Alexander Maclaren.

Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts online

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the opportunity for service. Never mind about the future, let it take
care of itself. Work! That clears away cobwebs from our brains, as when
a man wakes from troubled dreams, to hear 'the sweep of scythe in
morning dew,' and the shout of the peasant as he trudges to his task,
and the lowing of the cattle, and the clink of the hammer.

(c) The great work we have to do in the future is to be witnesses for
Christ. This is the meaning of all life; we can do it in joy and in
sorrow, and we shall bear a charmed life till it be done. So the words
of the text are a promise of preservation.

Then, dear brethren, how do you stand fronting that Unknown? How can
you face it without going mad, unless you know God and trust Him as
your Father through Christ? If you do, you need have no fear. To-morrow
lies all dim and strange before you, but His gentle and strong hand is
working in the darkness and He will shape it right. He will fit you to
bear it all. If you regard it as your supreme duty and highest honour
to be Christ's witness, you will be kept safe, 'delivered out of the
mouth of the lion,' that by you 'the preaching may be fully known.'

If not, how dreary is that future to you, 'all dim and cheerless, like
a rainy sea,' from which wild shapes may come up and devour you! Love
and friendship will pass, honour and strength will fail, life will ebb
away, and of all that once stretched before you, nothing will be left
but one little strip of sand, fast jellying with the tide beneath your
feet, and before you a wild unlighted ocean!


'Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that
the Lord Jesus went in and out among us ... must one be ordained to be
a witness with us of His resurrection.' - ACTS i. 21, 22.

The fact of Christ's Resurrection was the staple of the first Christian
sermon recorded in this Book of the Acts of the Apostles. They did not
deal so much in doctrine; they did not dwell very distinctly upon what
we call, and rightly call, the atoning death of Christ; out they
proclaimed what they had seen with their eyes - that He died and rose

And not only was the main subject of their teaching the Resurrection,
but it was the Resurrection in one of its aspects and for one specific
purpose. There are, speaking roughly, three main connections in which
the fact of Christ's rising from the dead is viewed in Scripture, and
these three successively emerge in the consciousness of the Early

It was, first, a fact affecting Him, a testimony concerning Him,
carrying with it necessarily some great truths with regard to Him, His
character, His nature, and His work. And it was in that aspect mainly
that the earliest preachers dealt with it. Then, as reflection and the
guidance of God's good Spirit led them to understand more and more of
the treasure which lay in the fact, it came to be to them, next, a
pattern, and a pledge, and a prophecy of their own resurrection. The
doctrine of man's immortality and the future life was evolved from it,
and was felt to be implied in it. And then it came to be, thirdly and
lastly, a symbol or figure of the spiritual resurrection and newness of
life into which all they were born who participated in His death. They
knew Him first by His Resurrection; they then knew 'the power of His
Resurrection' as a pledge of their own; and lastly, they knew it as
being the pattern to which they were to be conformed even whilst here
on earth.

The words which I have read for my text are the Apostle Peter's own
description of what was the office of an Apostle - 'to be a witness with
us of Christ's Resurrection.' And the statement branches out, I think,
into three considerations, to which I ask your attention now. First, we
have here the witnesses; secondly, we have the sufficiency of their
testimony; and thirdly, we have the importance of the fact to which
they bear their witness. The Apostles are testimony-bearers. Their
witness is enough to establish the fact. The fact to which they witness
is all-important for the religion and the hopes of the world.

I. First, then, the Witnesses.

Here we have the 'head of the Apostolic College,' the 'primate' of the
Twelve, on whose supposed primacy - which is certainly not a
'rock' - such tremendous claims have been built, laying down the
qualifications and the functions of an Apostle. How simply they present
themselves to his mind! The qualification is only personal knowledge of
Jesus Christ in His earthly history, because the function is only to
attest His Resurrection. Their work was to bear witness to what they
had seen with their eyes; and what was needed, therefore, was nothing
more than such familiarity with Christ as should make them competent
witnesses to the fact that He died, and to the fact that the same Jesus
who had died, and whom they knew so well, rose again and went up to

