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very person whom they had crucified as a malefactor, was exalted to be the Saviour of the world.
In considering this address of theirs to the Jewish council, it will be proper to notice, I. The testimony here borne to the Lord Jesus
[The Jewish rulers conceived, that, in having crucified the Lord Jesus, they had wholly subverted his influence in the world. But the triumph was altogether on the side of Jesus, of whom the Apostle testified, that he was raised to the most exalted state in glory. Jesus had foretold that he would rise again on the third day; and that, as he had come from the Father, so in his ascension he would return to the Father. And now the Apostle declared that this was accomplished in him: and that, though " he had been crucified through weakness, he was now raised by the power of God," and seated at the right hand of his majesty on high.
He further declared, that he was invested with the highest honours. He had been crucified as a malefactor who had arrogated to himself the title of “ The King of the Jews;" nor had he interposed to save himself. But he was now "exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour;" even the Supreme Governor of the universe, and the Saviour of the whole world, of all at least who would believe in him. However strange such claims might appear to his murderers, they were no other than what the prophets had taught them to expect, seeing that “every knee was to bow to him, and all the ends of the earth were to be saved by him."
To this he added, that he was empowered to bestow the richest blessings. He was to be the one fountain of good to all his believing people, "giving repentance” to the most obdurate, and “forgiveness” to the most abandoned, the very instant that they should seek these blessings at his hands.] 2. The truth and certainty of this testimony
[The Apostles all professed themselves " witnesses of these things," that is, witnesses of his resurrection and his ascension, and consequently of those things which were the special objects of his exaltation.
Now certainly they were competent witnesses, both of the resurrection and the ascension of our blessed Lord: for, though they had not actually seen him rise, they had seen him frequently after he had risen, and had even eaten and drunk with him, and beheld him in the very act of ascending into heaven. The very incredulity which they manifested in relation to these things, is a strong confirmation that they did not hastily credit the report of others, or even their own senses, till they were overpowered with such evidence as was absolutely irresistible. They were also as unexceptionable witnesses as could possibly exist: for, being poor illiterate fishermen, they could not frame an imposture that should deceive the whole world; nor had they the smallest inducement to attempt it, since they could expect nothing but contempt and persecution in this world, and eternal misery in the world to come. They gave their testimony too in the most unexceptionable manner. If they had been impostors, they would have gone to a distance, where their conspiracy should not so easily have been detected; or, at least, have delayed till the present ferment had subsided ; and have practised their imposition first on the weak and credulous. But, instead of this, they bore their testimony without any loss of time, and in Jerusalem too, where every falsehood could be so easily detected, and before all the Jewish rulers, who were most of all interested in disproving the facts attested.
a Isai. xlv. 22, 23.
As for the testimony by which the Jewish rulers endeavoured to invalidate the assertions of the Apostles, it still further established the very point which it was intended to disprove. For, if the guard slept, how could they tell what was done in their sleep? and why were they not punished ? Why too did the rulers engage to screen them from punishment, when their disappointment and rage would rather have called forth their most vindictive efforts ?
In addition to them, the Holy Ghost himself also bare witness to these things. The Lord Jesus had repeatedly declared, that, after his ascension to heaven, he would send the Holy Ghost to testify of him. On the accomplishment of this promise depended the validity of his pretensions. At the appointed time he fulfilled his word, and sent down the Holy Ghost in a visible manner on his Disciples. In this first instance then the Holy Ghost testified, that Jesus was indeed risen, and that he had ascended to the right hand of God. By the influence of the Holy Ghost, the Apostles were enabled to preach the Gospel in a great diversity of languages which they had never learned. They wrought also many and stupendous miracles in confirmation of their word. They were empowered also, by the imposition of their hands, to communicate the Holy Ghost to others. By all these things the Holy Ghost bore yet further testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. By his communications also, of light, and peace, and holiness, he testified in the hearts of all who received the Apostles' word: and to this hour does he continue to testify unto thousands in the same way.
b Mark xvi. 14. Luke xxiv. 39–43. John xx. 25–29.
c Matt. xxviii. 11-15.
Can we conceive that God the Father would have interposed in this astonishing manner to aid an imposture? Assuredly the facts so attested must be true; and Jesus is exalted for the ends and purposes which are specified in the text.]
