Thus far our author has been engaged in preliminary statements, which were necessary to the proper introduction of his main theme. He has furnished us a list of the eleven apostles, and the appointment of the twelfth; rehearsed briefly their qualifications as witnesses of the resurrection; informed us that they were in Jerusalem, dwelling in an upper room, but spending the most of their time in the temple, and waiting for the promised power to inaugurate on earth the kingdom of Christ. He now proceeds to give an account of the descent of the Holy Spirit, and enters upon the main theme of the narrative, (1) "When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place."
The day of Pentecost was the fiftieth day after the Passover. It was celebrated, according to the law of Moses, by offering the first fruits of the wheat harvest, in the form of two loaves made of fine flour. [Leviticus 23:15-17.] On account of the seven weeks intervening between it and the Passover, it is styled, in the Old Testament, "the feast of weeks." But the fact that it occurred on the fiftieth day, gave it, in later ages, under the prevalence of the Greek language, the name of Pentecost, which is a Greek adjective meaning fiftieth.
This is one of the three annual festivals at which the law required every male Jew of the whole nation to be present. [Exodus 23:14-17.] The condemnation and death of Jesus had occurred during one of these feasts, and now, the next universal gathering of the devout Jews is most wisely chosen as the occasion for the vindication of his character and the beginning of his kingdom. It is the day on which the law was given on Mount Sinai, and henceforth it is to commemorate the giving of a better law, founded on better promises. It is remarkable that the day of giving the law was celebrated throughout the Jewish ages, without one word in the Old Testament to indicate that it was designed to commemorate that event. In like manner, the day of the week on which the Holy Spirit descended has been celebrated from that time till this, though no formal reason is given in the New Testament for its observance. The absence of inspired explanations, however, has not left the world in doubt upon the latter subject; for the two grand events which occurred on that day--the resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit, are of such transcendent importance, that all minds at once agree in attributing to them, and especially to the former, the celebration of the day.
That we are right in assuming that this Pentecost occurred on the first day of the week, there is no room for doubt, though Dr. Hackett advocates a different hypothesis. After stating that the Lord was crucified on Friday, he says, "The fiftieth day, or Pentecost (beginning, of course, with the evening of Friday, the second day of the Passover) would occur on the Jewish Sabbath." He seems to have forgotten, for the moment, that Friday was "preparation day," [John 19:31.] and that Saturday was, therefore, the first day of unleavened bread. [Leviticus 23:5-7.] According to the law, the count began on "the morrow after" this day, which was Sunday. [23:15.] Counting seven full weeks and one day from that time, would throw the fiftieth day, or Pentecost on Sunday, beginning at six o'clock Saturday evening, and closing at the same hour Sunday evening. As certainly as Jesus arose on Sunday, he died on Friday; and as certainly as this Friday was the preparation day of the Passover, so certainly did the Pentecost occur on Sunday.
Why Luke uses the expression, "When the day of Pentecost was fully come," is best explained in this way. The day began with sunset, and the first part of it was night, which was unsuited for the purpose of these events. The day was not fully come until daylight.
It is important to determine who are the parties declared by Luke to be "all with one accord in one place;" for upon this depends the question whether the whole hundred and twenty disciples, or only the twelve apostles, were filled with the Holy Spirit. The words are almost uniformly referred, by commentators, to the hundred and twenty. Any who will read Acts 2:1-4, noticing the connection of the pronoun "they," which occurs in each of them, will see, at a glance, that it has, throughout, the same antecedent, and, therefore, all the parties said in Acts 2:1 to be together in one place, are said in Acts 2:4 to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to speak in other tongues. The question, then, Who were filled with the Holy Spirit? depends upon the reference of the pronoun in the statement, "They were all together in one place." Those who suppose that the whole hundred and twenty are referred to, have to go back to the Acts 1:15 to find the antecedent. But, if we obliterate the unfortunate separation between the first and second chapters, and take the Acts 1:26 into its connection with Acts 2:1, we will find the true and obvious antecedent much nearer at hand. It would read thus: "The lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered together with the eleven apostles. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." It is indisputable that the antecedent to they is the term apostles; and it is merely the division of the text into chapters, severing the close grammatical connection of the words, which has hid this most obvious fact from commentators and readers. The apostles alone, therefore, are said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit. This conclusion is not only evident from the context, but it is required by the very terms of the promise concerning the Holy Spirit. It was to the apostles alone, on the night of the betrayal, that Jesus had promised the miraculous aid of the Spirit, and to them alone he had said, on the day of ascension, "You shall be immersed in the Holy Spirit." It involves both a perversion of the text, and a misconception of the design of the event, [See below, on verses 3, 4.] to suppose that the immersion in the Holy Spirit was shared by the whole hundred and twenty.
It was the apostles, then, and they alone, who were assembled together: (2) "And suddenly there came a sound out of heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting." What house this was has been variously conjectured; but the supposition of Olshausen, that it was one of the thirty spacious rooms around the temple court, described by Josephus and called oikoi, houses, is most agreeable to all the facts. Wherever it was, the crowd described below gathered about them, and this required more space than any private house would afford, especially the upper room where the apostles had been lodging.
Simultaneous with the sound, (3) "There appeared to them tongues, distributed, as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them. (4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." This is the immersion in the Holy Spirit which had been promised by Jesus, and for which the apostles had been waiting since his ascension. It is highly important that we should understand in which it consisted, and the necessity for its occurrence.
There is not, in the New Testament, a definition of the immersion in the Holy Spirit, but we have here what is possibly better, a living instance of its occurrence. The historian gives us a distinct view of men in the act of being immersed in the Spirit, so that, in order to understand it, we have to look on, and tell what we see and hear. We see, then, flaming tongues, like flames of fire, distributed so that one rests upon each of the twelve apostles. In the clause, "it sat upon each of them," the singular pronoun it is used after the plural tongues, to indicate that not all, but only one of the tongues sat upon each apostle, the term distributed having already suggested the contemplation of them singly. We see this, and we hear all twelve at once speaking in languages to them unknown. We see a divine power present with these men, for to no other power can we attribute these tongues. We hear the unmistakable effects of a divine power acting upon their minds; for no other power could give them an instantaneous knowledge of language which they had never studied. The immersion, therefore, consists in their being so filled with the Holy Spirit as to be attended by a miraculous physical power, and to exercise a miraculous intellectual power. If there is any other endowment conferred upon them, the historian is silent in reference to it, and we have no right to assume it. Their ability to speak in other languages is not an effect upon their tongues directly, but merely a result of the knowledge imparted to them. Neither are we to regard the nature of the sentiments uttered by them as proof of any miraculous moral endowment; for pious sentiments are the only kind which the Spirit of God would dictate, and they are such as these men, who had been for some time "continually in the temple, praising and blessing God," [Luke 24:53.] and "continuing with one consent in prayer and supplication," [Acts 1:14.] would be expected to utter, if they spoke in public at all.
We have already said something of the necessity of this event; [Com. i: 2.] but, at the risk of some repetition, we must here advert to the subject again. What the apostles needed, at this point in their history, was not moral courage, or devoutness of spirit; for they had already recovered from the alarm produced by the crucifixion, and were now boldly entering the temple together every day, and spending their whole time in devout worship. Their defects were such as no degree of courage or of piety could supply. It was power that they wanted--power to remember all that Jesus had taught them; to understand the full meaning of all his words; of his death; of his resurrection; to pierce the heavens, and declare with certainty things which had transpired there; and to know the whole truth concerning the will of God and the duty of men. There is only one source from which this power could be derived, and this the Savior had promised them, when he said, "You shall receive power (dunamin,) when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." [1:8.] This power they now received, and upon the exercise of it depends the entire authority of apostolic teaching.
