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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Acts 2

 

 

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Verse 1

PENTECOST

‘And when the day of Pentecost was fully come.’

Acts 2:1

Pentecost is not a splendid bit of past history, the record of a great long-ago event in the history of the Church. It was only the illuminated initial letter of the long and living record of God’s perpetual plan, and of God’s continuous workings in the lives and hearts of men, and in His quickening and informing of the body of Jesus Christ.

I. There is renewed recognition in the world to-day of the well-nigh forgotten truth of the personality of the Holy Ghost—‘the Holy Ghost, Almighty,’ ‘the Holy Ghost, God,’ ‘the Holy Ghost, Lord,’ ‘co-eternal and co-equal in the Trinity with the Father and the Son.’ We have thought of Him so much under our modern idea of the Comforter, when really He is the Paraclete, ‘the other advocate with the Father,’ that we have come to think of Him as only a minister of what we call consolation, the giver of relief in sorrow or of easement in pain; a sort of spiritual sedative; a sort of spiritual anæsthetic to help us endure, by not feeling, the griefs and losses of life. But that is a degradation alike of His personality and of our nature. He is the Comforter, but in the true meaning of that word, the strengthener, the giver of life and of power. And till we come, more and more, to turn to Him and pray to Him, and lean on Him and look to Him for refreshment and invigoration, we cannot hope to grow into the fullness of spiritual force and vigour.

II. Facing, each one of us, from day to day the puzzles and problems of life, doubtful often what to decide and what to do, here is our resort for guidance into all truth, not only, but into all duty as well. There is no little wandering child; there is no struggling man; there is no one anywhere, halting between two opinions, but can find here, in prayer to and independence upon the Holy Spirit of God, guidance to know and grace to do God’s Holy Will, as in that inspired category which defines and describes the manifold gifts of grace, the two gifts that are coupled together, are ‘counsel and ghostly strength.’ Nor do I think that this is a descending climax. By all means let us recall and realise all the mighty and marvellous signs of this first Pentecost, and its instant and immediate results and effects; of conquered cowardice, of utterance, of courageous speech, of other tongues, of this small and feeble body of believers leaping into the growth of the hundred and twenty to the three thousand in a single day. But all these were only means toward the gaining of the great end, of individual lives reached and roused into the forming of character, such as will fit men here to be the faithful followers of the dear and Divine Lord, judging rightly in all things to avoid the evil choices of our blind wills, and ‘evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort’; His grace and strength given to make us and keep us clean and pure and holy in our lives; ‘to support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations,’ that growing like unto Him ‘we may die unto sin and rise again unto righteousness, continually mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living.’

—Bishop W. C. Doane.

Illustration

‘It was said by one who had a right to speak from experience, and who has now gone to his rest, “If you make it a rule to say with sincerity the first verse of the Ordination Hymn (in the Prayer Book) every morning without failing, it will, in time, do more for you than any other prayer I know, except the Lord’s Prayer:—

“Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,

And lighten with celestial fire.

Thou the anointing Spirit art,

Who dost Thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Thy blessed unction from above,

Is comfort, life, and fire of love.”’


Verse 4

FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT

‘They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.’

Acts 2:4

When our Lord manifested Himself to His disciples for the last time before His Ascension into heaven, He reminded them that He had promised to send the Holy Spirit to take His place as their Guide and their Strengthener, and to abide perpetually in their midst. By three symbols, by wind, by fire, by voice, the Spirit declared His Presence.

I. The manifestation by wind.—First of all by wind: ‘There came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind.’ The stirring power of the Spirit was thus symbolised. Wind is a mysterious force, invisible to men and beyond their control, discoverable only by its results, and so a sudden rush of strong wind might fitly symbolise that a Power more than human was moving men in spite of themselves.

