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miraculous power, not merely because He wrought miracles when on earth,
but because from heaven He gave the power of which Peter was but the
channel. Now it seems to me that in these emphatic and singularly
reduplicated words of the Apostle there are two or three very important
lessons which I offer for your consideration.

I. The first is the power of the Name.

Now the Name of which Peter is speaking is not the collocation of
syllables which are sounded 'Jesus Christ.' His hearers were familiar
with the ancient and Eastern method of regarding names as very much
more than distinguishing labels. They are, in the view of the Old
Testament, attempts at a summary description of things by their
prominent characteristics. They are condensed definitions. And so the
Old Testament uses the expression, the 'Name' of God, as equivalent to
'that which God is manifested to be.' Hence, in later days - and there
are some tendencies thither even in Scripture - in Jewish literature
'the Name' came to be a reverential synonym for God Himself. And there
are traces that this peculiar usage with regard to the divine Name was
beginning to shape itself in the Church with reference to the name of
Jesus, even at that period in which my text was spoken. For instance,
in the fifth chapter we read that the Apostles 'departed from the
council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the
Name,' and we find at a much later date that missionaries of the Gospel
are described by the Apostle John as going forth 'for the sake of the
Name.'

The name of Christ, then, is the representation or embodiment of that
which Christ is declared to be for us men, and it is that Name, the
totality of what He is manifested to be, in which lies all power for
healing and for strengthening. The Name, that is, the whole Christ, in
His nature, His offices, His work, His Incarnation, His Life, His
Death, Resurrection, Session at the right hand of God - it is this
Christ whose Name made that man strong, and will make us strong.
Brethren, let us remember that, while fragments of the Name will have
fragmentary power, as the curative virtue that resides in any substance
belongs to the smallest grain of it, if detached from the mass - whilst
fragments of the Name of Christ have power, thanks be to Him! so that
no man can have even a very imperfect and rudimentary view of what
Jesus Christ is and does, without getting strength and healing in
proportion to the completeness of his conception, yet in order to
realise all that He can be and do, a man must take the whole Christ as
He is revealed.

The Early Church had a symbol for Jesus Christ, a fish, to which they
were led because the Greek word for a fish is made up of the initials
of the words which they conceived to be the Name. And what was it?
'_Jesus Christ_, _God's Son_, _Saviour_'; _Jesus_, humanity; _Christ_,
the apex of Revelation, the fulfilment of prophecy, the Anointed
Prophet, Priest, and King; _Son of God_, the divine nature: and all
these, the humanity, the Messiahship, the divinity, found their sphere
of activity in the last name, which, without them, would in its fulness
have been impossible - _Saviour_. He is not such a Saviour as He may be
to each of us, unless our conception of the Name grasps these three
truths: His humanity, His Messiahship, His divinity. 'His Name has made
this man strong.'

II. Notice how the power of the Name comes to operate.

Now, if you will observe the language of my text, you will note that
Peter says, as it would appear, the same thing twice over: 'His Name,
through faith in His Name, hath made this man strong.' And then, as if
he were saying something else, he adds what seems to be the same thing:
'Yea! the faith which is by Him hath given him this perfect soundness.'

Now, note that in the first of these two statements nothing appears
except the 'man,' the 'Name,' and 'faith' I take it, though of course
it may be questionable, that that clause refers to the man's faith, and
that we have in it the intentional exclusion of the human workers, and
are presented with the only two parties really concerned - at the one
end the Name, at the other end 'this man made strong.' And the link of
connection between the two in this clause is faith - that is, the man's
trust. But then, if we come to the next clause, we find that although
Peter has just previously disclaimed all merit in the cure, yet there
is a sense in which some one's faith, working as from without, _gave_
to the man 'this perfect soundness.' And it seems very natural to me to
understand that here, where human faith is represented as being, in
some subordinate sense, the bestower of the healing which really the
Name had bestowed, it is the faith of the human miracle-worker or
medium which is referred to. Peter's faith did give, but Peter only
gave what he had received through faith. And so let all the praise be
given to the water, and none to the cup.