But power to establish the kingdom and to proselyte the world involved not merely the possession of the miraculous mental power above named, but the ability to prove that they did not possess it. This could best be done by an indisputable exercise of it. To exercise it, however, by merely beginning to speak the truth infallibly, would not answer the purpose, for men would inquire, How can you assure us that this which you speak is the truth? To answer this question satisfactorily, they gave such an exhibition of the superhuman knowledge which they possessed as could be tested by their hearers. They might have done this by penetrating the minds of the auditors, and declaring to them their secret thoughts or past history; but this would have addressed itself to only one individual at a time. Or they might, like the prophets of old, have foretold some future event, the occurrence of which would prove their inspiration; but this would have required some considerable lapse of time, and would not, therefore, have answered the purpose of immediate conviction. There is, indeed, but one method conceivable, by which they could exhibit this power to the immediate conviction of a multitude, and that is the method adopted on this occasion, speaking in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. If any man doubts this, let him imagine and state, if he can, some other method. True, they might have wrought miracles of healing, but this would have been no exhibition of miraculous mental endowments. If wrought in confirmation of the claim that they were inspired, it would have proved it; still, the proof would have been indirect, requiring the minds of the audience to pass through a course of reasoning before reaching the conclusion. The proof, in this case, is direct, being an exhibition of the power which they claimed. By the only method, then, of which we can conceive, the apostles, as soon as they became possessed of the promised power, exhibited to the multitude an indisputable exercise of it.
It should be observed, that this exhibition could be available to its purpose only when individuals were present who understood the languages spoken. Otherwise, they would have no means of testing the reality of the miracle. Hence, to serve the purpose of proof where this circumstance did not exist, the apostles were supplied with the power of working physical miracles; and inasmuch as this circumstance did not often exist in the course of their ministry, they had resort almost uniformly to the indirect method of proof by a display of miraculous physical power.
The circumstances of the present occasion were happily suited to this wonderful display of divine power, the like of which had never been witnessed, even in the astonishing miracles of Moses and of Jesus. (5) "Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven." The native tongues of these Jews were those of the nations in which they were born, but they had also been instructed by their parents in the dialect of Judea. This enabled them to understand the tongues which were spoken by the apostles, and to test the reality of the miracle.
"And when this sword occurred, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because each one heard them speaking in his own dialect." The historian here seems to exhaust his vocabulary of terms to express the confusion of the multitude upon witnessing the scene. Not content with saying they were confounded, he adds,
(7) "And all were amazed and marveled, saying to one another, Behold, are not all these are speaking Galileans? (8) And how do we hear, each one in our own dialect in which we were born? (9) Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites; and those inhabiting Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, (10) Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene; and Roman strangers, both Jews and proselytes, (11) Cretes and Arabians; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God."
Not yet satisfied with his attempts to express their feelings, Luke adds, (12) "And they were all amazed, and perplexed, saying one to another, What does this mean?"
We have in this last sentence an instance of the peculiar use of the term all in the New Testament, to signify a great mass; for after saying that "all were amazed," etc. Luke immediately adds, (13) "But others, mocking, said, These men are full of sweet wine." The wine was not new, as rendered in the common version; for new wine was not intoxicating; but it was old, and very intoxicating, though by a peculiar process it had been kept sweet. [See Hackett.]
In order that we may discriminate accurately concerning the effects of this phenomenon, we must observe that the only effects thus far produced upon the multitude, are perplexity and amazement among the greater part, and merriment among the few. It was impossible that any of them, without an explanation, could understand the phenomenon; and without being understood, it could have no moral or religious effect upon them. It was, indeed, quite natural, that some of the audience, to whom most of the languages spoken at first sounded like mere gibberish, and who were of too trivial a disposition to inquire further into the matter, should exclaim that the apostles were drunk. This being true of the phenomenon while unexplained, it is evident that all the moral power which it is to exert upon the multitude must reach their minds and hearts through the words in which the explanation is given. To this explanation our attention is now directed.
"Then Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and said to them, Men of Judea, and all you who dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you, and hearken to my words: (15) for these men are not drunk as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day." After all that has been said of this defense against the charge of drunkenness, it must be admitted that it is not conclusive; for men might be drunk, as they often were and are, at any hour of either day or night. Still, the fact that men are not often found drunk so early in the day, rendered the defense sufficiently plausible to ward off the present effect of a charge which had been preferred in mere levity, while Peter relies upon the speech he is about to make for a perfect refutation of the charge, and for an impression upon the multitude, of which they little dreamed. He proceeds to speak in such a way as only a sober man could speak, and this is the best way to refute a charge of drunkenness.
Peter continues: (16) "But this is that which was spoken through the prophet Joel; (17) And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out from 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 men-servants and on my maid-servants, in those days, I will pour out from my Spirit, and they shall prophesy."
From this passage it is evident that the immediate effects of the outpouring of the Spirit, so far as the recipients are concerning, are mental, and not moral effects. The prophesy contemplates, not a miraculous elevation of the moral nature, but an inspiration of the mind, by which prophesy, and prophetic dreams and visions would be experienced. If the entrance of the Holy Spirit into men, to operate by an abstract exertion of divine power, which is certainly the nature of the operation here contemplated, was designed to take effect immediately upon the heart, it is certainly most unaccountable, that neither by the prophet foretelling the event, not by Luke describing it, is one word said in reference to such an effect. On the contrary, the only effects foretold by the prophet are dreams, visions, and prophesy, and the only one described by the historian is that species of prophesy which consists in speaking in unknown tongues. We desire to note such observations as this, wherever the text suggests them, in order to correct prevailing errors upon this subject. It will be found the uniform testimony of recorded facts, that the power of the Holy Spirit took immediate effect upon the intellectual faculties, leaving the moral nature of inspired men to the effect of the ideas revealed, in precisely the same manner that the hearts of their hearers were affected by the same ideas when uttered by inspired lips. [See further on this subject, Com. x: 9, 16.]
It is quite common with pedobaptist writers and speakers to make use of the expression, "I will pour out my Spirit," to prove that pouring may be the action of baptism. The substance of the argument, as stated by Dr. Alexander, [Com. i: 5.] as follows: "The extraordinary influences of the Holy Spirit are repeatedly described, both in the language and the types of the Old Testament, as poured on the recipient. . . . This effusion is the very thing for which they (the apostles) are here told to wait; and therefore, when they heard it called a baptism, whatever may have been the primary usage of the word, they must have seen its Christian sense to be compatible with such an application." That the apostles must have expected something to occur, in their reception of the Holy Spirit, to which the term baptism would properly apply, is undoubtedly true, for Jesus had promised that they should be baptized in the Holy Spirit. But, in the event itself, there are two facts clearly distinguishable, and capable of separate consideration: 1st. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon them, called an outpouring. 2d. The effect which followed this coming. It is important to inquire to which of these the term baptism is applied. Dr. Alexander, and those who argue with him, assume that it is applied to the former. He says, "This effusion is the very thing," which they had "heard called a baptism." If this assumption is true, then the conclusion follows, that baptism consisted in that movement of the Spirit expressed by the word pour: otherwise there would be no ground for the assumption that the word pour is used as an equivalent for the word baptize. If the act of pouring, then, was the baptism, most undoubtedly the thing poured, was the thing baptized; but it was the Holy Spirit that was poured, and not the apostles; hence, the Holy Spirit, and not the apostles, was baptized.
The absurdity of this conclusion drives us back to search for the baptism in the effect of the outpouring, rather than in the outpouring itself. This, indeed, the language of the Savior unquestionably requires; for he says, "You shall be baptized." These words express an effect of which they were to be the subjects. This effect can not be expressed by the term pour, for the apostles were not and could not be poured. The effect was to depend upon the coming or pouring; for Jesus explains the promise, "You shall be baptized in the Spirit," by saying, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." This is still further proof that it is an effect which the outpouring of the Spirit produced, that is called a baptism. But if it be said, that, at any rate, we have here a baptism effected by pouring, we reply that this very fact proves the baptism and the pouring to be two different things; and that an immersion may be effected by pouring.
We further remark, that there was no literal pouring in the case; for the Holy Spirit is not a liquid, that it might be literally poured. The term pour, here, is used metaphorically. In our vague conception of the nature of Spirit, there is such an analogy between it and a subtle fluid, that the action, which, in the plain style of the Savior, is called a coming of the Spirit, may, in the highly figurative style of the prophet Joel, be properly styled an outpouring of the Spirit. The analogy, therefore, which justifies the use of the word pour, is not that between baptism and the act of pouring, but that between a subtle fluid and our inadequate conceptions of spirit.
