The Burden of the Preacher -- Speaking in the Temple
Acts 5:19-20
But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,…

The religion of the Pharisee was one of bodily forms, that of the Sadducee one of intellectual negations, and thus both were opposed to a religion the crowning characteristic of which was life. The ever-new life of the gospel comes to burst every lifeless ceremony, and so confound the Pharisee; it comes to open the graves and confute the Sadducee. The apostles were the representatives of this new life. Their touch brought health where there was sickness. Their words enlivened souls. What were the arguments of infidels and the authority of priests before this all-prevailing power? One of the last shifts of despotism was resorted to — they laid hands upon the men and dragged them out of sight. But as the Prince Of Life Himself burst the common prison of death, so He led these His servants forth from the common prison of Jerusalem, saying, "Go, stand and speak in the temple," etc.


1. He is sent by Christ. "No man taketh this honour to himself." Even Christ was the Sent of God. And of His disciples He said, "As Thou has sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." The twelve were called apostles because they were sent by Him. When He left the earth He said, "Go ye therefore And lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." How was He to be with them but by. working and ruling spiritually in the midst of His Church, "giving some apostles, and some prophets," etc. They are the true successors to the apostles who, called from the world into the Church, are still further moved by the Holy Spirit to devote themselves to the work of the ministry.

2. Is furnished and supported by Christ. The question is, How is one man to minister to the wants of a congregation of men, and sympathise with all its multiform life — rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep; guide the erring, cheer the disconsolate, convince the doubting; have a word for the young, for the middle-aged, and for the old. Who is sufficient

for all this? Looked at from the human side alone, no one is sufficient. He may have the strength of Samson, the brain of Shakspeare, the courage of Luther, the tenderness of Howard, the eloquence of ; but if he has nothing more than what is human, he is unfit for his work. Whatever his natural advantages may be, he requires an unction from on high — he must be upheld and nourished, and guided by the Spirit of Christ. And he is so upheld.

3. Is responsible to Christ. To have Christ for one's Master is the chief of blessings. Men may misunderstand us, deal out scant justice, fail in sympathy, and forsake us, but Christ will not. No faithful act of any servant of Christ can pass unnoticed or unappreciated by Him, but we have this consideration also for our warning. If our faithfulness is noticed, so is our unfaithfulness. If Christ has done so much for the world, He will look after those whose business it is to watch for souls.


1. A definite one.

(1) It is all contained in one book; and it is embodied in one Person who is called "The Word." It is necessary that Divine truth should be put into human words, for they give stability and perpetuity to the Divine message. We can lay hold of them and keep them before the mind, and study them until they bud out with meanings thick as the buds and blossoms on Aaron's rod. They are the flowers from which we may sip the nectar of truth that is sweeter than the droppings of the honeycomb. If God's message had been delivered to men merely as a spoken word, and had come down through time as an unwritten tradition, it would have wanted clearness, certainty, and authority.

(2) The preacher's message, then, has been written down in definite words, and he must keep to these. He is not at liberty to speak on any subject he pleases. There is truth in the stars, and it is the business of the astronomer to unfold that. There are sermons in stones, and it is the work of the geologist to make the stones preach their sermons. There is much wisdom in the conditions of human society, and it is the business of the statesman and the lawyer to teach us what it is. But the preacher has to expound the Word of God. Science and politics may illustrate his subject, but they do not form it. Passing events may present us with striking lessons, but we have to preach from the Bible, and not from the newspapers. But it may be said, Did not Jesus Christ preach from nature? Did He not find texts in the lilies, birds, waving corn, and little children? Not texts exactly, but illustrations. He Himself was the text, for He was the living incarnate Word of God, and He is our subject. The preacher makes no pretence to absolute originality. He is not the discoverer of a new country, but the guide to a country that has been discovered. As from the original languages the Bible has been translated into the living languages, so from the primitive life it must be translated into the modern life. The experience of the nineteenth century before Christ requires to be translated into the experience of the nineteenth century after Christ.

(3) But although the Bible is the preacher's text-book, it does not follow that every one who takes a text from the Bible is a gospel preacher. The Bible has been used to arrest the march of science; to rivet the chains of the slave; to justify every form of despotism. From the words of Christ men have preached against Christ. They have taken His own words to disprove His divinity. Yea, Satan himself has often preached from a Bible text. The mere fact, then, that the text is taken from the Bible is no guarantee that the sermon is really a gospel-sermon.

(4) Neither does it follow, although we select no particular text, that we do not preach Scriptural truth; for a discourse might be attached to no particular verse of Scripture, and yet be full of the Spirit of Christ. 2. A profound one. Life is a great deep. Who can fathom the soul amid the darkness that is within? disclose its origin in the darkness that is behind? tell its issues in the darkness that is before? If the gospel, then, has any reality and power it must say something satisfactory as to what we are, whence we have come, whither we are going, and what we ought to do. The gospel does this. The Bible is emphatically a Book of Life. Everywhere it is full of life. In the Old Testament there is the life of God; in the Gospels there is the life of Christ; in the Epistles there is the life of the Spirit — everywhere the life of regenerated man. It, is not a book of skeletons, but of beings clothed with flesh and blood. Like nature, it has an appearance of abruptness and disorder, which rests, however, on the eternal order.

3. A broad one. "All the words." "The commandment is exceeding broad." The gospel-kingdom is "a place of broad rivers and streams." What richness and variety there is in the Word of God. As the book stretches over a great breadth of time, so it stretches over a corresponding breadth of spiritual life. It has its high mountains on which the clouds of heaven are resting, in the doctrines of the Divine fore-knowledge, predestination, and sovereignty. It has its fruitful plains in the moral activities and good works of men. It has its city life in its civil and ecclesiastical arrangements. It has its quiet valleys in which lie the beauties of domestic life. And it has its great rivers in the principles that run from the beginning to the end of the book. The preacher, then, should not dwell exclusively on the mountain tops of high doctrine, nor should he stand always on the plain, preaching what is called mere morality. If men will insist on opening their eyes to one set of facts, and shutting them to another equally true set of facts, it is not probable that they will preach "all the words of this life." And whence come the narrowness of sectarianism and the bitterness of bigotry, but from a disregard of this truth — that the Word of God has many sides?

III. THE SUITABILITY OF THIS MESSAGE TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND WANTS OF ALL MEN. The Word was to be spoken to the people in the temple, where they were wont to congregate, in a language they could understand. The types in the temple had now served their purpose as forms of worship, and preaching had now become the chief work of the Church.

1. Speech is a noble faculty, whereby man resembles God, in that He reveals Himself by a word, and so comes into closer contact with his fellow-man. As an institution in society, public speech can never become obsolete; and as a part of the service of the Church it is coeval with the Church. Preaching is more essential to the Church than any other form of worship. Forms of worship belong to particular dispensations, but the preacher belongs to every dispensation. Whatever the form of worship in the antediluvian and patriarchal ages, there were always preachers. In the Jewish Church all the prophets were preachers. The reason is that the preacher's function, being simple and direct, is suited to every age.

2. It is sometimes said that the press is invading the domain of the pulpit. Not so; the press is a handmaid of the pulpit, and instead of silencing the preacher it gives him a voice that extends to the ends of the earth, so that every week we may hear one divine preaching in New York and another in London. As a propagator of religious literature the press ministers to the pulpit; and with regard to other matters, the publication of things secular and ephemeral, the press is here altogether out of the province of the pulpit, which has to do with the spiritual and eternal. The question is, How is a man to be most deeply impressed with Divine truth? We cannot answer by saying that he ought to stay at home, reading the Bible or a sermon, for in private he wants three influences which he has at Church.

(1) The person of the preacher. There is a mysterious power proceeding from personality. The tones of the human voice and the look of a living man have great power to impress truth upon the soul.

(2) Now this is wanting in books. There is the sympathy of numbers. The rapt attention of one may convict us of inattention, and the careless look of another may call forth a prayer, while the feeling that each is but the fragment of a great whole is fitted to solemnise the mind, as if there fell upon it the shadow of the myriads who worship God in heaven, and that that multitude shall stand before the throne of God. Such influences are wanting in solitude.

(3) There is the influence of the other parts of the service, prayer and praise, in rendering the mind more susceptible of true and saving impressions, and this does not exist to the same degree in private. But some one may say, "I get better ideas, and a greater number of them, from reading a book in private." Well, it is a good thing to read and get ideas; but we all know a great deal more than we put in practice, and what we want, therefore, is gracious impulses to the performance of duty. And how are we to get these if we do not seek them in the way of God's appointment? In short, if books merely could convert the world, why did not God allow books to do it? Along with the written Word there has always been the spoken Word.

3. The words of the Bible suit all phases of life. It has pleasant pictures for the simple-minded, grammatical difficulties for the scholar, deep problems for the philosopher, guiding precepts for the practical, visions of beauty for the poet, hoary wisdom for the experienced, and songs for the dying in the dark valley. It has words for the father in his family, for the master among his servants, for the teacher among his scholars, for the judge on the bench, for the king on the throne. It has words for different states of mind: words of enlightenment for the ignorant, of conviction for the sceptical, of consolation for the bereaved, of warning for the thoughtless, of condemnation for the impenitent, and of forgiveness for the contrite in heart.

4. All earnest persons who come to the temple to worship God in simplicity of heart will hear words that will suit their case. And how varied are the wants represented in a congregation of worshippers! No two hearers altogether alike, but all alike in this, that they are by nature under one common condemnation, and must become partakers of a common salvation. The young are here with the world before them untried and unknown; they need a Saviour to keep them from the bitterness, unbelief, and vanity of the world. The middle-aged are here, with the world's work resting on their shoulders, and they need strength, wisdom, and the sweet charity of the Christian life to enable them to do that which is true, faithful, and kind. The old are here, with their histories in time about to be closed for ever; and they require to have their anchor cast within the veil, and to be at peace with God, and there are words of life for all.

(F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,

WEB: But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out, and said,

Preachers Must Reach the People
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