Resources » Matthew Henry's Commentary » Acts » Chapter 4 » Verses 23–31

Verses 23–31

We hear no more at present of the chief priests, what they did when they had dismissed Peter and John, but are to attend those two witnesses. And here we have,

I. Their return to their brethren, the apostles and ministers, and perhaps some private Christians (Acts 4:23): Being let go, they went to their own company, who perhaps at this time were met together in pain for them, and praying for them; as Acts 12:12. As soon as ever they were at liberty, they went to their old friends, and returned to their church-fellowship. 1. Though God had highly honoured them, in calling them out to be his witnesses, and enabling them to acquit themselves so well, yet they were not puffed up with the honour done them, nor thought themselves thereby exalted above their brethren, but went to their own company. No advancement in gifts or usefulness should make us think ourselves above either the duties or the privileges of the communion of saints. 2. Though their enemies had severely threatened them, and endeavoured to break their knot, and frighten them from the work they were jointly engaged in, yet they went to their own company, and feared not the wrath of their rulers. They might have had comfort, if, being let go, they had retired to their closets, and spent some time in devotion there. But they were men in a public station, and must seek not so much their own personal satisfaction as the public good. Christ’s followers do best in company, provided it be in their own company.

II. The account they gave them of what had passed: They reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them, adding, no doubt, what they were enabled by the grace of God to reply to them, and how their trial issued. They related it to them, 1. That they might know what to expect both from men and from God in the progress of their work. From men they might expect every thing that was terrifying, but from God every thing that was encouraging; men would do their utmost to run them down, but God would take effectual care to bear them up. Thus the brethren in the Lord would wax confident through their bonds, and their experiences, as Phil. 1:14. 2. That they might have it recorded in the history of the church, for the benefit of posterity, particularly for the confirmation of our faith touching the resurrection of Christ. The silence of an adversary, in some cases, is next door to the consent and testimony of an adversary. These apostles told the chief priests to their faces that God had raised up Jesus from the dead, and, though they were a body of them together, they had not the confidence to deny it, but, in the silliest and most sneaking manner imaginable, bade the apostles not to tell any body of it. 3. That they might now join with them in prayers and praises; and by such a concert as this God would be the more glorified, and the church the more edified. We should therefore communicate to our brethren the providences of God that relate to us, and our experience of his presence with us, that they may assist us in our acknowledgment of God therein.

III. Their address to God upon this occasion: When they heard of the impotent malice of the priests, and the potent courage of the sufferers, they called their company together and went to prayer: They lifted up their voice to God with one accord, Acts 4:24. Not that it can be supposed that they all said the same words at the same time (though it was possible they might, being all inspired by one and the same Spirit), but one in the name of the rest lifted up his voice to God and the rest joined with him, hymothymadonwith one mind (so the word signifies); their hearts went along with him, and so, though but one spoke, they all prayed; one lifted up his voice, and, in concurrence with him, they all lifted up their hearts, which was, in effect, lifting up their voice to God; for thoughts are as words to God. Moses cried unto God, when we find not a word said. Now in this solemn address to God we have,

1. Their adoration of God as the Creator of the world (Acts 4:24): With one mind, and so, in effect, with one mouth, they glorified God, Rom. 15:6. They said, “O Lord, thou art God, God alone; Despota, thou art our Master and sovereign Ruler” (so the word signifies), “thou art God; God, and not man; God, and not the work of men’s hands; the Creator of all, and not the creature of men’s fancies. Thou art the God who hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, the upper and lower world, and all the creatures that are in both.” Thus we Christians distinguish ourselves from the heathen, that, while they worship gods which they have made, we are worshipping the God that made us and all the world. And it is very proper to begin our prayers, as well as our creed, with the acknowledgement of this, that God is the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. Though the apostles were at this time full of the mystery of the world’s redemption, yet they did not forget nor overlook the history of the world’s creation; for the Christian religion was intended to confirm and improve, not to eclipse nor jostle out, the truths and dictates of natural religion. It is a great encouragement to God’s servants, both in doing work and suffering work, that they serve the God that made all things, and therefore has the disposal of their times, and all events concerning them, and is able to strengthen them under all their difficulties. And, if we give him the glory of this, we may take the comfort of it.