We now proceed to consider the propriety of styling the effect in question an immersion. When Jesus said, "John baptized in water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit," his words suggested an analogy between John's baptism and that of the Spirit. But they could not have so far mistaken this analogy as to suppose that their bodies were to be subjects of the Spirit baptism, for this is forbidden by the very nature of the case. But they would naturally expect that their spirits would be the subjects of the baptism in the Spirit, as their bodies had been of the baptism in water. The event corresponded to this expectation; for they were "filled with the Holy Spirit;" he pervaded and possessed all their mental powers, so that, as Jesus had promised, it was not they that spoke, but the Spirit of their Father that spoke in them. [Matthew 10:20.] Their spirits were as literally and completely immersed in the Holy Spirit, as their bodies had been in the waters of Jordan.
So much of Peter's quotation from Joel as we have now considered was in process of fulfillment at the time he was speaking, and is of quite easy interpretation; but not so with the remaining portion: (19) "And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky vapor. (20) The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and illustrious day of the Lord come. (21) And it shall come to pass that every one who will call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
It is quite evident that there was nothing transpiring at the time of Peter's speech to which the multitude could look as the fulfillment of these words; hence the remark with which he introduces the quotation, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel," is to be understood only of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The remainder of the prediction must have still looked to the future for its fulfillment. How far in the future is not indicated, expect that the events mentioned were to take place, "before that great and illustrious day of the Lord." This day of the Lord is certainly spoken of as a day of terror and danger; and no doubt the salvation contemplated in the words, "every one who will call on the name of the Lord shall be saved," is salvation from the dangers of "that great and illustrious day." The interpretation of the whole passage, therefore, depends upon determining what is meant by that day. Is it the day of destruction of Jerusalem, or of the final judgment? The best way to settle this question is to examine the use of the phrase, "day of the Lord," in both Old Testament and New.
In the of the second chapter of Joel, the phrase "day of the Lord" occurs three times, and designates a time when the land should be desolated by locusts, insects, and drought. But with the passage now under consideration, in the latter part of the same chapter, the prophet begins a new theme, and therefore speaks of some other great and terrible day. Throughout the prophesies of Joel, and of all the Old Testament prophets, this phrase is used invariably to designate a day of disaster. Isaiah calls the time in which Babylon was to be destroyed, "the day of the Lord," and says of it, "The stars of heaven, and the constellations thereof, shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine." [Isaiah 13:9-11.] Ezekiel, in like manner, foretelling the desolation of Egypt, says, "The day of the Lord is near; a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen." [Ezekiel 30:3.] Obadiah uses the same phrase in reference to the destruction of Edom; [Obadiah 1:15.] Amos, in reference to the captivity of Israel; [Amos 5:18.] and Zechariah, in reference to the final siege of Jerusalem. [Zechariah 14:1.] And induction of these passages establishes the conclusion that "the day of the Lord," with the prophets, is always a day of calamity, the precise nature of which is to be determined in each case by the context. In some cases the context is so obscure as not to determine the reference with certainty. The text before us possesses some of this obscurity, yet with the aid of the above remarks, and the use made of the passage by Peter, we may determine the reference with no small degree of certainty.
It is evident from Peter's application of the first part of the quotation to the the advent of the Spirit, that the latter part, which is contemplated as still future, was to be fulfilled after the scene then transpiring. Now, if the dangers of the day, as indicated by the words employed, were such as concerned the Jews alone, there would be good ground to suppose that reference was had to the destruction of Jerusalem. But the parties contemplated in the prophesy are "all flesh;" therefore, all classes of men are embraced in the prophetic view, and the "day of the Lord" must, according to Old Testament usage, be a day of terror in which all are interested. But in the destruction of Jerusalem the Jews alone had any thing to dread; hence this can not be the reference. It must, then, be the day of judgment; for this is the only day of pre-eminent terror yet awaiting all mankind.
This conclusion is confirmed by the invariable usage of New Testament writers. The apostolic writings afford little ground indeed for the prominence that has been given to commentators to the destruction of Jerusalem, in their interpretations of prophesy. There was another and far different day, in their future, to which they gave the appellation, "the day of the Lord." Paul says, "Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." [1 Corinthians 5:5.] "We are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus." [2 Corinthians 1:14.] "Yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night." [1 Thessalonians 5:2.] "But the day of the Lord will comes as a thief in the night." [2 Peter 3:10.] These are all the occurrences of this expression in the New Testament, and they show conclusively that "the day of the Lord," with the apostles, was the day of judgment.
The great and illustrious day must not be confounded with the "signs and wonders" mentioned by the prophet; for these are to occur before that day. Whatever may be the exact symbolic meaning of the "blood and fire, and smoky vapor," and the darkening of the sun and moon, they represent events which are to take place before the day of judgment.
Having now determined the reference of the day in question, we can at once decide what salvation is contemplated in the declaration, "Every one who will call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." The only salvation connected with the day of judgment is the salvation from sin and death. The reference, therefore, is to this, and not to salvation from the destruction of Jerusalem.
This salvation is made to depend upon calling on the name of the Lord, an expression equivalent to prayer. It is, of course, acceptable prayer which is intended, and it therefore implies the existence of that disposition and conduct necessary to acceptable worship. Certainly no one calling upon the name of the Lord while persisting in disobedience can be included in this promise.
Thus far, in his discourse, Peter has directed his attention to the single object of proving the inspiration of himself and his associates. This was logically necessary previous to the utterance of a single word by authority, and most logically has he conducted his argument. The amazement of the people, upon beholding the miraculous scene, was a tacit acknowledgment of their inability to account for it. They were well prepared, therefore, to hear Peter's explanation. But if even he had attributed the effects which they witnessed to any less than divine power, they must have rejected his explanation as unsatisfactory. The question with them, indeed, was not, whether this was a divine or human manifestation, but, admitting its divinity, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" When, therefore, Peter simply declares, that this is a fulfillment of Joel's prophesy concerning the outpouring of the Spirit of God, they had no alternative but to receive his explanation, while the fact that it was a fulfillment of prophesy gave to it additional solemnity.
If Peter had closed his discourse at this point, the multitude would have gone away convinced of his inspiration, but not one of them would have been converted. All this has yet been said and done is preparatory; a necessary preparation for what is to follow. We are yet to search for the exact influence which turned their minds and hearts toward Jesus Christ.
It is impossible, at this distance of space and time, to realize, even in a faint degree, the effect upon the minds so wrought up and possessed of such facts, produced by the announcement next made by Peter. (22) "Men of Israel, hear these words. Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God among you, by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by him, in the midst of you, as you yourselves know; (23) him, delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain; (24) whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be held under it." Filled with amazement, as they were already, by a visible and audible manifestation of the Spirit of God, they now see that the whole of this amazing phenomenon is subservient to the name of the Nazarene whom they had despised and crucified. This conviction is brought home to them, too, in a sentence so replete with overwhelming facts, as to make them reel and stagger under a succession of fearful blows rapidly repeated. In one breath they have just heard no less than seven startling propositions: 1st. That Jesus had been approved by God among them, by miracles and wonders and signs which God had done by him. 2d. That they, themselves, knew this to be so. 3d. That it was not from impotence on his part, but in accordance with the purpose and foreknowledge of God, that he was yielded up to them. 4th. That when thus yielded up they had put him to death, by the torture of crucifixion. 5th. That they had done this with wicked hands. 6th. That God had raised him from the dead. 7th. That it was not possible that death should hold him.
