Almighty God, are we not all in one place, with one accord, and is not our heart steady towards thee in love and in eager expectation? Have we not come together in the one all-uniting and all-reconciling name of Jesus Christ thy Son? Wilt thou then withhold the gift of the Holy Ghost, and allow us to abide in our own emptiness and poverty of mind and heart—wilt thou not rather open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing until there be not room to receive it? Thy blessing is always larger than our space, thou doest unto the children who pray unto thee exceeding abundantly above all that they ask or think. Thy grace is an eternal surprise, thy providence is a daily miracle. If thou dost not astonish us by great interpositions which our eyes can see, it is because of the daily appeal which thou dost make to our understanding and our heart, by thy care and gentle patience.
Thou hast beset us behind and before and laid thine hand upon us: thou knowest our downsitting and our uprising, our going out and our coming in, and there is nothing in all our life on which thine eye doth not rest with the anxiety of love. The very hairs of our head are all numbered; thou dost notice the falling sparrow. Thou dost not neglect to baptize any root that is in all thine earth, thy great impartial sun throws its infinite splendour over all thy works which we behold. We will expect great things from thee, our hearts shall be warmed by a special hope, our eyes shall look for the blessing as if they would bring it. Behold this desire is of thine own creation, and this expectancy cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, and thou wilt not forsake the work of thine hands, thou wilt not inspire a prayer that thou mayest deny it.
Thou knowest with what psalms and loud thanksgivings we have come into thine house. Every heart has brought its own tribute of love and praise, no life before thee in all thy courts is dumb, but everywhere is the sign of thy presence and thy life. Hear the thanksgiving of those in whose houses thou hast set a great light, hear the blessing of those who praise thee for life giving and for life sparing, and for afflictions survived—the Lord send after such thanksgiving, answers of inspiration that shall guard and guide, ennoble and bless, the praising life.
Thou knowest who have come with songs that have in them suggestions of sorrow: they will sing though it be in the night time: whilst they sing, the darkness lowers itself upon them, in the very midst of their praising their hearts are stung with cruel memories, and in the very house of God, the enemy faces them as if even here they should find no rest on the day thou hast made for thyself. The heart knoweth its own bitterness, the life is aware of its own agony, weakness, poverty, and helplessness. Are not these the conditions upon which thou dost visit us in Christ Jesus—was it not when there was no arm to save, when there was no eye to pity, that thine own eye and thine own arm brought salvation? Thou dost address thyself to our weakness; it is because of our nothingness that thou dost come unto us; when we are weak then are we strong; emptied of ourselves and of every broken trust we have ever recorded, thou dost come to us with the fulness of thy salvation, and with the infinite sufficiency of thy grace. Therefore our hope is in God this day: were we rich and increased in goods in our own deluded imagination thou wouldst not come to us, but because and though we are blind and naked and miserable and have nothing, and because our tearful eyes are lifted up unto the heavens, thou wilt come to us in Jesus Christ, the ever-living Priest, the one Man whose prayer is ever acceptable.
We put ourselves into thine hands, thou didst make us and not we ourselves, we know not what a day may bring forth: we are plagued by our own ignorance, we are deceived by the pretensions of a strength that can do nothing, we are misled by spiritual enemies on every hand, our convictions are trifled with, our best vows are laughed at, and our endeavors after the better life are mocked by foes invisible. Yet amid all this experience of temptation and danger and distress, we know that the Lord liveth, that he regardeth them that put their trust in him, and that he will not leave them desolate in the time of his visitation. Lord, how long? Take our little life into thy keeping: its days are but a handful that a child can number, yet is our life the beginning of thine own—we begin to be immortal as thine own eternity.
Be with those whom we have left at home—those who are afraid of the cold, such as are weak and in pain, and are ready to die. With those for whom the physician can do no more, before whom he has let his hands fall in helplessness, saying that his resources are at an end. Thy resources have no end, thou dost begin at the point of our exhaustion, and when we say there is nothing more, behold thou dost create gardens round about our feet, and lead us forth into paradises unsuspected. Gladden thy desponding ones with new hope, give them that sureness and constancy of faith in thyself, before which death dies away, or comes with excuses, because we are sent for to the King"s inner chamber. Amen.
1. And when the day of Pentecost [the second of the three great Jewish feasts, the Passover being the first, and the third the Feast of Tabernacles] was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place [the upper room].
2. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind [lit, a mighty wind borne along], and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire [a comparison, not a reality], and it sat upon each of them.
4. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues [languages they had not known before], as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven [it was to the Jew much to be desired that he might die and be buried near the holy city].
6. Now when this was noised [cried abroad], the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
7. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another. Behold, are not all these which speak Galilans?
8. And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? [there was no jargon or incoherent speech].
9. Parthians [from India to the Tigris], and Medes [east of Assyria], and Elamites [in the district known to the Greeks and Romans as Susiana], and the dwellers in Mesopotamia [between the Euphrates and the Tigris], and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia.
10. Phrygia, and Pamphylia [all countries within Asia Minor], in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya [anciently applied to the African continent], about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome [sojourners from Rome], Jews and proselytes [persons who have come over].
11. Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God [the majesty of God].
12. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
13. [But] Others mocking said, These men are full of new [sweet] wine.
14. But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them [spake forth unto them], Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken [the only instance of the word in the New Testament] to my words:
15. For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. [Wine was drunk by the Jews with flesh only, and flesh was only eaten late in the day.]
16. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel [with perhaps one exception the oldest prophetic book];
17. And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
18. And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
19. And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
20. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:
21. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord [an expression which does not occur in the Gospels, though so common in the Old Testament] shall be saved.
The Outpouring of the Spirit
MARK the very critical care of the divine Head of the Church, in fixing special times for the communication of special blessings. Here we have the largest possible opportunity which God himself could have secured for the communication of his supreme gift. Pentecost was a harvest festival: about that time people could come with the least degree of danger, from various outlying countries and districts. In the spring time the sea was troubled violently, and in the winter almost impassable, but in the quiet solemn harvest time everybody seemed to be more at liberty than at any other period of the year, and the sea and the land seemed rather to invite than to repel the traveller. So at the very time when men were released from the greatest pressure of business, and when the elements were most favourable to voyaging and journeying, God came down in the great heaven-wind and the great heaven fire and owned and crowned the redeemed and expectant church.
There are opportunities even in divine providence. The days are not all alike to God. Not only has he chosen what we call the first day or the seventh day, as a day of rest—if you read carefully the whole record of his providential dealings with the world, you will find that he has chosen a hundred days. We in our narrow interpretation of things bind him down to one day, whereas is there in reality a single day in our life that he has not a lien upon? He may not say, "I will claim most of every one of those days, from the very beginning to the very end thereof: and one day I will have all for myself," but does he not come in upon birthdays, days of deliverance, times of surprise, days of unusual sorrow, periods when anxiety sharpened itself into agony, and when the whole life seemed to be one cruel and burning pain? Has he not come in upon our wedding days, and joyous days of every name and kind, saying in gentle whispers, "I have some share in these?" Let your drinking be a sacrament, let your eating be a religious festival, let all your bell-ringing and heart-enjoyment have in them subtle suggestions of divinity and of religious sacrifice.
God is not the God of one day only; he takes up the one day and specially holds it before us, but only symbolically. What he does with that day he wants to do with all the others, but his is an educating and not a driving process; it is little by little that he moves, almost always imperceptibly, nevertheless most constantly and surely. He will not rest until he has secured every whit of us, judgment, imagination, conscience, will, and every element that enters into manhood—and we shall be sanctified, body, soul and spirit.
Not only did God seize the largest possible opportunity, but he also availed himself of the largest memorial feast known in Israel. There was no feast like the Pentecost; there were three great things done at that time—there was a remembrance of bondage. This feast was fifty days after the leaving of Egypt, and was fixed on account of the leaving of Egypt: it was a feast of deliverance and triumph, and yet having in it, sobering it and chastening it all the way through, memories of cruelties endured and of oppressions survived. Thus whilst the heart was tender, while Egypt seemed to be just behind Israel like a threatening spirit, and whilst Israel was confident of its final escape from thraldom, just then, at a critical point, visible to no eye but the eye of Omniscience, was this special communication of divine grace made to the human heart.
