And being let go, they went to their own company--Act 4:23
After a Miracle, a Sermon, an Arrest and Release from Prison
The healing of the lame man at the Gate Beautiful of the Temple had stirred an intense excitement in Jerusalem. Like the church bell which summons people to church, it had attracted a crowd to the disciples. And Peter, who never saw a crowd but he longed for the opportunity to preach to it, began to preach--there were about five thousand gathered--and many of his hearers were converted. The priests and the captain of the Temple and the Sadducees were very indignant at this powerful doctrine. They put an arrest on Peter and John and committed them to prison for the night, and the next day they had them out and examined them on their authority for this miracle. We know how bravely and nobly Peter answered: what a change from that night of denial before Calvary! We know into what a sorry pass the council came: they threatened Peter and John, and let them go. So by the narrative of facts we reach our text, "And being let go, they went to their own company."
When We Are Released from Our Particular "Prisons"
I wish, then, to spiritualize our text, for it seems to me to be full of rich suggestion. It hints at facts which lie very near to us, and which are worthy of our observation. None of us are prisoners in a literal sense. We are not immured in the dark or damp of dungeons. The age of persecution in its barbaric forms has fled from our land of liberty forever. But for all that there are shackles which still bind us, and we are under many constraints from day to day, and it is true of us as of Peter and John that being let go, we go to our own company. Like the carrier pigeon which, freed from it cage, wheels for its bearings and then starts for home; like the mountain stream which the little child may dam but which when released goes hurrying to the sea--so all of us are subject to constraint, but being let go, we go to our own company. That is the thought on which I wish to dwell.
When Freed from Home
First, then, I think of the constraint of home. It is the earliest pressure which we know. In the years when we are climbing towards maturity, we are in the sweetest of all earth's imprisonments. We are engirded by love then and by a father's ordering. We have to yield our wills up to another's will. It is not the child who chooses or decides; it is the father and the mother who do that. But the day comes when a young man leaves home. Like Peter and John in our story, he is let go. He has to face the world now on his own resources, and the day of authority and of command is over. It is in such a time, when the restraints are gone which were the safety and the strength of home, that a man steadily goes to his own company. What were the thoughts that were smoldering and burning under the gentle but firm constraint of home? What kind of life was being lived in secret under the quiet routine and through the family worship? What sort of ideal was glimmering and forming of which the mother knew absolutely nothing? It is not their liberty that wrecks men--what we call wreck is often revelation--it is the kind of life which they have led in secret before the hour of liberty arrives. The bonds of authority are broken now. There is no will to consult but a man's own. So being let go, with many a "God bless you," and hidden tears and prayers to a father's God, for all that is noblest or for all that is poorest, men go to their own company.
You know the parable of the prodigal son by heart. Did you ever think of the story in this light? I am sure you would never have guessed how vile that youth was if you had seen him living with his father. But no man becomes a prodigal in one swift hour. If he went to the harlots he had been dreaming of them. There was not a hillside and there was not a field at home but could have told stories of his unclean heart. Then came the tales of his wild life abroad, and his brother said, "I could not have believed it." But in the sight of God the riot was revelation; being let go, he went to his own company.
Example: Jesus As a Boy
And you have often read of Jesus in the Temple. Did you ever think of that story in this light? Has it not been preserved for us out of these voiceless years because of its exquisite glimpse into that boyish heart? I doubt not that, as the companies turned homeward, other sons besides Jesus were missing from the crowd, and other mothers besides Mary of Nazareth went back to Jerusalem to look for them. And one would find her son among the soldiers, and another would find her son in the bazaars; Mary alone found her son in the Temple. As naturally as the sunflower to the sun, the heart of Jesus turned to that holy place. There was nothing on earth of such concern to Him as to ask and hear about eternal things. His mother thought that her dear son was lost, and she knew not where amid the crowds to find Him; but being let go, He had gone to His own company.
When Freed from Work
Again, I think of the constraint of work. There was a little book published some time ago with the attractive title Blessed be Drudgery, and I think that most of us, as the years pass, learn gladly to subscribe to that beatitude. What moods and whimsies does our work save us from! How it steadies us and how it guards us! If it were not for that bondage of our toil, how intolerable some of us should be to live with! I have known busy men who through the week would have scorned the very suggestion that they ailed, yet somehow they often ailed on Sundays. Of course there come seasons when such bondage irritates. We have all known how difficult it is in the summertime. When the cloudless mornings come and the shimmer of heat, and we hear the calling of field and lake and river, it is not easy then with quiet heart to get to the study and the office desk. But for all that, work is a wise constraint and a happy circumscription of God's finger, a narrowing of our way with such a hedge as will blossom into beauty by and by.