Whether that be a fair interpretation of the words of my text, with
their singular and apparently meaningless tautology or no, at all
events the principle which is involved in the explanation is one that I
wish to dwell upon briefly now; and that is, that in order for the
Name, charged and supercharged with healing and strengthening power as
it is, to come into operation, there must be a twofold trust.

The healer, the medium of healing, must have faith in the Name. Yes! of
course. In all regions the first requisite, the one indispensable
condition, of a successful propagandist, is enthusiastic confidence in
what he promulgates. 'That man will go far,' said a cynical politician
about one of his rivals; 'he believes every word he says.' And that is
the condition always of getting other people to believe us. Faith is
contagious; men catch from other people's tongues the accent of
conviction. If one wants to enforce any opinion upon others, the first
condition is that he shall be utterly self-oblivious; and when he is
manifestly saying, as the Apostles in this context did, 'Do not fix
your eyes on us, as though we were doing anything,' then hearts will
bow before him, as the trees of the wood are bowed by the wind.

If that is true in all regions, it is eminently true in regard to
religion. For what we need there most is not to be instructed, but to
be impressed. Most of us have, lying dormant in the bedchamber and
infirmary of our brains, convictions which only need to be awakened to
revolutionise our lives. Now one of the most powerful ways of waking
them is contact with any man in whom they are awake. So all successful
teachers and messengers of Jesus Christ have had this characteristic in
common, however unlike each other they have been. The divergences of
temperament, of moods, of point of view, of method of working which
prevailed even in the little group of Apostles, and broadly
distinguished Paul from Peter, Peter from James, and Paul and Peter and
James from John, are only types of what has been repeated ever since.
Get together the great missionaries of the Cross, and you would have
the most extraordinary collection of miscellaneous idiosyncrasies that
the world ever saw, and they would not understand each other, as some
of them wofully misunderstood each other when here together. But there
was one characteristic in them all, a flaming earnestness of belief in
the power of the Name. And so it did not matter much, if at all, what
their divergences were. Each of them was fitted for the Master's use.

And so, brethren, here is the reason - I do not say the only reason, but
the main one, and that which most affects us - for the slow progress,
and even apparent failure, of Christianity. It has fallen into the
hands of a Church that does not half believe its own Gospel. By reason
of formality and ceremonial and sacerdotalism and a lazy kind of
expectation that, somehow or other, the benefits of Christ's love can
come to men apart from their own personal faith in Him, the Church has
largely ceased to anticipate that great things can be done by its
utterance of the Name. And if you have, I do not say ministers, or
teachers, or official proclaimers, or Sunday-school teachers, or the
like, but I say if you have a _Church_, that is honeycombed with doubt,
and from which the strength and flood-tide of faith have in many cases
ebbed away, why, it may go on uttering its formal proclamations of the
Name till the Day of Judgment, and all that will come of it will
be - 'The man in whom the devils were, leaped upon them, and overcame
them, and said' - as he had a good right to say - 'Jesus I know, and Paul
I know, but who are ye?' You cannot kindle a fire with snowballs. If
the town crier goes into a quiet corner of the marketplace and rings
his bell apologetically, and gives out his message in a whisper, it is
small wonder if nobody listens. And that is the way in which too many
so-called Christian teachers and communities hold forth the Name, as if
begging pardon of the world for being so narrow and old-fashioned as to
believe in it still.

And no less necessary is faith on the other side. The recipient must
exercise trust. This lame man, no doubt, like the other that Paul
looked at in a similar case, had faith to be healed. That was the
length of his tether. He believed that he was going to have his legs
made strong, and they were made strong accordingly. If he had believed
more, he would have got more. Let us hope that he did get more, because
he believed more, at a later day. But in the meantime the Apostles'
faith was not enough to cure him; and it is not enough for you that
Jesus Christ should be standing with all His power at your elbow, and
that, earnestly and enthusiastically, some of Christ's messengers may
press upon you the acceptance of Him as a Saviour. He is of no good in
the world to you, and never will be, unless you have the personal faith
that knits you to Him.

It cannot be otherwise. Depend upon it, if Jesus Christ could save
every one without terms and conditions at all, He would be only too
glad to do it. But it cannot be done. The nature of His work, and the
sort of blessings that He brings by His work, are such as that it is an
impossibility that any man should receive them unless he has that trust
which, beginning with the acceptance by the understanding of Christ as
Saviour, passes on to the assent of the will, and the outgoing of the
heart, and the yielding of the whole nature to Him. How can a truth do
any good to any one who does not believe in it? How is it possible
that, if you do not take a medicine, it will work? How can you expect
to see, unless you open your eyes? How do you propose to have your
blood purified, if you do not fill your lungs with air? Is it of any
use to have gas-fittings in your house, if they are not connected with
the main? Will a water tap run in your sculleries, if there is no pipe
that joins it with the source of supply? My dear friend, these rough
illustrations are only approximations to the absolute impossibility
that Christ can help, heal, or save any man without the man's personal
faith. 'Whosoever believeth' is no arbitrary limitation, but is
inseparable from the very nature of the salvation given.

III. And now, lastly, note the effects of the power of the Name.

The Apostle puts in two separate clauses what, in the case in hand, was
really one thing - 'hath made this man strong,' and 'hath given him
perfect soundness.' Ah! we can part the two, cannot we? There is the
disease, the disease of an alienated heart, of a perverted will, of a
swollen self, all of which we need to have cured and checked before we
can do right. And there is weakness, the impotence to do what is good,
'how to perform I find not,' and we need to be strengthened as well as
cured. There is only one thing that will do these two, and that is that
Christ's power, ay, and Christ's own life, should pass, as it will pass
if we trust Him, into our foulness and precipitate all the
impurity - into our weakness and infuse strength. 'A reed shaken with
the wind,' and without substance or solidity to resist, may be placed
in what is called a petrifying well, and, by the infiltration of stony
substance into its structure, may be turned into a rigid mass, like a
little bar of iron. So, if Christ comes into my poor, weak, tremulous
nature, there will be an infiltration into the very substance of my
being of a present power which will make me strong.

My brother, you and I need, first and foremost, the healing, and then
the strength-giving power, which we never find in its completeness
anywhere but in Christ, and which we shall always find in Him.

And now notice, Jesus Christ does not make half cures - 'this _perfect_
soundness.' If any man, in contact with Him, is but half delivered from
his infirmities and purged from his sins, it is not because Christ's
power is inadequate, but because his own faith is defective.

Christ's cures should be visible to all around. A man's own testimony
is not the most satisfactory. Peter appeals to the bystanders. 'You
have seen him lying here for years, a motionless lump of mendicancy, at
the Temple gate. Now you see him walking and leaping and praising God.
Is it a cure, or is it not?' You professing Christians, would you like
to stand that test, to empanel a jury of people that have no sympathy
with your religion, in order that they might decide whether you were
healed and strengthened or not? It is a good thing for us when the
world bears witness that Jesus Christ's power has come into us, and
made us what we are.

And so, dear friends, I lay all these thoughts on your hearts. Christ's
gift is amply sufficient to deliver us from all evils of weakness,
sickness, incapacity: to endue us with all gifts of spiritual and
immortal strength. But, while the limit of what Christ gives is His
boundless wealth, the limit of what you possess is your faith. The
rainfall comes down in the same copiousness on rock and furrow, but it
runs off the one, having stimulated no growth and left no blessing, and
it sinks into the other and quickens every dormant germ into life which
will one day blossom into beauty. We are all of us either rock or soil,
and which we are depends on the reality, the firmness, and the force of
our faith in Christ. He Himself has laid down the principle on which He
bestows His gifts when He says, 'According to thy faith be it unto
thee!'



THE SERVANT OF THE LORD

'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.' - ACTS iii.
26.

So ended Peter's bold address to the wondering crowd gathered in the
Temple courts around him, with his companion John and the lame man whom
they had healed. A glance at his words will show how extraordinarily
outspoken and courageous they are. He charges home on his hearers the
guilt of Christ's death, unfalteringly proclaims His Messiahship, bears
witness to His Resurrection and Ascension, asserts that He is the End
and Fulfilment of ancient revelation, and offers to all the great
blessings that Christ brings. And this fiery, tender oration came from
the same lips which, a few weeks before, had been blanched with fear
before a flippant maidservant, and had quivered as they swore, 'I know
not the man!'

One or two simple observations may be made by way of introduction.
'Unto you _first_' - 'first' implies second; and so the Apostle has
shaken himself clear of the Jews' narrow belief that Messias belonged
to them only, and is already beginning to contemplate the possibility
of a transference of the kingdom of God to the outlying Gentiles. 'God
having raised up His Son' - that expression has no reference, as it
might at first seem, to the fact of the Resurrection; but is employed
in the same sense as, and indeed looks back to, previous words. For he
had just quoted Moses' declaration, 'A prophet shall the Lord your God
raise up unto you from your brethren.' So it is Christ's equipment and
appointment for His office, and not His Resurrection, which is spoken
about here. 'His Son Jesus' - the Revised Version more accurately
translates 'His Servant Jesus.' I shall have a word or two to say about
that translation presently, but in the meantime I simply note the fact.

With this slight explanation let us now turn to two or three of the
aspects of the words before us.

I. First, I note the extraordinary transformation which they indicate
in the speaker.

I have already referred to his cowardice a very short time before. That
transformation from a coward to a hero he shared in common with his
brethren. On one page we read, 'They all forsook Him and fled.' We turn
over half a dozen leaves and we read: 'They departed from the council,
rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.'
What did that?

Then there is another transformation no less swift, sudden, and
inexplicable, except on one hypothesis. All through Christ's life the
disciples had been singularly slow to apprehend the highest aspects of
His teachings, and they had clung with a strange obstinacy to their
narrow Pharisaic and Jewish notions of the Messiah as coming to
establish a temporal dominion, in which Israel was to ride upon the
necks of the subject nations. And now, all at once, this Apostle, and
his fellows with him, have stepped from these puerile and narrow ideas
out into this large place, that he and they recognise that the Jew had
no exclusive possession of Messiah's blessings, and that these
blessings consisted in no external kingdom, but lay mainly and
primarily in His 'turning every one of you from your iniquities.' At
one time the Apostles stood upon a gross, low, carnal level, and in a
few weeks they were, at all events, feeling their way to, and to a
large extent had possession of, the most spiritual and lofty aspects of
Christ's mission. What did that?

Something had come in between which wrought more, in a short space,
than all the three years of Christ's teaching and companionship had
done for them. What was it? Why did they not continue in the mood which
two of them are reported to have been in, after the Crucifixion, when
they said - 'It is all up! we trusted that this had been He,' but the
force of circumstances has shivered the confidence into fragments, and
there is no such hope left for us any longer. What brought them out of
that Slough of Despond?

I would put it to any fair-minded man whether the psychological facts
of this sudden maturing of these childish minds, and their sudden
change from slinking cowards into heroes who did not blanch before the
torture and the scaffold, are accountable, if you strike out the
Resurrection, the Ascension, and Pentecost? It seems to me that, for
the sake of avoiding a miracle, the disbelievers in the Resurrection
accept an impossibility, and tie themselves to an intellectual
absurdity. And I for one would rather believe in a miracle than believe
in an uncaused change, in which the Apostles take exactly the opposite
course from that which they necessarily must have taken, if there had
not been the facts that the New Testament asserts that there were,
Christ's rising again from the dead, and Ascension.

Why did not the Church share the fate of John's disciples, who
scattered like sheep without a shepherd when Herod chopped off their
master's head? Why did not the Church share the fate of that abortive
rising, of which we know that when Theudas, its leader, was slain,
'all, as many as believed on him, came to nought.' Why did these men
act in exactly the opposite way? I take it that, as you cannot account
for Christ except on the hypothesis that He is the Son of the Highest,
you cannot account for the continuance of the Christian Church for a
week after the Crucifixion, except on the hypothesis that the men who
composed it were witnesses of His Resurrection, and saw Him floating
upwards and received into the Shechinah cloud and lost to their sight.
Peter's change, witnessed by the words of my text - these bold and
clear-sighted words - seems to me to be a perfect monstrosity, and
incapable of explication, unless he saw the risen Lord, beheld the
ascended Christ, was touched with the fiery Spirit descending on
Pentecost, and so 'out of weakness was made strong,' and from a babe
sprang to the stature of a man in Christ.