At the Pentecost all the sacrifices were offered. On other occasions there might be partial sacrifices, but at the pentecostal season the whole series of sacrifices was gone through, and one became added to the whole, the offering of two wave-loaves, two loaves made of fine flour and leavened, were taken up and waved, before the Lord, in token that loneliness had given place to union, that isolation had entered into companionship, that that which before was without fermentation, inspiration, and movement, had now begun to lift itself towards the heavens in wordless but most significant aspiration and prayer.
At the Pentecost it was specially required that Israel should remember Sinai and the giving of the law. Thus all through, Israel was called upon to bear the memory of thunder and lightning and earthquake, and a great shaking of earth"s stablest things. Will there be any other period in all the history of the earth yet to come, dating from the giving of the law, when amid thunders and great wind-storms and lightnings there shall be given some better gift than the stern law, before which all men fell down as self-accusing offenders? Will the great voices, the solemn thunders, the appalling fires, always be used for the giving of mere law? Or will they one day be turned as it were into a sanctuary from the midst of which God shall breathe his spirit of peace and rest and sanctification and love?
On this occasion we have the largest possible union. For example, here is the largest possible union of nationalities. There were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men out of every nation under heaven. Jerusalem was never so full as then—there was therefore a union in the introductory sense of mere nationality and association. There was always the largest union of desire. Note the word accord. The instruments were all in tune together: there was but one feeling, one wish, one desire; the assembly was without mental distraction or moral discord; quarrelling, clamour, suspicion, jealousy, envy—these were all outside; within the gathered circle there was but one spirit, one expectation, one hope, one growing wonder—the silence that precedes revelations.
Have we known the mystery of silence, or has there in our very own quietness always been an undertone of trouble? Know we the restlessness of an eloquence so eloquent that it says nothing? Or are our ears filled with minor noises and are a hundred colloquies proceeding within us? If Song of Solomon, it is not along that noisy thoroughfare that God comes to the heart. God has promised nothing to disunion: the man that creates disunion in the church must instantly be put away: he is worse than an infidel, he is worse than a drunkard, a liar, a thief. The man who utters one jarring note in God"s assembly is a thief in heaven; he is not stealing some property that was mine, "tis his, "tis trash—he is stealing the very riches of the divine grace.
The Christians, then, were gathered with one accord: that is the eternal term. They were also gathered in one place: that is the transient word. The place is nothing, the accord is everything. At the time the place was of importance, but since that time place is nothing. Neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem, because at both will men worship the Father; but the accord, the union, the trusting heart, the rhythmic fellowship—this is the eternal quantity, and he who meddles with it is a violator within the very shadow of the altar. Yet who thinks of this? If a poor moral cripple should be caught suddenly in some moral fault, then is the imperfect and blind church enraged with him, but the man who is speaking ungracious words, making unlovely statements breathing a spirit of dissension in the church—who takes note of him? Number me with the wildest drunkards that were ever lost in the wild night, rather than with those men who with bated breath even, can seek to mar the union, the sweet accord, of Christ"s redeemed church. I know of no gospel for such men. It hath not entered into the infinite compassion of God to have pity upon them. To all the rest of you I have gospels high as heaven, wide as the horizon, but to the marplot in the church, to the spirit of disunion, to the disciple of dissension, God has given me no message except the message of anathema and excommunication.
Then we have the the largest possible bestowment of the divine gift. There is one word in the first verse which must not be omitted, and that is the word all. By that word all you must not understand the apostles only: the word ALL includes the apostles, the disciples, the followers of Christ of every name and degree. This suggestion is of the utmost practical importance: we are not to sit aside and say we have no part or lot in this bestowment of the Holy Ghost: we are not to suppose that popes, prelates, preachers, ministers, leaders, alone have this gift of the Holy Spirit. This is a common gift, accept it, ask for it, claim it in Christ"s name. If men being evil know how to give good gifts unto their children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask him? At this moment I happen to occupy the level of what is called a minister, but on that level I claim no more of God"s Spirit and grace than the humblest man in all the church may claim. Get rid of any idea that would lead you to worship the priest: cleanse yourselves of that defilement. We are all God"s clergy. We are a royal priesthood, we have to maintain the priesthood of believers: I am not ordained by a priest, I am ordained by a priesthood. To this ministry I am not called by one man bearing any distinctive name of official pre-eminence, but called, if truly called, by the consenting voice of the priesthood of the church.
We must not imagine that a minister merely as such has greater spiritual privileges than a mechanic. It must not be supposed that because a man is entrusted with a high trusteeship, that therefore God has been partial to him. We are all in the priesthood, we are equally priests before God, our priesthood has no standing but in our holiness. Not in our intellectual capacity, not in our technical training, not in our official status, but in the sanctification of the will and of the heart—the total sacrifice of the man to the God.
As to the church all meeting in one place, do not believe in a place-church. God"s church is everywhere. Many of you belong to God"s church and may not know it. Poor outsider, you think that the sect is the church: that is your fundamental sophism. What is your heart, what is your heart"s desire, what is the uppermost wish of your mind, what is the sovereign purpose of your life? If you can say it is to know God"s will and do it, to find out God unto perfection and serve him and be like him, then you are in the church, whatever particular place you may occupy. And you who were born but yesterday, are as much a priest as the venerable teacher who is about to close the record and pass on to his higher status, only that he has the advantage of you in time, it may be also of opportunity, but speaking of the nature, essence and substance of things, you also, new-born child in Christ"s kingdom, are a priest in Christ, unto God.
Jesus Christ made a great promise to his disciples when they asked him whether at that time he would restore the kingdom unto Israel. It is always interesting to observe how great promises are fullfiled. The very greatness of the promise necessitates that the fulfilment of it shall be upon a scale proportioned to itself. We have often been amazed because we have wondered how Jesus Christ would find equivalents of the great propositions which he laid before the people. We were unable, for example, to conjecture how he would leave the world; we insisted that the Man who came into the world as no other man ever came should not be allowed to leave the world in an ordinary way, should not be allowed to lure us at the one end, and mock us by a common place at the other; we must see him go out. And when we were told that he ascended, imagination said, "It is enough, it is in infinite in grandeur, and it satisfies the mind in its highest moments."
Now we have the question before us, how will he fulfil the promise which was given to his apostles, when he told them to wait until they were endued with power from on high? That would be no commonplace realisation of that promise, nor was there one. "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Again imagination says, "It is enough, I knew not," my feeble fancy continued, "how that great promise would be carried into effect, but hearing as I do of the suddenness of the coming I remembered that the Lord will suddenly come to his temple, and remembering as I do, when poor Elijah hid himself in an unbuilt chamber in the rock there went by him fire, wind, earthquake, and then the still small voice, so I see here the old ministry, the grand old agency of rushing mighty wind, cloven tongues as of fire, sudden seizure of things, and marvellous world-enclosing eloquence." God always takes care to satisfy the imagination, to say the least of it, and often to confound it. Specially does he take care to satisfy the moral nature, and to call upon conscience to say "It is right."
We see from this revelation how helpless we are in the matter of spiritual revivals. What did the apostles do towards this demonstration of divine power? They did nothing but wait, pray, hope, "expect—what the world, so fond of action, would call nothing. That is all we can do towards a right revival of religion and virtue. Have nothing to do with those persons who organise revivals, beware of those persons who lay traps for God, have nothing to do with, any mechanised resurrection of spiritual life. Let us read the word "suddenly," reverently, prayerfully, let us read it with secret expectation that the Lord may at any moment come, the darkest hour of the night, or at cockcrow, or early in the morning, and our business is only to wait and watch and lovingly listen as if we might at any moment hear the first foot-beat on the far-away road.
We need to know the power of waiting. There are those who tell us that we ought to be doing something practical, and they degrade that word "practical" into a kind of mechanical exercise. Is he doing nothing, who continues steadfast in prayer? Is he doing nothing, who speaks great words of wisdom and who calms the heart in the midst of its searching trouble? Is he not a great preacher and a great evangelist, who, by sympathy, love, tenderness, includes all men in his wrestling prayer and gives all men who hear him to feel that every case has been lifted up in a light where the king and the angels can well see it? To be practical is not to be demonstrative, to be building wood, hay, stone and metal, it may be to give thought, to offer suggestion, to stimulate the mind, to check the ambition, to elevate the purpose of life. The disciples and apostles, previous to Pentecost, did everything by doing nothing.