II. The manifestation by fire.—Then, secondly, ‘There appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire.’ Fire is another of the forces of nature, full of significance. Inanimate though it be, it seems mysteriously endowed with a kind of living force, and in Holy Scripture fire is specially spoken of as an agent of cleansing and purification. The fire which appeared to rest on the heads of the disciples indicated the purifying power of the Spirit’s Presence. ‘He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire,’ was the promise and the warning which summed up the Baptist’s message. Not actual fire again, but tongues like as it were of fire, was the symbol which emphasised the purifying power of the Holy Ghost.

III. The manifestation by voice.—And then, once more, ‘They began to speak with tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.’ The second symbol leads fitly into the third, and by this the unifying power of the Spirit’s Presence was signified, for differences of language form the strongest barriers which separate men from each other. The mysterious utterances of the gift of tongues have been, indeed, commonly interpreted in the past as having been made in many foreign languages, but as we read the record again with care we are not led to suppose that this was the case. From St. Paul’s account of the gift of tongues in the Corinthian Church, we are led rather to suppose that these were ecstatic utterances which could only be understood by those who were in spiritual sympathy with the speaker. By all such, whatever their nationality, whatever their own language might be, they were at once understood, and so perfectly understood that the speaker seemed to them to speak the words of their mother tongue. It was more, not less, than the mere power of speaking this or that foreign tongue. It was the power of making utterances which could appeal directly to the heart, and through the heart to the understanding, of men of the most varied tongues. And thus it surmounted the barrier of language altogether, and it drew into common accord men whose languages had hitherto separated them from each other. Thus it was a fitting symbol of the uniting power of the Divine Spirit.

—Dean J. Armitage Robinson.


Verse 17

‘A MESSAGE OF HOPE’

‘Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.’

Acts 2:17

The New Testament exhibits no anxiety to make out a formal literal fulfilment of this promise. In such a sense, the seeing of visions is not a whit more frequent after Pentecost than before; much less has it become a permanent and solid endowment of the Church.

I. The promise remains.—What does it mean for us in the twentieth century? We catch a glimpse of the answer as we ask another question, What is the meaning of that great name of God—the God of Hope? Have we realised how much—for mere ardour and expectancy, for energy, courage, and buoyancy of heart—the world owes to the Christian faith? Men who have lost their faith have frankly confessed the horror of the alternative. German pessimism is its natural expression. The Church does believe that the darkest possible outlook, the most sordid misery, the foulest moral ruin, instead of entitling her to sit down benumbed and despairing, are but her call to achieve new triumphs for the Crucified.

II. Before the eyes of the Church there burns and glows the vision of a world far other than the world we see.—We look upon Europe armed to the teeth. We look at our own land—at the horrors of our cities after dark, and we dream of a purified, simpler, more generous nation. And we look for such changes not to alliances nor treaties between realms, not to laws and co-operative leagues at home, but to the deepening and cleansing of character, to the extension and strengthening of the Christian conscience, to a profounder realisation of the nearness of God to us all in Christ the merciful.

III. Such visions have made the Church the greatest and most practical power on earth, for ever dreaming but never sunk in day-dreams; the repeller of Islam, the emancipator of Africa, the educator of the poor, the champion of the masses, the one teacher of a reasonable socialism. And what she has done is the earnest and the evidence that she shall yet see greater things than these; since her high hopes are Divinely kindled, and to perceive them is the pledge that some day they shall come to pass, because He is ‘able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.’ And we are workers together with Him for these great ends.

Bishop H. C. G. Moule.

Illustration

‘Here is an average mill-girl. Her life is spent in a crowded and noisy room, watching the revolution of a wheel, or tying a thread as often as it breaks. When this deadly monotony is over she retires to a crowded street under a smoky sky, to poor nourishment, a hard bed, and an early return to labour. A few sensational novels have unfitted her for the only domestic ties to which she can aspire. A few Bank Holiday excursions have shown her the mansions and parks, the carriages and conservatories which are (so she thinks) the daily joys of other women. If her health is precarious she contrasts with their December summers by a perfumed sea, her own shivering misery, the infirmary, perhaps the workhouse and the nameless grave. Then there comes to her that great change which is rightly called conversion. Her monotony becomes a discipline. Her loneliness is watched by the Supreme Being, her Father; her sorrows are shared by the King of Heaven, Who is Himself the Man of Sorrows; her life here is the shadowy vestibule to the city of God. Her obscurity is the disguise of an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ. In her untaught bosom there begins to move a loftier emotion than ever stirred the sententious heart of Seneca. Multiply this experience by tens of thousands, and you begin to understand what a gulf stream to mitigate our climate is Christianity in the secular life of man.’


Verse 38

REPENTANCE

‘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.’

Acts 2:38

In examining this subject we must first clearly understand what we mean by repentance.

I. Respecting its nature.—To repent is an altogether different thing from doing penance. Nor is repentance to be confounded with remorse. Repentance is the tender-hearted sorrow for the sin itself.

II. Its necessity.

(a) Our Lord plainly teaches its necessity.

(b) Repentance is essentially connected with forgiveness of sin. We are never told in Holy Scripture that God forgives the unrepentant. If a man is content with his sins, vexed perhaps at the consequences, but quite unhumbled for the sin; if he neither sorrows for it, nor acknowledges it, nor humbles himself before God for it, and is simply troubled because it has disgraced him, how can he expect forgiveness from God?

III. In what way is repentance to be found?—It is the same with repentance as it is with faith, or hope, or holiness, or obedience, or purity. It is the action of man, yet the gift of God. There is in it a union of the Divine and human element. In repentance there is perfectly clearly the action of man; and accordingly man is called on as a free agent to repent. On the other hand, it is described as being as distinctly a gift of God, as if man had nothing whatever to do with it. It is a gift for which we ought to thank God as much as for pardon, or new birth, or holiness, or any other of the multiplied blessings which He in His mercy has bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.

IV. What, then, is our practical conclusion?—Two things seem perfectly clear.

(a) First, we are not to wait till we are aware of having received some supernatural gift or supernatural impression, and then begin to repent as the consequence of such a gift; but we are to begin to act exactly as we are on the command which bids us repent.

(b) But it also teaches us that we must not expect by any will of our own to soften the heart of stone.

—Canon Edward Hoare.

Illustration

‘We cannot control the Spirit of God. He works when He wills, how He wills, and where He wills. The Spirit of God, when He convinces a man of sin, wakes up sins long forgotten, and makes him feel their burning sting. Just as when a man is drowning, they say his whole life flashes before him like a panorama. Pictures of all he has done from childhood float before his mind’s eye.’


Verse 42

THE APOSTLES’ DOCTRINE

‘They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.’

Acts 2:42

This verse gives us the earliest information of the essential features of Christian unity. After Pentecost three thousand joined the Church, and this verse tells us in what their membership consisted. The Apostles’ doctrine, the Apostles’ fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers—these are permanent bonds of unity amongst Christians.

I. What was the doctrine of the Apostles which they required their converts to accept? A perusal of the Acts of the Apostles shows us. They appealed to facts, and principally to the fact of the Resurrection of Christ’s glorious body from the grave. Then when persons were ready to become Christians, we still find the appeal to facts being made. The one condition of admission was Baptism for the remission of sins. That was the second point in their doctrine. The third fact in their teaching was the actual possession of the Holy Ghost by the Church as a body.

II. What was the effect of the doctrine on the lives of those who accepted it?

(a) A strong and vivid faith in the reality of a future life as a point of the Apostles’ doctrine on the Resurrection.

(b) Endurance under persecution, and perseverance under difficulties.

III. Practical application to ourselves.

(a) The Apostles’ doctrine condemns the idea that it does not matter what men believe so long as their conduct is good. A right faith is of the utmost importance.

(b) The belief required is not mere mental assent, but a reasonable active faith having practical effect on life.

(c) The centre of Apostles’ doctrine and of our own belief is the Person of Jesus Christ our Lord.

—Rev. Barton R. V. Mills.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Acts 2:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/acts-2.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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