תמונות בעמוד

time to be developed, in order that they may be the more effectually overruled for the preservation of God's people who are persecuted. This was the case with respect to Peter; while with regard to the apostle James, as it was not in the Lord's purpose to leave him any longer in the trials of this weary world, the intentions of Herod were overruled, so that he was set free from the body and sent into the presence of Christ by an easy and rapid death. James was the first of the apostles who suffered martyrdom ; and it was probably immediately upon his death, that his namesake, who was called the brother of our Lord, was made bishop of Jerusalem. This is the person to whom Peter sent the assembled christians with the information of his miraculous escape.

QUESTION. Is there any tendency to cruelty in my natural character ? If so, is it rectified by grace ?

2. There can scarcely be a more affecting evidence of the power of earnest, importunate, and combined intercessory prayer, than that which this portion affords. The death of James might naturally have taken away all hope of the safety of Peter as soon as he was apprehended, but it is the character of faith to hope against hope, and to realize the omnipotence of the Almighty in the love of the Saviour. The promises of their great Master were very large and full, and the christians who could remember how Jesus had cast out devils upon the earnest supplication of those who brought the possessed ones to him, might be encouraged to ask with the fervour that will not be denied. “ Instant and earnest prayer was made” of the whole church; we may therefore imagine how many meetings there would be of smaller or larger numbers, as circumstances might permit—how frequently these gatherings for special prayer would be repeated, so that from morning till night, and all night long, the same supplication would be carried on by one assembled band or another-how urgently the head of every christian family would appeal to God on this behalf, upon every occasion of his domestic worship—and how each individual would go forth in his necessary occupations under the strong impulse of so general a feeling, and lift up his heart in secret from time to time, joining in the universal song of the church at that season of mourning, and yet of patient hope--so that these “ remembrancers of the Lord ” would literally be "giving Him no silence” (Isa. lxii. 6, 7), in reminding Him of the anxious desire in which they all agreed. It does not appear that this desire was especially for the release of Peter from prison, or his preservation from martyrdom, though doubtless the minds of many christians had that particular object before them; but it was on behalf of the apostle that the prayer of the church was made, and many would be satisfied with placing him in the hands of the Lord, with supplication for all needful support and grace to glorify the name of the Saviour, and benefit His church, whether by life or in death.

QUESTION. How far do I act upon the promises of God to intercessory prayer, on points and for persons in whom I am interested as a member of the church, rather than individually? with what instant repetition and earnestness? with what readiness of combination with my fellow-christians ?

3. It pleased God to grant an immediate answer to the prayers of the Church at Jerusalem, on behalf of the Apostle Peter, and the circumstances by which the providential deliverance was effected are here detailed very minutely. The events were miraculous, but they were effected by the same instrumentality as that by which God takes care of all his people, for “ he gives his angels charge over them,” and sends forth these ministering spirits to “ minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." (Ps. xci. 11. Heb. i. 14.) It is by the concurrence of the ordinary events concerning a christian, that the extraordinary deliverances are produced, which without being miraculous, yet sufficiently manifest the hand of God, by whom “all things are made to work together for good to them that love him.” (Rom. viii. 28.) The miraculous deliverance of Peter in answer to the earnest prayer of the church is calculated to encourage us in looking for extraordinary mercies, from the exercise of a persevering spirit of supplication. Such a spirit is as much the gift

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of God, as is the event which answers the prayer; and when the Spirit of grace and of supplications is given to many members of the church for the same object, and with a degree of power which is displayed in the persevering efforts it produces, such a gift may be taken as a plain evidence that the object in view is according to the will of God; and that in purposing to accomplish the end, he was pleased to bestow the prayer to be employed as a preparatory means. That the appointment of such means is a mystery beyond the reach of our understanding does not in any degree alter the certainty, that it is thus constituted of God; while it magnifies his mercy that he condescends to bestow upon the weak and sinful members of his church on earth, a share in that spiritual instrumentality by which he accomplishes his will.