We see also how unmistakable fire is. Who can mistake fire? The difference between one man and another is a difference of heat. Heat, or fire, is the secret of all things. God is fire. It is so in all things. The difference between one reader and another is a difference of fire; the difference between one musician and another is that one man is all fire, and the other man all ice. The difference between one preacher and another is a difference of fire. Who can mistake the gift? Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened unto us the Scriptures? So with a true revival: we shall find it manifesting and vindicating itself, not in an accession of intellectual cleverness, but in that burning glowing fervour which purifies whatever it touches, consuming the dross and leaving the fine gold for the king"s using.
Almighty God, may we not be as fools but as wise, having understanding of the meaning of things, and knowing what thou art doing in all the days as they brighten and die. Thou art alway most surely fulfilling thy Holy Word—may we be numbered amongst those who are inspired with a great expectation, and who are constantly looking for the Lord"s coming. Surely thou art alway coming, thou art nearer now than ever before; give us the insight which sees thee in the events of the day, and so ennoble our religious faculty that we may be able to interpret unto others the movements which appear to be common or degraded. Enable us by thy presence in the soul, so to see what is transpiring, as to acknowledge thine hand in it, and to be enabled to point out to others the gracious rule of thy sovereignty.
Thou art expressing thyself to our vision and feeling and thought, in every occurrence of the time. Shall there be evil in the city and the Lord hath not done it—shall the devil have larger scope without the Lord having given it to him—doth hell enlarge its borders without permission from heaven? The Lord reigneth: there is but one God and his name is great: in the hollow of his hand all things rest, in his heart is the centre of all force. This faith thou hast taught us in Jesus Christ our Saviour and Priest, through whom we have large access unto the throne, and whose name gives the prevalence of power to the mean petitions which our own hearts suggest. If thou dost so enable us to read the signs that are passing around us, we shall be no more children tossed to and fro, visited by sudden and irregular tumults, the prey and victim of all uproar and accident, but in our inmost soul, as in a sanctuary hidden from the touch and the gaze of others, we shall have thine own quietness, the peace which maketh glad. Enable us to know that all we are and have cometh down from the heavens shining with daily blessing and offering continual hospitality. Thou dost lead us by ways that we do not know, yea in paths from whose entrance we have shrunk; thou hast found for us gardens of flowers and springing wells and places of secure repose—so will we no more interfere with thee, we will not meddle with God, we will stand in Christ and say, Not our will but thine be done: it is the only wise will and good, and in us there is no thought of excellence, we live and move and have our being in God. God"s will be done though it be death to us, yea God"s will be done though our chosen places be turned upside down and the nest in which we have hidden ourselves be torn to pieces. God"s will be done: lead us on as thou wilt and how thou wilt, only hide in us the sure and indestructible confidence that thou art undertaking our life for us, and that in the end thou wilt show us the goodness and glory of thy purpose.
We have come up to praise thee with unanimous song. Thou hast been good to us with infinite grace, thou hast spared nothing from our lot that would brighten and ennoble or sanctify it, and for this providence of thine we now bow down ourselves before thee in grateful and delighted homage. We have nothing that we have not received, what we have received is enriched with thine own image and superscription, and if we have given aught to thee, of thine own have we given thee, and the glory shall be thine.
For all chastening and mellowing providences we bless thee, for everything that teaches us the brevity of our life, for all helpfulness towards the true enjoyment of thy providence we now laud and magnify thee in our common psalm. Surely thou dost not waste the days upon us, all the sunshine is not lost upon our mean life, thou dost purpose the growth of our soul and its ultimate sanctification and complete purity. Towards this end thou art working in divers ways. We humbly pray thee for growing insight into the truth as it is in Jesus, for the spirit of sympathy with the very heart of Christ, for the tenderness of soul which feels every tear the Saviour shed, and that responds with penitence to the blood which he shed in atonement for the world. Bind us to the Saviour of souls, put both our hands and our whole heart upon the cross of Christ, and bound to that sacred symbol of thy love, thy law and righteousness, may we live the rest of our time in the very spirit and under the very blessing of Christ.
Wherein we have done wrong, thy pity will be greater than our sin. We cannot go beyond thy grace in any extent of guilt. Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound, and as for the blackness of our guilt, lo, it becomes as wool and as snow under the cleansing blood.
Thou knowest our life, it is in our breath, it is a vapour that cometh for a little time and then vanisheth away. It is as a flying shadow, or a hastening post, as a shuttle quickly moving from point to point We die whilst we live, we breathe ourselves away, every pulse that beats leaves but the number less. So teach us to number our days as to apply our hearts unto wisdom. The year is dying, the year we once called new, under the morning of which we breathed our salutations and loving wishes to one another. Behold the golden vessel is being lifted up again into the heavens whence it descended. Help us to know that our days are a handful, that a child can name the sum thereof: whatsoever our hand findeth to do may we do it with our might.
Pity all who need thy pity, save us one and all, look not upon us in the light of thy righteousness, for who can stand when thou dost appear? but look upon us in Christ and through the cross, and from the altar of his sacrifice, and hear us when we say, Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift. Deliver us from all embarrassment, show us what we ought to do on the morrow, give us unexpected answers to surprising difficulties, lead us over the road when we cannot see it, when it is too perilous to be trodden by human feet, lift us up in thine arms and carry us clean over. Let the old man forget his age in the inrush of new life and the inshining of celestial hope, let the feeble forget his weakness by an instant access of spiritual strength, and let the young be lifted up into a chastened and joyous maturity because of the conscious presence of God.
Nurse our sick ones: they are too delicate for us to touch, our gentlest embrace would but crush them in this very last feebleness—make their bed in their affliction, for our rough hands cannot touch it, speak comfortably to them, for in our voice there is no music; heal those whom the physician has surrendered; when all human aid has gone out of the door dejected, helpless, confessed to be exhausted, go thou in and show us that our extremity is the opportunity of God. Amen.
The Outpouring of the Spirit
IT is in the presence of the Holy Ghost that we find the true union of the church. There are diversities of operation, and must always be such, but diversity of operation does not destroy, or in any degree impair, the unity of the Spirit. There is one Spirit, there is one faith, though there be many creeds, there is one baptism, though there be many forms of it, there is one Lord, though He shine in a thousand different lights. We have been vainly looking for union in uniformity, and because of the lack of uniformity we have oftentimes most ignorantly mourned the absence of union. Consider how irrational is such mourning, and how it is rebuked in the most practical terms by all that we know, even of the lower life with which we are most familiar. Is the human race one or many? is there any difficulty in identifying a Prayer of Manasseh, whatever his colour, form, stature, language, or individuality of expression?—yet are there any two men exactly alike? Consider how few are the elements which, so to speak, God had to work upon in making men, and yet see the infinite variety which he has wrought out of the few. Man has, say, some seven features, forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, form or contour, colour or complexion, so that they roughly sum up the Prayer of Manasseh, yet out of those seven notes what music of facial expression has God wrought! Out of the twelve hundred millions of men now on the face of the globe, who can find two absolutely alike and identical? Yet, "God hath made of one blood all nations of men:" the unity is not in the form, but in something below the form, yea, in a something so subtle that it cannot be expressed in image or in word. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
Do you therefore think of asking whether these two men can really belong to the same human nature: namely, a man black and a man white; a man speaking an unknown tongue, and a man speaking the language with which you are most familiar; a man with habits diametrically opposed to the habits of other men? Does it ever occur to you to ask the irrational question, whether these two belong to a common stock? You do not doubt the unity of the humanity, you comment upon diversities of temperament and peculiarities of habits, but you never think of striking at the central and vital unity of the race.
It is so in the Christian church. The Christian church is split up into a score of sects, but the church itself is one. When we seize that idea in all its range and significance, we shall not be seeking any mechanical unification of Christendom. Christians are one, the world over. To those who look upon things from the outside merely, it would seem impossible that the Arminian and the Calvinist can both be readers of the same Bible, and worshippers of the same God. But their unity is not found in formality, in credal expression, in propositional theology, in ecclesiastical arrangement; down in the centre of the heart, in a place untouched, so to say, by human fingers, there lies the common organic nerve that unites Christendom in its worship and in its hope.
It is a common complaint amongst persons who do not look deeper than the surface, that Christians are much divided; they are only divided in outward expression, their division as compared with their union is as a small drop in the bucket; when the CROSS is touched, the defence never comes from any one section of the church, the whole church with unanimous love and loyalty rushes to the vindication.
