People Cut to the Heart Part 1 of 5

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

 It is clear that Peter’s preaching was tremendously effective, since those who heard it “were pricked in their heart.”

It is clear that Peter’s preaching was tremendously effective, since those who heard it “were pricked in their heart.”

Acts of the Apostle

Lesson II.A.3.a: People Cut to the Heart

Acts 2.37-40 (KJV)

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.


We have seen the wonderful effect of the pouring out of the Spirit in the influence it had on Peter and the other preachers of the gospel. Peter, in all his life, never spoke at such length as he did now, and with such volume, eloquence, and power. We are now going to see another blessed fruit of the pouring out of the Spirit in the influence it had upon the hearers of the gospel. From the first words of that marvelous message, it appeared that there was a divine energy going along with it, and it was mighty through the power of God, to do great and wonderful things: thousands were immediately converted by saving faith; it was due to the rod of God’s strength sent out of Zion: “The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth” (Psalms 110:2-3; KJV). The rod of thy strength is a poetic expression for His ruling power. The ruling power of the Messiah was to go forth from Jerusalem, Zion’s city of our God. The rule and reign of Jesus Christ during this age is not one of power and bloodshed, but rather of conquering love and grace. One day, however, when the curtain of God’s grace comes crashing down and the curtain of His wrath is raised, “… he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev 19:15). Because of the power of the gospel and of the mighty hand of the Lord God, the servants of the Saviour will be willingly ruled by the Messiah. Men under the influence of the gospel do not submit themselves to the service of the King out of fear, but in the beauties of holiness, i.e., in holy obedience to the one who is both Priest and King. Just as the dew falls fresh every morning and is perpetually resupplied, so too are those who fall to the message of God’s redeeming grace and join the ranks of the saved.

We have here the first-fruits of that vast harvest of souls which was gathered to Jesus Christ. Come and see, in these verses, the exalted Redeemer riding forth, in these chariots of salvation, conquering and to conquer—“And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer” (Rev. 6.2; KJV).

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

Now when they heard this,
From the first words spoken by the apostle it appeared to be a divine message, and that there was Divine power going along with it; a power whereby thousands were brought to have faith in the Savior. But neither Peter’s words, nor the miracle they witnessed, could have produced such effects if the Holy Spirit had not been present and appealed to the heart and minds of those who were observers of this grand event, which would never be repeated.

They were startled by the spectacle they had witnessed, and therefore they patiently listened to Peter’s sermon without interrupting him as they used to do to Christ during his discourses (this was a good sign, that they had become attentive to the word). Before Peter began to speak they did not understand the demonstration they had observed; but by the time he finished it was clear to them that they had rejected and crucified the Lord.

What was the spectacle they witnessed? They heard the disciples, probably the one hundred and twenty, speaking about the wonderful works of God in languages they had never spoken before.

What did they hear? They heard Peter declare and then prove that Jesus was the Messiah. He did not sound like a fanatic, but used calm, well-supported, and overpowering reasoning. He proved to them the truth of what he was saying, and thus prepared the way for the Holy Spirit.

It has already been observed, that up to the moment in which Peter arose to address the audience, although the immersion in the Holy Spirit had occurred, and its effects had been fully witnessed by the people, no change had taken place in their minds concerning Jesus Christ, neither did they experience any emotion, except confusion and amazement at a phenomenon which they could not comprehend. This fact proves, conclusively, that the power existent in the miraculous manifestation of the Spirit, which they witnesses, in itself alone, did not act alone to produce in them the desired change. All the power which the Spirit brought to this event still needed a medium distinct from itself in order to produce the desired effect in the minds and hearts of the people. The medium was the words of Peter. He spoke; and when he had announced the conclusion of his argument, Luke says: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the other apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?”

The usual means through which the Holy Spirit works is through the witness of a believer. There are almost always three things present when a sinner is saved; the Holy Spirit, the word of God, and a man or woman of God. The Holy Spirit takes the word of God, spoken by a child of God, and applies it to the heart of a sinner in order to make a new child of God.

they were pricked in their heart,
The word translated “were pricked” denotes to pierce or penetrate with a needle, lancet, or sharp instrument; and then to pierce with grief, or acute pain of any kind. It means the same as our word compunction. It also implies the idea of sudden as well as acute grief. In this case it means that they were suddenly and deeply affected with feelings of grief and distress by what Peter had said. The causes of their grief may have been due to one or more of these:
(1.) Their sorrow that the Messiah had been put to death by his own countrymen.
(2.) Their deep sense of guilt over having done this would bring about a remembrance of their ingratitude, and a conscious awareness that they were guilty of the most detestable and horrible kind murder; that of having killed their own Messiah.
(3.) The fear of Christ’s wrath. He was still alive, exalted to the right hand of God, and entrusted with all power. They were afraid of his vengeance; they were conscious that they deserved it; and they supposed that they would have it.
(4.) What they had done could not be undone. The guilt remained; they could not get rid of it. They had stained their hands with the blood of innocence; and the guilt of that disheartened their souls. This expresses the usual feelings which sinners have when they are convicted of sin.

It is clear that Peter’s preaching was tremendously effective, since those who heard it “were pricked in their heart,” and they asked “what shall we do?” Sinners, when their eyes are opened by the Spirit of God, cannot avoid being pricked to the heart for their sins, and cannot help but feel the inward uneasiness of guilt. But it was very strange that such impressions should be made upon such hard hearts all of a sudden. They were Jews, who were brought up to hold the opinion that their religion could save them, and they had recently seen this Jesus crucified in helplessness and disgrace, and were told by their rulers that he was a deceiver. Peter had charged them with having a hand in it, a wicked hand, in his death, which was likely to have infuriated them against him; yet, when they heard this unembellished scriptural sermon, they “were pricked in their heart.”

In Acts 7:54 (KJV) we read about those that were cut to the heart with resentment for the preacher—“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth”— but these were pricked to the heart with indignation at themselves for having been accessories to the death of Christ. Peter charged them with that crime, which awakened their consciences, cut them to the quick, and as they reflected upon it they felt a sensation like a sword in their bones, it pierced them like they had pierced Christ. Sinners, when their eyes are opened so that they clearly see their sin, cannot prevent being pricked to the heart for sin, and cannot avoid an inward uneasiness; this is having the heart rent—“And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God…” (Joel 2:13; KJV)—and a broken and contrite heart—“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart…” (Psalms 51:17; KJV). Those that are truly sorry for their sins, and ashamed of them, and afraid of the consequences of them, are” pricked to the heart.”

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