Here is a complete epitome of the four gospels, condensed into one short sentence. The name "Jesus of Nazareth" brought vividly before their minds a well-known personage, and all his illustrious history flashes across their memory. The first assertion concerning him is an appeal to his miracles as a demonstration that he was from God. There is no need of argument to make this demonstration clear; nor of evidence to prove the reality of the miracles; for they were done "in your midst, as you yourselves also know." The fearfulness of the murder is magnified by the thought, that he had been voluntarily delivered to them, in accordance with a deliberate purpose of God long ago declared by the prophets. The manner of his death makes it more fearful still. They had nailed him to the cross, and compelled him to die like a felon. These things being so, how penetrating the appeal to their consciences, "with wicked hands you have crucified and slain him!" This was no time for nice distinctions between what a man does himself, and what he does by another. The "wicked hands" are not, as some suppose, the hands of Roman soldiers, who had performed the actual work of his execution, but the hands of wicked Jews. Here, before him, were the very persons who had been assembled but fifty days before at the Passover, and had taken a hand in the proceedings of that awful day. He appeals to their individual consciousness of guilt; and this gives an intensity to the effect of his discourse upon their hearts, which it could not otherwise have possessed. Conscious of fearful guilt in having thus cruelly murdered the attested servant of God; and suddenly revealed to themselves as actors in the darkest scene of prophetic vision, how shall they endure the additional thought, that God has raised the crucified from the dead? Never did mortal lips pronounce, in so brief a space, so many thoughts of so terrific import to the hearers. We might challenge the world to find a parallel to it in the speeches of all her orators, or the songs of all her poets. There is not, indeed, such a thunderbolt in the burdens of all the prophets of Israel, nor among the mighty voices which echo through the pages of the Apocalypse. It is the first announcement to the world of a risen and glorified Redeemer.
There are two points in this announcement which required proof, and to the presentation of this Peter immediately proceeds. Having stated that Jesus was delivered according to the determined purpose of God, he now quotes that purpose as expressed by David in the Psalms 16:8-11. (25) "For David says concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face; for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved. (26) Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad. Moreover, my flesh shall rest in hope; (27) because thou wilt not leave my soul in hades, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. (28) Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou wilt make me full of joy with thy countenance." Only so much of this quotation as refers to the resurrection suits the special purpose of the speaker, the preceding portion serving only to connectedly introduce it.
The words, "Thou shalt make known to me the ways of life," constitute the affirmative assertion of a restoration to life, which had been negatively expressed, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption" The words "Thou wilt make me full of joy with thy countenance," no doubt refer to that joy set before Jesus, for which "he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of the throne of God." [Hebrews 12:2.]
It is commonly agreed among interpreters, that in the sentence, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption," there is no distinction intended between the condition of the soul and that of the body; but that the whole is merely equivalent to the statement, Thou wilt not leave me among the dead. I am constrained, however, to adopt the opinion advanced, but not defended, by Olshausen, that the apostle does intend to fix our attention upon the body and soul of Jesus separately. The most obvious reason for this opinion is the fact that his body and soul are spoken of separately, and with separate reference to their respective places of abode during the period of death. The soul can not see corruption, neither can the body go into hades; but when men die, ordinarily, their bodies see corruption, and their souls enter, not the grave, but hades. The words in question declare, in reference to both the body and soul of Jesus, that which must have occurred in his resurrection, that the one was not left in hades, neither did the other see corruption. The apostle, in commenting upon them, makes the distinction still more marked, by saying, (verse 31, below), "He spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul should not be left in hades, nor his flesh see corruption." Why do both the prophet and the apostle so carefully make the distinction, unless they wish to fix attention upon it?
The term hades designates the place of disembodied spirits. It is, as its etymology indicates, (a, privative; idein, to see) the unseen. The Greeks were good at giving names to things. When they watched a friend sinking into the arms of death, they could see, by the motion of the frame and the light of the eye, the continued presence of the soul, until at last, the muscles were all motionless, and the eye fixed and leaden. They could still see the body, and after it had been deposited in the grave they could revisit it and see it again. But where is the soul? You see it no longer. There are no signs of its presence. It is gone; and its invisible abode they call hades, the unseen. That the soul of Jesus entered hades is undeniable. That it returned again to the body at the resurrection is asserted by Peter; and it is this return which was predicted by the prophet, and which caused the exultation both of himself and the apostle.
The resurrection of Jesus is not appreciated by the religious world now, as it was by the apostles. As respects the return of his soul from hades, Protestant writers have fled so far from the justly-abhorred purgatory of the Catholic, and the gloomy soul-sleeping of the Materialist, that they have passed beyond the Scripture doctrine, and either ignore altogether the existence of an intermediate state, or deny that the souls of the righteous are short of ultimate happiness during this period. On the other hand, they have so great a tendency to absolute spiritualism in their conceptions of the future state, that they fail to appreciate the necessity for the resurrection of the body of Jesus, or to exult, as the apostles did, in anticipation of the resurrection of their own bodies. As long as men entertain the idea that their spirits enter into final bliss and glory immediately after death, they can never be made to regard the resurrection of the body as a matter of importance. This idea has been produced a general skepticism among the masses, in reference to a resurrection of the body; for men are very apt to doubt the certainty of future events for which they see no necessity. As respects the resurrection of the body of Jesus, the most popular conception of its necessity is no doubt this, that it was merely to comply with the predictions of the prophets and of Jesus himself. It would be far more rational to suppose that it was made a subject of prophesy, because there was some grand necessity that it should occur.
It would occupy too much space, in a work of this kind, to fully develop this subject, we must, therefore, content ourselves with only a few observations, the complete vindication of the correctness of which we must forego.
When the eternal Word became flesh, he assumed all the limitations and dependencies which belong to men; "for it behooved him to be made in all things like his brethren." [2:17.] One of these limitations was the inability to work without a body; hence, to him, as well as to his brethren, there was a night coming in which he could not work. He says, "I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; the night is coming when no man can work." [John 9:4.] This night can not be the period after the resurrection, for then he did work. It must, then, be the period of death, while his soul was absent from his body. During this period, he himself asserts, he could do no work, and certainly neither history nor prophesy refer to any work which he then did. It was the Jewish Sabbath among the living, and he observed it with absolute stillness in hades. If he had appeared to his disciples, as angels appear to men, convincing them that he was still alive, and could then have gone to heaven in his mere spiritual nature, who could say there was any necessity for a resurrection of that body in which all his sufferings were endured, and through which all temptations had reached him? But he could not be. Hades was to him a night of inactivity, as it is to all his disciples, though to neither is it a state of unconsciousness. If it had continued forever, then the further work of redemption, which could only be effected by a mediator in heaven, a Christ on the throne, sending down the Holy Spirit, directing the labors of men and angels, and finally raising the dead to judgment, would have remained undone forever. It was this thought which caused the exultation of the apostles, in view of the recovery of his soul from the inactivity of hades, and its reunion with the uncorrupted and now incorruptible body. "He was delivered for our offenses," but "was raised again for our justification." [Romans 4:25.] His death was the atonement, enabling God to be just in justifying those who believe on Jesus; but his resurrection enabled him to enter heaven with his own blood, securing eternal redemption for us. The resurrection was, therefore, an imperious necessity in his case, and it will be in ours; for not till he comes again will we enter the mansions he is preparing for us, and receive the crown of righteousness which he will give to all them, who love his appearing. [John 14:2,3,2Ti+4:8.]
Having exhibited, in the quotation from David, "the determined purpose, and foreknowledge of God," in reference to the resurrection of Jesus, the apostle, never overlooking the logical necessities of his argument, next considers the only objection which his hearers would likely to urge against his prophetic proof. In the words quoted, David speaks in the first person, and this might lead some to object, that he was speaking of himself, and not of the Messiah. If, however, it be proved that he did not speak of himself, they would readily admit that he spoke in the name of the Christ. Peter proves this, in these words: (29) "Brethren, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us to this day. (30) Being a prophet, then, and knowing that God had sworn to him, that from the fruit of his loins he would raise up the Christ, according to the flesh, to sit on his throne; (31) foreseeing this, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that his soul was not left in hades, neither did his flesh see corruption." David's own flesh having seen corruption, as they themselves admitted, and his soul being still in hades, there was no alternative but to admit that he spoke of the Messiah. This brief argument not only refuted the supposed objection, but opened the minds of his hearers, to an entirely new conception of the prophetic throne of David, and of the Messiah, who was to occupy it; showing, that instead of being the ruler of an earthly kingdom, however, glorious, he was to sit upon the throne of the whole universe.