This has been exquisitely illustrated from another point of view by Mr. Robertson of Brighton, who calls our attention to the diversities which occur in the expression of sorrow, and also in the expression of worship and of loyalty. He reminds us of the Eastern sufferer, who throws himself upon the ground, and lies there prostrate, crying piteously and vehemently. The Western may be silent and self-controlled, but suffering all the while in his very heart a mortal agony. Is there therefore a difference in sorrow? The difference is not in the sorrow, but in the manifestation of the sorrow. So the Oriental before his king falls flat on the ground, and the Briton before his God only kneels. Is there, then, a difference in the spirit of worship? The meaning is the same, the whole conception is the same, a conception of lowliness, self-insufficiency, homage, dependence, loyalty. Who, therefore, would argue anything from the superficial comments of men who remark upon the diversities of the modes of worship which are found throughout Christendom? The Papist and the Protestant have different forms; those who follow symbolic worship, and those who are devoted to simplicity simplified, are all meaning, in proportion to their sincerity, the same thing. He therefore will, in my judgment, misspend his time, and will throw away his strength for naught, who seeks to mechanise the unity of the church, and to have one form or one liturgy, singing out of one hymn-book, breathing praise through the medium of the same music, and he will be on the right road, and will have a prophet"s power, yea, about him shall be the shining of an angel, who tells us that union is in the heart, in sympathy, in meaning, in the ultimate purpose of the mind, which is to glorify God in a noble, holy and beneficent life.
Have we received the Holy Ghost? The question does not admit of hesitation as to its answer. No man can mistake the summer sun when he sees it; he will not come home with a half tale of having seen some kind of light, but is not quite sure what it is or whence it shone, whether it was a gas jet, or the shining of an electric light, or a new star. The sun needs no introduction, has no signature but its own glory, and needs take no oath in proof of its identity. The shadows know it, and flee away; the flowers, and open their little hearts to its blessing; all the hills and valleys know it and quiver with a new joy.
We may have the form, and not the spirit. The apostle speaks of some who having the form of godliness deny the power thereof. Herein it is that so many men get wrong in their comments upon Christianity. They say the great thing after all for a man to do is to do good. That is correct. But what would you think of me if I said the great thing after all is for a train to go, when the train has not been attached to the engine? You are perfectly right in saying that the train is useless if it does not go, and if the train is going it is all right. But you must bring within your argument the fact that the engine could not go without the fire, that the train cannot go unless attached to the engine, that the engine and the train move, vibrate, fly, under the power of light; the light that was sealed up in the bins of the earth ten thousand ages ago, is driving your great locomotives today! When, therefore, you tell me that a man must do good, a man must be kind and noble and forgiving and excellent, and that is enough, you omit from your statement the vital consideration that we can only do these things as we are inspired by the indwelling Spirit of God.
I see before me at this moment certain cords suspended from the roof of this building. We are, I understand, about to attempt the experiment of introducing for a brief period, the electric light into this building. Is that the electric light which I see now? "Tis but a piece of dead cord; I could burn it, and yet it is necessary, yes, that must be allowed. What is wanted then is but to connect these cords with a motive power, near at hand or far away—but until the connection is established these festoons I see before me are but dead, useless things, without a spark of light which I can make available. Connect the cords, set the engine going, let it cause the necessary rotations to fly, and presently an arrangement may be made by which from these cords we shall receive a dazzling glory. They are nothing in themselves, and yet without them, the engine might for a thousand ages, and we should get no light.
It is even so with us in our very soul and heart and mind. We are here, men educated, intelligent, well-appointed, and what is it that we need but connection with the heavens, direct communication with the source of light and fire? "Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire."
Let us see by all these common illustrations, the meaning of the grand spiritual truth, "Without me—Christ—ye can do nothing." Except the cord be attached to the really energetic centre it can do nothing. Except a branch abide in the vine it cannot bear fruit. Such is the lesson of all symbolism: we have detached ourselves from God, we have undertaken our own course in life; for a time we may go because of the original connection which existed between God and ourselves, and which he may even now in mercy be continuing unto us, in the hope of his infinite love that the filial relation may be Revelation -established. Happy are we if we so interpret these outward symbols and suggestions, as to get from them the solemn lesson that unless we are vitally related to Christ, we have no life abiding in us.
When the Holy Spirit is communicated to the church, we must not imagine that we shall be other than ourselves, enlarged, ennobled and developed. The Spirit will not merge our individuality in a common monotony. Whatever your power is now, the incoming of the Holy Ghost will magnify and illuminate, so that your identity will not be lost, but will be carried up to its highest expression and significance. And more than that, not only will there be development of that which is already ascertained and known, but there will be a development of latent faculties, slumbering powers, the existence of which has never been suspected by our dearest friends. "If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a new creature, old things have passed away, and all things have become new." Look for surprises in the church when the Holy Ghost falls upon it: dumb men will speak, ineloquent men will attract and fascinate by the sublimity of their new discourse, timid men will put on the lion, and those who had hidden themselves away in the obscurity of conscious feebleness will come out and offer themselves at the Lord"s altar to help in the Lord"s service.
Do not let us have any attempts at mechanical enthusiasm. Any enthusiasm that is simulated, must die in the very act of expressing itself. When the Holy Ghost falls upon an assembly, the assembly loses mechanical self-control, but not spiritual self-direction. It is not carried away by mere exhilaration, as if by "wine wherein is excess," it knows the hour of the day, it knows the genesis and the meaning of the process it has carried up to an enthusiasm which confounds all outside dwellers, but which brings its own explanation to the heart which it inflames.
So we await the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Holy Spirit, baptize us as with fire! Show me a true Christian who has not surprised his friends, not only by natural expansion of acknowledged power, but by many gifts and impulses, which had not been suspected before. What patience, what long-suffering, what nobleness of charity, what instantaneousness of large interpretation of misunderstood actions, what willingness to oblige and serve! How courteous, how simple, how chivalrous, how helpful altogether! The rough places have been made plain, high places have been brought low, the valleys have been lifted up, for the Lord hath come, and in his coming is reconciliation and ennoblement, and we are at our best only when we are under his inspiration.
The resources of the church will be multiplied in proportion as the church enjoys the presence and power of the Holy Ghost. How the old earth has continued to keep pace with all our civilization and science—why should I not amend that sentence and say, How the old, kind motherly earth has been keeping herself back, as if she would be wooed and entreated and besought to tell the secret of her heart and yield up the riches which she had hidden. The electric light was, as to its possibilities, in Eden, as certainly as it is in the metropolis of England today. The locomotive has not created anything but a new combination and a new application and use. The locomotive was lying beside the four rivers that flowed through Paradise. Nothing has been added to the earth, no shower has fallen in the night-time to give the earth new riches and new susceptibilities: we have had to dig and search and wait, and we have realized this great Scriptural injunction and exhortation, Seek, and ye shall find; ask, and it shall be given unto you, knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Whosoever asketh receiveth, and whoso seeketh findeth, and the door is opened to him who knocks upon it as if he meant to go in.
It is even so in the Bible. We have not begun yet the great preaching. The church knows nothing yet about the possibilities of revelation. No new Bible will be written, but new readers will come. No man may add one word to what is written in the sealed book, but the Lion of the tribe of Judah will open the book and read it as it has never been read before. To a certain extent we have learning enough, ability enough, industry enough: what we want is the baptism of the Holy Ghost. When that baptism comes we shall not be asking for definitions, for definitions are the exhaustion of terms. Genius cannot be defined, Inspiration cannot be defined, Love cannot be defined—we know them all, we bow before them all, but we cannot put our homage into words, or carve in dead, cold stone, the beauty which we see and idolise in the soul. Be not asking frivolous questions about divergent and colliding creeds, fret not yourself because of those who make creeds and create differences, but understand that the union of the church, the power of the church, the life of the church, is in the felt presence of God the Holy Ghost.
When he comes we shall be one and yet many, no individuality will be lost; Peter will still flame, John will still burn, Paul will still reason, James will still moralize, David will still sing. Our identity will not be lost, but under the influence of a common fire, warmed by a common love, every man shall bring forth fruit according to his individuality, and as in the infinite diversity of nature we discover one common and grand beauty, and as one star differeth from another star in glory, yet every lamp was lighted at the same fontal fire—so we shall rejoice in one another"s gifts, be thankful for the diversity of tongues and offices and services in the church, and shall not make this an occasion of separation. Whilst we look we shall be astounded at the infinite possibilities of human nature, at the infinite graciousness of the divine gift, and out of these very diversities shall come the inspiration of a new and ever-enlarging thankfulness.
