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OUT-POURING OF THE SPIRIT
Acts 2:1-44.2.4. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 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.
IT was not long after the Flood that man retained the knowledge of the true God. No sooner did the posterity of Noah begin to multiply upon earth, than they conceived an idea of counteracting the intentions of their Maker in relation to their dispersion over the world, and actually began to build a city sufficiently large for their accommodation, and a tower which might place them out of the reach of any future deluge. When they had made considerable progress in the work, God was pleased to inflict upon them a judgment, which instantly put a stop to the building, and compelled them to separate themselves to different and distant places. They had hitherto been “all of one language and one speech:” but now “God confounded their language, so that they could not understand one another.” This introduced such confusion, that they could not prosecute their purpose, but were necessitated to form themselves into distinct societies, each uniting with the party whose speech he understood. From hence the knowledge of the true God was speedily lost; till in a few generations it seemed to have vanished from among the children of men. This knowledge however was revived in Abraham, and continued in a part of his posterity, till the time came that God had fixed for the diffusion of it over the face of the whole earth. The time so fixed was after the ascension of our blessed Lord: then was his Gospel to be preached to all nations: and, in order that it might be so, God reversed, as it were, the judgment he had before inflicted; not indeed by restoring an unity of language among all nations, but by enabling his chosen servants to address all people in their native tongue. This miracle is to be the subject of our present discourse: and we shall,
Make some observations for the illustration of it—
The miracle itself was the enabling of the Apostles, without any previous study, to speak with propriety and fluency whatever language was most familiar to their respective hearers; and to communicate unerring information on the great subject of religion, which, till that hour, they very imperfectly understood. Now, if we reflect how difficult it is even for men of learning to attain a new language, and how much time and study are necessary to acquire any proficiency in speaking it, we shall see how stupendous a miracle this was, which enabled a number of illiterate fishermen to address foreigners of different nations, whose language they had never so much as heard. But there are some peculiar circumstances respecting this miracle, to which we would call your more particular attention:
The time when it was wrought—
[There were in the year three great feasts, at which all the males in Israel were required to go up to Jerusalem: namely, the Passover, or feast of unleavened bread; the Pentecost, or feast of weeks; and the feast of tabernacles. The first was appointed in commemoration of their deliverance from Egypt; and the second (the period referred to in our text) was held in remembrance of the giving the law from Mount Sinai, fifty days after their departure from Egypt [Note: Exodus 19:1; Exodus 19:11.]. Now God was pleased to make that very day on which he had proclaimed his law, the day for publishing his Gospel also: that so their connexion might the more plainly appear, and the one might be the more fully acknowledged as introductory to the other.
It is further to be remarked, that on the day of Pentecost, “the first-fruits” of the wheat harvest were offered unto God, as the first-fruits of the barley harvest had been seven weeks before [Note: Leviticus 23:15-3.23.17.]. This also, no doubt, was designed of God to typify the first-fruits of the Jewish Church, which were now presented unto him. It is certain that converts, whether from among Jews or Gentiles, were so designated [Note: James 1:18. Revelation 14:4.], and especially the first in any place [Note: Romans 16:5.]: and consequently, the typical offering was, as it were, completed on this day, in the conversion of three thousand persons unto Christ.
Moreover, it is probable that the anointing of the first-fruits also had respect to the out-pouring of the Spirit upon the converts on this day [Note: Leviticus 2:1.]: for that very idea is distinctly suggested by St. Paul in reference to the Gentile converts, who were brought by him as “an offering in a clean vessel unto the Lord [Note: Isaiah 66:20.],” and were accepted of the Lord, “being sanctified by the Holy Ghost [Note: Romans 15:16.].”}
The manner in which it was wrought—
[As in the time of working the miracle we see types fulfilled, so in the manner of its being wrought we behold emblems illustrated and realized. The attention of the whole multitude was fixed by an appeal both to their eyes and ears. “They heard a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind.” Our Lord compares the influences of the Spirit to wind; “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit [Note: John 3:8.].” Who then must not recognize in this tempest the inexplicable, but effectual, operations of the Spirit on the minds of men?
At the same time “cloven tongues, like as of fire, appeared,” and abode visibly on the head of all who were then assembled. Now we know, it is the property of fire to enlighten, to warm, to purify: and such were to be the effects of the Spirit which was poured out upon them; for whilst, by the diversity of tongues in which they spake, they communicated light and understanding to the world; they inflamed them with love to the Lord Jesus Christ, and transformed them into the very image of their God: and thus was the prophecy of John the Baptist accomplished; “I baptize you with water; but He that cometh after me shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire [Note: Matthew 3:11.].”]
Such was the miracle, which, however interesting in itself, derives a still greater interest from the circumstances before referred to. We now proceed to,
Suggest some reflections for the improvement of it—
The decided proof which it gave of Christ’s Messiahship, and of the power and glory to which he is exalted, must naturally suggest itself to every mind. We therefore wave the consideration of the miracle in that view, (more especially as we propose to notice it in the following discourse;) and confine our attention to other reflections less obvious, but equally important:
What rich provision has God made for the salvation of the world!
[Was the gift of his only dear Son necessary to redeem us from death and hell? He so loved the world as to give his Son for us. Was more necessary? Was it necessary that the third Person of the blessed Trinity should bear testimony to Christ, and qualify persons to make him known to the world, and actually render their labours effectual for that end? Behold, God sent his Holy Spirit to work this stupendous miracle in confirmation of Christ’s Messiahship, and to endue his servants with such powers as were necessary for the preaching of his Gospel to every creature, and to convert to the faith of Christ thousands who but lately had crucified him as a malefactor. What then will he not do for those who desire to be saved? What will he refuse us, who has, unsought and unsolicited, done such great things for us? Let us bear in mind that we are as much interested in these things as those who lived in the apostolic age; for “the promise is to us, and to our children, and to as many as the Lord our God shall call” — — —]
What a striking resemblance appears between the events of that day, and the period wherein we live!