The same conception of an Apostle's work lies in Christ's last solemn
designation of them for their office, where their whole commission is
included in the simple words, 'Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.' It
appears again and again in the earlier addresses reported in this book.
'This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.' 'Whom
God hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses.' 'With great
power gave the Apostles witness of the Resurrection.' 'We are His
witnesses of these things.' To Cornelius, Peter speaks of the Apostles
as 'witnesses chosen before of God, who did eat and drink with Him
after He rose from the dead' - and whose charge, received from Christ,
was 'to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge
of quick and dead.' Paul at Antioch speaks of the Twelve, from whom he
distinguishes himself, as being 'Christ's witnesses to _the
people_' - and seems to regard them as specially commissioned to the
Jewish nation, while he was sent to 'declare unto you' - Gentiles - the
same 'glad tidings,' in that 'God had raised up Jesus again.' So we
might go on accumulating passages, but these will suffice.

I need not spend time in elaborating or emphasising the contrast which
the idea of the Apostolic office contained in these simple words
presents to the portentous theories of later times. I need only remind
you that, according to the Gospels, the work of the Apostles in
Christ's lifetime embraced three elements, none of which were peculiar
to them - to be with Christ, to preach, and to work miracles; that their
characteristic work after His Ascension was this of witness-bearing;
that the Church did not owe to them as a body its extension, nor
Christian doctrine its form; that whilst Peter and James and John
appear in the history, and Matthew perhaps wrote a Gospel, and the
other James and Jude are probably the authors of the brief Epistles
which bear their names - the rest of the Twelve never appear in the
subsequent history. The Acts of the Apostles is a misnomer for Luke's
second 'treatise.' It tells the work of Peter alone among the Twelve.
The Hellenists Stephen and Philip, the Cypriote Barnabas, and the man
of Tarsus - greater than them all - these spread the name of Christ
beyond the limits of the Holy City and the chosen people. The solemn
power of 'binding and loosing' was not a prerogative of the Twelve, for
we read that Jesus came where 'the _disciples_ were assembled,' and
that 'the _disciples_ were glad when they saw the Lord'; and 'He
breathed on _them_, and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever
sins ye remit, they are remitted."'

Where in all this is there a trace of the special Apostolic powers
which have been alleged to be transmitted from them? Nowhere. Who was
it that came and said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord hath sent me that thou
mightest be filled with the Holy Ghost'? A simple 'layman'! Who was it
that stood by, a passive and astonished spectator of the communication
of spiritual gifts to Gentile converts, and could only say, 'Forasmuch,
then, as God gave them the like gift, as He did unto us, what was I
that I could withstand God?' Peter, the leader of the Twelve!

Their task was apparently a humbler, really a far more important one.
Their place was apparently a lowlier, really a loftier one. They had to
lay broad and deep the basis for all the growth and grace of the
Church, in the facts which they witnessed. Their work abides; and when
the Celestial City is revealed to our longing hearts, in its
foundations will be read 'the names of the twelve Apostles of the
Lamb.' Their office was testimony; and their testimony was to this
effect - 'Hearken, we eleven men knew this Jesus. Some of us knew Him
when He was a boy, and lived beside that little village where He was
brought up. We were with Him for three whole years in close contact day
and night. We all of us, though we were cowards, stood afar off with a
handful of women when He was crucified. We saw Him dead. We saw His
grave. We saw Him living, and we touched Him, and handled Him, and He
ate and drank with us; and we, sinners that we are that tell it you, we
went out with Him to the top of Olivet, and we saw Him go up into the
skies. Do you believe us or do you not? We do not come in the first
place to preach doctrines. We are not thinkers or moralists. We are
plain men, telling a plain story, to the truth of which we pledge our
senses. We do not want compliments about our spiritual elevation, or
our pure morality. We do not want reverence as possessors of mysterious
and exclusive powers. We want you to believe us as honest men, relating
what we have seen. There are eleven of us, and there are five hundred
at our back, and we have all got the one simple story to tell. It is,
indeed, a gospel, a philosophy, a theology, the reconciliation of earth
and heaven, the revelation of God to man, and of man to himself, the
unveiling of the future world, the basis of hope; but we bring it to
you first as a thing that happened upon this earth of ours, which we
saw with our eyes, and of which we are the witnesses.'