Almighty God, may Christ be born in our hearts today, the hope of glory. We bless thee for all things that call his name to our memory, and for all occasions that draw out our love towards him and his cross. He is the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world: before we sinned, he died. Herein is the fulness of God, and herein the eternity of his grace. Thou wast not surprised by sin, thou didst provide for the wound ere it was inflicted. The cross is older than our crime: where sin abounds grace doth much more abound, for sin is the creature of time, but grace is the offspring of eternity. God is love: herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son to die for us. We love him because he first loved us: our love is but a poor answer to thine—thy love was first, or we never could have loved: thou wilt bring to pass thy word; thy promise shall stand in all the reality of accomplishment; the whole earth shall be filled with thy glory, and all the darkness of sin shall be chased away.
This is thy decree: we read it until our hearts burn within us because of thankfulness and love. The word which the Lord hath spoken shall surely prevail: none can stand against thy sovereignty, thou Lord of hosts. Cheer thy church by visions of the coming time, make her glad with the high and sure animation that her Lord is hastening to her, and that her prayer for the quickness of his coming shall be answered by his sudden appearance. O, Lord, how long? The thing that is promised is true, but the time is long, yet is it long only to us who have so little time to live in; a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night: a thousand years are as one day, and one day is as a thousand years—thou hast no time, Inhabitant of Eternity!
Save us, we beseech thee, from all the temptations which time suggests. We rise and lie down and count the weary days: we number the slow and monotonous weeks, and our hearts fail within us because the vision does not brighten the sky. Draw us into the peace of thine own eternity; make us quiet with the serenity of thine own infinitude; then shall we cease to fret ourselves because of evildoers and to misunderstand the wondrous ways of God.
We bless thee for all the blessings of the year. Thou hast brought us down to its last Sabbath. Through all the year thou hast been mindful of us, the morning has been bright with thy presence, the eventide has spoken to us in its own star, and the night has been rich with the voices and music of light. We desire to thank thee for having taken care of us and of our houses, and for having blessed our business occupations, and for having brought us together this day to thank thee in common psalm and prayer for all thy wondrous works. Thou hast continued unto us our reasoning faculties, our bodily strength, our social enjoyments, and for all these and for all that they involve and imply, we would now bless thee with unbroken and constant thankfulness. Thou hast redeemed our soul from deadly fear, thou hast broken the chain that bound us to the hard rock, thou hast caused us to escape the wheel which threatened to crush our life. Behold thy goodness, how good, thy mercy, how merciful, thy kindness, how loving. We would be worthy of thy ministry, but in us there is no help; we would live in answering love, according to all the appeals made to us by thy gentle and gracious providence, but the things we would we do not, and the things we would not, those we do. The Lord have pity upon us, and magnify his mercy according to our weakness.
We present ourselves before thee in Christ, blessing thee for all thy care, patience, love and mercy, and now we would ask thee to preserve us during the few days that remain, that we may use our time in all diligence and love as men animated by a high expectation, and made steady by a sure hope. We would grow in grace, we would be no longer tossed to and fro by various winds of doctrine, we would stand in the sanctuary of thy grace, and rest ourselves in the sure word of prophecy, and fill ourselves with the contented love of those who know that the Lord reigneth. We give one another to thee: every heart offers its little self to thy keeping. How many battles there are to be fought, how many wounds to be endured, how many harvests to be reaped, how many tears to be shed, how many graves to be dug, we ask not: thy will be done. Call us with thine own voice, and may our hearts hear it and our will respond to it with all the eagerness of love.
The Lord be with those who are far away from us, of whom we think, and those who think of us and with whom today we hold heart-fellowship, whose excellences we recall and whose defects we forget. The Lord make them merry with a godly mirth, glad with a saintly joy, and may we all be moved by the indestructible expectation of meeting in the city where there is no need of the sun, because of the shining of thy face. The Lord make us glad, the Lord who loveth joy give gladness to the hearts of his people, turn their afflictions into roots of strength and hope and promise, and sanctify their tears so that through them they may see afar.
God bless all the little children, those who are home from school, those whose hearts are overflowing with young delight, because of all the enjoyments and opportunities of the season. The Lord make them glad from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, and fill their very dreams with young delight, and carry them all through the line of growth even unto old age, and may the last wine be better than the first. Amen.
22. Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth [only seven weeks had elapsed since he died the death of a slave!], a man approved [publicly demonstrated] of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
23. Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands [a Hebrew formula for "by means of"] have crucified and slain:
24. Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death [the travail-pangs]: because it was not possible that he should beholden of it.
25. For David speaketh concerning him [in reference to him], I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand [an image of the warrior who extends his shield over his comrade on his left hand], that I should not be moved:
26. Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:
27. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [Hades, the unseen world], neither wilt thou suffer [give] thine Holy One to see corruption.
28. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt maker me full of joy with thy countenance.
29. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day [thus showing that he did not rise again].
30. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;
31. He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption [a pious error therefore to embalm the body of Christ].
32. This Jesus hath God raised up [from the dead], whereof we all are witnesses.
33. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted [into heaven], and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed [poured] forth this, which ye now see and hear.
34. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord [Jehovah] said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand [a common Eastern expression].
35. Until I make thy foes thy footstool [an expression for complete victory].
36. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
The Effect of Pentecost Upon Peter
THIS is a full length portrait of Peter himself. If we see clearly the effect upon Peter, we shall have a true idea of the effect of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon the entire church. God shows us things that are too great to be seen in their completeness, in illustrative and easily-comprehended parts. Those who carefully study Peter"s speech in answer to the mockers, will see in the case of one Prayer of Manasseh, the effect which would follow by the loving acceptance of the inspiration of the Spirit on the part of the whole church. Inspiration is followed by self-revelation; a man may thus reveal himself with perfect unconsciousness. Peter is not an egotist in this case, but, so to say, the passive instrument through which the Holy Ghost delivers new and gracious messages to the church. Fix your minds therefore upon Peter in the first instance. We know what he has been up to this time, ardent, impulsive, unbalanced, enthusiastic, cowardly. Since we last saw him, during the days of the bodily-present Christ, he has been the subject of Pentecostal influence. We have therefore to look on this picture and on this; and upon the change discoverable between the two pictures you may found your estimate of the value of spiritual inspiration.
Notice his heroic eloquence. He is not only a speaker, he is a burning speaker. It is not enough to speak—you may teach an automaton to speak, you may so instruct a machine as to utter a mimic cry. This man is not only speaking words, he is speaking them with unction, with fire, with emphasis, never heard in his tone before. A man does not read simply because he pronounces words that are in the text that he is perusing; a man does not give out a psalm simply because he articulates without inaccuracy every individual word in the metre. There is something in the reading which cannot be put into type, a halo, or say an atmosphere, or say an aroma, or say an illustrative and far-reaching fire of the soul.
It is even so with this speech of Peter. You have not the whole speech in the words. You must be enabled, by a kind of semi-inspiration of your own, to read between the lines, in order to get hold of all the force and weight of this burning oration. We do not gather all from the speaker that we gather when we take down the mere words which he utters: there are palpitations which cannot be reported, and tones which have no typal representation. It was emphatically so in this great speech of the inspired fisherman. It carries everything before it like a fire marching through dry stubble. Already therefore in the mere matter of eloquence, we discover a wonderful change in the man who denied his Lord with an oath. He was always an ardent Prayer of Manasseh, but now he burns as he says the elements themselves will one day "burn with fervent heat" Who but himself could have put those two words together? They are part of his very self. Other men might have said, "The elements will burn;" they might even have gone so far as to say "the elements will burn with heat," but it was Peter"s very self that said, "the elements shall burn with fervent heat." That fervent heat, in its own degree and with its own proper spiritual limits, we find in this great deliverance.
It was not only eloquence, it was reasoning on fire. For notice Peter"s grasp of Biblical truth. Who had ever known Peter before as a reader—who was aware until this moment that Peter ever opened the sacred Book and perused it with a student"s curiosity and eagerness? We had never thought of Peter as an expositor; an errand-runner, a zealous, not always well-balanced friend, a crude thinker, an incoherent speaker, under these terms we may have formed some conception of the apostolic fisherman, but certainly it never entered into our mind that he had been a reader, a student, an inquirer into the deep decrees and hidden things of the sanctuary—yet in a moment he opens the prophecy of Joel, and reads it in the language and tone of his own day, and then he searches into some of the richest psalms of David, and quotes from them enough to establish the continuity and solidity of his great argument.