Thus far in his argument, the speaker has proved that the Messiah must rise from the dead to ascend his throne; but he has yet to prove that Jesus was thus raised, and was, therefore, the Messiah of whom David had spoken. He proves the resurrection by the testimony of himself and the eleven other witnesses standing with him: (32) "This Jesus has God raised up, of which we are all witnesses." Here the twelve unimpeached witnesses testifying to a sensible fact, and presenting their testimony with all the authority belonging to miraculously attested messengers from God. This was sufficient, as to the resurrection. But it must also be proved that after he arose he ascended to heaven and sat down upon his throne. It would be unavailing, for this purpose, to urge the fact that the twelve had seen him ascend; for their eyes had followed him no further than the cloud which received him out of sight. But he presents, in proof, this immersion in the Holy Spirit, which the multitude were witnessing, and which could be effected by no one beneath the throne of God. (33) "Therefore, being to the right hand of God exalted, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has shed forth this which you now see and hear." What they then saw and heard was both the proof that he who sent it down had ascended the throne of heaven, and the assurance that Peter spoke by divine authority in declaring this fact.
One more point established, not so much in proof of the exaltation of Christ, as to show that it also was a subject of prophesy, and this inimitable argument will be complete. (34) "For David has not ascended into the heavens, but he himself says, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, (35) until I make thy foes thy footstool." The Pharisees themselves admitted that in this passage David referred to the Messiah, and had been much puzzled by the admission in a memorable conversation with Jesus; [Matthew 22:42-46.] but Peter, unwilling to take any thing as granted, which might afterward be made a ground of objection, carefully guards the application, as he had done that of the previous quotation by David, by the remark that David himself had not ascended to heaven; hence, he could not, in these words, be speaking of himself. This admitted, it must be granted that he spoke of the Messiah, for certainly David would call no other his Lord.
The progressive advances of his argument being now complete, those of them which needed proof being sustained by conclusive evidence, and the remainder consisting in facts well known to his audience, he announces his final conclusion in these bold and confident terms: (36) "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made that same Jesus whom you have crucified both Lord and Christ."
It has already been observed, that up to the moment in which Peter arose to address the audience, although the immersion in the Holy Spirit had occurred, and its effects had been fully witnessed by the people, no change had taken place in their minds in reference to Jesus Christ, neither did they experience any emotion, except confusion and amazement at a phenomenon which they could not comprehend. This fact proves, conclusively, that there was no power in the miraculous manifestation of the Spirit, which they witnesses, in itself alone, to produce in them the desired change. All the power which belonged to this event must have come short of the desired effect, but for a medium distinct from itself, through which it reached the minds and hearts of the people. The medium was the words of Peter. He spoke; and when he had announced the conclusion of his argument, Luke says: (37) "Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the other apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?" In this exclamation there is a manifest confession that they believe what Peter has preached to them; and Luke's declaration that they were pierced to the heart shows that they felt intensely the power of the facts which they now believed. Since Peter began to speak, therefore, a change has taken place both in their convictions and their feelings. They are convinced that Jesus is the Christ, and they are pierced to the heart with anguish at the thought of having murdered him. In the mean time, not a word is said of any influence at work upon them, except that of the words spoken by Peter; hence we conclude that the change in their minds and hearts has been effected through those words. This conclusion was also drawn by Luke himself; for in saying, "when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and cried out," he evidently attributes their emotion and their outcry to what they heard, as the cause of both.
If Luke had regarded the change effected as one which could be produced only by the direct agency of the Holy Spirit, he could not have expressed himself in these words, for his language not only entirely ignores such an influence, but attributes the effect to a different instrumentality. We understand him, therefore, to teach that the whole change thus far effected in these men was produced through the word of truth which they heard from Peter.
Let it be observed, however, that what they had heard concerning Christ, they had heard not as the words of the mere man Peter; for, previous to introducing the name of Jesus, he had clearly demonstrated the inspiration of himself and the other apostles. This being established beyond the possibility of rational doubt, from the moment that he began to speak of Jesus they were listening to him as an inspired man. But the Jews had long since learned to ascribe to the words of inspired men all the authority of the Spirit who spoke through them; hence this audience realized that all the power to convince and to move, that the authority of God himself could impart to words, belonged to the words of Peter. If they could believe God, they must believe the oracles of God which find utterance through Peter's lips. They do believe, and they believe because the words they hear are recognized as the words of God. Faith, then, comes by hearing the word of God; and he who hears the admitted word of God, must believe, or deny that God speaks the truth. This is true, whether the word is heard from the lips of the inspired men who originally gave it utterance, or is received through other authentic channels. The power by which the word of God produces faith is all derived from the fact that it is the word of God.
No words, whether of men or of God, can effect moral changes in the feelings of the hearer, unless they are believed; nor can they when believed, unless they announce truths or facts calculated to produce such change. In the present instance, the facts announced placed the hearers in the awful attitude of the murderers of the Son of God, who was now not only alive again, but seated on the throne of God, with all power in his hands, both on earth and in heaven. The belief of these facts necessarily filled them with the most intense realization of guilt, and the most fearful anticipation of punishment. The former of these emotions is expressed by the words of Luke, "They were pierced to the heart;" the latter, in their own words, "Brethren, what shall we do?" They had just heard Peter, in the language of Joel, speak of a possible salvation; and the question, What shall we do? unquestionably means, What shall we do to be saved?
This is the first time, under the reign of Jesus Christ, that this most important of all questions was ever propounded; and the first time, of course, that it was every answered. Whatever may have been the true answer under any previous dispensation, or on any previous day in the world's history, the answer given by Peter on this day of Pentecost, in which the reign of Christ on earth began, is the true and infallible answer for all the subjects of his authority in all subsequent time. It deserves our most profound attention; for it announces the conditions of pardon for all men who may be found in the same state of mind with these inquiries. It is expressed as follows: (38) "Then Peter said to them, Repent and be immersed, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
That the offer of pardon, made to the world through Jesus Christ, is conditional, is denied only by the fatalist. We will not argue this point, expect as it is involved in the inquiry as to what the conditions of pardon are. When we ascertain the prescribed conditions of pardon, both questions will be settled in settling one.
Pardon is the chief want of the human soul, in its most favorable earthly circumstances. The rebel against God's government, though he lay down his arms and becomes a loyal subject, can have no hope of happiness without pardon for the past; while the pardoned penitent, humbly struggling in the service of God, knows himself still guilty of shortcomings, by which he must fail of the final reward, unless pardoned again and again. The question as to what are the conditions of pardon, therefore, necessarily divides itself into two; one having reference to the hitherto-unpardoned sinner, the other to the saint who may have fallen into sin. It is the former class who propounded the question to Peter, and it is to them alone that the answer under consideration was given. We will confine ourselves, in our present remarks, to this branch of the subject, and discuss it only in the light of the passage before us.
If we regard the question of the multitude, What shall we do? as simply a question of duty under their peculiar circumstances, without special reference to final results, we learn from the answer that there were two things for them to do--Repent, and be immersed. If Peter had stopped with these two words, his answer would have been satisfactory, in this view of the subject, and it would have been the conclusion of the world, that the duty of a sinner, "pierced to the heart" by a sense of guilt, is to repent and be immersed.
But if we regard their question as having definite reference to the salvation of which Peter had already spoken, (Acts 2:21,) and their meaning, What shall we do to be saved? then the answer is equally definite: it teaches that what a sinner thus affected is to do to be saved, is to repent and be immersed.
From these two observations, the reader perceives, that so far as the conditions of salvation from past sins are concerned, the duty of the sinner is most definitely taught by the first two words of the answer, taken in connection with their question, without entering upon the controversy concerning the remainder of the answer. If it had been Peter's design merely to give an answer in concise terms, without explanation, no doubt he would have confined it to these two words, for they contain the only commands which he gives.