II. Look at these words as setting forth a remarkable view of Christ.

I have already referred to the fact that the word rendered 'son' ought
rather to be rendered 'servant.' It literally means 'child' or 'boy,'
and appears to have been used familiarly, just in the same fashion as
we use the same expression 'boy,' or its equivalent 'maid,' as a more
gentle designation for a servant. Thus the kindly centurion, when he
would bespeak our Lord's care for his menial, calls him his 'boy'; and
our Bible there translates rightly 'servant.'

Again, the designation is that which is continually employed in the
Greek translation of the Old Testament as the equivalent for the
well-known prophetic phrase 'the Servant of Jehovah,' which, as you
will remember, is characteristic of the second portion of the
prophecies of Isaiah. And consequently we find that, in a quotation of
Isaiah's prophecy in the Gospel of Matthew, the very phrase of our text
is there employed: 'Behold My Servant whom I uphold!'

Now, it seems as if this designation of our Lord as God's Servant was
very familiar to Peter's thoughts at this stage of the development of
Christian doctrine. For we find the name employed twice in this
discourse - in the thirteenth verse, 'the God of our Fathers hath
glorified His Servant Jesus,' and again in my text. We also find it
twice in the next chapter, where Peter, offering up a prayer amongst
his brethren, speaks of 'Thy Holy Child Jesus,' and prays 'that signs
and wonders may be done through the name' of that 'Holy Child.' So,
then, I think we may fairly take it that, at the time in question, this
thought of Jesus as the 'Servant of the Lord' had come with especial
force to the primitive Church. And the fact that the designation never
occurs again in the New Testament seems to show that they passed on
from it into a deeper perception than even it attests of who and what
this Jesus was in relation to God.

But, at all events, we have in our text the Apostle looking back to
that dim, mysterious Figure which rises up with shadowy lineaments out
of the great prophecy of 'Isaiah,' and thrilling with awe and wonder,
as he sees, bit by bit, in the Face painted on the prophetic canvas,
the likeness of the Face into which he had looked for three blessed
years, that now began to tell him more than they had done whilst their
moments were passing.

'The Servant of the Lord' - that means, first of all, that Christ, in
all which He does, meekly and obediently executes the Father's will. As
He Himself said, 'I come not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him
that sent Me.' But it carries us further than that, to a point about
which I would like to say one word now; and that is, the clear
recognition that the very centre of Jewish prophecy is the revelation
of the personality of the Christ. Now, it seems to me that present
tendencies, discussions about the nature and limits of inspiration,
investigations which, in many directions, are to be welcomed and are
fruitful as to the manner of origin of the books of the Old Testament,
and as to their collection into a Canon and a whole - that all this new
light has a counterbalancing disadvantage, in that it tends somewhat to
obscure in men's minds the great central truth about the revelation of
God in Israel - viz. that it was all progressive, and that its goal and
end was Jesus Christ. 'The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of
prophecy,' and however much we may have to learn - and I have no doubt
that we have a great deal to learn, about the composition, the
structure, the authorship, the date of these ancient books - I take
leave to say that the unlearned reader, who recognises that they all
converge on Jesus Christ, has hold of the clue of the labyrinth, and
has come nearer to the marrow of the books than the most learned
investigators, who see all manner of things besides in them, and do not
see that 'they that went before cried, saying, Hosanna! Blessed be He
that cometh in the name of the Lord!'

And so I venture to commend to you, brethren - not as a barrier against
any reverent investigation, not as stopping any careful study - this as
the central truth concerning the ancient revelation, that it had, for
its chief business, to proclaim the coming of the Servant of Jehovah,



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 9 of 57)