Not only was he transformed into an orator, he was transformed into a profound expositor of the divine purpose in the creation and education of the church. He speaks like a philosopher. He sees that the ages are not unrelated days, broken and incohesive nights, but that the ages are ONE, as the day is one, from its grey dawn to the time of the lighting of the evening star. This always follows deep acquaintance with the mysteries of God and high fellowship with the Spirit of the living One; we are delivered from the vexation and torment of daily details, and are set in the great currents and movements of the divine purpose, and thereby do we acquire the balance which gives us rest and serenity, which often glows into courageous joy. Think of Peter, a fisherman, uniting these, and calling upon prophecy as its own witness, and pointing out how life is a development, a growing upward and onward, and outward, into new and harmonious expressions. When the church is inspired, it will be eloquent: when the church is inspired it will be biblically wise, it will be able to read not the letter only, but to decipher the spirit, and to read the letter so that it will quiver into music under the tone refined in the sanctuary and made quick with the vitality of God.
Peter shows us how prophecy is fulfilled. The fulfilment of prophecy is not something which God has been arduously trying to do and has at last barely accomplished. The fulfilment of prophecy is not a divine effort; God is not a great giant trying to carry some infinite globe up an infinite hill, and at last just succeeding in unloading the burden. The fulfilment of prophecy is a natural process, and it comes to express a natural end. Prophecy is not to God a mere hope, it is a clear vision of what must be, and of what he himself will bring to pass. You do not prophesy that the child will become a Prayer of Manasseh, you speak of his manhood as future, but quite certain, you say what he will be, so strong, wise, chivalrous, gentle, prudent, brave—and in so saying you are not expressing the result of an arduous effort on your part which you hope to bring to a successful issue, but you are taking your stand by the side of God when he created the typal Adam, and you say this is God"s purpose and Adam shall come to this estate.
We want the right way of reading the fulfilment of prophecy. It is prophesied that the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. It is not a mere hope, it is the sure outcome of the divine way of doing things. Christ must, by a necessity which cannot be explained, even by the necessity of righteousness and light and truth, reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. So we are not trusting to a vain promise; prophecy is not a daring expression of a fanatical hope, it is God"s prevision of the future, and God"s note of hand that he will yet give his Son the heathen for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession, signed in every ink in the universe, signed in heaven before the earth was formed, signed on Calvary with the blood-ink of the Cross, We must rest in this assurance; the word of the Lord will prevail, not by means of education, eloquence, or mechanical efforts on the part of the church, but the world will be converted unto Christ because God has said it will be Song of Solomon, and when his word has gone forth it cannot return to him void.
Not only was Peter eloquent and instructive—he startled the church by becoming its most solid and convincing reasoner. What a wonderful argument this Isaiah, to take no higher view of it in the mean time. "Ye men of Israel," said Peter, "hear these words," and mark how cunning the words are in the best sense of the term. Observe where and how Peter begins his address, "Jesus of Nazareth, a Prayer of Manasseh," there is no appeal to theological bias or prejudice. Had he begun by saying to such people, "Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate God," he would have lost his audience in his first sentence. He was made into a master of assemblies, he began where his hearers could begin, and he who begins otherwise than at the point of sympathy, how eloquent soever, will lose the reins ere he has time to put one sentence to another. Already therefore this inspiration is beginning to tell in the mental force and astuteness of this unlettered fisherman. He gives up the Deity of Christ, does he? He plainly calls Jesus Christ "a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know." But does he conclude so? He begins by describing Christ as a Prayer of Manasseh, but the glittering point of his glorious climax is this—" Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ."
Note the argumentative skill. Had Peter broken off his speech in the first sentence, the coldest Socinian that ever wrote about Christ could have endorsed his utterance, but Peter makes way through Scriptural quotations and through inspired exposition, until he concludes with this burning breath, "God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified both LORD and CHRIST."
Notice, too, how Peter stands without equivocation upon the historical fact of the resurrection. He was not talking to people who lived a century after the reported rising again of Christ: he was talking to men who knew perfectly well what had happened. Does he put any gloss upon the matter—does he seek to make it a parable, a typal instance, a quasi resurrection? He talks with the absolute frankness of a man who is relating facts, which every child in the assembly knew to be such, and he was in the presence of men who could instantly have risen and contradicted the statements which he made, had they been in a position to do so.
Does Peter separate Christ from the wonderful manifestation of the Spirit which had been granted? On the contrary, he connects the Pentecost with the risen and glorified Son of God. This enables him to use another "therefore." I refer to these "therefores" in this connection because we are trying to show how inspiredly argumentative the apostle had become. "Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear." This is his last miracle, this is the spiritualization of all the miracles, this is the marvel to which all signs and wonders were leading up, this is the capital without which the column would have been unfinished, this the revelation of the purpose which moved his heart when he came to save the world and found his church.
It was also a great evangelical speech which Peter made. He gave the house of Israel a new chance. "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly,"—it is as if Peter would say, "Now you have the opportunity of escaping all the past and beginning a new and glorious future." That is the continual speech of Christianity. Every morning Christianity says, "You can make today better than yesterday. Every morning is a new chance, every new year is a new opportunity, every turn in the affairs of men is a new gate opened upon some higher road." Would that we had understanding of these things and could turn our chances to high spiritual use!
All these features will characterise a revived church. We shall have heroic eloquence, profound insight into Scripture, strong grasp of the meaning and purpose of prophecy, and we shall ourselves become unanswerably argumentative in all Christian doctrine and truth when the Holy Ghost is poured out upon us.
We have in Peter a standard whereby to measure ourselves. When the Holy Ghost falls upon us we shall go to the Bible with a new reading power, and we shall see wonders where before we saw nothing because of our spiritual blindness. There are portions of the Bible with which we are nominally familiar, but what do we know of its inner meanings, of the minor prophets, the out-of-the-way histories, the deep things of God? Under the enlightenment of the Spirit we shall see that everything grand in thought, thrilling in poetry, tragic in experience, noble in heroism, is in the Bible. This is the Book out of which all other books are made. All science is here, all history, all fiction, all philosophy, all poetry, even the best titles of all books are in the Bible. There is nothing in any literature whose root is not to be found in the inspired volume. This is the Book out of which all other books are made, as the earth is the quarry out of which all its palaces have been dug, and as there are grander palaces in the rocks and woods than have yet been built, so there are more glorious visions in the Bible than we have yet beheld.
How slowly we realise that everything that is upon the earth actually came out of the earth itself. Is the marble palace superb? It was dug out of the earth. Is the city vast and noble, the glittering Jerusalem, imperial Rome, immeasurable Babylon and Nineveh? They were all dug out of the heart of mother earth. Is the navy proud and strong? It was all cut out of the forests which fed themselves at the breast of mother earth. There is nothing upon the earth which did not come out of the earth itself. It is even so with this Bible. You have a thousand libraries, but they all came out of God"s Book, yes, the libraries, that were founded, if any such there were ages before the Book was written, came out of the Book. God is older than any book that can be written: inspiration is the most ancient fact in all history, yea, it antedates all history and makes all history possible. There are those who want to run away from the Bible and set up other books, as though they were independent and original. I will believe in their independence and originality as soon as you show me one block of polished marble that did not come out of the earth. Prove to me that you stole it from some of the upper stars, then I will believe in the independence and originality of the marble block. My own deep conviction is that the time will come when every other book will fling itself, so to say, in loyal homage at the foot of God"s book and say, "Whatever is good in me, I owe to you." The earth grows no polished marble: the old earth will polish no blocks for you; she will, so to say, grow them for you, hold them in custody until you come for them with great iron keys and open the recesses within which she preserves them. Polishing you will have to do, squaring and measuring, all this you will have to do, but the solid block itself came out of the heart of the earth. So with all books that are good and true and wise and useful; they have their vital relation to God"s book, in whatever language written, in whatever country published, though in those languages and in those countries the book we call God"s has not yet been known.
Why do men limit inspiration—why do men want to yet trace any good thing to any source but God? If there is anything good in Mohammedanism, I claim it for Christ: he was before all things. If there is anything good in Brahminism, I claim it for Christ. If there is anything good in the heart of the wildest savage that this day tears his fellow-creatures in lands of barbarism, I claim it for Christ. My Christ is more than a merely historical figure, born on a certain day, and on a certain day crucified: the Christ in whom I believe is always born, always crucified—the same yesterday, today and for ever; not a name upon a calendar, but a Name that hides itself under the foundations of everything solid, above everything brilliant, and round everything wide, and that crowns with everlasting glory everything philanthropic and noble.
