Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.—Acts 12:18.
WE CAN VERY WELL UNDERSTAND that there would be great excitement. It was the most improbable thing in the world that Peter should escape from custody. In the innermost dungeon, securely chained, watched by a fourfold guard, with no powerful friends outside to attempt a rescue—it was marvellous that in the morning the bird was flown: the prison doors were closed and the guards in their places, but Peter—where was he? We marvel not that “there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter”?
Peter was in prison. It was a most unlikely thing that he should come forth from Herod’s gaol, but it is a far more unlikely thing that sinners should be set free from the dungeons of sin. For the iron gate which opened into the city to turn upon its hinges of its own accord was wonderful; but for a sinful heart to loathe its sin is stranger far. Who can escape from the grasp of sin?
But, besides being in prison, Peter was in the dark. All the lamps had been quenched for the night in his miserable place of confinement. Such is the estate, spiritually, of every unconverted sinner, he is in the dark; he does not know Christ, nor apprehend his own condition, nor comprehend eternal realities. What a state of darkness is he in who has never heard the gospel! But alas! there are some who have heard it, often heard it, and yet their eyes are holden so that they cannot see the light, and they are as badly in the dark as those upon whom the lamp has never shone. Does it not seem impossible to convert such darkened ones? You have held up, as it were, the very sun in the heavens before their eye-balls, while you have preached salvation by Christ, and yet so blind are they that they have seen nothing! Can these blind eyes see? Can these prisoners of midnight escape from the prison through its long corridors and winding passages? The thousands in this city who never attend the house of prayer,—is it possible ever to get at them? Can the grace of God ever come to them? Yes, we bless God that, as the angel came into Peter’s prison and brought a light with him, so the Spirit can come into the prison of man’s sin and bring heavenly illumination with him, and then he will see, in a moment, the truth as it is in Jesus, which he never knew before. Glory be to God, he can lead the blinded mind into daylight, and give it eyes to see and a heart to love the truth divine. We can testify of this, for so hath God wrought upon us, and why should he not thus work upon others; but it is a great marvel, and, when it is performed, there is “no small stir.”
Peter’s case, in the third place, had another mark of hopelessness about it. He was in prison; he was in the dark; and he was asleep. How can you lead a man out of prison who is sound asleep? If you cannot enter and arouse him, what can you do for him? Suppose the doors were opened and the chains were snapped, yet if he remained asleep how could he escape? We find that the angel smote Peter on the side. I dare say it was a hard blow, but it was a kind one. Oh, how I wish the Spirit of God would smite some sleeping sinner on the side at this moment! I would not mind how sharp or cutting the blow might be for the time being, if it made him start up, and say, “How can I escape from this dreadful cell of sin?” My brethren, how difficult it is to arouse some minds from their indifference. The most indifferent people in this world are those who have prospered in business for a long time without a break; they are accumulating money as fast as they can count it, and they have not time to think about eternal things. Another very hardened class consists of those who have enjoyed good health for a long time, and have scarcely known an ache or a pain. They do not think about eternity. It is a great blessing to enjoy health, but it is also a great blessing to suffer sickness, for it is often the means of awakening the slumbering heart, Many dream that because things go smoothly with them they are all right; and yet they are peculiarly in danger. O Spirit of the living God, smite them on the side! I have known this smiting come to some by a sermon, to others by the personal remark of a friend, to others by the death of a companion, or by the loss of a dear child, or by great trouble and want. Well, if your souls are saved, you will not in after days be sorry for the awakening trouble which helped to bring you to the Savior. Yes, the most indifferent have been awakened; and why should it not be so again? The church prayed for Peter, and those prayers brought the angel to awaken him; let us pray far indifferent sons and careless daughters; let us pray for the godless, Christless population around us, and God’s Spirit will yet arouse them. and make them cry with a bitter cry, “Lord save us, or we perish!”…
The text says, “There was no small stir among the soldiers.” So, generally, the stir about a sinner begins among his old companions. “What has become of Peter? I thought he would have met us to-night at our drinking bout. What has become of Peter? We were going to the theater together. What has become of Peter? We intended to have a jolly time of it at the horse races. What has become of Peter? We had agreed to go to the dancing saloon together!” Those who were his old companions say, “We did not believe he would ever have been made religious. He’ll never make a saint! We’ll fetch him back. He has got among those canting Methodists, but we’ll make it too hot for him. We will jest at him and jeer at him till he can’t stand it, and if that does not do, we will threaten him, cast doubts on his creed, and set fresh temptations before him.” Ah! but if God has set him free from sin, he is free indeed, and you will never lead him back to prison again. When you meet him, you will find him a new man, and you will be glad to get away from him again; for he will prove too strong for you. Often when a man’s conversion is thorough, not only is he rejoiced to get away from his old companions, but his old companions are wonderfully glad to keep clear of him. They do not like the manner of him. He is so strange a man to what he was before. They say, “What has become of Peter? His ways are not ours. What has happened to him?” If a dog were suddenly turned into an angel, the other dogs would be puzzled, the whole kennel would take to howling at him…
A man who has had much forgiven, what will he not attempt for the service and glory of him who has forgiven him! May I be fortunate enough to enlist beneath the Savior’s banner some black offender. That is the man—that is the man for Christ’s money. That is the man who will sound out his name more sweetly than anybody else. That is the man who will be afraid of no one. That is the man who will know the power of the Gospel of Christ to a demonstration. Oh that the Lord would bring such among us, for we want them in these days—men who will come right out, without doubt, fear, or quibbling, facing all criticisms, defying all opinions, and saying, “Sinners, Christ can save you, for he saved me. I was a drunkard and a thief, but God has forgiven, and cleansed, and washed me, and I know the power of his salvation.” Pray, members of the Church, that both among men and women there may be many such conversions, and that throughout this City of London there may be no small stir “What is become of Peter,” and may that stir be to the praise and glory of God.—Amen.