QUESTION. What portion do I share of the honor and blessing of promoting God's cause upon earth, through the instrumentality of prayer? and how far am I discouraged from this this by apparent difficulties in obtaining the event desired ; or by a sense of the apparent unfitness of such an instrument as my prayer ?

4. That weakness and inconsistency may be seen in the same faith which yet impels to urgent and unwearied prayer appears, in the present instance, from the incredulity and extreme surprise of these christians, upon finding the actual fulfilment of the petitions which they had been so anxiously presenting to the Almighty One. Though the impulse of Rhoda was that of joy, yet the effect her intelligence produced upon the praying christians was that of unbeliefshe was considered as beside herself, in suggesting that Peter had escaped ; and the next step in their minds was to suppose, that the person she had heard speak could not be Peter himself, but must be his angel. And yet probably the last words they had uttered, in combined supplication to God, were those which asked Him who can do all things to have mercy, and accomplish the deliverance of Peter. The gift of prayer may be bestowed through the affections of the heart in a more powerful degree than the gift of faith ; but it is to be attributed to the sinful corruption of our nature, that we check the outpouring of the one blessing, which God is willing to bestow with the other: and we cannot tell how many answers to our prayers it has been necessary to withhold from us, because we have not had faith enough to expect while we pray, and to put forth the hand to receive when God is ready to give.

QUESTION. Do I expect that God can grant my prayer; and do I pray as hoping that he will ? or how little do I venture to ask from God's mercy; and how much do I expect to receive ?

5. Peter was rescued by the hand of God in a danger from which neither the power nor wisdom of man could save him; but this deliverance did not produce in him an unjustifiable dependance upon miraculous assistance. While he knew that when God was pleased to place him in danger, he might look to the same God for protection, he knew also that it was his duty to make use of the means that lay within his power, in order that when occasion should require, he might receive the benefit which was beyond his power; and therefore, after having relieved the church from their anxiety on his behalf, and given them occasion to glorify God for his deliverance, he took advantage of the opportunity afforded him by God's mercy, and removed himself from the scene of danger to a place of safety. In a heart where grace has less power, and nature more, one, who may have been preserved by some extraordinary deliverance, might be too apt to calculate upon the repetition of such mercy, instead of acting like Peter, and feeling that God had appeared on his behalf on one great occasion, to give him the means of exercising the spirit of wisdom and diligence for his glory in the more common occurrences of life.


When I have received a singular mercy from God, in rare circumstances and difficulties, does it quicken my diligence in striving to make the repetition of such goodness unnecessary

? or does it tend to make me rash or reckless in my future course?

THE PRAYER. O God of mercy and of love, who hast no pleasure in afflicting the sons of men, impart to me the spirit of thy love, I humbly beseech thee, that I may never find pleasure in the sufferings of others. Let that love be so shed abroad in my heart, that I may delight to come to thy throne of grace through Christ Jesus on behalf of others, as thou hast invited us to come. Grant that my affections may so flow towards thee, that every object of them may be borne in the current with earnest supplication. I praise thy name, that thou dost condescend to employ even so weak and sinful a creature as I am, in praying to thee for the fulfilment of thy promises, and the accomplishment of thy purposes. Grant me such a spirit of wisdom, as may discern thy will in every object in which, as a member of thy church, I may be interested ; and such a spirit of grace and supplications, as may make me earnest and persevering in bringing it before thee in prayer, without being daunted by difficulties in the work, or by a sense of the weakness which belongs to thy instruments. Enlarge my faith, teach me to ask of thee according to thy power to give, preserve me from the unbelief of expecting an answer, only according to the weakness of my hope ; and grant, gracious God, that each mercy in which I trace thy providential hand may make me more careful, more diligent, and more earnest in using every means in wisdom and in watchfulness, by which I may glorify the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour. AMEN.


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