As the earth owes nothing to any other world but her light, so God has made men that we carry everything in us but our own inspiration. He does not make us new men in the sense of losing our old identity, he makes us new by his inspiration in the sense of lifting us up to the full expression of his own holy purpose in our original creation. We cannot inspire ourselves. The Holy Ghost is the gift of God. We are made in the divine image and likeness, we have wondrous faculties as the earth has wondrous treasures—all these are the gift of God, all these we hold in stewardship for God. But these will be in us so many weights and burdens, curses rather than blessings, unless there fall upon us the mighty Pentecostal Holy Spirit. Then shall we be our true selves, eloquent, wise, argumentative, strong, evangelical, sympathetic, new creatures in Christ Jesus, through whom the Holy Ghost has been shed abroad in our hearts.
Almighty God, we stand in thy wisdom and are therefore not afraid. In our hearts is the Spirit of thy grace, and great comfort have they that yield themselves to its sway. We come with open hearts, with mouths filled with prayer and minds aflame with sacred desire. We ask thee to receive our psalm of adoration, to listen to our hymn of praise, and to answer the request which is as a burden upon our souls.
How comfortable are thy words, how sweet is every promise of thine, bright with the dew which makes heaven itself glad. May we now enter into the meaning of thy word; may it be sweeter to our taste than honey, yea, than the honeycomb. Having tasted other words, may we desire thine the more. This is the living word, no other word can live. Help us, therefore, God the Father, God the Song of Solomon, God the Holy Ghost. "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, they will still be praising thee." One song shall follow another; one sacrifice shall prepare the way for a nobler oblation still, and as the days come and go, we shall be brought nearer heaven, through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Priest. For him how can we bless thee in words sufficiently tender; he is the heart of God; he is the only-begotten; the beginning and the end. He is all in all, the beginning of all beauty and music, all truth and Wisdom of Solomon, all grace and hope. In him our souls live; through him we pass from the bonds of death into the glorious liberty of immortality. Reveal his truth to us, we humbly pray thee; more and more as we look up do thou show us all thy stars; as we wait patiently for God may our patience be rewarded with great replies; may our loving waiting hearts be enriched with infinite grace. Take our life, we humbly pray thee, into thine own keeping. Preserve us from all evil, establish thy kingdom in the very centre of our life. When we lose thee may we cry like a child that is lost. When thou art standing afar off, may we cease to eat and drink because of weariness of heart. We long for thee. We say, without words, in many a trouble, yea, in helpless sighing, O Lord, how long? Thou art always coming, and thou art always coming quickly, yet because of our littleness and impatience we do not measure thy coming by the right standard. Forgive our very prayers; cleanse our very holiness from the corruption which degrades it. May our very waiting upon thee be not reckoned as an aggravation of our sin. Look in upon houses that are dull today, because familiar voices have ceased and familiar presences have passed away. Thou knowest the meaning of all this, though we cannot explain it. Thou dost tear the branch from the tree; thou dost suddenly, as by a great storm, unroof the house of plenty and comfort and peace, and lay it open to the great winds and rains and tempests; thou dost take away the delight of our eyes, and whilst we are looking upon the flowers thou dost cut them down, that where they grow our hearts may lie. This is thy way; how little do we see—the thunder of thy power who can understand? Thou dost crush us like reeds that are already bruised; yea, thou dost lay upon us burdens which exhaust our strength; thou dost send night upon night of darkness upon our path of life, until our eyes are weary with the weight. Yet thou art not far away; thou dost suddenly lift the gloom and shine upon us, and in the smile of thy love we take heart again. We will not mourn, nor complain, for in mourning there is no end, and in complaining there is no satisfaction. Thy will be done; thy will is good; in it there is no bitterness, in it there is no death. True and perfect and unchangeable love is thine, therefore in Christ"s name and through Christ"s strength and by the infinite sufficiency of Christ"s grace would we now say, "Thy will be done." Amen.
37. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart [stung with remorse. The only instance of the word "pricked" in the New Testament] 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 [the Hebrews express sin and punishment by the same word, and also repentance and comfort] 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 [crooked] generation.
41. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day they were added unto them about three thousand souls.
42. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles" doctrine and fellowship [ Philippians 1:5]; and in breaking of bread, and in prayer.
43. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and. signs were done by the apostles.
44. And all that believed were together, and had all things common.
45. And sold [the verbs throughout this description are in the imperfect tense, as expressing the constant recurrence of the act] their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house [at home], did eat their meat with gladness and singleness [the only instance of the word in the New Testament] of heart.
47. Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added [the tense implies a continually recurring act] to the church daily such as should be saved [them that were made safe].
The Effects of Gospel Preaching
PETER having explained the events which happened on the day of Pentecost, an immediate effect was produced upon the people who heard him; that effect is stated in these very graphic words, "They were pricked in their hearts." So the Holy Ghost was poured out upon them as he had been poured out upon the assembly of the Church. We see here, therefore, the double action of the Holy Spirit. He is poured out upon the Church to sanctify and to confirm in the faith; and he is poured out upon those who are outside the Church that he may alarm and quicken and direct to right conclusions.
We must remember that this was the first Christian Sermon that had been preached. Jesus Christ was no longer present in the body. Christian Revelation, so far as the bodily presence of Christ was concerned, had been completed, and his last word upon earth had been spoken. Now we are curious to know how the truth will make its way upon its own merits, apart from that singular magnetic influence which attached to the bodily presence and the audible voice of the divine Master.
Will the truth make its way by sheer force of its celestial beauty and grace, and comfort, or will it perish under other voices than Christ"s own? So long as Christ was present, he could work miracles. His soul could look out of his eyes upon the multitude as the soul of no other man could look. Perhaps therefore any progress which the kingdom of heaven had made amongst men was owing entirely to the bodily presence and magnetic influence of the visible Christ. So we wait, we hear the discourse, and when it is concluded we read,—that when the people heard this they were pricked in their hearts.
Observe the peculiarity of that effect. Not, they were awed by the eloquence; not, they were excited in their imagination; not, they were gratified in their taste; the result was infinitely deeper and grander. "They were pierced in their hearts." An arrow had fastened itself in the very centre of their life. In their conscience was inserted the sting of intolerable self-accusation. This was the grand miracle. Truly we may say this was the beginning of miracles of the higher, because the spiritual kind. Great effects are produced by great causes. A reflection of this kind would, however, have a very remote interest for us were it confined to an ancient incident. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Peter preached the only sermon that any Christian minister is ever at liberty to preach. This discourse of Peter"s is not nineteen centuries old. It is the only discourse that any minister of Christ dare utter, if he be faithful to his stewardship. This is the model sermon. This the evangelical doctrine. No change must be made here or a corresponding change will be made in the effect which is produced. Men may be more eloquent, men may be more literary, men may be more technical and philosophical, they may use longer words and more abstruse arguments, but the effect will be like other talk, it will be pointless, and there will be no answer in the great human heart,—no conscience will accuse, no eyes will be blinded with tears, from no multitude of men will there be extorted the cry, "What shall we do?"
Let us look at this sermon and see how it is made up. It is full of Scriptural allusions, and no sermon is worth listening to that is not full of Bible. The reason why our preaching is so powerless and pointless is that we do not impregnate it with the inspired word itself. Peter did not make the sermon. He quoted David and Joel, the Psalm and the prophets, and set these quotations in their right relations to what had just happened in Jerusalem, and whilst he was talking history he made history. Faithful to God"s word, God"s Spirit was faithful to him, and herein was that grand word eternally realised in all its beneficent tenderness—"My word shall not return unto me void." Peter"s word would have returned void, but God"s word is as a sower going forth to sow, and in the eventide of his labour bringing back his sheaves with joy.
This discourse of Peter"s was also full of Christ. But for Christ it never could have been delivered. From end to end it palpitates with the Deity and glory of the Son of God. It is also full of holy unction. It was not delivered as a schoolboy might deliver a message. The great strong rough frame of the fisherman-preacher trembled, yea quivered and vibrated under the feeling of the sacred message which the tongue was delivering. The sermon is also full of patriotic and spiritual tenderness, and all the while without art or trick or mechanical skill, it led up to a vehement and solemn demand. When that demand was thundered upon the people they were "pricked in their heart," and they said, "What shall we do?" They did not applaud the Prayer of Manasseh, they were concerned about themselves; they were not pleased, they were pierced; and they were not gratified, they were convicted; they sought for no excuse; they asked for no great pleader to state their case in reply, they said with tears, What must we do?