But he saw fit to accompany the two commands with suitable explanations. He qualifies the command to be immersed by the clause, "in the name of Jesus Christ," to show that it is under his authority that they were to be immersed, and not merely under that of the Father, whose authority alone was recognized in John's immersion. That we are right in referring to this limiting clause, "in the name of Jesus Christ," to the command to be immersed, and not to the command repent, is evident from the fact that it would be incongruous to say, "Repent in the name of Jesus Christ."
Peter further explains the two commands, by stating their specific design; by which term we mean the specific blessing which was to be expected as the consequence of obedience. It is "for the remission of sins." To convince an unbiased mind that this clause depends upon both the preceding commands, and express their design, it would only be necessary to repeat the words, "Repent and be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." But, inasmuch as it has suited the purpose of some controversialists to dispute this proposition, we here give the opinions of two recent representative commentators, who can not be suspected of undue bias in its favor.
Dr. Alexander (Presbyterian) says, "The whole phrase, to (or toward) remission of sins, describes this as the end to which the multitude had reference, and which, therefore, must be contemplated in the answer." Again: "The beneficial end to which all this led was the remission of sins."
Dr. Hackett (Baptist) expresses himself still more satisfactorily: "eis aphesin hamartion, in order to the forgiveness of sins, (Matthew 26:28,Lu+3:3,) we connect, naturally, with the both the preceding verbs. This clause states the motive or object which should induce them to repent and be baptized. It enforces the entire exhortation, not one part of it to the exclusion of the other."
The connection contended for can not be made more apparent by argument; it needs only that attention be called to it, in order to be perceived by every unbiased mind. It is possible that some doubt might arise in reference to the connection of the clause with the term repent, but one would imagine that its connection with the command be immersed could not be doubted, but for the fact that it has been disputed. Indeed, some controversialists have felt so great necessity for denying the last-named connection, as to assume that the clause, "for the remission of sins" depends largely upon the term repent, and that the connection of thought is this: "Repent for the remission of sins, and be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ." It is a sufficient refutation of this assumption to remark, that, if Peter had intended to say this, he would most certainly have done so; but he has said something entirely different; and this shows that he meant something entirely different. If men are permitted, after this style, to entirely reconstruct the sentences of inspired apostles, then there is no statement in the Word of God which may not be perverted. We dismiss this baseless assumption with the remark, that it has not been dignified by the indorsement of any writer of respectable attainments, known to the author, and it would not be noticed here, but for the frequency of its appearance in the pulpit, in the columns of denominational newspapers, and on the pages of partisan tracts.
The dependence of the clause, "for the remission of sins," upon both the verbs repent and be immersed, being established, it would seem undeniable that remission of sins is the blessing in order to the enjoyment of which they were commanded to repent and be immersed. This is universally admitted so far as the term repent is concerned, but by many denied in reference to the command be immersed; hence the proposition that immersion is for the remission of sins is rejected by the Protestant sects in general. Assuming that remission of sins precedes immersion, and that, so far as adults are concerned, the only proper subjects for this ordinance are those whose sins are already pardoned, it is urged that for in this clause means "on account of" or "because of." Hence, Peter is understood to command, "Repent and be immersed on account of remission of sins already enjoyed." But this interpretation is subject to two insuperable objections. 1st. To command men to repent and be immersed because their sins were already remitted, is to require them not only to be immersed on this account, but to repent because they were already pardoned. There is no possibility of extricating the interpretation from this absurdity. 2d. It contradicts an obvious fact of the case. It makes Peter command the inquirers to be immersed because their sins were already remitted, whereas it is an indisputable fact that their sins were not yet remitted. On the contrary, they were still pierced to the heart with a sense of guilt, and by the question they propounded were seeking how they might obtain the very pardon which this interpretation assumes that they already enjoyed. Certainly no sane man would assume a position involving such absurdity, and so contradictory to an obvious fact, were he not driven to it by the inexorable demands of a theory which could not be otherwise sustained.
We observe, further, in reference to this interpretation, that even if we admit the propriety of supplanting the preposition for by the phrase on account of, the substitute will not answer the purpose for which it is employed. The meaning of this phrase varies, according as its object is past or future. "On account of" some past event may mean because it has taken place; but on account of an event yet in the future, would, in the same connection, mean in order that it might take place. The same is true of the equivalent phrase, "because of." If, then, the parties addressed by Peter were already pardoned, "on account of the remission of sins" would mean, because their sins had been remitted. But as this is an indisputable fact that the parties addressed were yet unpardoned, what they are commanded to do on account of remission of sins must mean, in order that their sins may be remitted. Such a rendering, therefore, would not even render the obvious meaning of the passage less perspicuous than it already is.
It will be found that any other substitute for the preposition for, designed to force upon the passage a meaning different from that which it obviously bears, will as signally fail to suit the purpose of its author. If, with Dr. Alexander, we render, Repent and be immersed "to (or toward) remission of sins," we still have remission both beyond repentance and immersion, and depending upon them as preparatory conditions. Indeed, this rendering would leave it uncertain whether repentance and immersion would bring them to remission of sins, or only toward it, leaving an indefinite space yet to pass before obtaining it.
If, with others still--for every effort that ingenuity could suggest has been made to find another meaning for this passage--we render it, Repent and be immersed unto or into remission of sins, the attempt is fruitless; for remission of sins is still the blessing unto which or into which repentance and immersion are to lead the inquirers.
Sometimes the advocates of these various renderings, when disheartened by the failure of their attempts at argument and criticism, resort to raillery, and assert that the whole doctrine of immersion for the remission of sins depends upon the one little word for in the command, "be immersed for the remission of sins." If this were true, it would be no humiliation; for a doctrine based upon a word of God, however small, has an eternal and immutable foundation. But it is not true. On the contrary, you may draw a pencil-mark over the whole clause, "for the remission of sins," erasing it, with all the remainder of Peter's answer, and still the meaning will remain unchanged. The connection would then read thus: "Brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be immersed every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus." Remembering now that these parties were pierced to the heart with a sense of guilt, and that their question means, What shall we do to be saved from out sins? the answer must be understood as the answer to that question. But the answer is, Repent and be immersed; therefore, to repent and to be immersed are the two things which they must do in order to be saved from their sins.
The reader now perceives, that, in this first announcement to sinners of the terms of pardon, so guardedly has Peter expressed himself, and so skillfully has Luke interwoven with his words the historic facts, that whatever rendering men have forced upon the leading term, the meaning of the whole remains unchanged; and even when you strike this term and its dependent words out of the text, that same meaning still stares you in the face. The fact is suggestive of more than human wisdom. It reminds us that Peter spoke, and Luke wrote, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. That infinite wisdom which was dictating a record for all time to come is displayed here, providing for future controversies which no human being could anticipate. Like the sun in the heavens, which may be temporarily obscured by clouds, but will still break forth again, and shine upon all but those who hide from his beams, the light of truth which God has suspended in this passage may be dimmed for a moment by the mists of partisan criticism, but to those who are willing to see it, it will still send out its beams, and guide the trembling sinner unerringly to pardon and peace.
If there were any real ground for doubt as to the proper translation and real meaning of the words eis aphesin hamartion, for the remission of sins, when connected with the term immersion, a candid inquirer would resort to its usage when disconnected from this term, and seek thus to determine its exact import. It happens to occur only once in connection suitable to this purpose, but no number of occurrences could more definitely fix its meaning. When instituting the supper, Jesus says, "This is my blood of the new covenant, shed for many for the remission of sins," eis aphesin hamartion. It is impossible to doubt that the clause here means in order to the remission of sins. In this case it expresses the object for which something is to be done; in the passage we are discussing, it expresses the object for which something is commanded to be done: the grammatical and logical construction is the same in both cases, and, therefore, the meaning is the same. Men are to repent and be immersed in order to the attainment of the same blessing for which the blood of Jesus was shed. The propitiation through his blood was in order to the offer of pardon, while repentance and immersion are enjoined by Peter upon his hearers, in order to the attainment of pardon.