2. Their reconciling themselves to the present dispensations of Providence, by reflecting upon those scriptures in the Old Testament which foretold that the kingdom of the Messiah would meet with such opposition as this at the first setting of it up in the world, Acts 4:25, 26. God, who made heaven and earth, cannot meet with any [effectual] opposition to his designs, since none dare [at least, can prevailingly] dispute or contest with him. Yea, thus it was written, thus he spoke by the mouth, thus he wrote by the pen, of his servant David, who, as appears by this, was the penman of the second psalm, and therefore, most probably, of the first, and other psalms that are not ascribed to any other, though they have not his name in the title. Let it not therefore be a surprise to them, nor any discouragement to any in embracing their doctrine, for the scripture must be fulfilled. It was foretold, Ps. 2:1, 2, (1.) That the heathen would rage at Christ and his kingdom, and be angry at the attempts to set it up, because that would be the pulling down of the gods of the heathen, and giving a check to the wickedness of the heathen. (2.) That the people would imagine all the things that could be against it, to silence the teachers of it, to discountenance the subjects of it, and to crush all the interests of it. If they prove vain things in the issue, no thanks to those who imagined them. (3.) That the kings of the earth, particularly, would stand up in opposition to the kingdom of Christ, as if they were jealous (though there is no occasion for their being so) that it would interfere with their powers, and intrench upon their prerogatives. The kings of the earth that are most favoured and honoured by divine Providence, and should do most for God, are strangers and enemies to divine grace, and do most against God. (4.) That the rulers would gather together against God and Christ; not only monarchs, that have the power in their single persons, but where the power is in many rulers, councils, and senates, they gather together, to consult and decree against the Lord and against his Christ—against both natural and revealed religion. What is done against Christ, God takes as done against himself. Christianity was not only destitute of the advantage of the countenance and support of kings and rulers (it had neither their power nor their purses), but it was opposed and fought against by them, and they combined to run it down and yet it made its way.