[We confess that miracles have ceased, and that the operations of the Spirit are no longer audible in sounds, or visible in tongues of fire: but have they therefore ceased? No: we affirm that they yet exist; and that too in no common measure or degree. Persons, it is true, are not enabled to address themselves successively, without any previous study, to foreigners of every country in their own vernacular tongue; but persons are stirred up to study different languages, and to translate the Scriptures into those languages, so that persons of every country may adopt the same acknowledgment as was used on the day of Pentecost; “We do, every man in his own tongue, hear spoken to us the wonderful works of God [Note: ver. 6, 8, 11.].” Nor is this effect produced in any slight or partial degree; for persons of every rank, and almost of every nation, are contributing to this blessed end. In our own nation, such an attention has been excited to this work as has never been known since the apostolic age. Nobles, as well as others, have united in disseminating the Holy Scriptures, and in spreading the knowledge of them to the ends of the earth. Is not this work of God? Yes; and, by whomsoever it be opposed, it shall stand; nor shall all the powers of hell prevail against it [Note: In the year 1812.].]
How certainly may we expect, ere long, a yet greater work!
[God has reserved in his own power the times and the seasons wherein he will work: but he has assured us, that in due time “the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea:” and we have reason to believe that that time is fast approaching. Behold with what astonishing rapidity the work has been carried forward of late! In this land, schools have been set on foot for the education of the poor; so that in a little time we may hope they will be established in almost every town and village in the kingdom. At the same time, Bibles have been so liberally dispersed, that no poor person who desires to possess that heavenly treasure, needs to continue destitute of it. A similar kind of spirit has been diffused through other countries, where even crowned heads [Note: The Emperor of Russia, and the Kings of Prussia, Sweden, &c.] are contributing to advance the glorious cause. Above all, the very same means as Providence used for the speedy establishment of Christianity throughout the Roman empire, are at this moment provided against the time that the Spirit shall be poured out to convert the world. At the Passover, the Jews throughout divers countries assembled at Jerusalem, and went home to report what they had seen and heard respecting the death and resurrection of Christ. At the day of Pentecost they did the same, in reference to the ascension of Christ, and the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the instantaneous conversion of thousands to the faith of Christ. Reporting these things in their respective cities, they prepared the way for the ministry of the Apostle, and excited the greatest attention to them. Thus at this day, Jews are spread over all the earth, and for their use the New Testament is translated into Hebrew, at the same time that translations are going forward into all the languages of the world; insomuch that we may hope, in the space of twenty or thirty years, there will be scarcely a nation that shall not possess the Scriptures, or at least a considerable portion of them, in their own language. Moreover, there is a society formed for the express purpose of converting the Jews, and of educating their children in the Christian faith. If then God be pleased to send forth his Spirit upon the Jews by means of the Scriptures which are translated into their language, there will be missionaries without number already found in every country under heaven, conversant with the habits and languages of the people among whom they dwell, and able to explain to them the Scriptures which have been previously translated into their respective tongues. What a glorious prospect does this open to us! O that God would even now pour forth his Spirit upon all flesh, that “his word might run and be glorified throughout the earth!”]
SENDING FORTH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Acts 2:32-44.2.33. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 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.
MARVELLOUS, beyond conception, was the miracle wrought on the day of Pentecost; when a company of illiterate fishermen were enabled, in one moment, to speak a great diversity of languages, with as much ease and fluency and propriety as their own native tongue. Some, who were of a more than ordinary profane character, when they heard foreigners of different nations addressed in languages which they themselves could not understand, said, that the Apostles were drunk with new wine. But the Apostle Peter, repelling the accusation as both unmerited and absurd, shewed that this very miracle had been foretold, as ordained to mark the days of the Messiah, and as intended to introduce that new dispensation to which the descendants of Abraham had looked forward for two thousand years. That we may see the full scope of his argument, I will shew,
In what light we should view the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit—
This stupendous miracle had an especial respect to the Lord Jesus Christ,
As an evidence of his mission—
[It had been foretold by the Prophet Joel, whose words are cited by the Apostle Peter, and declared to have been accomplished in that event [Note: Compare Joel 2:28-29.2.32. with Acts 2:16-44.2.21.]. The testimony of the Apostles, relative to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, on which all his claims to the Messiahship were founded, might be supposed to have been the result of a deep-laid plot: but, in the miraculous powers imparted, there could be no conspiracy; since persons of all the different nations then present at Jerusalem could not but attest the truth of the miracle then wrought. Of this the most inveterate enemies were made the judges: and therefore, if they were convinced by it, even three thousand of them in one single hour, we may be sure that the evidence was clear and irresistible. If “by his resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus was proved to be the Son of God with power,” much more was he by his visible ascension to heaven, and his sending forth of the Holy Spirit according to his word.]
As the reward of his sufferings—
[The Father had engaged in covenant with the Lord Jesus, that if he would “make his soul an offering for sin, he should see a seed who should prolong their days, and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hands: yea, that he should see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied [Note: Isaiah 53:10-23.53.11.].” And now this promise was fulfilled. By the sending down of the Holy Spirit, the recompence was accorded to him: “the great were divided to him for a portion, and the strong for a spoil, because he had poured out his soul unto death, and been numbered with transgressors, and borne the sins of many, and made intercession for transgressors [Note: Isaiah 53:12.].” It was in the prospect of this that he had “endured the cross, and despised the shame, and had sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [Note: Heb 12:2];” it had been declared unto him, that “he should receive gifts for men, even for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them:” and his being empowered to “confer these gifts” was, on the Father’s part, a fulfilment of the engagement he had entered into [Note: Compare Psalms 68:18. with Ephesians 4:8; and mark the distinction between “received” and “gave.”], and a bestowment of “the benefits which he had purchased with his own blood [Note: Acts 20:28.].”]
