An Angel of God is the happy background of the Apostles’ outlook on storm.  A messenger of Heaven had swung open the prison gates, and now stands before them, commanding them into the very heart of the tempest:- “Go ye, and stand and speak in the temple to all the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5: 20): proclaim to mankind “all the words” – “the whole counsel of God” –of this life” - spiritual life now, the prize of millennial life, eternal life to all the saved of all ages.  God’s revelation consists of ‘words’ that generate, nurture, develop and perfect man’s true life; and the Angel’s commission is only a duplicate of Christ’s to us all – “Go ye into all the world, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28: 19).  And the Apostles are commanded into the most dangerous spot of all – “Go ye and stand in the temple.”


But now a problem of all the ages confronts the Church.  The Apostles are immediately face to face with the tremendous power of the State, a power made all the more formidable by the Apostles themselves.  For they themselves had laid it down:- “Let every soul” - no one is excepted – “be in subjection to the higher powers: for the powers that be” - at the moment Paul wrote it was Dictatorship created by the Army – “are ordained of God: therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God” (Rom. 13: 1).  Peter himself underlines the obedience, and brings in the personal sanction of Christ: Paul says, Every soul; Peter says, Every ordinance: “subject yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1 Pet. 2: 13).  All government therefore rests ultimately, not on economic helpfulness or political expedience, but on Divine authority; and the obedience commanded, in general, is absolute.


Moreover, the special problem which confronted the Apostles is exactly the complex problem that has constantly recurred.  It was not so much the State, as a State-established Religion, that was seeking to stamp the Christians out.  The Sanhedrin – “all the senate of the children of Israel” - authorized by Imperial Rome, exercised the judical power, while Roman officers executed their decrees.  This is the exact attitude of the Papacy all down the centuries: established on the power of the State, the Roman Church denies that she kills, but claims that all she does is to hand the ‘heretic’ over to the Sword of the secular Power; the Church condemns, the State executes.* Whether it is Islam in pre-War Turkey; or the Emperor-worship of Shintoism in Japan; or the Inquisition in Spain; or the Llama hierarchy in Tibet; or a neo-Paganism called German Christianity, backed by all the power of the State:- again and again Scriptural believers confront the religious leaders of a nation entrenched in the irresistible omnipotence of the State.


[* God, brushing aside the flimsy excuse, brands the Church of Rome herself as “drunken with the blood of the martyrs” (Rev. 17: 6).] 


Now therefore the crisis arrives, and with it the momentous decision which has been the decisive factor for the Church through nineteen centuries.  The State-supported Sanhedrim, addressing the re-arrested Apostles, say:-We strictly charged you not to teach in this name” (Acts 5: 28): the prohibition, therefore, is reasserted and explicit.  The Apostolic answer is for all time.  The State has a Divine authority which can be resisted only on Divine authority: therefore, when the clash comes, a clash which is explicit and certain between the State’s law and God’s law, the Apostles decide: -“We MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN.”  It is a golden rule for all churches, under all circumstances, for all time.  To oppose the State, without the authority of God, is a sin in itself, and therefore the consequences are not martyrdom, but the penalties of fanaticism; but when men forbid what God commands, or command what God forbids, and when that contradiction is explicitly provable by Scripture, at all costs God alone is to be obeyed.


So therefore Peter puts the principle into immediate action; and in the hearing and before the very eyes of the Sanhedrim, which had strictly forbidden, under threat of death, the proclamation of the Gospel, proclaims it, whatever might be the consequences; and in doing so purposely exalts the ‘crown rights of the Redeemer.’  Whom ye slew, hanging him on a tree, him did God exalt to be a PRINCE and a Saviour”: He is already, de jure though not de facto, King of kings and Lord of lords, and therefore outdistancing all other monarchs in lawful and final authority.  The principle on which we are to act thus develops before our eyes.  The Christian is a citizen of the country in which he dwells, so far as subjection and obedience to the Civil Power is concerned; but in all other realms - the realms of affection, of reason, of activity, of devotion – “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3: 20), and we are ‘strangers and pilgrims’ in every country on earth (Heb. 11: 13).


Now there rises on the scene the incarnation of religious liberty as based on political expediency, in the person of man such as God has used again and again to avert persecution.  Israel’s most influential statesman utters a sentence which has become famous:-Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown: but if it is of God, ye will not be able to overthrow them: lest haply ye be found even to be fighting against God.”  Gamaliel is the embodiment of political caution and spiritual expediency.  His caution of two false Messiahs infers that he equally expects the ultimate collapse of the Apostles: he stands neutral, instead of investigating the truth for himself: he embodies for all time a statesmanship, so often used of God to avert persecution, which (to use modern phrases) counsels a masterly inactivity, a splendid isolation.*  And so the work of God goes on.  The Sadducees said that there is neither angel nor spirit, and an angel lets their prisoners out; and Gamaliel leant all his weight on the transient will-o’-the-wisp of two false messiahs, and lo, he lets loose the Church of God for two thousand years!


[* Thus the political grant of religious liberty rests on a basis fundamentally distinct from the anti-God campaign: the one says – “Lest we be found fighting against God”; the other – “Our fighting is against God, and therefore God’s people must be stamped out.”] 


A revelation of extraordinary value closes and crowns the drama.  The Apostles “therefore” - because of Gamaliel’s intervention – “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were COUNTED WORTHY to suffer dishonour for the Name.”  It is a wonderful disclosure that persecution is a trust which proves to be a revelation of the persecuted.  In the mouth of the Apostles it cannot be an unmeaning sentimentality, but a hard fact: they knew, by what had happened, that they had obtained a spiritual rank - a toughness of spiritual fibre - which made it possible for God to entrust them with sharp suffering.  The greater our load, the greater God’s estimate of our carrying capacity, for He has definitely undertaken not to impose more than we can bear.  The Apostle’s joy thus rests on a truth for the Church of God in all lands and all ages which will become only more golden as suffering grows more acute.  To the threat of death Luther replied:-It’s just as if I thought I could terrify a man by letting him ride off freely on his own bridled horse.  Could there be more contemptible menace than that of death to Christians, since they are conquerors and lords of death?”  The first hymn he wrote commemorated the young martyrs of Brussels.  When the details of their sufferings reached him, he broke down in tears and said:-I thought I should be the first to suffer martyrdom for the Gospel’s sake, but I was not worthy.”






This world was not worthy of some we are told,

Who were tortured because of His name.

Sawn asunder for Christ, yet such was their faith

They would do it all over again.


The martyrs of old all went to the stake,

And were burned in the fire and the flame;

Counting not their lives dear for the sake of His cause,

They would do it all over again.


And many today still suffer for God,

As behind prison bars they remain;

Confined to a cell for the truth they hold dear,

They would do it all over again.


And all who so suffer for Him here on Earth,

One DAY [during the Millennium] with Him they shall Reign,

And because of that glorious prospect in view,

They would do it all over again.


But the dear Son of God won’t do it again,

What He suffered, no tongue can explain;

“It is finished,” He cried, once for all,

So He never will do it again.


Hebrews 11: 25b.

Philippians 1: 29.

Romans 8: 17b.

Revelation 20: 4.

2 Thessalonians 1: 4-7.

Matthew 5: 10.

Acts 14: 22.