to it, and had repented, and had believed the gospel. Now they were brought together, and by the Holy Ghost they formed this dwelling-place of God. They are called, therefore, the church.
“And upon as many as heard these things.” It is evident the power of the testimony affected many outside. “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” You see God guarded them, kept off those that ought not to be there. “But the people magnified them.”
“And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” They were not afraid of multitudes, you see; they rejoiced at it, and indeed I often marvel how those that love the saints of God seem to think that there is some peculiar virtue in what they call “twos and threes.” Now do not misunderstand me. I think it is an exceeding mercy when God has only two or three, but I cannot sympathize with the feeling that prefers two or three to two or three hundred. I should have thought that love would have desired the best blessing upon the largest number, and that love would have desired that those who are as dear to the Lord as ourselves should not be wandering about like poor sheep without a shepherd in all kinds of sorrow and trouble. Do you think that we are the happier because other people are strangers? Do you think it is a Christian feeling to desire that we should have a little less trial? No, I believe not. I believe that love likes the trial of those that it loves; that love has pleasure in bearing and forbearing. It may be tried at a time, of course, for we are poor and imperfect creatures; but still there is something very sweet in sharing the sorrows of those that God loves and that we love; so that while we are thankful that there are two or three here and there, still I think we ought to rejoice more than all in that He not only saves, but gathers and puts in the true place. Do we think it is the true place, or do we think it is only the true place for ourselves? If so, then you are a sect at once; but if you believe that it is God's place then it is God's place for all God's children. We may not deign to use any improper means, or trouble ourselves because people do not come, for that is the Lord's matter; it is the Lord's great work, not merely ours. We are under Him; we are mere journeymen. He is the One that carries on the work. I say, then, we ought to rejoice the more that there is divine blessing whether in saving or gathering.
And so it was here. This multitude of men and women, I have no doubt, were a great comfort to those that had the feelings, the sympathies, the grace of the Lord, strong in their souls. And what is more, there was mighty power that accompanied it this time, and one remarkable fact which I do not think is mentioned about any other person is that the shadow of Peter healed. just think of that! We never heard of that about the Lord. We never heard that the Lord's shadow healed people. Perhaps you think that I am exalting man against the Lord. I am exalting the words of the Lord, who said, “Ye shall do greater works than these, because I go to the Father.” Now I say that that does exalt the Lord, and exalts Him particularly because people may have thought that the Lord was only, so to speak, like a great magnet that could affect only what was near it. Not at all. Because He went they did greater works than His. That is to say, it was the power of the Lord showing itself perfectly superior to everything of nature. Distance and time had nothing to do with it. It was Christ.
And this, accordingly, fills the high priest and his party with great indignation. The more that grace and truth wrought, the more they hated; and they laid their hands again on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But as this is not very particularly said to have happened to Peter till the latter part of the chapter, I need not dwell upon it. Still he was one, but it is only in the latter part that he comes out distinctly.
They put them, then, in prison, but the Lord stretches out His hand. The Lord sends His angel, who opens the prison doors and brings them forth, saying, “Go, stand and speak in the temple all the words of this life.” The effect of that is increasing boldness, for now it was made extremely simple. Before that, the apostles had acted on their confidence in the Lord's will, but now they had got the positive word of the Lord. It was not merely an instinctive consciousness of what He wished, but it was a certain, positive word. The Lord sent His angel and said, “Go and speak in the temple.” The very place was given. “Go and speak in the temple all the words of this life” —unrestricted testimony of what was needed by souls. “And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning.” And quite right. “They entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest came and they that were with him.” They met too. “But when the officers came, they found them not in the prison.” And when they were troubled at hearing the tidings, one comes and tells them that the men whom they were seeking were standing in the temple and teaching the people. So they come and bring them before the council, who put the question, “Did not we strictly command that ye should not teach in this name? and behold ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” Thus it was. There was the burden of a wretched and guilty conscience.
“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said.” Not now, “Judge ye.” Now he judged. “We ought,” says Peter, “to obey God rather than men.” Now there is an uncompromising declaration of their obedience to the word of God. “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom ye slew and hanged on a tree: him hath God exalted at his right hand” —(oh, how blessed) — “to be a Prince and a Savior” —not a Prince and a Judge. That He will be by and by, but, meanwhile, “a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things.” But there was another witness. “So is also the Holy Ghost.” I draw your attention to the manner in which the Holy Ghost is spoken of as a living divine person that was there, not merely in them, but with them. So is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him. So they were exceedingly wounded with this, and they were only stopped from violence—from the last act, I mean, of violence—by Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul, a remarkable man who at any rate speaks the words of sobriety.
I would just rehearse in a few words the substance of the chapter. Here you see we have divine power in the church the Holy Ghost adequate to all evil. The offenders fell dead on the spot. We have providential power in the angels, superior to the power of the world. And here we have God's indirect working by men in the world to arrest what was contrary to His will. Thus, you see, there need be no fear whatever where the church walks in the fear of what is unseen. God guards, God acts. This is what we have to build upon and go forward with. We need not be in the least afraid. God has His Gamaliels now, as He had then, in the midst of wicked people, surely, and although there be not a putting forth of the same kind of miraculous power as we find in the angel's opening of the prison doors, still God knows how to do a similar kind of thing and to bring about the same result in a way suitable In the present state of His testimony. But, above all, there is the exceeding comfort that the highest and deepest of that power is ours now, as surely as then—the Holy Ghost dwelling in the church of God.