To mark the immense importance of this subject, I proceed to shew, II. The interest we have in it
Of what importance this testimony was considered by the Jewish rulers we see by the effect it produced upon them: “ They were cut to the heart," from a conviction that the testimony was true; and they sought to slay the witnesses, that the truths asserted by them might be no further spread among the people. Now this whole record calls on us, 1. To believe in Christ ourselves
[We are as much interested in the resurrection and ascension of Christ, as ever the Jews were, because by the one we know him to be the Messiah ; and because by the other we know him to be able to fulfil all that he has promised to his believing people. We are perfectly sure that he is “a Saviour," yea, the Saviour that was to come into the world; and that he has effected all which was necessary for our salvation, making a full atonement for all our sins, and working out for us a righteousness wherein we may stand perfect before God. We know also that he is “ a Prince,” yea, the Prince who shall rule over the whole world, and bring all things into subjection to his will. In this double capacity we are assured that he is able to “ give repentance” to our souls, by taking away the heart of stone, and giving us a heart of flesh;" and at the same time so to blot out our iniquities, that no sin we have committed shall ever rise up in judgment against us, or be imputed to us in the last day. What can be more delightful tidings to fallen man? Let every one of us hear them, and rejoice in them, and bless God for them. Let us renounce every kind and every degree of self-dependence, and have all our righteousness and strength in Christ alone -- And let none despond: for, if these tidings were proclaimed to those who had so recently imbrued their hands in the Saviour's blood, and were at this moment seeking to slay all his chosen Apostles, to whom shall they not be proclaimed? or to whom
shall they not be available, provided a penitential frame be really desired, and forgiveness of sins be fervently implored?
At the same time let us receive Christ in his entire character, and look to him unreservedly for all his blessings. Let us not dream of “ forgiveness” without “ repentance," or think of calling him “ Saviour" without submitting to him as our Ruler and Governor. All that God has united in him for our benefit, must be united in us for his honour : nor must we presume, or even wish, to “put asunder, what God has so inseparably joined together" ---- As we must have nothing united with Christ for the salvation of our souls, so there must be nothing in Christ which we do not actually receive from him, and manifest to be enjoyed by us as a matter of our daily experience before God.] 2. To make him known to others
[The Apostles no sooner received the communications of God's Holy Spirit, than they preached the Saviour to all around them. 'Nothing could deter them from this blessed work. They had all been imprisoned; but they were not intimidated. They were menaced with severer punishment; but they made no account of any sufferings that could be inflicted on them; and when they were actually beaten, " they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Lord's sake."
Now this shews us what we also are to do. We must “confess Christ” openly before all, and commend him to all, that they also may be made partakers of his salvation. True, we are not all called to minister after the manner of the Apostles: but in our life and conversation we must preach to all around us, and be “living epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.”
At this period, through the tender mercy of God, there are greater facilities for the discharge of our duty than ever were afforded us before. There are societies without number for the diffusion of divine knowledge, both at home and abroad: and by aiding them we may all, in our respective spheres, contribute greatly to the spread of the Gospel, and the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom throughout the world
Imitate, then, the holy Apostles in their zeal and love; and, whilst you look to Christ for salvation yourselves, endeavour to make him known to the whole world, as their Prince, and
“ the Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him."]
d Here any particular society, whatever it may be, whether the Bible Society, or Mission Societies to Jews or Gentiles, or Education Societies, may be commended to the audience for their support.
THE MAGNANIMITY OF THE APOSTLES.
Acts v. 41, 42. And they departed from the presence of the
council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
IN the annals of the world we find many examples of magnanimity, which excite our admiration, and shame the lowness of our attainments. But it
But it may well be doubted whether any single instance which we read of in profane history, will stand the test of close examination. Pride and ostentation were almost invariably the fountain from which the most specious actions of heathens flowed: and in proportion as the principle was bad, the action itself also must have been depraved. But in the passage before us, we behold a greatness of mind which was truly admirable, and in every point of view worthy of our imitation. In discoursing upon the conduct of the Apostles as it is here set forth, we shall, I. Illustrate their magnanimity
The whole of their spirit and conduct on this occasion was in the highest degree worthy of their high calling
1. They gloried in all their sufferings for Christ's sake
[Poor and illiterate men are apt to be disconcerted if called into the presence of their superiors, especially if those superiors have the power and inclination to oppress them under the forms of law. But these poor fishermen, when summoned before the supreme council, pleaded their own cause with undaunted firmness, testifying against their very judges, that they had crucified the Lord, and exhorting them to believe in him as their exalted Prince and Saviour.
After having been unjustly imprisoned, and miraculously delivered from their confinement, they were again summoned before their oppressors, and again, though without either invective or complaint, they vindicated their conduct in an unanswerable manner: and, notwithstanding they were beaten, and menaced with severer treatment, and might therefore have felt indignation rise in their bosoms, they lost sight of all the