3. Their representation of the present accomplishment of those predictions in the enmity and malice of the rulers against Christ. What was foretold we see fulfilled, Acts 4:27, 28. It is of a truth—it is certainly so, it is too plain to be denied, and in it appears the truth of the prediction that Herod and Pilate, the two Roman governors, with the Gentiles (the Roman soldiers under their command), and with the people of Israel (the rulers of the Jews and the mob that is under their influence), were gathered together in a confederacy against thy holy child Jesus whom thou has anointed. Some copies add another circumstance, en te polei sou tautein this thy holy city, where, above any place, he should have been welcomed. But herein they do that which thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. See here (1.) The wise and holy designs God had concerning Christ. He is here called the child Jesus, as he was called (Luke 2:27, 43) in his infancy, to intimate that even in his exalted state he is not ashamed of his condescensions for us, and that he continues meek and lowly in heart. In the height of his glory he is the Lamb of God, and the child Jesus. But he is the holy child Jesus (so he was called, Luke 1:35; that holy thing), and thy holy child; the word signifies both a son and a servant, paida sou. He was the Son of God; and yet in the work of redemption he acted as his Father’s servant (Isa. 42:1), My servant whom I uphold. It was he whom God anointed, both qualified for the undertaking and called to it; and thence he was called the Lord’s Christ, Acts 4:26. And this comes in as a reason why they set themselves with so much rage and violence against him, because God had anointed him, and they were resolved not to resign, much less to submit to him. David was envied by Saul, because he was the Lord’s anointed. And the Philistines came up to seek David when they heard he was anointed, 2 Sam. 5:17. Now the God that anointed Christ determined what should be done to him, pursuant to that anointing. He was anointed to be a Saviour, and therefore it was determined he should be a sacrifice to make atonement for sin. He must die—therefore he must be slain; yet not by his own hands—therefore God wisely determined before by what hands it should be done. It must be by the hands of those who will treat him as a criminal and malefactor, and therefore it cannot be done by the hands either of angels or of good men; he must therefore be delivered into the hands of sinners as Job was, Acts 16:11. And as David was delivered to Shimei to be made a curse (2 Sam. 16:11): The Lord has bidden him. God’s hand and his counsel determined it—his will, and his wisdom. God’s hand, which properly denotes his executive power, is here put for his purpose and decree, because with him saying and doing are not two things, as they are with us. His hand and his counsel always agree; for whatsoever the Lord pleased that did he. Dr. Hammon makes this phrase of God’s hand determining it to be an allusion to the high priest’s casting lots upon the two goats on the day of atonement (Lev. 16:8), in which he lifted up the hand that he happened to have the lot for the Lord in, and that goat on which it fell was immediately sacrificed; and the disposal of this lot was from the Lord, Prov. 16:33. Thus God’s hand determined what should be done, that Christ should be the sacrifice slain. Or, if I may offer a conjecture, when God’s hand is here said to determine, it may be meant, not of God’s acting hand, but his writing hand, as Job 13:26; Thou writest bitter things against us; and God’s decree is said to be that which is written in the scriptures of truth (Dan. 10:21), and in the volume of the book it was written of Christ, Ps. 40:7. It was God’s hand that wrote it, his hand according to his counsel. The commission was given under his hand. (2.) The wicked and unholy instruments that were employed in the executing of this design, though they meant not so, neither did their hearts think so. Herod and Pilate, Gentiles and Jews, who had been at variance with each other, united against Christ. And God’s serving his own purposes by what they did was no excuse at all for their malice and wickedness in the doing of it, any more than God’s making the blood of the martyrs the seed of the church extenuated the guilt of their bloody persecutors. Sin is not the less evil for God’s bringing good out of it, but he is by this the more glorified, and will appear to be so when the mystery of God shall be finished.

4. Their petition with reference to the case at this time. The enemies were gathered together against Christ, and then no wonder that they were so against his ministers: the disciple is not better than his Master, nor must expect better treatment; but, being thus insulted, they pray,

(1.) That God would take cognizance of the malice of their enemies: Now, Lord, behold their threatenings, Acts 4:29. Behold them, as thou art said to behold them in the psalm before quoted (Ps. 2:4), when they thought to break his bands asunder, and cast away his cords from them; he that sits in heaven laughs at them, and has them in derision; and then the virgin, the daughter of Zion, may despise the impotent menaces even of the great king, the king of Assyria, Isa. 37:22. And now, Lord; ta nyn there is an emphasis upon the now, to intimate that then is God’s time to appear for his people, when the power of their enemies is most daring and threatening. They do not dictate to God what he shall do, but refer themselves to and him, like Hezekiah (Isa. 37:17): “Open thine eyes, O Lord, and see; thou knowest what they say, thou beholdest mischief and spite (Ps. 10:14); to thee we appeal, behold their threatenings, and either tie their hands or turn their hearts; make their wrath, as far as it is let loose, to praise thee, and the remainder thereof do thou restrain,” Ps. 76:10. It is a comfort to us that if we be unjustly threatened, and bear it patiently, we may make ourselves easy by spreading the case before the Lord, and leaving it with him.