As the pledge and earnest of his glory—
[“The prophets, speaking by the Spirit of Christ, had from the beginning testified respecting the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow [Note: 1 Peter 1:10-60.1.11.].” Now, this sending forth of the Holy Spirit was the commencement of the Saviour’s glory, both amongst Jews and Gentiles [Note: Acts 11:15.]: and to this had John the Baptist and our Lord himself referred, as the pledge and earnest of his triumphs [Note: Matthew 3:11.Acts 1:4-44.1.5; Acts 1:4-44.1.5.]. Our blessed Lord, previous to his ascension, had taught his Disciples to expect this: but it was not till the renewal of this miracle to the Gentile converts, six years afterwards, that Peter recollected his words; and then they were brought most forcibly to his remembrance: “Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost [Note: Acts 11:16.].” In all subsequent effusions of the Holy Spirit has the glory of Christ been advancing, even unto this time [Note: John 16:14.]; and by this, at a future period, will his kingdom be extended over the face of the whole earth: “when the Spirit will be poured out from on high, the wilderness shall become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest [Note: Isaiah 32:15.].” The request for that effusion of the Spirit needs only to be made by him; and “the heathen shall instantly be given to him for an inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for his possession [Note: Psalms 2:8.].”]
Nor is this a mere speculative subject. It has a great practical tendency; as will be seen, whilst I shew,
What we may learn from it—
Some idea may be formed of the immense importance of this subject, by the mention of two things only, to which I will confine your attention. We may see, then, from hence,
What we ourselves, if we believe in Christ, may expect—
[Our blessed Lord, in the days of his flesh, stood in a place of public concourse, and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink; and out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe in him should receive [Note: John 7:37-43.7.39.].” True, in his miraculous powers we are no longer to hope for the Holy Spirit’s operations: but, as our Teacher, our Comforter, our Sanctifier, we may expect his influences now, no less than in the apostolic age: for the Lord has promised, saying, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world [Note: Matthew 28:20.].” See his discourses just previous to his departure from this world, how full they are of this subject [Note: John 14:16-43.14.17; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7-43.16.13.] — — — And what assurance he has given us that we shall not seek the Spirit’s influence in vain [Note: Luke 11:13.]. To every one of you, then, I say, Enlarge your expectations, to the full extent of your necessities: for God the Father will save you by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he will shed forth on you abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour [Note: Titus 3:4-56.3.6.]. Indeed I must not content myself with saying that this great gift shall be vouchsafed unto you, if you will believe in Christ; for it is the express declaration of Almighty God, that, “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his [Note: Romans 8:9.].”]
In what respects we may ourselves confirm the testimony here given—
[The Apostles, on the day of Pentecost, were witnesses for Christ, not only in a way of oral testimony, but especially in the miraculous powers which they exercised. And though these miraculous powers have ceased, yet are there spiritual influences, by which the agency of the Holy Spirit is no less displayed. What if we saw, “in the whole valley of vision, the dead bones resume their former vitality, and rise upon the earth a large army,” would that not display the operation of a divine power [Note: Ezekiel 37:1-26.37.10.]? Behold, such a witness for the Lord is every soul that is “quickened from its death in trespasses and sins [Note: Ephesians 2:1.].” Not less power is exerted in the recovery of every apostate soul, than in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and his investiture with divine authority over all the principalities and powers both of heaven and hell [Note: Ephesians 1:19-49.1.23.]. Be ye then, my brethren, witnesses for the Lord, by shewing forth the power of his grace [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.], and bringing forth in rich abundance the fruits of his Spirit [Note: Galatians 5:22-48.5.24.]. Especially bear about in you a resemblance to the Lord Jesus Christ, in all his holy tempers and dispositions under his unparalleled afflictions; and then “the life of that blessed Saviour will be made manifest in your bodies [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:11.]”. Be ye “planted in the likeness of his death and resurrection;” and ye will be witnesses for him, that he is possessed of all power in heaven and in earth, and that in due season every enemy shall be put under his feet.]
JESUS IS THE CHRIST
Acts 2:36. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
WHEN we consider the advantages possessed by the Apostles, we are astonished to find how slow of heart they were to receive and understand the great mystery of the Gospel salvation. Not only before the death of their Lord, but after his resurrection, yea, and after all his appearances to them, and the fresh instructions given them during the space of forty days, they could not divest themselves of the idea of a temporal kingdom. Not an hour before his ascension to heaven, they asked him, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” But from the day of Pentecost there was no more of doubt upon their minds respecting any fundamental point of our religion. For some years indeed they retained their prejudices about the Gentiles, not conceiving that they were to be admitted to a full participation of the blessings of the Gospel: but, respecting Christ, and his salvation, they were fully instructed, and never spake but with the most unshaken confidence. This appears from the very first sermon which was delivered by any one of them. St. Peter argued with as strong a persuasion of mind as he possessed at any future period; and without hesitation affirmed, in the presence of thousands of his countrymen, that Jesus, even the very person whom they had crucified, was indeed the Christ, the true Messiah [Note: The order of the words in the Greek makes the expression very emphatical.].