I need not dwell upon what follows. I shall pass over it, and say only a few words upon another scene. We need not speak of the choice of the seven men. Peter is not particularly mentioned. Still less need we speak of Stephen's discourse. Now a new witness comes forth. I may observe, therefore, that the title of this book is clearly a mistake. It is not the acts of “The Apostles.” It is the acts more particularly of two great apostles, and besides that of one of the deacons, as we see one of the seven men, quite as much as any of the apostles. Not even James figures as much as Stephen. I mention that, not as a criticism on the word of God. You must remember that the titles of the books are not inspired. Those titles that we read at the beginning—as, for instance, “the Epistle of John,” “the Epistle General of James” —were not given by the Holy Spirit. That is merely what men have said. I make that remark because we are perfectly free to criticize what men have said, though we must always bow to what God has said. Therefore you see the book takes in more than the apostles, and by no means the acts of all the apostles.
But coming to the eighth chapter, we have a very special scene. I pass by Philip's work. We have a good deal that he did. It is not merely Stephen, but Philip also, who was another of the seven men, and Philip was a true evangelist, and, what is more, too, Philip had not lost his place of evangelist when we find him very late in the book of Acts. That is an important hint that those who begin as evangelists should not lose that place later, and should not grow weary of the work, or give it up for another. Philip is still called an evangelist later on. Indeed, it is then particularly that he gets the name. Well now he is evangelizing, and great was the blessing. Why, whole towns of Samaria were won by the gospel. What had never been done by any of the prophets —what had never been done by the twelve apostles when they went forth during our Lord's ministry, or by the seventy—was now done by that one, single-handed, and yet Philip had been set apart by the laying on of hands merely to take care of the tables and to look after the poor in Jerusalem. But God called him to another work, and this was his work. Indeed, it was a great time of evangelizing. The church scattered abroad were preaching, and the Lord was with them. But Philip was peculiarly blest, and he baptized. I observe that he baptized men and women. We do not hear of his baptizing others, but he baptized men and women, and we do not read farther.
We read of another thing, for certain, and that is that the Holy Ghost was not yet given. Now that was very striking—men converted, men baptized, but not yet having received the Holy Ghost. What a mistake to confound the gift of the Holy Ghost with their being born of the Spirit. I do not know anything of more consequence in its place to note than that fact. There was the very reason why the Holy Ghost was not given them. Samaria had always been a kind of rival of Jerusalem, and if they had got the Holy Ghost apart from the heads of the work in Jerusalem they might have tended to become independent and to say that they were just as good as the church in Jerusalem. We know very well that that is a sufficiently ready tendency, spite of the plain word of God against it. God will make known fully that it is one body and one Spirit; and so when the church at Jerusalem heard of this mighty work at Samaria they sent down Peter and John—two of the most honored men there—and when they came, they prayed, and the Holy Ghost was given. There was a reason as we see, therefore, for that peculiar act. In other cases there was nothing of the kind. There was no laying on of hands or praying on the day of Pentecost. There was down at Samaria.
Well, but another thing occurred. There was a man that Philip had baptized, and when he saw the Holy Ghost given he offered money. There was nothing that he valued so much as money, except that it was to gain influence in order to gain more money. So he thought he would give a little to get more, and he considers that, because he valued money, so would Peter. But that very thing detected the state of his soul, and that which Philip had failed to find out, Peter saw at once. But you observe that it was not any special power. You must not confound what is called the discerning of spirits with this. The discerning of spirits has to do with detecting had doctrine—what is taught. But Peter waited till the conduct of the man and the language of the man showed that he had no part or lot in Christ; and accordingly here we find him, then, betrayed, and the apostle pronounces the most solemn judgment—I conceive even more solemn than that which befell Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias and Sapphira were judged in this world; it was “sin unto death.”
Simon Magus was judged for eternity. Simon Magus was judged in terms that left no hope for his soul at that moment. I do not say that God might not interfere afterward. He, at any rate, asked them to pray for him, but it is quite evident that he had no confidence in God. It is not a question of looking to God about his soul. He looked to them, and you will find, often, that people who have no confidence in God have great confidence in the prayers of God's servants. It is a common thing in unconverted people. They have not confidence in Christ, but they would have a great deal of confidence in your praying for them. That, you see, finds its example in these early days.
I need not, then, do more than just glance at another thing, and that is that Peter has been found in an active testimony at the end of the ninth chapter, where he raises a dead person and heals a sick man, and is most diligent in visiting the saints. But the next opportunity will afford me occasion for bringing out a still more wonderful account that the Holy Ghost has given us of that which was allotted to this blest servant of the Lord.
(To be continued) [W. K.]