To that work there can be no successors. Some of the Apostles were
inspired to be the writers of the authoritative fountains of religious
truth; but that gift did not belong to them all, and was not the
distinctive possession of the Twelve. The power of working miracles,
and of communicating supernatural gifts, was not confined to them, but
is found exercised by other believers, as well as by a whole
'presbytery.' And as for what was properly their task, and their
qualifications, there can be no succession, for there is nothing to
succeed to, but what cannot be transmitted - the sight of the risen
Saviour, and the witness to His Resurrection as a fact certified by
their senses.

II. The sufficiency of the testimony.

Peter regards (as does the whole New Testament, and as did Peter's
Master, when He appointed these men) the witness which he and his
fellows bore as enough to lay firm and deep the historical fact of the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The first point that I would suggest here is this: if we think of
Christianity as being mainly a set of truths - spiritual, moral,
intellectual - then, of course, the way to prove Christianity is to show
the consistency of that body of truths with one another, their
consistency with other truths, their derivation from admitted
principles, their reasonableness, their adaptation to men's nature, the
refining and elevating effects of their adoption, and so on. If we
think of Christianity, on the other hand, as being first a set of
historical facts which carry the doctrines, then the way to prove
Christianity is not to show how reasonable it is, not to show how it
has been anticipated and expected and desired, not to show how it
corresponds with men's needs and men's longings, not to show what large
and blessed results follow from its acceptance. All these are
legitimate ways of establishing principles; but the way to establish a
fact is only one - that is, to find somebody that can say, 'I know it,
for I saw it.'

And my belief is that the course of modern 'apologetics,' as they are
called - methods of defending Christianity - has followed too slavishly
the devious course of modern antagonism, and has departed from its real
stronghold when it has consented to argue the question on these (as I
take them to be) lower and less sufficing grounds. I am thankful to
adopt all that wise Christian apologists may have said in regard to the
reasonableness of Christianity; its correspondence with men's wants,
the blessings that follow from it, and so forth; but the Gospel is
first and foremost a history, and you cannot prove that a thing has
happened by showing how very desirable it is that it should happen, how
reasonable it is to expect that it should happen, what good results
would follow from believing that it has happened - all that is
irrelevant. Think of it as first a history, and then you are shut up to
the old-fashioned line of evidence, irrefragable as I take it to be, to
which all these others may afterwards be appended as confirmatory. It
is true, because sufficient eye-witnesses assert it. It did happen,
because it is commended to us by the ordinary canons of evidence which
we accept in regard to all other matters of fact.

With regard to the sufficiency of the specific evidence here, I wish to
make only one or two observations.

Suppose you yield up everything that the most craving and unreasonable
modern scepticism can demand as to the date and authorship of these
tracts that make the New Testament, we have still left four letters of
the Apostle Paul, which no one has ever denied, which the very
extremest professors of the 'higher criticism' themselves accept. These
four are the Epistles to the Romans, the first and second to the
Corinthians, and that to the Galatians. The dates which are assigned to
these four letters by any one, believer or unbeliever, bring them
within five-and-twenty years of the alleged date of Christ's

Then what do we find in these undeniably and admittedly genuine
letters, written a quarter of a century after the supposed fact? We
find in all of them reference to it - the distinct allegation of it. We
find in one of them that the Apostle states it as being the substance
of his preaching and of his brethren's preaching, that 'Christ died and
rose again according to the Scriptures,' and that He was seen by
individuals, by multitudes, by a whole five hundred, the greater
portion of whom were living and available as witnesses when he wrote.

And we find that side by side with this statement, there is the
reference to his own vision of the risen Saviour, which carries us up
within ten years of the alleged fact. So, then, by the evidence of
admittedly genuine documents, which are dealing with a state of things
ten years after the supposed resurrection, there was a unanimous
concurrence of belief on the part of the whole primitive Church, so
that even the heretics who said that there was no resurrection of the
dead could be argued with on the ground of their belief in Christ's
Resurrection. The whole Church with one voice asserted it. And there
were hundreds of living men ready to attest it. It was not a handful of
women who fancied they had seen Him once, very early in the dim
twilight of a spring morning - but it was half a thousand that had
beheld Him. He had been seen by them not once, but often; not far off,
but close at hand; not in one place, but in Galilee and Jerusalem; not
under one set of circumstances, but at all hours of the day, abroad and
in the house, walking and sitting, speaking and eating, by them singly
and in numbers. He had not been seen only by excited expectants of His
appearance, but by incredulous eyes and surprised hearts, who doubted
ere they worshipped, and paused before they said, 'My Lord and my God!'
They neither hoped that He would rise, nor believed that He had risen;
and the world may be thankful that they were 'slow of heart to believe.'

Would not the testimony which can be alleged for Christ's Resurrection
be enough to guarantee any event but this? And if so, why is it not
enough to guarantee this too? If, as nobody denies, the Early Church,
within ten years of Christ's Resurrection, believed in His
Resurrection, and were ready to go, and did, many of them, go to the
death in assertion of their veracity in declaring it, then one of two
things - Either they were right or they were wrong; and if the latter,
one of two things - If the Resurrection be not a fact, then that belief
was either a delusion or a deceit.

It was not a delusion, for such an illusion is altogether unexampled;
and it is absurd to think of it as being shared by a multitude like the
Early Church. Nations have said, 'Our King is not dead - he is gone away
and he will come back.' Loving disciples have said, 'Our Teacher lives
in solitude and will return to us.' But this is no parallel to these.
This is not a fond imagination giving an apparent substance to its own
creation, but sense recognising first the fact, 'He _is_ dead,' and
then, in opposition to expectation, and when hope had sickened to
despair, recognising the astounding fact, 'He liveth that was dead';
and to suppose that that should have been the rooted conviction of
hundreds of men who were not idiots, finds no parallel in the history
of human illusions, and no analogy in such legends as those to which I
have referred.

It was not a myth, for a myth does not grow in ten years. And there was
no motive to frame one, if Christ was dead and all was over. It was not
a deceit, for the character of the men, and the character of the
associated morality, and the obvious absence of all self-interest, and
the persecutions and sorrows which they endured, make it inconceivable
that the fairest building that ever hath been reared in the world, and
which is cemented by men's blood, should be built upon the mud and
slime of a conscious deceit!

And all this we are asked to put aside at the bidding of a glaring
begging of the whole question, and an outrageous assertion which no man
that believes in a God at all can logically maintain, viz. that no
testimony can reach to the miraculous, or that miracles are impossible.

No testimony reach to the miraculous! Well, put it into a concrete
form. Can testimony not reach to this: 'I know, because I saw, that a
man was dead; I know, because I saw, a dead man live again'? If
testimony can do that, I think we may safely leave the verbal sophism
that it cannot reach to the miraculous to take care of itself.

And, then, with regard to the other assumption - miracle is impossible.
That is an illogical begging of the whole question in dispute. It
cannot avail to brush aside testimony. You cannot smother facts by
theories in that fashion. Again, one would like to know how it comes
that our modern men of science, who protest so much against science
being corrupted by metaphysics, should commit themselves to an
assertion like that? Surely that is stark, staring metaphysics. It
seems as if they thought that the 'metaphysics' which said that there
was anything behind the physical universe was unscientific; but that
the metaphysics which said that there was nothing behind physics was
quite legitimate, and ought to be allowed to pass muster. What have the
votaries of pure physical science, who hold the barren word-contests of
theology and the proud pretensions of philosophy in such contempt, to
do out-Heroding Herod in that fashion, and venturing on metaphysical
assertions of such a sort? Let them keep to their own line, and tell us
all that crucibles and scalpels can reveal, and we will listen as
becomes us. But when they contradict their own principles in order to
deny the possibility of miracle, we need only give them back their own
words, and ask that the investigation of facts shall not be hampered
and clogged with metaphysical prejudices. No! no! Christ made no
mistake when He built His Church upon that rock - the historical
evidence of a resurrection from the dead, though all the wise men of
Areopagus hill may make its cliffs ring with mocking laughter when we
say, upon Easter morning, 'The Lord is risen indeed!'

III. There is a final consideration connected with these words, which I
must deal with very briefly - the importance of the fact which is thus
borne witness to.

I have already pointed out that the Resurrection of Christ is viewed in
Scripture in three aspects: in its bearing upon His nature and work, as
a pattern for our future, and as a symbol of our present newness of
life. The importance to which I refer now applies only to that first

With the Resurrection of Jesus Christ stands or falls the Divinity of
Christ. As Paul said, in that letter to which I have referred,
'Declared to be the Son of God, with power by the resurrection from the
dead.' As Peter said in the sermon that follows this one of our text,
'God hath made this same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and
Christ.' As Paul said, on Mars Hill, 'He will judge the world in
righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained, whereof He hath given
assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.'

The case is this. Jesus lived as we know, and in the course of that
life claimed to be the Son of God. He made such broad and strange
assertions as these - 'I and My Father are One.' 'I am the Way, and the
Truth, and the Life.' 'I am the Resurrection and the Life.' 'He that
believeth on Me shall never die.' 'The Son of Man must suffer many
things, and the third day He shall rise again.' Thus speaking He dies,
and rises again and passes into the heavens. That is the last mightiest
utterance of the same testimony, which spake from heaven at His
baptism, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!' If He be
risen from the dead, then His loftiest claims are confirmed from the
throne, and we can see in Him, the Son of God. But if death holds Him
still, and 'the Syrian stars look down upon His grave,' as a modern
poet tells us in his dainty English that they do, then what becomes of
these words of His, and of our estimate of the character of Him, the
speaker? Let us hear no more about the pure morality of Jesus Christ,
and the beauty of His calm and lofty teaching, and the rest of it. Take
away His resurrection from the dead, and we have left beautiful
precepts, and fair wisdom, deformed with a monstrous self-assertion and
the constant reiteration of claims which the event proves to have been
baseless. Either He has risen from the dead or His words were
blasphemy. Men nowadays talk very lightly of throwing aside the
supernatural portions of the Gospel history, and retaining reverence
for the great Teacher, the pure moralist of Nazareth. The Pharisees put
the issue more coarsely and truly when they said, 'That deceiver said,
while He was yet alive, after three days I will rise again.' Yes! one
or the other. 'Declared to be the Son of God with power by the
resurrection from the dead,' or - that which our lips refuse to say even
as a hypothesis!

Still further, with the Resurrection stands or falls Christ's whole
work for our redemption. If He died, like other men - if that awful bony
hand has got its grip upon Him too, then we have no proof that the
cross was anything but a martyr's cross. His Resurrection is the proof
of His completed work of redemption. It is the proof - followed as it is
by His Ascension - that His death was not the tribute which for Himself
He had to pay, but the ransom for us. His Resurrection is the condition
of His present activity. If He has not risen, He has not put away sin;
and if He has not put it away by the sacrifice of Himself, none has,
and it remains. We come back to the old dreary alternative: 'if Christ
be not risen, your faith is vain, and our preaching is vain. Ye are yet
in your sins, and they which have fallen asleep in Christ' with
unfulfilled hopes fixed upon a baseless vision - they of whom we hoped,
through our tears, that they live with Him - they 'are perished.' For,
if He be not risen, there is no resurrection; and, if He be not risen,
there is no forgiveness; and, if He be not risen, there is no Son of
God; and the world is desolate, and the heaven is empty, and the grave
is dark, and sin abides, and death is eternal. If Christ be dead, then
that awful vision is true, 'As I looked up into the immeasurable
heavens for the Divine Eye, it froze me with an empty, bottomless

There is nothing between us and darkness, despair, death, but that
ancient message, 'I declare unto you the Gospel which I preach, by
which ye are saved if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, how

Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 3 of 57)