THE Apostles were commissioned to promulgate a religion which, notwithstanding its intrinsic excellence, the world was ill disposed to receive. To the Jews, superstitiously attached to the ritual of Moses, and persuaded of its perpetuity, it appeared in the light of an impious heresy; a bold attempt to substitute the crude notions of an upstart teacher in the room of the oracles of heaven. On the part of the Gentiles, accustomed to pompous ceremonies, and the unrestrained license, in which the ancient systems of idolatry indulged their votaries, its pure doctrines, and simple institutions were calculated to excite sentiments of aversion and contempt. The prejudices, with which the gospel had to contend, were not likely to be removed by the character and qualifications of its first preachers. They were not men who could command respect by their talents and their rank. They were poor and illiterate; they had sat at the feet of no Jewish doctor, and frequented the school of no heathen philosopher. Coming from the lips of such men, the religion of Jesus must have presented itself under new disadvantages, in consequence of the awkward manner, and unpolished style, in which they may be conceived to have delivered it. Whence, then, did it succeed? What precautions were taken to prevent it from being rejected by universal consent? To the fishermen and publicans of Galilee, upon whom had devolved the important office of converting the world, Jesus communicated powers of an extraordinary kind, by which they were better qualified for their work than if they had possessed the treasures of human learning and eloquence. While, by the descent of the Holy Ghost, they were inspired with the knowledge of foreign languages, and could address every man in his own tongue upon the subject of their mission, they were enabled to perform such wonderful works as awakened the attention of the spectators, and were undoubted evidences of the divine authority of their doctrine. Incidental mention is made of their miracles towards the close of the preceding chapter. |Many wonders and signs were done by the Apostles.| In the passage now read, one is selected as a specimen; and as it was accompanied with several important circumstances, which throw light upon the general design of miracles, and the character of the Apostles, it deserves to be particularly considered.
The occasion of performing this miracle was a visit paid by two of the Apostles, Peter and John, to the temple, for the purpose of devotion. |Now Peter and John went up together into the temple, at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.| The Jews had stated hours of prayer, the third, the sixth, and the ninth, corresponding to nine in the morning, twelve at noon, and three in the afternoon, according to our division of the day. Two of those hours coincided with the appointed times of offering the daily sacrifices, when those pious Israelites, who resided in Jerusalem, resorted to the temple, that while the smoke ascended from the altar and the censers of the priests, they might present the nobler oblation of holy supplications and thanksgivings. The Apostles, in this instance, complied with the practice of their country, without any intention to bind Christians in succeeding ages, to fixed hours of religious worship, or to represent any particular place as rendering prayer more acceptable to God. Our Churches are quite different from the temple, which was a consecrated house, the chosen habitation of the God of Israel, it is probable, too, that they had another reason for going up to it at this time, namely, to embrace the opportunity of addressing the people, when a considerable number was assembled.
The person, upon whom the miracle was performed, was afflicted with a lameness, incurable by any means which human skill could employ; for it did not proceed from an accidental dislocation of the joints, which might have been reduced, nor from temporary debility, which would have been gradually removed as he regained his strength, but from an original defect, or derangement of the parts. He was therefore a fit subject for displaying a supernatural power with which the Apostles were endowed by their Master, because, among those who were acquainted with the case, there could be no question, if a cure was performed, whether it had been effected by ordinary or miraculous means. There was no room for discussion with respect to what nature itself could do, or what surprising effects might be produced upon the bodily frame, by the force of imagination, by sudden and violent emotions of fear and joy, or by hope calling forth some latent energy, and dissipating, as by magic influence, the langour or infirmity which had long oppressed the patient. The interposition of heaven would be too evident to be obscured by plausible theories and sophistical cavils. Even if his lameness might have been cured in infancy, it had now acquired an inveteracy which the most perfect art should have laboured in vain to subdue. His situation was well known to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; for being unable to work for his subsistence, and having no friends who could or would support him, he was carried daily to one of the gates of the temple, at which he lay imploring the compassion and charity of passengers. The place was well chosen, as it may be justly expected, that if our hearts shall ever be disposed to relieve the necessities of our brethren, it will be in those moments when they are awake to religious sentiments, and we are going to implore from our heavenly Father mercy to ourselves. |And a certain man, lame from his mother's womb, was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple, which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple.|
It is not a matter of any importance to inquire upon what gate of the temple the epithet Beautiful was bestowed. It was probably a gate of which Josephus informs us, that it surpassed all the rest in the richness of its materials, and the splendour of its ornaments: and, from the purpose for which it was chosen by the lame man, it seems to have been the principal entrance. The mention of its name, however, suggests some observations which it may be useful to state, upon the marks of truth to be found in the record of the miracles of the gospel. When a story is told in general terms, without date, or place, or any circumstance which an inquirer might lay hold of to ascertain its reality, there is reason to suspect it to be a fiction, or at least, that the writer knows nothing about it but by vague and uncertain tradition. But when an event is related with a detail of particulars, with a specification of the time when, and the spot on which, it happened, and of the witnesses who were present, we are induced to believe that the narrator was fully assured of its truth and considered it as capable of bearing the strictest investigation. There is always some truth, it has been remarked, where there is considerable particularity. If we apply this remark to the miracles recorded in the New Testament, we shall perceive a strong presumption at least of their credibility. The time when, and the persons upon whom, they were performed, are mentioned; the witnesses are described by their names, by their station, or by some other circumstance which sufficiently distinguishes them, and even the enemies of Jesus Christ and his religion are appealed to for the truth of the relation and all this was done, while the witnesses, whether friends or enemies, were alive.
In the present case, Luke does not content himself with saying, that on a certain occasion, the Apostles, somewhere in Judea, cured a lame man; but he points out the individual by such marks as are equivalent to giving his name. He is represented as a sort of public person, having been often seen by those who frequented the temple; the gate at which he was wont to lie is specified; and thus an opportunity was given to every reader at that time to bring the narrative to the test. No reason can be conceived why Luke has inserted, in a history so concise, a circumstance apparently of so little importance, as his being laid at the gate of the temple called Beautiful, but, his knowledge that what he was writing was true, and his willingness to subject it to the most scrupulous examination. Impostors do not write in this manner. They dread inquiry, and use every precaution to elude it.
The lame man begged alms from all the passengers, from the poor as well as from the rich; and perhaps he often found, that the former were more ready to give their mite than the latter to bestow their larger sums. The mitred priest might have passed him without notice, while the humble mechanic stopped to share with him the scanty earnings of his industry. There was nothing in the appearance of Peter and John to encourage him to expect much from them, for in their dress and manner they were evidently persons of the lowest rank; yet the cripple, as soon as he saw them, began the wonted tale of distress, entreating them, we may presume, to help him for the sake of the God whom they were about to adore. And as their attention was attracted by his piteous story, he hoped to see them draw forth from their little store something to relieve his necessities. His expectation was the more; excited by the words of the Apostles, requiring him to look upon them, which he construed as an intimation of their purpose to give alms; whereas their design was to fix his attention upon the, miracle which they intended to perform. |Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked an alms. And Peter fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.|
But how must the poor man have been surprised and disappointed on hearing the following declaration from Peter? |Silver and gold have I none.1| |What,| he might have said, |have you indeed no money? Why, then, did you excite my expectation? Might you not have passed on, as many others have done, without giving heed to my petition? Surely it is enough that misery is left to pine away in neglect; it is the wantonness of cruelty to pour into its cup the bitter ingredient of mockery.| |No;| said Peter, |I have neither silver nor gold; but I have something better to give; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.| This was a new kind of alms, of which the cripple had no expectation. All the physicians in Judea could not have imparted vigour to his limbs; and how could he presume, that these plain, uneducated men, were possessed of superior skill! But it is not by their own skill that they accomplish the cure; the miracle is performed in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. |Who is he?| might the lame man have replied. |Is he not the same person. who was lately crucified without the gates of the city; over whose fall the priests and rulers exulted; and whose name is never mentioned but in terms of reproach and execration?| But he had not leisure to reason in this manner; for no sooner had Peter commanded him to rise, than |he took him by the right hand, and lift him up; and immediately his feet and ankle-bones received strength.| Observe the simple yet authoritative manner in which the miracle is performed. No solemn preparations are made, no mystic ceremonies are used, which might work upon the imagination of the patient, and excite his reverence and admiration of the persons of the Apostles. By a few words, pronounced in a serious unaffected manner, the effect is produced. It is thus that divine power is exerted. It stands in no need of any artifice to set it off, of any ostentatious display to raise the wonder of the beholders. Its works are sufficient to awaken, by their own grandeur, the strongest emotions of astonishment and awe.
|Silver and gold have I none.| The apostles were poor when they connected themselves with Christ; and it was not in the hope of improving their circumstances that they became his disciples; for what could they expect from a Master who had not |where to lay his head?| They were, indeed, furnished with powers of an extraordinary nature, which, in the hands of persons of different views, would have been converted into means of accumulating wealth. Willingly, we may believe, would those have loaded them. with gifts, whom they rescued from the languor of sickness, and the agonies of pain; and those to whose arms they had brought back their beloved friends from the grave. But their Lord enjoined a disinterested exercise of their miraculous powers. |Freely ye have received, freely give.| The missionaries resembled the Author of our religion, who wrought many miracles to relieve the distresses of others, and sometimes to supply their bodily necessities, but never exerted his power to provide for his own wants, except in a single instance, when Peter was sent to draw a fish out of the sea, with a piece of money in its mouth, to be applied to the payment of tribute. There were other opportunities of acquiring riches, which they might have improved, if these had possessed any charms in their eyes. The new converts of Christianity, under the influence of the most generous love to their brethren, sold their possessions, and laid the price at the feet of the Apostles, who thus became sole trustees of large sums of money. Their characters were free from suspicion; and such was the confidence placed in their integrity, that no disciple would have thought it necessary to demand an account of their management. Here, then, was an occasion, which private interest, had any regard to it lurked in their breasts, would not have neglected. And how often has avarice, carefully concealing itself under a cloak of religion and disinterested zeal, secretly stretched out its hand to appropriate that wealth which it affected to despise? |My vow of poverty,| said a monk, |has brought me a revenue of a hundred thousand crowns.| How great do the Apostles appear! how high do they rise in the estimation of every man who can appreciate moral worth, when they hold up hands which no bribe had touched, no unlawful gain had polluted! Dispensing the treasures of the Church under the control of no superintendent, and without the fear of a reckoning, they could say with a clear conscience, |Silver and gold have we none.| Certainly, such men were sincere; it was from conviction that they preached the resurrection of Jesus; and if they be suspected of a design to deceive, there is an end to all confidence in human testimony.
I cannot pass on to the sequel of the story, without calling your attention, for a few moments, to a heathen miracle, which has been confidently brought forth to confront the miracles of the gospel. Let us compare it with the miracle now under consideration, that we may perceive on which side the strength of the evidence lies. It is related by a celebrated Roman historian, that when Vespasian was in Alexandria, a lame man applied to him for a cure, pretending that he had been directed to make the application by Serapis, one of the Gods of the Egyptians. The emperor at first treated the request with derision; but being urged by the earnest petitions of the man, and the flattery of his followers, he commanded some physicians to inquire into the case, who reported, that the lameness was such as might be removed by means of a due degree of force; and added, that if the attempt should not succeed, the laughter of the public would not be turned against him, but against the credulous sufferer. By these representations, Vespasian was induced to make a trial, and a cure immediately ensued. But what is there in this silly story, which can be reasonably opposed to the miracle before us! The performer was a mighty prince, by the terror of whose power any exact inquiry into the transaction was prevented. The spectators were his friends and partisans, who were eager to have his title to the throne confirmed by the Gods, and a superstitious populace, disposed implicitly to believe whatever reflected honour upon their favourite Deity. The lameness itself was doubtful. It was confessed by competent judges to be curable by ordinary means; and there is reason to suspect that it was a mere pretence. The whole seems to have been an imposture, contrived and carried on for political purposes. Is it necessary to point out the difference of the miracle which we are now considering? As the subject of it had been a cripple from his birth, there could be no deception in the case. The persons who performed the miracle were poor unfriended men; and the cause, which it was meant to serve, was unpopular. It was performed at the gate of the temple, which was under the jurisdiction of the enemies of Christ; and the priests and rulers were interested, for the credit of their religion, and the vindication of their conduct in putting our Saviour to death, to detect the fraud, if any had been practised. Every circumstance renders the one miracle suspicious; and every circumstance demonstrates the truth of the other. No person, I will venture to say, would think of bringing the former into competition with the latter, except one who is so blinded by his malice against the gospel, as to be incapable of distinguishing the degrees of evidence, or is determined to contend against it in spite of his convictions.
The following description is picturesque. |And he leaping up, stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.| The sacred historian writes without art; but by following nature, and drawing from the life, he has finished a painting, in which the emotions of the soul, in a moment of sudden joy, are represented with truth. Some men, however, can admire nothing of this nature, unless they find it in a heathen or a profane author; their taste is partial as well as their judgment. We see the lame man trying his new powers. He stands, he leaps, he walks, he follows his benefactors into the temple, and mingles with the demonstrations of his joy the praises of God, by whose power he had been cured. He felt a pleasure in the use of his limbs, which he could not conceal. His gestures and motions were those of a man, whom unexpected happiness has almost rendered frantic. Thus the words of the Prophet were literally fulfilled. |Then shall the lame man leap as an hart.|
He was instantly recognised by the people in the temple. |And all the people saw him walking and praising God. And they knew that it was he who sat for alms at the beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.| They were not long in suspense with respect to the persons by whom this unquestionable miracle was performed; for the man |held Peter and John,| with a design to point them out to the people, or, perhaps, in the present tumult of his mind, not well knowing what he did. A crowd was immediately collected, and gazed upon them with wonder and reverence, as men high in favour with heaven, who had rendered themselves worthy, by the piety of their lives, to be invested with extraordinary powers. This was a situation which would have been hazardous to most men, and from which few would have made their escape with safety. Admiration is apt to make us forget ourselves and our duty, and often stimulates vanity to advance the most arrogant pretensions and to act with extravagance. Almost upon every mind it exercises some degree of influence; but it operates, with peculiar force, upon those to whom it is new, whose condition in life seemed to preclude them from the hope of distinction, and who find themselves suddenly brought out of obscurity to be the objects of public notice and applause. This was exactly the temptation to which the apostles were exposed. Men, who had spent the former part of their lives in a humble station, and in manual labour, are looked upon as beings of a superior order; and the wondering populace are disposed to give them all the glory of the miracle. Had there been any latent spark of vanity in their bosoms, the breath of admiration would have kindled it into a flame. But they, who had already resisted the allurements of avarice, now triumph over the charms of ambition. Instead of appropriating the respect and homage of the multitude, they transfer them to their Master. |And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power, or holiness, we had made this man to walk?| He repels the supposition that they had performed this miracle by their own power, or had obtained power to perform it by their holiness. Their office was merely ministerial; and it was not in consideration of their personal merit, or with an intention to exalt them in the eyes of others, that authority had been delegated to them. Miraculous powers were not conferred for show, or as the reward of obedience; but solely for the purpose of verifying a divine commission, or attesting a revelation from heaven.
The design of the present miracle is expressed by the Apostle himself. |The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers hath glorified his Son Jesus: whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of Life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. And his name, through faith in his name, hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know; yea, the faith which is by him, hath given him this perfect soundness, in the presence of you all.| Jesus of Nazareth lately appeared among them, calling himself the Messiah, and the Son of God. His claims were not admitted by the Jewish nation. They were opposed with violence; and the contest issued in his death, under the imputed crimes of imposture and blasphemy. God had interposed to vindicate the character of Christ, and had reversed the sentence of his unjust and impious judges, by raising him from the dead. It was to prove the truth of this event, to attest it in such a manner, that those who had not seen it might have sufficient ground to believe it, that the power of working miracles was granted to the Apostles. They did not, therefore, perform them in their own name, nor by a simple invocation of the God of Israel, but in the name of Jesus; pointing him out as the Author of those wonderful works, the source of the power by which they were effected. It was in this way that the use of his limbs was restored to the lame man. Was it not an obvious inference from this view of the case, that Jesus of Nazareth was the very person whom he had announced himself to be, the expected Saviour of Israel? Had he been still in the state of the dead, he could have imparted no extraordinary powers to his disciples; nor would there have been more virtue in his name than in that of any other deceased malefactor. It being manifest, then, that he had triumphed over death, and was invested with sovereign authority, the house of Israel were bound to acknowledge him as the Messiah, and to embrace his religion. Thus the Apostles acted the part of faithful servants, concerned only for the glory of their Master, and willing to retire from view, that he alone might be contemplated and admired. |Look not earnestly on us; but consider Jesus, whom the God of your fathers hath glorified.|
