Gateway to the Classics: St. Mark by J. Paterson Smyth
St. Mark by  J. Paterson Smyth


Fighting against God

Acts V. 17, VI. 18.

"The rulers take counsel together against the Lord."

§ 1. The Secret of Strength

Title of Lesson to-day? Is it any use for people to "fight against God"? Who always wins in the end? Who fighting against God here? Why Sadducees? (See Lesson XX.) First thing done? (v.  18). Did it succeed? Why not? Could not keep these enthusiastic preachers quiet. Why? Filled with Holy Ghost, and therefore filled with love to their Master and enthusiasm for His work. Next thing tried? (v.  28). Was it any use? (v.  29).

Think of the wonderful power and courage that comes from feeling oneself in the right! Here were, on the one hand, rulers and priests of high position, backed up by their bands of soldiers and police; and on the other hand a few unarmed, uneducated common men. Which conquered? Why? Obedience to God and Duty and Righteousness is the great secret of power over others. If you are sure that you are in the right and have the approval of God, you have an inward feeling of courage and strength that enables you to dare all things. Not peculiar to Peter and Apostles. All brave, true men, living for God and Right, have such courage and strength.

§ 2. Attitudes towards Religion

Question closely on vv.  33-42. Interesting to remark that probably Paul was at this time one of Gamaliel's pupils (Acts xxii. 3). For the taxing (v.  37) refer to Luke ii. 1. Here are three different attitudes—(1) Enemies, (2) Neutrals, (3) Friends. Which in each class? So in the world today.

(1) Men opposed to religion. Some wilfully, because they hate goodness. Many not wilfully—men brought up from childhood in unbelief, and with wrong thoughts of religion and of Christ. Will God blame both equally? (2) Neutrals—like Gamaliel. Cold, calculating men, not very enthusiastic for or against. He gives wise, cool advice to Sanhedrin. But he did not help religion much. Many like him. "Let it alone," they say; "don't bother about it, don't help it, and don't hinder it. If it succeed, let it succeed. If it fail, let it fail." And many add in their hearts what perhaps Gamaliel would not add—"We have something else to think of—our business and our newspapers and our amusements, etc. Let religion shift for itself without us." Is that a good attitude? (3) Friends—who are they? All who go to church and Sunday-school? No. What verse describes them? (v.  41). Those who are so determined on the side of the Kingdom of God that they will do or bear anything for Christ's sake, "rejoicing that they are counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." Our Lord tells who are his friends. "Ye are my friends if ye"? (John xv. 14).

§ 3. Evil Turned to Good

Read ch.  vi. 1-6. Remember last Lesson about community of goods. What did we think about the good of it? Was there any danger of evil? What? See it beginning here. Satan "fighting against God." It frequently happens that indiscriminate giving of alms breeds much mischief. Every clergyman in his parish knows of such. Idle people grumbling. "We don't get enough. Others get more. You are unfair. You are showing favouritism," etc. How saddening to the Apostles and the other noble, generous-hearted men and women who were giving up all for the sake of Christ and the brethren. But so it will be always in this poor, evil world. We should take courage that no new thing has happened unto us. Even in paradise Satan got admission. Even after Pentecost evil crept in.

The Apostles of course were at the head of all, and responsible for all. Think of them longing to keep their souls fitted for their highest work—Preaching, and Prayer, and Sacraments, and yet worried continually by this wretched grumbling about bread and money and clothing, and such like. What did they propose? (v.  3). Were they wise in this? Yes. Why? Is there such need in our day? Yes, very often. Sometimes the clergyman has not sufficient time for close thought and study to prepare good sermons because parish charities and building and all sorts of secular cares are put on him, which the lay people ought to look after. Think of that when you grow up.

But God wrought good out of the evil. How many orders of clergy are there in the church to-day? Yes. Bishops, priests, and deacons. So they were in the early Church. The Apostles were the bishops; the clergy ordained by them were the priests or presbyters. And here we have the deacons, originally, you see, appointed to "serve tables," look after poor, etc. So now, at ordination of a deacon, the bishop tells him that his duty is "to search for the sick, poor, and impotent people in the parish," etc. (See Ordination Service.) Who chose the deacons? But who ordained them? (vv.  5, 6). Yes. The choice lay with the people. But the ordaining them and sending them forth to minister lay with the Apostles, to whom the power was committed by our Lord. Ever since there have been these three orders of ministers in the Church. Our own old Church gives to the laity a great deal of power and choice in the selecting of their parish clergy and in the choosing even of their bishops. But the right of commissioning  those chosen ones rests entirely with the bishops. They only have the power of making a deacon, ordaining a priest, or consecrating a bishop; so that the constitution of our Church today is as nearly as can be the same as that of the early Church.

§ 4. Fighting against God

Now, see the result of the "fighting against God" and against the spread of His Church (v. 41, 42; vi. 7). What an encouragement to think that God's eternal purposes cannot be defeated by men's opposition.

Ever watched tide coming in? Could you stop it? Build a wall of sand to stop it—what happens? Soon it meets a rock and beats against it. Does this stop it? No; in a few minutes the rock is under water, and the tide sweeps on. Its waves rush in on the strand, but they seem to go back all the way every time. Do they? Sometimes three or four waves don't quite reach as far as the one before them. It seems as if tide were getting tired, going to give up defeated. Does it do so? No. In a moment more it sweeps on again with renewed power, and never fails to fulfil its course.

So with Church of Christ—the kingdom of God on earth. Think of its tide coming in through all the ages—has it had hindrances? Here is one in this chapter. Chapter after chapter we find them in this early history. Did they stop its progress? No. First, only 120 disciples. Then opposition. Then we find number in a few weeks 3,000. More opposition. Then number raised to 5,000. (Here again see vi. 7.) So through all the ages, hindrances—unbelief—false religions—persecutions—coldness and deadness of Christians—schisms and sects splitting up the Church, all seem to be checking the tide and delaying it. Are they? Yes. But can they finally put back the tide? No. Like the tide sweeping in from the ocean, so the great tide of God's purposes sweeps on till "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

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