(2.) That God, by his grace, would keep up their spirits, and animate them to go on cheerfully with their work: Grant unto thy servants that with all boldness they may speak thy word, though the priests and rulers have enjoined them silence. Note, In threatening times, our care should not be so much that troubles may be prevented as that we may be enabled to go on with cheerfulness and resolution in our work and duty, whatever troubles we may meet with. Their prayer is not, “Lord, behold their threatenings, and frighten them, and stop their mouths, and fill their faces with shame;” but, “Behold their threatenings, and animate us, open our mouths and fill our hearts with courage.” They do not pray, “Lord, give us a fair opportunity to retire from our work, now that it is become dangerous;” but, “Lord, give us grace to go on in our work and not to be afraid of the face of man.” Observe, [1.] Those that are sent on God’s errands ought to deliver their message with boldness, with all boldness, with all liberty of speech, not shunning to declare the whole counsel of God, whoever is offended; not doubting of what they say, nor of being borne out in saying it. [2.] God is to be sought unto for an ability to speak his word with boldness, and those that desire divine aids and encouragements may depend upon them, and ought to go forth and go on in the strength of the Lord God. [3.] The threatenings of our enemies, that are designed to weaken our hands and drive us off from our work, should rather stir us up to so much the more courage and resolution in our work. Are they daring that fight against Christ? For shame, let not us be sneaking that are for him.

(3.) That God would still give them power to work miracles for the confirmation of the doctrine they preached, which, by the cure of the lame man, they found to contribute very much to their success, and would contribute abundantly to their further progress: Lord, grant us boldness, by stretching forth thy hand to heal. Note, Nothing emboldens faithful ministers more in their work than the tokens of God’s presence with them, and a divine power going along with them. They pray, [1.] That God would stretch forth his hand to heal both the bodies and souls of men; else in vain do they stretch forth their hands, either in preaching (Isa. 65:2), or in curing, Acts 9:17. [2.] That signs and wonders might be done by the name of the holy child Jesus, which would be convincing to the people, and confounding to the enemies. Christ had promised them a power to work miracles, for the proof of their commission (Mark 16:17, 18); yet they must pray for it; and, though they had it, must pray for the continuance of it. Christ himself must ask, and it shall be given him. Observe, It is the honour of Christ that they aim at in this request, that the wonders might be done by the name of Jesus, the holy child Jesus, and his name shall have all the glory.

IV. The gracious answer God gave to this address, not in word, but in power. 1. God gave them a sign of the acceptance of their prayers (Acts 4:31): When they had prayed (perhaps many of them prayed successively), one by one, according to the rule (1 Cor. 14:31), and when they had concluded the work of the day, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; there was a strong mighty wind, such as that when the Spirit was poured out upon them (Acts 2:1, 2), which shook the house, which was now their house of prayer. This shaking of the place was designed to strike an awe upon them, to awaken and raise their expectations, and to give them a sensible token that God was with them of a truth: and perhaps it was to put them in mind of that prophecy (Hag. 2:7), I will shake all nations, and will fill this house with glory. This was to show them what reason they had to fear God more, and then they would fear man less. He that shook this place could make the hearts of those who threatened his servants thus to tremble, for he cuts off the spirit of princes, and is terrible to the kings of the earth. The place was shaken, that their faith might be established and unshaken. 2. God gave them greater degrees of his Spirit, which was what they prayed for. Their prayer, without doubt, was accepted, for it was answered: They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, more than ever; by which they were not only encouraged, but enabled to speak the word of God with boldness, and not to be afraid of the proud and haughty looks of men. The Holy Ghost taught them not only what to speak, but how to speak. Those that were endued habitually with the powers of the Holy Ghost had yet occasion for fresh supplies of the Spirit, according as the various occurrences of their service were. They were filled with the Holy Ghost at the bar (Acts 4:8), and now filled with the Holy Ghost in the pulpit, which teaches us to live in an actual dependence upon the grace of God, according as the duty of every day requires; we need to be anointed with fresh oil upon every fresh occasion. As in the providence of God, so in the grace of God, we not only in general live, and have our being, but move in every particular action, Acts 17:28. We have here an instance of the performance of that promise, that God will give the Holy Spirit to those that ask him (Luke 11:13), for it was in answer to prayer that they were filled with the Holy Ghost: and we have also an example of the improvement of that gift, which is required of all on whom it is bestowed; have it and use it, use it and have more of it. When they were filled with the Holy Ghost, they spoke the word with all boldness; for the ministration of the Spirit is given to every man, to profit withal. Talents must be traded with, not buried. When they find the Lord God help them by his Spirit, they know they shall not be confounded, Isa. 50:7.