His words are evidently the close of an argument: and, as they are delivered with peculiar confidence, it will be proper to consider,
The force of his reasoning—
Our Lord, according to his promise, had poured out the Spirit in a visible manner on his Disciples, whereby they were enabled to speak a great variety of languages, which gift was emblematically represented by the appearance of cloven tongues, as of fire. The circumstance of their immediately addressing all persons in their native tongues, excited the greatest astonishment: but those who understood not the particular language which they spake, represented them as in a state of intoxication. In vindication of himself and his associates, the Apostle justly observes, that such an imputation was absurd, since none but the most abandoned of men could have been drinking to intoxication so early as nine o’clock in the morning, and that upon a solemn feast-day, when they were about to worship God in his temple; and then proceeds to argue with them respecting the Messiahship of Christ, as proved by this event. He states,
That this miraculous gift was foretold by the Prophet Joel, as to be conferred by the Messiah—
[The passage cited from the prophet Joel undoubtedly refers to the times of the Messiah [Note: Compare ver. 16–21. with Joel 2:28-29.2.32.]. Previous to that time the Holy Spirit had been given only in a very partial way to a few: but, when Christ should be glorified, he was to be poured out, as it were, upon multitudes, both of men and women, that by his miraculous operations he might testify of Christ, and by his efficacious grace he might bring men to Christ.
After this should have been done for a space of time sufficient to evince the distinguished kindness of God towards his ancient people, and their incorrigible obstinacy towards him, God would give them signs of a very different kind; even such terrible signs, as should be like “turning the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood;” and then should destruction come upon them to the uttermost: but as, previously to that period, all who should believe in Christ should be saved from the condemnation in which all others would be involved, so, at that period, all his believing people should escape the miseries which would overwhelm the residue of that devoted nation.
This was the plain meaning of the prophecy, which at this time began to be fulfilled; and which in due season should receive a perfect accomplishment.]
That this gift was actually conferred by Jesus—
[It was known to all of them, that Jesus, during his ministry on earth, had wrought innumerable miracles in confirmation of his word and doctrine: and though the nation had put him to an ignominious death, yet had God raised him from the dead, and empowered him to send forth the Spirit in the manner he had done.
With respect to the truth of his resurrection, it had been foretold in terms that could be applicable to him alone [Note: Compare ver. 23–28. with Psalms 16:8-19.16.11.]. It could not be of himself that David spake those words; for he did die, and see corruption; and his tomb remained even to the Apostles’ days: but Jesus saw no corruption: his soul was not left in the place of departed spirits, nor was his body permitted to continue in the grave long enough to undergo any change: he rose on the third day, as all his Disciples could testify, because they had themselves seen him on that day, and occasionally conversed familiarly with him for forty days afterwards, even to the very hour when in their presence he ascended up to heaven. Moreover he had expressly told them that he would send down the Holy Ghost upon them, in the manner he had done: and therefore it must be HE, and none other but HE, that had wrought the miracles which they now saw and heard [Note: ver. 29–33.].
If they should still be inclined to think that David had had any concern in this miracle, the Apostle called their attention to another prophecy of his, wherein David himself declared, that the person who should be thus invested with power at the right hand of God, was his Lord; and that the person so exalted, should “make all his foes his footstool [Note: Compare ver. 34, 35. with Psalms 110:1.].”
It was evident therefore, that, as the Messiah was to rise from the dead, and ascend up to heaven for the purpose of establishing his kingdom upon earth; and as Jesus had risen and ascended agreeably to those predictions; there could be no doubt but that it was he who had now sent down the Spirit, according to the promise which he had given them. He had told them, but a few days before, that he would send forth upon them the promise of the Father, and baptize them with the Holy Ghost [Note: Acts 1:4-44.1.5.]; and he had now done it in a way which commended itself to the eyes and ears of all the people.]
That therefore Jesus must unquestionably be the true Messiah—
[It was not in the power of any creature to work the miracles now wrought: nor would the Father work them in order to confirm the claims of an impostor. They must of necessity therefore have been wrought by Jesus, who had thereby proved himself the true Messiah.
On these grounds Peter declared to them, that, as they could not doubt the existence of those prophecies, or the application of them to the Messiah, or the miracle now wrought by Jesus in confirmation of his claim to that office, “the whole house of Israel might know assuredly, that God had made that very Jesus, whom they had crucified, both Lord and Christ.”]
Such was the Apostle’s reasoning: and from the confident manner in which he expressed himself, we are led to notice,
The importance of his conclusion—
If God has constituted Jesus both Lord and Christ, then we may know assuredly,
That Christ is our only Lord and Saviour—
[The force of this was felt by Peter’s audience, insomuch that three thousand of them instantly obeyed the heavenly mandate, and surrendered up themselves to be saved and governed by him alone. Precisely in this manner must we devote ourselves to him: we must not be contented with “calling him Lord, Lord,” but must feel the same need of him as they did, and cast ourselves upon him for mercy, and consecrate ourselves entirely to his service [Note: ver. 37, 38.]. We must admit no other ground of hope but his obedience unto death — — — we must suffer no “other Lord to have dominion over us:” — — — but, having been bought by him with his most precious blood, we must “glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his.”]
That he is an all-sufficient Saviour—
[Whatever we can want, he is exalted to bestow. Do we need forgiveness of sins? He is empowered to grant it. Do we need repentance? He can impart that also. This we are assured of, on the testimony of Peter and all the other Apostles. What joyful tidings are these! Hear them, all ye who are labouring under a sense of guilt; and know, that “the blood of Jesus Christ is able to cleanse you from all sin:” — — — and ye, who mourn on account of the hardness of your hearts, know that he can “take away the heart of stone, and give you an heart of flesh” — — — If God the Father has constituted him “Head over all things to the Church,” you need not fear, but that there shall be found in his fulness an ample supply for all your necessities [Note: St. Paul pursues the same line of argument as St. Peter, and founds upon it this consolatory truth. Acts 13:35-44.13.39. See also Hebrews 7:25.] — — —]
That none shall ever look to him in vain—
[“Him that cometh unto me,” says Christ, “I will in no wise cast out” What then have we to do with desponding thoughts? Has God thus exalted his Son, and will he disappoint those who trust in him? No: it cannot be: “he never did,” nor ever will, “say to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye my face in vain.” Did the vilest person in the universe only desire mercy as much as God delights to exercise it, he would in one instant be purged from all his sin — — — We need only look to the effect of Peter’s sermon on the murderous Jews, and we shall see a perfect pattern of what God is ready to do for us, the very instant we believe in Jesus — — — “Know this,” my brethren; know it “every one of you;” know it “most assuredly;” know it for your inexpressible comfort: and may God make this another Pentecost to our souls, for his mercy’s sake! Amen.]
REPENTANCE EXEMPLIFIED IN THE FIRST CONVERTS
Acts 2:37-44.2.39. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the Apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 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.
THE doctrine of a crucified Saviour is that which God has exclusively honoured in converting sinners to himself. The terrors of Mount Sinai are often used by him to awaken men from their slumbers; but it is “the law of faith,” as published from Mount Zion, that alone captivates the souls of men. It was this, which, when exhibited in types and shadows, overcame the saints under the Jewish dispensation: and no sooner was it plainly preached by the Apostles, than thousands yielded to its all-powerful influence. The manner in which it operated we may see in the text. St. Peter had charged home upon his hearers the guilt of crucifying the Lord Jesus; and had declared that God had exalted that very Jesus to be the Sovereign “Lord” of all, and to be the “Christ,” the anointed Saviour of the world [Note: ver. 36.]. Instantly was a wonderful effect produced on the whole assembly: in order to illustrate which, we shall notice,
The penitent’s inquiry—
In the question which these first converts put each to the Apostle who stood nearest to him, we may observe,
[They were “pricked to the heart” with a sense of all their sins, and especially the sin of crucifying the Lord Jesus. And we also must be humbled in like manner; seeing that our sins were the procuring cause of Christ’s death [Note: Isaiah 53:4-23.53.5.]; yea, and we have crucified him afresh ten thousand times by our continuance in sin [Note: Hebrews 6:4-58.6.6.].]
[Nothing lay so near their hearts, as to obtain the knowledge of salvation. Thus must we also feel our whole souls engaged in this great concern.]
A determination to comply with God’s terms, whatever they should be—
[This is one of the strongest and most unequivocal marks of true penitence. And it must shew itself in us, as well as in them. We must not dispute about the terms, as too humiliating, or too strict, but be willing to be saved on the conditions prescribed in the Gospel.]
A respectful regard for those whom they once hated for their attachment to Christ—
[The Apostles had addressed them in these respectful and affectionate terms, “Men and Brethren.” They now, in their turn, use the same language towards the Apostles; though but one hour before, no words would have been too harsh to use in invectives against them. Thus must our hearts also be turned towards the ministers and the Disciples of Christ, however much we may have before hated and despised them. Nor are our inquiries after salvation such as they ought to be, if they be not accompanied with all these marks of penitence and contrition.]
This inquiry was not in vain, as we may see from,
God’s answer to it—
The reply given by God’s ambassador, contains,
A plain direction—
[The term “repent” imports in this place a change of mind [Note: μετανοήσατε.]: and it refers to their former apprehensions of Christ: they had lately crucified him as an impostor; now they must be persuaded that he was the true Messiah; yea, they must rely on his death as an atonement offered for them, and seek the remission of their sins through him alone: they must moreover “be baptized in his name,” and become his avowed, his faithful Disciples.
Such is the direction given to every one of us. We have scarcely thought Christ at all worthy of our regard; now he must be “precious to us”, “fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely.”
We must renounce every self-righteous method of seeking acceptance with God, and believe in him for the remission of our sins.
We need not indeed be baptized again; but we must do that which was implied in this part of the direction: we must give up ourselves to Christ in a perpetual covenant; we must join ourselves to his Church and people; we must confess him openly in the midst of a persecuting and ungodly world.]
A rich encouragement—
[The Apostle told them, that “they should receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” We do not apprehend that this promise extended solely, or even primarily, to the miraculous powers with which the Apostles were invested; for it was made to all believers who should ever be called into the Church of God: we apprehend it referred chiefly to those sanctifying and saving operations of the Spirit which are necessary for all people in every age. All need the Holy Spirit to instruct and guide them into all truth, to strengthen them for their spiritual warfare, to comfort them under their afflictions, to renew them after the Divine image, and to make them “meet for their heavenly inheritance:” and for these ends and purposes did the Apostle engage that they should experience his operations.
He assured them that the promise of the Spirit for these ends and purposes was given to all who should believe in Christ. Accordingly we find that that promise was made [Note: Isaiah 44:3.]; that it was a part of the covenant of grace [Note: Isaiah 59:21.]; and that Jesus Christ himself referred to it as made in the Old Testament, and as to be fulfilled under the Christian dispensation, to all who should believe in him [Note: John 7:37-43.7.39.]: and St. Paul also mentions it as included in the promise made to Abraham, to be purchased by Christ for his believing seed, and to be conferred upon them all without distinction [Note: Galatians 3:14.].
What further encouragement could they need? Were they guilty? the blood of Christ would cleanse them? Were they polluted? the Holy Ghost would sanctify them: he would come and dwell in them as in his temples, and perfect in them the good work that was now begun. The same promise is now made to us; and shall be fulfilled to all who seek for mercy through Christ alone — — —]
[Some possibly may be led to question whether this subject be properly addressed to them: since, having never crucified Christ, as the Jews did, they need not “repent;” and having been “baptized in the name of Christ,” they have “received the remission of their sins,” and “the gift of the Holy Ghost:” they have also been taught in their catechism, “What they must do to be saved;” and therefore need not, like those in our text, to make that inquiry.
But who amongst us has not “crucified the Son of God afresh,” by a continuance in sin? Who has not, in numberless instances, done what he ought not, and left undone what he ought to have done? Consequently, we need to repent as much as they — — — and need also, as much as they, to apply to Christ for the remission of our sins — — — Moreover, let any man look at his indwelling corruptions, and say, whether he do not need the influences of the Spirit, to mortify and subdue them: let him also look at his duties, and say, whether he do not need the Spirit to strengthen him for a more suitable performance of them — — — Brethren, the name of Christians, or a form of godliness, will profit us little. Religion must be taken up by us, as it was by those Jews, as a matter of infinite importance, and of indispensable necessity. Like them we must he humbled; like them must we flee to Christ for mercy: like them must we become his faithful followers. Let all of us then “look to Him, as pierced” for our sins; and expect from him that divine Comforter, who “shall teach us all things, and work in us as effectually for our salvation, as he wrought in Christ for his exaltation to glory [Note: Ephesians 1:19-49.1.21.].”]
SEPARATION FROM THE UNGODLY RECOMMENDED
Acts 2:40. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
IT is in many respects a great advantage to us that we have the Holy Scriptures comprised in so small a space: for if they had been very voluminous, they would have been far less accessible to the poor, and few even of the rich would have found leisure or inclination to peruse them. One cannot however but feel a kind of regret that some particular parts have not been more copiously transmitted to us. What an inestimable treasure, for instance, should we have possessed, if the whole of our Lord’s discourse with the two Disciples in their way to Emmaus had been preserved [Note: Luke 24:27.]! So it would, doubtless, have been a rich feast to our souls, if every part of Peter’s first sermon, whereby three thousand sinners were converted to God, had been recorded. But we must be contented to gather up the fragments which are left us in the inspired volume, and study with the more diligence those records which God has deemed sufficient for us. The substance of the Apostle’s sermon we have in the foregoing context; and the application of it, in the words of our text. It is with the latter that we are at present concerned: and for a just improvement of it, we shall consider,
We cannot doubt but that “he testified” of Christ as the true Messiah, and shewed from the Scriptures that his death and resurrection were the means which God had appointed for the salvation of a ruined world. But it is evident, that, as he testified for Christ, so he testified against that generation, whom he reproved as an “untoward generation.” But what ground was there for ascribing to them this character? Surely there was abundant reason fur the appellation, even though it had been still more severe: for they were,
An impenitent generation—
[John the Baptist, our Lord himself, and all his Apostles, had, for the space of four years, preached among them, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand [Note: Matthew 3:2.Mark 1:15; Mark 1:15; Mark 6:12.].” Yet, like their forefathers, they would not hear [Note: Jeremiah 7:23-24.7.24.Zechariah 7:11-38.7.12; Zechariah 7:11-38.7.12.]. They were even more obdurate than the heathen: for the Ninevites had repented at the preaching of Jonas; and even the Sodomites themselves would have repented, had they heard such preaching as our Lord’s; but the people of that generation would “not regard the voice of the charmer, though he charmed them never so wisely [Note: Matthew 11:20; Mat 12:41 and Psalms 58:5.].” They were satisfied with their descent from Abraham, and thought that their relation to him was a certain pledge of their acceptance with God [Note: Matthew 3:8-40.3.9. John 8:33-43.8.41.]. These things were subjects of complaint against them, and strongly characterized the people at large [Note: Matthew 21:31-40.21.32.].
And do we see here no resemblance to the present generation? The people of this land have thousands of monitors, who call them to repentance: yet whom do we see smiting on their breasts and imploring mercy? Who calls himself to account, “saying, What have I done?” “Who asks, Where is God, my Maker?” Because we are called Christians, we imagine ourselves to be Christians, even though we could not mention one single particular wherein we resemble Christ. All that die are, as a matter of course, supposed to go to heaven, even though they never took one step in the way that leads thither. Say then, whether the appellation given to them, be not suitable to us also?]
An unbelieving generation—
[The Scriptures were publicly read and expounded in their synagogues every Sabbath-day. To them also our blessed Lord appealed as testifying of him [Note: John 5:39.]: and he confirmed his word with miracles unnumbered. Yet did the whole nation, except a few individuals, reject him: so that the complaint which had many hundred years before been uttered against them by the prophet, was abundantly verified [Note: Isaiah 53:1. with Joh 12:38 and Romans 10:16.]—
Would to God there were less occasion to involve the present generation also in the same condemnation! We have the Scriptures, which are appealed to by every faithful minister of Christ. But who believes what we say? Who believes the necessity of conversion to God? Who believes, that, “unless he be born again he can never enter into the kingdom of God?” and that “without real, universal holiness, no man can see the Lord?” That men profess to believe these things, we acknowledge: but who follows after the attainment of them, and evinces the sincerity of his faith by the earnestness of his exertions? A little gleaning of believers may be found; but the harvest is borne away by unbelief.]
A persecuting generation—
[In every age the Jews had persecuted their prophets unto death: and that generation filled up the measure of their fathers’ iniquities, by “crucifying the Lord of Glory.” Against the Apostles also they raged with insatiable fury, and against all that called upon the name of Christ.
It is true, we do not, in this age, see crosses erected, and fires kindled, for the destruction of the Lord’s people: but has persecution ceased? Is not a life of real godliness still hated by the world? Does it not invariably become an object of reproach; and do not the opprobrious names given to religious people lower them in the estimation of others, insomuch that all their good qualities are lost sight of, and they are deemed worthy only of pity and contempt? No thanks to the world, then, that fires are not kindled as much as ever: it is to our laws, and to the providence of our God, we owe it, that bounds are prescribed, beyond which the enmity of men is no longer suffered to exert itself. But it is still as true as ever, that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.].”]
But let us pass on to,
St. Peter well knew, that all who retained their enmity against God and his Christ, must soon perish: he therefore exhorted his hearers to save themselves from the impending ruin. The same exhortation befits us also. Is it asked, How are we to save ourselves from this untoward generation?
Renounce their ways—
[Judge ye, Whither such ways must lead. Need you be told, that, “except ye repent, ye must all perish:” or. that, “if ye believe not, ye cannot see life, but the wrath of God abideth on you;” or, that all who make Christ “a stumbling-stone, will be broken in pieces?” Deceive not yourselves: think not that the number of your associates will afford you any security: numbers did not protect the inhabitants of the plain, or the antediluvian world; nor shall you find the termination of the broad road any other than you have been forewarned concerning it. Of this you may rest assured, that “whatsoever you sow, you shall also reap: if you sow to the flesh, you shall, of the flesh, reap corruption: you must sow to the Spirit, if you would, of the Spirit, reap life everlasting.”]
Forsake their company—
[We know that you cannot entirely separate from the ungodly; for then, as the Apostle says, “you must needs go out of the world.” But you are not to choose them as your companions; for, “what communion hath light with darkness, and Christ with Belial?” It is not sufficient that you “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness; you must also reprove them [Note: Ephesians 5:11.].” Need you be told what even a heathen writer could declare, that “evil communications corrupt good manners [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:33. This is a quotation from Menander.]?” Do you not know, that men insensibly imbibe the spirit of their associates; and that you must “come out from Babylon, if you would not be partakers of her sins and of her plagues [Note: Revelation 18:4.]?” Know assuredly, that “a companion of fools will be destroyed [Note: Proverbs 13:20.];” and that, if you belong to Christ, “you will not be of the world, even as he was not of the world [Note: John 17:16.].” I say to you, therefore, in the words of the great Apostle, “Come out from among them, and be separate; and touch not the unclean thing; and I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17-47.6.18.].”]
Devote yourselves entirely to the Lord—
[The conduct of those whom the Apostle addressed, will form the best comment on his exhortation. His converts instantly applied to Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and devoted themselves unreservedly to his service: and from that day “continued in the Apostles’ fellowship,” (not the fellowship of their former companions,) and in the unremitted exercise of piety and love [Note: ver. 41–47.]. We say not that you are to neglect your worldly callings; (nothing can be further from our wishes, or from your duty than this:) but you must begin from this time to “live no longer to yourselves, but unto him who died for you, and rose again.” “Instead of being any longer conformed to this world, you must be transformed in the renewing of your minds, proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” To all of you then I say, Save yourselves in this manner: escape thus from the contagion and ruin of this untoward generation. Give yourselves up to God, as your reconciled God in Christ Jesus: do it without fear — — — do it without reserve — — — do it without delay — — — Then, when the impenitent and unbelieving part of this generation shall eat the bitter fruit of their doings, you shall be numbered with “the generation of the righteous,” even of them that sought and served their God [Note: Psalms 14:5; Psalms 24:6; Psalms 112:2.].]
THE STATE OF THE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANS
Acts 2:44-44.2.47. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and haling favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved.
THE true nature of Christianity would be very imperfectly discovered by any one who should look for it in the conduct of the Christian world. The generality of those who name the name of Christ, differ but little from those who never heard of his name. And even among those who profess a regard for religion, there is but a small measure of that spirit which may be discerned among the early converts. In the Churches of this day will be found a form of godliness, but very little of its power. We must go to the Scriptures, and to the accounts given us of the first Christians, to see what vital religion is. There we behold it in all its purity. Let us contemplate it as exhibited by those who were converted on the day of Pentecost. In our text we may behold,
This was more extensive than any that can be found on record in the annals of the world. A few individuals perhaps may be found, who have evinced an unbounded love towards those who had long been connected with them in the ties of friendship: but here the whole body of believers were animated by the same spirit towards each other, even towards those whom they had never so much as seen till that hour: all were divested of every selfish feeling, and sacrificed their own personal interests for the good of the whole.
But here arises an important question; “Is their conduct in this particular a model for our imitation.” I answer,
We certainly are not called to perform the same specific act—
[That act arose out of the circumstances of the Church at that time. Some indeed have suggested, that they acted thus from an assured expectation that either they should be speedily dispossessed of their property by the violence of persecution, or that they should ere long suffer the loss of it in the general destruction of the Jewish polity. But such an idea as this divests their conduct of all its excellence; since it would have been no virtue at all to sell what they knew would soon be taken from them, and to give away what they could not retain. They proceeded on far different grounds from these. Of the multitude who were converted, great numbers came from a distance to the feast, not expecting to continue at Jerusalem more than a few days: but now that they were led to just views of Christianity, they would on no account lose the opportunities they enjoyed of obtaining further instruction from their inspired teachers: of course therefore, unless assisted by others, they must be left destitute of necessary food: and, if necessitated to depend on others who were enemies to this new religion, they could expect but little aid, and would therefore be under a, strong temptation to renounce Christianity as soon as they had embraced it. Besides, of those who lived at Jerusalem, many would probably become objects of virulent persecution, so as to be deprived of all that they possessed; and therefore that none might be reduced to abject want, the whole body formed one common stock for the supply of all; the richer making their abundance a supply for the necessities of the more indigent [Note: Compare Acts 4:32; Acts 4:34-44.4.35.]. This however was perfectly voluntary on their part; for St. Peter told Ananias that he was under no obligation to part with his property [Note: Acts 5:4.]; and the whole tenour of Scripture supposes that there must be different ranks and orders of men, who are called to the performance of distinct and appropriate duties [Note: The command given to the Rich Youth was also peculiar to him. Luke 18:22.].]
But the principle from which they acted is of universal and unalterable obligation—
[Love was the principle by which they were actuated: and it is characteristic of love, that “it seeketh not its own [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:5.]:” it puts off selfishness, and seeks its happiness in contributing to the happiness of others. A person under the influence of this principle considers all that he possesses as belonging to God, and as a talent with which he is entrusted for the benefit of mankind. Hence he is “glad to distribute, and willing to communicate,” whenever a just occasion for liberality presents itself, and “especially towards the household of faith:” and if the particular circumstances of the Church call for such a sacrifice, he is ready, as far as the occasion requires it, to comply literally with that command of Christ, “Sell that ye have, and give alms;” for whatever treasure he may possess on earth, his chief desire is to “have treasure in heaven [Note: Luke 12:33-42.12.34.].” True indeed it is, that there are not many who, like the Macedonians, “give according to their power, yea and beyond their power [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:3-47.8.4.];” and fewer still who, like the poor widow, give their last mite unto the Lord: in too many instances there is rather reason to complain with St. Paul, that “all men seek their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ:” but still the injunction, “Seek not every man his own, but every man another’s wealth,” is as much in force as ever; and we ought, if called to it, to “lay down,” not our property only, but even “our own lives for the brethren.”]
Of an equally exalted kind was,
They gave up themselves wholly, as it were, to the exercises of religion. But here the same question, as before, recurs; How far was their conduct in this respect a model for our imitation? And the same answer must be returned to it:
We are not called to follow them in the act—
[The occasion was so peculiar, as to justify, and even require, a peculiar mode of acting. Our circumstances are extremely different from theirs. We have duties which cannot be neglected, without great injury to society, and dishonour to God: and, if every one, from the moment that he became religious, were to lay aside all his worldly business, he would place in the way of the ungodly such a stumbling-block as would prove almost subversive of Christianity itself. “To do our own business,” and “not to be slothful in business, are as much commanded, as to “be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” We therefore cannot be called to such a line of conduct as is incompatible with the discharge of all our social duties.]
But in principle we must resemble them—
[They gave themselves up wholly unto God: and so “must it also be our meat and drink to do the will of our heavenly Father.” We must “love him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength;” and “yield up to him our bodies and our souls a living sacrifice,” and “glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his.” Whatever be our calling in life, there can be no reason why we should not “delight ourselves in God,” and “live, not to ourselves, but unto him that died for us and rose again.” Why should not every one of us have the same frame of mind as David, whose duties must certainly have been as numerous and important as any that we are called to perform [Note: Psalms 63:1-19.63.5; Psalms 84:1-19.84.4; Psalms 84:10.]? We cannot, as has before been observed, be constantly engaged in religious duties; but we may have our hearts always disposed for the enjoyment of them [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-52.5.18.]: and it is certainly incumbent on us to embrace all seasonable opportunities of waiting upon God in the Church, and at his table, and in our families and the closet. Our daily intercourse with our friends should also be improved for the advancement of true religion, and every returning meal should afford us an occasion of enjoying and glorifying our heavenly Benefactor [Note: 1 John 1:3.]. It is our privilege, as much as that of the primitive Christians, to “eat our meat with gladness and singleness of heart, blessing and praising God.”]
With such knowledge of their conduct we may expect to hear of,
Their conduct conciliated the regard of all the people—
[Doubtless the natural man hates the light, because the evil of his own ways is exposed by it. Yet there is something in true religion which approves its excellence, even to the very people who hate it. Herod, from a full conviction that “John was a just and holy man, feared him,” and complied with his advice in many particulars; though afterwards he imprisoned him and put him to death. Thus the wonderful change that was wrought upon the first converts, from selfishness to charity, and from irreligion to the most exalted piety, excited the admiration and the love of all.
How blessed is it, where the conduct of professors is so exemplary, as “to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” and to engage the esteem of those who are condemned by it! We must not indeed expect always to secure the favour of men; but we should endeavour so to act as to deserve it.]
Their numbers also were increased from day to day—
[Doubtless conversion is the fruit of divine grace alone: “Whether Paul plant, or Apollos water, it is God alone that can give the increase.” Yet God uses various means to accomplish this work; and one of peculiar efficacy is, the conduct of his people: by that he “puts to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” and constrains them to “glorify him in the day of visitation,” It is highly probable that the exalted piety and unbounded charity of the first converts were greatly instrumental to the conversion of those around them. Every one of them was a preacher in his own house, by his actions at least, if not by words. And O! what might not be hoped for, if all who profess religion, breathed the spirit that displayed itself at that period of the Church? Truly, many might be awakened to a concern for their souls, and be constrained to say, “We will go with you; for we perceive that God is with you of a truth.” Let this be borne in mind, as an incentive to a continual progress in holiness; and let us strive “so to make our light shine before men, that others, beholding our good works, may glorify our Father which is in heaven.”]
We may learn from hence,
At what a low ebb religion is amongst us!
[If we compare our attainments with those recorded in our text, what reason shall we see to blush and be ashamed! How has selfishness triumphed over charity, and lukewarmness assumed the place of piety! But let us not imagine that religion is different now from what it was in that day. Some difference in our mode of exercising religion may justly be admitted: but in our spirit there should be no difference at all: God is the same gracious God as ever; his Gospel is as worthy of all acceptation as ever; and the blessings we receive by means of it are as great as ever: and therefore we ought to feel its power and evince its efficacy, as much as others have done at any period of the Church. Let us then set this example before our eyes, and endeavour to walk even as they walked.]
How we may be instrumental to the increase of the Church—
[Much may be done, very much, by every member of the Church of Christ. The influence of a bright example is still as great as ever. As any instance of misconduct in professors hardens others against the truth, so the beauty of holiness exhibited by them has a powerful tendency to win the souls of adversaries. If, on the one hand, by an uncharitable or irreligious deportment, we may “destroy many souls for whom Christ died,” so, by a life becoming the Gospel, we may “win many who never would have obeyed the preached word.” Let us then attend to our conduct in every state and circumstance of life: let us look well to the whole of our spirit and temper, that we may not even in the smallest matter “cause the enemy to speak reproachfully,” but rather may “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Acts 2". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent