We have already been told in general, that “many signs and wonders were done by the hands of the apostles;” and a particular instance is now given, not perhaps as the most remarkable in itself, but as one from which important consequences resulted. This was the case of that lame man whom we yesterday saw lying at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; a case notable from its undeniably miraculous character, and from the great notoriety which the circumstances involved. If the man’s calamity had been the result of casualty or disease, it might have seemed more easily cured; but it was known to every one that this man had been lame from the womb—that he never had walked. The mere fact that he was constantly “carried” to the station at the gate, shows that he could not in the least degree walk or stand. It was a case past the help of staves or crutches; for the man’s limbs lay as dead underneath him. Besides, he was taken “daily” to the most conspicuous of the temple gates, and having been there day after day for years, he must have been one of the persons best known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this tended farther to magnify the miracle, when he, whose person and condition were so familiarly known, appeared one afternoon at the hour of public prayer in the temple, “walking, and leaping, and praising God.”
The circumstances were simple but exceedingly impressive.
Peter and John were proceeding to the temple at the time of evening prayer, being the ninth hour, or three o’clock, when, as they passed, this lame mendicant asked alms of them, as he did of others. Regarding his disease as incurable, he had long since abandoned the hope of being healed, if he had ever entertained it; and all his thought was now for the sustentation of his miserable existence—although, perhaps, from the habit that use breeds, Note: “How use doth breed a habit in a man.”—Shakspeare. he had himself ceased to feel the misery, of his condition. It was Peter who answered this appeal. Earnestly regarding the poor man, the apostle, to fix his attention, said to him, “Look on us.” And doubtless the man looked very eagerly, in the hope of some valuable donation. But Peter, perceiving this, proceeded, in words which conveyed the assurance, that he and his friend would willingly relieve his wants, if in their power; but they also were poor: “Silver and gold have I none.” We may easily conceive that the cripple’s countenance fell at this, and he was about to turn from this barren sympathy with disappointment, and perhaps with some little resentment at the seeming mockery of a frustrated hope. But his attention was forcibly recalled by the words: “But such as I have, give I thee.” Then he had something to give after all; something which is not silver and gold might be as good. And indeed he had. He had that to bestow which was far more precious than aught that the wealthiest of those that passed by could give—far more rich in joy and blessing than he could have received, had
Affluent Fortune emptied all her horn”
into his cup. For Peter, in the concentrated energy of faith, cried aloud, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” This, at the first view, might have seemed an absurd command. “For the cripple might have readily objected, Why hast thou not first given me legs and feet? For this is a plain mock, when as thou biddest a man without feet to go.” Note: Calvin: Comment. on the Acts, in Fetherstone’s fine old translation, lately reproduced by the Calvin Translation Society. Edin. 1844. See under subheading of “Arise and Walk”. But the man understood the words aright; for they were interpreted to him by the tingling life that, as they were uttered, rushed triumphantly into his dead limbs. Peter also took him by the hand and helped him up; and forthwith he followed his deliverers into the temple, “walking, and leaping, and praising God.” He had never before set the sole of his foot upon the ground—never before put one foot before another, but now he walks and leaps. Perhaps the phrase may be meant to denote that the man’s first efforts at the unknown art of progression upon his feet, was a peculiar movement, partly leaping and partly walking, as would, we imagine, have been natural under the circumstances. His first impulse would probably be to move both feet at once, and this would be “leaping;” but finding this was wrong, he would try to move his limbs alternately, and this was “walking.” The leaping may, however, have been a spontaneous act expressive of his gladness, and calculated to satisfy himself, and to show others, that he was perfectly healed.
The man clung to the apostles, as they made their way to Solomon’s Porch; and the people recognizing his familiar face, and gathering from his bursts of gratitude and adoring praise what had taken place, ran together from all quarters to that spot. Peter took the opportunity of addressing them. Seeing how earnestly the congregation gazed on those who had performed a work so marvellous, the apostle disclaimed all inherent power or authority to do this deed. It then became necessary to tell by whose authority it had been accomplished—who, indeed, was the real author of this miracle. He told them it was Jesus, “the Holy One and the Just,” whom they had lately slain, and the deep guilt of whose death lay at their doors. It was by faith in his name that this man had been made whole. Not, as some imagine, the faith of the man, but the faith which Peter and John had exercised in believing that their Lord would listen to their voice. Seeing that he had made some impression by his first words, the apostle spoke more tenderly, and assured them there was still room for repentance, and that they might still secure their part in that Divine kingdom which Jesus had established. To Him all the prophets had borne witness, and He still stood ready to bless them—and how? “By turning them from their iniquities.”