The careful reader will have observed that in stating the conditions of remission of sins to the multitude, Peter says nothing about the necessity of faith. This omission is not sufficiently accounted for by the fact that faith is implied in the command to repent and be immersed; for the parties now addressed were listening to the terms for the first time, and might fail to perceive this implication. But the fact is, that they did already believe, and it was a result of their faith, that they were pierced to the heart, and made to cry out, What shall we do? This Peter perceived, and therefore it would have been but little less than mockery to command them to believe. It will be observed, throughout the course of apostolic preaching, that they never commanded men to do what they had already done, but took them as they found them, and enjoined upon them only that which they yet lacked of complete obedience. In the case before us, Peter was not laying down a complete formula for the conditions of pardon; but was simply informing the parties before him what they must do in order to the remission of their sins. Being believers already, they must add to their faith repentance and immersion.
Before dismissing this topic, we must remark that the doctrine of immersion for the remission of sins does not assume that immersion is the only condition of remission, but simply that, it is one among three conditions, and the last of the three. Administered previous to faith and repentance, as in the case of infants, it is not only absolutely worthless, but intensely sinful.
The exact meaning of the term repent will be considered below, under iii: 19.
After commanding the inquirers to repent and be immersed for the remission of sins, Peter adds the promise, "and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The gift of the Holy Spirit should not be confounded with the Holy Spirit's gifts, nor with the fruits of the Spirit. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are religious traits of character, and they result from the gift of the Holy Spirit. The latter expression means, the Holy Spirit as a gift. It is analogous to the expression, "promise of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:33, above, where Peter says, "having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has shed forth this which you now see and hear." The gifts of the Holy Spirit were various miraculous powers, intellectual and physical. These were conferred only upon a few individuals, while the gift of the Spirit is promised to all who repent and are immersed.
Peter does not limit the promise of the Holy Spirit to his present audience; but adds, (39) "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." That we are right in referring the word promise, in this sentence, to the promise of the Holy Spirit just made by Peter, is evident from the fact that this is the only promise made in the immediate context.
Some pedobaptist commentators have affected to find in the words, "The promise is to you and your children," a show of authority for infant membership in the Church of Christ. [Alex.] But Mr. Barnes, though of that school himself, has the candor to say of this expression, "It does not refer to children as children, and should not be adduced to establish the propriety of infant baptism, or as applicable particularly to infants. It is a promise, indeed, to parents, that the blessings of salvation shall not be confined to parents, but shall be extended also to their posterity." That this is the true conception of the apostle's meaning is demonstrated by the fact that the promise in question is based upon the conditions of repentance and immersion, with which infants could not possibly comply.
The extension of this promise "to all who are afar off," is not to be limited to all the Jews who were afar off; but it is properly qualified by the additional words, "even as many as the Lord our God shall call." It included, therefore, every individual who should, at any future time, be a subject of the gospel call, and guarantees to us, of the present generation, the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the same terms on which it was offered to Peter's hearers on the day of Pentecost.
The historian had now concluded his report of Peter's discourse, but informs us that he has given only an epitome of it. (40) "And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation." The term testify refers to the argumentative portion of his discourse; and the term exhort to the horatory portion. The latter naturally and logically followed his statement of the conditions of pardon, and the substance of it is compressed by Luke into the words, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." The command to save themselves must sound quite strange in the ears of such modern theorists as affirm that men have no ability to do, or say, or think any thing tending to their own salvation. But this only shows how far they have departed from apostolic speech and thought. Peter had proposed conditions of pardon which they could comply with, and now their salvation depended upon their compliance with these conditions. When they complied with them, they saved themselves. To be saved from that untoward generation was not, as the conceit of Universalists would have it, to escape the siege of Jerusalem; for the great mass of them escaped that, by dying a natural death before it took place. It was to escape the fate which the mass of that generation were destined to meet in eternity, on account of their sins. We will more fully discuss the exact import of their term saved in this and similar connections under verse 47, below.
The multitude, who had been so pierced to the heart by Peter's discourse, as to cry out, "Brethren, what shall we do?" were happily surprised to find the terms of pardon so easy. (41) "Then they gladly received his word, and were immersed; and the same day there were added about three thousand souls." The pronoun they identifies the parties immersed with those who had cried out, What shall we do? It shows that they promptly complied with the command which Peter had given them. The word which they gladly received can not be the main part of Peter's speech, for this had pierced them to the heart; but it is the word of his answer, which gave their feelings great relief by opening to them so easy a method of escape from the doom which they dreaded, and which they so richly deserved.
Times without number the objection has been urged, and as often refuted, that three thousand men could not have been immersed in so short a time, and with the inadequate supply of water afforded in Jerusalem. As to the quantity of available water, Dr. J. T. Barclay, in his work entitled "The City of the Great King," written during a residence of three years and a half in Jerusalem, as a missionary, shows that Jerusalem was anciently better supplied with water than any other city known to history not permeated by living streams. Even to the present day, though most of the public reservoirs are now dry, such as the supposed pool of Bethesda, 365 feet long by 131 in breadth, and the lower pool of Gihon, 600 long by 260 in breadth, there are still in existence bodies of water, such as the pool of Siloam, and the pool of Hezekiah, affording most ample facilities for immersing any number of persons.
As to the want of time for the immersion of so many, any one who will make the mathematical calculation, without which it is folly to offer the objection, will find that there was the greatest abundance of time. Allowing that Peter's speech commenced at nine o'clock, as he himself states in Acts 2:15, and that the exercises at the temple closed at noon, we have left six hours till sunset. To immerse sixty men in an hour would be very deliberate work for one administrator. But there were twelve administrators, hence, each hour there were not less than seven hundred and twenty persons immersed. At this rate, in less than four and one-fourth hours the whole multitude would be immersed, leaving the sun nearly two hours high when the last candidate emerged from the water. In view of this simple calculation, which a child could make, it is truly astonishing that so many grave critics and preachers should urge this objection. It strikingly illustrates the blinding effects of partisan zeal.
Now that the three thousand are added to the Church, we may glance back over the history of the day, and learn upon what preparation they were received to the fellowship of the disciples. To accomplish this, we must first consider their state of mind before Peter spoke to them, and then observe the changes through which they passed. Being Jews, then, they were already believers in the true God, and in the inspiration of the Old Testament scriptures. Luke declares, also, that they were "devout men." [Acts 2:5.] They were, however, unbelievers in reference to Jesus Christ, and they were guilty of participating in his crucifixion. [2:23.] At the moment that Peter arose to speak, they were full of amazement at witnessing the immersion of the twelve in the Holy Spirit, but their religious character remained unchanged. Peter speaks; and, at the conclusion of his argument, there is an evident change in their convictions. But they believe now nothing additional to what they did at first, except what Peter has proved to them. He has attempted to prove, however, only two propositions: first, That he and the eleven were inspired; second, That Jesus of Nazareth was now both Lord and Christ. The first, moreover, was established only as a means of proving the second. Several other subordinate facts were also proved for the same purpose, so that the whole speech is properly resolved into an attempt to prove the single proposition with which it concludes, that "God has made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ." This, then, is what the three thousand believed, and this is all that distinguished their faith when immersed, from what it was before they heard the gospel from Peter's lips.
But another change had occurred within them. Under the influence of their new faith, they were pierced to the heart with a sense of guilt. This is the "godly sorrow" which "works repentance," [2 Corinthians 7:10.] and it prepared them to promptly obey Peter's command, "Repent, and be immersed." They repented, and were immersed. Their conversion, therefore, consisted in believing that Jesus is the Christ, repenting of their sins, and being immersed. This entitled them to membership in the Church, and so it does every human being who does likewise.
Having been immersed simply upon their faith in Jesus Christ, these young disciples had many subordinate objects of faith to become acquainted with, and many duties yet unknown, in which to be instructed. In giving an account of these matters, Luke is far more brief, adhering strictly to the chief purpose of his narrative, which is to give the process and means of conversion, rather than a history of the edification and instruction of the converted. He closes this section of the history with a brief notice of the order established in the new Church, first describing their order of worship. (42) "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching, and in fellowship, and in breaking the loaf, and in prayers."
The apostles were as yet the only teachers of the Church, and in this work they were executing the second part of their commission, which required them to teach those whom they immersed all things that Jesus had commanded. The same command which made it their duty to teach, made it also the duty of the disciples to learn from them, and to abide by their instruction. This duty the first disciples faithfully complied with, though it has been grievously neglected by their brethren of later ages.
