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THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - Chapter 2 - Verse 37

Verse 37. Now when they heard this. When they heard this declaration of Peter, and this proof that Jesus was the Messiah. There was no fanaticism in his discourse; it was cool, close, pungent reasoning. He proved to them the truth of what he was saying, and thus prepared the way for this effect.

They were pricked in their heart. The word translated were pricked, katenughsan, is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly denotes to pierce or penetrate with a needle, lancet, or sharp instrument; and then to pierce with grief, or acute pain of any kind. It answers precisely to our word compunction. It implies also the idea of sudden as well as acute grief. In this case it means that they were suddenly and deeply affected with anguish and alarm at what Peter had said. The causes of their grief may have been these:

(1.) Their sorrow that the Messiah had been put to death by his own countrymen.

(2.) Their deep sense of guilt in having clone this. There would be mingled here a remembrance of ingratitude, and a consciousness that they had been guilty of murder of the most aggravated and horrid kind, that of having killed their own Messiah.

(3.) The fear of his wrath. He was still alive, exalted to be their Lord, and entrusted with all power. They were afraid of his vengeance; they were conscious that they deserved it; and they supposed that they were exposed to it.

(4.) What they had done could not be undone. The guilt remained; they could not wash it out. They had imbrued their hands in the blood of innocence; and the guilt of that oppressed their souls. This expresses the usual feelings which sinners have when they are convicted of sin.

Men and brethren. This was an expression denoting affectionate earnestness. Just before this they mocked the disciples, and charged them with being filled with new wine, Ac 2:13. They now treated them with respect and confidence. The views which sinners have of Christians and Christian ministers are greatly changed when they are under conviction for sin. Before that, they may deride and oppose them; then, they are glad to be taught by the obscurest Christian—and even cling to a minister of the gospel as if he could save them by his own power.

What shall we do? What shall we do to avoid the wrath of this crucified and exalted Messiah? They were apprehensive of his vengeance, and they wished to know how to avoid it. Never was a more important question asked than this. It is the question which all convicted sinners ask. It implies an apprehension of danger; a sense of guilt, and a readiness to yield the will to the claims of God. This was the same question asked by Paul, (Ac 9:6,) "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" and by the jailer, (Ac 16:29,30,) "He came trembling—and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" The state of mind in this case—the case of a convicted sinner—consists in

(1.) a deep sense of the evil of the past life; remembrance of a thousand crimes perhaps before forgotten; a pervading and deepening conviction that the heart, and conversation, and life has been evil, and deserves condemnation.

(2.) apprehension about the justice of God; alarm when the mind looks upward to him, or onward to the day of death and judgment.

(3.) An earnest wish, amounting sometimes to agony, to be delivered from this sense of condemnation, and this apprehension of the future.

(4.) a readiness to sacrifice all to the will of God, to surrender the governing purpose of the mind, and to do what he requires. In this state the soul is prepared to receive the offers of eternal life; and when the sinner comes to this, the offers of mercy meet his case, and he yields himself to the Lord Jesus, and finds peace.

In regard to this discourse of Peter, and this remarkable result, we may observe,

(1.) that this is the first discourse which was preached after the ascension of Christ, and is a model which the ministers of religion should imitate.

(2.) It is a clear and close argument. There is no ranting, no declamation, nothing but truth presented in a clear and striking manner. It abounds with proof of his main point; and supposes that his hearers were rational beings, and capable of being influenced by truth. Ministers have no right to address men as incapable of reason and thought; nor to imagine that because they are speaking on religious subjects, that therefore they are at liberty to speak nonsense.

(3.) Though these were eminent sinners, and had added to the crime of murdering the Messiah that of deriding the Holy Ghost and the ministers of the gospel, yet Peter reasoned with them coolly, and endeavoured to convince them of their guilt. Men should be treated as endowed with reason, and as capable of seeing the force and beauty of the great truths of religion.

(4.) The arguments of Peter were adapted to make this impression on their minds, and to impress them deeply with the sense of their guilt. He proved to them that they had been guilty of putting the Messiah to death; that God had raised him up; and that they were now in the midst of the scenes which established one strong proof of the truth of what he was saying. No class of truths could have been so well adapted to make an impression of their guilt as these.

(5.) Conviction for sin is a rational process on a sinner's mind. It is the proper state produced by a view of the past sins. It is suffering truth to make an appropriate impression; suffering the mind to feel as it ought to feel. The man who is guilty, ought to be willing to see and confess it. It is no disgrace to confess an error, or to feel deeply when we know we are guilty. Disgrace consists in a hypocritical desire to conceal crime; in the pride that is unwilling to avow it; in the falsehood which denies it. To feel it, and to acknowledge it, is the mark of an open and ingenuous mind.

(6.) These same truths are adapted still to produce conviction for sin. The sinner's treatment of the Messiah should produce grief and alarm. He did not murder him—but he has rejected him; he did not crown him with thorns—but he has despised him; he did not insult him when hanging on the cross— but he has a thousand times insulted him since; he did not pierce his side with the spear—but he has pierced his heart by rejecting him, and contemning his mercy. For these things he should weep. In the Saviour's resurrection he has also a deep interest. He rose as the pledge that we may rise: and when the sinner looks forward, he should remember that he must meet the ascended Son of God, The Saviour reigns; he lives, Lord of all. The sinner's deeds now are aimed at his throne, and his heart, and his crown. All his crimes are seen by his Sovereign; and it is not safe to mock the Son of God on his throne, or to despise Him who will soon come to judgment. When the sinner feels these truths, he should tremble, and cry out, What shall I do?

(7.) We see here how the Spirit operates in producing conviction of sin. It is not in an arbitrary manner; it is in accordance with truth, and by the truth. Nor have we a right to expect that he will convict and convert men, except as the truth is presented to their minds. They who desire success in the gospel should present clear, striking, and impressive truth; for such only God is accustomed to bless.

(8.) We have, in the conduct of Peter and the other apostles, a striking instance of the power of the gospel. Just before, Peter, trembling and afraid, had denied his Master with an oath. Now, in the presence of the murderers of the Son of God, he boldly charged them with their crime, and dared their fury. Just before, all the disciples forsook the Lord Jesus, and fled. Now, in the presence of his murderers, they lifted their voice, and proclaimed their guilt and danger, even in the city where he had been just arraigned and put to death. What could have produced this change but the power of God! And is there not proof here that a religion which produces such changes came from heaven?

{a} "pricked in their heart" Eze 7:16; Zec 12:10 {b} "what shall we do" Ac 9:6; 16:30

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