While he was speaking, or when he had just finished, a report—probably vague and garbled—of these proceedings, and of the words of Peter, was carried to the Sanhedrin, then sitting in a chamber close by. The members of this high court had not expected to hear anything more of Jesus. He was dead; and his humble followers, deprived of their head, seemed little likely to revive his cause, or to give any ground of apprehension. No. They would doubtless disperse to their homes, resume their occupations, and look back upon all the past as a time of visions and dreams.
They were grievously mistaken! That which they deemed to be ended was only begun.
Probably the quietness of the disciples during the interval from the Crucifixion to the day of Pentecost, confirmed the Sanhedrin in the impression that, through their vigorous treatment of Jesus, they had put an end to a matter that had once seemed so threatening. The boldness, therefore, with which the apostles came forth, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, to proclaim the crucified Jesus as still the Son of God, still the Messiah, still the Hope of Israel, still the Redeemer of the world; to speak of his death as a murderous and fatal crime, calling for deep repentance; and to declare that He still lived and reigned—all this alarmed the Jewish rulers; and they stood observing with deep solicitude whereunto this matter would grow; fearful of committing any new mistake, but watchful for any ostensible ground of interference.
This the present occasion seemed to supply; and further delay seemed dangerous, as it was evident that a strong impression—somewhat analogous to that caused by the resurrection of Lazarus—had been made upon the minds of the people. They therefore, sent to apprehend Peter and John, having probably, to overawe the multitude, obtained the assistance of the Roman guard from the adjacent tower of Antonia.
It was already later than the time that the court of the Sanhedrin usually rose; and the members were not inclined to concede an extra or a prolonged sitting to the case of these poor fishermen. No: they might lie in prison till the next day, lest their examination should interfere with the dinner of these “reverend signiors.” In the morning, the two apostles, having had their first taste of the “imprisonments” to which they were afterwards so long and so often subjected, were brought up into the chamber Gazeth, where the Sanhedrin usually held its sittings.
And from this point it is worth while to note that the Sadducees appear as the chief opponents of the apostles and their cause, and not the Pharisees, as in the time of Jesus. The reason appears to be that the apostles gave prominence to the doctrine of the resurrection, as illustrated by the resurrection of their Lord—a doctrine hateful to the Sadducees, but very acceptable to the Pharisees. Hence we shall see the latter often inclining to take the part of the apostles at times when the Sadducees were most opposed to them. So on this occasion the Pharisees are not named; but the Sadducees are introduced as “being grieved, that they (the apostles) taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”
Those who had been strongly impressed even to conviction by the discourse of Peter the day before, were not less than five thousand; and of these there was no doubt a large and anxious number present to watch the course of the proceedings. It is not unlikely that the presence of a large audience manifestly favorable to the cause of the accused, may have had considerable influence upon the demeanor of the Sanhedrin.
On being questioned, Peter spoke boldly, to the same purport as in his sermon of the day before. Seeing that the apostles were men of the common class, the learned audience was amazed at the boldness, power, and knowledge with which they spoke; and seeing that the man who had been healed stood by, ready to extol and support by his testimony the true miracle that had been wrought, the court was not anxious to go into any evidence, but, upon conferring together, agreed that “a notable miracle” had undeniably been wrought. It was useless, they admitted, to say anything against it, or to press the inquiry further. The best course must be to smother the matter quietly, and put a final end to these unpleasant matters, by enjoining Peter and John under serious penalties “not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus.” But they found to their amazement that the apostles were not at all disposed to be liberated under the shackle of any such condition. Both answered, or perhaps Peter for both—“Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
So after some further threatening, Peter and John were liberated unconditionally, the rulers not finding any matter for which they could be punished, and perceiving that the popular feeling was decidedly with the apostles, on account of the miracle of mercy they had wrought upon a poor creature whose miserable condition had, for many long years, been constantly before their eyes. For the man was above forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been wrought, and we know that he had been a cripple from his birth.