For the purpose of being taught by the apostles, they must have assembled together, and this was the occasion for manifesting their fellowship, which term expresses their common participation in religious privileges. It has been urged by some writers, that the term koinonia should here be rendered contribution, instead of fellowship, and that it refers to contributions which were regularly made in the public assemblies, for the poor. That the term is used in this limited sense in at least two places in the New Testament, must be admitted, viz.: in Romans 15:26, "It hath pleased them of Macedonia to make a certain contribution for the poor of the saints in Jerusalem;" and in 2 Corinthians 9:13, where Paul says the saints "glorify God for your liberal contribution to them and to all men." But such is not, by any means, its common usage. It usually occurs in such connections as the following: "You were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ." [1 Corinthians 1:9.] "The favor of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you." [2 Corinthians 13:14.] "And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." [1 John 1:3.] "We have fellowship with one another." [1:7.]
The radical idea in this term is that of participation in common. We have fellowship with God, because we are made partakers of the divine nature, as we escape the corruption which is in the world through lust. We have fellowship with the Son, because of the common sympathies which his life and sufferings have established between himself and us; and with the Spirit, because we partake of the strengthening and enlightening influences of his teachings, and because he dwells in us. We have fellowship with one another, because of the mutual participation in each other's affection and good offices. The term is also used in reference to the Lord's supper. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The loaf which we break, is it not the fellowship of the body of Christ?" [1 Corinthians 10:16.] We partake in common of the benefits of his broken body and shed blood, which are symbolized in the cup and the loaf.
From the meaning of the term, as thus exemplified, originates its use in the sense of contribution; for in the act of contributing to the necessities of others, we allow them to participate in the blessings which we enjoy. We are not authorized, however, by the rules of criticism, to give it this limited signification, except where the context clearly requires it. Seeing that Christians enjoy fellowship with so many sources of happiness, the term unrestricted must embrace them all. In the present instance the context imposes no limitation upon its meaning, and it would be quite arbitrary to restrict it to the sense of contribution. The use of the article before koinonia can not be pleaded as a ground for such restriction; for it only indicates the notoriety of that which the term designates. Still, the idea of contributing to the wants of poor brethren is involved in the fellowship of Christians, and by the statement that they continued steadfastly in the fellowship, we understand that they continued in the common participation of religious enjoyments, including contributions for the poor. Whether these contributions were made at every meeting or not, we are not informed; but they were certainly made when circumstances required.
Together with the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, Luke enumerates "breaking the loaf and prayers," as part of the exercises in which the disciples continued. The frequency with which the loaf was broken is not intimated here. It will be discussed under chapter xx: 7. This brief statement shows merely that this institution, according to the Savior's command, was observed from the very beginning of the Church.
The prayers mentioned are those there were offered in public. The number of prayers offered on any occasion, or the order in which the prayers, the instruction, breaking the loaf, and the other acts of fellowship followed each other, is not intimated. Luke's silence in reference to these particulars may have arisen from the fact that there was no invariable order of exercises; or may have been intended to prevent the order in the Jerusalem Church from being regarded as an authoritative precedent. It shows clearly the intention of the Holy Spirit that the assemblies of the saints should be left to the exercise of their own discretion in matters of this kind, and furnishes a most singular rebuke to the hundreds of party leaders who have since attempted to impose authoritative rituals upon the congregations. If the example of the Church in Jerusalem, in this respect, though its exercises were directed by the whole body of the apostles, was not binding upon other Churches, what body of uninspired men shall have the presumption to bind what God has purposely left free?
Next to this brief notice of the exercises of the Church, we have a glance at the effect of the scenes just described, upon the surrounding community. (43) "And fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles." This fear was not that which partakes of aversion, for we learn below, (47) that many were daily added to the Church; but it was that silent awe which miracles naturally inspired, mingled with respectful deference to a people of such holiness.
We are next introduced to a striking instance of the fellowship previously mentioned. (44) "Now all who believed were together, and had all things common, (45) and sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, as any one had need." This was not a community of goods, by which all were placed on a pecuniary level; for distribution was made only as any one had need. It was only such liberality to the poor as should characterize the congregations of the Lord in every age and country. Poor brethren must not be allowed to suffer for the necessaries of life, though it require us to divide with them the last loaf in our possession. "He who has this world's goods and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him?" [1 John 3:17.] We will, hereafter, see that the Church in Jerusalem was not the only one which engaged in this species of benevolence. [See Com. xi: 27-30. xx: 2-3.] This conduct was in marked contrast with the neglect of the poor which was then common among the Jews, even in violation of their own law, and which was universal among the Gentiles. Nothing of this kind had ever been seen on earth before. We will refer to the subject again, under iv: 32, below.
The further history of the Church, for a short time, is condensed into this brief statement: (46) "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, received their food with gladness and singleness of heart, (47) praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added those saved every day to the Church."
Whether the disciples continued to offer sacrifices or not--on which question see Com. xxi: 18-26--that they should "continue daily with one accord in the temple," was most natural. The temple had been, to them and their fathers, for many generations, the house of God and the place of prayer. The apostles had been led to its sacred precincts by the Savior himself, and here it was that the Holy Spirit had come upon them. Their most holy associations were connected with it, and it would have been doing great violence to their feelings to require them at once to abandon it. This natural reverence for the place continued till its destruction by Titus; and even to this day, the hill where the temple once stood has a peculiarly sacred place in the hearts of Christians. The "breaking bread," klontes arton, mentioned in this sentence, is not the "breaking of the loaf," e klasis touartou of Acts 2:42; but refers to common meals of which they partook "from house to house." This is evident from the connection: "breaking bread from house to house, they received their food with gladness and singleness of heart." It was that breaking of bread in which they "received their food," which was not done in partaking of the emblematic loaf. There is no evidence that the emblematic loaf was ever broken in mere social gatherings. It belongs exclusively to the Lord's day. [See Acts 20:7.]
By the expression "singleness of heart" is meant the concentration of their affections and desires upon a single subject. This devotion and concentration of thought could but result, as it did, in giving the disciples "favor with all the people," and causing daily additions to the Church.
Those added to the Church daily were not "such as should be saved," as rendered in the common version, but tous sozomenous, the saved. In what sense they were saved, is a question of some importance. Dr. Hackett says: "The doctrine is that those who embrace the gospel adopt the infallible means of being saved." This is, undoubtedly, true doctrine; but it is not what is taught in the passage; for Luke speaks not of those who daily embraced the means of salvation, but of those who were saved. The view expressed by Alexander, that "men are said to be saved, not only in reference to the final consummation, but to the inception of the saving work," is a nearer approach to the true conception, but still falls short of it. It is not an inception of the saving work, of which Luke speaks, but the salvation referred to is complete; the parties spoken of being called "the saved." Both these learned commentators, by keeping their minds fixed upon a future state as offering the only fulfillment of the word "saved," have failed to discover the exact sense in which it is here used by the historian. Primarily, the term save means simply to make safe. In the religious sense, it means to make safe from the consequences of sin. If men had never sinned, they could not be saved, seeing they would be already safe. But having sinned, they are saved when they are made safe from the consequences of their sins. This is done when their sins are forgiven. At the moment a penitent sinner obtains pardon, he is, so far as the past is concerned, completely saved. It is in this sense that the parties in this case added to the Church are called "the saved." Paul uses the term in the same sense when he says of God, "According to his mercy he saved us, by the laver of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit." [Titus 3:5.See also 2 Tim. i: 9 1 Cor. i: 18.]
The fact that the Lord added the saved, or pardoned, to the Church, justifies two conclusions: first, That men are entitled to membership in the Church the moment they are pardoned; second, That men should join the Church, not as a means of obtaining pardon, but because they have already obtained it. The former conclusion shows that it is unscriptural to admit, as some parties do, that certain persons are pardoned, and yet refuse them Church-fellowship. The latter condemns the practice observed by others, of received persons to membership "as a means of grace;" i. e., as a means of obtaining pardon.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Acts 2". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany