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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Acts 19

Verses 1-41

There Is a Holy Ghost (For Whit-Sunday)

Acts 19:1-2

This singular incident is remarkable as showing that in the apostolical age, as now, there were persons and bodies of persons in possession of fragments of revealed truth, yet altogether strangers to some of its most essential features.

I. Real belief in the Holy Ghost implies an habitual sense of the reality of a spiritual and super-sensuous world.

If any one thing is certain about Christianity, it is that Christianity is an appeal from the visible to the invisible. Christianity is a constant appeal from the importunity of sense to the presence and action of the Eternal Spirit. Nay, it is more; for it presupposes a spiritual world of which nature and the better philosophy is cognisant; and then it proclaims the introduction within this world of a higher power and principle which raises it above its original level, and thus constitutes the supernatural. Surely Christianity, as being strictly a supernatural religion, is à fortiori the religion of the spiritual; and yet how constantly does the empire of materialistic ideas force its way into the sanctuary of Christian thought.

II. There is such a thing as a materialised estimate of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. The idioms of Eastern speech, the scenery of the hills and lakes of Palestine, the flora, the climate, the customs of the unchanging East, all are summoned by the highest literary skill that they may place vividly before us the exact circumstances which surrounded the life of Christ. But here too often the appreciation of that life really ends. Men learn habitually to think of Christ as one who belongs only to human history.

Now belief in a communion with the Holy Spirit rescues the life of Christ in the thought of a living Christian from this exclusively historical way of looking at it. For the Holy Spirit perpetually fulfils Christ's promise in the Church and in souls. 'He shall glorify Me for He shall take of mine and shall show it unto you.'

The life of Christ is transferred by the Spirit from the region of merely historical studies, where it is appreciated only by the natural intelligence, to the region of spiritual experiences, where it speaks directly to the soul.

III. Belief in the Holy Ghost rescues us from a merely earthly and materialised estimate of the Christian Church. The Church is not a mere material corporation, but a spiritual society. Surely her indefeasible powers would only be put forth with greater energy when temporal succour was withdrawn; and it may be that she would gain in moral vigour, in clearness of faith, in intensity and unitedness of purpose, what she must have lost in the countenance of the powerful and in the wealth committed to her by past generations of her children.

IV. Once more, there is such a thing as materialised worship, and this is a danger from which those who believe most earnestly in the realities of the kingdom of the Spirit do not always escape. Let us give of our best to the Churches and the service of our God, but let us ever remember that since, even in the realm of the Incarnation, He is a Spirit, they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Surely to realise the presence of the Holy Ghost in the soul and in the Church, is to be anxious that that communion with God which cannot be uttered in language should be more constant and fervent; that the inner realities of worship should as far transcend its outward accompaniments, as the kingdom of the invisible transcends the world of sense. Not to feel this anxiety is to be virtually ignorant of the meaning of the Spirit's presence; it is practically not to have heard, at least in one department of our spiritual existence, whether there be any Holy Ghost. V. A living belief in the Holy Ghost implies a correspondent elevation of character. The Eternal Spirit has set up in the world a school of morals, and He whispers a deeper and purer code within the soul than nature dreams of.

H. P. Liddon.

Behind the Spiritual Times

Acts 19:1-3

What is the relevancy of this to our own time? No such impoverishing ignorance prevails among the modern disciples. We know that the Holy Ghost has been given. We know. Ah, I am using a New Testament word, and I must attach to it the wealth of New Testament significance. We may 'know' in the way of cognition; and we may 'know' in the way of a living fellowship by real and practical experience. As a matter of cognition, of merely mental enlightenment, we may live in the spacious days of Pentecost; but in daily usage and common experience we may be living in the lean and straitened days which preceded it.

I. Much of the mental attitude and spiritual pose of the modern Church is pre-pentecostal, and in this thin and immature relationship is to be found the secret of our common weariness and impotence. (1) If I go into one of our assemblies of praise I find that we are still 'tarrying at Jerusalem,' waiting for 'the promise of the Father'. If I listen to the phraseology of the hymns, I discover that the outlook of the soul is frequently pre-pentecostal

Descend with all Thy gracious powers,

O come, great Spirit, come.

(2) When I listen to some of our prayers I can scarcely realise that the One with whom we are dealing is 'a gracious, willing Guest, where He can find one humble heart wherein to rest'. (3) But when I look a little more deeply at this mental temper, I find that we are still more profoundly allied with the imperfect mood and inclination of the pre-pentecostal day. Is it consistent with the Christian inheritance that we should so commonly conceive of the spirit as an influence, a force, an energy, an atmosphere, an impersonal breath? The all-compassing glory of the Christian day is this, that we are dealing not with an energy, but with a Person; not with 'it,' but with 'Him!' (a) You cannot, by fellowship with an energy, produce that exquisite little flower called 'heart's-ease,' which was so prolific and abounding in the life of Paul. (b) You cannot, by fellowship with a force, produce the exquisite grace of Apostolic tenderness.

II. There is a certain compulsory impressiveness of character which attaches to profound spirituality, and which is commandingly present in those who walk in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. I know not how to define it. It is a certain convincing aroma, self-witnessing, like the perfume of a flower. It is independent of mental equipment, and it makes no preference between a plenteous and a penurious estate. Ours is the Pentecostal inheritance. Let us assume the Pentecostal attitude of zealous and hungry reception. Above all, let us cultivate a sensitive ministry with the Holy Spirit.

J. H. Jowett, The Sunday School Chronicle, vol. xxxiii. p. 926.

References. XIX. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 404, 416; ibid. vol. ii. p. 144. XIX. 1-7. Ibid. vol. ix. p. 84.

The Office and Work of the Holy Ghost

Acts 19:2

The Holy Spirit testifies of Christ. To manifest Him, to draw men to Him, to bring them into captivity to His easy yoke and light burden this is the Spirit's operation in the human heart. And this it could never be before Jesus was glorified. The testimonies to a Saviour to come were necessarily vague and enigmatical; not the subjects of firm personal reliance nor of blessed assurance, but only just prophetic glimpses into the far distance, enough for those days, to keep the saints waiting on the Lord their God, but not to be compared for an instant with the work of the Spirit now. The whole office and work of the Spirit became new and of a higher order, inasmuch as the truths with which it is now concerned were before unknown.

I. The Testimony of the Spirit. The Spirit has wrought since the day of Pentecost as He never wrought before, in the testimony which He bears in the heart of every individual believer. We do not read of any such direct access to God granted to individual men in ancient times. This is another great characteristic of the dispensation of the Spirit, that all hierarchical distinctions between man and man is for ever abolished, all sacrifice superseded, except the abiding efficacy of the one sacrifice shed abroad in the heart of the spiritual man.

II. The Wisdom of the Spirit. Again, the indwelling Spirit of these latter days of the Church is eminently the Spirit of wisdom. The humble child, walking by the light of this Spirit, is wiser than his teachers if they have Him not. The matured believer, rich in experience as in years of the Lord's service, is enabled to look down on the world and all that is in it, and count it but dross in comparison of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord.

III. The Transforming Power of the Spirit. Lastly, the Spirit of God now abiding among us is a transforming Spirit; not merely enlightening, nor merely comforting, nor merely conferring the adoption of sons, but changing us into the image of God, begetting in us a thirst to be like Him whose sons we are, to have done with sin, and to cast off corruption and to put on perfect holiness. And the end of this progressive change will be the fulness of assimilation to our glorified Redeemer, in that day of which it is said, 'When He shall appear we know that we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is'.

References. XIX. 2. W. M. Sinclair, Christ and our Times, p. 181. J. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 198. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches (2nd Series), p. 169. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 380. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1790. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 14. XIX. 5. J. Keble, Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service, p. 1. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 43. XIX. 7. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 146. XIX. 9. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 121; ibid. vol. viii. p. 405. XIX. 10. Ibid. vol. ix. p. 22. XIX. 11. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 148. XIX. 16. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 134.

Acts 19:19

When George Borrow found the Spanish servant girl Geroncina in possession of Volney's Ruins of Empires, he told her that 'the author of it was an emissary of Satan and an enemy of Jesus Christ and the souls of mankind'. She listened to his exposure of the book, quietly. 'She made no reply, but going into another room, returned with her apron full of dry sticks and brushwood, all which she piled on the fire, and produced a bright blaze. She then took the book from my hand and placed it upon the flaming pile; then sitting down, took her rosary out of her pocket, and told her beads till the volume was consumed. This was an auto-da-fé in the best sense of the word.'

References. XIX. 19. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 55; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 380. XIX. 20. J. B. Meharry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 329. J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 228. R. H. Baynes, True Revival, p. 29. XIX. 21. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 149; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 303; ibid. vol. vii. p. 122. XIX. 22. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 30; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 77. XIX. 23. Ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 342. XIX. 24. Ibid. p. 1. XIX. 24, 25. Ibid. vol. i. p. 414. XIX. 27. J. Baines, Sermons, p. 29. B. J. Snell, The All-Enfolding Love, p. 113. XIX. 32. A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 142.

Diana of the Ephesians

Acts 19:34

How did St. Paul regard the tumult? He watched it with the insight of one who comprehended the various life of the motley society round him, as well as with the mind of saintly love. We may be sure he was not for one moment dismayed. To him was granted what most of us have always to fight for the discernment of the strong and the true.

I. But although gazing on with Christian gentleness, the Apostle could not forget the words of Demetrius the silversmith. 'Ye know that by this craft we have our wealth... so that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.' How strangely mixed is the argument: our craft is in danger, and our religion is being despised. Doubtless many of the rioters were zealous for both. But their zeal for religion was mightily raised by the thought that religion helped their craft. What cries we have heard from those who profess to defend liberty and the public-house who would rather see a people free than sober. What frenzies of zeal on the part of rich brewers for the poor man's right to his beer! 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians.' Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth. It is not our wish to give pain, and we shall not carry illustrations further. Only even in assemblies of good men who cry, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians,' it is not too much to say that Diana is not first in the minds of her devotees. 'The craft in danger' is the real thought; and a man easily persuades himself that the universe is in perilous plight if his own trade is threatened. It is but too true that the hint of pecuniary loss will often change a reasonable man into a madman.

II. St. Paul could not but perceive that the clamour signed a failing faith. The voices grew hoarse, then they fell silent. And after? The reaction would weaken the whole foundation of idol worship. It would be seen that the mere repetition of the words did not make them surer. It showed that they had been challenged seriously challenged. Indeed, whenever any interest musters and clamours in that fashion, it has been first shaken by the thrill of a coming doom. There are fools who, intoxicated by a momentary advantage, persuade themselves that the world is going to turn backward, that men are to pause finally in the march towards the new earth, and forge again the chains snapped for ever. But the wiser among reactionaries are never so much dismayed as when some threatened wrong rises in strong defiance. They feel, with a death-like chill of the heart, that there is an impending upheaval in the affairs of the world.

III. Of one thing we may be sure: St. Paul was not tempted to cynicism by things which might easily have evoked it in a lower nature. Is it by accident that we read, 'After the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples and embraced them'? There was hypocrisy in Ephesus as well as vast delusion. There were men whose religion was a shield for their ill-gotten gains. There were others almost hopelessly given over to superstition. These all joined in a miserable, childish, superstitious bawling. There was something in the whole business that might move one to despair of human nature. St. Paul knew better. He knew that even then and there a deeper life had risen steadfast to endure. 'He called unto him the disciples and embraced them.'

W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 221.

References. XIX. 34. B. Hunt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 42. XIX. 38. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 57. XIX. 39. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 137. XX. XXI. Ibid. vol. v. p. 202. XX. 4. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 259. XX. 5. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 336; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 101; ibid. vol. iv. p. 34. XX. 7. J. M. Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 20. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 62.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Acts 19". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/acts-19.html. 1910.