But why does Peter, when addressing the Jews on the subject of this miracle, introduce the mention of their crime, mixing reproaches with his reasoning? This is not the manner of an artful deceiver. He would have soothed and flattered his audience, and by avoiding every offensive term, by using soft and palliating language, would have endeavoured to remove their prejudices, and to render them favourably disposed. What but a conviction of the truth, and firm confidence in the patronage of heaven, could have induced the Apostle to bring forward a subject so unwelcome and ungrateful to the feelings of his hearers? |Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, but ye delivered him up, and pursued him with unrelenting hostility, against the remonstrances of his judge: he was the Prince of Life, but ye killed him.| It was not merely from zeal for his beloved Master, that this unseasonable and dangerous honesty, as politicians would have called it, proceeded, but from a concern for the best interests of his countrymen. They were chargeable with a crime of the most aggravated nature, of which their consciences did not at present accuse them, because they were unacquainted with the real character of him whom they had nailed to the cross. It was the wish of Peter to make them sensible of the atrocity of that action, to apprize them of the danger to which they were exposed, and, while they trembled at the thought of divine vengeance, to conduct them for safety to that blood which they had impiously shed. And what fitter opportunity could he have chosen for his purpose than the present, when they were astonished at the miracle wrought in the name of the crucified Jesus, which demonstrated, that, although men had rejected and condemned him, he was the object of the approbation of God? The hearts of the Jews were in a state susceptible of the feelings of remorse and fear. Now, their guilt could be held up to view, with the best prospect of alarming their consciences; and it might be hoped, that an exhortation to repentance would be tendered with effect. Accordingly, it appears that Peter did not speak to them in vain; for we are informed, in the next chapter, that | many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.|
And now, my brethren, since the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has glorified his Son; since he has testified his approbation of him by many |infallible proofs,| let us consider, that we are under an obligation to embrace his gospel with the full consent of our minds. Our persuasion of its truth should be in proportion to the evidence. Why were so many miracles performed, and for what reason were they recorded, but that they who saw them, and we who read the account, should believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? That a man shall be savingly convinced of the truth of the gospel by external evidence, it would betray ignorance of the Scriptures to affirm; but that evidence is sufficient to produce a rational conviction of the divine origin of Christianity, to prove that the gospel is indeed the testimony of God, which ought to be believed, and to establish our faith against the suggestions of Satan, and the objections of his coadjutors among men. Let us pray, that the account of the evidence with which our religion was confirmed, may have its due effect upon our minds; and that what has been fully attested, we may be disposed to receive with an undoubting assent.
Let us learn from the passage now explained, to join together prayers and alms, that both may come up as a memorial before God; to do good to our brethren with the means which we possess, distributing our worldly substance to relieve their necessities, or bestowing upon them our sympathy, attendance, consolations, and instructions, in imitation of the Apostles, who gave what they had; and, finally, to ascribe to Jesus Christ the glory of all our qualifications and good actions, never daring to arrogate to ourselves any portion of the praise, or to thrust ourselves forward as objects of notice and commendation, but endeavouring to fix our own attention, and that of others, upon his grace, which has |wrought all our works in us.| Do we profess firmly to believe, and cordially to embrace the gospel? It is only by submitting to its institutions, by obeying its laws, by displaying its spirit in our temper and conduct, that we can prove our regard to it to be sincere. It will be evident that we have received the truth in love, when we imitate the noble examples which are set before us, and above all, that of our Redeemer; when we cultivate the dispositions which our religion requires; when devotion, humility, and charity, exert their united influence upon our hearts. Let us then go forth and practise in the world what we assemble to learn in the Church. In the present age, when the distinguishing truths of the gospel are boldly called in question, and its evidence is rejected by many as defective, let us come forward as its friends, not only by argumentation, which often fails to convince, because the heart is indisposed, but by exhibiting in our lives its amiable character, by cultivating those mild virtues which it inspires. The Apostles enforced their instructions by example, made proselytes by the purity of their manners and their deeds of beneficence, as well as by their miracles. Let us do likewise; and while religion shall be exhibited in its native excellence, and shown to be worthy of its author Jesus Christ, and of God, who is said to have patronised it, in a visible manner, at its first publication, we shall enjoy the esteem of the wise and good, the testimony of conscience in our favour, and, what is best of all, the approbation of our Saviour and Lord. |Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.|