Where You Go after Work Shows Your Makeup
But being let go, we go to our own company. Every evening in a great city explains that. Men are imprisoned all day in the routine, but when the evening comes, they gravitate to their own. Here are three young fellows who work at the same desk. They are fellow clerks in the same city office. You will find all of them at the desk during the day; but the question is, where will you find them at night? You will find one of them in the dancehall, that most uninspiring of all haunts. You will find one at home with his few prized books around him, superbly happy in his Shakespeare or his Stevenson. You will find one down in the mission-hall, enthusiastic over his Boys' Brigade. What is your company? Where do you gravitate? When you can follow your own sweet will, where will it lead? Say to yourself when work is done tomorrow, "Being let go, I go to my own company"--and then thank God for it, or be ashamed.
When Freed from Self lnterests
Once more, and touching on more delicate matters, I think of the constraint of our self-interest. I speak of the bondage which everybody knows and which arises from our social system. No man is free, in an intricate society, to say and do exactly what he pleases. The most uncharitable people I ever met were the people who took pride in being candid. I grant you that in the heroic nature the thought of self-interest has hardly any place. But I am not talking about heroes now; I am talking of the average man in the average Christian city. And what I say is that he is so interlocked in this great mechanism which we call society that something of the rough and vigorous and outspoken liberty which characterized our forefathers is gone. It is expensive for the average citizen to speak out his whole mind. There are accommodations and compliance's and silences that are well understood on every exchange and market. And one of the hardest tasks for any man is to keep a clean conscience and an unsullied heart while bowing to those restraints of self which society or wise self-interest demands.
But that bondage is not a perpetual bondage. All are released from it in various ways. If action be fettered, thought at least is free, nor is there any veil by the fireside at home. Or it may be that when a man has made his fortune he feels that at last he can dare to be himself, for he no longer depends for his advancement on the kindly offices of any brother. The question is what are you then? What judgements do you pass by the fireside? Are you less courteous and kindly now that you are made, than in the years when your career was making? Being let go from social entanglement and from the grim and ceaseless pressure of self-interest, steadily and silently and surely men go like the apostles to their own.
When Freed from Evil Habit and Sin
Again I think of the constraint of evil habit. One of the most arresting of Christ's miracles is the curing of the Gadarene demoniac. In his isolation and in his lonely misery the man is a type of sin's separating power. He had been very happy once in Gadara; his wife had loved him, and so had his little children. He was well thought of in his little village, and the evenings were pleasant there when work was done. Then fell on him the curse that ruined him, wrecking his intellect and all his happiness and driving him apart from those he loved until that hour when he was faced by Christ. In that great hour it was farewell to bondage. His fetters were broken and he was a man again. Fain would he have followed his deliverer and shared the fortunes of his Galilean healer. But Jesus said to him, "Go home again. Thy wife has been praying for thee and thy children love thee." So being let go from the tyranny of sin, the poor demoniac went to his own company.
And that is always one of the plagues of sin. It separates a man from his own company. We may be under the same roof as our own company, and yet be a thousand miles away from them. There is a burst of temper, and then misunderstanding, and then the pride which will never ask forgiveness--and hearts that were fashioned in eternity for one another go drifting apart like ships upon the sea. Sin separates the father from the son. Sin separates the mother from her child. From all that is ours by birthright of humanity we are barred out by the tyranny of evil. And then comes Christ and gives us spiritual freedom, rescuing us from the bondage of the years, and being let go we go to our own company. For the best is our true company and not the worst. We were made for goodness; we were not made for evil. It is love and tenderness and purity and light which are the true society of a God-created spirit. So when a man is released from sin's imprisonment by the word and present power of his Redeemer, being let go, he hastens to his own.
When Freed from the Constraint of Life
Then lastly, I think of the constraint of life, for there is a deep sense in which this life is bondage. We are the children of immortality and not of time, and here we are cribbed and cabined and confined. Nothing is perfect here, and nothing rounded. We are not built to the scale of three score years. There is no such thing as ultimate success here; the only success is not to give over striving So are we fettered and hampered and imprisoned, and the bird is beating its wings against the bars; but when death comes, the spirit is set free, and being let go, it travels to its own. Did you ever think of eternity like that? It is an arresting and an awful thought. It is far wiser to think of it like that than to go about saying you do not believe in hell. I never read that even Judas went there. I read that Judas went to his own place. Being let go by his own act of suicide, he went to his own company--the rest is silence. God grant us all such love for what is good, such kinship of heart with the brave and the pure and the lowly, such secret comradeship with all who are wrestling heavenward in the living fellowship of Jesus Christ, that when death comes and the prison doors are opened and we go to our own company at last, we may go to be forever with the Lord.
--George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
from The Afterglow of God, Sunday Evenings in a Glasgow Pulpit by Rev. G.A. Morrison, Glasgow, 1912, p. 285.