But even this great sermon of Peter"s does not explain the full result. The preacher must have had something to do with the effect. He had just received the Holy Ghost. The cloven tongue like as of fire still sat and burned upon him, and his whole soul thrilled with newly-given inspiration. An inspired doctrine demands an inspired ministry. The Book is inspired, but when uninspired readers read it they kill the very fire of heaven when it touches their reluctant tongues. What if we have an inspired Bible but an uninspired Church? It is there that the holy influence is lost. Inspiration inspires. It is simply useless for us to say that the Bible is inspired, if we who profess to believe it, do not share its inspiration. When the Holy Ghost is both in the doctrine and in the people who profess it, the mountains of difficulty shall be beaten with a new threshing instrument having teeth, and will fly away like dust upon the mocking wind.
Are we inspired? Do we read the word with the soul, or merely pronounce it with the lips? If with the lips only, what wonder if the people listen to the Bible with a very languid curiosity and are not unwilling that the broken and soul-less reading should cease?
Nor have we read the full account yet of the production of this mighty effect. The people themselves were in an anxious state of mind: they were prepared for vital statement; anything that was beautiful in nature or in music would not have satisfied them. They would have resented any discourse that bristled with merely clever allusions or curious conceits of expression. They were a prepared people. The fire fell upon prepared material, therefore the word of the Lord had free course and was glorified. How can we preach to a people unprepared to hear? The work is too great for any man. A prepared pulpit should be balanced by a prepared pew. "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." " Hosea, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." To the unthirsty man the Bible spring is without attraction as it rises and falls and plashes, unheard and unheeded. But to the thirsty traveller, sun-smitten and weary, how sweet, how tender, and delightful is the music of running brooks and streams!
A very solemn reflection occurs here. I feel no difficulty in laying down the doctrine that where the heart is unaffected, Christian service is more mischievous than beneficial. Let us understand and apply that doctrine so far as we may be able. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." If in our service, we touch everything but the heart, the service has done us more harm than good. What if our notions be increased, if our motives be left unbaptized with purifying fire? What if we have received a thousand new ideas into the intellect, if no angel has been received into the home of the heart? And what if we have been flattered and cajoled and "daubed with untempered mortar," if the word has not reached the very seat of the disease?
Pray for a ministry that shall affect the heart. We must have a heart-searching ministry. He who seeks after a comforting ministry only, and a restful one that shall give him no disturbance actually treats himself maliciously, and wounds his own life. Let us pray for a ministry that shall tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and leave the truth in the order of divine providence to make its own way in the intelligence, the affections, and the conscience of the world.
This great gospel revelation is an appeal to the heart; if your fancy has been titillated, or even your graver judgment satisfied, if your heart be left unpricked, untroubled, and untorn, the word has been in vain. Lay bare your hearts, say, in God"s strength, "Let me hear the exact truth, yea, if it tear me to pieces and inflict upon me the severest cruelties, such piercing shall lead to a great joy." The effect was grand in every aspect. Three thousand souls were added in the city that day, unto them that were being saved. And this will be the effect of Christian teaching everywhere under the right conditions. People will be added to the Lord: the Lord"s list will be enlarged every day, and there will be joy in the presence of the angels of God, over sinners that repent. Again and again we read that the people who heard the Apostolic preaching, "cried out." We have lost that cry: we have succumbed to the cold and benumbing spirit of decorum.
I read of men being carried away, forced into exclamation, of men, women and children coming together in common sorrow, and singing together in common joy; but today the Church may possibly have lost much in losing a healthy excitement. Christianity is not a picture to be gazed upon and admired as an instance of ancient skill. It is the fire of the Lord. It is the sword of the Spirit. It is a cry that can awaken a cry. And whilst it is perfectly true that there may be an irrational excitement which ought to be subdued and controlled, it is also true that there is a spiritual enthusiasm, a noble feeling, an absolute consecration without which the Church may be but a painted sepulchre.
This gracious effect having taken place, we find that the people continued steadfastly in the apostles" doctrine, and in fellowship, in breaking of bread and in prayers. That effect is just as remarkable as the other. The flock kept well together for fear of the wolf. Were we ourselves in heathen lands as Christians we should realize the joy of keeping closely together. We should want very often to see one another and to hear the voice of mutual instruction and encouragement. But living in a Christian land where Christianity has become a luxury, or in some instances even an annoyance, what wonder that we do not realize the primitive enthusiasm, and enter with delight into the original fellowship and union of the Church? The people continued in the right teaching. Until our teaching be right our life must be wrong. We must ask for the pure bread, the pure water, the undefiled Bible, and live on that; out of such nutritious food there will come proper results such as fellowship, sacramental communion, and common prayer. Therein perhaps some mistake may have been made. A man says, "I can pray by myself," that is perfectly true, but you should realize that you are something more than yourself; you are part of a sum total. A man is not at liberty in the Christian sense of manhood to detach himself from his race, from the common stock to which he belongs, and to live as if he had no relation to the great breadth of humanity.
Herein is the advantage of common prayer and common praise. "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together." There is inspiration in sympathy, there is encouragement in fellowship. It does the soul good to see the hosts gathered together under the royal banner stained with blood; to see the great army marching shoulder to shoulder under the blast of the great trumpet. Continue steadfastly to realize your relations to your fellow-Christians and to the whole Church. "No man liveth unto himself" who lives aright. We belong to one another; the Lord"s family is not broken up into units only, it is constituted and consolidated into a sacred and happy household.
Other effects followed; they had all things common, "they sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men as every man had need." This is the sternly logical outcome of true inspiration. But having regard to all the social conditions under which we live this mechanical form of union is impracticable, as it is understood from the reading of the mere letter. But having lost this form, which broke down under the eyes of apostles themselves, we still reserve the spiritual outcome and meaning. My contention is that today Christianity makes all things common, and that Christian society as it is constituted in a Christian land is the true expression of the spirit which formed itself otherwise in primitive days. My strength is not my own, it belongs to the weakest child that I may see groaning under oppression. If I interfere in the case of an oppressed Prayer of Manasseh, and if the oppressor should say to me, What have you to do with this man—he is not yours? Christianity obliges me to say he is mine. If you see an animal ill-used and ill-treated, though it be not yours in any technical or legal sense of the term, you are called upon to interfere by an earlier right, and by a diviner law. Whoever has strength owns it for the benefit of those who have none. Why give bread to that poor little child? the child is not yours. Yes, the child is mine by virtue of its necessity. It would not be mine in so tender a sense were it clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, but by its weakness, by its poverty, by its tears, by its homelessness, it is my child, and every man holds his possession as a trust, for every other man who is in respectable poverty.
So we must go to larger meanings, and no longer seek in little narrow definitions the whole meaning of the Christian revelation. This very thing, this high Christian socialism is now realized in Christian society, and society owes more to Christ in this respect than society is sometimes willing to admit. To me there is nothing good that I cannot trace back to the heart of the Son of God. Good thinking, true teaching, noble action, high motive, look where I may, I find the only satisfactory explanation of all these things in the priesthood, the doctrine, the life, the cross of the Son of God.
Christianity is followed always by the same effects. Do not let us give way to the mischievous suggestion that certain things happened in apostolic times which are impossible now. It is not so: that is where the Church has lost her inspiration, her weight and her spiritual philosophy. She is content to have a Christ two thousand years old. The Church is today defending the Christ of the first century instead of living the present Christ who is now praying for her. The historical argument will never cease to have its own proper value; documentary evidence must always be valuable in the very highest courts of Christian tribunal: but what we, the rank and file, have to do is this, to remember that Christ is but a day old as well as a thousand years old. Born today, as well as twenty centuries since; living today, as certainly as he lived when he walked in Jewry and did miracles in Galilee. But we have let him out of our grip; we have allowed him to pass us unnoticed. We are talking about ancient history instead of testifying to present experience. Let me call you—I would I could do so in trumpet tones, yea, with the boom and solemnity of thunder itself—to the realization of this doctrine, that Christ is now living, that his gospel is as mighty today as it ever was, that the human heart is unchanged, that the disease of the heart needs the exact remedy which is found in the gospel, and, if we faithfully and lovingly preach and live what we know of inspired truth, the hearts of men will own our call of God and our ministry by tongue and pen, and life shall not fall without some noble recognition and response.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 2". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany